Category

Podcasts

711: Speaking with Calm and Confidence with Patricia Stark

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Patricia Stark says: "I'm making up what I'm telling myself about the situation anyway, so why not make up something positive?"

Patricia Stark shares key strategies for developing the calm and confidence to shine under any spotlight.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical mindset shift that brings both calm and confidence
  2. The simple rule for looking and sounding like an expert
  3. Just how long you should maintain eye contact 

About Patricia

Patricia Stark is owner of Patricia Stark Communications and Calmfidence® Workshops, providing training in personal and professional development. She works with celebrities, corporate executives, authors, news anchors, social media influencers, and others whose careers rely on their ability to communicate confidently. She lives in New York. For more, see patriciastark.com. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

Patricia Stark Interview Transcript

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

Patricia Stark
Pete, it’s so great to be here with you. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book Calmfidence, and it’s spelled C-A-L-M-F-I-D-E-N-C-E. First of all, what does that mean?

Patricia Stark
Well, thank you for kind of spelling out that first word, because if you say it quickly, everybody’s ear hears confidence, which we all hear, but it’s Calmfidence. So, basically, I’ve been coaching and training people for many years, and I realized that all of my clients and students had two things in common. They wanted to be confident speaking in public, or being on stage, or in the media, or asking for a raise, or giving a presentation, or they were also feeling that they needed to find their calm.

So, a lot of people can be confident but they still get stressed out and anxious. So, they were really looking for those two things. And I found that’s really a very powerful and magical combination when you can both have calm and confidence simultaneously. So, thus, the term calmfidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. And could you share with us a story of just what’s possible in terms of a transformation with regard to starting out neither calm nor confident, and ending a super calmfident?

Patricia Stark
Sure. Well, I’ll give you a personal story where, really, I noticed it in myself for one of the first times. So, I was invited to be on a PBS program in New Jersey for one of the PBS networks here in our area, and it was the first time that I was going to be shown as a “communications expert.” So, I was thinking to myself, “Oh, my goodness, what if the so-called communications expert makes a mistake?”

Now, for years leading up to that, I had been the interviewer, I had been the reporter, the anchor, the host doing the interview, and now here I was as the guest expert, and I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, my goodness, like this is really a disaster if I can’t communicate well in this situation.” And I started to get myself a little worked up, as most of us do when we’re out of our comfort zone, and doing something for the first time where we’re expanding and we’re doing something new.

And, all of a sudden, it hit me that I was confident because I had helped a lot of people, and I knew that my exercises and strategies had really benefited people. And then, suddenly, I got this sense of calm over me where I realized, “You know what, this isn’t about me at all. This is about the viewers that are listening that really need some help, and that really need to have some strategies to work through this on their own. And I was there to be of service and to give value.”
And once I had that mind-shift change, it really gave me a very different perspective and sense of calm and confidence and control over the situation.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s even come up a few times in terms of feeling calm and confident in a speaking situation, it’s the realization, “Hey, it’s not about you. Get over yourself. Be of service. Focus in on the listeners, what they need and want, and how you can deliver that.” So, it sounds like, hey, there’s a huge nugget right there in terms of being calm and confident.

So, tell us, how do you think we get there if we’re sort in our head and self-conscious and thinking about ourselves, and, “What if I screw up?” How do we make that leap?

Patricia Stark
Yeah. Well, you just said a really key phrase, “What if I screw up?” and that’s what I was doing myself in the example that I gave you, is that I was picturing what could go wrong. And we’re so good at that, and it’s really a defense mechanism to help us protect ourselves, to think worse-case scenario, to think, “Okay, what if the absolute most horrible thing happens right now? How am I going to defend myself or get out of the situation?” So, that tends to be our default.

So, first and foremost, we need to really realize that the most important thing that we are hearing is, initially, our internal communication before we have external communication. So, we have to do a check-in on, “How am I speaking to myself, first and foremost, about this situation? And what is the story that I’m telling myself? And am I envisioning the way that I want it to go and how I can help others and really visualize and see this going the way that I want it to go? Or, am I going to that primitive default place where I’m in this protective mode of just hoping that I am going to survive this?”

So, I think that, really just by changing your focus and saying, “No, I’m going to have a plan, and I’m going to visualize how I’m going to work that plan in the positive way that I want it to go, and even seeing the outcome that I want to see.” And that may be someone coming up to you and saying, “Hey, wow, that speech really helped me, or that really inspired me,” or a boss coming up to you and saying, “Wow, you really did your homework for that presentation, and it was a great job. We really appreciate all the work you put in that.”

And doing that ahead of time, which is called pre-paving, really then helps our subconscious kick in and follow our positive plan, rather than worrying about all of those horrible images that we’ve created, that our autopilot is saying, “Well, I thought this is what you wanted me to do because this is the last thing you were thinking before you sent me out there.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, in your book, you’ve got a whole chapter on calmfidence boosters. It sounds like we’ve already maybe hit a couple of them. Can you share what are some of the other most powerful practices that really help people here?

Patricia Stark
Yeah. Well, I know that people have heard this time and time again, but it really works, and it’s really true. And that is having gratitude, being grateful for why you’re there, for the opportunity to be there. And it can be small gratitude, it can be large gratitude. So, if someone is asking you to be in a leadership role, or to be the expert on the topic of the moment, that doesn’t mean that you’re the be-all-end-all best expert there’s ever been, but you’re going to be the expert at that moment.

So, having gratitude for saying, “Wow, it’s really great that someone thinks that I have something to offer or that they’ve invited me to be here.” Instead of, “I have to do this,” no, “I get to do this. And how lucky and blessed am I that I’m even in this position to have a platform where I can, hopefully, help others and inspire others.”

So, gratitude is really one of the things that study show can completely cancel out anxiety. You literally can’t be grateful and anxious simultaneously because you can’t be thinking of things that you’re grateful for and also have that sense of anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s super. How about another calmfidence booster?

Patricia Stark
Another calmfidence booster would be trusting yourself and liking yourself. So often we worry about what others think, “How do I look? How do I sound?” But getting to the point where you’ve prepared enough to where it’s good enough, and you’re not trying so hard for perfection, but just good enough. And I think that sometimes we get so in our way because we think that everything has to be just right, everything has to just be perfect, but when we realize that good enough is good enough, now we have room to be human, we have room to be approachable and endearing.

And other studies that I’ve read also show that we don’t like perfect people anyway. We like people that seem like us, that are vulnerable, that mess up, that say, “Whoops, sorry,” and keep going on and let it roll off their back. So, that’s definitely another booster is cutting yourself some slack and liking yourself and allowing yourself to be human, and letting that be good enough and not aiming for such perfection because perfection really is a roadblock.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve got some particular perspectives on dealing with the inner critic. Can you share a few of those with us?

Patricia Stark
Yeah, the inner critic goes back to what I was saying earlier about that defense mechanism and that primitive place where we’re protecting ourselves. Everybody talks about the inner critic and it sounds like this big monster that has fangs, that is chasing us down in the back of our minds. But what that inner critic really is is it’s just you or I like a scared little kid that still lives with us, and we can’t ever completely make the inner critic go away.

But we can stop taking direction from it, and we can say, “Oh, you know what? I know why you’re here. You’re scared or you’re worried or something like this is baggage that you’ve been carrying on that maybe happened to you when you were a kid. Maybe you got laughed at. Maybe you got turned down for a job or for a date or for whatever, fill in the blank, and now that scared little part of us that we still all have like a squatter in the back of our mind, kind of shows its ugly head to warn us and to try to protect us.”

And that’s when I like to say, “No, we all have an inner critic but we also all have an inner coach.” And it’s almost like that angel-devil scene that we’ve all seen in movies or commercials, and we’re like, “Okay. Well, who am I going to listen to?” And it really takes practice and a conscious effort to say, “You know what, I’m not going to listen to the inner critic. I’m going to listen to the inner coach.”

“And I’m going to talk to myself the way that teachers, or mentors, or people that I’ve admired, or people that really helped me at certain parts of my life, a dear friend, or a confidante. How did they talk to me? Or how would I talk to a dear friend or someone that I care about if they were struggling with something or having stress or anxiety? And deciding that I’m going to talk to myself as my inner coach and then I can’t listen to the inner critic.”

Because if you’re not talking to yourself, that inner critic voice is going to be really loud. But if you’re talking to yourself, then you can’t hear that inner critic talking to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And, by contrast, what are some of the calmfidence killers?

Patricia Stark
Definitely, defining yourself externally. We all worry about what others think and, “What is this person going to think?” Or, I remember my mom always telling me when she grew up with her father, he had emigrated to this country, and he was always, “What will people think?” And, finally, she said to him as she got a little older, she’s like, “Who are these people that you’ve been talking about?”

So, I think that it is defining yourself from externally. I think that all happiness, all calmfidence, all calm and confidence, all starts from within. So, working on things, whatever you can, and knowing that, again, we’ve all got baggage, we’ve all got all kinds of things that have influenced us negatively going through our lives, whether it was family, friends, coaches, tough people that we work with. We’ve all got that. We’re all struggling with something.

But realizing that true calm and that confidence and trust in ourselves and belief in ourselves can never come from external sources. It can only come from the inside and doing that inner work. And that might look different for different people. It could be meditation. It could be preparation. It could be their faith. It could be, again, going into that inner coach mode. But knowing that we’ve got to go internal, and from within, and that’s where everything, that’s the foundation of everything, not coming from the outside.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you mentioned that can look differently for different people in terms of what is the inner work by which one arrives at, having an internal, I guess, self-worth, self-confidence, self-identity, that is, ideally, kind of unshakeable in terms of someone thinks you’re dumb or whatever. And it’s funny, in my own life experience, I’ve had times where I’ve had criticism, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, you’re mistaken. I don’t care,” and just like has zero impact. And other times, it’s like, “Oh, no,” and it really hits hard. So, I’d love it if you could dig into some of those different views of inner work that gets us to that place of unshakeable self-confidence?

Patricia Stark
Sure. Well, I can’t get in in other people’s heads but when I’ve had the conversation with clients and students, and even family and friends, and even when I’ve been discussing when I was writing my book, it’s really like, “What’s that personal ritual or that thing that you do that makes you feel like, ‘You know what, I’ve got this. I’ve got my act together. I feel solid. I feel like I’m ready to go’?” And those rituals are different for all of us.

Some people like to work on their outside and feel like everything looks just a certain way and then, hopefully, then they let that go and they can forget about themselves because they’ve taken care of whatever they needed to externally get their act together, and now, “Okay, I’m in that uniform, I’m in that mode so I can go out into the world and, hopefully, forget about myself.” It could be, again, someone that meditates in the morning, or maybe somebody that really does their homework, that really covers all the bases above and beyond so that they can perform to a certain degree and have a little bit extra if they need to whip something out of their hands that they weren’t expecting.

It could be someone thinking about, “What’s my why? Why am I showing up today? Is it because I feel that I have something that will help people? Is it that I want to do a great job so that I feel like I have something that I’m proud of or that my family will be proud of me? Is it my faith in myself or a faith in a higher power?” It’s something that all of us tap into that, again, is an individual thing that makes us each feel, like, “I know I’ve got this. And even if things don’t work out exactly the way I want to, or go south and are not okay, I know I’ll, at least, be okay.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. And I’m curious, when it comes to, kind of shifting gears like into the actual presentation/communication zone, you mentioned rituals and preparation. I’m thinking about the actual preparation of your content or presentation. What do you recommend? Is there a particular amount or approach that really works wonders and making us feel confident and ready to go and deliver?

Patricia Stark
Yeah, over the years when I would work with a different content and copy, whether I was on stage or in front of the camera for a client, I remember someone many, many years ago, it might’ve been a director or a producer that we were having this conversation. And they made this comment where they said, “You know, it’s not about memorization. It’s about internalization.” So, it’s one thing to memorize things, and that’s fine and that’s good, and some people have better memories than others.

But when you’re really invested to the point where you’ve internalized this stuff, where you just really know your stuff, you eat, sleep, and drink it, you know it like the back of your hand, that’s when the magic can happen because you can be so much more free, and flexible, and not worry about, “Oh, I was supposed to say it just this way.”

Just like, I’m sure, when you drive to your home from work or wherever you’re going, to the food store, whatever it is. There’s probably five different ways or routes that you could take to your house, but all of them are going to get you to the place where you need to be, depending on what mood you’re in or traffic or detours. So, as long as you know your content inside and out, the best that you can.

And I know sometimes people spring presentations on us and things we don’t have as much time to prepare as we would like. However, if you’re someone who should know that content, and it is something that you live with and that you work with, and that maybe, and hopefully, is a passion of yours, to be able to have it more something that is just part of you and internalized, again, to where not just memorizing talking points, that’s such a beautiful place to be, because then you can have real organic things happen, you can really be in the moment, people can ask you questions and you’re not going to get thrown because you can think for a moment and you can be like, “Well, here’s my point of view on that.”

And, again, we want to be prepared obviously, so the best people will make it look like they’re winging it but they still have a skeletal structure. So, a lot of times I’ll tell clients, “Okay, if you’re not going to go from a verbatim script, have chronological bullet points where you’re going to kind of have a skeletal structure in your mind’s eye so you’ll see that structure of content points or concept points, and then with a more casual conversation, hopefully a little bit more organic, then you could put the flesh and the fat on it in a conversational manner, but you’re still following this beautiful skeletal structure so you know where you’re starting and where you’re ending up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And so, that sounds like a great kind of place to end, like, oh, you have that flexibility, you can rock and roll in that way. And I’m curious, and I’m sure it’ll vary based on the nature of the communication and the person, but sometimes I think we have it but we don’t really have it. In terms of, like, “Okay, yeah, I know what I’m talking about. Uh-uh, sure.” So, I guess, how do we really know? How do you really know that you know? Is there sort of an amount of practice or a key acid test that you run folks through?

Patricia Stark
It is different for everyone. I used to have a terrible fear of public speaking when I was in high school and in college, and I would overprepare and that would make me more nervous. Now that I’ve gotten over that, and I’m just at a place where I just love communicating with people, and I love talking about all kind of topics, including the ones that are my passion, I tend to just be more relaxed about it, I have a plan, but it’s more of a simplified plan, again, that I can kind of let happen organically.

But for people who can’t do that and they don’t speak enough, and that’s usually the problem, when we don’t speak all the time and we’re not constantly in great shape of organizing our content and presenting our content, what I will tell to people is I’ll say, “Let’s do it in like a rule of three.” So, I had a client recently that she’s an expert in her field, and she was going to be interviewed on a morning show about what she did, and it was three minutes.

And we went through it because she’s done that before, and we had her content, and the three main takeaways that she wanted to do. And then she came to me the next week and she said, “Oh, my goodness, someone just asked me to do a half an hour of content that they want to have as like a webinar or something that was going to live somewhere on somebody’s website.” And she said, “How the heck am I going to fill a half an hour?”

So, then I said to her, “All right. Well, what about those three main modules, or those three main takeaways that you normally talk about?” And we flushed that out again. And then I said, “Okay, so 30 minutes is really you’ve got, what, maybe about a minute, a minute and a half open, and then a minute, a minute and a half close, so now you’ve got like 27 minutes left, so that’s nine, nine, and nine, which makes 27.”

“So, let’s take three blocks of nine minutes and have that be one of each of your three talking points. And then, under that, let’s have a subset of three things under each of those umbrellas that go a little bit deeper, a deeper dive into the topic. So, then that was three minutes, three minutes, three minutes under each of those nine headings.”

So, all of a sudden, she’s working this all out, and she says to herself, “Wow, if I can include all of this stuff, I hope that I can give all the information I want to give. I hope a half an hour is enough time.” So, suddenly, she realized she had more than enough content. She just needed to chunk it down. So, I think that if we can chunk things down, think about what really are the main takeaways that the audience or the viewers, the listeners, really need and simplify that, and then go back and reverse-engineer and dive a little bit deeper into each of them, we’ll usually find that we have more content than we need.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. And you also got some particular perspectives on healthy, engaged eye contact. Lay it on us.

Patricia Stark
Yes. So, a lot of people don’t really feel comfortable with eye contact, and it’s particularly odd these days because we’re out of practice. We haven’t been in person with each other the best that we can and we’ve all been all over the place with our eye contact on some of these virtual platforms because it’s like, “Well, I want to look down at the boxes and see the people that I’m talking to as I’m used to looking at human beings, but I really need to look at that little dot in front of me so that they feel like I’m looking at them, and even feel like I’m listening to them,” because when we’re looking in other places, we look disengaged.

So, I know, in person, that a lot of people feel like either someone’s boring a hole through their head or looking into their skull if they make eye contact for too long. So, a couple of tips on comfortable, confident eye contact, the sweet spot seems to be between like two and five seconds. So, if we look away too fast before that two seconds, it looks like we’re nervous and we don’t want to make that eye contact or we’re hiding something. And if we stay, overstay our welcome a little bit longer than that five seconds, it looks like we’re way too interested or we’ve got that stalker stare.

So, to kind of think to yourself, “All right, just go for that two- to five-second sweet spot, and then look at the other nonverbal communication.” We should be looking at lips. We should be looking at eyebrows. We should be looking at facial expressions. And kind of looking up to think about our content, or looking down to ponder what we’re thinking about or how we’re digesting the information. So, we actually give each other breaks in those moments so that we’re not just completely engaged in eye contact all the time to where everybody becomes uncomfortable and awkward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great perspective in two to five seconds that sounds and feels about right, and often that might be just about a short sentence or a phrase, and then we can look to the next person with the following sentence. And then when we start a new one, we’re looking at the next person. So, that just sort of has a nice flow or groove to it.

When you mentioned that we’re out of practice and scared, I’m curious, do you have any exercises you recommend? Sometimes I found, like in an airport, or I like to look at people’s eyes, and it’s funny, I see it in myself in terms like sometimes I’m just like ready. I’m ready to look at them for two seconds and nod, just like, “Hey.” And other times, I’m like, “Ooh, you caught me. Ahh.”

Patricia Stark
Oh, I know. Yeah, that’s like, “Oh, yeah, I wasn’t looking at you. I swear.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, are there exercises you think we can conduct safely to get more comfortable with this?

Patricia Stark
Yes. Well, I’ll tell you a quick little funny story. When COVID first happened and we were all in that really first intense quarantine, and I hadn’t been used to seeing faces up close other than my immediate family members, I opened the refrigerator one day and there was this huge image of someone’s face on the container of milk and it startled me. I was like, “Oh, that feels really weird and really close and a stranger.” So, I like felt that effect. And when I was doing a little bit of research on this, I found out that there are actually apps and websites where you can practice and you can go on and you can stare into eyes of people that are looking directly at you on your phone or your computer. So, that’s kind of an interesting little trick.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating.

Patricia Stark
Yeah, or you could watch a video.

One little thing that I want to mention when it comes to uncomfortable or prolonged eye contact is that it’s also a very effective strategy in holding your ground. If you really want someone to know you mean business, or you’re really waiting for an answer, or you are expecting something, you can just really just maintain that eye contact, and look at them and hold your ground, and it really makes people respond or get uncomfortable. And not that we want to make people uncomfortable, but it’s very effective in letting people know that you are standing your ground and you’re not doing anything until they make the next move.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it really is. And I remember when I did a lot of keynotes on college campuses, sometimes there’d be some chatterboxes talking to each other in the audience, and I didn’t really like that. But it was almost like a magical superpower in terms of, sure enough, when I look right at them, it’s like, they say, “Ooh,” they kind of like tone it down and got quiet until I looked elsewhere and then they’d start up again, and you look again, and they tone it down.

