Professor Eddie Davila discusses how to identify, view, handle, and thrive amidst pressure at work.
- Why pressure is really an honor and a gift
- What to do when you get stressed in low-pressure situations
- How to use stress to prep for high-pressure situations
Eddie Davila is a faculty member in Arizona State University’s highly ranked supply chain management program. At ASU he teaches over 3000 students per year in person and online. He has a 12-part intro to supply chain management series on Youtube that has over 3 million hits. It is actually the top ranked item on youtube when you search supply chain. And more recently he has developed multiple courses in business and stats for LinkedIn Learning.
Items Mentioned in this Show:
- Eddie’s courses on LinkedIn Learning
- Book: Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
- Study: Dunning-Krueger effect
Eddie, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me.
Well, could we start off by hearing a little bit about your theater background?
Okay. So, I’m a person that gets bored pretty easily. I was in engineering and I started off I liked it and got kind of bored, and I went to work for a little while. I got my Masters in Business. And by the time I got to my second year I was starting to get bored again. I really started to worry like, “What am I going to do with my life? What’s going to happen?”
And one of my friends was having sort of the same ridiculous existential crisis at 25 or whatever, and we started thinking like, “What would you be good at?” We’re kind of playing this off each other. And then somehow maybe we had one too many beers, we started playing the, “Well, what would you not be good at?”
And then my friend said to me, “Oh, one thing you’d be horrible at is you’d be really bad at theater.” And I said, “Really?” And it actually made sense. In general, I was a very quiet, a very shy person, very introverted. And so my friend said, “Yeah, you’d be horrible at that.” And something about the way he said it, and something inside of me said, “Would I be horrible at that? Is this something I could actually do?”
And, again, I was going back from my second year of graduate school and so I went and asked somebody, “Can I actually take classes with undergrads, an intro to theater class?” And they’re like, “Well, nobody has ever done that but I think you can. You paid your tuitions so you can take any additional classes you want.”
All right, I showed up, I looked relatively young for my age, and everybody just thought I was sort of a freshman or a sophomore. First of all, I realized, “Oh, I’m shy but I’m shy because it’s much more difficult for me to talk to one person at a time than it is to talk to lots of people.” And I didn’t really know that, I just thought, “Well, if you’re shy, you’re shy.”
And the theater training made me realized, “Oh, I’m actually okay with lots of people because it’s easier for me to just sort of concentrate on what I’m doing in that moment.” And the teacher actually came up to me after a couple of weeks and said, “You’re pretty good at this. You should consider making this your major.”
I remember telling her that because she looked at me in kind of horror. Well, I replied to her, “Look, I can’t. I’m not a freshman or a sophomore. I’m actually in graduate school and I’m getting a business degree.” And she said, “Oh, why are you doing that? You’re wasting your life.” She’s like, “You should be here with us.”
It was so kind of nice but extremely nice because she really felt like I might be able to do something in that area. Anyway, I kind of listened to her and I said, “I’m going to try out for a play.” I’d never tried out for a play. Never. Ever, ever. And I tried out and I actually got into a play on campus, actually two in that final semester, that I was here for my graduate degree.
And I learned a lot about myself, and I mean that plays very well into what we’re talking about here today, the high pressure, because I was really scared and I didn’t know if I was going to be any good, I didn’t know if I was going to be embarrassed, I didn’t know what my colleagues, my fellow students were going to say. I think I actually kept it from a number of them for a while. But that’s one of the most formative things I’ve ever done in my life.
When I look back at my life I realize, “So I have an engineering degree, I have a business degree, I have some theater training,” and I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a weird combination.” And, in a way, I felt like I was never going to use all three of them, and now I lecture in front of students on supply chain management.
And what I realized, it’s like, “Holy cow, I’m using the business, the engineering, the problem-solving techniques and the theater every single day.” So it’s one of those things where you try things and you never know what’s going to be important and you never know how it’s going to sort of transform you.
