234: Sharper Critical Thinking for Better Solutions with Mike Figliuolo

By November 27, 2017Podcasts

 

Mike Figliuolo ponders on why critical thinking is becoming increasingly important and how to maximize your critical thinking skills.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why slowing down will help you better solve problems
  2. How to differentiate facts from judgments
  3. How to use the 5 “whys” and the 7 “so whats” to think more clearly about causes and effects

About Mike 

Mike Figliuolo is the Managing Director of thoughtLEADERS, a consulting and training firm that helps leaders think better. He’s authored numerous books on leadership, thinking, and communication.He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served as a commissioned officer in the Army. He then joined McKinsey and Company as a management consultant. He later worked at Capital One Financial as Group Manager of Strategy & Analysis and as Director of Specialty Collections. He was responsible for ~$1B in collections, a $125MM budget and the performance of 150 employees. The initiatives his teams put in place delivered over $125MM in value.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Mike Figliuolo Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Mike, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Mike Figliuolo
It’s my pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me as a guest.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Well, you’ve been on the list since Episode 3 with Victor Prince’s co-author, and now seemed like a fine time. So, I’m glad you made it happen.

Mike Figliuolo
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Now I understand you have a bit of a fondness for skydiving. What’s the backstory here?

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, not really, and that’s what’s funny about it. So, I was in the army, and I’ve always hated heights. My father used to laugh at me when we would go up on the roof to clean out the gutters and I’m looking like Spider-Man plastered to the roof, just worried about falling off. So when I was in the army, they have you go to military schools during your summers when you’re at West Point. And one of my summers I put in for a specific type of very ground-based training, and the Army and its wisdom decided that I would be much better off jumping out of airplanes. So, I went through Airborne School down at Fort Benning, Georgia, jumped out of a plane five times, got my airborne wings and have never done it since. So, cool experience; not necessarily something that I want to go through again.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I totally misinterpreted that tidbit here. You’ve done it, but you didn’t enjoy it.

Mike Figliuolo
I mean, it was cool. It was cool. After the second jump you’re like, “Okay, I’m probably not going to die, so I may as well enjoy the view.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I’ve done it once and I liked it. I could do it again. My wife isn’t a fan though of the idea.

Mike Figliuolo
It’s a little different when you’ve got on a rucksack and a simulated weapon and there’s eight of you going out the plane one after the other after the other and you got a static line yanking you around. And you’re only about a thousand feet up and you’re trying to hit that patch of really rough dirt below in the Fort Benning sun. So, you probably had a little bit more of a pleasurable experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was. It was kind of cool, and the breeze falling through…

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, we didn’t have that, no.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us a little bit about your company thoughtLEADERS.

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, we are a leadership development and training firm. We work mostly with large corporates like Google, Abbott, Discover Financial, the Federal Reserve, and we teach topics of leadership, communications, problem-solving, decision-making. I like to say we teach all the topics that everybody needs that nobody ever teaches you.

We have a really strong bias toward heavy hands-on application in the classroom, and the thing that I hold up as different about us is we’re all business people. We’re not academicians, we’re not career facilitators; we’re business people up on the podium. So, we understand the participants’ challenges and we’re able to help them bridge from our tools and frameworks to their reality, which then increases the likelihood that they apply our methods.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, excellent. So now, I kind of re-thought of you when I was checking out your LinkedIn learning course Critical Thinking, and I was digging in, enjoying it. And so I’d like to get your take on just the importance of critical thinking in the hierarchy of professional skills. I thought I had seen it somewhere in some report that it was like the top thing professionals need, but I couldn’t relocate it when I tried to Google and prep for today. So maybe you can orient us to that.

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah. So I believe part of it came out of a New York Times article that was based upon a report that LinkedIn actually put together. And LinkedIn went through people’s profiles, they looked at who got new jobs and what were the skills that they had either explicitly stated on their LinkedIn profile or that they could deduce from the person’s background. And critical thinking was one of the top ones, if not the top one on that list.