Patricia Stark
Yeah, yeah. And we also…you reminded me of something about judging a book by its cover, and I’d mentioned earlier about the eye contact with the other nonverbal facial expressions which have also been tough with us with masks on, so we really rely on the eyes and, hopefully, seeing the crow’s feet so we could tell someone is smiling or looking in between their brow to see if they’re sad or angry or mad or whatever, but it’s really the whole picture.

So, it’s not just the eye contact. It’s, “What other messages am I receiving? And what are some of those micro expressions, little moments where we think we saw something but then it went away because someone tried to hide it.” So, hopefully, it makes us ask more powerful questions and engage verbally with people. But there was one instance where I was giving a seminar or it was a big workshop, I think it was, and there was somebody in front of the room that was staring at me, and she really had this terrible picklepuss kind of poker face look on her face, and I thought she was extremely unhappy every time I had kind of catch eyes with her.

And, lo and behold, at the break, who’s the first person that runs up with a big smile on their face telling me how much they’re enjoying the session? And I was looking, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I said, “You looked like you wanted to beat me up.” And she goes, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ve been told I get this look on my face when I’m really into something and really intensely listening and paying attention.” I was like, “You’ve been told this. I think you need to work on that.”

But really, it was a good lesson for me to…remember how we talked about that self-talk? That was a story I was telling myself, “Oh, she must be unhappy. Why did I go there first?” So, now, if I see those picklepusses and poker faces, I think, “Oh, they think this is the best thing since sliced bread.” I’m making up what I’m telling myself about the situation anyway, so why not make up something positive?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. And it’s true, I think that there are times where my eyes, they might just seem like I’m sort of glazed over, like maybe zombie-sque, but what’s really happening is, I’m like, “Whoa, Patricia, what you just said is huge. And so, if that’s true, then all these other implications and possibilities might work out. And maybe I should try this over here.” And so, it might look like I’m totally zoned out but, in fact, I’m engaging pretty deeply and my mind is really racing with ideas and possibilities associated with the thing that you’ve spoken about.

Patricia Stark
Yes, so we shouldn’t make assumptions. And if we’re going to, let’s keep them positive because we’re making it up anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, tell me, do you have a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Patricia Stark
I was thinking that a really great one, especially in business and in the way that we put ourselves out there, or not, in the world is, “God gives birds their food, all birds their food, but He doesn’t throw it into their nest.”

And I particularly like this quote because I am a bird person. I have a bird feeder out in the back of my yard, and I’m always going out there, and I get a lot of joy feeding the cardinals and the different birds, and even the squirrels, they don’t bother me because I think, “You know what, they’re coming out when I’m throwing this out there.” But they have to come out of their nests to come and get that food.

And when I see them with that motivation and they give me happiness because I see that they’re going out there to come and get what I’m giving to them, I want to give them more. I even have one squirrel that will come up to the backdoor and take a big piece of bread out of my hand like it’s a drive-thru window. And I love this squirrel because the squirrel is going the extra mile. It’s figured out that if it comes out and comes out of its comfort zone, out of its safe space, that I’m here to give it something.

And I think that this is a really great analogy for whether it’s a goal or going the extra mile at your job. When people see that you’re willing to leave the nest to take a chance to put yourself out there and show some initiative and go out there and get it and be a go-getter, people really respond to that and they want to help you even more. And I think that that is just a great thing to keep in mind, again, for any goal or anything that you’re doing in the workplace, that people want to help people who are out there trying to go above and beyond.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Patricia Stark
I think that anything to do with Positive Psychology, I’m all about that because, for so long, psychology really only focused on dysfunctional things and what was going wrong, and, “How can we help fix those things?” And then, lo and behold, Positive Psychology studies came around and it was all about, “What can be right and what can be done positively from a place of something is not broken or needs to be fixed? But how can we think better and think differently that will help us advance?” So, anything to do with Positive Psychology or emotional intelligence, I really love.

And there was also a body language study done by a woman named Amy Cuddy I have found it to be pretty true to where, when you use your space and you stand up straight and tall, and you feel more powerful, almost like a Superman or Superwoman pose that you might do before you go out to give that presentation or go in front of the camera, it changes your physiology, and your stress hormone, cortisol, drops, and your testosterone can rise.

And in her study, she showed this can literally happen in the way that we use our body in just two minutes. And I’ve used this with clients and students, and even myself, and I see the difference. For imploding, looking down at our cellphone, or looking at that resume and not getting up and using our body to feel open and more powerful, and using our space. There is definitely an effect on how we show up.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Patricia Stark
Well, I have so many but one that I just finished recently was called Rise and Grind by Daymond John from Shark Tank.

But I also love Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. I’ve referred to that many times over the years when I’ve been looking for a goal, whether it was to achieve goals at work, or write my book, or whatever it may be. Blink by Malcom Gladwell. I can go on because I am very big student of personal and professional development books, so I could probably rattle off more than a few for you right now but I won’t take your time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about is there a key nugget you share that people seem to connect and retweet and frequently quote you, a Patricia original?

Patricia Stark
I’ve told people, and especially, students and younger people when I go to speak at schools or at some of these Zooms, that I love to remind them that we all have our own personal fingerprint that no one has the same fingerprint that any of us do. So, it doesn’t matter if someone is doing something or has done something before. If it’s something that’s in your heart, and that’s a calling for you that you want to do in this world, just focus on putting your own personal fingerprint on it because that means no one has ever touched it just the way that you have or will from your perspective and your personal lifeforce.

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

Patricia Stark
Well, you can certainly link with me on LinkedIn, just Patricia Stark; on Facebook, Patricia Stark Communications; Twitter @clickpatricia, like you’re clicking Patricia. And then Instagram, patriciastarkcommunications. And then on the web, PatriciaStark.com or CalmfidenceBook.com.

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

Patricia Stark
Just know that when you have the plus factor, when you’re not just going through the motions, when you’re not just following the job description, everyone truly is really self-employed because it’s up to you to decide how good you want to be at something, how much effort you want to put forth, how much of a plus factor you want to have, and that’s the thing that will make you stand out from the crowd and be different.

And even if it doesn’t happen right away, people take notice when we go above and beyond, because, unfortunately, not a lot of people necessarily do that. And when you do that, and you are willing to go the extra mile, people will want to go the extra mile for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Patricia, this has been fun. I wish you much luck with your book and other adventures.

Patricia Stark
Pete, well, thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed speaking with you today.

710: How to Regain Control of Your Time, Energy, and Priorities with Carey Nieuwhof

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Carey Nieuwhof says: "Start focusing your best work in your best hours."

Author and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof talks about how we’re all living at an unsustainable pace and how to combat burnout through better energy management.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to tell if you’re experiencing low-grade burnout
  2. The best hours to do your best work
  3. The key to saying no well

About Carey

Carey Nieuwhof is a bestselling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, and former attorney. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts. His podcast, blog and online content are accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times each month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth. Carey and his wife, Toni, live north of Toronto. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome

Carey Nieuwhof Interview Transcript

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

Carey Nieuwhof
Well, it is great to be with you, Pete. Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, I’m excited to talk about your book, At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor. Can you tell us, as you’ve kind of thought through this, talked to people, worked with people, researched, what’s one of the most surprising and maybe counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about people and trying to be at your best?

Carey Nieuwhof
We’re all in the same boat, we can start there. Almost everybody I know, including myself for a long season, felt overwhelmed over work and overcommitted. It just seems to be almost an endemic in our culture these days, so I think that’s a big surprise. The other thing that really led to the writing of the book, for me, Pete, and really the reorganization of my life, and helping thousands of other people do the same, was everybody talks about time management. But the problem with time management is you’re managing a fixed commodity. Like, nobody is giving you a 25th hour in the day. Nobody’s floating you an 8th day a week.

So, I was pretty good at time management, and I burned out. So, the big surprise for me on the other side of burnout 15 years ago, as I reconstructed my life, was I started to focus on energy management, not just time management, and that’s where I started to find exponential returns is when I thought about how my energy level, and it’s a human condition, everybody’s energy level goes up and down over the course of the day. And when I started to manage that, that’s when I started to see exponential returns in productivity, and started to regain a lot of margin in my life. So, I think that’s probably the most surprising thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I definitely want to talk about energy management. So, maybe could you give us, first, a broad picture perspective on what’s sort of like the big idea or core thesis behind the book At Your Best?

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah. So, most of us are living in an unsustainable pace, and the big idea of the book is to learn, and I’ve got a system that we can unpack in as much detail as you want. I developed a system to help you live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow. And for my first decade of leadership, I was in law then I moved to church world. I’m a person of faith.

I was leading a rapidly growing church, and after a decade in leadership, I burned out, and it was real struggle for me. And I was living in a way most days that made me struggle tomorrow, made me barely survive tomorrow. And if you talked to most people today, whether they’re stay-at-home parents, whether they’re working part-time, whether they’re full-time, whether they’re in the C suite, or whether they’re entry level, almost everybody goes home feeling overwhelmed, overworked, overcommitted, and I was just exhausted. I would get home. I’d flop onto the couch.

So, on the other side of burnout, I started to ask the question, “What does it take to not do that anymore, like, when you’re not feeling well?” And I spent the summer of 2006 really probably clinically depressed because of burnout, and now, 70% of people every year identify with symptoms of burnout, going, “Yeah, I’m kind of burned out or I’m very burned out,” so it’s a real problem. But when I was in that space, I thought, “I don’t want to go back to normal. I want my life out of burnout,” but, like, normal got me burned out. So, how do I create a new normal?

And that’s when I started to really think, “Okay, I want to live in a way today that will help me thrive tomorrow.” And it comes around how to manage your three principal assets. So, if you think about every single person, whether you’re retired, or in preschool, or in a C-suite level job, you have you’re managing time, you’re managing your energy every day, because we all know there are certain parts of the day where we’re kind of dragging and other parts where we feel better, and you’re managing priorities.

And technology has really made it complicated because, suddenly, it’s super easy for everyone else to get their priorities onto your agenda. So, I started to rethink how I approached those three assets. So, when you’re in what I call the stress bio, when you’re overwhelmed, overworked, overcommitted, basically, your time is unfocused, you’re not thinking about how to use your time, your energy goes unleveraged, you treat every hour as though it was exactly the same, you don’t really think about your energy levels, and you will allow other people to hijack your priorities.

And so, it took me about three to five years but I built something that I now call the thrive cycle. And on the other side of burnout, I started to think, “Okay, what if I focused my time, what if I started leveraging my energy, and what do I need to do to realize my priorities?” And when I started doing that, that’s when I saw 10X returns in terms of my productivity at work, my level of joy in life, and also the amount of margin I had, like just the free space, the freedom to do what I really felt called to do.

Case in point, in my 30s, everyone said, “Carey, you should write a book. You should write a book.” And I always wanted to write a book but, before I burned out, I just always said I didn’t have the time. So, that was 15 years ago. In the last decade, I’ve written five books. This is book number five. Actually, I wrote six because one I never published. I found it the other day, I’m like, “Oh, I forgot about that one.” It might see daylight some other time. But I’ve written five books, and it greatly expanded my capacity.

So, that’s the overview, that’s the nutshell, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s inspiring. So, there’s a beautiful sort of after state in terms of five books and joy and margin and freedom. Can we visit briefly the before state in terms of burnt out, didn’t want to get off the couch? What was life like just before you’re like, “Whoa, I’m burnt out” and in the midst of the burnout?

Carey Nieuwhof
Well, it was strange, and I don’t want to paint an idyllic picture. I still have days where I’m stressed. I still have days where it’s like, “Whoa, that was too much.” Last week, I had a really busy week. But I think the key that a lot of people lacked is the ability to recalibrate quickly. Going to bed on time, getting up the next morning, you’re like, “Oh, battery back up to 100%.” And so, that’s what I’ve been able to navigate for over a decade now on the other side of burnout.

Prior to burnout, it was getting to the point where I had a terrible formula. So, I started our church, and I’ll use that as the case study because that’s what I was doing full time, started with a half dozen people. Well, I started with three little churches, three little baby churches. Half dozen attended one of the churches, the average attendance was 14 at the second, and the mega church had 23 people.

Pete Mockaitis
Mega. All right.

Carey Nieuwhof
So, very manageable. It’s like running opening day on a business, you have five customers. It’s like, okay, you can handle that. It wasn’t that bad. I remember getting bored the first week I went to work. By Wednesday, I had my sermon written and I thought, because I trained as a lawyer, I’m like, “I don’t even know what you’re supposed to do.” So, I called the chair of our elder board, and he goes, “Well, go visit people.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.” I got lots of time.

But then, almost instantly, the churches started to grow, and at first it was sustainable. Till we got up to about 200, I just put 200 people. I put my pedal to the floor, and I’m a pretty energetic Enneagram 8, if you follow that stuff. Like, I got a lot of energy and it was fine. But the problem with that is it doesn’t scale. And so, I started to get more and more tired, and my bad broken formula was more growth equals more hours. Well, that just doesn’t scale.

So, our church grows from a handful of people to a hundred people, to 200 people, to 500 people, to 750 people, 800 people. At this point, I can’t remember people’s names, I’m up five nights a week, but I think, in my 30s, “I’m superhuman. I can handle this. I can do this.” On the inside, I should’ve seen the warning signs. I didn’t. People kept telling me, “Carey, you’re going to burn out,” and I thought, “Burnout is for weaklings. I’m not weak. The rules don’t apply to me.” So, there was that, and that’s definitely looking back on it. That was arrogance on my part.

I also ignored warning signs like I was starting to feel numb. Life is emotional. People go through good times and bad times. And when someone said they were getting married or having a baby, which should be really joyful, I had a lot of muscle memory, and I could kind of like smile and nod.

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s great.”

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah, “That’s great.” But on the inside, I’m like, “I don’t feel a thing.” And, conversely, if somebody came up to me on the weekend, even someone I knew, unless they were really close, and said, “I got a terrible diagnosis this week. I have cancer,” I knew what to say but I couldn’t feel it anymore. And that was really, really alarming to me, but I hadn’t been in that state, and I’m like, “Well, someday this will work out.”

So, ironically, you asked what was it like before I burned out. To some extent, I was on top of the world. Church was the largest it had ever been, I had started speaking outside of the church because we’re growing quickly, and people would ask me questions. So, I remember I flew down to Atlanta, and I spoke in front of 2500 people gathered from around the world at a conference, worked really hard for months on that talk, it was the biggest audience of my life to date. And by all accounts of everyone in the room, I crushed it, like knocked it out of the park. I’m, like, amazing. My wife and my boys were with me. And when I flew back to Toronto from Atlanta, when I got off the plane, it’s like I fell off a cliff and it’s like my body went on strike.

So, that numbness that had been building for a couple of years, the turmoil in our marriage, we were fine on the outside but there was struggle on the inside, the lack of sleep, all of that caught up with me, and it’s like my body said, “Well, that’s it. We sent you all kinds of warning signs, but now we’re strike.” The body was on strike. And I didn’t declare a finish line so my body did. And I went into what probably, had I gone for a diagnosis, and I went to a counselor, I didn’t see my doctor about it, I should have, he probably would’ve said, “Carey, you’re depressed.” And I lost all my passion. And I’m a very passionate person. I became very cynical. I kind of thought life was over, and it was painful.

And I got up most days, you hear these stories of the guy who can’t get out of bed. I got up pretty much every day, maybe a little bit later, and I’d go to work and go through the motions, but there was nothing on the inside. And you can get away with that for four months but you can’t do that for four years. And by the grace of God, the first flickers of passion started to return in the fall of that year. That happened in May of 2006, where my energy just tanked.

By the fall, I felt the first flicker of hope, and it’s like my heart beat for a millisecond again, and I’m like, “Oh, emotion. This is good.” And then it was gradually, but it took years, like three to five years to really find my new footing to say, “Okay, I think this is the new normal,” and for my heart to fully function again. And I’m so grateful it did, but, man, anybody who’s ever burned out, like it is awful.

And now, I read a Deloitte study, summer of 2021, if I get this right, it was in the 80s. I think it was 82% of senior executives leave work every day emotionally exhausted and physically drained. And according to a study done before the pandemic in 2019, 70% of adults in their 20s and 30s say that they experienced some of the symptoms of burnout in the last year. So, I think we’re just living at this pace where it’s kind of like, “I was feeling like me 15 years ago.” Now, it’s like, “Whoa, there’s a lot of people, like millions of people are in that state every day.”

The other thing I would say is I’m not a doctor, I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’ve created this category I call low-grade burnout, having taught thousands of people about this. And low-grade burnout, the working definitions are the functions of life continue but the joy of life is gone. In other words, yeah, you’re getting up, you’re shipping podcast episodes, you’re taking the kids to soccer, to dance, you’re socializing with friends, you’re going to work every day, maybe you’re even setting records, but there’s no joy in it. You’ve built a life you want to escape from. And I think that’s a kind of burnout that’s just in the water supply these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. Well, thank you for sharing. That’s powerful stuff and a wakeup call for many in terms of like numbness or joy, whether it’s all the way gone or like halfway gone. It’s like, hmm, to note that as an indicator, like, “Something is amiss here. Adjustments need to be made.”

Carey Nieuwhof
Pete, it’s almost a human condition now but my point is it doesn’t have to be. Like a lot of us, you get into your late 20s or 30s and you grow a little bit cynical, and you think, “Oh, I guess this is life.” There’s that old movie with Jack Nicholson, I think it’s Helen Hunt, this is, “As Good as It Gets.” And a lot of us to that point, and that’s the whole point, right? We’ve built these lives and we’re like, on the outside, I had it all. Like, I had a beautiful wife, great sons. We were the church everybody would travel to, to see, because it’s where it was going on. But on the inside, I was dying.

And I think there are so many people now who are in that place where it’s like, “Got the house, got the car, got the job, got the family, got the girlfriend,” whatever your life situation is, “…but how come I’m so flat on the inside?” Now, I think, as a person of faith, some of that is spiritual. And you’re not even going to be able to figure out what that is until you get a level playing field, and you can say, “Okay, let’s get time, energy, and priorities working for me, and then I can actually see, ‘Is this the right job for me? Is this the right relationship for me? Is this the right life circumstance for me?’” Because if you can’t feel anything, you can’t assess anything, but that is now what passes for life for so many people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, all right. So, joy, that’s a huge a motivator, a huge why to try out some of your goods, Carey. And if that wasn’t enough, your approach also liberated for you a thousand productive hours a year. Can you share with us sort of that math and how it results in such a staggering result?

Carey Nieuwhof
It’s a little crazy, and when I wrote it down, I remember the first time I quantified it, I thought, “I feel like that infomercial guy.” But it’s actually what happened to me, and it’s got a bit of street cred because, before I wrote the book, I taught this to leaders around the world and also offered a course that we ran, I think, 3500 leaders through. And the results are three hours a day to three hours a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Somewhere in that ballpark you’d expected that level of result.

Carey Nieuwhof
Somewhere in that ballpark. So, three hours a week, it’s like, yeah, I became somewhat more productive and I freed up three hours a week. You know what that boils down to? That’s about 160 hours a year, which you think, “Well, that’s not that much.” That’s like getting a month of vacation, like your next four weeks are free because you’ve eliminated so much of the clutter in your life. If it did for me, and it’s done this for hundreds of other people, maybe thousands now, three hours a day, it is not hard to waste three hours a day. It’s the same with your time as well. Like, it doesn’t take that long.

