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DUCKWORTH: Maybe No Stupid Questions listeners are just, like, freaks.

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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.

DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Should you be more open to leaving your comfort zone?

MAUGHAN: I have never regretted the eggs Benedict.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, really? I have always regretted the eggs Benedict.  

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DUCKWORTH: Mike, I’m so excited to begin our personality series. As you will recall, we are doing an episode on each of the Big Five personality traits. That’s openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. So, I’m asking you, Mike, whether it’s okay that we begin with “O” for “openness.”

MAUGHAN: I am totally open to that idea. 

DUCKWORTH: Great. Excellent. Well, let’s begin with an email from May Lee. May is a university student in Singapore, but also, she has been helping us with this Big Five personality series, and since we’re very grateful her question rose to the top. Here it is: “Hi, NSQ. As a university student, I’m at a crossroads where I’m beginning to make choices that will define my career and personal life. I’ve often heard that growth happens outside one’s comfort zone. So, I’m curious about the real-world implications of this idea.” I want to begin this conversation, Mike, with saying that when I took our Big Five questionnaire on our website — and I want to thank Oliver John and Chris Soto, by the way, who are the psychologists at Berkeley and Colby College, respectively, who generously shared with us, you know, 30 questions to diagnose your Big Five personality — at least how it is now, maybe not forever, because it’s not fixed. I did not score very high on openness to experience.

MAUGHAN: Wait, really? 

DUCKWORTH: I was like, maybe I don’t go outside my comfort zone enough.

MAUGHAN: I don’t know, I guess I would have assumed —

DUCKWORTH: Right?! I was a little disappointed. You would have thought I would score really high, right? All right, I’m going to tell you my score, but only if you tell me your score. Is that a deal?

MAUGHAN: Of course!

DUCKWORTH: I got a 3.33 out of five. You know, five is “strongly agree”; three is, like, “neutral, no opinion,” so I was just, like, a little north of neutral. It’s kind of shocking to me. 

MAUGHAN: Man, I’ve got to admit, I was disappointed when I saw my score, because I was like, “Wow, I love new experiences.” But now I feel better.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah okay, good!  

MAUGHAN: I was a 4.5 out of five.

DUCKWORTH: Wait, you wanted to get higher than a 4.5 out of five?  

MAUGHAN: Of course I did. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, come on!

MAUGHAN: I’m competitive. I wanted to —.

DUCKWORTH: Do you want to know what the average is for No Stupid Questions listeners? At least as of today. So, I will say that thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of No Stupid Questions listeners have taken the 30-item personality quiz, and the average for us so far is 3.9. It’s actually below you and above me.

MAUGHAN: Interesting.

DUCKWORTH: Okay, you know what makes me even more sad? I saw my score, and then I was like, “How do I compare to No Stupid Questions listeners?” And I was like, “Okay, I’m lower.” And then I was like, “Well, but maybe No Stupid Questions listeners are just, like, freaks.” But then, I looked up the national norms — meaning in a nationally representative sample, what could you expect? That average is also higher than mine! It’s, like, 3.65. So, I’m like — I don’t know. I guess I’m not that open. I will say that I think what torpedoed my score were, were the questions about art and music — basically, aesthetics.  

MAUGHAN: Remind me the questions.

DUCKWORTH: Okay. So, there are six questions that are about your openness. There were two questions about being fascinated by art, music, or literature. And I think for both of those, I scored myself really low, because I never listen to music. How did you score yourself just in general? I don’t need to know exactly what you said, but, like, are you somebody who has a lot of artistic interests? 

MAUGHAN: Yes, I do.

DUCKWORTH: I didn’t know that! 

MAUGHAN: I mean, I don’t do any art myself, but I do love art. I have —.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, that’s right! You buy paintings! You are one of the humans who actually buys paintings.

MAUGHAN: Well, and I, I will say this: I buy paintings that have deep meaning to me. I don’t know that if you would come into my house, you’d be like, “Wow, look at that painting!” But, like, I shared with you before, I have one called “Invisible Burden.” I have another one called “In All This Madness,” and it’s a person in military uniform playing a violin. And I love the symbolism that when all the world can be going crazy, you can still find this piece of comfort and solace.  

