Many people hate their inbox, but I love mine. I get hundreds of emails each day. At least a few times a week, I get a request for help from a stranger, and these give me a thrill. Doing a little favor for someone is a great way to kickstart my day. It gives me the energy to tackle the much bigger problems that are part of my routine.
When I was young, if you told me you had a problem, I’d be likely to counter with a problem of my own—rather than help you solve yours. That all changed on the morning of May 6, 1982, when someone told me there is no shortage of work, and when the money dries up, the work piles up. I had been unemployed for months, and he suggested that rather than look for jobs, I look for people with problems and try to figure out how to solve them.
A few days later I began writing to everyone I knew (about 200 people in all) saying that I was looking for problems to solve. Almost immediately an investment bank asked me to read some computer code and write a user’s manual. Although the project lasted only about a month, it completely changed the direction of my life, and led to a career in finance.
Since that day in 1982 I have never had to look at a job ad to find a job. Instead, I go out of my way to find people with problems. I love small problems I can solve in a few minutes or hours, and occasionally problems come along that lead to jobs. I’ve been in my current position since 1995, but the history of how I got it began with a small favor I did for someone four years earlier.
Why this matters is dissected in Wharton professor Adam Grant’s best-selling book, Give and Take. In a recent interview he did with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Grant began by saying his email was his most fascinating read. The interview did not pursue that thread, so I wrote to him to ask for more details.
Read more at Quartz.