072: Unleashing Simplicity with Lisa Bodell

By October 14, 2016Podcasts

 

Lisa Bodell shares pro-tips on how to declutter our work lives to better focus on what truly matters.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Tools to eliminate unnecessary complexity in the workplace
  2. A methodology to reclaim 50% of your time spent in meetings
  3. The optimal attitude that gets your bosses to notice and value you

About Lisa
Lisa Bodell serves as a global council member of the World Economic Forum; and has helped thousands of senior leaders ignite innovation at Bloomberg, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, and many others. She has been rated as a top speaker at Google’s client events and is the author of the best-selling book Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution, which won the 2014 Axiom Best Business Book Award and was voted Best Business Book by USA Book News and Booz & Co. Her new book, Why Simple Wins, releases October 2016. Lisa is an advisor on the boards of the Association of Professional Futurists; and Novartis’ Diversity and Inclusion Board in Basel, Switzerland. Among her many academic activities, Lisa has taught innovation and creativity at both American and Fordham Universities.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Lisa Bodell Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Lisa, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Lisa Bodell
Thanks for having me!

Pete Mockaitis
I have to admit, I was very intrigued and engaged on your website over there, FutureThink.com, with the Two Truths And A Lie. And so, I have a guess, let’s see how it goes. The three options are: one, you’re a professional tennis instructor; two, you were in an emergency crash landing in an airplane; and three, you’ve completed seven marathons.
Can you put me out of my suspense? Which one is in fact a lie?

Lisa Bodell
Well, you tell me first, which one do you think was a lie?

Pete Mockaitis
I thought, if it were me and I were being tricky, I’ll be like, “I haven’t completed seven marathons, I’ve only completed five marathons.”

Lisa Bodell
Oh man! Well, you caught me. I have not completed seven. I completed two!

Pete Mockaitis
Two! Okay.

Lisa Bodell
That is the lie. That’s the lie.

Pete Mockaitis
Also, we lie similarly, you and I.

Lisa Bodell
We do. We do. But it’s, actually it’s so intriguing ‘cause people, it’s a great way to get people engaged with your business because you know, people buy people, right?
And that’s just a classic learning no matter what industry you’re in. And they want to connect on a human level and when we put Two Truths And A Lie up, you know, each of the people on our website, if you go there, go to FutureThink.com and you can see some really clever ones in the Bio Section.
But when they call us, and they don’t know us, the first thing they’ll ask our people is “Okay, which one is the lie?” And that’s really fun because you know, then we spend all this time on a little lie, we get to know each other as people before we get to know each other as business.
So, yeah I’ve not on seven marathons, I used to teach adults and kids tennis to get on the circuit, and I was in a crash landing on an airplane. So, those were my truths.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s very effective. I guess I played right into your marketing plans.

Lisa Bodell
You sure did. See how effective that is. But it’s really fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so now I’d love to chat about some of the takeaways emerging from your forthcoming book Why Simple Wins. And so, it’s a very compelling subtitle there about escaping the complexity trap and getting to the work that really matters. Wow! I think we’d all like to do a little bit more of that.

Lisa Bodell
Well I think everyone would. That’s what led me to write the book, which was, when I started, when I started my business, I started it twenty years ago, as many people I’m sure listening, you know, I was young, very aspirational, you know, I can do attitude.
You know as time goes on like you start to get worn down by a lot of the things that happen within business and climbing up the ladder, etc. These get, things in life get more complex. And I founded my business when, you know I have this innovation training business. We teach leaders about change and innovation and we kept going out to engagements, my trainers all over the world, to teach change and they were so frustrated when they got to these companies because the people that were bringing them in to teach change and to really start innovating were pushing back on them and they couldn’t figure out why.
And so I started asking people you know, “what the heck is going on?” and I asked them a really simple question. I asked all these people, you know, lots of different companies around the world, “what do you spend your day doing?”
And I have to say what surprised me was not just the uniqueness or range of their answers, but frankly it was the complete consistency of how they answered the question. So I’d say, “what do you spend your day doing?” And guess what they said.

Pete Mockaitis
Email. Meetings.

Lisa Bodell
Meetings and emails. Those are the first two things exactly. And so the idea was, people, they get up to do things that matter. They don’t go to work to get excited about you know, loads of emails. It doesn’t make them feel popular or wanted or loved. That’s mundane crap.
And people wanna do things that matter so in order to get them to the work that matters we’ve got to really start addressing our addiction to complexity. And we unknowingly, as humans we create it. We resist change and we like the status quo and we have to, we have to stop valuing the complexity and the more. The addition part of your lives and start getting comfortable with less. Subtraction, creating that space so we can really make meaningful work happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes. Well, that sounds good to me. So could talk a little bit about where do you start with making that happen?

