319: How to Never Stop Learning with Bradley R. Staats

By July 11, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Bradley R. Staats discusses the essentials of dynamic learning, the best practices of a compelling learner, and the value of mistakes and asking questions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 4 elements of dynamic learning
  2. How we are our own worst enemy when learning
  3. How to reframe how you think about mistakes

About Bradley

Bradley R. Staats is the author of Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive, and is an associate professor of operations at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler Business School. His research examines how individuals, teams, and organizations can learn to improve their operational performance to build a competitive advantage, integrating work in operations management and organizational behavior to clarify how and under what conditions individuals, teams, and organizations can learn at their best.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Bradley R. Staats Interview Transcript

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

Brad R. Staats
Awesome. Thanks so much for having me as well. Excited to be here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I am too. I am too. I wanted to start by hearing a little bit about learning in a different environment. I understand that you spend a good bit of time coaching baseball teams for your kids and others, so how’s that and what’s that teach you about learning?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, it’s been a great experience. I have three sons who are 13, 11, and 9 now. A good way to spend time with them is out on the baseball field. I think baseball is a game, and probably coaching even more fundamentally, is an action that are both fantastic for learning.

The biggest thing for me is really around the process. Actually the book opened with a story from one of my son’s games, where he was facing a really hard pitcher, did everything right, and was a few years younger and unfortunately hit to a double play and came back kind of extraordinarily upset despite the fact that he did hit the ball incredibly hard. It all worked out. Yet, he was looking at it as failure.

I see so many things like that on the field of when we focus on the outcome, as an example, instead of what we actually did, the process, we fail to learn. There are those chances in working with the kids and helping them see kind of what’s going on around them that then import nicely over to other learning contexts.

I think the other big thing for me is that while I certainly played baseball as a kid, I’m by no means an expert, but thankfully surrounded by some head coaches that did a lot more than I did.

It’s a great reminder to me of the power of ‘I don’t know.’ Of getting asked questions that I could speculate as a coach, I could give them an answer, that they might nod their heads and believe that, but I realized there are other people that are more qualified.

It’s almost freeing that I don’t feel the need in that context to claim this is what you always do, but “I don’t know. Let’s talk to Coach John. Let’s talk to Coach Jim, Coach Tyler,” whomever and trying then to import that over to organizational contexts.

Pete Mockaitis
That is great. Particularly I think there could be some I don’t know if it’s context thing or an expectation thing or a macho thing in terms of “I’m a man and I’m a dad. These are my kids. I have the answers.” I think that that’s sort of an easy rut to fall into for some.

Brad R. Staats
I think you’re absolutely right. You certainly see it out in the field of people who playing games try to do that. The ironic thing of course is that eventually people catch on. Eventually you undercut your credibility in an attempt to stay important.

People are willing to accept. We don’t need to know all the answers. It’s a hard world. It’s uncertain. There’s a lot going on. You should know the basics. You know four balls get you a walk, that sort of thing.

But if there’s some nuance you don’t get, the same thing with umpires. It’s a great way to walk out, “I don’t know this,” and then having a really productive discussion around it, learning and moving forward to the next step.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Then let’s hear about some of this that you unpack and synthesize in your book, Never Stop Learning. What’s it all about?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, it’s getting at in many ways these sorts of behaviors. It’s a recognition that I think with learning we know a lot of the things we should do. We know the processes we should follow, that should we fail fast, we should ask questions, we should follow the process, learn from others, etcetera and yet we don’t.

It’s a question that’s really bugged me for a lot of years. Why don’t we learn? What I’ve come to appreciate is that learning is a science but in a lot of ways it’s a behavioral science that when it comes to learning, we are in fact our own worst enemy. That’s the challenge.

The good news is research from diverse fields, whether it’s operations, psychology, economics, neuroscience shows that we can be the problem, but we also can be the solution.

In the book, what I try to do is look at some of those practices that we should be following, explore why we don’t, why do we have those behavioral issues, and then importantly, how can we overcome it, what can we do in order to get to a better spot.