DUCKWORTH: What about music? Do you listen to music? 

MAUGHAN: I do! One of my favorite — I have no idea who this came from — but one of my favorite little, like, hacks is to quote, “score your life.” So, often when I’m working in a private place — obviously, not when I’m in an open air spot — but I will turn on Spotify and play different music to inspire different moods as I’m working on different types of things. I will say I’m much more, you know, an audio book listener or making phone calls while I drive or something like that. But I have a deep appreciation for really incredible music. 

DUCKWORTH: So, there I would score, like, if I could, a zero on a scale from one to five. Like, I never listen to music. Well, I listen to Taylor Swift, but not even that often. Like, I think whatever the opposite of “scoring your life is” is, like, me, because I just forget that music exists, and I think I’m one of the rare humans who does. So, when I scored myself super low on these two of the six items, I think I did bring my overall score down. And I will just say, before we get to, like, the other aspects of, of openness, this is often called “aesthetic sensitivity.” So, part of being an open-minded person is having aesthetic interests, you know, whether they be visual arts, or music, or literature, or even other forms of artistic expression. I will say that on the literature thing, you and I have exchanged poems over the years, right? 


DUCKWORTH: And I do read poetry. 

MAUGHAN: We talked about a poem yesterday, for crying out loud.

DUCKWORTH: We did! “Out, Out,” right?

MAUGHAN: Yes, Robert Frost. I’m going to start sending you a song a week and a poem a week.

DUCKWORTH: Okay, you know what? I think you should do that. And, to May’s question about going outside of your comfort zone, I think part of going outside of your comfort zone is just changing the status quo, just doing things that you don’t usually do, even if they’re not anxiety-provoking. I mean, I don’t think it’s going to freak me out if you send me a song to listen to, but it’s outside of my comfort zone in that it’s not what I usually do. I don’t usually listen to things. I think you might improve my openness score, Mike.

MAUGHAN: And now I don’t feel bad about my 4.5. I don’t know why I felt bad. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh, I don’t know what you were —  

MAUGHAN: I wanted a perfect score. 

DUCKWORTH: — what kind of personality grade inflation issue you’re dealing with, but, like, yeah, you’re probably high on aesthetic sensitivity. Let me, um, move on to an aspect of openness called “intellectual curiosity.” So, let me remind you of two questions that were in the inventory. One was about, “How interested are you in abstract ideas?” And then another question you answered was, “Are you a complex, deep thinker?”  

MAUGHAN: Okay, so, you scored off the charts on those two, right?

DUCKWORTH: I did! I was like, unshy about saying that “I’m very interested in abstract ideas. I think I’m a pretty complex, deep thinker. It’s, like, my job.”

MAUGHAN: Here’s what I also think of — and I’m curious if this fits in here — is just the willingness to change your mind, to be open to other ideas. So, it’s not even necessarily “Am I open to all these abstract ideas?” But am I willing to say, “Hey, my beliefs on X might be wrong, and I’m willing to just hear out a different opinion or the other side?” The other thing I think about when you just say “openness” — I immediately go to experiences in travel, because every time I see a new place, a new culture, a new way of doing things, instead of being like, “Oh, that’s wrong,” I’m super interested to learn. Maybe there’s a better way to live, or at least a different way, that I hadn’t contemplated. And I don’t even mean that you have to go to Europe, or Africa, or Asia. Sometimes that’s literally just going to different parts of your own city, or state, or whatever to see different ways of being and learn from someone who thinks differently than you do. So, that’s more, I guess, where my mind went.  

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, like the word “openness” suggests, like, “Oh, somebody who would be willing to be wrong,” like, “curious about how other people live, wanting to see, you know, a different perspective.” Some longer inventories of personality would have items like that. It’s often called, like, “intellectual humility.” But that’s the interesting thing about these personality families. So, if somebody scores high in openness, it’s likely that things in this family you also score high on. So, people who have artistic interests are more likely to be interested in abstract ideas. And — let me get to the third, little, facet, if you will, of openness: it’s creative imagination. So, you also answered questions about being original and coming up with new ideas. I think on the creativity and originality scores, for you, I would score you very highly. Did you score yourself high on that?

