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Why Talking to Strangers Can Boost Your Mood
“It takes 7 seconds to build a prejudice based on someone’s appearance.”
In 2018, I went to a conference, and one of the organizers helped me find my seat. It was really loud, and all I heard him say was that I would be sitting next to “David … something something ... you know, the NRA.” And I thought, “Oh gosh, I know nothing about guns, but here we go.”
David asked me about my job, we chatted about the conference, and he helped me find the agenda in my little conference booklet. David from the NRA was incredibly pleasant, and we had a lovely conversation. The topic of guns didn’t come up a single time.
Several months later, I was sitting at a Starbucks working on The Profile when I came across a feature with David’s face on it. My initial reaction was, “Oh my God, what is David from the NRA doing in Sports Illustrated?”
The headline was: “David Stern Is Not Looking Back.” Turns out I had misheard. My seatmate was the late David Stern, former commissioner of the NBA, which, my friends, is quite different from the National Rifle Association.
There’s two things to learn from this experience: 1) Don’t judge people, and 2) Striking up a conversation with a stranger can leave you feeling pretty great.
The first is obvious: I shouldn’t have judged David based on where I thought he worked. But I did because the brain is a tricky little animal. I immediately jumped to conclusions about what David must be like as a person, where his politics might lie, and what types of things he would want to talk about. Not only was I dead wrong, but I now think twice about judging people based on stereotypes.
This Coca-Cola commercial begins with a powerful stat: “It takes 7 seconds to build a prejudice based on someone’s appearance.” It continues: “So we invited 6 strangers to see each other in a different light … by putting them in the dark.” Check out what happened at the end of this amazing social experiment:
I recently spoke with Profile reader and AltoIRA CEO Eric Satz, who pointed me to the commercial above and also told me that talking to strangers can make you happier. “Yeah, that includes those annoying people on planes,” he said. At first, I was like, “Ooook, Eric.” But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I Googled it.
Research supports his bold claim. Apparently, the seemingly trivial social encounters — chatting up a person in the elevator, making small talk with the Starbucks barista, or even just smiling through your face mask at a passerby — can have profound positive changes in your mood.
Nicholas Epley, a University of Chicago behavioral scientist, tells NPR that a happy life is made up of a high frequency of positive events, and even the tiniest positive experiences make a difference.
"Happiness seems a little bit like a leaky tire on a car," Epley explains. "We just sort of have to keep pumping it up a bit to maintain it."
My challenge for you this week is to make it a point to acknowledge someone’s presence. All it takes is a micro-moment — a smile, eye contact, or a simple “hello.”
We judge and ignore each other all the time. And COVID-19 has plunged us into an even deeper drought of human contact, making us feel lonelier, more isolated, and emotionally drained. So what have you got to lose?
You never know what might happen if you optimize your day for talking to strangers. You could end up having an awesome conversation with someone as pleasant as David from the NRA :)
(Extra points if you reply to this email with a story about a cool interaction you’ve had with a stranger recently!)
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THE PROFILE HAPPY HOUR: We recently hosted a virtual Profile meet-up for premium members, and it was a blast! I’ve decided to host monthly Profile happy hours where you can chat directly with me while meeting fellow readers. I’ll also be inviting special guests each month that we can all learn from. Mark your calendars: The next Profile happy hour will be this Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 6pm EST. (No need to RSVP. I will email you log-in details 15 minutes before the event.)
— The Wall Street analyst who built a financial media empire [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The other women in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Harvard Law class
— The CEO hiding a secret double life
— Taiwan’s digital minister who hacked the pandemic
— The baseball star who contracted the yips
— The new guy re-making Comedy Central
— Batman’s favorite app
— The ice cream brand pressing for justice
— America’s Space Force
PEOPLE TO KNOW.
The Wall Street analyst who built a financial media empire: Henry Blodget is the rare newsman with a prior Wall Street career and deep knowledge of the startup world. After he got banned from the financial industry, he began a new life as the editor of Business Insider’s predecessor blog, Silicon Alley Insider. Over the years, Blodget has built Business Insider into one of the most popular and powerful media companies in the world. The key to his success? He’s not afraid to fail. (Institutional Investor)
“Be ready for a downturn. Have an idea of how you're going to get through it.”
The other women in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Harvard Law class: In 1956, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the nine female students in her Harvard Law class gathered for dinner at Dean Erwin Griswold’s house. He asked each of the women to stand up and explain why she’s at Harvard, taking the place of a man. Harvard Law had only started admitting women five years prior. This profile delves into the remarkable stories of the Harvard women who paved the way— as told by them, their families, and RBG, who remembers them all. (Slate)
“Women were teachers in those days. Women were not lawyers.”
The CEO hiding a secret double life: Jide Zeitlin, former CEO of Tapestry, the parent company of Coach and Kate Spade, had a remarkable rise from poverty to Wall Street. Born in Nigeria, Zeitlin rose to become one of only five Black CEOs among Fortune 500 companies. But revelations of a hidden double life have cost him his career. He used a fake name, posted ads on Craigslist, and posed as a photographer, taking pictures of women in sexual poses, many lying on a bed in skimpy lingerie. What a story. (ProPublica)
“There are a lot of remarkably smooth types who make it their business to take advantage of others.”
Taiwan’s digital minister who hacked the pandemic: Audrey Tang is a trans woman, an open-source software hacker, a startup entrepreneur, and the youngest (at 35, in 2016) person ever to be appointed a cabinet member in Taiwan. With Tang at the helm, the island nation is making the radical argument that digital tools can be effectively used to build stronger, more open, more accountable democracies. Can Taiwan’s model be replicated elsewhere? (WIRED)
“For us, there was no democracy before the internet. The democracy comes with the internet.”