Pete Mockaitis
Then let’s dig into this. You use the term dynamic learner frequently. First, can you define that for us and well, we’ll start there?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, absolutely. When I think about dynamic learning, it’s in part a recognition that I would argue we live very much in a learning economy now, that I kind of grew up thinking of a knowledge economy, an information economy, this recognition of all that’s out there.

I think the shift to learning as the motivator there is important because recognition, it’s not what we know right now that will determine future success. It’s how quickly we ….

Dynamic learning is getting to that. It’s an appreciation that we need to be really four things with our learning. We need to be focused. We need to be able to pick the right topics, right as best we can define it at the moment. We need to be fast. Our acceleration matters. How quickly can we get up to speed on those chosen areas? We need to be frequent that it really is an ongoing process, not learn a little, stop.

It’s kind of a … of lifelong learning, but nevertheless it is a truth. It’s fact I would argue. Then finally we have to be flexible, that just because we picked an idea, we accelerated, we’ve learned it, it doesn’t mean that’s where we stay. We have to be able to adjust off of that.

As I think about dynamic learning, it’s capturing those four elements of how do we be focused, how do we be fast, how do we be frequent and how do we be flexible.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, lovely. I want to dig into that. What – I want to get your sense for a dynamic learner, sounds like a great thing to be, desirable. If you had to guesstimate or maybe you have some hard studies here, what proportion of people would say qualify as dynamic learners?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, it’s a great question. I don’t have hard numbers around that. I think – I would probably twist the question around a little bit and highlight what I think the literature shows us is that effectively none of us are dynamic learners all of the time, but basically all of us have the potential to do it.

That is part of the premise of the book and certainly it’s somewhat introspective for myself with the book of as a quote/unquote learning expert, I still feel and see myself fall short on these dimensions. I’ve yet to kind of see someone who always does these things right.

At the same time, research is really compelling in that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The dog just has to want to learn. I think that’s kind of the encouraging message of broader research and certainly the book as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then along those lines, you’ve said elsewhere – I saw it on your Twitter – that most of us are actually pretty bad at learning. Can you unpack that a little bit and share what’s the big evidence that points to that assertion?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. I think it gets back to this behavioral challenge that so often we feel the need to go down a certain path when it’s actually fairly problematic. Lots of examples jump to mind. I think the sport’s world often provides an easy one that folks would know.

You can think about something like if you follow the NBA, Sam Hinkie from the Philadelphia 76ers and the idea of ‘trust the process’ has been pounded over again and again with this idea that it’s hard to win in the NBA, so you take an approach, you make measured bets, you play the probabilities and in the long run it will work out.

As part of that it was a bunch of losing upfront in order to get high draft picks and trade away talent to assemble future resources. If you look from 2013 when he was hired to 2018, this year, the 6ers made a playoff run. They’re kind of rated number four I think by ESPN on their power rankings looking to the future.

But a couple years ago he was effectively pushed out of the organization. While he took this process focus, thinking about or getting to that future outcomes, at the end of the day ownership decided enough was enough and got rid of him more or less. Even though, thankfully, the model he put in place is largely been followed with a few missteps and played out directionally the way he’d expect.

I think we see that sort of thing.

There was another research study looking at on the process point right there, NBA coaches and looked at a couple thousand NBA games over multiple years.

You can think about when you play a game, the final score gives you some information about how the team did, but if you won a game by one point, lose a game by one point, it doesn’t really provide dramatically different information. That was an incredibly close game either way.

The study shows that if we look at changing the starting line up, so kind of this belief that something’s wrong, you’re much more likely to change it if you lose by a lot than if you win by a lot. Big shock there.

But if you get down to that plus or minute one point difference, the coaches that lost by one point were far more likely to change their starting lineup than the ones that won by a point. Back to this challenge of we obsess about the outcome.

The coaches were likely to do that even when they were expected to lose. The results carried through even when they just got lucky, their team shot a remarkably high free-throw percentage that day. But on average this plays out kind of across the entire NBA.

In study after study where we can pick a given practice and a whole lot of the time kind of we play it out the wrong way. If we’re going to do better, yes we have to know the practice, but we also have to have some idea of kind of what goes wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really intriguing.