MAUGHAN: I think I did. I will say, I benefit from also working with very creative people. And so, I would say that’s a learned skill in addition to maybe innate one.

DUCKWORTH: I don’t remember what I scored myself exactly, but I think I’m, like, semi-original. I’m not totally without creativity. But anyway, this gives you a sense that going outside your comfort zone, as May asks about, you know, “Is that a good idea?” I think in general the researchers who study openness would say: first of all, openness is good. It’s a positive personality characteristic, or trait, or family. And, yeah! Going outside your comfort zone is one way to begin to inch yourself up on the scale.

MAUGHAN: It’s so interesting, because as I’ve been thinking about this question from May, so much of my thought process went back to moments when maybe I was afraid to step outside my comfort zone.  

DUCKWORTH: Like when?

MAUGHAN: I immediately went back to searching for jobs out of college. And maybe that’s because that’s what May talked about. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, this will be a good example for May, because she’s clearly thinking about that, yeah. 

MAUGHAN: So, I was interning back in Washington, D.C. and needed another internship for the summer. I got an awesome offer from this company in Atlanta, Georgia. I’d never been to the southern United States. And I was talking to one of my colleagues at this current internship, and, you know, I said, “Hey, I got this internship. It’s a great job offer down in Atlanta.” She said, “Are you going to go?” I said, “I don’t think so. I’ve never been to Atlanta. I don’t know anybody there. I’m not sure how I would pull it off.” And she looked at me and said, “Well, if you’ve never been, this is going to be an amazing adventure, and you need to go have this experience.” And that one moment with Roxanne Taylor — who I have, I think, never seen or talked to again. But I’ve never forgotten her name because it was so impactful to me. 

DUCKWORTH: Such an important conversation, yeah. 

MAUGHAN: Yeah! And I took the job. I lived in a really random place, and rented a car from a person I’d met from, like, Craigslist or something. It was just all not put together. It seemed really risky. But I went outside my comfort zone, and I loved it. 

DUCKWORTH: What did you learn?

MAUGHAN: I loved the experience of living in the southern United States. The organization I worked for was the most efficient, incredible organization I’d ever seen. I learned some of the most transformative business lessons from being there. And I learned that you can take these, quote, little risks and it’s okay. You’re going to figure it out.

DUCKWORTH: Well, look, Mike, you and I would both love to hear the thoughts of our listeners on this topic of openness to experience or open-mindedness. We want to know, have you ever stepped outside of your quote-unquote, “comfort zone” and been glad you did? Or tell us if you wish you had not done so. Record a voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone and email us at Maybe we will play your voice memo on a future episode of the show. Also, if you want to learn more about your own personality, head to You can take the Big Five inventory — a short version of it — and you will get an immediate personality selfie. Your results will remain completely anonymous. Finally, if you like this show and want to support us, the very best thing you can do is to tell a friend. You can also spread the word on social media or leave a review in your podcast app. 

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: how can hobbies like calligraphy or improv comedy affect your personality?

MAUGHAN: “Hey, welcome to our improv show. We’re going to be very serious.”

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Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about openness.

DUCKWORTH: So, Mike, you know, when May brings up the question of like, “Should I venture outside my comfort zone?” — exploration is something that we, we probably don’t do enough, I think.

MAUGHAN: Well, and I think — and you’ll know more about this than I will, but I I think there’s this evolutionary bias toward not trying new things, right? Because there’s probably some danger to it. There’s a status element, like, “I don’t want to look dumb.” Right?

DUCKWORTH: You know, I think the burden of sticking with the safe and the familiar — sometimes it’s called “status-quo bias” — is a burden of the adults in the world and not of the young children. So, one of my favorite — like, super high in openness on all the dimensions — psychologists is Alison Gopnik. She’s a professor at Berkeley. She’s a developmental psychologist, so she studies the lifespan, but she’s done a lot of work with little kids. And she has a really interesting, like, evolutionary perspective on this. You know, this exploration-exploitation trade-off that all living organisms need to decide, you know, at any given moment, “Am I going to explore a new thing? Should I order a new thing off the menu? Should I change my routine? Should I go to a lecture that I may or may not like because it’s not the sort of thing I usually go to? Or do I exploit what I already know?” That’s the status quo. Like, “I know this chicken parmesan is always good, so I’m just going to order that.”

