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586: Insights on Working from Home’s Largest-Ever Experiment with Nicholas Bloom

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Nicholas Bloom says: "Working from home is going to be here for a long time... we're in the long haul."

Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom shares insights from the largest study on working from home to show how to adjust to the new world of work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four key findings from the largest study on working from home
  2. What the ideal work from home week looks like
  3. Why this isn’t the end of the office

 

About Nicholas

Nicholas (Nick) Bloom is a Professor of Economics at Stanford University, and a Co-Director of the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research focuses on management practices and uncertainty. He previously worked at the UK Treasury and McKinsey & Company. His work has been covered in a range of media including the New York TimesWall Street JournalBBCEconomist and Financial Times.

On the personal side he is English living with his Scottish Wife and American kids – a multi-lingual English household on Stanford campus.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nicholas Bloom Interview Transcript

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

Nicholas Bloom
Very happy to be here. Thank you for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to get into your wisdom in the world of working from home. And I understand that when you’re working from home, one issue that presents itself frequently is the bagpipe playing in the house. What’s the story here?

Nicholas Bloom
Well, before this podcast started, it was delayed by about 5 or 10 minutes as, Pete, I did not know just from trying to ask my older son who was practicing the bagpipe next door. My wife is Scottish. In fact, my mother is Scottish too, so there’s quite a lot of bagpipe activity going on in our house, and it’s just unbelievably noisy. You may think it’s romantic when you hear it outside the tower of London or something or Edinburgh Castle, but when it’s in your house and it’s over and over again, the same song being played repeatedly with like a different mistake each time.

So, yeah. And I live out in California and it’s a wood-built house because of the earthquake risk but, unfortunately, it has no sound insulation so I think it’s not just me that’s tortured by the bagpipe, I think most of my neighbors in the street can hear the same thing. But, you know, it does highlight, I think we’ll come onto it, the challenges of working from home right now with our kids in the house.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, it’s funny, I think with the bagpipes, I’m thinking about an episode of Better Call Saul in which he was trying to get himself fired one of the things he did was play the bagpipes in the law office, and it contributed to getting him fired. So, that’s a little take-home message for being awesome at your job is be careful about playing the bagpipes in the office if that were an issue for anybody, that’s covered.

Well, we’re talking about working from home. You did quite the study on working from home. I’d like it if we started there and then we fast-forward to the current situation where there’s a lot of working from home going on. It’s a little bit different. So, could you tell us the tale of your Ctrip study?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes. And I should say, actually, for anyone listening that has an intransigent manager or maybe other partners in your business that are anti working from home, you should feel free to forward on the TEDx Talk that I gave, it’s on YouTube, that I received many emails from people that’s saying, “You know, my manager, she didn’t believe working from home, and so I sent her.” So, I’ll tell you the story, and it’s really, this is the summary of the video.

So, back in 2010, I teach in Stanford University, I’m the professor there, and I had someone in the back of my class who turned out quite amazingly to be the co-founder of a huge Chinese multinational, Ctrip. It’s listed on NASDAQ. It’s worth about $15 billion. The guy was called James Liang, and he basically founded this company, and he was worth almost a billion dollars at this point. He decided to kind of step back and become the chairman and take a Ph.D.

But Ctrip had this big challenge which is they’re in Shanghai, their headquarters, and they were growing very fast but they were struggling to keep up with office space, so as they grew they didn’t want to have to spend huge amounts of money on very expensive Shanghai office space. So, working with them, he set up what’s called a randomized control trial on working from home. So, quite explicitly, they asked a thousand people in the firm who wanted to work from home four out of five days a week, 500 of them signed up, it’s already indicative that 500 people did not want to work from home.

And so, sticking with the 500, they then formally randomized them home to office over the next nine months. So, James on TV, in front of a huge crowd, pulled a ping-pong ball out of an urn and it said, “Even,” and everyone with an even birthday, so if you’re born on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, etc., tenth of the month, worked from home for the next nine months. And if you’re odd, so like me, I’m the fifth of May, you stayed in the office. And it was a way to scientifically evaluate the impact of working from home on these employees.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. So, I mean, that’s pretty thorough as far as exploring this phenomenon goes. I mean, it’s better than an office of eight people, said, “Hey, let’s give this a shot for a few weeks and see how it goes.” No, no, we’ve got some randomization, we got a large sample size. Tell us, what happened?

Nicholas Bloom
So, yes, on thorough. I mean, as far as I’m aware, it’s still, to date, the only large-scale scientific evaluation of this. My father actually does drugs testing, so it’s very much modeled on the way you would test a drug before you roll it out formally. The Federal Drug Administration requires formal randomized control trials.

So, what did we find? We found four key things. The first was, quite amazingly, working from home significantly improved performance. So, performance of home-based workers went up by 13% which is huge. That’s like almost an extra day a week, completely against what Ctrip expected.

Pete Mockaitis
I was thinking about, now, in Ctrip, this is a travel agency. And how are we measuring performance in that context?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. They’re not professionals in the sense that they’re not managers. They’re people that are making telephone calls, making bookings, so in that sense, it’s very easy to measure performance because you can look at the number of calls and bookings, they actually have quality metrics. The downside we’ll come on to later hopefully in the podcast is, of course, they’re not creating new content. And so, working from home is more challenging for that. In terms of executing, we had amazing performance data.

And so, in terms of basically total phone calls since the quality is unchanged and for the bookings, that was up 13% which is huge. And then you ask, “Where did this improvement come from?” Well, of the 13%, about a quarter, so 3.5%, came from the fact they were just more productive per minute. We did a lot of interviews and focus groups, the stories they would tell us is, “Look, it’s just quieter at home.” And the story that resonated with me in particular is this woman that said, “You know, in the office, in the cubicle next door to me, the woman, she, like, clips her toenails in the office and it’s disgusting.”

Pete Mockaitis
Every day? How much toenail have you got? Maybe weekly or bi-weekly.

Nicholas Bloom
And she has obviously very finely-clipped toenails. And the woman said, “She thinks I don’t notice but I tell you, I notice. I see her picking up that clipper and putting it below the desk,” or there’s a cake in the breakout, or a world cup sweepstakes. So, I’m sure, everyone listening has plenty of experience of why it’s noisy in the office. And, believe it or not, on average, people are actually focusing better at home.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a quarter of them just cranked out more work in the same per minute.

Nicholas Bloom
Yup, they were more efficient. So, that’s a quarter of that. And then you’re like, “Well, where did the other three got the uplift?” So, the majority is they’re actually working more minutes. So, I should be clear, for this group, it’s not that they used their commute time because they’re actually on shift work so they’re supposed to be 9:00 to 5:00 Mondays through Fridays. What you see is in the office, they don’t actually start work at 9:00, they often start working at 9:10 because the bus is late, or the motorcycle breaks down, or they take long lunch breaks, they take long tea breaks, they even take longer to get to the toilet. So, just quite practically at home, the toilet is in the room next door. In the office, you’ve got to walk a long distance.

And so, that explains about half of the uplift. So, they’re basically working more minutes per day, they’re working their full shifts. Then the remaining quarter is they’re working more days because they take less sick leave. And, again, when we interviewed people, they’d say, “You know, often, I wasn’t that sick when I took that day off. I just wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to come in and suddenly get worse, but when I was working from home, now, I actually just kept going.”

And sometimes they’d say, “By lunchtime, it got worse and so I’d stop, and other times I’d work the day.” Or, there were other stories we’ve heard about, they say things like, “I wasn’t sick at all but I needed to have the cable repair guy come, so I took a day off.” So, collectively, performance was just massively up 13%. It’s a huge increase. So, that was fact one.

Fact two, again, very positive was quit rates are halved. So, for Ctrip, quit rates and churn is a huge problem. They had 50% of their staff leave every year. So, for anyone that’s listening, ever recruited or trained somebody, you know how painful that process is, they then turn around and nine months later leave. So, their quit rate from 50% down to 25% from home-based workers. And the reason was, again, they just said, “We’re happier,” on average like working from home.

The third finding, which is the one negative piece, is promotion rates also dropped. They dropped to almost half, so that’s kind of worrying. And, in fact, we interviewed them and three different drivers came out. One was the most obvious, the most worrying, is that out of sight, out of mind, “I’m at home. My manager has forgotten about me. I’ve been passed over.”

A second version of that was we heard it more from managers actually, said, “Look, you kind of got to be in the office, to some extent, to pick up on the office culture, to know what’s going on, to know what your colleagues are doing, to understand the strategy.” And so, that time it may feel like wasted chatting and lunch and coffee, actually some of it is quite valuable and is an input into management.

And then the third possible story we heard a bit, the least of all, is occasionally people will tell us they actually turn down being promoted because they didn’t want to come back into the office, “I so enjoy working from home, I turned it down.”

Tips for people that are full-time working from home, or four out of five days a week, if the rest of the office is in the office, with COVID everyone is at home so we’re all on equal footing, but if you’re the only person full-time working from home, I think there is some risks of being passed over for promotion. And then, I should say the final finding, which again is very relevant to policy, was at the end of the nine-month experiment, Ctrip was incredibly happy. So, profits went up by $2,000 per person per year, so they were like, “This is great.” So, they rolled it out to the whole company but they also let everyone involved in the experiment to reoptimize.

So, all these people who have decided to work from home or not, they’ve been randomized. Basically, a year later, they said, “Well, look, it’s work, but you can change your mind every other day, but you can change your mind.” And as it turned out, around 60% of people actually changed their minds. There’s a huge number of people who previously wanted to work from home who’d told us, “Look, it gets very lonely, it gets very isolating,” or they fell victim to one of the three great enemies of working from home, which are the fridge, the bed, and the television. They came back into the office, and other people said, “Oh, I actually saw my colleagues work quite well at home and I’d like to instead come in and move home myself.”

So, there’s enormous churn. And what we saw in the data was when you let people choose, their performance uplift from working from home went up to over 20%. What’s going on is people that tried it out and it didn’t work that well, came back into the office, and people that tried it out and it really did work, they can deal with the loneliness and isolation and performed well, they stuck at home. So, the final lesson is choice really matters.