I’m wondering if that is purely self-imposed, like the head coaches have the autonomy and flexibility and authority to say, “I have considered all of the parameters and our goals and this is what I truly believe is the answer to make this happen,” versus, do you think that it’s more a matter of sort of outside influences saying, “You’ve got to change things up,” and they’re kind of reacting to external pressures.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, I think it’s some of both. I think you’re right that the outside both pressure and impression management that we just feel like well, we need to be seen doing something.

There’s kind of a related study that I love looking at soccer goalies. Looks at soccer goalies on penalty kicks. I might get the numbers slightly wrong, but basically about – in this study these were professional goalies. 94% of the time the goalies dove to the left or the right. Player gets ready to kick it, they make their decision, they dive one way and then most of the time don’t stop it, but occasionally do.

The data suggested that if they were to stay in the middle, it would dramatically increase their likelihood of stopping the ball. About 30% of the time, the … kicks it back right up the middle. Yet, the goalie … to dive, 94% of the time.

The researchers went back and they asked the goalies, kind of, “Hey, here’s this information. Why don’t you stay in the middle?” Their response was basically along the lines of, “Well, I’d really regret it if I stayed in the middle and a goal was scored, but if I dive the wrong way, I have a face full of dirt. I can feel like I have done everything.”

I think there are times that even when it’s counterproductive, we want to be seen doing something just so we can feel good about it even if it turns out, stepping back and looking at the big picture, it was the wrong thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That is interesting. The same thing with the fans too. If you stay in the middle then a goal is scored, it’s like that lazy goalkeeper.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
What is he doing?

Brad R. Staats
I know. What the hell? Why didn’t he try something? I can stand in the middle.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s really – that’s worth chewing on for a little while in terms of my own life, business, work. What are those instances in which we’re metaphorically diving instead of staying in the middle when that’s appropriate? I imagine you already have some ideas, so I’ll let you unpack a few of them.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, no, absolutely. I think a lot of it is sometimes slowing down to go fast, that maybe we can look at some of the different things.

Take just the last one of not diving. Are we actually taking some time to think? Are we taking time to reflect? That if we look at research on learning, it turns out kind of we activate different parts of the brain when we learn by doing, kind of engaging in an activity versus learn by thinking about it.

As you would expect then, if we do the two of those together, we’re likely to learn more than anyone. But we’re so on, we’re so feeling a need to do things, that we don’t, in many cases, think enough about it.

We’ve done some research. We did a big field experiment with a technology company on their services organization. They were training workers, six-week training program. The end of it they took an exam to join kind of the firm fully, get off of provisional status and go start to serve customers.

In the middle two weeks of that program we did a 15- minute intervention every day of just at the end write about two things you’ve learned. Scribble down kind of two things you’ve learned that day. Then we had a control group. We randomly assigned participants to one versus the other.

What we found at the end of that six weeks that the group that reflected scored about 25% higher on that test that qualified them for the job. The first month on the job, they performed about 10% higher on their customer satisfaction scores. We’ve done a bunch of lab studies to follow up. Others have done work around this.

But actually blocking some time out for thinking, as simple as that sounds, somebody at the end of the day today take ten minutes, think about what you’ve learned that day, think about how you’re going to take it to deploy tomorrow. Getting in a regular habit of that, of slowing down just a little bit can be incredibly powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. You have the ten minutes, what a return on investment there. That’s huge. When it says, “Write about what you’ve learned,” is that sort of the entirety of the prompt or do you have some sort of juicy follow-up to help spark and provoke the good stuff to come forward?

Brad R. Staats
I think keeping it simple is a great place to start. In that experiment it was just write about two things you’ve learned. I think if we look we can see some ways, as you’re pointing out, to dig a little bit deeper.

One of those ways that’s important is thinking about when we failed, thinking about when we’ve tried something that didn’t work, thinking about how we need to push ourselves, taking more risk. That prompt can do two things.

One is it can open us up to the possibility of where we’ve already gone wrong but we sort of pretended it didn’t happen.

Back to the behavior getting in the way, one of those challenges is around failure, that sometimes we try something, it doesn’t work, but we just deny the failure. “Oh, that’s what I wanted all along,” or “No one would have been successful there.” That prompt to, “Hey, why might you have been responsible? What do you need to learn out of that?”

