Episode 34: Negotiating the Impossible

That’s the name of a book by our HBS colleague Deepak Malhotra, the guest in this episode. The book’s subtitle is How to Break Deadlocks and Resolve Ugly Conflicts (without Money or Muscle). The cover shows a bomb shaped like a cannonball. Its short fuse is lit and sparking.

Deepak is drawn to dangerous problems that others believe are intractable. That interest is grounded in his values and energized by great curiosity, coupled with wit and humor. His dedication to peacemaking is reflected in his research, teaching, and his pro bono work in trouble spots around the globe.

Deepak strongly believes that understanding the dynamics of international conflict and civil strife provides important lessons in everyday life. When he teaches in the Families in Business course in HBS Executive Program, his references to war and peace draw knowing chuckles from participants. As he tells us, “Those elements of identity, respect, non-financial concerns, the long shadow of the past, uncertainty, and ego issues exist in business contexts.”

In addition, we also talked with Deepak about his own remarkable career. He attributes much of his success to a willingness to quit what he’s doing, whether that’s walking away from what others would regard as a great job or shutting down a research project that no longer intrigues him.  When he was fresh out of college, he quit a job with a prestigious consulting firm. He didn’t like having to put on a “game face” and not be his true self. Several years ago a graduating class chose him to speak as part of commencement. His message was:  “Quit often and quit early.”

That willingness to drop something has opened him up to opportunities he couldn’t have anticipated or planned for. Deepak’s comfortable announcing a bold new course, before he’s done any work developing the content. It forces him to get going. When it launches, “some classes go decently near plan and others go nowhere plan.” For him, teaching is a process of experimentation and learning himself.

Deepak has a stellar resume. He’s done lab studies, published extensively in academic journals, and has several books under his belt. But even in his writing, he does the unexpected. Earlier this year, he published a sci-fi novel called The Peacemaker’s Code. The hero isn’t  a UN diplomat. Rather it’s a young historian who is delegated to enter a spacecraft that has landed on earth. And the alien’s intentions are not known. Tune in to learn more!

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