MAUGHAN: I have never regretted the eggs Benedict.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, really? I have always regretted the eggs Benedict.  

MAUGHAN: Stop it! 

DUCKWORTH: That can’t be true that you have never regretted the eggs Benedict. There are so many bad eggs Benedicts. Come on! Wait, are you going to the same place and getting the same eggs Benedict?

MAUGHAN: No! But it — okay. 


MAUGHAN: We can’t have this conversation.

DUCKWORTH: I don’t like eggs Benedict. Maybe that’s what this is —.  

MAUGHAN: Okay. Moving on — I’m just going to say, I love trying new things, but I’ve never regretted the eggs Benedict.

DUCKWORTH: I mean, like, when I look at a menu, I usually look at what I would like, and that is a form of status-quo bias. But you could actually be what Alison Gopnik would say is, like, more like a child. So, she would argue that from an evolutionary perspective, childhood is the period of search. Like, “I don’t know anything, so I better sample the whole menu of life.” Don’t get stuck in a rut too early. And she would say that, like, as you get older, then the calculus kind of shifts. And so now, you have sampled the world a little bit, and now maybe you should get the eggs Benedict every time — or for me, like, the avocado toast. But I think what she would also say is that especially, like, now in modern times, we can sometimes get too stuck in a rut too early. I just want to read you — like, she has this story about her husband. And I was reading this article. She’s a prolific writer. The title of her little essay was, “Exploration vs. Exploitation: Adults Are Learning (Once Again) From Children.” So, here’s the little story she tells about her husband: “Back in the seventies, my husband, Alvy Ray Smith, was one of the bright young inventors at the famous Xerox PARC, the Palo Alto Research Facility. Alvy was both an artist and an engineer, and he helped design one of the first computers that could make color pictures. Then the bad news came. Xerox management decided they no longer required his services because there was no need for color images. ‘But color is the future!’ he protested. ‘That may well be,’ they said, ‘but our business is black-and-white copiers.’” So, that’s the beginning of her story, right? So, she has this genius husband, he’s super creative. He’s like, “Hey, I know  how to make color pictures!” The higher-ups are like, “We don’t do color, we only do black and white.” But here’s the rest of her story. “But when Alvy tells this story, there’s a coda. A decade later, he became an executive himself when he co-founded a company called Pixar. And then, the young genius engineers began coming to him with exciting new ideas about what computers could do. Rather sadly, remembering his young self, he would have to remind them to stick to the company business. Alvy’s story exemplifies a fundamental tension that has recently been the focus of a lot of exciting research in cognitive science and psychology: the trade-off between exploration and exploitation. This tension applies far beyond entrepreneurship, although it’s still very relevant there. How do you balance innovation and implementation, possibility and practicality? How do you resolve the tension between the lore of the crazy new thing and the safe haven of the tried and true?” Isn’t that a great story?

MAUGHAN: It’s very well written. One thing that I think is really interesting in this idea of exploration versus exploitation: I’m a huge tennis fan. I, I —.

DUCKWORTH: Did not know that! I’m learning things about you every day. Wait, do you play tennis? 

MAUGHAN: Uh, I mean, very poorly. I played in high school, but I’m bad at it now. But I love watching tennis. And earlier this year, an Italian gentleman won his first Grand Slam. His name is Jannik Sinner.

DUCKWORTH: Okay, the Grand Slam is the Wimbledon, and you win like, what? Three other things?

MAUGHAN: There are four Grand Slams: Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the U.S. Open, and the French Open.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, they’re each called a Grand Slam? 

MAUGHAN: Yes. So, those four are the big prizes in tennis. So, he won the Australian Open at the beginning of the year. And in his interview after, he said, “I wish everyone could have my parents, because they always let me choose whatever I wanted, even when I was younger. I played some other sports, and they never put pressure on me. And I wish that this freedom is possible for as many young kids as possible.” And what I see around me all the time is parents almost forcing the kids to specialize in a sport. 