I think the other piece is sometimes for fear of failure, we end up holding back. We don’t actually try enough. If you’re forcing yourself to think about kind of when have you tried and not had it work out and you can’t come up with any examples, it’s a pretty good indication we need to elevate our failure rate a little bit.

That’s not saying take it to an extreme, but for most people pushing a little bit more on the risk front is likely to be productive, not everyone of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I guess it’s interesting in terms of like the stakes of the failure.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Crashing a commercial airliner is terrible.

Brad R. Staats
Yes, yes. Don’t do that. Yes, no, definitely not.

Pete Mockaitis
Never aim for a higher failure rate there.

Brad R. Staats
No.

Pete Mockaitis
But I guess maybe speaking up at a meeting in which you share an idea that might be dumb or wrong or bad in some way is probably a prime time to amp up a little bit of risk and see what happens because you might say, “Wow, Brad, we’ve been waiting for this brilliance from you.” Thank you so much. It’s well worth doing with low down side.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, I think you’re exactly right that we need to define kind of the space that we have to play in. Your comment about you’re flying an airplane, you’re working in the control room of a nuclear reactor, by all means we’re not going to experiment there.

But most of us in the bulk of our lives have plenty of room where we can try some slightly different things. We can speak up to someone. We can introduce ourselves to someone. We can ask a question is one of the key elements that often we think we kind of need to keep our head down, we don’t understand something.

But it turns out, research tells us that when we ask other people questions, it’s not that they thing we’re dumb, “I can’t believe Brad had to ask me a question,” they actually like it. It shows engagement with them and it also allows us to turn to who we all think the expert is going to be, which is ourselves. We engage that other person in the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes the questions just make you seem way smarter, in terms of, “Wow, that’s really insightful,” or it’s like, “I’ve never actually articulated my thinking on this matter now that you ask and I probably really should have a while ago for you and everybody else who’s doing this task many times over. Thank you. I’ll write that up,” or here is the response.

Yes, I think I would love it if folks, I’m thinking about sort of in management context, if people would ask me more often. It really isn’t a hassle.

Brad R. Staats
No, it’s not.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s kind of fun and it brings about good things. That’s a great tidbit in terms of in that moment when you’re sort of worried, “Oh, I wonder about this, but I don’t want to look dumb,” so go there.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely. I throw out one of the most powerful questions that I stumbled into kind of early on by accident and now as I watch I see great question askers will throw it out there, which is, “Is there anything I have not asked you about that I should have?”

What’s so powerful about that, frequently … conversation is we’re kind of giving the other person free reign of please teach me almost based on whatever the conversation has been about.

I’ve been stunned in all sorts of different contexts as an academic, before when I … as a student, on and on, of what comes out of people’s mouths when you kind of take the barrier down and it’s no longer transactional around these particular items, but let’s open it up. What should I know about this topic that I haven’t asked? Keep that one in our back pocket as we interact with others.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. I learned that in consulting with interviews of customers or for clients or employees or competitors. It really is amazing how often it’s toward the end that you get the goods. I have a variation of that Brad. I won’t spoil the fun, but one is coming your way.

Brad R. Staats
Okay, nice.

Pete Mockaitis
Build the suspense there.

Brad R. Staats
I like it. That’s good. Now I’m on the edge of my seat.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. You lay out a pretty comprehensive framework in terms of what one should do to become a more effective lifelong learner. We’ve already covered some good tidbits there. Maybe you could walk us through that in a quick overview pace and then maybe dig into a little bit more detail for some of the parts we haven’t gotten to touch upon yet.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, absolutely. As we kind of already pointed out in the book I lay out kind of eight different elements of things we should do for learning but we don’t and so kind of why is that. We’ve hit on a number of them. Things like value and failure.

That’s kind of learning 101 advice and yet I’ve really yet to work with a company that when we talk about that kind of … “Oh yeah, we’ve got that one covered here. No need to discuss. Move along.” There’s some real challenges there.

The second one is around focusing on the process as we kind of were discussing around the baseball coaching example, that we get so obsessed about the outcome that we don’t really dig into the process and keep our attention there.