So, as I look around the importance of critical thinking increases every day, and reason for that is, the speed with which we’re making decisions is so incredible that if you don’t pause and really think through something, you’re going to create a bigger problem. You may have thought you solved the problem, but you just created an issue that is exponentially larger.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, it can either spiral or you can end up solving a problem and then solving it again and solving it again and solving it again, and it ends up being really wasteful and inefficient. And when you’re operating in a world where you need to be moving fast, you don’t have time to be wrong, which means you need to slow down and make sure that you’re right.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, you can take it to the world of construction – when you’re finishing a basement or an attic you’re always taught, “Measure twice, cut once”, and that’s deliberately slowing down, making sure you’re thinking about what you’re doing, and then you take action and the action is correct; rather than, “Measure once, cut once, because I’m really busy and I’ve got to move. Oh look, I just cut the two-by-four on the wrong side of the line and now it’s too short. And now I’ve got to cut another one and another one, and there’s waste involved.”

So just by slowing down, looking at what you’re trying to solve, assess the situation properly, come up with a solution and think through the impacts of that solution if you implement it, and then implement – the likelihood of doing something bad in that cycle, because you short circuit it, goes down dramatically.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
That’s exactly where I was going to go. I don’t think it’s just politics; I think things have started moving so fast and people have so much information overload, that they’re trying to react to everything coming at them as quickly as they’re able, whether it’s an email or a text or a tweet or whatever it is, it requires an immediate reaction. Or they think it requires an immediate reaction – let me rephrase – they think it does. So, they react immediately without thinking it through.

And I’ll just use the examples – how many times have you seen an article go flying by on Facebook and it has some provocative headline, and all of a sudden you look at the comments and it’s clear that everybody’s getting all vitriolic or offering their perspective? And you realize 95% of those people didn’t even read the article, right? And it’s just we’re not stopping and thinking critically. Or we do read the article and we don’t step back and say, “Well, hang on a minute. Let’s look at who wrote this article, let’s look at if that person has an agenda, let’s understand how they’re trying to position the information, what information are they not sharing with us in order to influence me to do something.”

I had this conversation with a student, a graduate student, who was saying, “Well, I’m going to move to Texas.” I’m like, “Okay. Well, but you live in Pennsylvania. Why are you excited to move to Texas? Do you have family there?” “Well no, no, not at all.” “Okay, why?” They’re like, “I want to get a job in Texas.” “What’s driving this?” “Well, I read this report, and Texas has this and Texas has that and Texas has that, and all these jobs and all this growth and all this stuff.” I’m like, “Okay, so who wrote the report?” “Oh, it was published by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.” “Hm, you think maybe there’s an agenda there? Maybe?” And I’m not saying it’s a biased report, but I’m just saying, stop and understand the circumstances of what you are assessing at that moment, and challenge it, challenge yourself.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, so I was an American Politics major at school actually, and you study a lot of the information that’s put out there and how it’s positioned. And one of the things I was always taught was, understand the difference between facts and judgment. So, when you’re reading an article, ask yourself, “Is this a fact or is it the author’s judgments or the newscaster’s judgment of that fact? Is it their assessment of what that fact means, their interpretation?”

So by taking whatever piece of information you’re looking at, first of all separate it into the facts and judgments. Then look at the facts first and say, “Okay, are these facts accurate? What was the source of them? What facts are not being included here that could be included that may be skewing the actual facts themselves?” And once you have your arms around what the fact base is and how it may or may not be biased, just with the data collection and data sharing, then you are much better qualified to assess the assessments of those facts and say, “Is this a fair judgment? This author is saying that this company is doing bad things. Okay, based on the facts, would a reasonable person draw the same conclusion, or are they just extrapolating from a single data point?”

So by challenging each of those sort of assertions or each of those assessments – that’s critical thinking. That’s asking those questions versus just saying, “Oh yeah, that’s a bad company, of course. They did this one bad thing and therefore they hate people.” It’s like, “Really?” If you separate it out and really question both sides of that pile of information, I think you end up being much savvier, in terms of the information you consume.

I don’t watch the news. I go online, I have certain news sources where I am pulling facts from and I’m trying to get as unbiased a set of facts as I possibly can, and then I’m forming my own assessment. “What does this mean?” And sometimes I’m challenging other people’s assessments or I’m asking the questions of, “What’s not here? What’s not being presented?”, but I’m not letting somebody else interpret the facts for me. That’s not happening.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
For me it ends up being, I’m looking at primary sources. You know what I like? I actually like a lot of the financial websites – places like MarketWatch or E-Trade or whatever. I’m reading business press releases – things about earnings or market research reports or whatever, because I want to get as close to primary facts as I possibly can. And when you go to financial sites, they tend to throw a little bit less assessment into the facts of what’s going on. It’s like, “Okay, here’s the new tax law, here’s what it means, here are the tax brackets, here’s how these deductions go away, here’s the average size of that deduction.” And they just give you the data.