Lisa Bodell
You personally can start. We did a lot of research and we came up with all these tools. Actually, the cool thing that came out of doing research for the book was the tools that a person could do on their own. And it was things like, writing a Code of Conduct, so people can get comfortable with that you’re not gonna waste their time.
And another thing is you can actually start addressing having better meetings, and doing better emails. So example, allowing people to say “no” to meetings, making meetings shorter, not going to a meeting or leaving it if it doesn’t have an agenda, dis-allowing PowerPoint from a meeting. With email, not using the body of the email, you can only use the subject line to keep things short.
So there’s lots of little tips and tricks that you as a person can start to exhibit those behaviors that then can trickle up to bigger things.
Meetings and emails are individual complexities but those affect organizational ones. You know like the processes and decision making and all that kind of stuff, so it can start with you.
And that’s what I think is the most powerful about the book is there are things you can start to do to make it contagious, and trust me it’s contagious. Once one person starts to simplify, people get jealous and they want in on it. So be the guy who starts the change.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, like it but I think it takes a little bit of audacity like, just “I’m walking out of this meeting because there’s no agenda here.” What is some perspectives of pulling that off?

Lisa Bodell
Oh but that’s a bigger one. Then you gotta be the boss to pull that one off otherwise you know you’re, that could be a career-limiting move, really. But there are companies – we know this from organizations like Facebook and Maersk, I’ll give them as two specific examples, that have focused solely on meetings, making better meetings because it consumes so much of us, you know it’s interesting. We focus on big processes, or IT problems. If you could just get meetings right in most organizations, you would transform that business.
So back at Maersk and Facebook, they made it okay, they publicly stated that a behavior that they expect it from people is to walk out of a meeting without an agenda. So what that does is it doesn’t shame the person that says no, it shames the person frankly that doesn’t have their act together. Because you’re not allowed to waste others’ time anymore. And that’s important. I think that’s a really good precedent to set.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay so, I think those are some immediate tactics and takeaways. Thank you. I love that. So, what are some additional practices or perspectives when it comes to getting meetings right?

Lisa Bodell
Well, getting meetings right, part of that is, there’s other factors as part of that. It can be the environment where the meetings are, right, to actually get them to be more effective. It can be who’s invited and who’s not, are you inclusive, are you too inclusive? It can go beyond that.
It’s more about not just meetings and emails, but frankly, decision making. How many people have to be involved in the decision, are you doing that because you’re trying to cover your ass, or fear? You know, there’s a lot of things that drive complexity of things like risk, fear, power and control. So meetings could be either you include too many people because you fear having to make a decision on your own, or it’s excluding people because you wanna be seen as the power player. And by excluding people, you’re the one that’s in charge.
So, complexity can take many different forms. You have to decide how exactly you want to eradicate it and what you end goal is. You know, is simplifying just about saving money? Is it about changing the culture? Is it about making happier customers? There’s lots of different factors and you have to, you need to spend time up front defining that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh I hear you. So there’s some deeper work associated with who really needs to be involved in a given decision.

Lisa Bodell
Yes

Pete Mockaitis
Which then informs who needs to be at these respective meetings.

Lisa Bodell
There’s tactics and like the tactics of meetings and emails and reports and things like that, those are things that people at an individual level can do.
But there are some things that you know, I think at some point that if you’re the boss or the head of a group, you are responsible for making those decisions. People are looking to you to know what behaviors you expect.
You need to empower people when it’s okay to simplify. And in some instances, you need to mandate it, and I think that’s really important for the people here if you actually have a couple of people that report to you.
People are scared and they don’t wanna lose their job. So if you’re a boss, one of the best things you can do is give them permission to not be more effective but to do more meaningful things. And you know, they will thank you for it. They’ll think you’re a great boss ‘cause that takes a lot of guts to say it’s okay to get rid of something.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay so can you share with us, what are some additional things that should be gotten rid of? I guess in some ways it’s like a subset of certain types of meetings, or certain types of emails. Could you shine a nice spotlight on these things that should probably go?