And the biggest section of the book is on priorities. The first part tells you, “Here are some tips on how to use your time. Here’s how to leverage your energy,” which seems to be the big gamechanger. But the bulk of the book is actually on priorities because, otherwise, you have a good theory. And what happens every day is you start in reactive mode. First thing you do is you look at your phone, then you dig around in your inbox, then you’re on social media. And, suddenly, what you’ve allowed is other people’s priorities to determine how you spend your day.

And then you’ve got that really important thing to do at work, the project you’ve got to turn out, the report you’ve got to give in to your boss, the client you’ve got to meet with, the deal you’ve got to land, but you didn’t get to it. And the reason you didn’t get to it is because, “This guy called and then I got called into a surprise meeting, and then I’ve got 17 texts I haven’t responded to yet. And, oh my gosh, I looked at my inbox, it’s a disaster. It’s on fire.” And then you got pulled into another meeting, and someone knocked on your door, and said, “Hey, can I just have five minutes of your time?” but it wasn’t five minutes.

Or, you’re in a cubicle and everyone is distracting you every three minutes. The next thing you know, it’s 4:30 in the afternoon. In my law days, you’re still not ready for court tomorrow, you’re still not ready for whatever that big project is, and now what do you do? You take that home with you. And so, what the “At Your Best” system does, the thrive cycle does, is it makes sure that you get your most important stuff done. And then, all of a sudden, you’re like, “Oh, okay, I am now in a place where I got the big stuff done. Yeah, there were some flashfires and, yes, I had that impromptu meeting at 2:00 o’clock.”

But you can walk out of the office at 4:00 or 6:00, or close your laptop if you’re working from home, at whatever your normal signoff time is, and you’re like, “I’m done. I’m going to go for a bike ride. I’m going to go out for dinner with friends,” and you’re not thinking all the time about that giant project you have to get done. So, that’s what really where the claim comes from. And if you do that, if you reclaim three peak productive hours in a day, that’s 1,095 hours in a year.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. So, then three hours that have been frittered away in a meeting that didn’t need to happen, or an email checking, or social media frittering that didn’t need to occur, by liberating three a day, we get over a thousand a year. Understood. Well, so then, let’s get into it. What are some of the like top practices that are so transformative for folks?

Carey Nieuwhof
There’s a million time-management books out there, a lot of which I’m huge fans of, and some of the authors of whom endorsed this book, like Greg McKeown, Cal Newport, David Allen, I’ve interviewed him for my podcast. Probably the breakthrough for a lot of people when you’re looking at “At Your Best,” is I call my own language out. And the language I hear a lot of people use, it’s simply this idea that, “I don’t have enough time.” The whole idea of time famine.

So, when it comes to managing your time, it’s pretty easy to say to yourself, like I did all through my 30s, “Pete, I don’t have time to write a book. You don’t understand how busy I am. These things grow like crazy. Like, I haven’t got time to write a book.” And then, one day, I had this realization, and I don’t know why, everybody knows this, but it just hit me like a ton of bricks one day, it’s like, “Carey, you have the same amount of time as any other human being on the planet. If you’re running a Fortune 50 company, nobody gives you a 25th hour in the day. Like, it just doesn’t happen. You have the same amount of time as everyone else.”

And then I started to think about how productive some of my heroes were, and made me go, “What gives?” And so, what I made myself do, and this is what I would encourage every listener to do, is start admitting, or stop saying, I should say, stop saying you don’t have the time. Start admitting you didn’t make it. So, just stop saying you don’t have the time. You actually have the time. What do you want to do? And I’ve asked lots of leaders about that, like, “What do you want to do?” and people are like, “I want to launch my own podcast,” “I want to write a book.”

Or, I remember one person said, “You know what I want? I want a weed-free garden. Like, my garden used to give me so much joy, and I just never have time to weed it.” I’m like, “Well, you actually have the time, and you can do that.” Other people want to paint, and they want to do different things with their life, “I want to learn how to cook,” “I want to learn how to ski,” or whatever it is. You actually have the time, “I want to crush out the next quarter’s goals before midnight on the day before they’re due.” Okay, great. Well, you can do that. And so, stop saying you don’t have the time, start admitting you didn’t make it. So, that’s time.

And then energy. So, you have 24 equal hours in a day, but, as you know, not all hours feel equal. People like Daniel Pink and Cal Newport have identified, using brain research and science, that most people seem to have about three to five peak productive hours in a day. If you really think about it as a writer, having written books, all my author friends would tell you they cannot write for 17 hours a day. It’s just not true. Well, you could but by hour seven, you’re spewing garbage at that point.

And if you’re up against a deadline, “Yeah, sure. Okay, I can work till midnight if I have to because I have to get this chapter in,” but you’re not producing your best work. Most writers would say success is a thousand good words a day, which doesn’t sound like much but that may take you three to five hours. So, you’ve got three to five hours in a day where, I’d argue, you’re at your best. So, we usually think about this as like morning people, night owls, or people who hit their peak midday. What would you say, Pete, I’m curious, are you a morning person, a night owl? I call that your green zone, your best. What are your best hours in the day typically?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, it’s funny, and, I don’t know, I don’t think this is always the case, but over the last, I don’t know, six years, it really seemed like it is the morning…and we had a couple sleep doctors on. And so, in the earliest of mornings, we’ve got what one called groggy greatness in terms of, “I might not be super alert, but, wow, I’m getting a lot of good ideas. I don’t know if they’re good yet, but I’m getting a lot of ideas which I’m parking to later evaluate to see if they’re good.” And then maybe an hour into the day, it’s like, “Okay, let’s get after some stuff.”

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah. Could you put it on a clock? When people think about this, they usually find they can. So, is it like 5:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m. for you, 8:00 a.m.? When does your green zone start?

Pete Mockaitis
So, yeah, if I wake up at 6:30, I feel really raring to go at 7:30.

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah, great, 7:30. And then when do you start to fade? A little bit mental clarity, a little bit of brain fog, like when does that hit?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in some ways, after maybe around 90 minutes of doing something, it sure is time for a break, but then it’s not over. I would say, well, I’ll put it this way. At 1:30 p.m., I sure don’t want to schedule something important. It’s, like, I am sleepy and I will be, hopefully, lying down for a power nap, if possible, around then.

Carey Nieuwhof
Thanks for being so honest about that because I think, in the ‘90s, when I came into the workplace in law, there was this idea that we were robots, we were superhuman, and sleepy was for wimpy people. And what you just admitted, along with every single person listening to this podcast, that you’re human, and that’s the way humans operate. So, my hours are 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. That seems, these days, to be my best. If I’m lucky, after a power nap at lunch, I’ll get another incredible hour, and that would be my green zone.

Cal Newport says we have four of those hours a day where you can really do deep work. Daniel Pink would agree that it’s a very limited window. And even if you’re a night owl, I was talking to my wife, she was talking to someone who says her best hours are between 8:00 and midnight. It’s like, “Wow, more power to you.” But at that point, if I’m on a sofa, I’m probably falling asleep in the next 20 minutes. Like, that’s just me.

So, you have green zones, those are your best hours. And I’d encourage you, even if you can’t say exactly where they are, like pick a zone. Is it morning, afternoon, evening for you as a person listening to this show? Then you also have, on the other side, red zones. It sounds like 1:30 in the afternoon could be a red zone for you. 4:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon is getting into my red zone.

So, we’re having this interview later in the afternoon, so I had a little quick nap at lunch, and then I went for a 30-minute bike ride before I jumped on because I wanted to be mentally clear, kind put some paddles on the heart to get me going and make sure that I was going to deliver for you and your audience. But, normally, 4:00 to 6:00, it’s either I need a nap or I need to get my body moving.

And then everything in between is just yellow. You’re not at your best, you’re not at your worst. And the way to think about it, and this is the Archimedes lever for almost everybody who’s tried this system, if you’ve got your best hours, start focusing your best work in your best hours of all the things in your job description. Let’s say your job description has ten things in it. Even if you’re a founder, you know this. It’s like you still have parts of your job that you’re not very good at and that aren’t that important. That’s like every single job, there is no dream job where it’s all 100% everything you want to do and you’re still good at it all the time.

I know for myself, right now, I write books and speak and run a digital communication company. If I write well, that’s number one, that’s what I’m best at, that’s what I’m gifted at, I’m a communicator. If I have a clear and compelling vision, if my staff are aligned, and if we have the money to do what we’re called to do, then everything is going to be okay. If I start writing poorly, if the vision is fuzzy, if my team starts to fight or bicker or gossip, or if we run out of cash, we have problems.

So, what I do in my green zone is I try to focus on the things that move the needle in those four areas. Write killer content. If I’ve got an issue with the staff or I’ve got to clarify vision or the future, I’m going to do that in my best hours in the morning, and I’m going to protect those hours. I used to be the king of breakfast meetings, and I’d go to a breakfast meeting, and you know how those worked.

You get up at 5:00, 6:00, whatever, make it to the restaurant for 7:00, you’re supposed to be done at 8:00 but it went long, it’s now 8:30. Then you stop by the coffee shop, grab a coffee to go into the office, you get into the office, five people stop to talk to you, and then you get in, and you look at your phone, you got like five texts, you’ve got a whole bunch of unread emails. Next thing you know, it’s 11:30, it’s time for lunch.

Well, if that’s my life, I’ve got like a chapter to write, or when I was a preacher, a sermon to write, or I’ve got a vision document I’m working on, now my best hours are gone. I just burned that fuel. It’s gone and it’s not coming back. And then if the afternoon is a whole bunch of like reactions and meetings and all that stuff, by 4:30 in the afternoon, I haven’t moved the needle. I’ve spent the entire day doing not what I’m best at. What is probably inconsequential and not that important, I now go home and I’m like, “I got to write that chapter.” And then I see my wife and she’s like, “What are you doing tonight?” It’s like, “Sorry, I got to work again.” When my kids were young, it’s like, “Got to work.”

So, that’s time and energy, and we can talk about priorities separately because that’s a big thing. But those are the big ideas. And so, what you do is you protect those peak three to five hours whenever they are from outside distractions, and you do what your best at when you’re at your best. That’ll move the needle.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And what I’m thinking about is like then there are some things that, I don’t know if there’s a word for this, Carey, but I think there needs to be. Maybe there’s another language. But it’s almost like fertile-ness, or like fertility. It’s sort of like there are some activities, like writing a chapter for a book, that’s perfect. Thank you. If you do that with great energy, you get a better result versus there are other activities that it doesn’t matter what energy you bring to them, like you still check the box, regardless. Like, maybe it’s a mandatory training that…hey, you and I like training. We do training. But there are some trainings or like…

Carey Nieuwhof
Your fire drill training.

Pete Mockaitis
I think there are some sort of like compliance-y things, like you have to check the box in order for it to be checked. And it is checked, and, thusly, you can proceed. But it doesn’t need to be like masterfully checked. Like, you don’t get a better result if you bring more brilliant time, energy, attention to it, to a certain task. And other tasks, it makes all the difference in the world. Like, “Hey, I’m going to make some decisions about my priorities, and my vision, and what projects I’m going to pursue versus not pursue.” Boy, that matters a ton, if you’re doing that sort of like attentively and brilliantly, or half in the bag. Like, that’s huge, versus other things don’t.

So, is there a word, Carey, for like the condition in which something yields more the better you attend to it versus the opposite, like, “It doesn’t matter as long you get that box checked”?

Carey Nieuwhof
No, that is a really good point. I’ll bet you the Germans and the Japanese have a word for that because they always have great words. I speak neither Japanese nor German, but I would call it, you used the phrase, I think, inconsequential. There are things. So, for example, I’m not my executive assistant. I have an EA. Her job, because we get hundreds of emails a day into the inbox, her job is to do a really good job responding to all of the emails that need a response. That needs to be her green zone.

Email, for me, tends to be transactional. Pete saying, “Hey, do you want to be on my podcast?” it’s like, “Yes, I would like to be on your podcast.” I want to be polite. I want to be nice, but that is not the highest value-added work. Me showing up prepared for this interview, to have a good conversation, that’s actually important.

So, what I would say the word that I would use, there’s inconsequential things. Email is relatively inconsequential. I can do that in my yellow or red zone when my energy isn’t at its peak because I’m just saying yes or no or being kind to people, and I can do that on autopilot. Writing a chapter for a new book, that has impact. So, the word I would choose is impact. And the thing to think about, I’ve got a Venn diagram in “At Your Best,” and if you buy the book, you get all these downloads for free with it off the website. But imagine three circles, so: gifting, passion, impact.

So, gifting can be your skillset. I’m, by nature, a communicator. When I was a kid, I was like in public speaking contests. When I was in law, loved being in court. I was in court almost every day. I was only in it for a year but, man, I loved being in court. When I was a preacher, guess the part of the job I like the most? Growing a church and preaching. I loved the communication part. Guess what I’m doing now? Podcasting, writing books, writing articles, connecting with leaders. Communication is a gift for me that I think I was given, and it’s also something I really enjoy doing most days. Most days I really enjoy it.

It also happens to have the greatest impact, that when I communicate well, everything goes better. When I communicated well in law, my clients won. And when I was preaching, the church grew, when I was preaching well. When I’m writing well, I wrote a post yesterday, it’s funny you mentioned you get ideas at 5:00 o’clock in the morning, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post for a while, and I woke up at 5:10, and I said to my wife, “The post was fully formed in my head. I went downstairs, wrote it down really quickly.”

Like, that kind of rest and margin allows your brain to be free. And, sure enough, this one did connect with leaders and tens of thousands of leaders read it in the first 24 hours. I’m like, “Awesome.” That’s a good example. So, there you have impact. So, ask yourself, “What is the biggest impact of that work?” Like, when your boss says, “Well done,” was it because you filed your expense report on time? Well, maybe, if you’re in accounting, yes. But it’s really probably for those things that move the bottom line of the company forward. What is it in your job?

If you’re a receptionist, super important to do customer service well. And, by the way, the bar is so low on that these days. All you have to do is be a kind human. If you’re a kind human on those phone calls, if you’re a kind human, and when somebody comes in, and says, “Hey, would you like a glass of water, or a cup of coffee, or that kind of thing?” man, that goes a long way. I say to our customer service people, like, “Just be kind to people. Just give them a timely response. Like, that has such an impact.”

We do online courses, and we offer a 30-day money back guarantee. The industry standard on refunds for online products is 10-30%, depending on your field. We get a lower than 1% return rate. Why? Well, first of all, we give it to anybody who wants it. No questions asked, so they know it’s there. Secondly, we try to over deliver on value. That has a super high impact. That’s important. That deserves your green zone.

So, think about, “Where is my biggest impact? Where is my gifting? Where is my passion?” You get those three things going together, that’s how you use your green zone. That’s how you use those peak three to five hours a day. And then, finally, for personal application, Saturday and Sunday maybe you’re not in the office, but I used to give my wife the leftovers. I’d mow the lawn in the morning or I’d wash the car in the morning. Well, if that’s my green zone, maybe we should go for a breakfast date, and then I can wash the car later. I can mow the lawn when it’s like, “Hmm, should I have a nap or should I mow the lawn?” You see?

So, you start to rethink that because my wife is more important than my lawn, as much as I’m like a lawn guy. Definitely more important than the lawn. So, you can start rejigging your priorities, in that way you start showing up more for the things that really matter in life.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Okay. So, right there, green, yellow, red, have those three to five peak productive hours on super high impact stuff that where the things align there. So, then let’s talk about priorities. How do we think through and establish what is top and what is middle and what is low?

Carey Nieuwhof
So, priorities can run in two directions. One is to think about, “What is of greatest impact?” so definitely do that exercise: passion, gifting, impact. And that could lead into a promotion or a new job for you one day. But, again, if you can determine that, you know your priorities. The priority section of the book is really designed to help you get this from theory to reality. Because if all you do is implement what we’ve talked to today, and you’re like, “Good. I’m starting that tomorrow,” you’ve heard it already, you know what to do, I promise you it’s going to blow up in your face.

And the reason it’s going to blow up in your face is everybody else is going to ask you to do something else. You’d probably say, “I’ve got two meetings in my green zone five days a week. What do I do with that?” We can talk about that. Or, even if you don’t have meetings, you’re like a morning person, you’re like, “Yeah, my first meeting is at 11:00 a.m. that’s ideal,” you will distract yourself. We have devices now that just buzz and chirp and distract us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including in our green zone, and then you’re sitting down, maybe you’ve turned off all notifications on your phone, but you’re sitting down, someone knocks at the door, “Hey, Carey, can I have five minutes of your time?” It’s like your green zone goes up in flames.

So, priorities is really as much about, “How do you stop the world from hijacking that green zone?” Because if you use it well, and you get those three to five hours in, some days it’ll be three, some days it’ll be five, but you get those in and you start using them consistently, you’re going to start feeling like you could go home by lunch because you’re like, “I got the report in,” “I’ve solved the problem,” “I created the new pivot table that’s going to change accounting.” Whatever you’re doing, you got it done and you’re like, “Oh, it’s just a meeting this afternoon. It’s just an inbox this afternoon,” like everything else feels easy.

But the world will conspire against you to hijack your green zone. So, first thing I would recommend is stop distracting yourself. Even when you get into that green zone, you get into a comfortable environment, a quiet environment, if you’re in a cubicle, put headphones on. Headphones are the universal, “Don’t bug me” symptom.

Nir Eyal, who also endorsed the book, he writes in his book Indistractable, you can talk about in your office, put like a little traffic cone on your desk, a mini one, and when the traffic cone is there, it’s like, “Hey, I’m in my zone. Please don’t bother me until after.” So, you’ve got to set up some signals to stop distracting yourself. So, I would suggest turn off all notifications on your phone.

By the way, if you’re wondering how to do that, and you’re listening to this in real time, iOS 15 just released some amazing features where you can now set different levels of privacy for different times in the day. Just released days ago as we record this, but I’m excited to try out these ideas with red, yellow, and green zone because a lot of people are afraid to totally protect their green zones, turn off their phones, shut off all notifications because they’re like, “Well, what if my kids need me or what if my boss needs me?”

We used to have to set up favorites to do that. Now, you could set up a green zone feature on your iPhone, if you have an iPhone, and you could say, “These three people are allowed to reach me during my green zone. That’s it.” So, if it’s your boss, your spouse, a child, that’s fine. And they’re probably not going to call you very often, but block the rest of the world out. It’ll be there later in the day.

So, you want to stop distracting yourself, and then you’ve got to stop…you’ve got to learn how to say no so you don’t overcrowd your calendar. Happy to talk about that if you want to go there and talk about mastering the art of saying no.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you, Carey. That was absolutely on my list. So, how do you say no well?

Carey Nieuwhof
Well, it’s hard. One way is to determine, Pete, what you need to say yes to and what you need to say no to. And Greg McKeown talks about this in Essentialism, I’m paraphrasing him, but imagine all the requests that come your way as being somewhere between a zero, “Definitely don’t want to do that,” and a ten, “Oh, my goodness, I can’t wait. I want to do this so bad and it’s the right thing to do.” So, zero is like “No way,” ten is “Fantastic!”

Most of us are smart enough intuitively to get rid of the zeroes to fives, it’s like, “Yeah, I don’t really want to do that,” “No, that’s not a really good use of my time,” “No, thank you so much, but I’m okay.” Our lives get filled up with sixes, sevens, and eights. And what Greg McKeown says is if it’s not a nine, it’s a zero. And that was really hard for me. Even as I was developing this material, I have so many opportunities and I want to say yes, but that filter of, “If it’s not a nine, it’s a zero,” is a really, really powerful filter.