Well, that’s cool. That’s cool. Thank you for sharing that. And I do want to get into it when we talk about high-pressure situations. And so, maybe to orient us a little bit, what do you mean by a high-pressure situation? And I think you have a useful distinction between stress and pressure to orient us here.
Okay. So, first thing is what is pressure? Again, sort of the engineer in me sort of looks at this and says, “Well, in physics what is pressure?” Pressure is when a force is applied on some object for some period of time. And very often there’s these connections between the physical world and the sort of the more intangible and abstract world, and that’s exactly sort of what’s happening in high-pressure situations.
There is pressure being applied, there is force being applied, and in this case, it’s a high-pressure situation. First of all, just a pressure situation is when there’s a desired outcome or some expected outcome and it’s actually applying pressure. It’s sitting on top of you. It’s asking, “Do you have enough time to do this? Do you have the resources to do this? Do you have the skills to do this?”
And if the expectations are extremely high, if the project’s desired outcomes are extremely difficult, well, then you know that you have a high-pressure situation. One thing that I do try and tell people at times is high-pressure situations are very often seen as sort of a negative thing. Pressure is a gift. Pressure is something. You don’t give pressure to somebody unless you trust them, unless they have a history of success, unless you see something very special in them.
So, when this pressure is being applied on you, it means that there’s something special about you, somebody believes in you, or you yourself believe in yourself enough to take something you on. So, I think, for me, that’s the very first part of this, the idea that, “What is a pressure situation?” A pressure situation is outcomes and desires pushing against you.
And the difference between pressure and stress, well, pressure is when, again, you have the situation of somebody else has outcomes that they want from you. Stress is internal pressure. It’s all of the outcomes and all the expectations but then you start to have fear and anger start coming in.
Job security, “Oh, if I don’t do this well I’m going to lose my job.” Confusion, “If I don’t get this done right, I don’t know what might happen. I don’t know if I can…” So, it’s when all the emotions start to creep in, that’s stress. And those things, a lot of that isn’t real, and if it is real then it’s a bigger situation and one that some of that stuff is just not manageable.
One of the kind of interesting things I’ve noticed over the last couple of years is I was lucky enough to get to teach a freshman class. Usually I teach big giant classes of juniors and seniors, but they let me teach a freshman class. And in that freshman class it was a group of honor students, so these were the top student coming out of high school, there was really nobody better than the ones taking this class, and the class was on competition.
So, the first day of class I bring them in. By the way, one thing I learned about these people is that they are the highest performers, the very best people that are coming to our university. I’ve never met so many people that are so afraid. I’ve never met people that are so fragile. These are supposed to be our best students, and they just couldn’t take it.
And the reason why was because they’d actually probably circumvented pressure situations. What I did in that class the very first day, I sit them down, and there’s only 10 or 15 of them, so I said, “Wait, wait, wait. We’re going to go around in a circle here. And what we usually do in a class, tell us who you are, tell us a little about yourself. You got 45 seconds or a minute to talk about these things.”
And they were all kind of a little bit bored, like, “Oh, we do this in every class.” And I said, “Well, we’re going to change the rules here. What we’re going to do is at the end of class we’re going to rank every person who introduced themselves from first to last.” And the look on their face was just, “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble.”
What about criteria? What makes you first versus last?
That’s the thing. They had to learn that there is no criteria, that every single person gets to make up their mind. Maybe somebody finds you friendly, somebody finds you cheery, somebody finds you intelligent. There is no way to figure this out. And, to me, the crazy thing about this was, “What were the stakes here?” Nothing.
I wasn’t giving them a grade. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? People are going to find out that you were 15 out of 15, and people are going to walk out of this room and nobody is going to care, and yet they were so broken and stressed by this. By the way, I did this every week. So, every week there was a new competition.
“Next week, bring me a resume, and we’re going to rank the resumes from first to last.” “Next week we’re going to interview the students in front of their peers and pick out which of the four people that day we were going to hire.” So, again, throwing them into high-pressure situations, or what they thought were high-pressure situations every day, the thing that they learned, believe me, the first time I did it, I didn’t know if it was going to be Lord of the Flies in there or if it was going to be something transformative.