Third is this point around asking questions that we end up being kind of so active. We feel the need to check a box, to do something when often that pull back, ask a question, and then get going, going slow to go fast is incredibly valuable.

The fourth is around the need for reflection and recharging, kind of contemplation that we live in a world of action. There’s been interesting research highlighting about kind of in the US at least, doing things that show you’re busy, that … you kind of on a Bluetooth headset suggesting you’re rushing around versus a corded phone or that you order groceries online versus at a store that give you higher status and some interesting experiments.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t know that gave you higher status, ordering groceries.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought that made me lazy that I order groceries.

Brad R. Staats
Well, I did too. Interestingly, the study looked at Italy and you did not get the same status there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I bet.

Brad R. Staats
There are differences in some of these factors around the world.

But that rushing, that kind of need for activity rather than real progress gets in the way of learning, so we have to take that time to step back, to reflect, and think about things.

A couple that we haven’t talked as much about are around really being ourselves, kind of to a pair of being yourself as opposed to fitting in and really playing the strengths not weaknesses.

I think, especially if we look at the latter one, so much of learning is built around in our minds what we’re doing wrong. If we think about kind of standard organizational feedback, advice is you give a feedback sandwich.

Thin veneer of positives, both to break the person down as they come in and kind of butter them up, get them ready to go, and then hopefully send them on their way, so they don’t feel as bad about themselves, but the bulk in the middle is laying out all the things that we did wrong and that need addressing.

The challenge with that approach is we’re not going to be good at anything, that every minute that we spend on a weakness is one that we’re not spending on building out our strengths.

As we work with organizations, as we think about how companies compete, lots of advice is given around play to your strengths, be focused, compete around those dimensions that you can win on, yet we often don’t do the same thing as individuals.

I would suggest for really compelling learning, we have to first identify those strengths, which is hard, and then really play to them, going back and filling in weaknesses as appropriate where there are critical weakness that would prevent us from succeeding at what we’re trying to do.

That’s a bit of a reorientation I think. While strengths are talked a lot about kind of on that learning side, appreciating why they’re so fundamental.

The last two are just around first how we build experience, that we often think about it as either become specialized, become an expert, very deep, or we think about kind of this value of variety as we switch moving across different elements. While each of those can be powerful tools for learning, they can work against us to.

I would suggest, what we find is that we really learn our best when we are both specialized and varied, so kind of a T shape in our portfolio of experiences, getting deep in something, but making sure we have enough breadth that we don’t end up missing the point.

That we’re so narrow in our approach that we have that problem of where the expert who’s got a hammer, so everything looks like a nail and we’re not able to deal with more complex problems.

The last one is appreciating that while individual learning, there are lots of things about us that matter and we need to dig into those, as I’ve been saying, that it’s not just an individual exercise, that others are incredibly important. Some of that is the value of the knowledge they bring and what we can learn from them.

But also, you hit on this earlier, the value for us of teaching others, when we get that question that makes us explain something, that makes us codify it, the real value that arises there.

We’ve done some research in a couple of different contexts looking at the power of learning from teaching. That when you teach someone else, hopefully you help them, but you actually help yourself interestingly enough. Really kind of seriously thinking about how others can help you in addition to how you can help them.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a nice lineup. Thank you.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
You can dig into a lot of things there. I guess I want to get your take on okay, value in failure is something that you say just about no organization says, “Got it. Yup. Covered.” I’d love to hear from you in terms of what are some of the best practices or what does it really look like in practice when a team or an organization truly does value failure? Because in some ways it’s just so hard to imagine.

What is that famous example? Is it – I think it was IBM. I’m so – I don’t have the details, but someone made a huge investment in a technology or business plan course of action that absolutely did not work and it may have cost a huge sum, like a billion dollars.

The executive is ready to tender his resignation, and the CEO famously said, “I refuse to accept this. We just invested a billion dollars in your education and we’re not about to let go of you.” That’s a nice little reframe, like, oh how kind and how sensible to think about it in that way. In smaller stakes situations, how does that unfold in real life?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. I’ve always heard that story told around I think it’s Thomas Watson Junior. It’s one of the Thomas Watsons in IBM and the threat of getting fired for that.

