448: Rejecting Nine Common Lies About Work and Embracing Human Individuality with Ashley Goodall

By June 7, 2019Podcasts

 

 

Ashley Goodall debunks deeply-embedded misconceptions about work and how fostering human individuality provides valuable possible solutions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How deeply-rooted misconceptions about work lead to inefficiency
  2. Why you should focus on being “spikey” rather than well-rounded
  3. How systematizing can remove the human essence from wor

About Ashley

Ashley Goodall is currently Senior Vice President of Leadership and Team Intelligence at Cisco. In this role he has built a new organization focused entirely on serving teams and team leaders—combining talent management, succession, coaching, assessment, executive talent, workforce and talent planning, research and analytics, and technology to support leaders and their teams in real time. Previously he was Director and Chief Learning Officer, Leader Development, at Deloitte. He is the co-author, with Marcus Buckingham, of “Reinventing Performance Management,” the cover story in the April 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ashley Goodall Interview Transcript

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

Ashley Goodall
Hi, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your book Nine Lies About Work but first, I want to hear a little about your musical talents and performances.

Ashley Goodall
I started playing the piano when I was six years old, and it’s one of those funny things that I can’t remember very much of my mind as a six-year old, but I remember pretty clearly that there was this thing in the front hall and it had keys and they made noise and I wanted to play it, I wanted to learn how to make sound from it. And then that turned into playing the violin, and then I finally found these things called symphony orchestras, and they were fascinating, and so I took up the viola to be able to play in a symphony orchestra.

And then, after a while, I thought, “Well, there’s this guy in the front waving his arms around. That looks something like something I should give a go and looks sort of interesting.” So, when I was an undergrad, I finished up conducting a couple of student symphony orchestras. And that led to, I suppose, a fascination with how people play together, I mean literally, of course, how do musicians play together. Because, while you have the score, if you like, which tells you sort of basic bits of the performance. There’s a lot more to a performance than what’s written in the notes.

But, also, then of course more broadly in the world in which I finished up, in the world of work and leadership, how do people play together on teams, how do we play together at work, what is the essential magic that happens between a group of people when they get something done together? So, the music sort of led into that fascination which I think is going to keep me going for years and years.

Pete Mockaitis
And you made a number of discoveries about how people play together when it comes to the workplace, and you have documented those with your co-author, Marcus Buckingham, there, in the book “Nine Lies About Work.” I’m so intrigued. Well, first, what’s maybe the most shocking or startling discovery you made as you’re putting this together?

Ashley Goodall
Well, of course, the listeners can probably guess by the title. We uncovered a lot of things which are problematic in the world of work. There was one, I don’t know whether this is the most surprising, almost fascinating, but it certainly was surprising and fascinating. And, actually, it didn’t make it directly into the book, so maybe this is a fun nugget.

Pete Mockaitis
Too hot for “Nine Lies.”

Ashley Goodall
Or maybe too geeky. Let me explain it first and then you can tell me. I came across this thing I hadn’t come across before called the extrinsic incentives bias. Now, you tell me how exciting that sounds.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it all depends on how you apply it.

Ashley Goodall
Right. And what it tells us, the research is good, a number of different experiments, and the experiments always looked like you had to say, each subject had to say how they thought other people were motivated or incentivized, and then say how they thought they were motivated or incentivized. And the fascinating, for me at least, fascinating thing that comes out of this is, time and time again, people will go, “Okay, the other people are motivated by extrinsic things. Other people are motivated by money, by power, by promotion, by big titles, extrinsic motivations. I, on the other hand, I’m motivated by intrinsic things. I’m motivated by learning, by growth, by making my mark on the world, by living my values.”

And this happens time and time again. Whenever they do the study, the more distant somebody is from me, the more I believe that they are extrinsically motivated. Other people I believe are extrinsically motivated. I, however, am intrinsically motivated. Now, that might sound like that’s just a sort of fascinating and weird asymmetry of human reasoning until you think about the world of work. Because we’ve designed the world of work in many ways on the assumption that those other people are extrinsically motivated.