“The chancellor gets a letter about you.”
Yes, believe me, I thought, I’m like in today’s environment, the way that parents are, I’m like, “I don’t know what’s going to happen here but let me make this my little experiment.” And so I did that. After like three weeks they were fine. They were fine. First of all, they realized, like, “Oh, losing is not a big deal.”
And actually nobody really focuses on the bottom end. People focus on the people that are good. So many time we think of everyone like, “People are stupid. People are stupid.” They start to realize, “Oh, people are smart.” “She’s really good at writing.” “He’s really good in front of the camera.” It was so nice for them to realize that these pressure situations were a gift, an opportunity for them to sort of get over themselves and maybe even learn something from other people.
So, I think, to me, again, the more often you can do something like that the better you’re going to be able to assess a high-pressure situation, figure out what’s real and not real, and then from there sort of prosper in that situation and maybe in situations that come afterwards.
Oh, I love that – what’s real, what’s not real – because I think that, in some ways the illusion or the myth, the phantom, really causes a lot of damage because, I guess, I’m thinking some people put unnecessary pressure on themselves maybe to answer emails like immediately. And then there’s a cost associated with your ability to focus and get in a good flow state and do some great, clever, creative deep work, and you sort of compromise it if that’s kind of how you’re rocking and rolling with your email inbox.
And so, then, you’re saying that you want to make that distinction by getting really clear on, “What are the stakes? Who are the stakeholders? The consequences, what really happens if we win or if we lose.” And so, then, I’m wondering, it sounds like one way to better make the distinction is just to have a few experiments and experiences of fake pressure and real pressure to draw the distinction. But if you find yourself kind of freaking out unnecessarily and stressing in a low-pressure situation, what are some pro tips to getting your head right?
First of all, it sounds so silly and so stupid, but take stock. Think it through, “What happens if I fail?” Really, like just think it out, “If this email doesn’t get sent right now, what’s going to happen?” When you think about it, you’re like, “Wow, my boss will probably be happy that they had one fewer email today,” or, “My boss is going to see me in the hall and say, ‘Hey, did you get that email out?’ ‘Oh, no, I’ll do that later today.’”
Unfortunately, we feel as though everybody thinks that we’re the most important part of everyone else’s life. And when you think about it, you go, “You know what? When somebody doesn’t send me an email, most of the time I don’t really care. When they make a little mistake in their email, it’s not a big deal. If they here five minutes late, well, you know, I wish they were here on time, but we move on.”
When we start to avoid even the smallest inconveniences, the things that maybe make us feel a little uncomfortable, we’re really weakening ourselves and we’re not allowing ourselves to sort of be the best versions of ourselves. The other thing is, and this isn’t easy for everybody. This idea of taking stock, sometimes the things that are so simple and they sound so common sense, it takes practice.
It takes practice because, first of all, you have to every single time you get into that situation you have to go, “Okay, time to take stock.” Second, you have to be available to give the obvious and maybe not so-obvious answers. And for some folks they might say, “Well, are we diminishing everything?” And I go, “You know what? Not caring is sometimes an important skill that you need to have. You can’t care about everything all the time in every moment.”
I really like what you said earlier that this begins to take away our focus from being the best versions of ourselves. It takes away the focus of, “What am I supposed to be doing in this moment and why am I doing it?” The other thing, one of my friends long ago, he said, “Think about your past failures.” So many of us, we stress about failing, and when we think about it, at the end of the day most of us haven’t experience any significant failures.
It’s often very hard to come up with a list of your two to five biggest failures. We move on from those things and so does everybody else. So, again, the more used you are to getting into high-pressure situations the more you’re going to sort of say, “Oh, this is just another little failure. I can move on.”
Another thing, though, to sort of deal with this, those are for simple things. Sometimes you’re on a bigger project, and how can you sort of begin to manage pressure for yourself? Sometimes you have to manage your manager. Remember, the pressure is coming from outcomes, desired outcomes and expectations. So, if you talk this out with your manager, and say, “These are the things that are causing me stress,” or, “Do you think if this doesn’t go well, how is this going to happen?”