DUCKWORTH: I think not “almost.” I think, like, just flat out forcing their kids to specialize.

MAUGHAN: I know, I was trying to be generous. But yes. And you see it very early. It’s like “we’re going to go all in on baseball.” And I, I have a friend in California who said that the person who ran the children’s sports league — I can’t remember what sport — he stood up at the very beginning and said, “I want to be clear. In 30 years of running this league, we’ve had zero people go professional. I just want to remind you, parents, maybe relax a little. None of your kids are going into the N.F.L., the M.L.B., the N.B.A. Let’s have some fun.” But people specialize so soon that they often lose this exploration phase. And to this point that May’s asking about, about being open-minded — I loved that Jannik Sinner, who is one of the greatest tennis players in the world right now, comes out and just says, “I’m so grateful that my parents let me play other sports, try other things” And that’s what often — whether it’s sports, or education, or your career — it’s that level of exploration that lets you kind of hone in where you need to go.

DUCKWORTH: You know, I think one of the problems is that people hear about, like, Tiger Woods, you know? Played golf since he was two. You know, there are these stories of specialists who were, like, specialists nearly in the crib. And then, of course, every parent is just looking at the local incentives, and they’re like, “Well, if they got a year early into this sport, then they would have a year more practice than the other kids.” But they’re really making a foolish choice. So, Alison Gopnik has been studying exploration versus exploitation for many years, but very recently people have been looking at professional athletes, Olympic athletes, and even Nobel-Prize winners and doing this research on what their childhoods were like. And asking the question, you know, “Is Tiger Woods the exception or the rule?” Like, “Should you specialize early, or should you sample early?” is how it’s usually phrased. And the resounding conclusion across all these studies is that it’s much better to sample early. And if you look at even the highest performers in sports or in intellectual pursuits, they tended to have a wide-ranging childhood where they had parents who supported them quitting. You have to quit things early and often, when you’re young especially, because, you know, maybe baseball’s not for you. Like, maybe you’d be happier playing volleyball. But parents are still not getting that message. Everywhere I go when I see parents, I’m like, “You know, take it from me — somebody who studies grit in adulthood — that what leads to specialization and loving your calling starts with sampling.” And then, I tell them about all the things I quit, and I tell them about my kids quitting. And I don’t know if I’m convincing them, honestly.

MAUGHAN: Which is, is crazy because the data is so there. I want to share just a couple stories that I think illustrate this from the business side of this world.

DUCKWORTH: Yes, the world you live in. 

MAUGHAN: Yes, it is. One is from Steve Jobs in his epic commencement talk at Stanford University.  And he talked about how when he was going to college — and he went to college briefly before he dropped out — he took a calligraphy class, just because he was curious, just because he had some openness. There was no purpose to it. There was no plan. But he said, “That one calligraphy class became the basis of every font that the Apple computer would eventually use.” But then, he said that Microsoft basically copied all of Apple’s fonts. So, all the fonts we use anywhere came because Steve Jobs took a random calligraphy class. There’s this awesome other story that comes actually from our sibling show, People I (Mostly) Admire, where Steve Levitt was interviewing David Epstein, the author of the great book, Range.

DUCKWORTH: I love David Epstein. Go on. I just need to say it’s a great book. He’s a great guy.

MAUGHAN: Incredible book. And he talked about this experience of this electrical engineer at the University of Michigan named Claude Shannon, who was forced to take a philosophy course to fulfill a requirement and in this philosophy course is where he learned this very old logical system about true and false statements that could be coded with ones and zeros and solved like a, a math problem. So, as Shannon is going through this, he sees this theory that has been around for 80 years and accomplished nothing really practical. But then, he later does an internship at a phone company, and he starts realizing that he can use relay circuits like ones and zeros to code information into circuits. And that is where he gave birth to binary code, which is what all digital computers rely on today. But it was this ability to explore that took something from philosophy and then fundamentally changed the future of digital computing. 