And there may be a little bit of interpretation that goes there, there may be a little bit of bias, but that’s much less bias than if I go to CNN or Fox News, and it’s like, “And you get no deduction and you have to murder your first child.” It’s like, “Really?” It’s just so bombastic, because what people don’t understand is news media has become entertainment first and news second. And you need to understand that; you really need to understand what their agenda is. Their agenda is to attract eyeballs, which attracts advertisers, which attracts dollars. It’s really simple. And the way you attract the eyeballs is with very interesting content that I can consume and feeds my ingoing biases anyway, and tells me I’m right.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
I guess for me it’s a question of, what’s the impact of that item on your life and the world around you, and how much importance do you sort of ascribe to that impact? So for example, I just got this wonderful letter in the mail from my health insurance company, telling me that my premiums for next year have gone from $960 a month to $1,600 a month. So we’re talking, what is that, an 80% increase, something like that? So we’re talking about a big impact on me – I want to understand the facts, and I have wanted to understand the facts for the last several years, around what are the changes in Affordable Care Act, what are the marketplace dynamics, who’s moving into the market, out of the market, because I’m sitting there trying to figure out where is healthcare going. I’ve got three kids – what’s going to be the right plan for me, how do I adjust to this?

So I do invest time and energy in understanding that information, seeking out facts and making my own assessment, because it’s going to govern my thoughts on a topic that’s pretty large. It’ll drive my voting behaviors, it’ll drive if I decide to support a particular political candidate one way or the other. Now, let’s contrast that with something that I say it really isn’t important to me and I’m not going to be able to have a big impact on it, other than every first Tuesday in November. So, am I going to really worry about that issue? And if the answer is “No”, then I’m not going to give it any air time; I’ve got better stuff to do.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, I think it’s definitely the 5 “Why’s” and the 7 “So what’s”. So, the 5 “Why’s” – when you see something happen, ask “Why” five times. And by the time you get to the fourth or fifth “Why”, there’s an insight there, there’s a root cause there. The way that works is, we had a client where I learned the 5 “Why’s” the first time, and I was an analyst on the team, and my engagement manager asked me, “Mike, what analysis did you do this morning?” I said, “Well, here are the numbers I ran, and it looks like this one metric is going up.” And he said, “Okay. Well, why?” I said, “What do you mean ‘Why’?” He said, “Why is that metric going up?” And I stopped and I thought and I said, “Well, the client is probably doing this.” And he said, “Okay, why?” I said, “What do you mean ‘Why’?” He said, “Why is the client doing that?” And I stopped and I thought a little bit harder and I said, “Well, they’re probably doing that because of this.” And he said, “Okay, why?” I’m like, “Dude, what is with the ‘Why’s’?” And he said, “Mike, our job is to have insights for our clients. We have to understand the root causes of what’s going on, because once we do, then we can actually make recommendations that address the true problem that they’re facing.”

So at that moment I understood what the 5 “Why’s” were, and we continued to walk that back and understand what is driving this behavior. And it turns out we were initially solving for a symptom, and it was something about their compensation plan that was driving a dysfunctional behavior, which drove another dysfunctional behavior, which was driving the metric to go up. So by walking that backward, just stopping and seeing something happening – some event, some symptom – and then walking it back, versus just jumping in to solve the symptom, helps you solve a deeper-seated problem. So that’s the 5 “Why’s”.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, sure. So, let’s see. Let’s talk about my health insurance. Let’s have some fun with this one, not that that’s a raw wound that we’re opening right now. But okay, so my health insurance premium went from $960 a month to $1,600 a month. Okay, why? Why did that happen? Well, it’s because the insurer raised their rates across the entire population. Okay, why? Why did the insurer raise their rates? Well, either because their losses have been going up and they were paying out a lot more in claims last year than they thought, or because they want to be a lot more profitable and they’re just going to start gouging consumers.