Lisa Bodell
Sure. So, one of the things we asked people to do is you know, do a meeting audit. Write down all the meetings that you do on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, ad hoc basis. And set an audacious goal, fifty percent, that you wanna get rid of fifty percent of those meetings. And what that really does by having an audacious goal is, you’re probably not gonna get rid of fifty percent of them but you’re gonna start to really look at what things would not be missed if we didn’t do them anymore.
And that then trickles over to things like how we communicate, right? Do we have to always CC everybody on this list? It trickles over to things like reports, especially when it comes to status meetings or reports you have to deliver to your boss or to others, right? Are there ways that we could get other people to help us poll this data? Are there reports that are redundant? Are there parts of this report that if we never did again, no one would ever miss?
If we had to cut this in half and only deliver it in half the time, what would we get rid of? So what you’re doing is you’re forcing people to make tough decisions and really figure out what’s valuable. Because what simplicity comes down to is time versus value. And you have to figure out where you spend your best time and the things that are most valuable, and often that means taking a hard look at what really matters in getting rid of stuff that you really realize isn’t that important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So those are, that’s a great list of questions to really put things in a focus in a hurry. Can we maybe talk about the flipside of this, the stuff that does really matter, the high value stuff? We put a light toward that which should be eliminated, can we now put a light toward that which is underdone that really should be done more because it is so valuable and it has such ripple effects.

Lisa Bodell
Sure. I mean, ideally what happens is then you have more time for stuff externally. You know, we spend a lot of time on trading off within companies. The telescope for the microscope. So we’re so focused on the microscope and the inside, the navel gazing as they call it.
With our reports and our emails and our meetings that we forget that the endgame is for most people to do more, sell more, solve problems, the external factor, right? And so the idea is, when you’re now more efficient or you work on stuff that matters, you’d have more time for customers, for patients, for experimenting to find that life-saving drug, to really become the inventor that has time to tinker and not worry about failure or waste.
Those kinds of things. And you know, to tell you a thought experiment. It’s interesting. Most people have a very easy time doing this. Create a t-chart on a piece of paper.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay

Lisa Bodell
And on the left hand side, write down all the things that you wish you’d never had to do at your job or wouldn’t be missed or you think are a complete waste of your time. And people are pretty good they can get a handful of things. And then on the right hand side of the paper, what do you wish you could do with your time that would be saved from not doing those other things anymore? What would you do with that time?
And I was just doing this today at Bank of America and you know what people said? That was great. They came up with really aspirational things. It’s not like they just wanna screw around, right? They wanted more time to go home, you know, to have a longer lunch. They wanted to experiment more, they wanted to work on strategy, they wanted to do deeper work, they wanted to spend more time outside with customers, they wanted to be able to actually meet with patients, they wanted to watch people use their products. I mean, really cool stuff that, isn’t that what they should be doing? But they don’t have time to get to it, so you know, it’s a really neat thing for you personally to actually force yourself to say “what are the things that I just hate.” Practically it’s emotional. “What do we hate doing?” And then “what do I wish I was doing” because that wish then starts the intent process. And that really makes you start to focus on what’s valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that’s good. That’s good. I, it’s so funny I wanna do this right now but the show must go on. I’m tucking that away ‘cause it’s..

Lisa Bodell
Do it later. Great.

Pete Mockaitis
‘Cause it’s really inspiring. And now could you talk a bit about what you call the “sport of being busy”?

Lisa Bodell
The sport of being busy, so it’s, the anecdote I like to say is you know, twenty years ago, when somebody asks you, or maybe even you know, ten years ago depending on the age of the person that’s listening to the podcast you know, ”How’re you doing?” and people would say “I’m good!” And then you know, more technology takes over, we start taking on to more complex work, someone says “how’re you doing?” they say “I’m fine.” And now today when someone asks you how you’re doing, what’s the standard response? “Busy!”
“I’m busy. Are you busy? Well, you’re not as busy as I am. I’m busy.” It’s really a sport of being busy. “Who’s busy?” “I’m busy” or “How come they’re not have time?” They don’t really have to stop. I know I’m busy and I can do it. You know we have this like busy off kind of thing. So you know, it’s the sport of being busy and the reason why we do that is because we feel like doing is more important than thinking.
“More” is more valuable than “less.” And so we become addicted, right? There’s kind of this addicted to doing over thinking, and doing more, and no one gets rewarded for doing less, that I know of the companies at least. You get rewarded for more people, more markets, more products, more revenue, more, more, more! And therefore, we don’t even think about simplifying or less. We just add it on to.
And that’s how the “sport of busy starts to happen because no one wants to be seen as not having anything to do, right? God forbid. We need to be doing something even if that something isn’t valuable. And I, I think that that’s, the sport of being busy has actually created a lot of busy work and a lot less value in the market than we realize.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s true. It’s funny that even as, like an intern or in your earliest experiences of work when you don’t have enough to do yet, you want to look busy.