DUCKWORTH: You know, there is this incredibly creative guy at Kellogg, the School of Business at Northwestern, named Dashun Wang, and he analyzed huge datasets. I think he’s a physicist by training, so he was doing this super complex modeling of really big datasets. You know, the IMDb database of all of the creative people who have made films and so on and so forth. And what he identified is that what precedes a streak of creative productivity — he calls them “hot streaks” — when you look in the data — and he said he worked on this for years, and he was trying, like, every possibility — he found that it was sampling. What precedes a hot streak of creativity is a kind of cross-fertilizing sampling, frankly, of things that don’t look that good, don’t sound that good, don’t turn out well, but then end up giving you an idea that you wouldn’t have had. And I want to say to a young person like May: I do think eventually you do need to specialize to be good at anything, you know, it has to be something that you work on for years with thousands of hours of practice. But the idea of range that David Epstein was so correct, I think, in putting his finger on is that you never want to lose some amount of sampling. You never want to have a day in your life where you’re only exploiting and not exploring because then you can’t cross-fertilize with anything. And even me. I mean, you know me, Mike, I’m, like, obsessed about psychology but every time I, like, watch some documentary, like, it not only makes me a sort of more open person, but honestly, it does often come in unexpected ways back to my actual work. And it makes me more creative.

MAUGHAN: I believe so firmly in this idea of cross-pollination and what it can do. I mean, just another example. If you look at work from home, that’s become this massive trend. There’s this resistance coming back into the office. But what happens is so often groups get siloed. So, only engineers talk to engineers. Only marketing talks to marketing. Only sales talks to sales. 

DUCKWORTH: On Zoom calls, right? Because they’re all planned. You don’t have any of these, like, spontaneous “in-the-hallway-type” interactions. 

MAUGHAN: Exactly! So, you lose all this spontaneous interaction where so many of the ideas that are created come into effect. And one of the rules we always had at Qualtrics in our early days was that there had to be spaces created within the offices that created spontaneous interaction. So, we would put a kitchen with this kind of food on this floor so that people would all have to go to that spot if they wanted that food, because it fostered random connections, and you never know what might come from those.  

DUCKWORTH: You know, for those people who are like, “Okay, how do I get the highest dose of this sampling?” I mean, there are these very recent scientific studies that ask that question and answer it with improv.

MAUGHAN: Like, comedy improv? 

DUCKWORTH: Yes, I guess “improv” is short for “improvisation?” And it’s usually, I think, done in comedy. Although I guess in theory you could have, like, an improv sketch that — maybe it’s always supposed to be funny. I don’t know. I don’t really do improv.

MAUGHAN: “Hey, welcome to our improv show. We’re going to be very serious.”

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I guess it would be hard to have a drama. So, like, improv is all about “yes, and.” I guess that’s the rule. Like, you know, somebody pretends that a water bottle is a rocket, and then you just have to accept that. You don’t get to say, like, “No.” Like, “No, it’s a water bottle.” Like, you’re just like, “Yes, and” — and if it were a rocket, we’d be on Mars! Like, “yes, and” — and if we were on Mars, there wouldn’t be enough oxygen. So, this positive “yes, and” approach to life — to accept things and not to say “no, but” and to go outside your comfort zone and to explore. But then there are these research studies One was that researchers asked people to do improv. They did this as an experiment where you’re asked to do it, or you’re not asked to do it and you’re in some kind of control group. And in one study, what the researchers found is that this improvisational theater training improves divergent thinking, boosts positive emotion or happiness, and also increases this tolerance towards uncertainty. And there was another study published very recently by Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach — these are behavioral scientists who are really awesome, and they likewise looked at the experience of discomfort and they didn’t do improv, but they basically were doing something which is very improv consistent, which is reframing going outside of your comfort zone, reframing discomfort, feeling awkward or uncomfortable — reframing that as growth. They were like, when you feel uncomfortable, take it as a signal that you’re growing.” And basically, what they found is that when you reframe discomfort, awkwardness, and so forth, as self-growth, that you increase engagement. You increase this kind of approach motivation — to lean into that. So, I don’t know if everybody can get into an improv group, but if you can think of, like, reframing —.  

MAUGHAN: I don’t know if everybody should get into an improv group.

DUCKWORTH: Why not? Wouldn’t it be great if we could all do, like, Second City improv?