I’ll talk about it later, I’ve been running a lot of surveys currently on the COVID on people’s preferences in working from home, and there is a huge variation. So, younger people without kids tend to want to go in the office most days. Older people with kids tend to want to work from home most days. Very few people want to do all at home or all in the office, and people often change their minds. They just don’t know how they’re going to like it. So, choice is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ooh, well, thanks for giving us the rundown, and that’s interesting. That expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill,” it’s like, “The grass is greener 60% of the time on the other side of the hill according to this study.” And that’s really striking in terms of, yes, we’re in a bit of a different context now. Not as many people looking to have the evidence to make the pitch to be allowed to work from home, but tuck this away for when the time comes and you want more of it, we’ve got those evidence points.

So, let’s fast-forward to here, now, today. Choice isn’t so much something that’s working to our advantage anymore. Many of us are in a place where it’s like that is the only option is you will be working from home in the midst of the pandemic. So, tell us, what’s the latest you’re finding with your surveys, and how we’re dealing, and how maybe we can deal better?

Nicholas Bloom
Sure. So, right now, it’s just the total change from before. So, working from home, I think, there’s really three phases, and we’re in the middle phase. So, there was before COVID, and before COVID, around 5% of working days were full-time at home, so that’s pretty rare. In fact, only 15% of Americans even ever worked from home, so most people didn’t get to even have a single day working from home. So, 15% of us did and, on average, we were spending one in three days at home. So, pretty unusual.

If you look at who was doing it, it’s pretty varied by gender and age. They tended to be graduates, basically, managers, professionals, graduates. Now, under COVID, as everyone can appreciate, it’s very different now, 40% of working days are at home, so there’s an eightfold increase. In fact, if you look at the other 60% of the labor force, they’re roughly equally split between people working on business premises and those that are not working. So, actually, more than half of people that are currently working are actually working from home. The U.S. economy is like a working from home economy. But it’s very, very challenging. It’s not a great scenario.

So, the four big challenges right now, there’s kids. I have four kids myself and, as we discussed earlier, they’re playing instruments. My youngest, she’s four, she keeps bursting into the room. That’s really hard. Facilities, I’m actually in a spare room so I’m kind of lucky. I’m in the minority of Americans that have their own private room that isn’t a bedroom, but in survey data, 51% of people are basically sharing rooms or in a bedroom. Or another two-thirds of people have great internet. The remaining third have problems with internet, so facilities are a big issue.

The third issue right now is choice. So, basically, anyone working from home, they didn’t get the choice, “The office just closed and we’re going to send you home.” And it turns out, that’s a big issue because a lot of people really don’t like working from home. And then the final challenge right now is we’re doing it full-time, which, before COVID, it was really rare, so only 2% of people ever work from home full-time. Now, it’s 40%. It’s very isolating.

Interestingly enough, in China, in the Ctrip experience, the period we’re in now, which is about three months in, was actually the best period. It’s when people are the happiest. It’s like the euphoric honeymoon period. So, I’ve been talking to dozens of firms and individuals over the last two-three months because I basically spend about most of my time working on working from home. Firms are generally very positive, but I fear it’s going to wane a little bit as we roll on. So, that’s now very widespread, but it’s not great.

The sweet spot is looking ahead. So, right now, it’s funny you mentioned the evidence away of working from home. Right now, I’ve seen a number of companies that are thinking quite seriously about the long term. So, now, three months in, there’s major decisions. And you probably noticed, like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon have all made public statements about their long-run plans. And what’s by far the most common thing, which actually looks fantastic, is most firms have said, “Working from home is really great. We’ve very happy with it, and we’re going to extend it out even beyond the pandemic, and we are likely to let people do it part-time.”

So, the typical person, they get to work in the office Monday, Wednesday, Friday, be at home Tuesday, Thursday, which, for many people, is the best of both worlds. You save a couple of days on commute, a bit less hassle, you got peace and quiet, but you see your colleagues throughout five days a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s kind of my sense. I’ve been working from home for about a decade in my running my business here, and I do get lonely at times, and would like colleagues at times, and have been tempted to pay for co-working space just to see people. But then what it really comes down to, it’s like, “Oh, man, but then I’ve got to commute out there and they don’t have a napping space right there.”

So, anyway. But I’d love to get your view, well, you mentioned it. I guess choice matters and people have different perspectives. Is there an optimal with regard to the days, one day, two days, consecutive, non-consecutive?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. So, I’ll give you three broad tips, and then I’d drill into the one that you want to hear most about. So, the three broad tips I’ve been telling firms, repeating, I think it’s becoming like a consensus. Every firm I talk to kind of affirms the same view. So, the first is part-time. I have lots of survey data, I won’t go through in details, but basically most people want to work from home something like one to three days a week. Only 20% of people want to work from home full-time, only 25% of people want to be in the office full-time. So, the vast majority of us want a mix. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

So, the first thing is part-time. The second thing is make it optional. So, I would strongly advise against forcing anything on anyone. You’re probably going to have to have some mandatory days in the office, so I wouldn’t probably let, in the long run, anyone be at home five days a week, but you may say, “Look, you can do anything from two to five days a week in the office, and how you split it is your choice.” And then, finally, I think it’s a perk, not an entitlement, which means if people goof off, you give them a warning. And if they goof again, you haul them back into the office. So, those are the three key tips.

On the first, coming back to the number of days, there are broad advices, something like Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, Tuesday, Thursday at home, and the whole team does it. So, the reasons for that are, firstly, the whole team is in Monday, Wednesday, Friday, so if you’re going to have a client meeting, or a lunch, or a presentation, or some kind of training event, you know everyone is going to be there. And if you’re taking that Tuesday and Thursday off at home, you don’t feel like you’re missing out. So, I think it’s important to coordinate.

Also, to your question, “Which days?” I would avoid having the whole team at home on Monday or Friday. It tends to generate the extended weekend and, in fact, I’d also try to avoid them being consecutive days. So, Tuesday, Thursday is kind of the best two days because you’re in the office every other day, so if something comes up, you can easily say, “Hey, let’s talk about it in person tomorrow. Let’s have a meeting tomorrow.” So, that’s probably the most likely scenario I see firms gravitating towards Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, everyone does that Tuesdays, Thursdays. It’s really a personal choice. And I guess maybe Wednesdays, potentially, but I would avoid actually what was common before the pandemic, having Friday the working from home day. It’s not really ideal.

Before COVID, the big challenge working from home is the stigma, the whole thing of working from home, shirking from home, that’s basically gone. But, even so, working from home on Fridays is not kind of the best message. If you’re going to take one day off, take a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday off.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you think that there’s a higher probability of the shirking actually happening when it’s on a Friday or Monday?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes, and also the perception isn’t as good. So, if you’re a manager, it’s hard. Perception is reality, they kind of merge one into another. But I really want to encourage working from home in an adult way. I mean, very few jobs are basically…there are two ways to evaluate some sort of performance. There’s what’s called inputs and outputs. Mature, graduate types of jobs, I assume pretty much all your listeners are based on you want to be evaluated in outputs, what you do, but you don’t want to be evaluated in inputs, “I’m assessed on the fact that I sit on my desk and look at computer screen all day.” That’s not really great. I want to be treated as an adult and left to kind of get on with stuff and plan my own work.

And, as part of that, I have to build trust. And one of the things is trying to avoid things that maybe look a bit suspicious. So, I would work from home Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. There’s no real…it’s very hard to argue for a Friday except for the fact it’s next to the weekend, and it makes it easier to go away for long weekends, and that’s just not a good signal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now, I’d love to get your take on when we are in this environment where, like it or not, working from home is what you’re doing, what are your top do’s and don’ts for helping us do some great output as well as be recognized and promoted and all those good things?

Nicholas Bloom
I came to the realization about three-four weeks ago, this is going to be the long haul. So, just to explain, Stanford University, my employer, has just announced that, effectively, all online teaching, and it looks like all conferences and seminars, so all teachings and conferences and seminars are going to be online probably till next summer. It’s not certain but I see us, we’re going to be in this for another year or so. And, for me, at that point, it became clear it was worth thinking about logistics of working from home, and so I went out and spent $150 on a better microphone,

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say, when you booked this, you didn’t have that, and now you do.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I mean, we’re spending hours every day and our laptops are not designed for this. I actually dropped my main laptop. I’m on my old spare one.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean just ergonomically, like your hands and your neck and where you’re looking, is that what you mean?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, exactly. It’s like the working from home version of a nice suit, except it’s cheaper. I mean, $300 is cheaper than a nice suit and a pair of shoes so I would totally buy a webcam and microphone. I would also do a trial run on how you look on the camera. I was doing a TV interview and the woman on the…the reporter said, “You know, your glasses are reflecting a lot.” And it’s turned out I didn’t realize that. And I’d been fiddling around with this. It turned out, having a light source, you’re always told to look out the window so the light is shining onto your face rather than you’re like some dark shadowy silhouette. But there’s a second thing. So, that’s number one. Always, you want to have the light behind the camera so it lights you up.

But the second thing is trying to avoid it literally being directly behind the camera because then it reflects into your glasses back into the camera. You can’t see because I’m on a podcast, but I’m actually looking out a window but I put a cardboard screen that blocks light right behind the laptop, and I put lights on either side. So, I probably spent four or five hours a day on video. And in some sense, again, it’s creating positive touch. You want people to see your eyes, so if you’re wearing glasses, I don’t want to wear contact glasses. Pete has just taken off his glasses. He’s giving me very romantic looks over our video connection.

But I actually got a couple of lamps. Another thing I did is I tried, I put up a couple of pictures behind me. You know, there’s two ways to go I’ve noticed on video calls. One is to have a reasonably-looking background, in which case you have…you know, I had a messy room before, and this is a spare room, there’s a pile of junk in the background. So, I put up some pictures and tidied it up.

The alternative is to have a plain, like a white wall, or you can buy it. Just before the call, I was looking online on Amazon, and I think you can buy what’s called a green screen, just hang it up. That actually works much better for having one of those image backgrounds, say, on Zoom because Zoom finds it hard to tell it’s you versus a picture of you against a cluttered background. So, that’s another key thing.

There’s a bunch of other more minor tips for teams which is one of the downsides that comes up a lot on working from home is the lack of casual conversations. So, in particular, walking in and out of meetings, you know, I personally used to notice, I miss the lunches and coffees, also even just the meetings, the first couple of minutes I turn to colleagues and watercooler discussions. It’s hard to perfectly recreate that but the people have done this best, I’ve been trying to do this in my own research group, is to setup a time each week to talk to each member of my research. I do it for like 20 minutes. It’s a very deliberate one-on-one time. I’ve heard other managers, one manager I was talking to, said, “Look, I speak to every member of my team for five minutes at the beginning of each day just to check in on them. And if I need more time, I spend more time.”