So, we design bonus schemes, and we design promotion schemes, and we do an awful lot of things which overlook the fact that if it we were designing it for ourselves, we would design a workplace that allowed us to grow as much as we can, that allowed us to express what we value the most, that allowed us to do the things that energize us the most. So, weirdly enough, this bias, I think actually explains a lot of what’s wrong with the world of work is that we’ve designed it for what we think other people need, and we haven’t designed it for what we need because we don’t think that we are a good representatives of the other people in the world, but actually we are.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful, and worth thinking about it for a good while. Well, maybe could you line up a few of the top intrinsic motivators that you and, by extension, just about everybody really respond to a lot?

Ashley Goodall
Well, I think there’s always something about, “I want to do things I value,” which is why purpose is so important, and talking about purpose and meaning is so important. But there’s also something about, “I want to grow. I want to get better at what I do.” And what that means is if there’s a system of work that tells me, “Here’s what you’re not good at,” I’m not nearly as interested in that system as I am a system —and by the way, this system very often is a human being —a system that says, “Here’s where I’m powerful, here’s where I can increase my impact.”

So, if you think about work as a system of attention or as a system that’s focused on individual growth, or individual strengths, or individual energy, or the things that we have in ourselves that we are happy to contribute and motivated to contribute, so much of that is ignored by the way that we’ve designed our world. It’s a little sad, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s intriguing, and thank you for sharing those. And so, then I want to dig into some of these nine lies to get at least a little bit of the overview of all of them, and then a little bit of depth on a couple of them. But, first of all, why are we calling them lies? They’re not just misconceptions or mistakes or boo-boos, but lies. What’s that about?

Ashley Goodall
Well, they are held to be true very strongly by the world of work . And we’ll get into them in a second and your listeners will maybe hear what I mean. But let’s pick one at random. The lie that “people need feedback” is very strongly believed in the world of work. Very, very strongly. So, firstly, because they’re strongly held to be true, we wanted a strong word to push back against them, and the antidote to that is just call it a lie and not to just say, “Well, it’s a little bit off.”

There’s an old quote, I’ll have to find out where it’s from, that “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has got its pants on.” And so, these things are lies very much in that sense, in that they zoom around, they don’t get looked at particularly skeptically. They are almost universally accepted. And before anyone can clear their throat and say, “Well, hang on a second, the evidence points to a very different thing,” all of a sudden, these things are halfway around the world, if you like. They’re the sort of fake news of work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s dig into some of these lies. Maybe you can share with us, first, a quick overview in terms of what’s the lie and the antidote, maybe a couple of sentences for each, and then we’ll have some fun with our favorites.

Ashley Goodall
One of the ways I thought we could quickly go through the lies is I’ll read them out and then I’ll just turn each one into a sentence with “because” and that maybe won’t reveal what the truth is, but it’ll give maybe listeners a little insight into some of the things that we’re talking about here.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like maybe you’ve done this before actually.

Ashley Goodall
Well, there has been a lot of conversations about these lies, but it’s fun to think about different ways of sharing them. So, we’ll give this a go and if everyone thinks it’s horrible then I’ll shut up.

Okay, so lie number one. “It’s a lie that people care which company they work for because work doesn’t live in a company, it lives somewhere else.” “It’s a lie that the best plan wins because plans move too slowly for the real world.” Lie number three, “It’s a lie that the best companies cascade goals because people actually need to know the why of work more than the what.” “It is a lie that the best people are well-rounded because, well, have you looked at the best people?”

“It’s a lie that people need feedback because brains don’t grow when they’re threatened.” “It’s a lie that people can reliably rate other people because evidence, an awful lot of it.” “It’s a lie that people have potential because it doesn’t exist and, at any rate, we should figure out how to invest in everybody, not just a select few.” “It’s a lie that work-life balance matters most because balance is stasis, and health, on the other hand, is motion, and actually because there’s some other reasons too.” “It’s a lie that leadership is a thing because there aren’t actually any leaders who have it.” How about that?

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. There’s so much to say here. All right. So, let’s jump into “The best people are well-rounded.” Tell us, what are the best people if not well-rounded?

Ashley Goodall
So, what I just said was that “Best people are well-rounded because, have you looked at the best people?” And this is what’s so interesting. So, first thing, where does it come from?

Pete Mockaitis
I think college admissions is where it comes from.

Ashley Goodall
Yeah, or maybe even earlier. I mean, I think we start this one in school. There’s a classic experiment, a research that was done where they go to parents and they say, “Your kid comes home with an A, a C, and an F. Which grade merits your most attention? Which one merits the most attention?” And, of course, 75% of parents say, “Well, it’s the F, isn’t it?”