The baseball star who contracted the yips: From 2010 through most of ’11, Daniel Bard was the most unhittable pitcher in baseball. Then he contracted baseball’s most mysterious ailment: the yips. Slowly, and then all at once, he lost the ability to throw the ball over the plate. Now, at 35, he is back where he began, trying to persuade a major league team to take a chance on him. (ESPN)
“That’s the closest I’ve felt to losing my mind.”
The new guy re-making Comedy Central: Chris McCarthy, 45, has been in charge of Comedy Central for six months. He and his bosses have an ambitious goal: They want to transform Comedy Central from a linear-focused cable network to a multi-platform content machine, one with programming targeted at the hard-to-reach viewers under 25. Here’s his plan to reach the elusive demographic of Gen Z. (New York Magazine)
“The reality is we’re not channels. We’re content.”
COMPANIES TO WATCH.
Batman’s favorite app: Citizen is a mobile app that sends you real-time alerts about crimes & emergency situations in your immediate surroundings. I open the app, and I see the following alerts: “Report of trash can fire,” “Suspicious package” and “Man punched in face” — all within a few blocks from my apartment. The company says 5 million users have flocked to Citizen for viewing, reporting, and commenting on local incidents in real time. Here’s how the app is seizing upon this moment of societal upheaval. (WIRED)
“What the Citizen app is doing is empowering people as law enforcement, and we already know that's a problem.”
The ice cream brand pressing for justice: Many companies tried to align themselves with the Black Lives Matter protests and failed. Except Ben & Jerry’s. The creamery’s June 2 statement was lauded as the most detailed and powerful message from any corporation seeking to condemn racial injustice. Here’s how Ben & Jerry’s became a committed corporate activist, campaigning for causes such as same-sex marriage, criminal justice reform, and nature conservation. (Bloomberg)
“If we share values on climate, same-sex marriage rights, racism, I think that’s a deeper bond than sugar and fat.”
America’s Space Force: America’s Space Force, which is the first new branch of the U.S. military in 72 years, launched just eight months ago. Although the cost of its existence represents just a fraction of the Pentagon’s $740 billion budget, convincing Americans that a new service can be trusted to protect our satellites and not just grow a vast new expensive wing on the military–industrial complex will take some doing. An arms race for space has begun. This is the story of America’s effort to keep ahead. (TIME)
“Our space systems are vulnerable. That’s why it’s time for a separate uniformed service.”
— Kat Cole on the power of the check-in
— Michelle & Barack Obama on relying on hope
— Maurice Ashley’s relentless competitive spirit
— Brad Feld’s re-prioritization event
— Steve Galanis on Cameo’s difficult start
— Jim McKelvey on the biggest lies in business
— Doug Leone on his secret sauce
AUDIO TO HEAR.
Kat Cole on the power of the check-in: Focus Brands CEO Kat Cole believes that you continuously invest in what you care about — whether it’s your career, business, or relationships. The technique she uses across all parts of her life is the concept of “checking in” — taking the time to pause, reflect, connect, and share intentions with a partner. It’s had profound effects on the way she runs Focus Brands all the way to the relationship she’s cultivated with her husband.
Michelle & Barack Obama on relying on hope: Ever wonder what Michelle and Barack Obama talk about at the dinner table? In this podcast episode, the duo discusses their upbringing, how they learned to understand each other’s differing perspectives of the world, and why, when all else fails, you have to rely on hope. It’s a good one.
Maurice Ashley’s relentless competitive spirit: Maurice Ashley is the first Black chess grandmaster, and he’s known for his irreverent chess match commentary. Ashley and his family moved to Brooklyn from Jamaica when he was 12 years old. He discovered his love for chess when a friend beat him at school. A naturally competitive spirit, he dove into reading books and absorbing everything he could about chess in order to defeat his friend. “It really stoked the fire,” he says. “Since that day, we played chess every single day after school. It was school, homework, chess, and that was my life.”
Brad Feld’s re-prioritization event: Investor & entrepreneur Brad Feld will never forget the moment when his wife Amy told him: “I’m done. You’re not even a good roommate anymore.” He put his phone down, stepped away from his email, and asked her to go on a walk with him. There, she told him, “Your words don’t match your actions.” He would tell her she was the most important person to him, but he prioritized every email and phone call over her. This is an amazing episode about priorities, continuous investment, and the importance of radical honesty.
VIDEOS TO SEE.
Steve Galanis on Cameo’s difficult start: Steve Galanis had a pretty rocky start with his celebrity video-sharing app. “We really felt like we’re building the new autograph,” he says. “At first, we wanted to connect athletes with their biggest fans.” But the very first Cameo didn’t exactly go as planned. In fact, it made people angry, gave Galanis severe anxiety, and …. it worked. This episode is jam-packed with lessons for an entrepreneur trying to make it in the early days.
Jim McKelvey on the biggest lies in business: Seek opportunities. Ship great products. Invent something. Square co-founder Jim McKelvey says these are all huge lies that aspiring entrepreneurs believe. In this wildly entertaining talk, McKelvey goes through the six greatest lies of business, and how he learned the reality of each after years of experience and iteration.
Doug Leone on his secret sauce: Sequoia’s legendary partner Doug Leone attributes a lot of his success to luck. But the key is that he does things to bend luck in his favor. “I lean forward — not in writing checks, but in listening,” he says. “I like to look in all the nooks and crannies where it’s not cool to go look.” Hustle has a great deal to do with luck, Leone adds.
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