And the upside about doing this online is it’s very easy to just have a scheduling talk, like Google Sheets, and you just say, “Write your name, and you sign the names up,” and they fill up, because it’s online, it’s easy to be punctual. And then in meetings, actually, I actually have my weekly meetings. Rather than have an hour discussion on work, we basically have 45 minutes. And the first 15 minutes, we go around the group of 12 of us. Each person talks briefly about something non-work-wise. Like, Cody, he’s been telling about his garden, and Anika has been telling me about he’s been doing puzzles, and B has been telling me about Netflix shows she’s been watching. It kind of brings it to life. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but I think we need to be more deliberate about fostering some sort of discussion casually.

The final thing I’ve heard about is it’s important just to be more scheduled and organized. So, particularly with kids at home right now, you have to think about it’s not just you but also many people in your teams are having struggles with spouses and schedules whoever looks after the kids, so it’s useful to have regular schedules. So, you have someone in your team, their husband and they have two young kids, it’s much better for her if she knows that she’s going to be working 9:00 till 12:00, and she can be more relaxed in the afternoon. So, actually being more organized because there are more conflicts for our time for those who have young kids is a final tip, and I’ve heard that discussed a lot.

And, in fact, being particular, avoiding sprawls of meetings and emails that can easily extend out. The fact they’re at home doesn’t mean we can easily, “We’ll happy to have a meeting at 7:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m.” We should try and stick to the working day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s an excellent lineup. I’d love to hear, is there anything that we…I guess I asked for do’s and don’ts. I heard a lot of great do’s. Are there some don’ts in terms of like you’re seeing a mistake appear again and again and again, or there’s sort of a hidden risk or peril or danger that folks don’t know that they are overlooking? For example, you mentioned, I think it’s a great example there with that sort of the watercooler type talk, those informal bits of conversation. Like, they can just disappear if you’re not sort of mindful and thoughtful and planful to get them in there. Is there anything else that you think people are overlooking?

Nicholas Bloom
I mean, a bigger thing is don’t get rid of the office. So, I’ve had so many senior managers say, “Hey, this is the end of the office,” or, “We’re going to shrink our office down just to go through the economics of this.” I’ve written it down. If anyone in particular fears that their boss is thinking of closing the office, the points to think about is, one, right now, we’re really in the euphoric phase. As I mentioned, three months is exactly the wrong time to be deciding office closes. It’s like planning your life after the first date. You’re incredibly happy but you haven’t seen the bad stuff, so I would wait.

In China, in Ctrip, we saw three months was literally the peak, so it’s literally the worst time to be evaluating long-run. And, in fact, from talking to firms, there are some major upsides about in-person meetings. The first is creativity. It actually turns out, it’s much harder to be creative remotely. The second is inspiration. You know, it’s hard to remain motivated and inspired sitting in our bedroom. And, finally, there’s an issue of loyalty, I think, if you’re at home month in, month out, you feel a weaker connection to your firm. So, I really think we do want to be in the office two or three days a week.

Now, you might think, “Well, we can shrink the office now. We’re only in it three days a week. Even if we’re on the same days, maybe we need less space per person.” But you have to remember, social distancing has actually dramatically increased the square footage per person. So, the firms I’ve been talking to are talking about two to three times space per person. So, I’ve just finished a survey around a thousand firms in the U.S. The forecasts are actually for a slight increase in demand in square footage of office space. So, sure, we’re going to spend less days per week in the office, probably something like 15% less days, I estimate, but we maybe need something like 50% more space per person. So, I think getting rid of the office would be a huge mistake right now. It really would limit your firm’s ability to, obviously, go back to part-time. In person, it would cause problems of loyalty. It causes all kinds of issues.

The other mistake, or the other piece of advice, I guess, is to location is going to remain as it is. There’s huge evidence to show we are shifting pretty radically out of skyscrapers into industrial parks. So, skyscrapers have a huge issue, which is, one, mass transit. How do you get to the front door? And the second is elevators. How do you get from the front door up to your desk? So, we think about a normal high-rise, it takes something like two-three square feet of space to put one person. In a crushed elevator, you basically, if you think of a person, they’re about a foot by two-foot. If we need six feet distance between us and the next person, that’s a circle of radius 6 foot. That’s about 100 square feet. So, that makes elevators just completely unfeasible.

So, from firms I’ve been talking to, there’s an enormous charge to think, “You know, we need all this space. What are we going to do? We’re going to think about moving out into industrial parks, maybe take over old leases of shops that have gone bankrupt, maybe gyms that have closed down, etc.” So, if you’re involved in that side of the office, the mistake would be to shutter the office. The advice is to think about actually where you want to be when you return to work six to nine months from now. And I think it could well be an industrial park where you can drive to or walk up a couple of stairs to get to your desk.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. Thanks. Well, now, can you share with us a few of your favorite things? Let’s start with a favorite quote. What’s something you find inspiring?

Nicholas Bloom
I heard a great quote the other day from Satya Nadella who’s the CEO of Microsoft. I had exactly the same thought, I was thinking, which is, he said, “You know, the thing I really miss in the office is those two minutes at the beginning and the two minutes at the end of every meeting when I get to turn to the person next to me, chat to them and say, ‘How are you doing?’” I feel the same thing. It’s not the meeting itself, it’s the before and after I miss, the personal interaction.

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

Nicholas Bloom
It’s hard to think of an individual one. Sticking to the topic of working from home. Upwork had a great survey came out recently showing how 90% of firms are actually very surprised that they’re very positive about working from home.

As I mentioned, I just caution about swinging from one extreme to the other. It feels a bit like if you have kids, you know how kids just they go so extreme, they’re like, particularly young kids. My four-year old goes from like unbelievably happy to minutes later in tears and floods. It feels like that’s a bit like the journey of working from home. So, now, we’re loving it. I think that’s great. There’s lots of evidence on that. I would caution on loving it too much.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Nicholas Bloom
I saw this in preparation for the podcast. I have to say, embarrassingly, I don’t really read books that much. So, I devour the media. I read a lot. If you talk about media, I talk about the BBC, I read the New York Times. Such a devotion, I love the BBC. You can hear from my accent I’m a Brit, but it feels a bit more impartial to me and it has my…it keeps track of my sports, my Tottenham Hotspur, my UK football team. So, I don’t know what it is, but I don’t really read books anymore, I’m afraid. I know that is not the correct answer to give but I guess it’s the only…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I mean, you shared the favorite things you read, and we’ll take it. And how about a favorite tool?

Nicholas Bloom
Right now, I’m really excited, as nerdy lame as it seems, by my new webcam.

Pete Mockaitis
It looks good.

Nicholas Bloom
My old laptop is kind of this grainy, crabby picture, and it got damaged. It wasn’t quite as bad. I have a hall of shame, which is just kind of a running joke with my colleagues and grad students. There’s a guy that has a webcam so bad he looks like some kind of ghost from Harry Potter. Isn’t quite there though. I was so excited just to finally get a clean crisp image. I always wondered how other people did it. I thought they just looked clean and crisp, but maybe that’s part of the story. I think they also have better technology.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, we got to know, do you know the make, the model?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, it’s Logi…and if I look…oh, geez, it’s about $180. I know it is now sold out. Something like a CD920 maybe. What is it called?

Pete Mockaitis
Logitech CD920-ish.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I think it was the CD920 high definition. And, also, the microphone is the Blue Yeti.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

Nicholas Bloom
That’s about $140. Both of them I searched around online, and there was a bunch of reviews. The Blue Yeti was reviewed by someone in the Wall Street Journal as the best mic. That was it. They interviewed a sound guy that did the voices for the new Avengers stuff and various other movies, and he said, “Look, this is the best cheap serious microphone out there.”

Pete Mockaitis
I agree that the Blue Yeti is excellent so long as it’s not an empty echo-y room, and yours is working for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Nicholas Bloom
I picked up a lockdown habit which is juggling a soccer ball, a football as I call it. So, my 11-year old daughter plays in a soccer team, and she’s been told by her coach, because they’re not playing anymore because of the lockdown, to try and juggle, like kick it up easy, keep the ball kicking in the air. So, I couldn’t do that at all, I have to say, until about four months ago, but I can do like a hundred which is very therapeutic because you’re entirely concentrating on it. There’s no email, no phones, no kids actually, because everyone knows to avoid dad where he’s obsessively juggling the soccer ball, but I quite like it.

I wouldn’t say it’s high exercise but after 20 minutes of it, I feel refreshed and energized. So, if I have too many Zoom meetings in a row, and I have a half-hour break, I may go out into the garden. There’s a bit of fresh air. I may go out and try and juggle a soccer ball one. It’s something like that, something kind of absorbing. But I used to find mowing the lawn was similar like that, I’ve a very good lawn. But no one would come near me because you’ve got this large heavy piece of equipment making huge amounts of noise, so there was no phone, no email, no children. But, yeah, that’s my favorite hobby right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, it resonates with people, and they quote it back to you a lot?

Nicholas Bloom
You know, I have become the working from home guy just because the TEDx Talk, coming back to the beginning of the podcast, is very pro working from home. And so, it’s useful if you have a manager that’s skeptical, or an owner that says, “Oh, as soon as the pandemic is over, we’re going back to full-time in the office.” And because of that, I’m kind of known for being pro working from home.

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

Nicholas Bloom
To my website. The easiest thing to do is just to type Nicholas Bloom into Google and it should come up as the top hit. I’m at Stanford University. So, if you type Nick Bloom Stanford, it will come up.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any challenges or calls to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Nicholas Bloom
I think just stick with it in the sense that I think working from home is going to be here for a long time. So, just the realization we’re in the long haul, and investing in equipment, investing in setting things up, and your schedule. We can make this work as society is actually part of the fight against COVID. One of the most effective and important things is we can work from home because the economy can keep going while we socially isolate. And it does need everyone, I guess, to give it their best shot and help other people in your firm do the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Nick, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all your adventures.

Nicholas Bloom
Hey, Pete, thanks very much for having me on the show.

585: How to Boost Your Motivation by Using the Joy Mindset with John O’Leary

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Bestselling author John O’Leary discusses how embracing the joy mindset can help you find more purpose and drive at work–and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three questions to jumpstart your day
  2. How to spark your motivation with an ignition statement
  3. How to use “compound interest” to advance your career

 

About John

In 1987, John O’Leary was a curious nine-year-old boy. Playing with fire and gasoline, John created a massive explosion in his home and was burned on 100% of his body. He was given less than a 1% chance to live. John‘s story, perspective and inspiration have inspired millions of people and 2,000 clients over the last decade.

John is the author of the instant #1 National Bestselling book ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life, host of the top-rated Live Inspired Podcast and inspirational speaker teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. His second national bestselling book, IN AWE: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning and Joy, published May 2020 and its immediate success led many to say “it’s exactly what we all need right now.”

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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John O'Leary Interview Transcript

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

John O’Leary
Hey, Pete, great to be with you and your followers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your story and some of the takeaways in your book and life experience to help folks be all the more awesome at their jobs. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? When you were nine, you had a life changing experience. Can you tell us the shorter version of the story?

John O’Leary
Yeah. I’m going to begin with a longer version at first because I did not know that the story you were asking about right now had any meaning toward my professional life, personal life, relational life, or any other aspect of life until I was 27 and a half years old. And that is the first time that I can remember where I would’ve been able to answer the question that you just asked. We can talk about that if you’d like in a moment. But the simple answer to your question is this. At age nine, I was burned in a housefire on 100% of my body, and 87% of those burns were third degree.

I found myself at age nine in a hospital bed, in the emergency room, dying, looking down at my hands that were changed, my arms that were burned, and my legs that were burned, and just freaking out, wondering, “What possibly could I do to go forward in my life in a positive direction?” And, yet, my dad came in and he wasn’t at home when I got burned, Pete, but he walked in, and he was at his job actually. He was at his job. He left. Came home. Saw the house on fire and went to the hospital. Saw me, walked right over to me, and I’ll never forget it because I was afraid my dad would, for some reason, be mad at me, because I was part of the reason why the house was on fire in the first place. I was playing with matches and gasoline and had no idea what was going to happen. But I’m a nine-year old little boy, I’ve burned myself by accident, I burned down his house.

He’s walking toward me, I know he’s going to kill me, he’s left his job, he’s got a big meeting on Monday, and I’ll never forget, he says, “John, look at me when I’m talking to you,” which is, in our family, Pete, the kiss of death so I know I’m done. And then he goes, “I have never been so proud of anybody in my entire life, and I just love you. I love you. I love you.” And I remember thinking, “Oh, my gosh, nobody told my dad what happened. He doesn’t know what went down here, man. He doesn’t know I’m the culprit of this thing.” And yet I think he did know.

I also think he recognized what actually matters. And it’s important, as we live out and strive to be awesome at our jobs, that we also recognize that it’s just part of our overall lives, and we want to be awesome at all of it, and we want to start, ultimately, I think, at home. And the best way we’re going to be effective in that is to do so in love. And I know this sounds soft, but it’s not soft. It’s really hard. It’s really forcing you to be excellent at whatever it is you strive to do. It will change your life, which is awesome. That’s called success. But it’s also going to change the life of every single person that you interact with as you move forward in your business and in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Well, there’s so much there. Well, first, congratulations. I mean, you’ve come a long way and you…well, you look great for one thing.

John O’Leary
You wear blue well, O’Leary.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s that.

John O’Leary
You know, for those who are listening rather than viewing, it’s odd to think that right now, Pete and I are looking at each other, and he sees my face and I see his, and when he looks at me, he doesn’t really see any scars. The wild thing, and I just consider it a miracle. You can call it, “Well, it sounds like dumb luck to me.” Fine. You call it dumb luck. I’ll call it a miracle. I have a 100% burn, that’s the entire body, 87% of those burns are third degree, meaning you have thick skin, thick red scars over your entire body from the point of the event all the way until you die. That’s just your life going forward.

And so, for me, Pete, I have burns, scars, from my neck all the way to my toes, it covers every inch of my body. My hands, my fingers, are amputated so I’ve got some real struggles going on, but yet my face, you don’t see any scars. And so, you can look at your life and see everything that’s wrong with it, and I think that’s very popular these days to see everything that we don’t have, and everything we wish we had, and the way we wish we had been raised, and the scars we wish we did not bear, and all those other stuff. It’s very common to talk about, “How crummy my life is,” “How brutal my boss is,” “How lousy my job is.” It’s commonplace and I think it’s a fool’s errand.

When I look in the mirror, I see the scars too. You can’t miss them but I just give thanks that part of me wasn’t burned, and I’m really grateful. And I’m grateful that I still have my life, and I still have joy, and I’m still happy. So, when you say, “John, you’re doing great,” I feel like I am doing great. I really feel like I’m incredibly supremely blessed coming through the storm.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. And, you know, I’m thinking about, I lost my dad when I was in high school, I was a freshman, and the perspective I had, in a way it was kind of similar, is that I was sad. I mean, we were close, I was bummed, it was a tragedy. And, at the same time, I was grateful that we had those 14 and a half years there together. And I remember thinking, like, “Boy, if I lost him a few years prior to that, I’m not so sure I’d be on a good path.” You know? I mean, I think there’s a lot of temptations in teen, pre-teen times, and I thought, “Okay, getting hammered looks kind of interesting.” Like all these sorts of things. But, no, I had a good strong influence and I was grateful that I had that time. And I almost felt like, “Whew! That was close. Had I lost him three or four years earlier, I might be on a very different trajectory.”

John O’Leary
So, Pete, we talked before we hit record, and I did quite a bit of research on you, so I feel like I know you a little bit. And yet when you shared that story about losing your dad, my heart sank a little bit, I loosened up a little bit, it got real for a little bit, and I just think that’s incredible what can happen when we’d be real with one another, not tell like one-up them, or not to say like, “Hey, me too.” Like, just to be real and authentic and vulnerable and connect with another human being. I think that’s amazing. And I also think it’s really remarkable because, for me, after being burned at nine, it took me two decades to come around and be grateful for the story.

For you to go through the storm of losing a parent when you’re just beginning adolescence, and you’re just beginning high school, and you’re just really beginning to journey through life, and even in the midst of it, to recognize, “Wow! At least I had him 13, 14 years. What a gift that was. At least I didn’t lose him when I was 11. That would’ve been hard, man.” Well, I would suggest, when you lost when you did, is unbelievable, almost unbearably hard and yet he must’ve instilled in you an incredible sense of self and grit and determination that, in spite of what you might face later on in life, that you’re up for the task at hand.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And I think that a lot of that does resonate and particularly this podcast and we’re talking about your book. He got me started in going to the library, reading books, and getting excited about the power of learning stuff to make you better in whatever domain, whether it’s being awesome at your job or whatever you’re up to. So, let’s talk about how you’ve put this wisdom to work. Your latest book, it’s called In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy. Well, that sounds pretty cool. What’s the big idea here?

John O’Leary
As a speaker, I go around the world sharing for organizations like Southwest Airlines or Microsoft or Apple how they can become better versions of themselves. And I have the honor of hopping on these flights and flying to fancy places and checking in and doing great work and loving these organizations. But as I go through the day, I see a lot of adults who are beat down by it, “Work is hard. And family is hard. And, oh, damn, the headlines, did you see them today? They’re bad.” Everything is kind of a struggle, and we’re just enduring. We’re enduring these days.

And I make it a habit when I’m on the road, once I leave the client’s conversation, I always go to schools. I love giving my time away to kids. And when I walk into the school building, man, the first thing you notice in a school is these kids are always smiling. You may not see it all the time when you’re in a lecture seminar, when you’re in an airport, of all places, but when you’re with kids, you see it. And you don’t always see it with your eyes. You see it with your ears. It’s like this radiant joy. And then as they get called from one class into the lecture hall with Mr. O’Leary, they go into that room skipping. Like, I don’t know when the last time your adult listeners skipped anywhere. Kids skip everywhere.

And so, I saw within these children joy, and like passion for life, and not taking the things for granted, and enthusiasm, believing that tomorrow is going to be better than today. They have it. They ask great questions. And I wonder, “What is it that they have, these children, about the way they do work?” Because they’re in work, man, in school. The way they play, they way they do life that we adults have lost sight of. And if we chose to return to it, what might happen in our lives? And it’s there for all of us. You don’t need to be under the age of five to grab it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now, it’s funny when I ask this question, but I’m going to. So, childlike awe, wonder, that sounds fun, I’d like some more inspiration, meaning, and joy. Can you draw the connection for us in how that can help professionals be more awesome at their jobs if they have that? I mean, yeah, “Happiness is all great and all, John, but can we stay on message?”

John O’Leary
You know what, I’m so glad, I have a very pragmatic wife, an incredibly cynical neighbor, and so anytime I come up with my great happiness projects, these are the first two people who immediately try to squelch it with as much water as they possibly can, and they haven’t been able to yet, so I’m not sure this question will either, or those in the room who are crossing their arms, saying, “This won’t work for me. This won’t work for me.”

At the end of the day, our work is about frequently the relationships are those that we are doing it with. At the end of the day. Whether you are working in retail and you’re checking people out, whether you are collaboratively building on projects, now virtually, whatever it might be, it’s, “How do we connect with the people around us, with the task at hand, with the mission that guides us forward, in a way that allows us to be as effective as possible in doing so?”

So, then your question is, “Well, how do you do that stuff better?” Really, that all sounds good. How do we connect with people, and purpose, and task? Well, it all goes back to meaning and inspiration and joy. You used the word happiness a moment ago to describe it. I’m not a happy guy actually. I think happiness is highly overrated. I think happiness is an ice cream cone. I give my kids ice cream cones all the time, and about 30 seconds later on a July day in St. Louis, Missouri as it’s melting, my kids have lost their happiness. So, my $5 investment in happy melts 30 seconds in. Happiness is when I give them my new iPhone. Sadness is two minutes later when I take it away or it runs out of batteries.

So, happiness is this emotion that is incredibly fleeting. We strive for it but I, ultimately, don’t think is what we’re longing for. What we long for is satisfaction. We long for contentment. We long to do a job well. We long for joy. And we can have joy regardless of the set of circumstances in front of us. So, if you want to be effective at your job, if you want to be truly awesome, okay, awesome at your job, I would suggest to you, foundationally and fundamentally, one of the very first things you ought to try to embrace is joy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about definitions for a moment. So, if happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes and maybe based on the stimuli kind of right there, what is joy?