Now, the point is not that the F merits zero attention, but the question is, “Which merits the most?” And the question for the hypothetical parent is, “Is your kid going to build a career on the back of the F turning into an E, or on the back of the A turning into an A-star, if you like, or an A+? Where is that kid going to make their way in the world?” And, of course, it’s never going to be about turning the F into the E, so the F gets a bit of attention, but the A should get most attention.

But, yet, we’ve constructed the world of school in a sort of remedial way which is to say that, and we do this at work too, of course, we like to measure people against a number of different things, and then we say, “Well, the things you should focus on most are the things where you are most broken, if you like, where you have the biggest deficit,” because then, by implication, you’ll be good across the board because the best students are well-rounded, and the best people are well-rounded, and the best employees are well-rounded, and the best team members are well-rounded.

So, whenever we encounter anything that starts off by saying, “Let’s measure you against a number of different elements, and then let’s use the gaps as the motivation for your development,” we are encountering this lie. That’s what it looks like in practice. And, funnily enough, we can do all of that without ever really pausing for very long to study the best people. And if you study people who are brilliant at what they do, you find out that they’re the antithesis of well-rounded.

They’re not well-rounded. They’re, in fact, spikey. There are a few things that they’re brilliant at and they figure out how to make those things more and more and more powerful for them, which is to say that growth isn’t really a question of adding ability where we don’t have it. It’s a question more of adding impact, growing impact where we already have ability.

Now, the example we give in the book of this is the soccer player, Lionel Messi, who is profoundly left-footed, uses one foot over the other more than any other soccer player that we encountered in hundreds of hours of watching YouTube videos of people playing soccer, and counting.

Ashley Goodall
So, that’s the work is all about.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it was a labor of, well, I don’t know.

Ashley Goodall
Working hard, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
It was hard to do until I discovered that YouTube has a slow-motion button which plenty got a lot easier. But, anyway, you watch Lionel Messi and it’s all left foot, left foot, left foot, left foot, left foot, left foot. Now, if you lived in well-rounded land, you would say, “Lionel, oh, my God, we’ve got work on your right foot a little bit. You’re only using the left. What’s with that? You’ll be predictable. The defenders will know that you’re always going to go left. You’re always going to go left and you’re giving up half the possibility so maybe it’s twice as easy to tackle you.”

That’s not what he does. He hones and hones and hones his left foot until it is the most brilliant weapon arguably in the world of soccer today. The defenders still know that he’s going with his left foot, he’s just so good at it that they still can’t stop him. And the lesson from that is that excellence is really, really spikey. It’s a few things done brilliantly well, not a whole bunch of things made sort of well-rounded and rounded over. That’s not what the best people look like at all.

Pete Mockaitis
And, now, when we talk about an example of a spike, so the left foot is one. Could you give us some more? Because I think, in a way, some people would say, “Oh, mine is my communication skills,” but that kind of sounds pretty broad in terms of a strength or a spike of excellence. So, could you maybe give us some examples of particular spikes so we can get our arms around what are we talking about here in terms of how narrow versus broad the spike is?

Ashley Goodall
Yeah, and you’re good to call that out. It’s a sort of good test is that if you think your spike is the sort of thing you would find on a competency model or a development plan, you haven’t defined it nearly precisely enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, even if you’ve got a Korn Ferry, what are we at, 37 nowadays, in the latest one?

Ashley Goodall
But if it’s a thing on a competency model, if it’s communication skills, or political savvy, or strategic thinking, and you say, “That’s my spike,” you are not nearly precise enough to be able to build on it. I’ll give you a few from leaders in history, maybe that’s an interesting place because we all know these people. If you think about Kennedy, J.F. Kennedy, his spike was making the future a morally uplifting place for all of us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ashley Goodall
Okay. That’s not on any competency model. You don’t get feedback on making the future a morally uplifting place for all of us. If you look at Winston Churchill, his spike was being incredibly stubborn. That’s not a thing on a competency model.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like never give up.