Now I’m at a fork where I say, “Okay, which of those seems more likely?” And they’re probably not going to gouge, because it’s just bad business to do that; you’re not going to be able to survive long in that market. So it’s probably because their losses are going up. Okay, why is that happening? Well, it’s probably because the risk pool got adjusted a few years ago when there was a change in the law, in terms of who is eligible, whether they’re going to accept pre-existing conditions, and we put a whole bunch of people in the risk pool for getting insurance that didn’t have it previously. So now it’s just a riskier population and those costs are going up. Okay, why? Why did that happen? Well, we were trying to insure more Americans.

Okay, now I get it. Now I understand what the root cause was – I changed the eligibility population, and that has these downstream impacts, in terms of the cost of my policy. And then you’ve got to get to a point where you say, “Okay, what do I do about that? Is there something I can do to change the way that we’re handling the people in the risk pool? Well, personally, can I change that? No, but could it inform the way I think about Medicare, Medicaid legislation? Can it inform the political candidates that I decide to back or not back?” And then you’ve also got to step back and say, “Okay, how much is for the greater good?” kind of thing. And that’s just one of those things that you walk it back that far and you understand what really made this happen.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
I use a tool called a “logic map”, where you have a problem and then you look at what’s driving that problem, and then below that you say, “What are the drivers of that?”, and then below that you say, “What are the drivers of that?” And you just keep disaggregating that big problem into smaller ones. So for example, if my client’s company profits are down, that’s a really big problem; I can’t solve that in one fell swoop. So I break that down and say, “Well, what’s driving profits being being down? Well, it’s either revenues are down or costs are up, or some combination of those two.”

Okay well, those are still big problems – let me break those down. Well, if revenue’s down, it’s either prices are down or volume is down. And again, it might be a combination of those two. But that’s still a big problem. So I think the answer might be on the volume side, so let me break volume down. Well, volume is down either because current customers are buying less, or we’re not selling as many new customers. And all of a sudden I can start seeing some possible solutions emerge. I can get my arms around, current customers aren’t buying as much, so maybe I can go out and place some sales calls on my current customers, or I can go out and try and sell that one new customer along the way. So by breaking that big problem down and disaggregating it into its component parts, I can start seeing what the underlying issues are that are driving the big problem.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, a lot of folks hear about the 80/20, but they don’t know its origins. The 80/20 rule was first coined by a guy by the name of Vilfredo Pareto, who’s Italian, of course. And Pareto was a bit of an economist, and he noticed that in Italy, 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people. And he said, “Well, that’s kind of interesting.” He was also a gardener, and he noticed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the pods. And he said, “Well, that’s really interesting, that peas and real estate demonstrate the same behavior – that 20% of the causes drive 80% of the outcomes.” And he coined what’s called “the law of the vital few”, which is really getting you to focus on those 20% of the causes that are driving 80% of the effects.

And I had one situation where I was running a team, one of the people on my team had a portfolio of accounts he was responsible for – it was about 500,000 accounts. And he came to me one day and said, “Mike, you didn’t know I was doing this, but I built this awesome model that helps me totally predict behavior of some of the consumers in my portfolio.” I said, “Well, that’s really cool.” He said, “Yeah, and with that production I can take a differential action and I can have financial impact by treating those accounts differently.” I said, “That’s awesome.”

I said, “I have two questions. One, how many accounts in your portfolio demonstrate that behavior?” And he said, “Well, about 5,000.” I said, “Okay, second question. How many accounts are in your portfolio?” And he said, “About 500,000.” I said, “Hey, how about we focus on the other 495,000 accounts, because as cool as your model is, affecting 5,000 accounts will not have an impact on this business. So stop messing around with small stuff.” And his behavior building that model was a gross violation of the 80/20 rule.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
I think the first place to do it is your inbox. And you look at the hundreds of emails that pile up in there, and just think through how much time you’re giving each one and which of those are the important ones and which are the ones that just aren’t. And I look at my inbox and it’s probably blown up right now and I’m constantly getting stuff in there, and I used to get a lot of unsolicited emails from sales people, business development people – since I run my business they’re trying to sell me their solutions or whatever.

So I get these all the time. And I used to be a pretty polite guy; I’d be like, “Okay, they’re running a business. I know what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.” I would write them back and say, “No, not really interested. Thanks for your note.” And then they would write me back invariably and say, “Well, are you sure, ’cause this could really work?” And then I’d write back, “No, not really. Definitely not sure.” And I finally sat there and said, “What am I doing? You idiot, you idiot. You’re giving them all this time, and time is your most valuable resource. You didn’t invite them into your inbox, you’re spending time on that 80% of stuff that will drive zero impact.”