MAUGHAN: I’m mostly thinking of The Office and Michael Scott who did improv, and they tried to kick him out over and over because no matter what happened, he would do his “yes, and,” and then pull out a gun and be, like, “And you’re dead. And you’re dead.” And it was like, he ruined it. Every time. 

DUCKWORTH: I missed that. Oh my gosh. I did not see those episodes.

MAUGHAN: I think are enough people like that that we — but no, here’s what I think fascinating about what you’re saying is that I am a huge fan of the idea of reframing. And I forget to do it often and therefore don’t benefit from it. But what you’re talking about is when you walk into a situation and say, “Hey, instead of feeling X, I want to feel Y.” Then it really does, at least for me, change everything in my approach.

DUCKWORTH: Right. Yeah. Well, look, Mike, let’s end this conversation on openness with the question of what I can do for you. I know what you’re going to do for me to increase my openness. You’re going to send me a song every week. I cannot wait. 

MAUGHAN: And a poem.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, a song and a poem. Excellent. Okay, what can I do for you? And let me remind you that there was an aspect of openness that’s about aesthetics; there’s an aspect about intellectual curiosity, especially in abstract ideas; and then finally, creativity. We also said that’s not all. But what aspect of openness do you feel a hankering to improve where I can help you?

MAUGHAN: I would love to continue to broaden, I guess, my thoughts and abstract ideas. I don’t even know what that means, practically.  

DUCKWORTH: Okay, I’m not going to send you something every week. I’m going to get you something right now. And I know we recently talked about the life of Danny Kahneman, about what a great intellectual he was. One of the very last conversations — I actually think this may have been in my last conversation with Danny — he said, “Angela, I’m going to do something I never do because I have a rule not to do this.” And then, of course, I was waiting on the edge of my seat. He was like, “I’m going to recommend a book. I never tell people what to read. But I’m going to tell you to read this book.” And I was like, “Okay, what’s the book?” And he said, “A Brief History of Intelligence by Max Bennett.” And I said to Danny, I was like, “Never heard of Max Bennett.” I’ve spent 20 plus years studying intelligence and what it is and what it’s not, and I was like, “Who the hell is Max Bennett?” He’s like, “I had never heard of Max Bennett either, but I was looking for something to read.” And he saw this book that he had never heard of. So, Danny decides to start the book, you know, exploration, not exploitation. Like, “Why not? Give it a whirl. Yes, and.” And he says he couldn’t do anything else but read that book until he finished it. So, he read it cover to cover. And then, he read it again.

MAUGHAN: Wait, really?

DUCKWORTH: Yes. So, I, indeed, immediately ordered the book, and I started reading it. And even before I finished it, I started evangelizing to all of my friends in psychology. And I email these people and I’m like, “Look, take it from Danny Kahneman, like, you should just start reading this book.” They’re like, “Who the hell is Max Bennett?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. He’s some kid who apparently got a B.A. in Philosophy but, like, wrote this book.  

MAUGHAN: Oh wait, so he’s like a young —.

DUCKWORTH: I mean, he’s not 12, but he’s not a professor. He doesn’t have a Ph.D. I think he runs, like, an A.I. tech start-up. But he just got interested in what is it to have an intelligent thought? And he does this kind of, like,  tour of how we got smart as a species, beginning with primordial sludge. Taking us all the way through to ChatGPT4 — that kind of being like the next horizon, like, something human beings invented. And I need to show you these email threads. All of these eminent professors — at Stanford, at Harvard, at Yale, at M.I.T. — all of us are like, “Holy s***. Holy s***. This guy has come up with a story for the beginning, and the middle, and the future of intelligence that none of us who do this for a living could possibly have dreamed of.” So, Mike, I’m not going to send you a song or a poem every week, but I am going to tell you that you should read A Brief History of Intelligence, and then you need to tell me later whether it blew your mind.

MAUGHAN: Okay. I will say, I am not in the company of you and Danny and all these others, so this is a little outside my comfort zone. But I am in. I will read it. And I will let you know how it opens my mind. 