So often, I think, we miscalculate the amount of pressure that’s actually on us. So, verbalizing these things, having a discussion with your manager, having a discussion with the people on your team, you start to go, “Oh, wait. I can do this,” or, “I was totally projecting expectations and desires that they weren’t even thinking about.” And it allows you to sort of scope your projects or you’re better able to handle it.
Excellent. Thank you. Well, so then, I’m curious, you have some of those perspectives when it comes to scoping things out and taking stock, so I’d like to get some of your pro tips on sort of when you have zeroed in, “Okay, we got a high-pressure situation unambiguously, legitimately, authentically it’s there.” What are some of the top things that we should do, and particularly when it comes to managing the expectations and setting your plans and those kinds of things?
A few things that I think are important to do. I think everything in business starts out with stakeholders and goals. So, even before we start doing any planning, I think sometimes we jump to planning even too early. Planning is vital. It’s maybe the most important thing that you’re going to do in tackling this. But before we even get there we have to know what we’re planning for.
So, identifying the stakeholders, identifying your goals for each stakeholder, that’s going to ground you. So, I think in one example that I’ve used before is let’s say that all of a sudden – and this is not a significantly high-pressure situation but for some people it might be – your spouse calls you up, and they say, “I’m bringing home five people for dinner tonight, and you have three or four hours to get the whole thing ready.”
We feel an immense amount of pressure because we don’t want to disappoint people, we want to make sure that things are done well. But you got to stop and say, “Alright. So, who are the stakeholders? There’s my spouse, there are the people that I’m bringing over, and, of course, I’m a stakeholder as well because I’m going to be part of this event.”
And then you say to yourself, “Well, what does each stakeholder want?” Again, sometimes we project too much. Everything needs to be perfect. Everything needs to be done. And you go, “You know what? When I go to somebody’s house, I just want to sit down, have a reasonable meal and have a good time.
I’m happy. Again, though, you have your spouse, they’re bringing people over, and they just want them to have a good time. Maybe your spouse is going to have their own things that they’re trying to accomplish, so you simply making that atmosphere positive is going to be a great thing.
And, for you, again, this is your spouse’s work friends, colleagues, and you’re not necessarily the most important person in that situation so just creating an atmosphere is important. And once you do that, you say, “All right. So, I understand my role, I understand my spouse’s role, I understand the guests who are coming over. And it seems, as though, the theme for tonight is relax, have reasonable food. If I can do those two things, then I’m a success.”
Not only have you sort of scoped your project, made it more reasonable and it doesn’t have to be perfect, you now have what I like to use as these comfort words. You have these words that allow you to sort of focus all the time. When things get tough in any project – projects are always looking for more resources, more time, more money, more people – and there’s going to come a point in a project, in a high-pressure situation where you say to yourself, “Okay, should I do A or should I do B? Should I go out and buy more ingredients, better ingredients? Should I stay at home and figure out what we have here?”
And in those moments, those comfort words, those words of focus are getting you to say, “You know what? If I go out, I’m just trying to create a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere this evening.” That’ll guide you to making the right decision in those pressure moments. Again, so often we blow this whole thing up, making it so big, unmanageable, “Oh, it’s all about comfort. It’s all about relaxing. It’s all about fun. I now know what to do.”
And I think the other thing that you want to do, that’s for something that some high-pressure situations just fall upon you in the moment and you’ve got to get them done in minutes or hours. When you have a long-term project, something that’s not going to happen for – you’re giving a big presentation in a few weeks, in a few months, you’re putting together a project, I think one thing that you need to do for those is practice with stress. And by stress, I mean give yourself some outline, “I got to do this presentation and I have to do it as fast as I can. I have to do it as slow as I can.”
What would happen if the technology stopped working on that day? What happens if the president of the company shows up that day? Playing through all those scenarios and your ability to cope with pressure, that goes right back to this idea of, “How much strength do you have to cope with the pressure?”