So, what I would say is start using a new filter in your decision-making. And another way to look at it, I think Seth Godin came up with this, but ask yourself the question, because six months from now, someone is asking you to do something in February, you look at your calendar, and, by the way, if you implement this system, your calendar will not be blank six months down the road. But most people’s calendar is blank, you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I have time in February.” But then February comes and it’s all filled up and you don’t have any bandwidth for it.

Seth Godin says, “Would you put it on your calendar tomorrow?” If the answer is yes, then it’s probably a nine. If the answer is no, then it’s probably not a nine. It’s probably six, or seven, or eight. So, a lot of us get somewhat moderately excited about an idea, it’s a six out of ten, and we say, “Yeah, I’ll do that in January,” and then January comes around, and it’s like, “Oh, why did I let that on my calendar?” And I think there are a lot of people who are like, “Why did I let that on my calendar?” create a new filter. And then what you do is you master. Now you know what to allow on your calendar.

And then the second thing is, “How do you say no?” Well, we say no every day just because it’s the size of the audience. And I think what you say, if you can say this honestly and with a clear conscience, say, “You know, I’d love to do that. Pete, I’d love to help you with that project. Unfortunately, in light of my current commitments, I’m unable to do so. But thank you so much for asking me. I really appreciate it. I wish you well. Carey.” That’s short. Simple. It’s clear. It’s not like, “Check with me in two weeks,” because then they come in two weeks, you’re like, “Yeah, I still can’t really do it.” It’s just clear.

And Steve Jobs famously said what was best about Apple’s innovation was not what they said yes to, but what they said no to. And by having that undistracted time, by having a focus that was pretty legendary, he and the team at Apple were able to come up with products that nobody else could come up with. And that was the singular focus on saying no so that he could say yes to a phone that changed the world, or to a device that played a thousand songs in your pocket.

And if you get that kind of margin in your calendar, if you get very good at saying no, you have to overcome FOMO in everything, you will find that you probably can start to realize things in your life and at your work that will astound you and surprise you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Carey, this is awesome. Anything else you want to make sure to say before we hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Carey Nieuwhof
No, I would just say ask yourself this question, “Are you able to run at this pace forever?” And most of us would say, “I’m not able to run at my current pace forever, maybe not even another month, maybe not another week.” And the problem there is if your life, if you’re saying to yourself, “Well, Carey, it’s just a busy season,” seasons have beginnings and endings, and if your season doesn’t have an ending, it’s not a season. It’s your life. And do you really want to live that way? And if you don’t, I’d love to help.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Carey Nieuwhof
Okay. Winston Churchill, “Success is moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Carey Nieuwhof
I love what Daniel Pink did in his book When, when he analyzed surgeons and discovered that even they struggled with what we’ve been talking about today. Did you know that if you have your surgery at 8:00 a.m. you are far less likely to have complications? And if your surgeon operates on you at 4:00 p.m., there’s a 400% spike in challenges with surgery in the afternoon over the morning because we’re all humans.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good study.

Carey Nieuwhof
Yes, a very good study.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Carey Nieuwhof
Favorite book? I love Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times. Fantastic book.

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

Carey Nieuwhof
Oh, I use Evernote a lot. I have just thousands of notes in Evernote. Been around for a long, long time but it’s a go-to.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Carey Nieuwhof
Habit would be going to bed early. My wife says she married an 85-year-old man. But I love sleeping in on the frontside. I think it makes me better in the next day, so I try to get to sleep by 10:00 every night.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah. You know, the one that keeps coming back is “Time off won’t heal you if the problem is how you spend your time on.”

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

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah, you can go to AtYourBestToday.com, that’s the gateway into the book. And we’ve got some special offers there for people, so just AtYourBestToday. Don’t forget the today part. And then you can find me at CareyNieuwhof.com. A very hard name to spell, but if you butcher it, Google will probably get you there.

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

Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah, I would say you can do this. Find those peak three to five hours, protect them, and you will see results starting pretty much overnight.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Carey, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and fun and adventures at your best.

Carey Nieuwhof
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a joy to be with you today.

709: The Eight Superpowers You Need to Thrive in Change with April Rinne

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

April Rinne reveals eight key skills that prepare us to thrive in a world of constant, relentless change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key mindset shift that helps us thrive in flux 
  2. How to escape the trap of a more mentality
  3. How to re-script your mind to prepare for change 

About April

A World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and ranked one of the “50 Leading Female Futurists” in the world by Forbes, April Rinne is a change navigator: she helps individuals and organizations rethink and reshape their relationship with change, uncertainty, and a world in flux. She is a trusted advisor to well-known startups, companies, financial institutions, nonprofits, and think tanks worldwide, including Airbnb, Nike, Intuit, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, NESTA, Trōv, AnyRoad, and Unsettled, as well as governments ranging from Singapore to South Africa, Canada to Colombia, Italy to India. April is the author of Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

  • University of California Irvine. Chart your course to career success at ce.uci.edu/learnnow 
  • Setapp. Try out up to 200 of the best software tools in one streamlined place at setapp.com. 

April Rinne Interview Transcript

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

April Rinne
Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear about the wisdom you have to share about flux. But, first, I want to hear about your notorious handstands. What is the story here?

April Rinne
Oh, I’ve been outed. So, I have been doing handstands for most of my life. Learned to do them as a child, as a gymnast, and then kept doing them. And then, at a certain point in my life, realized that none of my friends that I was doing them with as a child were doing them anymore, and it became a bit of a, like, signature, I suppose. So, I travel a lot, I work internationally, and back in my 20s, actually, some family members challenged me to take a photo of myself doing handstands when I would go to interesting places. They did not realize how seriously I would take them on that challenge.

And so, here we are years later, have visited more than a hundred countries and have handstands in the most random but also most interesting of places. And so, my goal is to keep doing them when I’m hopefully in triple digits. We’ll see.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. I sort of imagine you, I don’t know, you’re at the Taj Mahal or something doing handstands, and then like you’re gathering a crowd, and so that you are also the tourist attraction. Has that happened?

April Rinne
It’s funny you bring that up. Yes, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Giza, the Coliseum in Rome, take your pick of well-known but also really off the beaten path places as well. And what I love is that the vast majority of my handstands over the years have been done when I’ve been traveling on my own. Now, my husband does travel with me and he knows the drill. He’s a wonderful photographer. But most of the time, I actually have to find somebody to take this picture, which means introducing myself to a stranger and trying to explain to them, and often their native language is not English.

So, I’m trying to explain to them in a foreign language that I’m going to stand on my hands and they need to take a picture. And, of course, you get this look of like, “I don’t think I understand what you’re saying at all. And if I do understand what you’re saying, you’re crazy.” And then we sort of go through the paces and they get it, and then, oftentimes, yes, a small crowd gathers, which is just fun in terms of meeting locals. But kids start tumbling and joining in, people start laughing and shouting, it becomes a bit of just like a little celebration, I suppose.

And, for me, it’s not, at that point, about the handstand. It’s about immediately getting to break the ice with people I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet. And it has often led to cups of coffee or tea afterwards, or like, “Tell us about your family,” or, usually, “Where is your husband? Why are you travelling alone?” those sorts of things as well. So, thanks for asking. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s just cool. Well, I don’t have a clever segue but maybe there is one.

April Rinne
Upside-down perspective on the world is what I call it, which leads into how we navigate change.

Pete Mockaitis
You do the work for me. This is perfect. Well, yeah, let’s hear about your book, Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change. What is the big idea behind this book?

April Rinne
Yeah, the big idea is that in a world and a future that is full of change and constant relentless change, that we, as humans, need to radically reshape our relationship to uncertainty to have a healthy and productive outlook.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. So, radically reshape our relationship to uncertainty, I’m sure there’s variability and variation quite a bit from person to person. But if you had to generalize, what would you say is the “typical” relationship to uncertainty? And what is an optimal transformation of it to where are we now and where “should” it be?

April Rinne
Yeah, great question. Well, let’s just pause for a minute and think about change, which includes uncertainty, but just a sense of something what is or was something is becoming something else. Change is messy, it’s complicated. Humans tend to love change we opt into. So, a new relationship, a new job, a new adventure, a new haircut. We tend to really resist change we can’t control. So, the kind of change that blindsides you on a Tuesday afternoon, it goes against your expectations, it disrupts your plans, and it creates an environment of uncertainty.

Now, a change that’s easy for you might be really, really hard for me, and vice versa. We know that more change and uncertainty is around the corner, yet knowing this often freaks us out. So, you sort of get these layers of like it’s complicated and it’s really messy. But when it comes to uncertainty, there’s also this piece, like humans really want to be able to know what’s going to happen. We want things to go our way. We want to command, predict, control, engineer the future. And the last 18 months, but we can come back to this, I didn’t write the book about the last 18 months. The last 18 months, however, have been an incredible kind of wakeup to just how unfit, how outdated that way of seeing the world and our place in it is.

And so, this radical reshaping is like, wow, we have structured, and we can come back to this, part of it is neurobiology, neuroscience, part of it is psychology, part of it is just the human condition, we have in many ways, I think, deluded ourselves into believing that we can predict and control and command the future, and that we can have certainty, and that we can, yeah, predict things and know what’s going to happen. And nothing could be farther from the truth.

And in a world in flux, and when we think about flux as constant relentless change, and before you’ve responded to one change, something else has happened, the list goes on and on and on. And that’s actually what the future looks like. More of that, not less, that there is this kind of, “Oh, this isn’t just a wakeup call. This is also a kind of warmup for what’s ahead. And how can we get ahead of that? Instead of constantly reacting to change that something happens and you’re trying to triage it? How can we reshape our relationship to change from the inside out to be fit for this world in flux which is very different than the kind of world many of us were taught to believe we lived in?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is quite a question, and part of me wonders, “Is that even possible?” I take it you think the answer is yes. Could you share with us an inspiring example or case study of someone who’s just a flux master?

April Rinne
Well, I love that you bring this up because, by and large, humans are really pretty bad at this, and that’s part of why I wrote the book. I like to say that I’ve been working on this book since 2018, so it’s been the better part of three years, like in the writing, but it’s really been more like three decades in the making, in the seeding of these ideas. And a big chunk of that time was spent both as a futurist and a strategist, also just as a human and observing that, on the whole, humans, we can adapt to change pretty well when we’re forced to, when our back is against the wall.

But as a proactive, kind of, “I’m going to lean into change because it’s good for me, or I’m actually going to see a change I don’t want to have happen, I’m going to see that nonetheless as an opportunity for growth and learning and improvement,” we don’t do that naturally. And what was making me and, candidly, continuous to make me very concerned about humans moving forward, both individually and collectively as humanity, is that we are, in many cases, stuck in mindsets and with what I call scripts that are not fit for a world in flux, and we need help.

And so, I can point to individuals that are good at certain of the flux superpowers, let’s say. But on the whole, and at the risk of generalizing, are we really fit? Are our mindsets grooved for a future of constant relentless change? I reckon they are not. But in that is an enormous opportunity for each and every one of us to level up. So, we can come back to some of the examples, but I want to put that out there. Now, you might prove me wrong here, Pete, but I’ve never met anybody who’s like, “Change. Tick that box. I’m good.”

Everyone struggles with some part of it, but we’ve all developed our own unique ways of dealing with it, talking about it, feeling about it, etc. There’s a lot we can learn from one another, but I believe we are very early into this journey into a future full of flux but, as such, we will all have homework to do but we’ve all also been given, I look at it, almost like this gift of growth and improvement by upgrading our mental muscles about change.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, sure. Could we hear an example of someone who has got at least a couple of the superpowers of flux going for them that seems to be doing pretty good when it comes to constant relentless change in their world?

April Rinne
Yeah. An example that I often talk about in regards to flux, and again it’s not all eight superpowers, it’s a couple of them, but it is Airbnb and founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. And if you go back, and here I’ll tease out a few of the flux superpowers, they built this company that’s home-sharing.

They saw value in empty space in people’s homes that hotels wrote them off as crazy and foolish, said, “This is never going to go anywhere.” Lo and behold, one of the eight flux superpowers is to see what’s invisible. They saw value in what other people couldn’t see. They saw invisible value, basically, and tapped into that and unlocked it, and created a company that is more valuable than the five largest hotel chains combined. That’s a very flux-y way of seeing one’s business model, if you will, to see what’s invisible, find what other people can’t see, and unlock the value that’s in that.

But, at the same time, another one of the flux superpowers is called “Start with trust.” Again, go back to Airbnb, what were people telling them? “This is crazy. People will never stay in other people’s homes. Why would we trust other humans?” And I’m looking at this always against the backdrop of, “How do we navigate change?” and think about who you turn to when change really hits. You turn to your trusted relationships. And if you don’t have many, you’re in a world of hurt far greater than if you do.

And Airbnb, early on, signaled, “We actually think humans are trustworthy. This isn’t blind trust or naïve trust, but we actually think that we can build a business around humans trusting one another.” Lo and behold, they have. And that, too, I’m looking at this from the perspective of, “How do we navigate change together? How do we navigate change better?”

So, I’ll pause there but those are some of the superpowers start kind of surfacing as we dig deeper.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe let’s have a quick overview of the eight superpowers and maybe have your definition and a sentence or two for what that means, and then we’ll see where to dig deeper.

April Rinne
Yeah, sure. So, there are eight flux superpowers, and I always like to say they’re a menu, not a syllabus so you do not have to do one before two, or two before three, but they stand on their own and they also enhance one another. So, the first flux superpower is to “Run slower,” which says that in a world with an ever-faster pace of change, your key to success is to slow your own pace. And I’ll put in a quick caveat here too. Each and every one of these is counterintuitive in some way. It goes against what, oftentimes, society teaches us. We can circle back to this if you’d like.

The second flux superpower is one that I was just talking about, which is, “See what’s invisible.” And this says that when the future feels uncertainty or blurry, rather than focusing on what’s visible and what’s straight in front of you, we need to focus on what’s invisible. Now this includes both identifying your blind spots but also uncovering new forms of value, new forms of talent, new ideas, new forms of inspiration.

The third flux superpower is “Get lost,” which is all about going beyond your comfort zone and your relationship with the unknown. The fourth flux superpower is “Start with trust,” that says when trust seems broken, assume good intent. And this is all about, as I was mentioning, how we navigate change better together.

The fifth flux superpower is, “Know your enough.” And this gets at our quest for happiness and satisfaction, and really the tension between our obsession with more, kind of more, more, more everything, and how that’s mostly making people miserable, in my experience. The way I like to put it is when you’re always after more, you will never ever find enough. And, yet, when you know you’re enough, you’ll immediately begin to see abundance. And, again, more, we can think of as more income, more power, more prestige, more love, more likes, more clicks, more everything.

So, what does it mean to “Know your enough”? And that’s Y-O-U-R. People often ask me if that’s a typo, and I say no. Knowing your enough includes knowing that you are enough just as you are without doing anything more. So, we can come back to that if you’d like.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny when I read that, I guess I didn’t even think about the apostrophe, and I was like, “Know your enough. Like, your number, your level. And what is the level at which it is enough?” which could be different for you versus me versus another. But, yeah, layers. Thank you. Okay, what’s next?

April Rinne
So, the sixth flux superpower is “Create your portfolio career.” This is about designing your professional development and identity in ways that are fit for a future of work in flux. And the punchline here is that I firmly believe that the career of the future looks far less like a singular path to pursue and much more like your portfolio that you create and curate as an artist or an investor would.

The seventh superpower is “Be all the more human,” which gets at our relationship to technology and the tension that we have in spending ever more time with our devices, yet ever less time with one another. And last, but not least, the eighth flux superpower is “Let go of the future,” which is all about our relationship to control, something I have found is tricky for most everyone today, and I always put a caveat on this one as well.

Letting go of the future does not mean giving up. It does not mean failure. It does not mean doomsday-ing. It actually means quite the opposite. So, again, going back to this counterintuitive-ness, even this contrarian-ness, that pervades much of the thesis of flux.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ooh, so much fun there. So, tell us then, when it comes to professionals seeking to be awesome at their jobs, what’s your take on what is the most important yet also most rare of these superpowers that we should really zero in on cultivating?

April Rinne
Well, I’m not sure that I would put the most important and the most rare…

Pete Mockaitis
We could take two. We’ll take two.

April Rinne
Yeah, I think we’ll do two because I can definitely tell you which ones are most popular. Let me do this, I’m going to put out a few because they’re all very, very sticky for professionals in the workplace of how to be awesome at your job. No question.

So, no doubt, no question, or perhaps no surprise, the first superpower “Run slower” absolutely popular and difficult because this is burnout, this is exhaustion, this is anxiety, this is “Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I constantly…? Why am I in this rat race? Why am I on this hamster wheel? How did I end up here? This is not what I had planned for my profession, for my livelihood, etc.” So, “Run slower” for sure.

Interestingly, as soon as you start getting into “Run slower” you do end up often over at “Know your enough,” and that’s sort of, “How do we define what is valuable and important? And what metrics are you using not just to judge how you show up at work and what you ‘do’ but also how you show up in life?” And so, it really starts to unpack some of our values and whether or not those values are reflected at our organization, so on and so forth.

And then the third one, which, not surprisingly, it is the one superpower that is related to work and the workplace, and that is “Create your portfolio career.” So, any of those would be ones I would start with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, when we talk about “Knowing your enough,” Y-O-U-R, no apostrophe, tells us, how do we arrive at that knowledge?

April Rinne
Arriving at that knowledge, I think there’s a process of kind of peeling back the layers of your unique onion around this. And I like to ask people, and this does relate to every one of the superpowers in some way, kind of getting your flux baseline is what I call it. And most people haven’t really thought a lot about their relationship to change as a whole. We’re busy reacting to change, “Something happened and I need to do something about it.”

But we’re not really thinking about, “What are the things, what are the emotions, and the feelings, and the experiences, that are driving me to react in the way that I am? And what is…” what I call in the book, “What is my script about change? What are the stories and the narratives and the norms that I’ve been taught about how the world is supposed to work, and what my role in it is supposed to be?”

And I share this because a lot of our scripts, really, it’s directly related to knowing your enough, a lot of our scripts are increasingly being shown to be not that fit for a world in flux. They’re quite good for worlds that we can command and control, and sort of tie up in a neat tidy bow, but they’re not that good for when the future you thought you were going to have just sort of melts or falls apart or doesn’t work out like you thought it would be, like you thought it would, which I think many of us had experienced in different ways over the last 18 months.

So, back to knowing your enough. For a lot of people, and here I would include myself, we were taught that more is better, and like inherently better, and that the more you had, the more important you were, the more valuable you were to society. And I think, for a lot of people, that’s more money but also more power, more prestige, more love, more choices, more clothes, more clicks. Like, I was saying, it’s more everything.

And, yet, look around and ask yourself, “What is that getting me? Is more actually…?” and here I would say in the workplace, the more meetings you have, the more productive you are. The more productive you are, we can come back and question, meetings are not a good metric for productivity, but the more hours I work.

Pete Mockaitis
The more emails you get, the more important you are. The more emails you send, the more productive you are.

April Rinne
Yes. Yes. And, yet, and again, we can put this on a financial metric, an emotional metric, a workplace metric, take your pick, more is mostly making us miserable. It’s not necessarily leading to greater happiness or satisfaction. It’s not necessarily…it might be making us feel more productive if you’re measuring your life in how many emails you send, but not if you’re measuring it necessarily in outputs, impacts, ways, number of people that you’re able to serve and better, and the quality of your own life that you’re living.

