I was fortunate enough to get a chance to interview one of my favourite authors, Daniel Pink. We talked about books, past and present, as well as his writing process and tips for young writers. Daniel is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, including his latest, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us When and A Whole New Drive and To Sell is Human. Daniel Pink’s books have won multiple awards, have been translated into 42 languages, and have sold millions of copies around the world. 

Daniel Pink has been a contributing editor at Fast Company and Wired as well as a business columnist for The Sunday Telegraph. His articles and essays have also appeared in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, Slate, and other publications. Pink was also a Japan Society Media fellow in Tokyo, where he studied the country’s massive comic industry. Daniel Pink has worked in several positions in politics and government, including serving from 1995 to 1997 as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore.

Please enjoy my interview with one of my favourite authors, Daniel Pink…

Daniel, What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberger. I’ve had this book, written by a prominent mathematician, for a few years — and finally began reading it in the hopes of deepening my numeracy and sharpening my thinking. So far, so good.

What is something about you that people might find surprising?

I know a fairly astonishing amount about both sports and cocktails; knowledge that occupies brain space I wish were devoted to worthier topics.

Can you talk us through your research process when preparing for a new book?

It really depends on the book and its mix of reporting, interviewing, and science. But I tend to collect a massive amount of material at first — way more than I’ll ever need. Then I make my way through it — often quite slowly. I’ll take notes — on paper — about what I’m reading and seeing. I’ll put aside some stuff to look at more deeply, discard other stuff, and review my notes regularly.

Then, ever so slowly, I’ll try to create the first skeleton of an outline. That outline rarely holds, but it gives me a way to synthesize my initial research and begin organizing my thinking.

At some point, I’ll select a slice of the outline, usually a chapter, and begin writing. But as I do that, I’ll begin seeing holes in the research, which I’ll try to fill. When I get to the point where I’m seeing the same ideas, facts, and arguments over and over, I’ll begin writing that piece of the book in earnest.

method - Daniel pink interviewWhat was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?

The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act by Isaac Butler. I’ve become fascinated by the idea that acting offers an alternative way — beyond journalism, social science, and biology — to understand human behavior. We can observe people, interview them, enlist them in experiments, and probe their genes. But *embodying* them? That’s a dimension I hadn’t considered.

For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?

Influence by Robert Cialdini — In every job you have, you’ll have to influence others. This book shows how to do that ethically and effectively.

How to be an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims — As a Dean at Stanford University, Julie spent a decade realizing how woefully unprepared many young people are for adulthood. Then she wrote the ultimate user manual for growing up.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — A guide to writing that’s really a guide to living.

man's search for meaning - Daniel pink interviewWhat book have you found most inspiring, and what effect did it have on you Daniel?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It helped convince me that human beings are meaning-seeking creatures — that even amid unspeakably dire circumstances we look for purpose and significance in our lives.

What inspired you to write your latest book The Power of Regret?

I had regrets of my own — and wanted to make sense of them. And when I began looking for research to help to do that, I discovered that we’d profoundly misunderstood this emotion. I was so blown away by what I found that I put aside another book I was working on — and wrote an entirely new book proposal for the book that ended up becoming The Power of Regret.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?

Warhol by Blake Gopnik. This massive biography took me forever to read. (It’s incredibly detailed and nearly 1,000 pages long.) But it offers an extraordinary account of Andy Warhol’s life and his massive influence on art and ideas. Throughout, I wondered what Warhol would have made of this moment — from TikTok to NFTs to marriage equality.

What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?

Set a schedule and stick to it.  Don’t wait for inspiration. Show up and do the work. Then do it the next day and the next day and the next day.

Think about the promise you’re making to the reader.  Anybody who reads your stuff is doing you an incredible favor. Don’t let them down. Figure out what you’re promising them, then deliver on that promise.

I know why the caged bird sings - Daniel pink interviewIf an alien landed in your garden; which three books would you gift them to showcase humanity in the best possible way?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl — for reasons I’ve already mentioned.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou — because of its lyrical beauty and its message that humans are more resilient than we think.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare — so the alien can ponder why these plays are still being performed four centuries after audiences first saw them.

And to end the interview, which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari.  My hope: It will help me better understand the implications of machine learning and artificial intelligence. My fear: His argument will terrify me!

If you enjoyed this interview with Daniel Pink, be sure to visit his website and follow Daniel on Twitter.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap