286: How to Optimize Learning at Work with Whitney Johnson

By April 13, 2018Podcasts

 

 

CEO advisor Whitney Johnson shares her insights into optimizing individual learning and team innovation via thoughtful disruption along a learning curve.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to optimize each stage of learning
  2. The three key stages of your learning curve
  3. The importance of ‘hiring’ the right boss

About Whitney

CEO advisor and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Whitney Johnson, has over one million followers on Linkedin. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work (2015). She was an award-winning Wall Street analyst and co-founded the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Clayton Christensen. She is a frequent keynote speaker on disruption, and has been recognized as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50 and Fortune. She also hosts the weekly Disrupt Yourself podcast and is an original cohort member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Whitney Johnson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Whitney, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Whitney Johnson
Thank you, Pete. I’m so happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Well, I think we’re going to get into some really good stuff, but first I wanted to go back in time a little bit and hear in an earlier part of your career you were a winning, outperforming stock picker. How did you do it?

Whitney Johnson
That’s such a good question. I think the way I did it – I mean you have to build your financial models and you have to come up with your projections of what you think a company is going to be able to do in the future, but there’s an element of stock picking that’s actually very intuitive. The way I – I found that stocks, I mean, when I was analyzing them and studying them every single day of what they were doing, it’s almost like they had a personality.

One of the elements at least for me of being a good stock picker was sure I had to have the numbers, but also being able to analyze management, what I thought management would do, how they were thinking about the world, what was motivating them, and then also watching the stock and just getting a sense for when there might be momentum shifting either up or down.

I think a good stock picker has this element of being able to do the analytical work, but there’s also an intuitive – there’s a left brain, right brain aspect to stock picking.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s intriguing. One of these days my dreams is – because I’ve seen that there’s numbers and numbers of studies that show that certain kind of good people practices are linked to exceptional or beyond normal stock performance measures, if you look at maybe Good to Great or any number of those sort of studies that are out there.
Part of me thought on day I think it would be really cool to start a strategy in which I’m trying to snag undervalued stocks based upon having brilliant people and culture things in play because it’s like, those are not readily quantified, reported, sent to the SEC and digested by day traders the world over.

Whitney Johnson
Fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Some day.

Whitney Johnson
I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Whitney Johnson
Yeah, yeah. It’s worth doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, maybe I’ll pick your brain when that day comes because you’ve made a leap here into more of the realm of people and learning and development. You talk a lot about disrupting and disruption, can you orient us a little bit? What do you mean by those words?

Whitney Johnson
I’m glad that you asked that question because I think so many of us hear those words and we all think different things depending on who we are and the experience that we’ve had. At its simplest, a disruptor, in terms of disruptive innovation, is a silly little thing that takes over the world.

Quick examples are the telephone that took over the telegraph; the light bulb, the gas lamp; more recently Toyota disrupted General Motors; Netflix, Blockbuster; and then Uber has disrupted yellow cabs.

It has a very specific framework. The disruptor gets a foothold at the low end of the market. And think about Toyota in the ‘60s. At the very outset, its position is weak and their product is inferior. At that point in time, General Motors could have literally crushed them like a cockroach, but they didn’t because market leaders rarely bother because for them it’s just a silly little thing, the margins are low, it’s inconsequential, why should we bother, let’s just go after bigger, faster, better. In the case of General Motors, it was Cadillac.

The bad news for General Motors, of course, and the good news depending on your point of view, if you were Toyota, is that once you’ve got that foothold, you’re motivated also by bigger, faster, better, Lexus. That’s what disruption looks like. At its simplest, it’s low end, eventually moves up market and upends its better resourced, at least early on, competitor.

Pete Mockaitis

When you talk about an individual being a disruptor or disruptive or causing disruption, what does that mean?

Whitney Johnson

Personal disruption is how you take these ideas and make them meaningful to you. This is the big aha that I had. When I was working as an investor I had co-founded an investment firm with Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School and we were applying this theory of disruption to investing and to products and services.
The big aha, the big insight that I had, was that this framework actually applied to people. What it looks like for a person is think of a ladder, so you start at the bottom of a ladder, then you climb to the top of the ladder and then you jump to the bottom of the next ladder, like the children’s game Chutes and Ladders.

To give you an example of what that can look like for a person, because I think we talked about Toyota, General Motors, but what does it look like for you personally. Well, Lady Gaga. We all know Lady Gaga.

Think about how in 2008 she starts at the bottom of a ladder. She goes straight to the top. Then for an encore what does she do? Well she jumps to the bottom of a new ladder. Think about that ladder. She collaborates with Tony Benet on a jazz album. Then she does this Sound of Music tribute. We’re talking about Lady Gaga singing The Hills are Alive. Then she produces a country album.

You’re like, “Wow, hm.” But the jump it obviously paid off because her performance at the Super Bowl last year had the largest music audience ever. That’s what personal disruption looks like.

The real snag for personal disruption though is that when you’re at the top of the ladder and you make a decision to jump to the bottom of a new one, people oftentimes look at you like, “What are you doing? You’re giving up all this stature, all this money, all this notoriety. Why would you do this?” You do it because you believe that when you’re willing to disrupt yourself, that what you will get in the future, that step back will turn out to be a slingshot forward for you.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s interesting because I’m thinking sometimes it works out great and sometimes it doesn’t work out so great. I’m thinking about Opera right now. I don’t know, maybe I’m just not in the know and the Opera Winfrey Network is rocking and rolling, but for a while there it seemed like she was sort of struggling with the rankings or the ratings, Nielson stuff, and is just sort of hanging out, whereas before she was the Opera with rocking and rolling.

Whitney Johnson

Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis

I guess time will tell what unfolds there or maybe Michael Jordan and baseball.

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, Pete. You make a really good point.

I think one of the important things to know about the theory of disruption is that the reason it’s so valuable is that the research says that your odds of success are going to be six times higher when you pursue a disruptive course and your revenue opportunity is going to be 20 times greater.  The thing that is important to understand is that when your odds go up by six times, that’s from 6% to 36%.

Pete Mockaitis

There you go.

Whitney Johnson

There’s still a 64% chance that you’re on the wrong curve. It means that lots of things that we’re going to try are not going to work. That being said, your odds go up and most importantly, no S curve is ever wasted.

No matter what S curve or learning curve we’re on, we’re always learning something. Even if it turns out that this is not a learning curve that’s going to work fabulously well, like perhaps the OWN Network for Opera or even Michael Jordan and baseball, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t learn some really valuable lessons and she didn’t learn some really valuable lessons. Again, no S curve or learning curve is ever wasted.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. I’ve seen that in terms of just my own business adventures in terms of, “Oh, that didn’t work out. I’ve wasted some time and money on it, but oh wow, now I have these sort of extra resources, like great people to collaborate with, knowledge of platforms that I wouldn’t have had, skills that get put over to another place.” It’s hard to regret even most of those failures.

Whitney Johnson

Especially when it’s not about when you’re able to separate out the endeavor itself from you as a person, the worth that you have as a person. When you can separate those two out, you really can say, “Wow, I did this thing and it didn’t work, but look at everything I learned.” It starts to just be this accumulation of knowledge and understanding and experience that allows you to move up the next curve that much more quickly.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, let’s talk about some learning curve stuff in your latest upcoming work, Build an A Team. What’s this book all about and why is important right now?

Whitney Johnson

My prior book called Disrupt Yourself and we’ve kind of been alluding to it and talking about was this notion that we need to be willing to disrupt ourselves to jump from one learning curve to the next, so that your odds of success are higher.

One of the things that happened is that as I was talking to people, I would over and over and over again have people say to me, “Okay, I get it. I got it. I got it. I want to disrupt myself, but how do I get my boss to let me disrupt myself? Because I really like the company that I’m working at. And how do I get the team, the people who are working for me to disrupt themselves?” This book is a response to that.

Whereas Disrupt Yourself was for you, how do you decide when it’s time to try something new and then how do you move up your learning curve … to do that, this is about okay, how do you manage a team as a collection of S curves and how do you use this framework to onboard people, how do you manage people when they’re at the low end of their curve, in the sweet spot at the high end and what do you do when it’s time for them to jump to their next S curve.

With the idea that if your company is a collection of S curves, if you can manage the learning of each person on your team, you can actually optimize for innovation and avoid being disrupted.

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hm. Well, you’re using a lot of words I like there: optimizing and innovation, learning, oh yeah. Let’s dig in a little bit then. What are some key practices that make that happen well in terms of some do’s and don’ts that you observe in the wild.

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I would say the first thing to think about  is – let’s just talk about this S a little bit because I think for some of our listeners because we’ve been talking all about the S curve and  – I should say your listeners. They’re your listeners. They’re you tribe.

Pete Mockaitis

… share them now.

Whitney Johnson

Thank you for inviting me in.

If you think about this idea of an S, at the bottom of the S, you’re inexperienced, you don’t know what you’re doing, there’s going to be – six months to a year whenever you start anything new, a new role, a new project, where time is going to pass, time is going to pass, and it feels like nothing is happening.

But then you put in the effort and you start to move up the knee of that S. That comes the back of the S where it’s really, really steep and so you start to feel really competent and confident and you’re engaged.

Then you get to the top and now you become a master. Yay, you’re a master, but because you know how to do everything on your job, you start to get bored. Well, what you want to do as a manager is to
have about 70% of your people at any given time in the sweet spot, where they’re engaged, they know enough, but not too much.

You want to have 15% of your people at the low end, where they’re inexperienced, but they’re also, because of that inexperience, asking lots of questions like, “Why do you do it like this?” If you can get over the fact that it feels kind of pesky because they’re questioning the status quo, there are all sorts of nuggets of discovery that can come with that person who’s at the low end of the curve. You want 15% of your people there.

Then you also want 15% of your people at the high end of the curve who are on the top. Think of it, I’m talking about a curve, but also think of it as being on top of a mountain. There’s this vista, there’s this perspective that they have. They can also bring along the people who are the bottom and the middle of the curve before they then jump to a new one.

If you can optimize each of those respective stages of learning, it can allow you to be very innovative. In fact, if you, as an organization or a leader, are trying to figure out if you’re at risk of being disrupted, all you have to do is look at how many people are at the high end of the curve because if you’ve got too many people at the high end, that means they’re getting bored and bored people can either leave or worse they get complacent and bored and complacent people, they don’t innovate. They get disrupted.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. We’ve sort of laid out, “Hey, take a look at the mix right there.” Maybe I think it would be helpful – I guess in a way it really is a continuum as opposed to red, yellow, green, three firm, clear categories. Is that fair to say?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, it’s a continuum. But you want to dive into sort of how you manage people along the different parts?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yes.

Whitney Johnson

Or what would be helpful?

Pete Mockaitis

I’d like to go there in a moment, but first I guess I’d like to say, I’m thinking about so folks are in there in their six months, like, “Yeah, I still kind of don’t know what I’m doing, but I kind of do.” I guess where would you place them in terms of the three segments or would you just say, they’re more like the new folk than they are the mid-folk and just leave it at that or is there any kind of key questions or indicators you look to and do your categorizing?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, love it. Great question.

One of the things that we have is we have what is called an S curve locator. It’s the too that you can – if you actually go to my website at WhitneyJohnson.com/diagnostic, you can download it and see where you are on your current learning curve. If you wanted to, you could have everybody on your team download it and see where you are.

What I would say is that it’s definitely continuum. But here’s a quick rule of thumb, typically someone’s going to be at the low end of the curve. If you’re mapping against the 10,000 hour rule, for example, and working 40 hours a week, you’re going to be there up until about the time that you’re at six months.

That’s going to be characterized by you’re coming home from work and saying, “I have no idea what I’m doing.

I feel very daunted by what’s happening.” That’s how it’s going to feel, so you then go, “Okay, I know it’s supposed to feel this way, so I’m not going to get discouraged.”

But at some point after – from six to nine months and it may be a year depending on how prepared you were going into this new work, you’re going to start moving into this sweet spot. You’ll be in this sweet spot for, again, on average two to three years, where at the low end of the sweet spot you feel like you still know enough, but not quite enough and at the high end of the sweet spot, you probably know a lot and perhaps almost too much.

Then once you get to the top of the curve, that’s going to be three to four years in a particular role. You don’t really want to be staying at that place for longer than six months to a year. Again, this is doing exactly the same thing. There’s lots of different ways for you to extend out the sweet spot of the curve, but that’s a basic rule of thumb.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s really interesting because that seems to roughly correspond to what we’re seeing with the horizon in which people choose of their volition to stick with a current role … “You know what? I think I’m going to move on now.”

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, and you know it’s so fascinating, Pete, is that when people hear about this framework they go, “Oh, that’s why I move every three or four years because I was at the top of a learning curve,” and it helps them understand that they weren’t just being flakey like, “Oh, I’m done with this job.”

They understand, “Oh, it’s because my learning had peaked and I needed to do something new because I was getting bored and in order for me to be most productive and most be able to contribute better to the organization I needed to be able to leap to a new learning curve.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, all right. Let’s say, now we have three different segments, what are some best practices within each of them?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, okay. I would say for people at the low end of the learning curve, you want to have a plan. I think there’s this tendency to thing that whenever you hire someone that they’re going to be there forever and they’re just not. We subconsciously do that weird thing.

You want to have a really clear plan of what you want them to do for the first month on the job, for their first six months on the job, for their two to three years on the job, knowing that three to four years from now they’re going to jump, assuming that they’ve been a good employee, going to jump to do something new.

The second thing you want to do is to just let them do their job. I think sometimes when people are brand new, for example, I know some of your listeners are fairly new managers, there’s this tendency to want to micromanage. Let me just tell you a quick story around that.

There was this really talented, high performer at Boeing who was promoted to be a manager and a few months in one of his direct reports, an engineer, announced that he was quitting. The engineer is like, “Why are you quitting? You’re doing such a good job.” The engineer said, “Well, it’s because you’re micro managing me. You’ve made 14 changes to my work. Your job is not to do my job. Your job is to help me understand the bigger picture, to plug me into the network and to advocate for me.”

The employee still quit, but Alan Mulally, who went on to become the CEO of Ford, one of the best CEOs of our time, apparently learned his lesson, I should say.

The third thing I would say for people at the low end is to recognize that they’re going to be slow. Sometimes you’re going to say, “Hm, I wonder if I should have hired this person because they’re not really quite delivering the way I wanted them to.” Just recognize that they’re going to be slow because they’re at the low end of the curve.

Then remember that because they’re not blind through familiarity, there are lots of things that they’re going to see. Make sure you – before they start to get blind, make sure you ask them what their insights are and what suggestions that they have for you and how you might do things differently. That’s at the low end of the curve.

Pete Mockaitis

I really like that, that notion that the new folks have – because they don’t know stuff, are a rich source of innovation.

I guess I’m thinking about it sometimes when we’ve had folks like just, “Hey, clean our home.” Sometimes it’s, “It’s gotten beyond us. We need a little help task rabbit or something on a number of occasions.” It’s sort of like I behold sort of what they’ve done and at times it’s like, “Well, that’s not where that goes. That goes over there.” It’s like, “But you know what? It makes more sense to have it over here.”

Whitney Johnson

Exactly. That’s a great example. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s good. At times it’s sort of like, “No, that’s not where that goes for a reason. I’m going to move it back here,” and other times it’s like, “You have sparked something really cool about how I should have been doing it all along.” That’s cool to have that flexibility, that humility to roll with it. What about folks who are in the midpoint or the sweet spot?

Whitney Johnson

People in the sweet spot, it’s a really interesting place because they are feeling really competent. One of the things that’s really interesting is when people are in the sweet spot, you start to them think of them as a high potential person. Fascinating research suggests that when people are high po’s, we actually don’t give them hard assignments because we’re afraid that they’ll fail.

The most important thing you can do for your people in the sweet spot is to give them constraints, to give them friction, to press them and challenge them. Give them real stretch assignments where there’s a real possibility of failure.

Then the second thing I would say is because they are performing so well, make sure you appreciate them. It’s easy sometimes when people are at the low end or the high end, you’re worried about them, etcetera, and you forget and ignore the people in the sweet spot. They’re not a problem child, so don’t make them one because you’ve ignored them. That would be my advice for the people in the middle of the curve.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, very good. And those who are getting experienced?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, so the people at the top of the curve, there are a couple of different things you want to do.

First of all the way that you can best leverage their experience is to give them – first of all say to them, “Okay, you’re at the top of the curve. I know you’re getting bored. I need you to stay here from six months to a year in order to help set the pace for people at the low end of the curve, in order to convey the tribal memory, and also we just need to get your perspective overall.”

That’s how you want to manage people at the top of the curve is give them a specific role that they need to play for your organization. Then you need to come to their aid, so A-I-D.
Applaud what they’ve done. We tend to memorialize birthdays and anniversaries and promotions, but whenever someone gets to the top of the curve, applaud and say to them, “Look at what we’ve accomplished as a team because you were in this role.”

The second thing you want to do if you haven’t already is to identify what they’re going to do next.

Then the third, the D, A-I-D, is to deliver on the promise inherent in your contract that now that they’ve gotten to the top of the curve, they’ve delivered, they’ve performed well, they’ve now set the pace for the people at the low end, you identify some new role, some new opportunity, some new project for them to do inside of your organization so that they can continue to learn and as they learn, yes, they may leave your team and so there’s a short term loss for you, but you sub-optimize the present in order to optimize the future for them and for your organization.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s interesting I think in practice – well, I don’t have any hard data on this, maybe you do. But my gut sense is that most organization don’t do this. It’s kind of like, “Well, this is the job,” and maybe there’s not clear-cut opportunities for advancement or other roles to be snagged, so then folks just kind of get tired of it and they leave of their own accord.

What’s your sense for how – what the proportion of folks who are doing things optimally viruses sub-optimally?

Whitney Johnson

I think the large percentage of people are doing it sub-optimally. It’s very difficult to do and yet we know – in fact, the data says it’s difficult to do. I’m trying to find – oh yeah, okay.

Professor at Harvard Business School, Boris Groysberg, he does this survey every year. I think he’s done it for about ten years of small, medium-sized companies and asks them about sort of how they build a great company and to rate how effective they are at a number of different HR practices.

For the 450 companies they surveyed in 2017, job rotations, which is basically what we’re talking about here, had the lowest, with high potential programs having the third lowest.

The key to maintaining this innovate workforce, they were the lowest and the third lowest. He said this is not unusual. It’s basically this way every single year.

If the organizations that are listening to this are struggling to do it, you’re not alone. But to the organizations that are able to do it, like for example, WD-40, who I talk about in my book, then you get things like engagement scores of 93%. You know that when you’ve got high engagement scores, you’ve got higher operating margins, your ROIs – you’re just a more profitable company.

So there’s a case to be made for it. But there are all sorts of psychological reasons why we don’t. Anyway, long-winded answer to your question, but I think the simple answer is very few do, more could and would benefit if done so.

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly. Also, when you share those data, that also make some think of Korn Ferry had managers sort of self-assess where they fell on all the competencies and developing others and direct reports was dead last of all of them that they could choose in the stack order ranking, so it is challenging.

I’d like to zoom in then. If you were the individual who is wishing you had some enlightened leaders taking care of you in this way but aren’t quite getting it, what’s your advice for them?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I would say you can’t necessarily change your boss. I think there are a couple things you can do. You can hire the right boss for you.

Because I think one of the things we overlook is sometimes it’s a good thing to help people leave and go to other organizations where they can become ambassadors, clients, etcetera for your company. I think that would be the first place I would start.

The second place I would go is to you, yourself. I think that if you can make it possible for the people who report to you to be able to learn and leap and repeat, you’re going to find that the people who are reporting to you are much more engaged. They’ll be all in and when they’re all in, when they’re learning, you’re going to ship more product and then you’re going to start to become a talent magnet and people are going to want to work for you and with you.

Then if it turns out that the boss that you happen to work for is not the talent magnet, then you’re going to have the ability to move to other organizations over time.

Pete Mockaitis

I also want to get your take on the – there are some employees who are not that interested, engaged or motivated by learning. They would kind of just rather sort of do their thing for a while with minimal interruption and maybe effort. How do you think about working with this sort of profile in the mix?

Whitney Johnson

With someone who just literally doesn’t want to learn, is that what you’re saying? They’re just not excited.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. I think that you might call it less motivation or they would prefer just a bit more of routine. I’m thinking of Jerry Gergich from Parks and Recreation right now if you can bring that to mind. He just likes his government job because he can get home to his wife and family at a reasonable time and that’s that.

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, it’s such an interesting question.

I remember a few years ago, maybe two years ago, I was talking to a CEO of a company and he said, “90% of my people don’t have a learning curve. They just don’t care.” I could really feel how he felt. He was really frustrated.

My response was – I think it’s just not true. I think everybody is on a learning curve. It’s just … because everybody has the will for something. I think when we have someone inside of an organization who is not performing well, I think there can be a couple things going on.

I think sometimes they just don’t want to work that hard, but that means that this is not the right learning curve for them because I think everybody is willing to work hard at something, even if it’s playing video games ten hours a day or watching football for ten hours a day. There’s something that they’re willing to work hard at, but it might not be inside of your organization.

That’s sometimes where you’ve just got to have those difficult conversations and say, “This isn’t the right learning curve for you because you’re not excited about this particular curve.”

I do think sometimes that people are under performing not because they’re not willing to work hard, but because they are on the wrong curve. Part of the reason that that happens is because that we, as human beings, because we overvalue what we’re not good at, we sometimes get ourselves into the wrong roles because we worked hard at something so therefore, we should be in that role, when in fact what we’d be really good at is that thing that we don’t value because it’s easy for us.

A really great boss will be able to discern between the two and when they discover that there’s someone in the wrong role – and I talk about this in the book about a women named Jocelyn Wong, where she was at Proctor and Gamble. She was engineer. It turns out she was not performing well.

It’s not because she wasn’t good; it’s just that she was on the wrong curve, so they moved her into marketing and she’s now been the CMO of Lowe’s.

Again, I think everybody has the will for something. It may not be the will for the learning curve inside of your company, but sometimes when people aren’t performing it’s just that they’re not on the right curve.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Again, if there’s an individual who finds themselves bored and not sort of getting the proactive attention from leadership to kind of craft new things, do you have any tips for being proactive and how one might go about taking the initiative optimally to finding some new challenges within the current role?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, okay, so you’re saying, you’re a little bit bored. Okay, so a couple of things.

I would say number one is you want to talk to your boss and say to them, again, I understand that this might sometimes feel tantamount to getting pushed off the curve, which also gives you information. If you can’t go to your boss and say you’re bored, then you’re probably going to leave at some point anyway, so you may want to make the decision to be proactive.

But I do think that there are opportunities for you once you say that you can give yourself – you can create opportunities for yourself to stretch.

One of the things I recommend to my clients is to impose constraints because when you’re getting bored it’s because you don’t have enough challenge and challenge comes with friction and constraints represent friction.

They can include things like okay, we’ve got a target of X for this year, we want to see if we can reach our target in 0.75X, or sorry, we want to reach our target by September, not by December or what could we do if we had half the marketing budget or what would we have to do if we only had half the people. Start to really push yourself to be effective by constraining your resources and see what that can bring about.

But again, I think that that can at some level feel like busy work. You’re really best off by having that conversation with your boss and/or taking on interesting projects inside of the organization that engage and challenge you, which in a very, very large organization you certainly have the option of doing.

If you’re in a small organization, you can start a side hustle and see what happens there. But I think in that instance you’re basically saying, “Okay, this S curve I’m on isn’t fulfilling me. For whatever reason I’m not ready to jump to a new curve, it might be a financial concern, so I’m going to start a side hustle, start my own S curve over here and see what comes of that.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Thank you. Well, Whitney, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I think the only other comment I would make is that I think whenever you’re thinking about disrupting and this idea of learning, and leaping and repeating, and allowing – disrupting yourself in terms of how you’re managing your workforce or your team is always remember that when – because you’re creating a new market, you’re creating a new way of doing things, it’s going to be scary and lonely. So if you’re feeling scared and if you’re feeling lonely as you’re pursuing this, you’re actually on the right path to disruption.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. Thank you. Well now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, so one of my favorite quotes is “Rings and jewels are but apologies for gifts,” I’m paraphrasing. It’s Ralph Waldo Emerson. “But the only true gift is a portion of thyself.” I really, really love that quote. It’s very meaningful for me.

Whenever we think about ourselves in the workplace or really any endeavor that we’re pursuing, I think it’s always important, at least for me, to find some way to bring myself into that, to really show up in some way, whether it’s professionally or personally.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. How about a favorite study or a bit of research?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I read The Undoing Project not too long ago and I talk about it a little bit in this next book. I’m fascinated by this idea of behavioral economics and how sometimes when we want to encourage people to do something, we talk a lot about the carrot, but I think that when it comes to motivating ourselves, that the stick is not to be overlooked. I think that for me was really powerful.

Sometimes we need to just prod yourself by saying, “Okay, here are all the bad things that are going to happen to you if you don’t do this new thing,” because we want to be positive, but sometimes, we’re actually more motivated if we can tell ourselves that it won’t be good if we don’t do this.

Pete Mockaitis

Have you applied this in your own goal or pursuits?

Whitney Johnson

Yes, absolutely I have. Do you want an example?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, please do.

Whitney Johnson

Okay, a few – probably a year or two ago I had gotten off of a webinar and I just wasn’t very good. You know you have times, you’re just not very good. Afterwards, I was like, “I wasn’t very good.” I was psyching myself up about how good I was going to be.

My husband, spouses and partners are often truth tellers, he’s like, “Don’t you get it? You need to tell yourself how bad it’s going to be. If you tell yourself how bad it’s going to be, then you’ll prepare.” I was like, “Really? He’s right. He’s right.”

So now when I’m trying to prepare to give a speech or prepare to do a podcast like with you, instead of saying to myself, “This is going to be great.” I’ll say, “Okay, if you don’t prepare, if you don’t take a look at – think about what you’re going to do beforehand, it’s going to be bad,” then it motivates me actually to act, so powerful research to me.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, good, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Whitney Johnson

Oh, I am reading Brandon Sanderson. Do you know him at all? He’s a fantasy writer. He writes fantasy and he wrote this book called The Way of Kings. He’s just the most fantastic storyteller. If you ever read Ender’s Game, he takes Ender’s Game to the exponential power. He’s just that good.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, thank you. How about a favorite tool? Something that helps you be awesome at your job.

Whitney Johnson

Oh, Headspace app hands down. It’s so good. It’s really good. Did you have him as a guest on your show?

Pete Mockaitis

I haven’t, but we have a guest coming up who’s on the Simple Habit app. He’s coming on. Andy, yeah, he’s on the list, so maybe someday it can happen.

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, yeah. You could do the live meditation. Anyway, that app – I’m up to like 900 minutes. It’s really made a difference for me. I highly recommend it. In fact, I have recommended it to a number of people.

Pete Mockaitis

You said difference, what difference does it make for you?

Whitney Johnson

I think that when – I tend to get anxious or worried about all the 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 things that I need to do in the next hour or two hours, so I think the Headspace app has helped me say to myself, “Okay, that’s just a thought, just focus on what you have to do right now. Write it down. You can come back to it.” Just be much more aware of the chatter in my head and to kind of calm that chatter down. I found it very helpful for that.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, very good. Thank you. How about a particular nugget you share that really seems to resonate with folks? They nod, they Kindle book highlight, they quote you back to yourself. What is something you share that really seems to connect?

Whitney Johnson

One is if it’s scary and lonely, you’re on the right path.

Another one that people really resonate with is that shame limits disruption, not failure. I think sometimes people conflate the two and failure and shame are two different things, but we conflate them. When I say to people shame limits disruption, not failure, I think that that’s really resonant.

Then I would also say that this idea, which I mentioned earlier, is that if you want to know that if you as an organization are about to be disrupted, just take the pulse of your workforce. I think that’s really powerful for people, like, “Oh, right. I don’t need to just worry that I’m getting disrupted, I just need to figure out where my people are and if I’ve got too many people that are getting bored, I’m going to be at risk because they’re dialing it in.” That’s really helpful for people as well.

Pete Mockaitis

If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Whitney Johnson

As I mentioned earlier, you can go to my website to WhitneyJohnson.com/diagnostic if you want to take this S curve locator. The best way is to find me at WhitneyJohnson.com. You can email me at WJ@WhitneyJohnson.com or on Twitter at JohnsonWhitney.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I do. I suspect that as you were listening to Pete and I talk, you had an idea, one or two or three ideas, some insight. I would encourage you to write that insight down now, this very second. Pull over your car and write it down and then act on it in the next two hours. That would be my challenge.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. All right, well, Whitney, thanks so much for taking this time. I wish you lots of luck with the book and all sorts of happy disruptions and A Team building in the future.

Whitney Johnson

Thank you very much, Pete. I appreciate it.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply