“We Asked Workers What Brings Out Their Creativity & They Said ‘Other People’”

Portrait of Dan Schawbel

I first connected with Dan Schawbel years ago, but we only recently met in person. Which is ironic, because his first book, Me 2.0, was focused on building digital connections. Now he has a new book that’s just hitting the shelves—Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in an Age of Isolation that urges us to have more face-to-face interactions.

This is the second interview I’ve done with Dan.

Dan has recently entered the podcast world as the host of 5 Questions with Dan Schawbel, where he interviews interesting people, asking them five questions in ten minutes.

Dan is an introvert who prefers to work remotely, yet maintains a very large network. He emphasizes that while for many people, it’s easy to get addicted to the technology devices that we carry around with us, we should remember the value in human connections.

I couldn’t wait to talk to Dan about happiness, habits, and productivity.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

Dan: Since 2012, I’ve led 45 research studies surveying a total of nearly 90,000 people from twenty different countries. I’m passionate about research because it’s how I pushed back against ageism when I was younger, and it’s the best way for me to provide unique value to my industry. For Back to Human, I worked with Virgin Pulse to survey over 2,000 managers and employees from ten countries and discovered that employees who work remotely are much less likely to want a long-term career at their company. The reason why this is both fascinating, and important, is because we’ve always talked about the positive side of remote work, which includes freedom, flexibility and the reduction of commuting costs. This research shows that there’s a “dark side” to working remote, which is the feeling of being isolated, lonely and having less team and organizational commitment due to a lack of face-time. 

Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

Dan: Chapter 3 in Back to Human is called “Practice Shared Learning” and my motto in that chapter is “when I learn I share.” In order to keep up in today’s fast-paced business world, and stay competitive, we have to share what we know with others instead of keeping it inside our heads. The average relevancy of a learned skill is just five years and all industries are facing constant disruption. We have to rely on each other if we want to stay relevant and informed in our careers. When I come across an article, a piece of research or a contact that could benefit someone else, I share it with him or her or make an introduction. By getting in the habit of sharing with your teammates, you make their lives easier and they will reciprocate, thus creating a culture of learning in your organization. 

Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? 

Dan: The most important habit I’ve had for over a decade is reading for an hour in the morning. I power through numerous industry related articles and bookmark the most interesting ones to use in future presentations, books and discussions. Reading for an hour gives me the ideas, news, case studies and research that I can talk about in client calls, meetings and in speeches. This habit keeps me extremely relevant on a given day. The time I spend bookmarking the best articles is time saved when I’m putting together articles, books, presentations or workshops. This habit also guides my research because I can see what’s already been published about topics I want to cover in future studies.

Running is another daily habit that has reduced my anxiety, increased my health and brought out my creativity. I’ve been running three to five miles a day now and it’s given me time to myself where I can reflect and focus on what’s important in my life.  

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

Dan: I wish I knew that starting or breaking a habit needs to happen one day at a time. Also, that you shouldn’t try to break or start multiple habits at once because that’s overwhelming. For instance, when I first moved to New York City, I found myself working in isolation, without much human contact. In order to break out of isolation, I created the habit of scheduling coffee dates, dinner parties and attending Friday night Shabbats. I also paid for events because paying would give me more incentive not to come up with a last-minute excuse not to attend.  

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

Dan: I enjoy having walking meetings because they get me out of my home office and I’m able to bounce ideas off of other people. In a research study I led a few years ago, we asked workers what brings out their creativity and they said “other people.” When I’m walking and talking, I’m able to be more creative and solve more complex problems. When I walk with friends, I feel a deeper connection with them than I would have if we were sitting in a coffee shop. There’s something special about movement that brings people closer together. 



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