Ashley Goodall
That doesn’t show up at all. But if you look at Churchill as a strategic thinker, he wasn’t actually very good. He got chucked out of government in the ‘20s and ‘30s because none of his plans worked particularly well. But there came a moment where Britain needed somebody to stand their ground, and they found the guy who was probably the world’s most stubborn person, and he was brilliant at being stubborn. And, of course, it was more than just saying no. It was inspiring resistance. But I think stubbornness is somehow at the heart of that.

So, you might think, “Well, how do I articulate what my spike is?” And it’s a process, at least it has been for me, of thinking about, “Where am I most energized and what do I always run towards?” that’s if you like a strength. “What are the things I would do if I weren’t paid to do them anyway?” And then you have to hone it. Under what circumstances? What does it get used for? Does it matter if you’re doing it in this context or in this context?

And it’s a process of self-reflection and self-observation until you can write a sentence that says, “This is a spike of mine,” and you’ll know if you got it specific because it won’t feel like something that anyone else in the world could particularly have.
Pete Mockaitis
And so, Ashley, what’s yours? Or, if you have a couple, how many spikes do we get?

Ashley Goodall
Mine is looking out into a messy future and explaining to the rest of the world what I see clearly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ashley Goodall
And, again, that’s specific. There’s not a model that says that. And if you were coaching me, you would never say from a standing start, “Well, Ashley, let’s talk about looking out into a messy future and explaining to the world what you see clearly.” That’s not a sentence anyone ever says. But if you look at the book I’ve written with Marcus, my goodness me, it is an extended essay in looking out into the messy future and trying to explain what we together see clearly. So, it does show up in places.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And do you think that we, as humans, professionals, have one, two, three spikes? What do you think?

Ashley Goodall
I don’t know. I think it’s not 15, and it’s probably not six either. It’s interesting when it gets to leadership because actually there’s a connection between these spikes and leadership. It turns out that what happens in the world of leadership is that people hook onto your spikes, that’s what they see. And the spikes help them feel better about the world that they’re facing. They know what you’re going to stand for and where you’re going to go.

When you look at leaders, most leaders with any sort of renown, you come down to more or less one spike. Now, that might just be because we’re seeing it from a distance so we the one that’s the most powerful, or maybe there are another couple of things going on there as well. But, as I say, I don’t think it’s six.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s helpful. Thank you. Intriguing. So, now let’s talk about the feedback picture. So, what’s the story here?

Ashley Goodall
There is an awful lot of conversation in the world about how to give people feedback. And, recently, it’s taken a little turn for the sort of, I don’t know, the chest-thumping, if you like. We have to give people radical feedback, and we have to be super candid, and we have to be unvarnished, and all these words that somehow make this an exercise in macho truth-telling, which is just weird. I think we should just call it weird.

But, behind that, is this ongoing question of, “What’s the best way to give somebody feedback?” And what’s presumed in that, of course, is that giving people feedback is the best way to help them grow. Now, by feedback, what I mean is, and it’s worth clarifying, when I say feedback, I mean the sort of standard approach where it says, “You did this. I would’ve done this, or you should’ve done it this way. Or, it’s where I tell you what I think of your performance.” That’s what we could call feedback, right?

And we’re spending a lot of time saying, “Well, what’s the best way to do that? And should it be 360 and should it be anonymous? And should it should be on your phone and how frequently should it happen? And how radically candid the whole thing should be?”

But if you actually ask the underlying question, “How do people best grow?” you find out that as soon as the brain feels threatened, as soon as the brain feels that judgment is about to arrive, it measurably shuts down. It goes into fight-or-flight mode. And that’s not the mode of brain system, if you like, that’s not the brain system where neurological connections get made.

So, at a biological level, if someone feels threatened, they stop learning. And if your read the research on this, the research actually say that that brain state is best described as impairment. So, in all our efforts to help people grow, we’re actually impairing their learning, so that should give us pause. Then you say, well, as we’ve just been talking about, “Gosh, the best people are spikey, and the spikes are different from one person to the next.” So, it’s very difficult for me to tell you how you should move towards excellence because your version of excellence will be different from mine, and I can’t possibly guess what’s going on inside you, what your definition of your spike, or your growing edge might be. So, that makes it a little bit difficult.

And then, thirdly, if you look at the science in learning, and you discover that learning is actually an emergent thing. I can’t force you. I can’t compel you to learn. What I can do is give you some ingredients when your brain is ready to hear them. And, from time to time, you’ll find a different way of assembling, with some input from me, or mainly input from you, and you’ll go, “Oh, right. Oh, that.” But that moment is not what I told you to learn. It’s you figuring out an insight for yourself. So, learning is actually an emergent property.