John O’Leary
Joy is more on a determination. It’s a mindset. And I think a mindset can grow, Pete, when you own into it by asking questions around, “How do I get more of this thing?” So, if you want to get awesome at your job, ideally, you’re asking questions around, “Well, how do I get better at this? How do I become better in whatever work I strive to do?” If you want to own this mindset, and today we’re talking about right now is the mindset of joy, I would encourage you strongly, and this is going to sound soft, and I’m telling you it ain’t. This is hard business. It’s transformational if you take the O’Leary challenge.

I strongly encourage your listeners to ask three questions throughout the day, and to do them sequentially. So, the first question, it ought to be asked about an hour before your day normally begins. So, if you are waking up at 7:00 and you feel like the day already got ahead of you, we might want to wake up a little bit earlier. And I recommend, usually, get up about an hour earlier than you currently are if you feel like you’re already behind the day when it goes. We can do this.

And so, I wake up a couple of hours earlier than I really need to. But I go outside after taking a shower, I make a tall glass of water, hot cup of coffee, I sit outside in the darkness. I know this sounds odd. But if I grab my phone first, I realize that there are challenges in the news, there’s challenges with borders, there’s challenge with economics, “Oh, I got all these work emails I got to respond to, and I’m already behind. Not only am I behind, I’m beat down.”

2018, Harvard ran a business story on this, and 94.5% of news stories were negative. So, two years ago, when the markets were at a historic high, and unemployment at historic lows, and COVID-18 wasn’t even invented, let alone COVID-19, there were no stress points, man. Well, during that phase, 94.5% of the news stories were negative. So, I challenge you to go right past the headlines, go outside, grab a journal, watch the sunrise, and ask the question, “Why me?” and take an inventory, before the day unfolds in front of you, what you’re grateful for. If you want more joy, opt in. It’s a choice.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the “Why me?” question is I think there are so many ways to take that “Why me?” but you said the gratitude is the angle you’re putting on there.

John O’Leary
And, occasionally, if I’m speaking, like if I’m at a seminar, sometimes I’ll be a little bit more playful in this, and I’ll walk through the questions that you should ask if you want to have a lousy day, “So, you want to have a lousy day? You want to be miserable at your work? You want a lousy marriage, a horrible singleness? You want to be more addicted to whatever that thing is that brought you down yesterday? Ask these three questions. And the three questions are ‘Why me?’ because it’ll even make you feel worse about your life; ‘Who cares?’ because, ultimately, you don’t, clearly, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it; and, ‘What more can I do?’ And I’m just one. It’s a huge problem. The headwind is too strong. I can’t change the environment, I can’t change the economy, I can’t change my business, I can’t even change my spouse or my kids. I certainly can’t change my life. What more can I do?”

So, I walk them down the path of those three questions and then, the original point, I say, “There are three questions that I’m begging you today to begin asking, and here are these three. ‘Why me?’ A question around gratitude. ‘Who cares?’ A question around mission and meaning and values and purposefulness in your life. It’s going to spark joy. And, thirdly, ‘What more can I do?’ And asked in the light of victory, asked in the light of the mindset that allows you to spark joy, it’s going to lead to engagement. It’s going to lead to creativity and collaboration. It’s going to lead to you living not only your best job yet, but your best life yet.”

And the second question, the first one is easy, it’s gratitude. Spend three minutes on it, or 45 minutes, but all research around gratitude is that it’s a muscle we all have, many of us choose not to stretch, but when we do, it leads to vitality in the way we attack the day, and also vibrancy in the way we feel about our life around us. According to a study that came out just yesterday, 12% of Americans are pretty happy with their lives. I think the word they used is very happy with their lives. Very happy. 12%. Do you want to become a little bit closer to being very happy with your life? Start with gratitude. It’s an important muscle that must be stretched in order to be enjoyed.

The second question is, “Who cares?” And the way I would encourage your listeners to answer this is, “I choose to care. I choose to care. It’s a choice. And I choose to thrive in work and in life because…” so don’t try to buck it up, “I’m going to do well at work but whatever in life, whatever in health, whatever in money, or faith, or whatever. If I get around to that stuff, I’ll be fine then.” Bull. If you are only successful professionally, you would get to the top of the ladder and you will realize that you climbed the ladder and it was leaning up against the wrong wall. I’m not saying don’t climb high. I’m not saying don’t sprint, don’t run, don’t track topline revenue and bottom-line profitability, don’t get better at your work. I’m saying do all those things, but also recognize this is being done in the context of a holistic life.

So, we want to make sure that we, as we live out our mission, are living it out now, not only organizationally in our job, but also in our life as a whole sum. So, who cares? The answer is “I choose to thrive at work and in life because…” This becomes your ignition statement. We used to call these mission statements. In mine, and I have it on the wall in my office, mine, “I choose to thrive because,” and this is personal, “God demands it, my family deserves it, and the world is starved for it.” Let’s go. Let’s go.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Those are good reasons.

John O’Leary
Those are weak reasons. Aim higher, man.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s not like, you know, “Because I should,” or, “My parents spent a lot of money in my college education.” Like, you can have weak reasons and you can have killer reasons, and that makes all the difference.

John O’Leary
So, you can be led from a place of fear or a place of love. And, again, this sounds soft until you apply this thing up and down your life and your work, and you recognize it’s not soft. It’s foundationally transformational. It leads to excellence. It leads to a high level of accountability. It impacts not only the work you’re doing but the way you’re elevating everybody else in your teams to do better work in their lives as well. So, it really is.

As you are all getting ready to say, “This is too soft,” I’m telling you, I’ve grown three different businesses using these models. It’s not soft. It’s actually…it’ll set you apart from everybody else that looks alike. and the third and final question, we could say there’s a lot more, and there are a lot more questions to ask, but the third question that I’m encouraging you to ask daily is, “What more can I do?” and this is how you grab compound interest professionally.

We all know about compound interest, man. Open a bank account and, boom, baby, it starts growing. Compound interest. Free money. How do you do that at your job though? How do you do it in your relationships, in your spiritual journey, in your health, in your creativity, knowing you’re becoming better each day? How do you do this?

The easiest way I’ve learned to do this is to ask a question every night, and I have a journal next to my toothbrush, and when I’m on the road, this journal comes with me, and on that journal I ask a question every single night, the question is, “What more can I do?” And then, before I go to bed, I have a mandate that it must be answered. And the full question is, “What more can I do to ensure that tomorrow will be even better than today?”

And sometimes, Pete, that’s directed toward being a better husband. Sometimes it’s directed toward…you know, my dad has got Parkinson’s disease, he’s struggling. My mom has got her challenges. The world is busted right now. There’s a lot going on. But others, for those of you who are just worried about being awesome at your job, “What more can I do to be awesome at my job?” Every single day, choosing one thing that you will do tomorrow that you did not do today that will allow you to become even more effective, even more awesome. If you did that for a week, you would see immediate results. If you took the challenge for a month, I think it would transform the way you show up every single day. It’ll change what you say no to and it will elevate what you’re saying yes to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, so as you’ve shared this message with many people, what are some of the answers that tend to come back, like frequently neglected, omitted, what-can-I-do responses that are high leverage?

John O’Leary
So, I’ll just share a couple personal examples. My relationship with my wife, I think, is one of the most important ones to at least try to get right. And, in 2016, we wrote a book called On Fire, and it went on fire. It became instant number one national bestseller. It was translated into a dozen languages. And, overnight, a guy who was kind of busy, became extraordinarily busy, on the road all the time. And as we ended that year, I realized, “Wow! I got awesome at my job but I was losing track of the things, four little kids, and the individual who gave me those four little kids, my wife, that maybe should matter most.”

And so, I have a cool process on New Year’s Eve that I’m always running through individually, but I wanted to become a much better spouse in the following year. I still wanted to be awesome at my job, I still wanted to touch lives organizationally, I still wanted to grow topline revenue, but not at the expense of losing my wife. And so, I asked the question, “What more can I do?” And as I got clear on it, “Well, what if I tracked all the things she does that are good without telling her.” I kept a journal entry.

And so, on January 1, 2017, I began a leather-bound journal with the words “Dear Beth, Jan. 1, 2017.” And then I told her in writing what I was going to do this year, and then I shut the book and went to bed. And the following day, I did it again, January 2, tracked one thing she did really beautifully, something maybe with our kids, maybe something she wore, something she did for a neighbor up in our community, whatever it was. Just tracking the good, tracking the success story.

A couple cool things came up out of that. Number one is we had been married at that point for 13 years and that was, that year 2017, our best year of marriage yet. I think, Pete, frequently in life, we say, “I do” maybe to a person on an altar, at the park, you make the commitment, but then you get bored with it. It just gets hard. It becomes kind of monotonous and we grow tired, and we stop doing, we stop courting the one in front of us. We say, “I do,” when it’s our first day on the job. Like, we really want to grow, we really want to expand, but then we realize our boss is a pain, the customers are snobs, and we really don’t do it anymore, we don’t really care that much anymore.

I wanted to care deeply in this relationship with my wife, and so I tracked the good of her. I noted it on a piece of paper, and I wanted to reflect that goodness back to her through my actions, through my words. And on Christmas day 2017, I handed her a poorly-wrapped present, she opened it, and it was this leather, stains, wine stains, lousy, beat down journal with 360 journal entries with her husband tracking her beauty. And it’s the first present I think I’ve ever gave her that led her to tears. In fact, last night, she was reading this in our bedroom, laughing sometimes, crying sometimes, emotionally being brought back to this autobiography that is our life. It’s our journey together, and we missed it for a while but we didn’t miss it in 2017, and neither of us have missed it since.

So, that’s one way to ask the question, “What more can I do?” and actually take tactical action to move you. We could also talk about how this has impacted our business, who we’ve hired, who we’ve let go, what we’ve done with the community, what we say yes to, what we say no to. It influences the way you show up every single day by asking the question, “What more can I do?” and then you write it down, you go, you track your progress, you make your changes along the way, you track the course, and you see how you can become even better going forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I like is that, you know, it could be a very small thing in terms of I don’t know how long it takes you to write down a good thing that your wife did, or I’m thinking, “What can I do to make tomorrow better than today in my work life? I could tidy this desk.”

John O’Leary
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And that would, I mean, it just put me in a little better mood, a little bit more positive, a little bit more energetic, a little bit more able to reach my favorite paper and pens, etc. when the moment calls for it. And so, I hear you about that compound interest because the next day, it’s like, “Well, hey, the desk is clean, so what else can I do?”

John O’Leary
And then you start adding those on top of each other. Pages equal chapters, chapters equal books. I see the library behind you, I mean, you’re loaded back there. Books lead to libraries. It’s just compound interest. Word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, book by book, library by library. You start moving this into relationships though and you’re on relationship capital. Compound interest, I think, Einstein said that it is the eighth wonder of the world. Those who understand it get it. Those who don’t pay it. So, if you understand compound interest, you’re collecting it every day in your bank account.

Can you write down the question, “What more can I do?” Can you answer it? And the following day when you wake up groggy, can you take action? Because if you do, it’s going to change that day, and those pieces of paper stacked, it’s going to change a life. And so, it really is, like I’ve told you before, we’ve grown three different businesses simply by asking that simple question, “What more can I do?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk about this notion sort of in workplaces and relationships. I guess what are some of the top do’s and don’ts that make a world of difference in making those relationships compound into a wonderful wealthy relationship as opposed to getting in severe indebtedness?

John O’Leary
Right, man. Let’s deal with the math all the way up and down. So, one of the most important things to recognize as we go through this process is it’s not so you can collect interest, it’s so you can pay it, it’s so you can make a profound difference in the lives of those that you choose to serve. An example of this, as COVID-19 was spreading, as I’m a motivational speaker, a leadership speaker, I travel the world giving seminars, 94% of that revenue disappeared overnight starting March 6, so our whole year blew up and imploded, and I have a whole team here that supports our efforts. We try to make a bigger difference in the community.

And so, I was going home, kind of feeling a little bit sluggish about the work, and, “How can I be awesome at my job when I can’t even keep this job?” and all the things we kind of go through when we’re having a pity party. And I asked the question that night, “What more I can do?” and this is, I don’t know, late March, “What more can I do? What more can I do?” Well, we’ve a book coming out called In Awe, and was coming out early in May, and we’d already pre-sold thousands and thousands of copies, and the press was about to take this thing and run with it.

And the way I answered that question that night is, “What if we gave it all away? What if we took everything, everything that we’re going to make from this book?” And instead of being self-focused, “What can O’Leary get out of it? How can I collect more? How can I get my interest, baby, my compound payment?” What if, instead, we could give it all away?

And so, I asked the question, “What more can I do?” I ran up on my wife, that’s always a good idea if you’re married or with a partner, before you make a big decision like this. She agreed. We ran it by my four kids. They agreed it would be cool. And with that, we decided to give 100% of the profits away to an organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters. And so, in the first two weeks alone, we were able to write this organization that makes a profound cultural difference in our community. One by one is how you change the world, by the way. One by one, that’s how you do it.

We were able to write them a cheque for $30,000 because a question came in front of us, “What more can I do?” It was not asked necessarily selfishly. It was asked selflessly. It was not asked only out of success, “How can I grow myself?” but out of significance, “How can I impact those around us with the resources that we still have, with the ability to influence that we still possess?” I did that to give. I do it to give. It has led to this incredible response from the media, from social media, from other organizations saying that they wanted to match what we gave. It led to a couple organizations saying, “Man, we want to bring you in to speak virtually to our organization. We want to learn more about this compound interest, this idea of being generous even during difficult days.”

I wasn’t giving to get at all. We gave because it’s the right thing to do in any climate. And yet, in doing so, the wealth comes back into your world. And so, as you ask that question, I strongly encourage you to ask it through the lens of love not fear, the lens of abundance not entitlement, or not like thinking small, and, “How do I get more of the pie to come toward me?” There’s plenty of pie to go around. Have a piece and then pass it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Okay. Well, so then, with that said, we’re asking it in the right way, what are some sort of maybe sparks or inspirational starter actions that tend to pop up frequently?

John O’Leary
So, one of the other things I learned in leadership is to be as focused as possible in providing people questions rather than specific answers. I want people to come up with solutions for themselves. I’ll give you, though, some answers that I think will be most effective answers that have worked well for me, our team, and those that have run through this in the past.

When they ask the question, “What more can I do?” what we’ve almost always found is the question is almost always focused, first, with a reflection in the mirror. Almost always. They want to know what more they can do to become a better version of themselves, to become a little bit more safe financially, to be able to give a little bit more in the community. And then they begin building the bridge a little bit farther, now that they have some of their own needs met. They’re able to look beyond themselves, beyond the reflection, and start saying, “Gosh, what more can I do for my spouse, my partner? This addiction, man, whatever this thing is that I’m struggling with, a dream that I’m longing, the ability to influence in our life, my own children, my aging parents?” And then it keeps expanding forward from there.

And so, as people ask this question, they’ll frequently begin asking, with the universe closest to them, “What more can I do?” And that’s healthy. It’s an appropriate way to begin the conversation. As you move farther down the path of not only success but also tying and tethering to that significance, the ability to influence and impact those around us, it begins shifting, in my own world, visiting kids in hospitals, taking the first fruits of the book In Awe and giving it away to an organization that I believe will make a far greater impact with that money than I possibly ever could if it was mine. And so, it begins moving from self-focus into other focus over time.

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

John O’Leary
We’ve had a whole lot of folks respond, they’ve gone in for their executive MBA because they realized, “What is holding me back? What is holding me back? I always wanted to do this.”

So, it can lead to you saying, “Man, I want a promotion. I want a new job. I’m going to tell my boss specifically how I feel and how I need to be spoken to so I could be more effective working with her.” It can lead to a whole different level of cascading effects in your life, but it’s highly personal. Highly personal. So, the way you get the information that ultimately you need, you desire, that will improve you, that will make you awesome is to simply start with the question mark, “What more can I do?” And then to pivot forward with the answer.

The hardest part, Pete, actually, part of it is answering is just simply taking the time to answer. It’s going to take a long time. It’ll probably take you 30 seconds each day, so that’s how long it takes. Then the real hardest part, the following day. Will you do it? Will you email your boss and say, “You know, we need to have a conversation”? Will you reach out to the local community college or the local university, and say, “You know what, I think not having this education is holding me back from being who I know I can be”? So, taking the action is the trickiest piece, and yet in doing so, it will set you apart. It will put you in a new direction in life.

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

John O’Leary
So, one of my favorite quotes is from Viktor Frankl, and it’s been attributed to Nietzsche as well, it’s, “When you know your why, you can endure any ‘how.’” And, for me, whatever your job might be, if we don’t have laser focus and, ultimately, why we choose to do that job at a high level in the first place, I think we’ll fail in time in whatever that task is.

It’s a compelling statement in my life that guides me through difficult days physically, because I struggle physically many days, but also professionally with my job and other facets.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And could you also share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

John O’Leary
Man, so my dad has Parkinson’s disease, he’s had it for, gosh, 29 years, and that’s a long time to be alive, let along have Parkinson’s disease. So, he’s struggling mightily, he’s lost his job, he’s also the most grateful guy I’ve ever met. He’s just happy everywhere he goes. The word you and I were using earlier – joy.

Years ago, I asked him how could he be so grateful when he’s got so little seemingly. And he said, “How can I not when I’ve got the world. I’ve got everything.” So, I had him share, “Dad, what are you grateful for because of Parkinson’s disease?” And he went through this list, and I said, “Dad, could you give me three things, just three things?” And he said the very first thing is, “I’m grateful it wasn’t a more serious disease,” and then he said, “I’m grateful I used to be so busy, now I have nothing but time to reflect on who really matters and what really matters in my life. I’m grateful for this time. And then, thirdly, I’m grateful for your mom.” He says, “Everyone else is pushing me farther away but your mother, my wife, keeps stepping closer and closer, and I’m incredibly profoundly grateful.”

And then I’m ready to give him a hug, Pete, and then he says, “Sit down. I’m not done. I’m not done.” And he went on and on and on. And, by the end of this conversation, he had 17 things that he was grateful for as a result, specifically, to Parkinson’s disease. So, I shared that as the backstory because I’ve done a lot of research on gratitude. And one of my favorite studies on gratitude is called the nun study. You can Google this later on. I think it was done from the University of Minnesota on a group of nuns from the Notre Dame province, I believe.

They collected all the journals from these ladies, and they said, “Did it matter how these women viewed their days?” Could you think of a better controlled group to study? “Did it matter how they viewed their days?” They wore the same clothes. They have the same faith. They eat the same food. They teach in the same schools. Did it really matter how they viewed their days? And the way they tracked it was by how optimistic or how negative they were about the day they had. They all kept journals, so they kept all the journals.

And then the remarkable aspect of that research is it said that those who are most negative about their days were alive at age 85, I believe, the number is 31% of the time, and those who were most optimistic and positive about the day they just experienced, the same day that those others experienced, but they saw it through a different lens, they were grateful for the lens they had, were alive 87% of the time. It’s almost a three-fold increase in longevity.

I challenge your listeners to research gratitude, and everywhere you turn, you’re going to find more remarkable things that gratitude will lead to in your vibrancy, in your longevity, in your health, in your life, and in your effectiveness at work. So, it’s one of my favorite studies.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

John O’Leary
A favorite book. Man, so one of my favorite go-to is called The Return of the Prodigal Son. And it’s written by a guy born in northern Europe, he taught in Canada for a while, his name was Henri Nouwen.

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

John O’Leary
If you go to ReadInAwe.com, on that website, we have a link to all of our social media links, we have a link to our Live Inspired podcast, we’ve got a link to our books, so all that stuff is there for you. You can learn about John O’Leary speaking and his story leading up to this.

There’s a 21-day challenge free that people can go through, and recognize why they ought to be optimistic that their best days remain in front of them. With so much negativity, I want to give some practical optimism and hope for today that tomorrow is going to be even better.

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

John O’Leary
Wake up early tomorrow. Don’t let the day tackle you. You tackle it. Get up about an hour early. I know that’s a lot. I know you love your beauty sleep but it’s where you’re going to get your best work done. Begin that day in silence, reflect, fully in gratitude, maybe with a journal in hand, asking the question “Why me?” What are you grateful for? Take inventory. Start there.

Then, “Who cares?” That’s your mission statement. And if you can design your mission statement, we called it an ignition statement.

Why do you choose to thrive? Why do you choose to be awesome at your job? And then, thirdly, and finally, we spent quite a bit of time on this one so I hope it was heard loud and clear. Tonight, not tomorrow night, tonight, ask the question before you go to bed, “What more can I do?” And then answer it.

If you’re looking for one specific takeaway, ask the question tonight, “What more can I do?” Grab your compound interest and take action.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. John, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish lots of luck and many more moments of awe.