I think what’s important in the organizations that seem to have some more success with this is kind of two-fold. There’s one defining where is it a safe space to play. We’re back to avoiding that airplane problem or nuclear reactor problem. But also being open about it.

Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar talks about this in his book about we have to reframe how we think about mistakes, that mistakes aren’t unexpected, mistakes aren’t something rare. Mistakes are just a part of a process and that we have to sort of grow comfortable with them.

There’s a fast food company that I find really interesting called Pal’s Sudden Service. Pal’s is in the southeast, primarily Tennessee. The first restaurant to win the Malcolm Baldrige Quality award, a bunch of interesting kind of elements of the company.

But the CEO likes to tell people he’s very much out in front saying, “Look, as long as it’s not illegal, immoral or unethical, you’re allowed to make any mistake once, but you need to make sure your next mistake is a new one.”

I think in my mind that’s just so extraordinarily powerful that he is out there sharing what’s happening, how he’s trying things. It’s not, “Hey, be careless,” “Do whatever the hell you want,” but rather be comfortable that if you’re taking the right actions, where right actions is about the process, not about getting everything correct, that “I’m okay with that and I know in the long run the organization is going to be much better off for that as a result.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Brad tell me, is there anything else you really think is important to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of you favorite things?

Brad R. Staats
No, I think we’ve dug into the elements. Obviously these are things that I think we’re both pretty excited about. I can spend lots of time talking about each one.

I think that the – probably if I were encouraging folks what would you do right now, part of it would be take that time to think about wherever you are, what you’ve learned. I’m sure there are a lot of folks that listen to your podcast as they’re commuting to or from work.

We did a field experiment around commuters. We were interested in a couple things. We were interested in how to help them learn, but we were also interested in how to help them enjoy their commute a little bit more. It turns out kind of our morning commute tends to be our least favorite part of the day.

What we did across a few studies, but the biggest one was we randomized folks into three conditions. We had a control group. We had a group that was kind of the fun treatment and then a group that was the reflection.

We tracked them for a while. We sent them texts to take some surveys from them. But in the middle over a stretch of time, we texted the fun group and just said, “Hey, engage in some fun right now please.” We texted that reflection group and we asked them, “Think about your day. Think about what you have to do today and how you can tackle those tasks.”

Again, we followed them over an extended period of time. What we found is those folks that we nudged to think about their day, to think about learning, that interestingly they were happier, they were more engaged at work, they reported higher performance, and they reported enjoying their commute more.

I think some of these processes are hard to get us going in the right direction sometimes, but as we can build out those habits, we really can help ourselves in some neat ways.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. The text nudge occurred during the commute time?

Brad R. Staats
It did. Yup. They shared with us kind of when they were commuting, so then we would text them at the start of the commute or early on in their commute.

Pete Mockaitis
So you’ve engaged in texting while driving?

Brad R. Staats
We’re using a third-party provider and yes, this was much more about public transportation to be clear, not hopefully catching people behind the wheel of a car and running into trouble that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Just had to give you a hard time there.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. Again, with reflection, were there any particular prompts?

Brad R. Staats
It was think about your day and what you have going on. I think what’s interesting is there’s no one magic word. It really is forcing the discipline on yourself to take a few minutes and to focus, that our minds can easily wander to other things, so see what happens if you spend even five minutes.

Whether it’s in the morning, “Okay, what am I going to do today? How will today be a great learning day?” or at the end of the day, “What did I learn? What did I try that didn’t work that I can learn from?” that sort of thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well to do a little bit of reflection and to go meta here right now. The question I asked you earlier that was a variant of what’s something I should have asked but didn’t ask was is there anything else you think is important to mention before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?
I would value your feedback on that question that I sort of have routinely in the interviews prior to shifting gears to the next segment and say are there pros and cons to asking it the way I asked versus are there any things that I should have asked but didn’t ask?