So, given that, given that I’m a horrible judge of other people, which is another thing the science is very clear on, so I can’t judge you. You learn it idiosyncratically. Your excellence is idiosyncratic. And the second I start telling you how to do something and you perceive that as any sort of a threat, your brain shuts down. That would mean a lot of this feedback isn’t achieving an awful lot.

It’s okay for risk mitigation where you’re not worried about learning, you’re not worried about growth, you’re worried about, “Don’t do that because it will cause harm.” Okay, that’s one case where we can go, yes, by all means tell people how to do it differently. Just don’t expect them to learn a lot. Don’t expect them go get anything above adequate of the task you’re talking about because brains don’t work that way.

And then you find, “Okay, if we’re no longer in the getting to adequate business, but we’re in the fostering excellence business, what should we do, given all of this?” And what we should do is give people our attention to what works really well. We should help them realize and reflect on their moments of excellence so that they can build on those patterns in their brain and make them more pronounced and more powerful.

What that looks like in a nutshell is that when we say to somebody, “Good job,” we think today that’s the end of the conversation, right? Good job means, “You did it great. Well done. It’s not a risk for me because you’re good at that, so I’ll go back to figuring out where you’re next going to fall down and giving you all sorts of constructive,” as I suppose we call it, “or negative feedback.” But, in fact, good job is the beginning of a conversation.

And the conversation continues something like this, you start by sharing your reaction, okay, “So, Pete, good job. The thing, the way that you phrased that question really captured something important for me. Now, then, where did that come from? What were you thinking? Have you asked the question like that before? Could you take the thought that led to that question and inform different questions with it? Could you do that again is essentially what I’m asking?”

If I do that for you, some of the time a little spark will go off in your brain, and you’ll go, “Oh, yes, I could do it again. It would look like this. Or I could do it over here. Or I could do it maybe, when I‘m not asking questions but when I’m writing. Or I could do it here, or I could do it here, or I could do it here.” And, lo and behold, you have growth, and you have growth towards excellence, not merely remediation towards adequacy. So, people don’t feedback. People need attention.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so, then if you are in a spot where something needs to be corrected, what do you do?

Ashley Goodall
What you do is you talk about facts, steps, and outcomes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, say more.

Ashley Goodall
So, very easy to say, “Hey, you did that and perhaps you didn’t know about this fact. Perhaps you didn’t know about this thing which is a factual thing in the world.” You can always point that out. “Maybe you hadn’t read this research paper when you wrote that article,” something like that. So, you’re going to want to say that.

When you have a process with a series of defined steps, there’s a series of defined steps, for example, for taking off in an airplane, or for giving a safe injection, and somebody misses a step. Then, by all means, you can say, “Oh, my goodness me, you missed a step. These are the required steps. Don’t miss that step again. You will create risks.” And that’s why, of course, we have checklists in the world. And two of the places we have checklists are in operating rooms and in airplane cockpits, because if you miss a step, you’re in trouble.

Most of the world of work, certainly the world of knowledge work, by the way, isn’t like an operating theater or a cockpit in that there isn’t a prescribed list of steps that everyone would agree to. So, the facts and steps things are a little limited but it’s worth just saying that those are real things. And then the other one is the most effective way I found to remediate performance is to say, “You missed on the outcome. The outcome we were after was,” I don’t know, “to close the deal, and you didn’t close the deal. Let’s talk about why.”

Now, in that, you’re still remediating but at least you are trying to talk about not, “Here’s what’s wrong with you through my eyes, which will get you, believe me, nowhere at all.” But at least, instead, you’re trying to say, “We missed. You missed. Let’s explore.” You don’t get a lot of growth by doing that because as soon as you say to somebody, “You missed the outcome,” their brain is already trying to get out the door pretty quickly. But you can at least come up with a plan for not missing again.

And so, what you get is, of course, “The deal might close next time.” What you don’t get is, “Is it a great deal?” So, there’s a difference between, as I said, there’s a difference between adequate performance and great performance. You don’t create a transporting piece of writing by fixing the grammar which is not to say that you can’t fix the grammar and that you shouldn’t fix the grammar. But it is to say there’s a big difference in the real world between getting the basics down and real unique excellence.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. All right. Thank you. Well, tell me, Ashley, so given that these lies are around and they are pervasive, if you are, say, a rank-and-file professional, maybe you don’t have any direct reports or just a couple, what do you think are some of the top things that we should start doing right now that can help us get better results at work given that these lies are all over the place?

Ashley Goodall
Yeah, I’ll give you the one that’s absolutely top of the list for me the whole time, which is, “Get really fluent about your strengths. Get specific. Get detailed.” There are a couple of things that sort of lead us to that, if you like. The first is that, “No one else really cares about you as much as you care about you. No one else really cares about your strengths,” and by strengths I don’t mean what you’re good at. I mean what energizes you, what gives you, what you run towards. “No one else really cares about that as much as you do. And no one else is going to do the work for you. And, anyway, nobody else can because they can’t see inside your head, and they can’t see how it feels to be engaged in an activity when time is flying by, and you can’t wait to do it again.” So, firstly, no one will do it for you.

Secondly, we are very strangely and, to my mind, sadly much more specific about our weaknesses, about the things that drain the living daylights out of us, than we are about our strengths. It’s a sort of oddity of the way we’re put together as people, I think. And the example, of course, is if you say to somebody, “Name an activity that drains you.” Most people will think for four seconds and then talk for about three minutes. And the three minutes is a rant, “Oh, my goodness me, when they make me fill in this form, and then this has to happen, and then this have to happen. I hate that.” And they can give you enormous detail, they can tell you precisely when it last happened, they can tell you exactly what drains them about it.

And then you say, “Okay, very good. Tell me about what strengthens you, what lifts you up.” And a lot of the time, people will lean back in a chair, and they’ll smile, and they go, “You know what, it’s people. I’m a people person.” And that is woefully inadequate. Which people? Where? What are they doing? What are you doing? What’s your relationship with the people? Are the people professional people? Are they family people? Is it at work? Is it outside work? Do you know them? Are you reaching out to them for the first time? Are you forming long-lasting relationships with a few people? Are you forming light-touch relationships with hundreds and hundreds of people? Which people? Not, “I’m a people person.” More, more, more.

Because until you know those answers for yourself, you can’t do anything with them. And no one else, as I said, is going to do it for you. So, the piece of advice I would give for anyone in any walk of life is get really, really specific about the activities that give you joy, the activities that you love, because on that will be built, with luck and with effort, a great career and a great life. But if you don’t know what those building blocks are, you can’t get there from vagueness. It won’t work. If you’re going to find your winning edge, you need to get really specific about what it is that lifts you up.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And is there anything that you recommend professionals stop doing, you know, they just cut it out right now?

Ashley Goodall
We over-rotate. I mean, it’s the flipside of what we were just talking about. We over-rotate on weaknesses and we beat ourselves up about not necessarily the things that, in the proper sense, the things that drain us, but certainly things we can’t do very well. And we can sometimes obsess over these and get very, very focused on trying to make ourselves more well-rounded, if you like. But you only have to think, and human kind are probably thousands and millions of things that a human being can do, and most of us suck at most of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Ashley Goodall
We tend to go all sort of narrow. But if you think about, when I think about the things I can’t do, goodness me, metal work, field hockey, also ice hockey, paragliding, I can’t paint. There’s an enormously long list of things that I can’t do. I can’t ride a motorcycle. I can’t speak Chinese. My Latin is very remedial these days. Okay, the list of things I can’t do is infinity things long practically.

The list of things I can do is very few, so I better not spend my whole time wallowing in, “I can’t do this, and I can’t do this, and I can’t do this, and I can’t do this, and I can’t do this,” because, as I said, that’s not where a career and a life is to be forged. Those are the wrong raw ingredients to start with. We come into the world with certain patterns of thought and behavior, and those only become more pronounced over our lives. They don’t change very much. They just get more and more clearly defined.