Lisa Bodell
Oh yeah. You wanna look busy. And you know what’s really funny is, that’s cool. That’s like good energy. You wanna look busy like you’re doing something productive but you don’t know what that is.
And what would be really cool I will tell you for people hearing the podcast, if you are new to a company, an intern, you are young in your career and you are only managing a few people, if you can be that guy or that woman, who is the one who’s always looking to solve a problem, who’s looking to simplify, who’s looking to make things better, you will be the rock star in your company. I guarantee it.
Some people at first will feel very lonely because their bosses will be busy and not wanting to take on having to do the change that you’re suggesting. But I’m telling you, if you’re that person that starts to all of a sudden just finds solutions to stuff, to simplify, to streamline, you will become the person that gets promoted first. I guarantee it.
So, if I were you, and you’re young and just starting in your career, be the first person that wants to find you know, get to the work that matters because bosses will recognize you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh there’s so much good stuff here I’d like to go on and on but we got limited time. Tell us, is there anything else you really wanna make sure we hit home about eliminating redundancy, communicating with clarity, making simplification a habit, before we kind of shift gears into the fast faves.

Lisa Bodell
Sure. I mean, one thing I really just like to say is that there’s, that a couple misnomers or things that’re misleading about simplicity you know, you can oversimplify. And that’s interesting, you can kind of, you can do too much, like you can take that hundred page contract and get it down to one page.
And sometimes, they don’t realize that you wanna simplify something as much as possible. Like you don’t wanna simplify something so much but then you spend all of your time explaining what you took out.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright

Lisa Bodell
And the other thing is, don’t confuse being organized with being simple. You know, the most organized hundred fifty-step process is not simple. And within organizations, especially for people here listening, your boss will probably frustrate you because they want you to organize something. But I think what you need to think about is, they want you to really simplify something. So they might say “organized” but they mean “simplify” and those are not necessarily the same thing, right? “Organized” is just, it looks good on the desk ad it’s all consistent, “simplified” is, it works really well.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. Well now, could you maybe start us off by sharing, do you have a favorite quote, something that has inspired you again and again?

Lisa Bodell
Yeah there’s a few that actually comes to mind, you know when I was putting together my book, there were the quotes we kept coming across like, “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated” and I think that that’s really true. Actually we are the ones that create the monster that we become a slave to.
There’s a great quote actually, my favorite was once from a writer named Dave Barry. He said you know “I you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve its potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”
And so I really, you know, what’s really interesting is we as humans get in our own way. But the power of that is, humans can also fix it. We just have to get comfortable with the process of getting rid of, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh okay. How about a favorite study or piece of research?

Lisa Bodell
Yeah actually there was a really cool piece of research that just came out, it was in Harvard Business Review, here in the spring. And it was put together by a bunch of different consulting firms so Bain does a lot of this especially. And the research was talking about, basically the article was saying “does technology help us or hurt us?” And the answer of course is “yes.”
And what I liked about that was how much the article talked about, we need to get to this place where just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Lisa Bodell
And there’s a lot of that right with technology. Let’s solve it with the tech with something. Or personally how we like to think if we can get more apps or be on more social media. And at some point it just, it becomes noise. Right, it doesn’t become valuable. And if I would read actually that piece of research that Bain has put out on complexity versus simplicity as well as the piece on technology, does it help us or hurt us, ‘cause it will make, it will confirm the things that you experience everyday that frustrate you, and talk a little bit about why it’s okay not to do everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that’s powerful. I kind of hear Jeff Goldblum in my ear right now from Jurassic Park. You know, “we thought about whether or not we could and not whether or not we should.”

Lisa Bodell
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think, I think you just nailed it. And how about a favorite book?

Lisa Bodell
Well, I am a little biased towards my one, right now. Actually a good friend of mine Adam Grant, Originals, I just think that’s a really fantastic book that just came out recently. I would highly recommend it. About how you know, people that are different and think originally and actually, they try again and again and again and they don’t give up. You know, that “stick-to-itiveness” are the ones that will really make a difference in the world. And I believe what he says.

Pete Mockaitis
An how about a favorite tool, whether that’s a piece of hardware, software, gadget that makes you more effective or maybe you wanna get away with all the tools.

Lisa Bodell
Yeah, I’ll tell you. My favorite tool is, there’s something on an email, my favorite one is Delete. And the other one I don’t think they have function we don’t use to, as much as we need to Save As Draft. And the reason why that’s very powerful is we tend to, it’s like that joke when someone says “I really apologize for writing a hundred-page book, I didn’t have time to write a 10-page one” because it’s so much easier to write in long form and you will just have a moment to save our stuff and then realize that we can edit it back it would save us and a lot of people time.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. And how about a favorite habit or personal practice of yours that’s a boost to your effectiveness?