And so, what I like to ask people, the punchline, the metric for this superpower is, “What is your enough-ness? Have you thought about your point of enough?” Because what I find a lot of times, and I’m generalizing a bit here, but we are, particularly in Western culture, we are really over-indexed on stuff. We have more. A lot of people have more than they need in terms of stuff, and whether that’s cars or clothes or physical possessions. But we’re kind of under-indexed on a lot of the humanity stuff. We actually don’t have enough human connection. We don’t have enough dignity. We don’t have enough tolerance. We don’t have enough integrity. So, we’ve got this kind of too much and not enough but not really a sense of what’s in the middle.

And so, I ask people, “What do you have too much of and what do you have too little of?” And too little can include, “I have too few hours in the day,” “I have too little time to spend with my family,” “I have too little…” and you get into this sense of where we have a culture of insufficiency. And so, finding your enough requires getting clear on, “What are you over- and under-indexed on?” And, partly, I’m not giving one specific answer here because everyone’s equation, everyone’s relationship is different because each of us has a different lived-experienced and different things that we’re strong at, weak at, etc.

And so, it’s interesting because even on the enough factor, “Did you grow up with enough love in your household?” I know it sounds a little bit woo-woo but, in fact, not enough love and care as a child will show up in all kinds of ways as an adult but don’t actually get you closer to your enough. You start to compensate for love with money, etc. And so, all of this, I throw out to get people to start peeling back the layers of their own onion around enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s really thought-provoking in terms of what you have too much of and not enough of. And it’s funny, when it comes to money, maybe nobody would say they have too much money but they might say that they have more than enough money, so you can just change the words around a little bit.

April Rinne
Well, what’s interesting, can I…? Oh, sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
Go take it away, yeah.

April Rinne
So, this cycle of more. And, again, to be really clear on all of these things, I am not saying that more is bad or anything. I’m just saying let’s get clear on what’s really what here. I’m not saying that for any of the superpowers, I’m not saying like the counter is not good or bad. It’s more like, “Have you thought about this that there are more options on the table than you might realize?”

Here’s the thing about more though, how many people do you know that say, “I will be happy when…” “I will be successful when…” “I will be…” fill in the blanks, when? When implies that you don’t have something you need. You need more. And, yet, when you get to that point, so let’s just say more money, “When I have more money…” then what do you need? You need more money. It’s no longer enough. You need more.

And you get on this kind of vicious cycle that feeds on itself and that never allows you to acknowledge and rest and be easy with enough. And that’s the part we get stuck, call it a hamster wheel, call it our own monkey brain that’s kind of running laps around our minds, but it keeps people from realizing that, actually, a decision to be happy, it actually can happen right now. And when you realize that you might already have enough, and that’s kind of that’s your point of sufficiency, satisfaction, again not too little, not too much, that’s the kind of contentedness. And we can talk about the difference between happiness and contentedness, but that sense of kind of peace and comfort as opposed to this drive for ever more.

Now, I’m not saying don’t strive, don’t try to do things, and I’m not saying…What’s interesting too is if you want more and more and more, okay, what’s that more going to get you? And this is where it gets super interesting because of the belief that if you want more, let’s just use money, you want more money so that you can hoard it or keep it for yourself, okay, I’m not sure how much better that’s going to make the world.

But if you want more in order that you can share it with others, in order that you can gift it, be generous, help better the lives of others, that’s actually a pretty good more but you’re not keeping that for yourself. So, you start getting into issues around ego and generosity as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess if we talk about hoarding it, like you probably won’t feel much impact in terms of, “I want more money because, I don’t know, going in an unsafe neighborhood with my children, and I’m worried that they’ll be shot.” Okay. Well, if you have more money and you get to a different neighborhood, you’ll probably feel that as an upgrade in the happiness and peace and contentment parts of your life versus, “You know, I’ve got one million in my mutual fund account, and two is just so much cooler,” then you probably won’t even feel that impact at all except when you refresh the page and go, “Oh, two. Nice. Now it should be three.” There you are.

April Rinne
Yeah. And it’s interesting and, if I may, I’m going to share a personal story here because it factors in exactly into what we’re talking about. And it is interesting because a lot of times people are like, “Oh, I want more money because it’s actually a hedge against uncertainty.” And I totally get that. It is kind of the more money you have, the more options you have, the more ways that you can potentially navigate uncertainty and change. That’s somewhat true.

I also would say that that way of thinking can blind you to what’s really needed when we navigate change. And the story I have to tell, it relates to why I ended up writing the book as well, and I sort of mentioned that I bring the lens of a futurist to change, I bring the lens of a global traveler and global citizen, if you will, to change, but I also bring other human and lived-experience with change and uncertainty. And I often say that my journey or my baptism entry into flux began more than 25 years ago when I was in college and both of my parents died in a car accident.

And I share this because I was 20, and speaking of careers and jobs and all of that, 20 is a really interesting age because I was old enough to be living on my own. I was at college. I could take care of myself day to day, but I was young enough, I really did not know how the world worked or my role in it, all of that. And it had a profound effect on how I thought about my career and how I thought about more versus enough.

Now, back then, I never would’ve expected that I’d read a book about this kind of thing. That wasn’t in the plan at all. But I started asking questions at the age of 20 that I now see, many years later, people going through some kind of a mid-life crisis or some kind of real-life, “What is my purpose on earth?” kind of thing. And the question that I would ask myself every day was, “If I were to die tomorrow…” because look what just happened. No one knows how long we have, “If I were to die tomorrow, what would the world need me to do today?”

And it wasn’t about me, like, “What do I need?” my ego. It was, “What does the world need?” because we all have finite time, and we all have a lot we want to contribute and can contribute to others. So, I keep asking myself this question, and then the answer was never “Get more money.” It wasn’t. It was this sense of, “Yes, I need enough money, for sure.” At that point, I was 20, I became, overnight, self-sufficient. There was no back stop. There was no house to go home to, so to speak, when my parents died. It was like, “Okay, I’ve got to figure out a way to move forward.”

And so, it was very clear to me that I needed enough money to be able to take care of myself, but anything over that became like this, “Is that what the world needs from me today?” And it’s interesting because I spend a lot of time talking to people about grief and loss and this kind of change and uncertainty, and, “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” as well. And never, never has the answer been, on someone’s deathbed, that, “Oh, I wish I’d earned more money.” It has definitely been, “I wish I’d prioritized my family more. I wish I’d gone after that job that spoke to my heart, but maybe I would’ve earned a little bit less,” kind of thing.

And so, it’s interesting because even when it comes to how to become awesome at your job, these are the kinds of value judgments and value assessments that we’re doing all the time. And I think one of the best ways to be awesome at your job is to make sure that you’ve got a job that aligns with some of these bigger even existential questions, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. That’s powerful and a lot there. And so, it sounds like you’ve worked through some powerful questions that really get you places. Can you maybe give us a rundown of some of the most insight-provoking questions and how you recommend sitting with them effectively?

April Rinne
What a great question. So, I don’t mean for this to be a pitch for the book but it’s going to sound that way, and that is simply that, at the end of each chapter, I wrote the books because I wanted to help people ask these questions. And these questions that don’t…they don’t have easy answers, and the point is not to come up with the answer. The point is to actually sit with them and think about, “Wow, I’ve been so focused on metrics A, B, C, I hadn’t even paused to consider what might be behind that or this other set of questions.”

So, at the end of each chapter, there are a series of five questions for each chapter that are designed to provoke exactly this kind of thing, and, again, each one tailored to the superpower. So, I’m wondering which one you want start with. What’s interesting is the “Know your enough” is kind of the questions that we were just going after. Like, “What do you have too much of? What do you have too little of? Have you ever thought of that before?” And, also, “Could you draw what enough looks like to you? Don’t write it. Could you draw a picture?”

That gets really interesting because if you have somebody who’s drawing a bunch of houses and cars and stuff, that’s one view of what is more. But then, actually, if you see somebody who draws a kind of Earth where humans are connected and it’s sort of peaceful, that’s still enough but it’s a different worldview. So, that’s “Know your enough.” But let’s just take another one, “Start with trust.” It gets really interesting.

So, generally speaking, are you quick to trust or to mistrust? Just your default, like, if you don’t know otherwise, do you trust or mistrust? And why? Where does that come from? Most people, our tendency and the script that society has taught us is that humans should not trust one another. That, candidly, Pete, I shouldn’t trust you right now and you should not trust me. That’s what society says. And, yet, where did that come from? Like, really? Because we’re in the midst of a trust crisis and trust is the way forward and yet we’re doing everything we can to undermine it.

And so, you start unpacking questions around trust and you start realizing how often, without our even noticing it, we have a narrative in our mind that humans, on average, are not trustworthy. And what’s worse, very few people actually trust themselves. I mean, we learn to. But, like, how does it feel, do you trust yourself? How does it feel when others don’t trust you? Oh, it turns out, you don’t actually generally trust other people.

So, we’re trying to reset our relationship to trust because, as I was saying earlier, trust is the path forward. If we don’t figure out that one thing, there is not a future in which any of us actually can have a lot of hope. But when we learn to start with trust, and what I call design from trust, a whole new universe of opportunities and goodness of others shows up.

So, those kinds of very essential questions. Back to “Run slower” do you feel like you’re running faster today? Why? Where did that come from? When did it start? Is it something you’re driving yourself to do or others are driving you to do it? You got to get this baseline and then you can start saying, “Okay, how do I need to kind of bring the pendulum back, bring more balance, harmony into my life?” And then, in the book, the superpowers are kind of the how-to and what are the practices and disciplines and exercises that you go through to improve that part of your relationship to change.

Pete Mockaitis
And on that trust stuff, it gets me thinking of Dan Ariely’s work, and it’s not bad. Yeah, people do cheat but humans are pretty good. It depends on the context and all kinds of variables that you modify but it could be a lot worse.

April Rinne
Right. Well, I love that you bring that up because I am not saying there aren’t bad apples out there. I’m not saying blind trust, or naïve trust, or just like willy-nilly trust but don’t verify kind of thing. But what’s fascinating to me is that we have designed so many of our structures, institutions, systems, from the basic premise that the average individual cannot be trusted, and that’s the key. Because when we design that if we don’t know, we do not trust.

A minor flip of the switch that, again, you need to account for bad things happening and some people not being trustworthy, but if you treat that as the exception not the rule, you design a different system. And that’s where it gets fascinating because what happens when we design from a premise of mistrust, we throw out so much goodness in people. When I think about, “Would I rather assume that people are good and have an abundance of goodness and generosity show up, and, yeah, I may have to pay a price every now and again, bad calculation, didn’t work out,” versus, “I’m going to live my life assuming that no one is trustworthy, and live in a system that is designed for untrustworthiness?” you’re basically sucking the life out of you and the people around you. So, you do have to be willing that you won’t always get it right, but that price you’re going to pay is worth its weight 10,000-fold over for all the goodness and generosity that you’re going to see instead.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, April, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

April Rinne
Oh, goodness. FluxMindset.com? No, it’s a joy to join you today. I’m really just happy to be able to share more about it. And, yeah, the way I like to put it is when everything is in flux, everything can benefit from a flux mindset. So, there you have it.

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

April Rinne
One of my favorite quotes is inspired by the last superpower, “Let go of the future,” and it’s by Lao Tzu who wrote the Tao Te Ching, and it is, “When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” So, I love that. Lots of good quotes from Lao Tzu.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

April Rinne
I think one of the books that shows up in Flux, and I continue to refer to time and again, is called The Body Keeps the Score and it’s about the relationship between mind and body, particularly around trauma, but there’s a lot around just anxiety and mental health. And the body of research that’s in this book around how our body holds what our minds and hearts and souls are feeling, but without necessarily words, the ways that shows up and how much we need to pay attention to our bodies, and the kinds of things that we’re holding that we’re often burying, absolutely cannot recommend that book enough.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

April Rinne
I was thinking about this because it’s so basic and yet so powerful. I use Post-its. I use Post-its for absolutely everything. I have a wall that’s covered in Post-its on any given day. If you ask my husband, when I travel, what’s the first thing I pack on a business trip, it’s actually Post-its. So, it’s simple but it has been my super tool over the years.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate; folks quote it back to you?

April Rinne
There are increasingly ones about flux but I actually kind of want to come full circle on this one, back to the handstands. And it does show up a little bit in the superpower “See what’s invisible,” but this whole notion of the upside-down perspective on the world. So, I do have people often quoting some aspects of my handstands and upside-down perspective. Why bring this up is that we are trained to see things, literally, figuratively right-side up. There’s one way that you look at something.

And, yet, this goes beyond change. When we flip our perspective, and here I’ll say literally and figuratively, when we look at something upside-down, we see it completely differently. And what I can tell you is sometimes it looks even better. So, I love this like flip your perspective, go upside-down, see something you’ve been struggling with in a fresh light, you might not only see it better but you might find your solution in your path forward.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And, April, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

April Rinne
FlexMindset.com is for all things Flux and book related. AprilRinne.com is my personal site where you will find the handstands.

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

April Rinne
I’m going to show my bias but it is all about think about get clear on your flux baseline, groove a flux mindset, open a flux mindset, harness your flux superpowers, and reshape your relationship to change from the inside out from here on forward.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. April, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your fluxing.

April Rinne
Thank you very much, Pete. And may the flux be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

708: The 7 Steps to Winning Others’ Support with Suneel Gupta

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Suneel Gupta says: "If you don't believe what you're saying, then others can't believe."

Suneel Gupta walks through his 7 steps for becoming “backable”–worthy of others backing your ideas.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you don’t need charisma to be backable 
  2. How to make your idea stand out with an “earned secret”
  3. Why you don’t want to have everything figured out 

About Suneel

Suneel Gupta teaches Innovation at Harvard University. His  bestselling book Backable is rooted in Suneel’s journey from a twice-failed entrepreneur to a leader behind two IPOs, and to being named “The New Face of Innovation” by the New York Stock Exchange. Suneel has personally backed startups including Impossible Foods, AirBnB, 23&Me, Calm, and SpaceX. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Justworks. Make your hiring and managing easier with the Justworks HR platform at justworks.com. 
  • StoryBlocks. Enhance your video storytelling quickly, beautifully, and affordably at Storyblocks.com/awesome. 

Suneel Gupta Interview Transcript

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

Suneel Gupta
Pete, it’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear your wisdom. And, first, you got to tell us the story about you being the face of failure from New York Times.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, I got a call a few years ago from an organizer of an event, and it was cool for me because at that time I had just started public speaking. Just trying to get up in front of audiences. I really enjoy that type of work. And I get a call and this event organizer says, “Hey, you’ve been nominated twice to speak at this conference.” And I said, “Hey, that’s fantastic. What’s the name of the conference?” And she says, “It’s FailCon,” which stands for Failure Conference.

And let me tell you, Pete, it’s a humbling experience when somebody calls you and says, “Look, we’re doing a conference on failure and we would love for you to be the keynote speaker.” And to make matters worse, I’m up on stage and I didn’t realize this at that time but there was a reporter from the New York Times in the audience, and this reporter decides to do a full-length story on failure, and uses my face as the cover of this article, and the article goes viral. It goes so viral that you could literally have Googled failure at the time and my face would’ve been one of your top search results.

And so, funny enough, I always tell people this, when it comes to writing a book, people tend to come from either the point of view of having a solution or having a problem. And, for me, at that time, I definitely had a problem. And my problem was that when I was inside companies, when I was trying to get jobs, at that time when I was trying to raise funding for my own company, I just wasn’t having any luck. I wasn’t getting people to listen to my ideas. And even when I got inside a room, I was having a very difficult time winning people over.

And that article turned out to be a real gift for me because it opened the door to all these conversations with people who I consider to be the top of their game, extraordinary people from Oscar-winning filmmakers, to celebrity chefs, to CEOs of big companies. And what I learned through the conversations was that coming up with an idea is really only half of sort of the dynamic of being innovative. The other half is really getting people bought into it, and that is much more learned than anything else.

Usually, backable people who I studied were not naturals at this. There was a series of steps that they learned how to take in order to get people excited about their ideas. And once I started to put these practices into play, it really changed everything for me, and I said, “Gosh, I got to put this on paper and share this with other people.” And that formed the basis for the book.

Pete Mockaitis
And, indeed, you put it on paper in the book Backable: The Surprising Truth Behind What Makes People Take a Chance on You. And so, I’d love to go through each of the seven steps and get a little bit of a demo in terms of what does okay look like versus great look like inside these worlds. But could you kick us off by sharing perhaps the most surprising or counterintuitive piece of your approach?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, one of the things I really expected to find is that backable people were going to be just generally charismatic. And as I started to sort of broaden the spectrum and I looked at backable people everywhere from all different fields, I thought they were going to have a certain style of communication. They were going to be people who had great eye contact, and great hand gestures, and just did all the sort of things we think about when it comes to great speakers, but more and more, I found that to not be the case.

And I would venture to say, Pete, that probably the majority of backable people that I was able to study did not have the classic communication styles that we might expect. But what I did find is a common denominator, is that it wasn’t charisma. It was conviction. Backable people took the time to convince themselves of their own ideas, and then they let that conviction shine through in whatever communication style it is that feels most natural to them.

And so, just a couple of examples. One is you just go back and watch the original launch of the iPhone. So, this is the 2007 Steve Jobs product launch. And what you might be surprised to find is that it doesn’t come off as charismatic or at least classically charismatic as we might remember. He uses the word “uh” over 80 times in that speech, he’s staring down at his feet quite a bit, and he kind of sort of almost wanders a little bit here and there. And, again, it’s not a crisp sort of TED-style presentation.

Or, let’s take another example from TED itself. If you look at the number one most popular TED Talk of all time right now, what you’ll find is…

Pete Mockaitis
How to get some creativity?

Suneel Gupta
Sir Ken Robinson, exactly. Sir Ken Robinson, it’s a brilliant, brilliant talk but what we might be surprised by is that it’s just not sort of a classic TED-style presentation. Sir Ken Robinson, he has one hand in his pocket, he sort of meanders on and off script, he naturally walked with a bit of a hunch and so he’s got a bit of a slouch as he stands up there on stage, but it’s an amazing presentation.

And, again, the reason that I bring that up is because, oftentimes, when we think about winning people over, when we think about sort of being inside a room, we focus on these classic communication styles – make direct eye contact, use specific hand gestures – but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I found more to be the case of figure out what your natural style is, but then build conviction around that. Take the time to convince yourself first because if you don’t believe in what you’re saying, then they can’t believe.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, so that is step one, convince yourself. And so, let’s kind of walk through all seven of those. But while we’re talking about convince yourself, I think I look back on my own entrepreneurial journey. I think I’ve been too good at convincing myself. I talked myself into some things. I had some natural enthusiasm and passion for the thing, but I think I talked myself into pursuing initiatives that, on second thought, probably should’ve done a better job validating the value proposition upfront and maybe gone in another direction. So, how do we think about convincing ourselves versus not deluding ourselves, shall we say?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think it is a balance. One of the ways I try to think about this is you don’t want to share your idea too early. And so, when we talk about convincing ourselves first, we want to build enough conviction where we feel comfortable getting into a room and people can poke holes at our ideas and we don’t immediately get deflated.