John O’Leary
I’m living it, Pete. Thank you for letting me join you on your show. And thank you for the great work that you do.

584: How Curiosity Can Help You Reinvent Your Career and Stand Out with Francesca Gino

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Harvard professor Francesca Gino discusses why we shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and nurture our curiosity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset shift that leads to great innovation
  2. Why our fear of judgment is often overblown
  3. How to resolve conflict peacefully with curiosity

 

About Francesca

Francesca Gino is an award-winning researcher who focuses on why people make the decisions they do at work, and how leaders and employees have more productive, creative and fulfilling lives. She is the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School and the author, most recently, of Rebel Talent: Why it Pays to Break the Rules in Work and Life. Gino is also affiliated with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, the Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative at Harvard, and the Behavioral Insight Group at Harvard Kennedy School.

Gino has been honored as one of the world’s Top 40 Business Professors under 40 and one of the world’s 50 most influential management thinkers by Thinkers 50. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Francesca Gino Interview Transcript

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

Francesca Gino
It’s awesome to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m thrilled to be chatting. And, first, I need to hear a little bit about your motorcycle racing hobby. I don’t hear too many Harvard professors racing motorcycles, or maybe there’s a bunch of you.

Francesca Gino
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us, what’s your story?

Francesca Gino
I actually thought that you were going to say, “I often don’t hear of moms with four small children.” So, they contributed a little bit of putting the hobby to the side since they are still quite small, but we’ll get back to it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you’re racing, it’s not just riding them but you’re actually going trying to beat opponents with speed. What’s the story?

Francesca Gino
Yeah. So, I think I grew up in a family where the Sunday afternoon activity was sitting on the couch watching races, whether it was MotoGP or any type of races with my dad and brother. And so, I think that that stayed in my blood a little bit. And growing up in a small town in northern Italy, where you have a lot of freedom, so I had friends who were older than me and I started using their scooters and motorcycles much earlier than, I should say, before having the proper driving license for them. Maybe this is not a good start. I’m already saying about rule-breaking right off the start.

Pete Mockaitis
No, we want it more exactly. sometimes I try to force a segue between the “getting to know you” part and the “your expertise” part, and this makes it easy. So, yeah, that’s all we need…

Francesca Gino
Exactly. How do you study what you study.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s totally rebellious. So, you’re breaking rules. That’s one of your main messages in your work and research and writings, is that it pays to break the rules in work and life. Can you give us some of the most compelling examples or bits of research behind that?

Francesca Gino
Absolutely. I was struck by the fact that I spend a lot of time in organizations, and often you go in, or at least that I started going in with a set of cynical eyes, if you will, and I would try to pay attention to processes, ways of working, or systems that, to the eye of a person who doesn’t work there, really make little sense. They didn’t seem optimal. I had all sorts of questions about them.

And then I would go to people, leaders and employees alike, and say, “Why is it that you do things this way?” Always the same answer, which was, “We’ve always done it this way.” And it’s interesting that it’s very easy for us to get used to the usual way of working and it’s tough to break away from that. So, I wanted to write this book to say, “Look, there are people out there who are very capable of breaking away from the mold in a way that creates positive change and brings all sorts of benefits to themselves and the organization.”

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I knew that was what you’re going to say in terms of the answer is, “We’ve always done it that way,” which I think really means we don’t actually remember the original purpose and impetus for how this got started but we’re going to keep doing it.

Francesca Gino
Yeah. And also we stop asking questions. Think about, I mentioned the four little children, so I’m in the land of curiosity, pushing boundaries, asking questions. And if you look at the data, you’d see something quite striking, and in my mind, also sad. Curiosity peaks at the age four and five, and then it declines steadily from there.

And I thought, “It can’t be true. Maybe when we get into our jobs, the ones that we love, curiosity is going to pop back up.” And I was wrong. I collected data across jobs, industries, roles, hundreds of people, and at first, when they start a new job or a new role, you see the curiosity is high, some variation across job, across roles, across locations, but not much. And you go back to the same people eight, nine months later, curiosity had dropped by at least 20% across the board. And I think it’s because we conform, we get used to the usual way of working, and we stop asking questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that you’ve actually done the research. Actually, not like I’m surprised but, you know.

Francesca Gino
You know.

Pete Mockaitis
There are authors who borrow from the research of others, and authors who do their own research, and you are in the latter category, so I’m going to really have some fun with you here. So, how do we measure curiosity? And just what is the extent of that decline? Like, is it like you’re half as curious as you were when you were four or five? Are you like a tenth as curious as you were at four or five?

Francesca Gino
As a scientist at my core, I really puzzled over that data because I was like, “What happens? And why is it that kids so naturally ask questions and stay curious but somehow they grow older, we all grow older, and that disappears?” And it was kind of an interesting exercise because I recognized that, even as a parent, I do things that probably are not good for curiosity. My children ask a question, I give them an answer instead of saying, “Why do you think the sky is blue?” or, “Why do you think we have to pay for things when we go out to the grocery store?” And it’s a different way of reacting. Or they make a mistake and you have that worried face that tells them that, fundamentally, “Yes, we’re learning but I would’ve been happier if we didn’t mess up things around the house.”

And so, it brought much more attention in my own behavior, in my own reactions to what others are doing. And now I’m giving you some examples as a parent but I have equally good example in my role as leader of my own group or the interactions that I have with colleagues. How do you react when they say something that you might disagree with? Do you seek to understand and show curiosity? Or do you just shut them down? And so, there are lots of meaningful opportunities where I think maybe unconsciously we just shut down the conversation and, with it, we shut down curiosity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. The subtle things in terms of non-verbal shows of disapproval with a facial expression or a tone of voice.

Francesca Gino
In fact, I’ll give you a story that actually comes from a business, it turns out to be a yummy one since it’s a three-star Michelin restaurant that in 2016 became the best restaurant in the world. It turns out it’s an Italian restaurant so I’m saying this with a little bit of pride even if I have nothing to do with it. But this is a restaurant where the owner and chef that opened the restaurant decided to go to traditional Italian dishes and completely reinvented them.

Now, I find that to be profound. First, it took courage. I don’t know how much you know about Italians, but I can tell you that two things are true. First, there are lots of rules when it comes to cooking, from all the ways you pair a certain type of pastas to certain type of sauces. In fact, I’m married to an American, and, to this date, my husband doesn’t understand why is it that every time he has pasta, we’d have fish-based sauce, he can’t put Parmesan cheese on top of it. It’s just wrong. You don’t do it. It’s against the rules. And, second, we cherish our old ways, especially when it comes to recipes that have been passed on for centuries.

And so, here you have a guy who went exactly to that context with an open mind, with curiosity, and he started saying, “Look, why is it that we cook the dish this way? Maybe it made sense 20 years ago but not today.” And he completely reinvented traditional Italian dishes, and has been very successful with that. So, quite an inspiring story. And if you spend time with him, you realize that in every interaction, he really takes on the opportunity to look at the what-if or why.

In fact, there is a beautiful story, it’s one of my favorite out of the restaurant, when it’s a very busy night, and one of his sous chefs is working on the last dessert of the night, and it’s a lemon tart, and the name of sous chef is Taka. He’s obsessed with attention to detail. He’s Japanese. He really cares about doing his work well. And, as Taka is working on this dessert, he’s arranging all the different pieces, and, all of a sudden, the tart dropped to the floor, and now he had a mashed tart. And at that point, Taka started to panic but chef Massimo Bottura walked into the kitchen and saw the mistake.

Now, ask yourself what it is that you would’ve done. I can tell you that many leaders in his position would’ve started yelling, but Bottura didn’t. And not only that, he looked at the plate, and then, at Taka, said, “Taka, I think we have a new idea for a new dessert.” And, sure enough, they come out with a new dessert, it’s a deconstructed lemon tart, and is now the most popular dessert at the restaurant. And if you look at it, you look at this mashed tart on the plate, and the name for the dessert on the menu is “Oops! I dropped the lemon tart.”

It’s just a beautiful example of, even in situations where there are accidents, he’s able to turn them into sources of inspiration. I think it requires a shift in mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is beautiful, and you do sort of see sort of that childlike perspective in terms of…

Francesca Gino
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
…”Oh, this is interesting that this is all over the floor now,” as opposed to, “This is a disaster that it’s all over the floor now.” Just to make sure that we check the box though, can you share, how do we measure curiosity? And what is the level of the decline from four to being grown up?

Francesca Gino
You’re going to check yourself, right? So, there are scales that colors I’ve developed to measure curiosity, and so it’s often self-reported. So, I ask you a bunch of questions that allow me to understand in which situations you keep on looking for information because you really want to discover something. And it’s not just learning because there is an objective, but you fundamentally want to get to an answer because of the pleasure of that discovery process.

And so, there are many different other personality factors that are related to it, like being open to experiences, but curiosity is on its own category, if you will. And if there are people that are interested, I’m happy to share the scales since they exist and you can measure it on yourself. In the data that I collected, I was looking at adults, and the drop of 20% were adults from the day they started a new job to nine, ten, some cases eight months later. And so, that’s where you see the drop in a way that allows you to ask the question, “Why is it when we join organizations, it’s almost as if curiosity gets squeezed out of us?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. And it’s a shame, I guess I’m thinking about how when I’ve been at my best, when there’s a new person who comes and ask sort of new-person questions, you know, I mean, sometimes that’s sort of annoying, like, “Oh, isn’t this all covered already?” But when I’m on my game, “Oh, what a lovely fundamental question to ask, and I guess I didn’t look at it that way, way back when I invented this process.” So, that’s beautiful.

Francesca Gino
But you’re saying something important, that reaction of, “Oh, maybe this was covered already.” So, when I am the person joining and coming into the organization, I’m thinking, “I’m not sure but I think I have this question, I’d love to ask it.” Often, we don’t ask it because we’re fundamentally fearful that there’s going to be a judgment. And what’s interesting about small children, when they’re three or four, that is not there at all.

In fact, just this morning, I was talking to my son and he was noticing that his underwear got way too tight. And so, he had this nice red marks around his belly, and he turns to my nanny and said, “Hey, do you also get the red marks on your belly because of wearing tight underwear?” And you should’ve seen the embarrassed face on my nanny who knows him really well. But, again, that’s an example where it’s a perfectly fair question, and he’s just curious about asking. He had no way of thinking that there is going to be a judgment attached to that question.