Lisa Bodell
Yeah, I mean I have to say at the end of every year, I’ll tell you what I do with my team, is I have them go through, personally, we go through all our files and folders, I go through my personal contacts on my emails, all these, the clutter that I get through over the, you know I get a lot of contacts and requests to connect and all these other stuff from people that I barely need. And I hone it back down to the people that really, that matter and where I wanna focus, or the newsletters, or the books. Just the things that I would rather now focus and I eliminate all the rest.
And I have to tell you that getting in that habit or that practice, whether it’s once a year or every quarter, of eliminating and focusing.  Kind of like that Unsubscribe, I think it’s really powerful. I do love my phone, I get rid of the apps that I haven’t used in forever, ‘cause I wanna declutter my life so I can focus on the things that really have value.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh lovely. And could you share a sort of favorite nugget or piece of content that you’ve shared that folks really seemed to resonate with in terms of their nod on their heads, they’re taking notes, they’re retweeting, they’re highlighting in the Kindle Version of the book?
Lisa Bodell
Yeah I mean, actually it’s interesting, one of the stories that I talk about is, you know we kind of follow things and we don’t realize it. If you have time for a quick anecdote I’ll tell you one story  I learned from a German engineer that was really powerful. He said “you know why we don’t get to work that matters ‘cause our culture here is just to kind of do things. Just do things, right? We do what we’re told.”
And he told a story about a scientist who have ten monkeys in a cage. And he decided to perform an experiment where he would put a banana on top of the cage and see what the monkeys did. Of course, the minute the banana went on top of the cage, all the monkeys started to fight to get the banana. As soon as one got the banana, that monkey was eating the banana, and the scientist would pour water. Big pitcher of water on all the other monkeys. And that of course made them mad.
So he did it everyday to see if the same monkey, different monkeys that would get the banana. But whenever a monkey got the banana, that monkey will be really happy and all the other monkeys will get water poured on them. Until the end of the week, the monkeys knew any monkey that went for that banana, they would desperately pull him down, right? Because they didn’t want the rest of them to get wet.
So the scientist said “Wow! These monkeys are smart, they knew what I’m going to do to them, I’m gonna change up this experiment. I’m gonna put a new monkey in the cage every week and take an old monkey out.” So the first week after he decides this, he takes an old monkey out, he puts a new monkey in, and sure enough, the first thing the new monkey does is go for the banana. All the monkeys pull him down. And at the end of the week, that new monkey knows, not to go for the banana. So at the end of ten weeks, the scientist now has ten new monkeys in the cage, none of them go for the banana but not a single monkey knows why.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow!

Lisa Bodell
So what’s really cool about that, right, you get it this is how we as humans can behave at work, right? Well, that rule has been there forever, I don’t know why but that’s how we do that. We don’t question things because we look at others’ behaviors and we just kind of followed along in the status quo.
So one of the problems with complexity is that it creates complacency. It makes people just follow the status quo, not question it, not fight it anymore. And unless we get simplicity as our new operating system, we will be that monkey, but that’s not how a good career happens.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thank you. That’s a powerful image. And as we get to our final tidbits here, could you share what would be the best way to find you? Folks who wanna learn more or see what you’re up to.

Lisa Bodell
Sure. So you can find me on FutureThink.com, that’s my company Future Think. And you can learn more about what we do in terms of our training, and our change, and our simplicity tool kits that we have, which is really fun and a really powerful thing for any manager or person in their career could have. Or you can follow me on Twitter at @LisaBodell. Or you can write me at Innovate@FutureThink.com and some of my staff will make sure that I get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thank you. And do you have a favorite challenge or parting words, call to action for those seeking for those seeking to become more awesome at their jobs?

Lisa Bodell
Sure. If you wanna really start to make your work more effective, I would invite you to think about this: If there were any two rules at work, like any two things you do during the day, that you would  love you could kill or change, right, just not do them anymore, what would those rules be and why do you want to get rid of them?
And what’s really cool about that is if you or your team, if you manage a team all share the rules of things that you wanna kill, you will find that there things where you all look at each other and go, “You’re right, I don’t know why we do that. Let’s stop.” And it’s a really great exercise you can actually do five minutes at the end of a status meeting or alone. And really audit the work that you do and figure out “what can I just stop doing right now?” And it makes a difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Powerful. Well, Lisa, thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom and experience with us here. I wish you tons of luck at Future Think and all the stuff you’re doing to simplify and I hope the book is a smashing success and it has been a lot of fun.

Lisa Bodell
Oh ditto. Thank you very much for the time. I appreciate it.

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