Because here’s the thing, what we found is that, especially if you look inside big companies and the way that ideas are shared, most ideas actually don’t get killed inside the conference room, they don’t get killed inside formal meetings. They get killed inside casual conversations around the water cooler, or through side conversations, or in the parking lot. That’s where the vast majority of great ideas end up sort of finding their stop.

Why is that? Well, typically, it’s because when we come up with something, we tend to sort of blurt out the idea right as it comes up, and we get really excited about it but then we look around the room, or we look on the screen the way you and I are right now, and we see that the other person isn’t quite as excited about the idea as we are. And when that happens, it can be a very deflating experience.

And so, when we think about convincing ourselves, it’s not saying, “Hey, I’m no matter what wedded to this idea,” but it’s building up enough conviction where we feel like we can walk into a room and not be afraid of the possibilities and sort of the challenges that will come up. So, one fun way to think about it is when you are in that moment when you get excited about an idea, just asking yourself, “Is this a chocolate M&M or is this a peanut M&M?”

A chocolate M&M, if you squeeze a chocolate M&M, it cracks immediately. A peanut M&M is not a piece of steel but you can squeeze it, other people can squeeze it, and it’s not going to break immediately. Again, you’re not looking for it to be bullet-proof but you’re looking to put a peanut inside. And so, one of the things we talk about in the book is backable people have sort of learned to kind of ask themselves that question in the heat of moment, right before they are about to share an idea. They sort of ask themselves that question, “Chocolate M&M versus peanut M&M.”

If it’s chocolate M&M, they’ll resist the temptation to share in that moment and go take, what we call in the book, incubation time to put peanut inside. And that can be done through all forms of things. It could be through drawing out your idea, it could be through taking long walks and thinking about the idea, it could be journaling. I know, Pete, that’s something you like to do as well. And so, there are many ways to do that, but, again, it really comes back to that moment of resisting the temptation to share an idea too early because, oftentimes, that can be the death knell of some really creative things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you convince yourself first, you take some time before putting it out there because if you put it out there too early, they might deflate you before you’re able to take a hard look at the stuff in advance and kind of get inoculated, you’re like, “Oh.” It’s so funny. I had an idea for…it was basically Airbnb. I had this with a couple of my friends, actually.

And then I think we talked to a consulting friend of ours who worked at Hyatt, he moved on, he said, “Oh, my gosh, you could have some crazy liabilities. Say, a crime happens or someone’s stuff gets stolen,” and we’re like, “Oh, yeah. Yeah, you’re right. That sounds really risky.” We just let it go. And he’s like, “And, oh, Couchsurfing is already a thing, and that’s not a really big deal, and people do it for free. It’s kind of a fun vibe.” It was like, “Okay, there’s Couchsurfing and there’s liability, oh, never mind. Oops.”

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, exactly. And I think that it’s so much better when…By the way, all those things your friends brought up, they’re all valid. They weren’t invalid objections, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Liabilities, for sure.

Suneel Gupta
All that stuff is real, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a reason not to do it. And what ends up happening is that when someone points out an objection that we haven’t thought of ourselves, what that tends to have is a lot more charge to it. It just tends to have much more of a deflating effect versus if you’ve gone through, then you’ve actually thought through some of these objections yourself, and you walk into the room knowing that, “Hey, this, this, and this may come up.”

They probably will come up but they’re not going to have as much of a charge to them. You’re going to have thought through, “Hey, yeah, that is a thing. Maybe here are a couple of things that we need to consider as a result of that.” And, again, you’re able to walk in and have a discussion rather than the sort of, again, crossing your fingers, hoping they’re not going to point out something that you haven’t thought of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is great, and the answer to liability is insurance, that insurance writers love to take that on for a price. And so, it’s not a deal killer; it’s just, “Oh, that’s a new thing.” And you’re right, well-said in terms of having less charge when you think about it yourself as opposed to, “Oh, the super smart guy who was a director at Hyatt thinks that this is a big thing, then it must be a really big thing.” Yeah, well-said.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, and I think, also, gosh, the curse of knowledge is just so important to factor in here because, oftentimes, and what we mean by that is, look, the deeper we go into a subject matter, we are going to be more resistant to innovative ideas in that matter because we know how hard it is. I was talking to somebody the other day, who was an investor, and he comes from a financial tech background, really knocked it out of the park in that space, actually started a company, in one of the sorts of original fintech companies, had a massive exit.

And then I was talking to him about what it’s like to be an investor, and he said, “Look, you know what, I’ve passed on every single great fintech deal. I passed on PayPal, I passed on Square, I passed on Stripe because I had this knowledge of how hard it really is to do a fintech company that that sort of got in my way from taking a risk on these other ideas.”

And the point here is that, look, oftentimes, when we come up with something, you come up with an idea in the housing space, you came up with an idea for Airbnb, you went immediately, as most people would, to somebody who kind of knows that space, you went to a friend at Hyatt. And that person is going to tell you what they have discovered, which, in most cases, is going to be reasons not to do something because they’ve spent a lot of time.

And, Pete, it all comes back to something I know that is probably obvious but worth restating, which is that the fresher an idea, the newer an idea, the less obvious it’s going to be. And that’s the trap that I think we sort of fall into whether we’re an entrepreneur or whether we work inside a big company and we’re trying to do things that are unique and cool and different, is that those tend to be the ideas that make the biggest difference, but they also tend to be the hardest ideas to sell.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s great. Well, we’re just on step one here. So, we talked about convincing yourself. Could you maybe give us a quick overview of steps two through seven? And then we’ll spend a couple minutes hearing a bit of detail for each.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, sure. So, step one was to convince yourself first. Step two is to cast a central character. So, what we mean by that is who is the person you’re trying to serve, and sort of bringing them into the story and making them the hero of your story. The third is to find an earned secret. So, this is something that you have gone out and you’ve learned that most people probably don’t know. And there’s lots of examples of how to do that, and we can get into that.

The next is to make it feel inevitable. So, instead of just making a new idea feel fresh and exciting, you also want to make it feel inevitable, that we’re inevitably heading in a certain direction. The fifth is that we want to flip outsiders into insiders. So, how do we actually make people feel like they are a part of the idea. Another way to think about this is, “How do we make people feel like they’re builders instead of buyers?”

The sixth is to play exhibition matches, and these are practice sessions before you walk into the final event, playing lots and lots of these exhibition matches, and there are specific ways on how to do this effectively. Then the final is to let go of your ego. So, the ego can very much get in the way when it comes to creating new ideas, and we really unpack that and talk about how to get around it. So, those are the seven.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, could you maybe give us a demonstration then in terms of how an abbreviated pitch might go, and then kind of annotate it for us, like, “Hey, see, that was step two, we cast a central character. Oh, and that was step three. See that earned secret?” so we kind of see it in action?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah. I’ll give you sort of the Michael Dubin Dollar Shave Club pitch. And for those of you who aren’t familiar, Dollar Shave Club was an online razor blade company that sort of expanded from there, sold for a billion dollars to Gillette, but it’s sort of a folklore story in a startup world. I think the thing that isn’t well known is that Michael Dubin struggled quite a bit to get a lot of funding for his company, to get investors to care at all.

And one of the ways that Michael Dubin sort of thought about this, and one of the ways that he was able to flip investors who didn’t care to saying yes – and, by the way, I think this is important whoever you are, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur – is he took people through the storyboard of what happens to his target customer.

So, one of the first things that he did was he went out and he built conviction behind this idea by actually thinking about, “What is it that my customer actually goes through?” And he literally storyboarded this at home. And then he would go to the stores and he would watch people in action, and then when he was in front of investors, he sort of walked them through the storyboard of, “Hey, my average customer is a 20-something male, who cares a lot more about his health than his father ever did, and that includes what he puts in his body, that includes what he puts on his body. And he’s used to a certain level of convenience when it comes to buying products.”

“But all of that sort of goes out the door the moment that he sort of thinks about buying razor blades because, now, he goes to this sort of pharmacy or grocery store, he has to locate the aisle that these are in. When he finally locates the product, he realizes that, in many cases, it’s behind a locked security case. He has to push a button in order to get somebody’s attention. He waits there until an annoyed worker sort of shows up, unlocks the security case, and, by the way, everybody is sort of watching, and behind that case isn’t just razor blades but there’s condoms and there’s laxatives, and nobody knows exactly what you’re there to buy, but now all attention is sort of on you.”

“He unlocks the case and then sort of watches over your shoulder as you make this purchasing decision.” And that is so fundamentally different than the way that this generation, the way that his target customer was used to buying products. And so, when we he went in with the pitch of, “Hey, we want to disrupt a multi-billion-dollar industry through an online platform,” it didn’t do very well.

But when he shifted that to, “This is the moment-by-moment experience, and here’s how we’re going to change that,” it really shifted the way that investors sort of looked at him. Because, as it turns out, stories sort of bring us in, and then substance sort of keeps us there. So, if he were to stop there in that pitch and just ended it, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere. But when he went from there, it’s like, “Look, there are millions of young men who are going through this experience every single week, and that’s translating to this number of dollars and this amount of market share, and this is what we can pick up.”

And so, he’s bringing them in with story, he’s keeping them there with substance. Convincing himself first, casting a central character, and let’s go through some of the other…we’ll go through some of the other principles too, and we can show how this story relates.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it, yeah. And so then, that earned secret. So, you highlight some information that goes beyond Google or what just about everybody would know. And, in a way, that story, in and of itself, has you thinking, like, “Yeah, you know what, you’re right. It does kind of take a lot to get these razors. Haven’t thought about it.” So, I don’t know if that counts quite…well, you tell me. Is that earned enough or do we have some more juicy insider info to go for there?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, I think the key thing with an earned secret is I would underline the word earned. And the reason for that is you want to show, when you walk into a room, whether that be for an interview, whether that be for a product presentation, team presentation, whatever it is, that you had sort of put yourself into the story in a way that most people have not because that counts for a lot.

I was talking to somebody, this was shortly before I published my book, so her story is not in the book, but she was talking about how she was returning to the workforce. She was a single mom and returning to the workforce and ready to sort of get a job, and she’d found a role at a company that sounded perfect for her except for one thing. And that is that she wasn’t really a user of the product but the role itself was perfect, and she was very excited about this.

Most people in that situation would do the following. They would research the company, they would maybe download the product onto their phone, start playing with it a little bit, and then they would go into the interview and start asking some questions, and be prepared as much as they possibly can be. She did something unique, which is that she talked to every single one of her daughters’ friends because this is very much like a Gen-Z social product, and she talked to every single one of their friends. She interviewed them about what they liked, about what they didn’t like, she took careful notes.

And then when she walked into this interview, she walked in with all these observations, all these sorts of insights. And this hiring manager that was talking to her was so impressed that not only did she get the job, but right in the middle of the interview, he ended up patching in one of their UX designers because a couple of the things that she had found and discovered through these interviews were things that actually were not on top of their mind, and it was coming from a very fresh voice, and she was able to sort of come in with this earned sense of information.

And, by the way, these don’t need to be sort of big monumental things. They can, oftentimes, be small. But I think the key is that asking yourself when you go into a situation, “What’s the sort of typical level of research that people would do to prepare for this moment?” Again, whether it’s an interview, or a pitch, or a presentation, it’s figure out how to go one step further. It could be test driving a competitor’s product, it could be talking to customers, but just doing something that ordinarily most people wouldn’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. I’m reminded we interviewed Ramit Sethi, and he calls this the briefcase technique because you, like, dramatically remove slides, or research, or something. You sort of have like a deliverable inside your bag, and most people don’t, and they’re just like, “Wow, this person…we’re impressed.” And it can often lead to great opportunities opening up there. That’s good.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, one of the people that I talked to for the book is a guy named Jonathan Karp, who was a publisher, and he really wanted Howard Stern to write a book, but Howard Stern had no interest in writing another book. He had already written a couple of bestsellers, and he was like, “It’s a lot of work. I really don’t want to do this.” And Karp kept asking him, he was year after year, he continued to be on Howard Stern’s tail about the idea of, like, “You got to write a book.”

And, finally, Karp decides to do something really clever and unique, which is that he thought to himself, “Most of what Howard Stern would end up writing is already kind of out there. It’s going to be sort of a summation of a lot of the interviews that he’s done. So, why don’t we take the transcripts of those interviews, then why don’t we actually sort of extract what we think could be really good content for a book, then we’ll actually create the book?”

And so, the next time that he actually goes and pitches to Howard Stern on the idea of writing a book, which Howard Stern is prepared again to say, “Gosh, I’ve told you many times I don’t want to write a book,” right in that moment, Jonathan Karp literally pulls out a finished book, a leather-bound book, and says, “Look, Howard, I know one of your objections to all these is that you don’t want to write a book, but we’ve kind of just taken the liberty of writing 90% of it for you.”

“All you got to do is write an opener, write some the language around some of these interviews, and you got yourself a book,” which, of course, it ended up being a lot more work than that, but what Howard Stern said was, “Look, I was so in that moment, I was so intoxicated by the effort, so intoxicated by effort that Jonathan Karp had put into this process that I could not say no.”

And that’s kind of, in some ways, how you want people to feel inside the room, which is like, again, you have intoxicated them with effort. You’ve gone out and done things that most people wouldn’t do, then you’ve taken insights from that experience and you’ve brought that into the room.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, let’s hear about step four, make it feel inevitable.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, this is a big one because I think that, oftentimes, when we think about new ideas, we get excited about how shiny it is, and we want to talk about why it’s exciting. But the thing that is important I think to realize is that, as human beings, we tend not to be risk takers. We don’t like to take risks. And that’s true even, I have found, Pete, for people who take risk for a living. You look at venture capitalists, you look at Hollywood producers, people who are betting on uncertainty, they don’t like to take risks either. It’s really, in the vast majority of the cases, it’s just something that they sort of accept as part of their job but they’ll do whatever they can to sort of de-risk a project.

And so, this sort of, I think, gets to a Noble Prize-winning theory around loss aversion, that the pain that we get from making a bad decision is twice as powerful as the pleasure that we get from making the right decision. And if you keep that in mind when you walk into a room to pitch someone anything new, we’re not just trying to sell them on why an idea is good. We’re also trying to make sure that we cover sort of why an idea might be bad, and making sure that we can sort of minimize that risk. And one of the ways that we can do that is by talking about why an idea is inevitable. Not why it’s new but why it’s inevitably going to happen.

There was an executive that I talked to at Comcast who talked about this idea of having Comcast not be just a service that’s inside the home but outside the home as well, connected over mobile, which, today, is like one of those, yeah, that’s sort of a passe sort of idea. But ten years ago, when he was sort of inside Comcast trying to get people behind the idea, it was actually very hard because there were a lot of people who were sort of wedded to the idea, they’re like, “Look, we’re an in-home business and we don’t want to dilute ourselves, we don’t want to focus on anything else.”

And he continued to sort of pound the table on the idea of, like, “Look, this is new, this is exciting,” and he wasn’t getting anywhere. But when he re-jiggered the presentation to show a couple of things, everything changed. And those couple of things were, “Here’s what’s happening in Europe. And Europe tends to be a few years ahead of us when it comes to mobile, and they’ve started to have these integrated services, which tell us that, look, if history continues to repeat itself, we’re going to be heading in that direction.”

The second thing was there were certain sort of plays that some competitors were making that were starting to hint at the idea that they were going to have an integrated service as well. And when he combined that in his presentation, he showed, “Hey, look, this isn’t where I think the world is going. This is where the world is going, and I think we need to get ahead of it or we’re going to get left behind.” That’s when executives started to change their minds, that’s when people started to get bought into this idea of, “Look, we don’t want to miss out,” because we all sort of have that fear.

I think if you believe that fear is one of the biggest things that we need to sort of face when we’re trying to sell people on anything new, well, then we can’t neutralize fear with excitement. We sort of, in some ways, have to neutralize fear with fear, and, in this case, it’s the fear of missing out.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in making it feel inevitable, it’s not just a matter of saying, “Hey, here’s the trend,” but rather, “Hey, here is overwhelmingly the trend, and woe to us if we don’t get on board with that.”

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, and I don’t think it necessarily need to be overwhelming either. I think that it gets easier if it’s overwhelming, and you can point to, “Hey, this is obviously going to happen,” but a lot of times it’s not obvious but there are indicators that things are going to happen, that you start to see little signals of that.

You look at sort of Zappos, for example, as a company. There wasn’t a lot that they could show at that time in terms of trends but there were little datapoints, like there was the notion that Amazon was expanding beyond just books, and they were expanding to get at products. That wasn’t necessarily at the time.

Today, again, that sounds obvious. At the time, it didn’t but there were little datapoints that were showing, to say, “Look, not only is this growing in a certain category, not only are we selling books online, we’re going to be selling other things online. There are all these sorts of niches out there.” Or, back to your example about Airbnb. When Airbnb went into the room, they didn’t really have another Airbnb to point to but they had Couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing was starting to pick up and there were 600,00 or so listings on Couchsurfing, and there was a lot of activity around sort of Airbnb-like offerings happening on Craigslist. Again, these aren’t necessarily overwhelming datapoints but they collected enough of these datapoints to show that, like, in combination, there’s something happening here.

In the book, we talk about putting on your anthropologist hat because that’s effectively what you’re doing at this stage. You are sort of looking at the direction the world is heading, and that can be hard sometimes for people because whenever we get excited about an idea, we want to just stay focused on that idea, and we want to say, “Our idea is going to change the world.” Whereas, I think what backable people are doing is they’re saying, “Well, here’s the way the world is changing through these datapoints, and then here’s how my idea would fit into that change.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you. Well, let’s hear about step five, flip outsiders into insiders.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, this is one of my favorites because we, oftentimes, think that when we go into a room, we need to have sort of a bullet-proof presentation, and the more bullet-proof our presentation, the more backable it’s going to be. But the more and more I look at sort of the way that backable people were operating, what I realized is that they didn’t have that at all. They would walk in with a pretty clear vision of what they wanted to do but they wouldn’t have every single detail necessarily sorted out, and that was on purpose.

And the reason for that is because you want to bring people in when you’re inside a room. You want people to feel like they are part of it as well. And one my favorite stories from the book is the story of Betty Crocker, and how in the 1940s, they came up with the idea of cake mix. And they had done all the focused group testing, and the believed that cake mixes were just going to be like this hot sensational product. And so, they were shocked, like all the executives at Betty Crocker were shocked when they found out that cake mix was just not selling, and they couldn’t figure out why.

And so, they hired this psychologist named Ernest Dichter to go out into the field and start interviewing homemakers. And what Dichter founds out, what he comes back with was, “I think you have made the process of making a cake too simple, too easy, because you have basically removed the customer from the creative process. All they have to do is pour water into a mix and then they pop it into the oven, and the cake comes out of the oven, and they don’t really feel like it’s theirs. They don’t really feel ownership over it.”

So, Dichter has a recommendation, and the recommendation is, “Why don’t you remove one key ingredient and see what happens?” And so, they do, they removed the egg. And so, now, if you are a customer, you have to go out and you have to buy fresh eggs, you have to crack them into the mix, and you stir it in, and then you pop it into the oven, and sales completely take off. Because, now, when the cake comes out of the oven, people actually felt like ownership of the cake. They felt like it was theirs too.

And researchers have unpacked this over and over again. There’s a group out of Harvard that calls this the IKEA effect. And the IKEA effect basically tells us that we place up to five times the amount of value on something that we help build than something that we simply buy off the shelf, because we made it ourselves. So, what does this have anything to do with innovation or ideas?