Brad R. Staats
No. I think I like that question a lot. As a general rule with questions, and you know this as a great interviewer, less is more. Once we get into the follow up after the follow up, there comes a point where you need to narrow someone in. But on that one, keeping it like you did as simple and open as possible, “Hey, what else,” is almost the best way, but I like it a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true when it comes – I think I’m learning that myself. It takes about 300 episodes to get-

Brad R. Staats
Learning curves matter, right? We see it in all contexts.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that – I am because sometimes, and maybe it’s just the fear of dead air or whatever, even though we can edit it.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, exactly. ….

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, Hm, I need to be speaking, although I’m not yet done formulating what my question is.”

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, it’s true. It’s funny, I hate to give away one of my favorite jokes, which isn’t necessarily all that funny, but it works exceptionally well when I teach.

That I’ll have dead time in class early on in a day perhaps. I’ve grown more comfortable because I’ve come to appreciate, like you were saying, sometimes we’re formulating whether it’s me asking a question or them.

I’ll typically when that happens, I’m looking at them and I’ll tell them, “Hey look, you need to know at my core I am an operations professor, so staring awkwardly at people in silence describes every cocktail party I’ve ever been to, so I’m quite comfortable here. Take your time thinking.”

It breaks the ice and lets people appreciate, “Hey, I don’t have to always be talking.” Talking and saying nothing isn’t actually helping the conversation here. But let’s pause, think about what’s going on, and then get moving to the next thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That reminds me. One of my favorite work moments, it was so short, but I remember I was working on a consulting engagement and then someone said something. I don’t remember what they said. Then the manager said, “Hm,” and then there was just like silence for about ten seconds. Then they prompted her like, “Steph?” She’s like, “I’m thinking.”

I thought it was awesome because it just created permission for everybody to slow down and think. It made me think that she was more brilliant as a leader than less brilliant.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely. That’s the Franklin quote. Isn’t it Franklin about “Better to stay silent rather than reveal our ignorance,” basically? Staying silent gives us a chance to think and the often avoid ignorance in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. One that jumped out at me from a young age and has stuck with me. It’s actually the quote I use in the conclusion. It’s a long one, but it’s from Merlin in The Once and Future King. It’s basically him kind of reflecting on the power of learning. I apologize for the length, but I think it’s worth it.

He says that, “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds, there’s only one thing for it then, to learn.

Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
We talked about a couple studies and experiments, but any other pieces of research that are among your faves?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. One, I think it was the one that was probably the most pleasantly surprising to me that it worked frankly. I joke about this with Francesca Gino at Harvard and Dan Cable, who is at London Business School now, although all three of us were at University of North Carolina at the time.

I had been spending the day in India, where I did for a bit of research, with a chief quality officer, a gentleman by the name of …. At the end of the day we had been talking about learning and this and that, asked him the same question, did he have any questions for me.

He said, “Well, Brad, do you know what could reduce our attrition, reduce our turnover?” and kind of went on a little bit about how he was interested in keeping people around, helping them learn more.

At the time a bunch of my work had been kind of learning by doing, experimental learning. It was clear that that wasn’t going to move the needle enough, so I kind of gave a, “Well, hold on. Let me think about it. We’ll go back.” I spent that 20 hour flight back reflecting. Dan and Fran and I kind of came together to brainstorm.

This is what led to the work for us around the power of the individual because we came back to them with an idea where we said, “Let’s come up with something that we don’t think they’ll do. We think would be really impactful, but is a big enough change that they’ll tell us no and see what happens.” We said “What we want to do is have you all give us an hour on day one for employee.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. We had Dan Cable. Keep going.

Brad R. Staats
Yup, yup. “With that hour, we’re going to change the onboarding process.”

We had kind of three approaches. We had a control group. We had an organizational intervention and an individual one.

With the individual one we did things like think about when you’ve been at your best, hear from a star employee about how they can be their best self at work, and then introduce yourself to everyone around this highlight reel that you’ve created for yourself.

For the organizational group it was how great this employer is, which it was highly ranked in India, great stats, employee coming in talking about how great the organization was, introducing yourself around kind of why you were excited to be here.

Then we gave the individual folks a fleece sweatshirt with their name on it and the organizational folks a fleece sweatshirt with the company name. Basically, the idea of promoting the individual versus prompting the organization.

What was so cool about that one we then tracked them for six months. Dan was back in town. Fran hadn’t moved yet, so the three of us kind of gathered in my office. Often we run these studies that take a long time to analyze. It’s kind of anti-climactic at the end bit the time you finally work your way through it. But this one was pretty straight forward.

We collected the data, kind of we gathered around my desk and there was finally that moment of hitting the enter button and seeing what popped up on the computer. We did that and the numbers popped up and it was one of those that all three of us were just in stunned silence because we saw folks who were in that individual condition were dramatically less likely to leave the firm, about 25% less.

They had learned more. They were about 10% higher in terms of their customer satisfaction scores early on in the job. It was literally that hour of the first day is all we changed and gave them that fleece with their name on it. Then everything else was the same.

But I think what was so exciting to all three of us was unlocking the individual is such an incredible opportunity. It really becomes a win/win both for the employee, but also for the organization as each can get more out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that story. That is how an award winning academic paper is made. Kudos again for-

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
-it’s one of my favorites. So cool. How about a favorite book?

Brad R. Staats
That’s a good question. The – let’s see, what – as I was quoting from it earlier, I really enjoy Ed Catmull book. I think he does a great job in Creativity Inc. as he tells his experiences of kind of moving through computer graphics and eventually Pixar and hitting on a lot of these themes of learning in an innovative environment.

Bringing up this role of failure, mistakes, talking about the importance of how do you have discussions with people and kind of data as a great equalizer as something that’s neutral that then we can really have a discussion around in my mind kind of translating to the process. That’s one that I certainly really enjoy.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Brad R. Staats
I think for me there’s probably two I would highlight. One is the reflection point of trying to do it, I do it a little bit more at the end of the day than at the beginning, but carving out just a few minutes at the beginning to think about what’s going on.

Often it’s on the move. It’s not kind of sitting there with a tomb, but rather five minutes of, “Okay, what’s happening today? What’s my priority? How do I get this done?” At the end of the day, “What did I learn?”

Ideally that’s around the dinner table with family as we go around with our kids and we all talk about what made us happy today, what made us sad, what we learn, what we fail at, those sorts of things, incredibly powerful.

The other one that I’ve certainly known the research for a long time. I’ve done a lousy job of practicing it. I think unfortunately, certainly in the US we often do a lousy job of practicing it, is taking a real vacation. That ability to disconnect and do whatever it is individually you need to recharge.

It likely looks different at various stages of life. What recharging meant pre-kids was far more active than post-kids, but has been, over the last few years as my wife and I have done a better job of incorporating in life, has definitely made a big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget that you share in your work with teams and folks that really seems to connect and resonate and gets them sort of quoting yourself back to you?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. The one that I probably get quoted the most back is something that Dave Upton told me. Dave was a great mentor. One day I was going to meet with him. We had 30 minutes. Time was tight. I probably had an hour and a half of material that I wanted to cover with him. As an operations scholar I could do the math there. Clearly the way to solve that problem was just to talk three times as fast.

I was trying to fly through things, doing pretty well about ten minutes in before Dave put his hand on my shoulder as I was taking a rare breath, looked me in the eye and said, “Brad, don’t avoid thinking by being busy.”

I think kind of advice has really stuck with me, that it’s easy for us to avoid hard problems. It’s easy for us to avoid some of that discipline by being busy, but it’s certainly not productive in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good stuff. Brad, tell me, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, my email, excuse me, my website is www.BradleyStaats.com or just check out Never Stop Learning. Hit me up as well on LinkedIn or whatever. I love to engage with folks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, I think it’s to take this mantra of never stop learning seriously. We’ve known that it’s out there. We appreciate at a high level that we need to do it, but asking yourself what’s getting in the way of me learning on a daily basis.

I would say just odds are it’s us. The enemy is us. How can we pick one thing out of the eight I discussed or if something else resonates more strongly with you, how do you pick that one thing to start working on today.

Pete Mockaitis
Brad, thank you for this. This has been so fun and interesting. I wish you and Never Stop Learning and your work all the success and luck in the world.

Brad R. Staats
Well, thanks so much. I really appreciate you making the time for me. Thanks again.

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