And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation:

Mike says that, earlier this year, Italian professional tennis player Jannik Sinner won his first Grand Slam. To be clear, he meant that Sinner won a single Grand Slam tournament — the 2024 Australian Open. He didn’t win a Grand Slam in the sense of winning all the big four tournaments in a single year — only five players have ever done that.

Later, Angela says that Tiger Woods began playing golf when he was just two years old. At the age of two, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, made his first national television appearance on the Mike Douglas Show — putting against comedian Bob Hope —  but he actually began playing golf even earlier, reportedly taking his first swing at 10 months old and playing his first hole at 18 months old. At the age of three, he shot 48 for nine holes, and he was featured in Golf Digest at the age of five.

Finally, Mike and Angela wonder if improv is specific to the genre of comedy. Improvisational theater, a form of unscripted performance, is most often associated with comedy, but it may also be experimental, dramatic, or avant-garde.

That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about last week’s episode on personality change.

Nick LOUGHREN: Hey, Mike and Angela. Great episode. So, as a child, I was very quiet and reclusive. And in high school, I decided that I wanted to change this. And so, I forced myself to talk to new people, and to hug people, and to go out there and be outgoing. And it actually worked, and I became that guy who basically knew everyone in our graduating class. And this sustained itself for a while until the lockdowns happened and I kind of reverted to my old personality and I found that it was difficult for me to talk to people. And it took a while, but eventually I was able to sort of retrain that extroversion. And so, I think what this shows is that you might have a baseline default personality that has a lot of malleability, but if you’re not working at it constantly, you can revert to that default

John COX: My name is John, and I have Asperger’s. It feels like my personality has changed quite a bit over time. The real me seems like an observer and an analyst, and all of the personality traits feel like a construct, a mask, something that can be manufactured as necessary, adjusted, tweaked, and switched out on the fly. But yeah, personality seems like a very fluid set of behaviors, just because I’ve spent so much time having to learn personality manually. 

Ruba A:  Hi, Angela and Mike, as someone who has been through depression, I have made major notes about how my personality changed a lot, not necessarily for the better. I used to be a bubbly, positive, cheerful, overambitious, overmotivated person. And the depression absolutely changed my personality to a point where people didn’t recognize me anymore. And I did not recognize myself. And I think In hindsight, after many years of struggling with this, I realized that I was holding on to the hope that maybe I could revert back to my first personality, original personality, and I think that was a harmful tendency. I was trying to work my way back, when in fact I should have been focusing on working my way forward. So, I’ve been working hard on myself and embracing the thought that if I make small incremental changes every day, I can be an even better person tomorrow. Of course, with someone with depression, this means extra work. It’s like a full time job, but it’s worth it.

That was, respectively, Nick Loughren, John Cox, and Rub A. Thanks to them and to everyone who shared their stories with us. And remember, we’d love to hear your thoughts on openness to experience. Have you ever stepped outside your comfort zone and been glad that you did? Or: regretted it? Send a voice memo to, and you might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Is grit just conscientiousness is disguise?

MAUGHAN: Did you make your bed this morning?

DUCKWORTH: I did not make my bed this morning. 

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. The senior producer of the show is me, Rebecca Lee Douglas, and Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. Thanks to May Lee for her help with the Big Five survey. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

DUCKWORTH: When I order something off the menu and I don’t like it — well, first I make Jason eat it, and then we swap.


A correction was made on April 22, 2024In an earlier version of this episode, Angela read a section of an essay that incorrectly states that the computer mouse was developed at Xerox PARC. It was actually invented at Stanford Research Institute.

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  • Max Bennett, co-founder and C.E.O. of Alby.
  • David Epstein, author and journalist.
  • Ayelet Fishbach, professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
  • Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Steve Jobs, co-founder and former C.E.O. of Apple.
  • Oliver John, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Daniel Kahneman, professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
  • Claude Shannon, 20th century mathematician and computer scientist.
  • Jannik Sinner, professional tennis player.
  • Alvy Ray Smith, co-founder of Pixar and founding director of computer graphics at Lucasfilm.
  • Christopher Soto, professor of psychology at Colby College.
  • Dashun Wang, professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University.
  • Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, professional golfer.
  • Kaitlin Woolley, professor of marketing at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.



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