I think, Pete, we kind of have been told that innovation is a two-step formula. You come up with a great idea and then you execute on it well, but there’s this hidden step in between. And this hidden step is where we get other people, we get fellow employees, we get bosses, we get investors, we get shareholders, we get other people involved before it reaches execution stage where the idea is still imperfect, where they get to crack their own egg into the mix and be part of it so that way, when we show up to execution phase, we actually show up together.

And I believe you can trace, literally, every product, every successful product, every successful business, every successful political movement, back to this hidden step, where we know it wasn’t just one person, we know it wasn’t just the person that came up with the idea. It was a group of people who felt founder-level ownership over that idea even though they didn’t come up with the idea itself because they were able to be a part of it from the earliest stages.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, in the Betty Crocker example, you let them crack an egg into it, and so, likewise, if you’re putting forward a proposal to folks, you don’t want to have everything nailed down. So, let’s just say, someone brought up, like, “Hey, what about liability?” It’s like, “Hey, you’re right. That’s going to be a key issue we need to solve, and we’d love your expertise to help.” Is that kind of the vibe that you’re going for?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, and I think you can go one step beyond that, which is like, Pete, if I’m coming to pitch you on an idea, and you are an expert at taking content, great content, at creating great content and distributing it. And maybe I have an idea for something that requires that, ultimately is going to require that. I would come into the room and to say, “Look, we’ve got a few details figured out here. But, Pete, one thing actually we don’t have figured out is how are we actually going to craft this in a way that people are going to listen, that people are actually going to watch. And I know that that’s something you’ve been focused on. We’d love to get your thoughts on that.”

Now, a couple things to keep in mind. That does not mean that I haven’t spent my own time thinking about what the answer might be. It takes a lot more preparation to have a discussion than to give a presentation because I have to ask you the right questions, I have to pull you in the right way, I have to be able to go back and forth with you, you’re going to say something, you’re going to have an answer to that question, and I’m going to want to ask follow-up questions.

And so, there’s a lot more preparation that goes into the details that you don’t know than the details you know, which I know it sounds counterintuitive but it’s really important to know, which is you’re not sort of shrugging your shoulders or hand-waving at sort of these unknowns. You’re actually spending real time thinking about that, uncovering the possibilities, thinking through pros and cons, but the difference is you’re not coming to the room, saying, “I absolutely believe that this is the right way to go for every single detail.” You’re saying, “I think I have these details figured out, but I don’t have these details figured out. Let’s talk through them.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how do you recommend we do the step six, play exhibition matches?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, exhibition matches, I think, were surprising for me because, again, I look at backable people and I felt like, originally, these are people who are just, off the cuff, who were just naturally great communicators. And what I found is that people who tend to be off the cuff, people who come off with more of sort of an improvisational style, they actually tend to be the product of lots and lots and lots of practice. And it’s that lots of practice that actually lets them be off the cuff, which I know sounds a little bit weird but let me share what I learned.

When we practice something enough, what it allows us to do is it allows us to sort of loosen the grip on our script. Because, oftentimes, when we walk into a room, we walk in with a script. We have a sense of what we want to say and we kind of sort of almost follow that script. But the problem with that is that there’s always something that’s going to come up, a question that we didn’t expect, or an interruption, or something’s going to happen, and it’s really our ability to adapt to those moments. It’s really our ability to adapt to those moments that create these sorts of backable situations where a tough question is answered, and where we sort of go off script and we start having a discussion about something else. Then that’s really when we start to win audiences over.

The other thing is this. Like, I thought if you practice something, by the way, the average person that I talk to for this book, practice something 21 times before they got into a room, that could be for an interview, that could be for a pitch, but 21 practice sessions. Then there were a couple of things to keep in mind when they were doing these practice sessions. The first thing is that, really, no venue is too small.

Like, you can ask anyone for a practice session. That could be a friend, that could be a family member, but the key is that when you’re doing this practice session, you want to deliver it as if it’s the real thing. You don’t want to give sort of editorial or commentary, and say like, “So, hey, what I’m planning on doing is I’m planning on walking them through this and then I was going to go through that.” You actually want to give it as if it’s the real thing because you’re building the muscle memory that you want inside the room.

The second thing is it’s really important to be able to get good feedback. So, when you’re finished with the practice sessions, say, you’re pitching like a colleague, a friendly colleague, before you walk into the room to talk to somebody who’s leading the team. When you’re getting that feedback, what we typically tend to ask is the question, “Hey, so what did you think?” That’s the typical question we ask. And when we ask that question, we very rarely get the kind of feedback we need to make ourselves better. It’s kind of an imprecise question, people may want to be nice so they may not give you the feedback that you need.

A better question to ask is, “What stood out to you the most? Of what you just heard, what stood out to you the most?” Now, they have to sort of think through the highlights of the moments that really resonated or landed. But the question I like even more is, “How would you describe what you just heard to someone else? Like, what would be the headline of what you just heard?” And what I find is when I ask people to do that, the description that they have, in a lot of cases, is actually better than what I had.

Like, I’ll learn a new way of how to describe my own idea. Like, when I was coming up with the idea for Backable I went to Daniel Pink, another author who’s written a few great books that I really like, and I shared my idea, and it was pretty half-baked at the time. But then I asked him, like, “How would you describe this to someone else?” And one of the things he said was, “I would say that the most exceptional people aren’t just brilliant, they’re backable.” And that ended up becoming sort of one of the taglines of the book, and literally is on the back cover of my book. So, I really appreciate the idea of asking people, “How would you describe this to someone else?”

The final thing I’ll say about this, Pete, about exhibition matches and practicing over and over again, is one of my big hiccups, one of the reasons I was skeptical about this, is because I felt like, “Well, if you practice something 21 times, isn’t that going to make you robotic? Isn’t that going to make you sound too sort of planned or scripted?” But what I found is that the opposite tends to happen. Because when you’ve mastered your material at that level, you really understand what you want to communicate, what you want to say, and sort of the ways you want to get there.

What that allows you to do is it allows you to sort of drop the script when you’re inside the room. You’d be fully tuned in, be fully present with the other people who are there. And when you’re fully present at that level, it allows you to pick up on cues that you may not otherwise pick up on. Oftentimes, you see people who walk into a room and they have a set of slides to get through, and they just sort of get through those slides.

But when you’re fully tuned into what’s happening inside the room, you can pick up on little gestures, like little, “Oh, I’m pretty sure they did not get that part, so I’m going to spend a little longer on that,” or, “I’m pretty sure that’s an area where they’re really excited about, so I’m going to double-down on that or maybe come back to it later on.” And being tuned into that level is really what tends to create these backable moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And then with 21 practice sessions, that’s plenty, and I think that’s encouraging. It’s funny, it’s both daunting and encouraging in terms of, “Oh, you don’t think you’re polished quite yet? Well, how many practice runs have you done? Oh, three. Well, to be expected. There’s a long way to go.” I find that oddly comforting.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah. Well, look, 21 does seem daunting, for sure. And the way that I sort of like to think about it is, the other way that somebody pointed out to me, I still remember the first time I started to hear about exhibition matches is the former chief technology officer of Pixar, and spent 20 years at the company, and so he spent a good amount of his time sort of bringing together all these disparate groups – technology, and business, and storytelling, and creative, and design.

So, he’s telling me about the idea of practicing 21 times, and I told him about the time that I went in to interview for a role at Square, the company Square, and my interview was with Jack Dorsey. And I told him about how I just bombed that interview, completely bombed it, completely tanked it.

And even though I kind of knew the answers to all of Dorsey’s questions, the role was for a product role, I’d spent a bunch of time working in product development, I kind of just knew the content but I bombed the interview. And I asked him why, “Like, why did that happen? Tell me, Oren, why did that happen?” And he said, “Well, how much time did you spend preparing for that?” And I said, “Well, I wrote out some questions for him. I spent a bunch of time researching the company.”

And he’s like, “Yeah, but preparing, like that was preparing. But how much time did you spend practicing, actually practicing what you’re going to say?” And I said, “None. I didn’t practice what I was going to say. I didn’t do any mock interviews or anything like that.” And he’s like, “Let me ask you a question. When you were in law school,” because he knew I went to law school, “how much time would you spend preparing for a test?” And I was like, “I don’t know. I would do practice tests. I would do probably spend at least 10, 20 hours preparing for a law school examination.”

And he’s like, “So, let me get this straight. You spent all that time preparing for a law school test, for a single law school test, that may or may not have had a true influence on your career. But for an interview with Jack Dorsey, you didn’t spend any time actually practicing before that interview.” And it was like sort of this punch in the gut moment where I was like, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” So, yeah, we spend a lot of time, I think, preparing for these moments, but we don’t spend enough time practicing for these moments, 21 times.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And the final step, let go of your ego.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, let go of your ego is about making it about somebody else. Like, who are you there to serve? How is this about somebody else? One of the best pieces of advice that I think about all the time before I walk into a room, and I think as I talk to different audiences now, I always get really positive sort of feedback on like, “Wow, that one thing really changed things for me.” It was like when you walk into a room to give a pitch or a presentation or an interview, whatever it might be, you’re going to feel like the spotlight is on you, normally. You are the person delivering the content.

Find a way to take that spotlight and to put it on something else. Put it on someone else, ideally. That could be the person you’re there to serve, that could be the primary customer of the company. But how do you take sort of everything you’re talking about and make it about someone else? So, if it’s an interview, it could be knowing who the customer is, like knowing deeply who that customer is, and then walking in as somebody who’s looking to serve that customer. Every question you’re answering, everything you’re doing is about the service to that customer.

If you’re there to pitch an idea for a company, again, who is the person you’re trying to serve, who is the central character, and making it about that person. It’s taking the spotlight that’s on you and putting it on someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Suneel, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Suneel Gupta
I will say that one of the things I continue to hear is that, especially as we’re coming out of the pandemic now, is so many people are looking to start new ventures. They’re looking to do something new. And that doesn’t necessarily, by the way, means starting a company, leaving a company, and starting a new one. It could be starting a new venture inside the company as well.

But one of the things I hear often are three words, which is, “I’m not ready for that just yet. I’m not ready.” Three common words. And the thing that I would leave you with is as I went and studied all of these people, backable people from all different fields, none of them were really ready. None of them were really ready to do what they did.

Three friends from design school were not ready to start Airbnb. A mid-level talent manager wasn’t ready to start SoulCycle. A 15-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden wasn’t ready to build an environmental movement but today, Greta Thunberg, is Time magazine’s youngest ever person of the year. And, sure, there were setbacks and there were failures and there were mistakes along the way, but I think the mantra that they all tended to adopt in their own way, which I try to remember as well, is that the opposite of success is not failure; it’s boredom.

So, let’s run with the things that make us come alive and let’s bring good people along the way to join us along the path, because, if there’s anything that I’ve learned, wherever you are listening to this, you are ready.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, how about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Suneel Gupta
Long-term success often comes from short-term setbacks.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, there was a great experiment that was done in the 1980s at Dartmouth University, and it was called The Scar Experiment. Well, basically, what they did is they asked people to come into a room, a group of people, and, one by one, they would put a scar, an artificial scar, on their face. And then they would send them into another room where they would interact with other folks.

But there was a trick, which was right before they walked into the other room, they would say to the person, “Hey, can we get the makeup artist in here just to touch up your scar, just to do a little touchup?” But instead of doing a touchup, they would actually wipe the scar off completely. So, you walked into the room believing that you still had this scar on your face, but you didn’t. And then they had you come back into sort of the study room where you sat down with the researcher, and the researcher say, “How did that go? What happened?”

And nearly everybody was like, “They couldn’t stop staring at my scar. Everybody was completely obsessed with my scar.” And I just love that. I just love, love, love that because it just shows what we believe in ourselves internally is what we believe the world is looking at us for externally, and the power of that connection. So, look it up, The Scar Experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s something to think about, for sure. And a favorite book?

Suneel Gupta
The Alchemist Paulo Coelho, one of my all-time favorites.

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

Suneel Gupta
I would just say my whiteboard. I know people can’t see this right now but I’m staring at it right now. Just a simple whiteboard has just changed everything for me. One of my favorite things to do in the morning is when I have my cup of coffee, sometimes I just stare at my whiteboard and I’ll just see what comes up. Sometimes it’s nothing. Most of the times it’s gibberish. But, every once in a while, the things that that whiteboard pulls out of me is amazing.

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

Suneel Gupta
Come to SuneelGupta.com. There’s a bunch of free stuff out there, some new thoughts, and a way for us to keep in touch.

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

Suneel Gupta
I would say, as we think about sort of how to be backable, which I think nearly all of us are, let’s also think about how to make other people backable. Like, I’ll leave you with one story, which is about a woman named Damyanti Hingorani, she was a refugee on the border of India and Pakistan, under dire conditions, impoverished conditions, had this unlikely dream, which was that she wanted to become an engineer with Ford Motor Company, and this was the 1950s, and Ford Motor Company was in its heyday. And Detroit was the Silicon Valley of the world at the time.

And so, her parents get behind the dream. They saved every penny they have. She’s able to get on a boat to the United States. She gets a scholarship to Oklahoma State University. The day after she graduated, she grabs a train to Detroit, Michigan and finds her way to get into a room with a hiring manager to apply for her dream job.

But when this hiring manager looks at her application, he looks at her resume, he says, “Wait a second. Are you applying for the job of an engineer?” And she says, “Yeah.” And he says, “Well, look, I’m sorry. We actually don’t have any female engineers working here right now,” which is crazy, right? Ford Motor Company, at that time, had thousands and thousands of engineers on staff but not a single one of them was a woman.

And so, Damyanti Hingorani is really deflated in this moment, and she gets up, and she picks up her purse, and she picks up her resume, and she starts to walk out of the room. And then, almost in this last minute of courage, she turns around, she summons all of the grit that she possibly can, she looks this guy in the eye, and she tells him her story about all the struggle and sacrifice that it took for her to get to this country, to get to Detroit, to get to this very room. And then she says to him, “Look, if you don’t have any female engineers on staff, do yourself a favor and hire me now because things are changing.”

And this hiring manager, so inspired by that conversation, that he goes out and he fights with everybody around him, fights with his colleagues, fights with his superiors, and eventually he gets her the job. And in 1967, Damyanti Hingorani becomes Ford Motor Company’s first ever female engineer. It was a great story, honored in Time magazine pretty recently because it inspires people. It inspired other immigrants. It inspired women in the workforce. And it’s the story that has inspired me the most because Damyanti Hingorani is my mom. And had a middle manager from suburban Michigan had not taken a chance on a refugee from the other side of the world, then, Pete, I wouldn’t be here right now chatting with you. I wouldn’t be able to share any of this with you.

So, my final message to anybody who’s listening is, hey, as we get out into the world now, let’s think about how to make ourselves backable but let’s also think about how to find good people and help them become backable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Suneel, what a beautiful closing note. Powerful stuff. Thank you so much for spending the time and sharing the goods. I wish you lots of luck in your backable adventures.

Suneel Gupta
Well, thanks so much, Pete.

707: Amy Edmondson on How to Build Thriving Teams with Psychological Safety

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Amy Edmondson shares how to boost psychological safety and high performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the average non-toxic organization is still ineffective 
  2. The crucial belief that makes us more courageous
  3. How we unknowingly make and break psychological safety 

About Amy

Amy C. Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, a chair established to support the study of human interactions that lead to the betterment of society. 

Edmondson has been recognized by the biannual Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers since 2011, receiving the organization’s Breakthrough Idea Award in 2019, and Talent Award in 2017.  She studies teaming, psychological safety, and organizational learning. Her articles have been published in numerous academic and management outlets. Her most recent book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth  (Wiley, 2019), offers a practical guide for organizations serious about success in the modern economy and has been translated into 11 languages. Her prior books – Teaming: How organizations learn, innovate and compete in the knowledge economy (Jossey-Bass, 2012),  Teaming to Innovate  (Jossey-Bass, 2013) and  Extreme Teaming  (Emerald, 2017) – explore teamwork in dynamic organizational environments.

Before her academic career, she was Director of Research at Pecos River Learning Centers, where she worked on transformational change in large companies. Edmondson received her PhD in organizational behavior, AM in psychology, and AB in engineering and design from Harvard University. 

 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

Amy Edmondson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Amy, thanks for joining us here on How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Amy Edmondson
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so excited to be speaking to you. You’ve been on our list for years, and so here we are. And so, I’m excited to dig into all of your wisdom, or as much as we can get, within the time we have available on psychological safety. But, first, I think we need to hear about you and competitive sailing. What’s the story here?

Amy Edmondson
How did that come up? I must’ve answered a question somewhere. Well, I was a competitive sailor as a child, not as much as a child can be, with my great friend Beth Haffner. We’d sail and race all summer and had a wonderful time. Then I sailed and raced in college, and then I took about 35 years off but started up again maybe six years ago. And it’s great fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. So, now I’m curious, when it comes to competing, what is the nature of the event and the competition? And is there a team? What’s your style here?

Amy Edmondson
Yes. So, I compete only in the summer, in a small community in Maine where I’ve gone for many, many years. And I compete in a Sonar with two teammates, and there are only nine boats in the fleet, so that’s the limit to our competition. We race Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons in July and August.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And are things going pretty well, competitively speaking?

Amy Edmondson
Well, as a matter of fact, we just won the season.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-done.

Amy Edmondson
Yeah, thank you. It’s teamwork, it’s all about the teamwork and the psychological safety, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. All right. Well, yes, let’s talk about psychological safety. First of all, well, I guess, whenever I hear your name, I think psychological safety, and vice versa. So, maybe first and foremost, can you give us your official definition? What do we mean when we say psychological safety?

Amy Edmondson
Well, recently, I’ve been thinking the best way to say this is just a sense of permission for candor. And the reason I say permission is that I don’t want to imply that psychological safety means it’s easy to speak up about, potentially, challenging issues, disagreements, or crazy ideas, or questions, or mistakes. But that there’s a belief that it’s feasible, expected, desirable, that people won’t think less well of you for it. So, permission for candor.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s a great distinction because I’ve heard it said elsewhere, a definition of psychological safety is the belief that you are able to say whatever is on your mind without fear of a negative reaction. And I thought, “Hmm, I don’t have that relationship with almost anybody.”

Amy Edmondson
Right. At least without fear of being marginalized or penalized in some way. We all are human and we will have negative reactions to disagreement or certain kinds of bad news. It’s just our emotions will kick in quite quickly. But if we’re thoughtful and we’re a good team and we’re committed to doing the best we can, we will catch ourselves, and say, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Just because you just said something unwelcomed doesn’t mean I should shun you or think less well of you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. So, not marginalized, not penalized, not shunned, not thought less well of. But naturally, someone might say something and you think that they are mistaken, and you maybe even feel underappreciated that they would bring up such a thing, but you’re not going to, like, punish them over that even if you have a difficult interaction.

Amy Edmondson
Right. And I think that’s easier to do if you have an honest appreciation of what you’re up against, meaning the nature of the work requires stumbles and falls along the way. If you’re talking about doing something that’s utterly routine and well-understood and well-known, then maybe your expectation should be of only perfect comments and only perfect performance.

But if you’re doing work, like most of us are, where there’s lots of potential for wrong turns and screw ups along the way to greatness, then that’s just part and parcel of what we’re doing here. So, it helps to have a clear-eyed sense of what we’re up against and what we’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then, tell us, that sounds like a pleasant thing, “Oh, yeah, psychological safety, I’d like to have that with my friends, family, colleagues, collaborators,” but more than just a sort of nice to have and pleasant vibe, psychological safety has huge implications for performance. Can you share with us a little bit about that relationship and some of the most compelling bits of data or stories?