And I just one day vowed I’m going to change my behavior. If I didn’t invite you to my inbox and it’s not something that with a 10-second glance I look at your email and say it’s a fit for what I do, I delete it. And if it shows up again the next time, I then block your email address, because I don’t even want to deal with the two nanoseconds it takes for me to delete a message. So, where I encourage people to go is, go to your inbox and sort of filter that stuff and say, “Of the 100 messages in there, which are the 20 that actually matter, in terms of my job performance, in terms of team performance? And then what’s the 80% that isn’t going to have any real impact, and how many of those can I delete, how many of those can I just sort of mail it in with a quick response?” And just sort of re-prioritize your work.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Well, my inbox is usually pretty manageable; I think right now I’ve got 30 emails in there total, and I’m freaking out a little bit because usually I’m under 15. And the way that I manage that is, I get to do one of three things when I get an email: I can read it and respond immediately; I can read it and delete it; or I can read it and act on it later if it’s something that’s big and meaningful.

And and you have to do it right when you read that email; you have to make one of those three choices, because there’s so much friction in our day of, I open an email, I look at it and I say, “Oh, I’ll get to this later.” And then later on I come back and I open it again and I go, “Oh, I’ll get to this later, I’ll get to this later.” And they keep piling up, and just the friction of opening and closing that email, and opening and closing it, will suck so much time out of your day. If instead you open it and say, “Okay, this is from Mike. I understand what he wants; I don’t need to answer this. Delete.” And you delete it in that moment – you’re going to be a lot more efficient, you’re going to actually save a lot of time.

Now, for folks that I coach – I do some executive coaching – and when they show me their inbox and there’s like 2,000 emails in there, the first thing we do is we stack it by name, and then we go in and find, “Okay, all of these from Mike – we don’t need those anymore. We highlight them all, we delete them.” After we do that by name and that deletion, then we go through and file ones that can be filed. So a lot of folks will have standard reports, and they’ll get that stack of emails from a report team. It’s like, “Okay, let’s highlight those all and and put them in the report folder, ’cause you don’t need them in your active inbox.”

Then we’ll sort by subject line, and we’ll go through. There’s that one thread with 30 messages in it – okay, let’s delete the other 29 in that thread so we’re down to one item in that thread. And usually just those two actions takes care of about 40 to 50% of the inbox, believe it or not, if somebody’s got a really clogged up inbox. And then from there, adopt the new behaviors of read and delete, read and respond, or read and do later, when you have a meaningful chunk of time to act on the request.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
I think that’s really a function of your role and your style, and how you prefer to consume information. I am a sort of “instant in, instant out” – that’s how my brain works really well. So my email is always open, and when something comes in, I’ll throw an eye to it, and it’ll be read and respond, read and delete, or read and do later, typically. And it’s not like I’m just sitting there glued to the screen all day waiting for emails to come in. If I’m working on something meaningful, like this podcast conversation, my inbox is closed right now. And I know there’s emails coming in. As soon as I get off, I’m going to tackle it and just sort of whack through the things that I can get out of there and know what I’ll do later on.

Other people function much better in chunks, so they may do three blocks of email during the day – they may do a morning block, a lunchtime block, and an end-of-day block. But again, it’s still going to be the same behavior that I encourage, which is read and delete, read and respond, read and do later. And read and do later is for something that you can’t respond to in that moment, like I would have to run an analysis for you. I’ll read it and do it later, I’ll put the analysis actually on my calendar and say, “I’m going to block this one hour to do this one email”, and then I will get it done when it comes up on the calendar.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
No, it’s not that simple. I wish it was, but it’s not.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
So, when you look at a solution, and let’s say I’m going to fix something, I should ask, “Okay, if I fix this, so what? What happens? What’s the implication?” And then if that implication comes to pass, “Okay, so what? What happens if that gets fixed?” And then if that changes, “Okay, so what?” And what it’s preventing is the issue of, you think you fixed something now, but you created a new problem in the future that you now have to deal with. And by the way, it’s a bigger problem than you originally started with.