The more things you can do that are out of the ordinary that are difficult for you, it’s building up your strength. And by the time you get there, the day of the pressure situation will, hopefully, be the easiest day you had because you’ve practiced going slow, going fast, doing it with technology, with more people than you thought would show up, with fewer people, you’ve pretty much exhausted everything. And, hopefully, at that point you go, “You know what? This wasn’t too bad. I had a lot harder time on this a few weeks ago. Today was the easiest and the best day I’ve had so far.”
I like that when you say comfort words, and I really do feel comforted. And then I think that when you’re talking about perfection in the dinner gathering example, like I think there’s all sorts of pressure can come about just in terms of like cleaning, like everything must be spotless everywhere, that’s a way to drive yourself nuts.
But, really, I guess the standard for clean is way, way lower when you’ve got your comfort words associated with a comfortable calm, relaxing, fun evening. It’s like, “Well, as long as nothing is just disgustingly unsettlingly filthy we’re going to be okay.”
Yeah, and who wants to go to a house where the person that’s supposed to be entertaining you is so focused on these tiny details. You really take yourself out of the moment. You’re no longer in the moment, you’re now focused. You’re still preparing for the event while the event is actually taking place.
Again, all the preparations, everything should’ve been done before, now you’re just managing things and making sure that they go to completion. And, again, having those comfort words says, “Oh, what am I supposed to be doing right now? I’m supposed to be having fun. I’m supposed to be relaxed. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Oh, you’re bringing me back to some fond memories of just a few years I had some three awesome roommates at a place we called The Strat because it was on Stratford Place, and we had a nice run of doing some New Year’s Eve parties. And they were so much work in putting this together. We might like have a hundred people show up and it’s a three-bedroom, three-bathroom spacious. Good times, Chicago living.
And I remember it would often happen that folks, when they would start showing up, and it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, not everything is ready yet.” And then over after maybe three years of this, I just decided, “Okay. Well, my rule is as soon as I’m aware that a couple of my favorite people are going to appear, I’m going to take a shower like 20 minutes before that, and that’s when I’m done. I’m no longer a worker. I am now a party-er, and that’s that.”
Yeah, and I’m sure how many of those people right now are going, “You know what? I still remember that party, and there was that thing on the floor in the corner. Oh, it was horrible.” Nobody. Nobody cares. Again, we inflate the importance of everything so often, and sometimes you can be a little too casual and go, “Well, nothing really matters.” But at the end of the day there are not that many things that matter in the moment.
And so, if you can identify those one or two things and go, “This is about me having fun at my New Year’s Eve party,” then you’ve made life so much more relaxing for you, and actually you’re now a guide for all the people that are partaking. It’s like, “Oh, he’s the leader, he’s doing that, that’s what I should be doing at this moment as well.”
Perfect. Okay, so, excellent. Well, I’m glad we really spent the time there, thank you, in terms of zeroing in on stakeholders and goals, and what really, really matters, and just kind of chilling out about a lot of the rest. So, once that global worldview has been established, what’s sort of the next thing that we should be thinking through?
I think, for me, it’s about this idea of, one example I like to use when I talk about managing pressure situations is, “Who are some people that are in a pressure situation all the time?” And a surgeon, that’s high pressure. You have somebody’s life on the line every day, or you have their health on the line to a certain degree.
Let’s say that you’re the person getting operated on. Are you hoping that that surgeon comes in very stiff, very overcome with what’s going on at home? Are you hoping that they’ve practiced this so many times that they’re just going to be on autopilot? Well, no, we want that person to be, again, in the moment, happy, confident. We want to make sure that they’re ready to not just do this the way they’ve done it every time but to make sure that they understand that every situation is different and they’re open to things changing along the way.
So, I always tell people, “When you’re entering a high-pressure situation, you need to be the surgeon in the moment. Confident, happy, in the moment, ready to take on whatever is going to happen in that moment.” And the other thing I think that’s so important, as the high-pressure situation begins to come on, own it. Just own that moment.
Remember, high-pressure situations, they are a gift. Not everybody gets the opportunity to actually do this difficult thing that you’ve been asked to do so you got to wear this as an honor, and you have to say to yourself, especially if it’s a presentation, if it’s a big giant interview that everybody would want, you got to say to yourself, “You know what? I owe this to myself, and I owe this to all of my friends, and I owe this to everybody to be excited about this. To look excited about this. I want to make sure that years from now I will think back on this and go, ‘That was a great moment in my life.’”
And it could be a great moment because you succeeded, but it could be a great moment because, again, a lot of us if we think back in our lives, the best things that happened to us were those moments of catastrophic failure where we said, “Oh, I need to change my ways, I need to change my behavior, I need to learn something.” So, take this as the honor that it is.
And another thing I think that folks need to think about in high-pressure situations, because everybody is different. You’ve got to know who you are. And different people are motivated by different things. Some people are motivated by money, some people are motivated by power. I’m not necessarily too ashamed to say this, I’m motivated by fear and shame. And I think a lot of people are. Fear and shame are the things that make you shower every day, dress well, be prepared for work.
I think owning a little bit of that and putting yourself in a situation where you’re scared, and putting yourself in a situation where you could be shamed, you’re a fighter, we’re humans, we want to survive. You’re going to find parts of yourself that you’ve never even knew existed when you open yourself up to taking on situations where you could have, where you could be really embarrassed. I think we should all be looking for opportunities to be a little embarrassed every once in a while because, again, you’re going to find parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed.
Oh, man. I love that perspective, and you’re bringing me back to, man, I’m thinking about high school. I participated in a club called Future Problem Solvers, and we put together a presentation to unveil the solution we had generated for the problem. And I remember it was just so lame, the presentation. Because, I mean, I don’t even know.
It was very uncomfortable and I think we were so red afterwards, but it didn’t really matter much, and I just had that sense even in high school. It’s like, “You know, that was pretty terrible of a performance and just kind of goofy and embarrassing and did not really land at all well like we had it hoped and imagined and thought of for the judges and the audience.” But even then, I had the sense that, “This is somehow good for us.”
And so I’m reassured that you have affirmed that because it creates, on the one hand, I guess humility being part of the same root word – humiliation – and as well as more kind of context associated with what is high pressure and what’s not, as well as resilience, I survived that and nothing terrible happened, as well as lessons learned like, “Oops, make sure to do this differently.” It’s win, win, win,
You know, I’ll give you an example. Here at work, we have an annual, and it’s crazy that we do this, we have an annual lip synch contest here in the College of Business at ASU. And one year, and this was in the weeks or months after Hamilton, the musical, came out, I decided I was going to do a Hamilton song. Now, at this point, nobody had heard of Hamilton, and nobody had heard of any of the songs. I’ve decided to do one.
And so, this is me, faculty member, most of the people who were doing this weren’t faculty. I decided to do it, and first of all it was terrifying and I knew I could be shamed because people are going to see me in a different way afterwards if I screwed this up. And it went well but not perfectly, and it was somewhat shameful and embarrassing.
But you know what? Here’s another thing that happens. People looked at me the next day like I had a superpower because they were looking at me like, “I can’t believe you actually decided to do this song that nobody had ever heard of, to go up there to make a fool of yourself, and to sort of survive it on the other end.” People didn’t care about the stupid things I did and how well or how poorly it went, they just sort of saw me in this completely different way.
It’s actually one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in the last few years where I just remember that and going, every time I walk into an office for the next two months people looked at me in a way I’d never seen before, and they were happier and they were excited. And I just thought, “Wow, that was a great experience and everything that came after was even better.”
Oh, that is powerful. Thank you. Eddie, tell me, is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things real quick?
Just I’d say if you got to kind of sum it up here very quickly, every time you get into a pressure situation, see it as an opportunity. Don’t look at it as a burden. Make sure that you assess the situation because very often we miscalculate all the things that are, “Is this actually a lot of pressure on me? Or is it a little bit less than I thought?”