Amy Edmondson
Sure. It’s funny because the variable, the measure of psychological safety that I’ve developed 20 years ago, it’s been around in the research literature for a long time, but it’s now been more widely used in company settings and so, in other words, we have more and more data on some of the benefits of psychological safety.

Probably, the most visible, widely read that they’ve done at Google called Project Aristotle, and that was about five years ago. And the study set out, it didn’t set out to study psychological safety, it set out to try to figure out what are the key factors associated with differences in teams at Google, so they studied 180 teams. It turns out they tested about 250 different variables, and psychological safety emerged as the number one predictor of performance in teams, so the number one sort of explainer of variance across teams.

And I think it’s a strong statement to say that surprised them because if you’re looking for something, it’s easier to find it. If you’re not looking for it, it’s almost a more compelling discovery when it pops up as the factor that really helps explain these differences. One of the things I like about that study, too, is that it shows very clearly that there were differences, differences in performance and differences in effectiveness across teams at Google.

So, it helps us see that this is something that varies across teams even in the same corporate culture, and that’s important because we then can be very clear about the fact that psychological safety isn’t just mirroring the culture. It’s climate. It’s interpersonal climate. And even in a very strong or very interesting or healthy corporate culture, you can still have differences in interpersonal climate, differences in just subtle willingness to be candid, to speak up, or to not hold back.

Sometimes I think it’s easier to explain that the absence of psychological safety is basically a preference for, “Oh, I’ll just wait and see. I’ll hold back and maybe things will clarify, and then maybe I’ll speak up.” But that’s an awful lot of cognitive work. So, putting that aside, so the Google study is a good study of the nice relationship between psychological safety and performance, and many others.

One of my favorite studies that I did, which was in a healthcare delivery setting in intensive care unit setting, 23 North American hospitals, 23 intensive care units, we found a statistically, significant relationship between psychological safety and quality improvement. So, the ability over time for teams to improve the quality of care, which was ultimately associated with lower rates of morbidity and mortality, that’s harm and death, so that’s a pretty strong one where life and death are concerned. There are many others though. They’re now really hundreds of studies that have relationships to things like performance, learning behavior, quality improvement, you name it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s a nice overview. Thank you. Could you now perhaps paint a picture of kind of across, I know I’m sure it’ll vary greatly, well, hey, even relationship by relationship, let alone team by team or workplace by workplace. But kind of, roughly speaking, what’s the median average-ish level of psychological safety in workplaces today in the US? And I don’t know if you want to give me a number or paint a picture for kind of like the theme or the vibe.

Amy Edmondson
Yeah, I’ll paint a picture.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s the typical psychological safety story in a workplace these days?

Amy Edmondson
Well, it’s probably a fool’s errand to try to say what’s typical because there’s so much variability. And even during this difficult time of COVID, there’s been extraordinary variability in terms of some places. I think that the rallying together to do what people can to sort of make things work during these difficult times has created the stronger sense of a bond and more psychological safety where people realize, “Yeah, it’s okay for me to say what I’m thinking and to get help when I need help, and that’s acceptable now.”

But in other places, I think where people, especially in workplaces where people are being asked to do things they might not be comfortable doing, one could arguably say that psychological safety has gone down. I strongly believe that, in most organizations, there’s still variance across groups. And this is, in part, because psychological safety is a very local thing that this team might have and that team doesn’t, and that may mean, this is really a middle manager thing, or team leader effect more than, say, a CEO effect, and that’s very much been the case in all of the datasets that I’m aware of.

But, still, I’m dodging your question, saying it depends, there’s lots of variance, some people have it better than others. And, yet, there’s no question in my mind that, nowadays and even before the pandemic, it’s not high enough. So, I think it’s fair to say that very few workplaces have as much psychological safety as would be optimal in terms of helping people do their very best work and helping people team up effectively and solve problems.

Fortunately, the average workplace, I’d say, is not one that’s incredibly toxic or incredibly fearful where there’s a complete focus on self-protection as opposed to on the mission or on what our colleagues need from us and, really, a state of fear. I think that it’s out there, for sure, but it’s not the dominant workplace.

And then I would say there’s few where it’s just extraordinarily high where people are candid and aware of their fallibility but ambitious about what they might do together, and they sort of engage in dissenting views and conflict and problem-solving without fear of reprisal. That’s the other end of the spectrum. In the middle is a whole range of places where, in fact, it’s not toxic, it’s not terrible, but, on average, there’s still too much holding back. People are holding back their ideas, their perspectives, trying to look good in front of their colleagues, their managers, and it limits their ability to contribute.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the “average” or “typical,” which is hard to do, looks like not just straight up abusive hardcore toxicity and fear rampant, but plenty of people holding back in order to look good and concerned about speaking up, and could be harmful or problematic to them. So, I guess I’m curious, if we think about making the leap from kind of “average” or “typical” the suboptimal picture that most of us find ourselves into, versus approaching best in class, well, maybe could you give us a cool case study of do we have a transformation there in terms of what was it like before and what was the vibe like after? And then how did that translate into some results?

Amy Edmondson
So, one of the great turnaround stories, and I do write about this in some detail in The Fearless Organization is Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo-American, which is a mining company in South Africa. And when she became CEO, which is already a stunning thing because the first woman CEO and so forth, she was appalled to discover the degree of worker accidents and even deaths.

And so, she decided to make that her mission to profoundly transform the performance on this crucial dimension of workplace safety. And to do this, she realized pretty quickly that she needed people to be speaking up, speaking up about unsafe conditions, speaking up when they’re being asked to do something that’s unsafe, or when they’re sort of aware of a hazard.

Not easy to do because it’s been decades, even generations, of not being heard and not being listened to and feeling that you just go in there, you do your job, and that’s that. It was a pretty stunning kind of intervention, got everybody in the stadium and got them talking in a new way, and was able to kind of apply that into the workforce and turn this around and make a dramatic difference.

Here’s a very different context. SED, one of the largest Nordic banks, did a sort of, I wouldn’t call it as a dramatic turnaround because I don’t think they weren’t in real trouble, but senior leaders were aware that the financial services industry was changing, more fintech players, more innovative. And the executive who ran the risk group decided, that psychological safety for speaking up about potential risks.

Because when people just feel like, “Ooh, maybe I’m wrong,” and they hold back and they’re not confident enough that their superiors want to listen to them, the bank is more vulnerable to risks. And so, that was a very thoughtful turnaround of that unit, and then it started to spread to other business units in the bank as well. So, that was a fun one to write about.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. All right. So, that’s sort of the picture there. And I’d love it, in terms of sort of the practical how-to, if folks are in organizations and they want to improve the psychological safety for themselves and others in their teams, what are some great starting points or key practices that make all the differences?

Amy Edmondson
A way to answer that question, in terms of both as a starting point and a practice that makes a difference, is start with the work, start with how the performance goals that you share, what they look like and what they require so that we’re not doing this just for the sake of doing it, or because we’re interested in culture change per se, but we articulate sort of why the work we do needs us to behave and show up in a different way.

So, articulating goals that matter, that are motivating, that are energizing, and then kind of having some discussion about why achieving those goals requires people to voice their ideas, to challenge each other, to be open about failures, is sort of the next logical step. And then I think it’s really important not to dictate how we’re doing to do this but to invite people to sort of suggest some things that they think might work, that might help them have an easier time offering their ideas or asking questions. And then start testing some of those suggestions, and just keeping it in the context.

I’m advocating not for, “Let’s go offline and learn some things,” but, “Let’s practice some new ways of talking and being while doing our work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That sounds good. So, that’s a nice thing to kick it off and kind of get folks engaged, rallied around that goal, and it makes sense. It’s not some extra thing, but it really has impact on what we’re trying to do here. That’s cool. And then I’m curious about just sort of like the basic ways in which we talk to and interact with each other. Like, what are some dos and don’ts in terms of kind of offering feedback, asking for input, responding to failure? I think some of us might need a pretty dramatic re-programming of just the way we talk to people.

Amy Edmondson
That’s a great way to put it and it’s hard. I struggle with this question. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about it. But I struggle because there’s no easy answer. It’s, “How do you do re-programming?” And I talk a lot, I think a lot about framing and I talk about reframing. So, framing is something we do all the time as human beings. We think we’re sort of under the illusion that we’re seeing reality. We’re not. We’re seeing reality filtered through our own beliefs and all the rest.

And sometimes our frames are really obsolete. There are frames that we inherited from an earlier era, an era when the relationship between kind of effort and results was more straightforward. You tried really hard; you’d get the results because the formula was pretty clear. Follow the recipe, you get the results.

And as an increasing portion of the work doesn’t really conform to that simple frame, we have to explicitly and deliberately reframe which is another way of saying re-reprogram to help ourselves really appreciate that we’re fallible human beings in a complex uncertain interconnected world. Those are conditions that will necessarily give rise to the unexpected and the undesired and, also, some, now and then, happier surprises.

So, that re-programming, in a way, it helps us get over ourselves. We’ve got to shed the idea that we need to be perfect. We’ve got to shed the idea that we need to look good all the time. And I know, I suspect most listeners don’t think, when they say, well, I’m not telling I need to be perfect or I need to look good all the time, but, in subtle ways, we’re acting as if that’s the case. We’re holding back too often. We’re putting the threshold for when we should speak up higher than it needs to be.

And so, to do this re-programming, I think it’s a lot of having a kind of cheerful recognition that you’re a fallible human being in a fast-paced uncertain ambiguous world, and then, “Ooh, if I really appreciated that that was the case, how would I show up? Well, I’d ask a lot more questions. I’d be a lot more curious.”

So, the re-programming starts with that kind of clear-eyed acceptance of reality and realizing that might be different than how we kind of tacitly think about reality. And then forcing ourselves to be curious, which then allows us to do what I think is the most important thing of all, which is to ask more questions, genuine questions, like you’re doing. You’re asking me questions, and then you are quietly listening to the answers. If only real life were like this, not just podcast life.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, that would be nice. And so then, that’s a great frame for starters in terms of, well, boy, say it again. I’m a fallible human in a changing…that’s so good. Let’s hear it again.

Amy Edmondson
Okay. And I might not say it the same way twice, but I’m a fallible human being living in a fast-changing uncertain interdependent world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, tell you what, just sitting with that, for me, in this moment, is just bringing a sigh of relief, you know, in terms of like I can let go of a lot of pressure, stress, expectation that need not be there.

Amy Edmondson
Right. I’m the same way. I talk about this, but do I practice it consistently? No. In fact, I have this to-do list that I started with this morning. It’s utterly unrealistic. There’s no way I can, you know, get, “Oh, I’ll finish a chapter, I’ll have this wonderful time with you.” It’s crazy. But I do it every day as if. And then I feel bad about not getting through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And then if you really do internalize that conviction, it’s like if someone…even though someone does kind of disrespect you with regard to, it’s like, “Really, Pete, that’s on page four of the briefing document. Like, that was a really stupid question and I’m appalled that you asked,” in that tone of voice, face, which is where I think about this, the violations of psychological safety left and right.

You can feel better about that, it’s like, “Okay, yeah. Well, yeah, fair enough. I should’ve read the briefing document before making…that’s true. Easy mistake I made,” but that doesn’t mean I’m bad or a loser or worthless, a team member who doesn’t belong here. It doesn’t mean any of those things. It’s just like, “Yeah, I made a mistake. We all do it. Yeah, moving on.”

Amy Edmondson
Right. And I’m not a fan of making the same silly mistake multiple times in a row. We do have to learn from and keep striving to do better, but I imagine most people feel that way as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I would love it if there are any particular words or phrases that you see and love in psychologically safe organizations versus see and really irk you in not so psychologically safe organizations because I think there’s just a lot of little subtle ways that psychological safety is built and destroyed. Just for example, one of mine is when someone says “Obviously,” I really don’t like that because it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t know that I must be an idiot.” That’s one of my pet peeves.

Amy Edmondson
That’s a beautiful example.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think most people need not say the word obviously in most of their business communications, but that’s just sort of my hobby horse.

Amy Edmondson
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
You tell me, Amy. What are some of yours?

Amy Edmondson
No, that’s a really good one. And, because with compassion, it can be a habit. So, it’s a very counterproductive word to use in interpersonal communication for the reasons you just articulated. And I’m aware that I accidentally do use it sometimes because my brain speaks that way to me, and then I use it. So, that’s okay as long as we can sort of catch and correct and occasionally laugh at ourselves for doing that. And I sometimes will, I’ll use the word, like obviously, and then I’ll stop and say, “Oh, no. So, if it were obvious, I wouldn’t say it,” or it wouldn’t be a nice way to say it anyway.

Another one is “To be honest.” I mean, crazy to say that because it basically invalidates so much of the prior conversation we might have. So, if I say “To be honest,” it’s like, “Wait a minute. Was everything up until now not really honest?” And so, these kinds of things can be well-meaning but problematic. It’s such a good question that you just asked that I’m going to now commit to creating a list.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please let us know and we’ll link it in the show notes and share it if we can when the time comes.

Amy Edmondson
Perfect. That’s a good idea. That’s a good idea because I do love studying conversations, studying the actual exchange of words, and noting those problematic triggers that sort of indicate, any word that indicate, “Oh, you’re supposed to have known that already,” or, “Your question isn’t really welcome,” you name it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Yeah, those are good categories right there, like, “Your question isn’t really welcome.” We think that, “You’re dumb. I think you’re dumb because you said that.” I remember once, I was working on a project in retail, and, again, it’s these little things. And so, it was a major department store, this was a consulting project, it was a major department store, and we were learning about size packs, which was a new concept to me in terms of, like, if you buy it from a clothing designer, I don’t even know if this still works this way, but you can choose from size packs.

So, a size pack might have four extra larges, ten larges, three mediums. And that was really surprising to me, and I was like, “Wait a minute. So, we’re a huge department store client, right? And we got these clothing suppliers…?”

Amy Edmondson
Pretty limited, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“We can just tell them, no, I want exactly these many smalls, mediums, and larges. Like, really, size packs? Like, why do we do that?” And I remember the partner on the case looked at me, and he said, “Are you serious?” Like, he genuinely didn’t know if I was trying to make a joke, but I really wasn’t. But when he said that, I was like, “Oh, apparently, that was a phenomenally stupid thing to say.” And I still don’t know why to this day, I’m like, “If you’ve got the market power, shouldn’t your suppliers give you what you want?” I don’t know, but maybe there’s a logistical supplier reason and trucks or packaging or something less known.

Amy Edmondson
Well, it’s easier for them, clearly. But, “Are you serious? Because, as you said, “Are you serious?” as a sarcastic statement, which it may have been, is problematic. But if it were genuine, I’m in favor, “I just need to check, I’m not sure. Are you serious or are you…?” so, anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yeah.

Amy Edmondson
The genuineness really matters.

Pete Mockaitis
It was genuine. And then I think that’s another layer to this psychological safety stuff. It’s like you could be speaking perfectly safely, and someone could still receive it negatively.
So, for example, that partner said, “Are you serious?” and even if it was genuine, he was like, “Are you serious?” And I really was, but the fact that he sounded serious made me think, “Oh, apparently, this is so obvious I’m a moron.”

Amy Edmondson
Yeah, right, that’s true. That’s true. And then you backed down.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the conclusion I leapt to but that’s on me. He didn’t demean me or he wasn’t rude to me.

Amy Edmondson
Yes, that’s great. That’s on you. That’s you withdrawing and feeling, “Oops, just slightly less safe,” expressing your thoughts about this work-related matter, even though technically it wasn’t his fault because you put sort of that embarrassment on yourself, you said, “Oh, I guess this is something I’m supposed to know. And maybe I stepped out, I tiptoed out, and it didn’t work out well, so now I’m going back into my shelf.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that happened. And I guess I’m curious, given that human beings with our varied triggers and hot buttons and sensitivities, that can happen, any pro tips for dealing with that and trying to continue building psychological safety given that reality?

Amy Edmondson
Yes. Interpersonal skills are skills that we can continue to develop our whole lives. I don’t think anyone ever perfects them. And the interpersonal skill that I’m deeply interested in, because of its relationship to mutual learning, is that ability to kind of have an honest conversation, especially about a misunderstanding, like in that moment. Now, don’t think you want to do a deep dive in every crosswire that might happen throughout the workday, but, occasionally, that one really stuck with you, that really struck you.

Pete Mockaitis
This was a decade ago, yeah.

Amy Edmondson
You were puzzled by it. It stuck with you. And so, occasionally, really, it’s worth saying, “Hold on, could we do a quick timeout here?” or maybe if we’re too busy now, “I’d love to talk about this later. I need to understand better. Here’s how I was seeing it. Am I really missing a sort of area of expertise in this industry that I need to develop? Or, might this possibly be an area of innovation that we could work on together?” And so, that’s the substance.

And then the interpersonal substance is, “I felt bad and maybe even assumed that my ignorance was glaring in that moment when you said that, but I understand why you said it.” So, that we can sort of start to develop working relationships with people where we understand each other’s needs better, and then we’re better able to learn together.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is good. And, as I imagine, I’m sure there’s all kinds of potential sensible explanations under the surface, like, “Oh, I’ve been working in this industry for 20 years, so size packs are just like second nature to me.” But, yeah, yet you might think that…whatever. So, I could see how that unfolds. And then, over time, certainly, that feels great in terms of relationships being strengthened by engaging in these exchanges. All right. Well, then could you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Amy Edmondson
“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work,” and that’s, of course, Thomas Edison. And it’s this notion that in new territory, which all of us are in, more and more frequently nowadays, we reframe. We have to reframe how we’re thinking about the things that go wrong so that we actually understand them as progress toward the things that are going to go right. So, that’s one in terms of the substance and just sort of feeling better about ourselves when things don’t go the way we had hoped.

The other one is a quote from Abraham Lincoln that I adore because it speaks to this interpersonal realm. And he said, “I don’t like that man very much. I must get to know him better.” To me, that’s a very profound statement. Most of us, “I decide I don’t like someone. I’m going to, okay, I don’t like him. I’m going to go spend time with other people.” It doesn’t occur to me, instantaneously, to think, “I don’t like him. I guess I don’t understand him well yet. If I understood where he’s coming from and what he cares about and his hopes and dreams, I’d like him.”

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Amy Edmondson
I’ll have to say that a favorite study was the study that didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, was the first real project I did as a graduate student, as a PhD student, where I was trying to show the better teams in a healthcare delivery setting had fewer errors, and the data, once I had it and analyzed it, seem to suggest the opposite. In other words, the better teams, according to the team survey instrument, had higher not lower error rates, like, “What? What’s going on?”

Well, that was the surprise, undesired result that led, ultimately, to you and I having this conversation today because I was able to figure out that, right away, with a lot of extra work, that the reason for this result was that the better teams were more open, more honest, more willing to report error, and so it looked like they had the worst error rates. But, in fact, we don’t know the denominator, we don’t know what the real error rate was for any of those teams, but we did find out, ultimately, they had very different interpersonal climates, which I would then call psychological safety.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote back to you often?

Amy Edmondson
Leader is a position, leadership is an activity. Anyone can exercise leadership.

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

Amy Edmondson
AmyCEdmondson.com or Harvard Business School Faculty page, HBS.edu. Go to Amy Edmondson there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Amy Edmondson
Ask more questions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amy, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you many fun adventures in sailing and more.

Amy Edmondson
Thank you. It’s been a treat talking with you.