A lot of times I do this – I’ve finished basements, I’ve finished attics, putting up framing and Sheetrock and wiring and everything, and I don’t always do the “So what’s”. So, at one point I was doing a built-in sort of very simple entertainment center, and I said, “Well, this is going to be hard to construct in place, so what I’ll do is I’ll build the frame on the floor and then I’ll just pick it up and put it in place, and then do all the finishing up there.”

So I build this giant frame on the floor, and then I go to put it in place, and I start tilting it up, and I forgot about a guy by the name of Pythagoras, who would have told me, “Hey, you idiot, the hypotenuse when you start tilting this thing up is going to mean that it will get jammed on the ceiling before you put it into place.” So Mike didn’t think about the “So what” if I build this on the floor and I need to stand up, so what happens? Well, that means I’m going to need to stand it up and it’s going to be at an angle. Okay, it’s an angle. So what? Oh, the ceiling height is lower than that angle, which means this is going to get stuck and I’m going to be sitting there beating it with a 5-pound sledge hammer for about 45 minutes to get it into place. So it’s just seeing what new problems you can end up creating if you solve the problem at hand.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
It does. So The Elegant Pitch is all about how do you create a clear and compelling recommendation with the right facts, the right data, and do so in a way that your stakeholders will buy into it and approve your idea. So, it does require the critical thought to say, “What does my stakeholder want? What is my recommendation and how does it tie to their objectives, therefore what’s the right information that I’m going to need to bring to the table to create a persuasive case? What’s the right way for me to structure my argument? Do I talk about financials and operations and marketing, or do I talk about marketing first, and then operations and financials?”

And just thinking about the logic of what’s going to underpin your argument, and then how do you package and share that idea in a clear and compelling way. And the biggest tide of critical thinking is, with critical thinking you come up with your solution – you figured out what the real problem is and you generated a solution – but unless you actually get to implement that solution, then all that thinking is worthless. So, what The Elegant Pitch does is helps you understand once you have that really cool solution, how do you then make it into something that people will sign off on and give you the resources to implement.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well tell me, Mike – is there anything else you want to make to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Mike Figliuolo
I just encourage folks to just pause. When you find yourself reading something, whether it’s in the workplace or on the news or anywhere – anytime you feel that reaction, just pause and say, “Okay, what’s really going on here?” And parse that and say, “What are the facts, and what are my assessments?” So you see a colleague do something in the workplace and we kind of blow up at it – “Joe is such a jerk and I can’t believe he did that” – it’s like, “Hang on, hang on a second.”

Let’s look at the facts of the situation. So, Joe did this. Joe left the printer cover open and therefore the printer wasn’t working.” That’s the fact of the matter. Now let’s draw an assessment from that; let’s come up with other possible causes of what’s going on. Maybe Joe didn’t notice that he left it open, maybe Joe meant to leave it open and he really is a jerk. But before we just jump off and say, “Joe is a jerk”, just stop, think about this for a second and separate fact from assessment, and really challenge those things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, perfect. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Mike Figliuolo
For me, I go to Hemingway. And the quote is, “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed, but not defeated.” And that comes from The Old Man and the Sea, and I read it when I was in 8th grade and you’re not exactly the most cerebral person in the world when you’re a 15-year old boy; you’ve got other things on your mind. And I remember I read that quote and it resonated. And I finally figured it out several years later. The quote stuck with me constantly, and I finally figured out why it spoke to me. And what he’s saying is man is not made for defeat. Defeat as a choice, defeat is, “I give up. I’ve tried as hard as I can, and I just give up” – that’s defeat. Destruction is an external force, and that’s me fighting as hard as I can, as long as I can, and I just lose because the world has bested me and I’ve been destroyed.

And what Hemingway’s saying is man is not made for defeat; it’s not in our nature as human beings to give up, it’s not how we’re wired. A man can be destroyed, but not defeated. So anytime I’m sitting there and feeling like something’s going wrong in my life, something’s going wrong with the business, we just lost a big account – whatever it is. And you sit there and you want to throw your hands in the air, it’s like, “Hang on. A man is not made for defeat, so what are you going to do about this? How are you going to tackle this problem that is before you?” And it’s always helped me reorient my thinking during those most challenging moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Mike Figliuolo
I can’t say any of mine, right? So I’m not allowed to say any of my books. Let’s see. One that I always go to is called The Obstacle is the Way, and it’s basically an exploration of stoicism as it was developed by Marcus Aurelius. Now, I know that sounds like some weighty stuff. The book is like 180 pages long; the first 90 is a study of what is stoicism and who are some famous stoics, and I’m not talking just about Greeks and Romans. He looks at business people, current business people who’ve taken a stoic approach to life as well.