And the question is, “Are you accelerating the definition of yours or not?” And the place to start, therefore, is, “What are my patterns of behavior and thought? What do I run towards?” as I’ve said. Not, “What are some of the millions of things I can’t do?” So, it’s not that, “Where I don’t have a skill, I shouldn’t have a bother acquiring it,” but it’s the, “I shouldn’t hook my future to things that, seem very distant from my current field of endeavor, and I shouldn’t say that that’s the most important thing for me to focus on.” The most important thing for me to focus on is, “What works? And how can I do it more?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. Ashley, let me get your take. So, we had an overview of the nine lies, we had some depth on a couple of them. Would you say there is an overarching theme, or kind of underlying set of forces that draw all these together? Like, what are the nine lies have in common other than they’re all over the place and that they’re wrong?

Ashley Goodall
There is, and I think it’s been sort of hovering around our conversation today, Pete. And, I suppose, it’s got a couple of angles. Particularly in the workplace, we tend to focus on what doesn’t work and we miss giving at least as much attention, or properly much more attention, to what does work. So, we’ve sort of got the world of human prospering and human flourishing, we sort of got it backwards.

And the other thing that runs through the lies very, very strongly is that we think that the human individuality is a bug, not a feature. We think that human diversity is something to be rounded out, something to be made to conform. This is why we cascade goals so that everybody is singing off the same songbook, if you like. This is why we round people out. This is why we give people feedback against the prescribed model. This is why we sort people into categories of potential or not.

We’re trying to put people in buckets. We’re trying to make people conform. We’re looking for one-size-fits-all. And, as a result, we lose sight of humans at work, which is particularly ironic, because human is all there is at work, but we lose sight of it, and we lose sight of the beautiful and precious fact that what we prize most about the people we share the planet with is not how they’re the same as us, it’s how they’re different. It’s what they add that we can’t do. It’s what they see that we don’t see.

And the world of work, I think, as described through these nine lies, the world of work is, in its funny sort of way, annoyed by that, frustrated by that. Wouldn’t it be much easier if all the people were interchangeable, if they were all the same, or at least if we could describe their differences in a list of eight competencies? And then we could measure you all up against that and we could decide whether you’re an A, a B, a C, a D, an E, an F, a G, and we could treat you like that.

It’s wrong on the evidence, it’s not useful according to the science, and it’s also, in some way, immoral. So, I think the book, if you like, is a plea to get back to a world where we appreciate the local, the local team, we appreciate the weirdness of other people, and the wonderful weirdness of other people. And we put the human beings back in work because we’ve lost them.

Pete Mockaitis
This has kind of reminded me of Henry Ford had a famous quotation, and I might not nail it but it’s something like, “Why is it when I hire a pair of hands, I have to get a brain and a mouth as well?” Or something like that, in terms of, “Look, I’ve got a great system here. So, just don’t mess with it. Don’t bring your personality and your ideas and all of your complicated humanity into the equation because that just makes my job more difficult, and I just want to see my system run and get things cranked out the other side.” In a way, that’s kind of the whole industrial revolution in action.

Ashley Goodall
You’re exactly right. And that’s almost where it begins. I mean, by the time you’ve thought about Taylorism and you thought about Henry Ford, they’re all about the same era. And there was almost an explicit attempt to purge the humanness from work. And, yet, you look at work today, and most of us aren’t making cars step by step by step. Most of us aren’t at the Bethlehem coal factory, or wherever it was that Taylor was counting people moving wheelbarrows of coal backwards and forward. That’s not most work for most people most of the time.

We are talking about a world where our edge at work is innovation and creativity and collaboration across enormous complexity, using technologies that are more and more and more complex and sophisticated and incomprehensible by any single person, and all around the world with people, we sometimes know very well and sometimes we hardly meet at all. You can’t thrive in that if you think that the essence of a human being is a problem, not in fact the only thing that you have going for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, Ashley, tell me, any key things you want to mention before we quickly hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Ashley Goodall
Gosh, I think we’ve covered a lot. I suppose the one thing that we did, the one thing maybe we didn’t talk about a lot is, “Where do these lies come from?” And it’s interesting to talk about Ford and talk about Taylor. Some of the old lies start out as a small good thing, which then turns into a big bad thing when we make it into a system.

So, I suppose one of the morals of the book might be beware of systematizing stuff. And when anyone comes to you and says, “Can we scale that?” be very, very cautious because sometimes in scaling something, you wring the human essence out of it altogether. The best example I can think of that’s in the book is this idea of goals.

And, of course, we’re all very familiar with goals, and we’ve all had the experience where we set our self a goal about something we want to do, and it’s very helpful. And so, you go, “All right, goals. If I set one for myself voluntarily, that’s a useful way of expressing how I want to get stuff done in the world and what I value.” But then, of course, what we do is we go, “Well, if it’s good for one, it’s good for many.” And we’ll turn it into a goal cascade and, all of a sudden, you’re being told to set goals, and you’ll also being told what sorts of things go in them.

And in taking the beautiful, precious thing of “Ashley and Marcus set out to write a book because they felt they needed to express some ideas in the world”, and turning that into “There’s a great big cascaded-goal system, and Ashley is down at the bottom of it, and he’s got to fill in a form”, you lose everything that is valuable about the first sort of goal by turning into a sort of cascaded goal.

And there are other examples in the book of things that start out really small and really local and beautiful and well-intentioned, but then by the time we’ve turned them into a system, we’ve taken all the goodness out.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ashley Goodall
I came across this one years ago, and if you hear rustling, I’m just going to grab my book of Richard Feynman. And Richard Feynman, I’m sure your listeners will know, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, but also, towards the very end of his life, was asked to put his feet in the inquiry into the Columbia, the Challenger disaster, the Space Shuttle Challenger. And as he went through the inquiry, and he pushed deeper and deeper into the workings of NASA, or at the time, he found a lot of cases where people were assuming that something would work a particular way because they really wanted it to, and they were turning away from the evidence, and were sort of buying their own PR, if you like.

And when the Challenger Report was published, he asked to write his own appendix, which people can go look up today. And if anyone is after a wonderful, wonderful, super rational, detailed, humble evidence-based analysis of something that’s happened in the world, go and read Richard Feynman’s appendix to the Challenger Report, and he ends it with a sentence that I have always adored, “For a successful technology,” he says, “reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” Nature cannot be fooled.

And it connects to some of the ideas in the book because what we’re trying to do is, we’re saying, “Look, this is what the evidence is.” And the evidence doesn’t care whether you believe it or not. The facts don’t care whether or not who believes in them. They’re just going to hang around being facts. Nature will not be fooled. So, if we’re smart, we figure out what’s knowable about the world and build on that. We set aside our misconceptions and we reject the lies.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Ashley Goodall
I have, for years and year and years, I’ve used a particular propelling pencil. How funny is that?

Pete Mockaitis
Propelling?

Ashley Goodall
A propelling pencil, you know, an automatic pencil.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ashley Goodall
And I got it a few years ago. When I annotate a document, which I do a lot when I’m writing, I like to scribble on it by hand, and for some reason I’ve always liked to do that in pencil. It feels, to me, a little less judgmental than ink.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re not ready.

Ashley Goodall
Exactly. Pencils work on planes. Pencils don’t explode in your pocket if you take them on a plane, so they’re practical. But I’ve just always loved this particular pencil. And, actually, the one I have right now is the second identical one I had because I lost one, and I had lost one on a trip. And the second I got home, I went straight to the store and just bought exactly the same pencil again because I can’t live without it. So, there you go, my automatic pencil.

Pete Mockaitis
You got me so intrigued. What is the make and model of this pencil?

Ashley Goodall
Well, I think it’s German or Swiss. It’s Graf von Faber-Castell, and it is just this little beautiful…I mean, it’s a good question for a podcast, isn’t it? How would you describe a pencil to somebody who can’t see it? And so far, I’ve managed to say it’s a pencil and it’s silver.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s awesome.

Ashley Goodall
And it’s propelling. And it’s Swiss or German. I don’t know. I guess we’ll finish up being lame and saying we’ll look it up online. But that’s the one that fits my hand. I like the way it works beautifully. And I can’t live without it.

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

Ashley Goodall
So, if they’re interested in the book, the book is available on Amazon right now, anywhere books are sold. If they want to connect with me, I’d love to connect with anybody on LinkedIn, and there’s a bunch of us having a whole bunch of fun and debate over there on some of the ideas that we’ve talked about today.

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

Ashley Goodall
My final challenge would be don’t short-sell you. You’re awesome. Figure out how to share that with the world because we need you to.

Pete Mockaitis
Ashley, thank you. This has been such a treat. I wish you lots of luck with your book, the “Nine Lies About Work,” and all your other adventures.

Ashley Goodall
Pete, thanks so much.

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