I think another thing I want to tell people is have a physical escape. When you’re in the middle of a pressure situation, what sometimes happens is – I always like to think that our brain has a big giant hand, and sometimes that hand grabs our entire body, makes it stiff, takes away our energy, takes away our breath.
And having some physical escape, something that in the days, in the moments, in the hours before your high-pressure situation do something extremely strenuous. It basically will exhaust the brain, it’ll release the body and you’ll be able to relax. And I guess the other thing is be a pressure junkie. So, I think those are my big things. Seek it out.
Now when you say strenuous, can you give us a couple examples?
Strenuous? Well, for me, I’m a yoga freak. I do the hardest yoga I can do, and the reason why is because, first of all, I was horrible at it, I’m still not great at it, and by going in there it pushes me to do things that my body really can handle sometimes and there’s something that’s kind of exciting about that, something frustrating.
Again, just I understand that I am a fear and shame, I’m motivated by those things. So, I’m looking for the hardest classes with the best people in them, and I always go to the front of the class because somewhere in my brain I’m thinking, and this is false, “Everybody is looking at me. When I screw up, everybody is going to laugh at me.”
And all of that, all the work, physical, all the mental work, it drains my brain of the 55 things that are supposed to be running through it in the moments before a big presentation or in the moments that I’m trying to make a big sale to some organization. It makes my brain stop and go, “Wait a second. You should be breathing right now. You shouldn’t be thinking about the 50 things that are going on in this brain. Let it go. Relax. You’re going to be fine.”
Awesome. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
All right. So, I’m the kind of person that likes to walk into a room and say the odd thing, again, even if it’s a little embarrassing. So, I always think back to General George Patton, “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.” So, the more I walk into a room and everybody is agreeing with something, the more it forces me. And sometimes even if I agree with it, it forces me to think, “Well, what are we not thinking about? It can’t be this simple. We must be missing something.”
All right. And how about a favorite book?
Favorite book. I love Complications. It’s a book by Atul Gawande. It’s actually called Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. And Gawande is a writer for The New Yorker. He’s also a surgeon himself, and he’s taught surgery, and he has a bunch of great stories in there about, “How do you train a surgeon?”
And some of the basic ideas of when a surgeon says that they’re practicing medicine and they’re practicing it on you, which is a little scary. I actually tell this to people all the time, I highly recommend this book to everyone unless you’re going to the hospital in the next month, then definitely don’t read this book because it’s about how science and medicine are imperfect.
How do you train somebody to do something that they’re not very good at and where lives are at stake? Again, when I read that book it makes me think, “You know what? You just got to keep moving along, trying new things. Some of them are going to work and some of them aren’t.” And the stakes of my life are significantly lower than they are for some other people.
Okay. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
I think, for me, it’s kind of a silly one, and you probably had other people mention it before, or you may have heard of it before. It’s the Dunning-Krueger effect. There’s this study that said, “Unskilled and unaware of it. How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.”
Again, for me, this is all about the less we know the smarter we think we are, well, and that’s what sort the study were saying. The less we know the more we don’t know what we don’t know. The smartest people I meet are the ones that are confident enough to tell us what they know, what they don’t know, and even the things they know they’re a little bit sort of like, “You know what? This may not be right. There’s a lot more knowledge out there, and I have a little bit of it. that’s my strength, but my weakness is that there’s so much more out there.”
And as I recall with the Dunning-Krueger effect, like not knowing that you don’t know things can cause you to act with more confidence and assertiveness and, thus, actually get better results than someone who knows more. Is that correct?
That is correct.
That’s frustrating to the hard workers out there.
Like the world is a crazy place. And we try so hard to make sense of it, and sometimes the things that should work don’t, and sometimes the things – they do. It’s just we’re in this random experiment every single day.
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
Oh, my favorite thing to use in life, when I’m in the car, when I’m walking around campus, when I’m in my office, I am addicted to podcasts. I’m addicted to them. I love them because I can hear things that are entertaining, enlightening, funny, silly. There sometimes people that are just telling stories. I’m in a job where I teach supply chain management primarily, and I always think, “How can I make something that’s, to most people so, so boring, entertaining?”