And then the second half of the book is how can you apply the principles of stoicism to your life and be able to get through adversity, get over those obstacles that you face. And the reason the book resonated for me is when you go to West Point, which is where I did my undergrad, West Point is it an institution that sort of beats stoicism into you. It’s just daily adversity for four years and you best learn how to overcome those types of obstacles. So the book itself, The Obstacle is the Way, does a really nice job of capturing that school of thought, and then making it something that’s accessible and practical and applicable.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Mike Figliuolo
Are we talking hand tools?

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, for me it’s always just been the good old hammer. I’m a simple guy at heart. I was a tank platoon leader; when something was broken, you got out the hammer, you got out the ranch, and you got out the baling wire, because it’s one of those three things that’s going to solve your problem. I guess where I’m going with that is, I like simple tools. The tools that we teach in classes, the frameworks that we use tend to be very simple – the 5 “Why’s”, the 7 “So what’s”, a logic map, because if a tool is simple and you understand how to use it, you’re going to use it more frequently and eventually get really, really good with it.

And if I give you a big, complex tool with a lot of different moving parts and it’s got to be plugged in and it’s got 18 steps before you can use it, you’re not going to use it. You’re not going to use it and you’re never going to build any sort of facility with it; you’re going to be frustrated by that tool because it’s so complex. So, for me, I think a hammer is a pretty good metaphor for how I think about learning and training and how we apply our craft in the classroom.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Mike Figliuolo
A favorite habit. A favorite habit is getting up same time every day and hitting the same morning routine every day, on days where it’s possible. If I’m getting on a plane – okay, the routine’s out the window. But it’s get up, hit the desk, read the news, update the finances, clear out some of the email from the night before, shower, get changed, have the green tea, and then start in on the day. But just that routine in the morning kind of gets the body moving, gets the brain moving in a certain direction, and it generates that initial momentum for me, that carries through the rest of the day. If you want to mess me up on a given day, change my morning routine. Screw something up in that sequence and I’m just off. And it may be just that I’m obsessive about the way my world works – I don’t know, but that routine is something that I encourage people to find ’cause it gets you in that rhythm pretty quickly each day.

Mike Figliuolo
I go to personal conversations really, from coaching or from classrooms, and I think one of the biggest things that’s always had a pretty powerful impact on folks when I’ve shared it with them is when I hear somebody say, “Well, I have to do X, Y and Z.” I stop them and I say, “Hang on. You don’t have to. You choose to.” And it’s like, “What? No, I have to go to this meeting with my boss.” I say, “No, you don’t. You choose to go to the meeting with your boss, because you understand there are consequences and you are choosing not to accept a different set of consequences. But you don’t have to do anything.”

And just by reframing that and helping people understand, “I am making a choice here” versus being forced to do something, it all of a sudden allows people to regain control of their lives. When you look at somebody who says, “My life is out of control”, they basically outsourced the ability to make decisions to the world around them. And you’ll hear them say a lot, “Well, I have to do this, I have to do that, I have to do that”, and they’ve given up control, and therefore they feel out of control and it’s very disconcerting.

Just by that small change in, “Hey, I choose to be on this interview right now, I choose to not send my dogs to daycare when I’m going to be on the interview, and the consequences.” I’ve got a poodle looking at me scratching to get in the room, and I’ve got a Jack Russell playing with a tennis ball over here and I’m hoping both of them don’t bark. But that was a choice – I don’t have to have them in the house when I do this; I made a choice, and there’s consequences to every choice we make.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got it. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch with you, where would you point them?

Mike Figliuolo
They should go to ThoughtLeadersLLC.com. And you can find my contact info there, and our blog is there, and we share a lot of great info on the blog on a pretty regular basis.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Mike Figliuolo
Stop and think. Just stop and think – before you say something, before you react, before you send that email where you’re upset, or you file that complaint, or you launch that new initiative – just stop and think. Think for like five minutes about the 5 “Why’s”, the 7 “So what’s”; think through what’s fact and what’s assessment. Just stop and think, because you’re going to get to a much better solution.

Mike Figliuolo
Great, thank you very much for having me.

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