And that’s the thing I love about podcasts. We’re hearing people talk about the things that they love, hearing people talk about the things that they’re passionate about, there’s nothing better than that. It gets you excited. Sometimes I hear people talk about things I don’t even like, but if they love it they make it sound interesting, and I can see why they love it.
And that’s kind of what I try to do when I’m in front of a crowd and when I’m speaking to an audience is, “How can I show them that I really care about this? I love it and I think about it and I live it.” And podcasts give you that sort of path into everybody’s brain.
Now, Eddie, how many podcasts have you appeared on?
Not many. Like maybe two or three, but I love, I’m a junkie when it comes to podcasts. I listen to them all the time to the point where my wife goes, “Did you hear that in a podcast? Did you hear that in a podcast?” I got started on it probably seven or eight years ago, and ever since I just consume them every moment I can.
Well, we appreciate that, the podcasters out there. And how about a favorite, well, I guess it’s kind of tool and a habit. But any additional habits that you have that help you in excellence?
Yeah, for me, it’s yoga. Yoga is my big giant habit. Again, it’s demoralizing, it stresses my body, it freezes brain. There’s this older guy in one my classes, and he said, he’s talking about how stiff and like out of shape he was. And he said, “Every time I do yoga,” he’d been doing it for years, “it feels like the first time because your body is changing all the time and there’s so many things to…”
It really allows you to both get better and to also realize there’s so much more work to do. Again, I like tying the idea of the similarities between our physical world and our sort of mental abstract world, and yoga seems to sort of tie those together very well for me.
All right. And is there a particular nugget or sort of Eddie quotable original that you share that seems to really connect or resonate with folks getting them taking notes vigorously and quoting yourself back to you?
This came from a yoga class. As I started getting better at yoga, I started taking higher and higher-level classes. And I remember there was this one class I used to take, and don’t ask me how I had time for this. I guess I didn’t have kids at the time. I used to take a three-hour class, two days a week, and the people in that class were some of the most gifted yoga enthusiasts I’ve ever taken classes with, and I was always the worst one in there.
And then I realized, so I used this, again, in the work now, being the dumbest person in the room is a gift. I never got better at yoga. I never got better at just understanding myself than when I was in this room with practitioners who were significantly better than me. It made me focus. It made me nervous. It made me reach for things that I didn’t even know were possible.
So, again, one thing I tell my students, and I’ve had more than a few say, “That was my favorite thing that you said in class.” Being the dumbest person in the room is a gift. We should seek out those opportunities all the time.
And, Eddie, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
I’d say LinkedIn is the best way to get me. Email, I have 1100 students presently in my class, so you’re probably not going to make it through that wall, there’s too many emails. But LinkedIn, connect with me there and I’m happy to add you onto the team and talk back to you there.
And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?
I’ve said it a couple of times already, but my biggest thing, and this goes back to my class with my freshmen where they weren’t used to pressure situations and they were running from themselves and they were running from fear. You’ve got to become a pressure junkie. Look for every opportunity to be embarrassed. Look for every opportunity to fail. Try things that you know you might not like.
You’re going to find parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed. And the more and more you get used to it, you become this adrenaline junkie, this pressure junkie where everything… first of all, stress will start to leave your life. You’ll be better able to calibrate every situation or understand, calculate each situation in terms of how much pressure is actually happening in that moment.
And the other thing is you’ll actually start to look around at work and say, “You know what? Things are a little boring. I want to try something new. I want something with more pressure.” Believe it or not, I know for a lot of you right now, you might say, “No, I don’t need anymore pressure in my life.” The more and more you put the stronger you’re going to get, and the more you’ll realize you’re living the exciting life right now. And the more you get of it the more you’ll want it.
Okay. Well, Eddie, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing your perspective. Super helpful. And I have a feeling we’ll have listeners returning to this when they’re freaked out time and time again.
Hopefully, they’re not too freaked out again. Just stop, think, you’re going to be alright. You’re going to be fine.