And I think that that’s what we learn and what we become fearful of as we grow older. We’re much more aware that there are other people who might judge us in all sorts of ways, and, fundamentally, we want to belong and be part of the group, and so we stop asking questions.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d also love to hear more about, so we’re talking about curiosity, and it’s almost like we’re just assuming and taking for granted that curiosity is good, and I like it, it’s fun, it’s interesting, keeps things spicy and interesting. Could you lay it out for us sort of what difference does it make if you have a team who is highly curious versus highly not curious?

Francesca Gino
Yeah. So, that’s a really important question. There is a business case for curiosity. Curiosity leads to more creative ideas, more innovation. It actually leads to better team performance because the team tends to be much more open in discussing ideas. It leads to conflict resolutions more quickly, which I think is interesting and potentially counterintuitive. And it also leads to broadening of networks.

So, this is the data that I collected in a large study with a Canadian bank where what we found was that if you look at curiosity as a trait, so you have a certain level of curiosity versus not, or higher or lower, and then look at things like, “How do people communicate over email across functions or across departments?” What you see is that the more curious people are, the more they tend to reach out a variety of people in a way that really help them as they move throughout their career, in this case in the bank, but also in performing well in their jobs. So, I think that the outcomes and implications of being curious are actually quite profound.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you.

Francesca Gino
I’ll give you another one that is more recent. It came from the fact that we’re living through a crisis. So, when we’re curious, we are better able to look at stress as something that can enhance our performance rather than finding it to be paralyzing. So, I think that in thinking about this idea of staying agile and transforming ourselves, staying curious is quite important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then so how do you recommend that we go about continuing keeping curious?

Francesca Gino
I think of curiosity as a turbocharger. And, in fact, back in 2018, I had a book coming out called Rebel Talent, and curiosity is a really big talent that these rebels seem to have. And when I was thinking about what I had observed leaders and the police across organizations do to retain their curiosity, some of the suggestions are very simple. And then, since I’m a scientist, I went off and backed them up with data. But here are some simple ideas.

First of all, adding learning goals for ourselves. So, I think whether in our professional life, sometimes also in our personal lives, we have some form of performance goals for ourselves, or a little mission that we want to accomplish. Adding learning goals can be incredibly helpful not only in making our performance higher, but also in retaining our curiosity.

Pete Mockaitis
And now when we talk about learning goals, I can imagine there’s…what are the best practices in structuring those? Because I could articulate a learning goal many different ways which will have many different implications for when I get to claim victory and how I go about approaching it. So, how do we formulate that ideally?

Francesca Gino
I’m curious now to see what you have in mind. So, I would keep the same timeline that you have for your performance goals so that the two track together, and what we know from theories and a lot of writings around goals is to make them somewhat difficult but within reach. So, having said all of that, if I think about one of my learning goals since this little crisis started was to learn piano. I’ve never played piano before. And the way now that’s happening is with one of my children actually teach me what he knows, and often is just memorizing songs rather than really understanding the philosophy behind it. So, keeping ourselves honest. But, again, even with that caveat, I think that it’s making me ask a lot of questions about something that fundamentally I don’t know in a way that it’s quite positive.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I imagine that would be some carryovers into other domains. I’m thinking about Einstein and the violin, that was one of his things. And he thought this was absolutely an excellent use of his time and energy and genius, and working with children in particular, because they ask great questions, and they got things moving mentally in other areas.

Francesca Gino
Yup, that is good evidence that often not being entrenched and deeply specialized in a context or in an area of study can be helpful as you’re trying to come up with something creative, because you just have a fresh perspective rather than thinking through the old lenses of looking at that problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s one thing is to set some learning objectives. And it sounds like, to the point of how they’re articulated, maybe it doesn’t matter that much, but you tell me. Like, learn the piano, I mean, I could articulate that in terms of, “I will learn five songs on the piano. I will be able to play songs picturing 16th note triplets on the piano.” Like, we can have all sorts of levels of specificity or depth or not. What do you think?

Francesca Gino
I think that just the general idea of having learning goals is important. Specificity, I think, can help us so that you track your progress, which can be very motivating, so I love that part in what you said, but not necessary per se.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s one practice is the learning objectives. What else?

Francesca Gino
I love the idea of becoming people who actually model inquisitiveness for others. What are the opportunities to ask questions more often without that worry of being judged? In fact, many years ago, I took some improv comedy classes. It was actually a Christmas present for my husband to go to classes together. He hated it at first, but then since the course was 10-week long, he actually got used to it and really got to love it.

But what I’ve learned from improv, one of the lessons which really was an important one, is that curiosity and judgment cannot coexist. I think that it sounds simple but is actually profound. Think about when we’re suggesting ideas in a meeting, or we’re just brainstorming, or we are talking, or we’re disagreeing. I think that curiosity can really be helpful. And when we model it for others, so we’re the first one asking questions, really trying to understand the point of view of the person suggesting the idea, or as a statement whose different from our own, we end up faring much better. And so, I think a lot about, “What are the opportunities where I can ask more questions without the fear of being judged?”

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about that fear for a bit. To what extent is it real versus all in our minds? And is there a way we can clear the air or address it with our counterparts that we’re talking to? How do we tackle it?

Francesca Gino
So, surprisingly to many, asking questions is something that leads to positive outcomes. So, this is a question that my colleagues and I actually studied. And what we found is that when we ask questions in conversations, in meetings, others end up judging us more positively, and they also end up trusting us more and liking us more. And we looked at this in all sorts of context, from meetings at work to speed-dating events. Question-asking does not lead to the type of negative outcomes that we somehow expect to see.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess part of it probably depends on what the question is. My wife and I, we have this recurring joke when we had our first child. There was a class on taking care of your newborn at the hospital, and we just thought it’d be funny to say, “Wait. Time out for a second. I keep hearing us saying the word ‘baby.’ What’s that?” So, I guess that, beyond the ridiculous, like, we all know what a baby is, I guess there’s some kind of a threshold in terms of if the question…I mean, they say there are no stupid questions but there, kind of, are some, you know. But then, again, there’s the judgment. Help me out, Francesca.

Francesca Gino
Yes. So, absolutely, there are limits in the sense of there might, in fact, be questions where if you went through a welcoming process, like the example that you were using, you should know the answer. But I have to say that we often err on the side of not asking where we should ask. What we tend to forget, which I think is quite interesting, is that we feel that you are going to feel the cost of giving us an answer or helping us figure out whatever it is that we’re asking about. And what we forget is that it’s actually flattering for you to be asked.

So, for instance, we’ve looked at this in the context of asking for advice. And what we find is that people feel fearful that, “I’m going to create cost on your time, on maybe a meeting that you don’t want to have, when, in fact, the fact that I’m asking is actually quite flattering to you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, that’s true. And I’m thinking about my buddy Mawi here who’s episode number one. He’s a real mentor and inspiration and friend. And he will often ask me questions, and I think, “You’re so much smarter than I am and better at this business, this industry that we’re in.” But I do, I really do feel flattered when he asks and not at all sort of put upon, so I think that makes sense. So, we like them more, we trust them more, and we feel flattered when they ask the question maybe because we perceive that they are really interested, or really committed, or really think that we have something to offer. Or are there any other sort of explanations or mechanisms by which that result comes to be?

Francesca Gino
So, you are mentioning then that people feel that they have something valuable to offer and that feels good. It doesn’t feel like something negative or something at a cost. So, I am hoping that the evidence that we produce in this discussion is going to help people feel a little bit more comfortable next time that they want to ask or express their curiosity. And, again, I’m not suggesting that they come out with questions if they don’t have any, but what I’m suggesting is that, with authenticity, if there is something that you’re curious about, not to be afraid of being judged.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. Okay. So, with that perspective understood, we have a little bit of insulation from the fear just knowing, “Hey, actually, you’d probably be better off asking those questions.” Do you have any additional tips for the fear or things…? Are there any magical phrases you might use to preface your questions that feel like they give you a little bit of cover or can be secure for you?

Francesca Gino
Hmm, it’s interesting. We have not looked at that but I guess giving an explanation for why you’re asking can always be helpful because you’re just giving the other side a little bit more context for where your question is coming from. I should also say that one important application of what we’re talking about in the use of curiosity is in situations where you’re in disagreement with somebody.

And I’ve seen this happening so many times at work, also in family conflict where you’re in a heated situation, we are butting head-to-head, and the thing that we end up telling ourselves is, “Oh, maybe, you’re not as committed as I am to this cause, or to this project. Maybe you’re not as smart as I am or maybe you don’t have the right capabilities as I have for this project in moving this forward.”

And if at that very moment, we remind ourselves of the importance of curiosity, there is a really important shift that happens. Because, let’s imagine, let’s say, okay, now you’re zoned out, you’re as committed as I am to this, or you’re as smart as I am in approaching this, then you’d really start saying, “Then why is it that your view is so different from mine?” And you really want to investigate and seek to understand, and so you’re going to ask a lot of questions that the other side, or the other people involved, are really going to welcome.

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

Francesca Gino
No, the other point to keep in mind is, which has become a reminder for myself, is going through the day with more “What if…?” or “How could we…?” so that you consider alternatives. So, I’ve become pretty good at trying to remind myself, and then hopefully implement the idea of asking, “What could I do?” rather than, “What should I do?” since the ‘could’ retains your curiosity and actually allows you to expand on the possibilities.

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

Francesca Gino
“Break, transform, create.” This is a quote that comes from Chef Massimo Bottura, and it’s a great reminder of how we can all benefit from breaking away from tradition, routines, the usual way of working, and transform these routines to create something better in our own success.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite study, experiment, or bit of research?

Francesca Gino
These days one of the pieces of research I’m reminded of, which I love, is the research that Carol Dweck has done on the idea of growth mindset. Thinking of others as people who have a lot to offer and ooze intelligence and competencies can be developed rather than thinking of them as people’s intelligence and competence as fixed. That leads to very different interactions where we get to invest in them and in their development rather than not.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite book?

Francesca Gino
A favorite book is the book called “Yes, And.” It’s a book that Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton from Second City wrote about what it is that we all stand to learn from improv comedy.

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

Francesca Gino
A favorite tool these days is Zoom.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Francesca Gino
As I’m becoming much better at trying to leverage virtual and make it fun.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Francesca Gino
A favorite habit of mine is arriving at a time when I’m sitting down for dinner with my family, my four kids and my husband, and asking my children what are the two or three things that they’re grateful for.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite nugget, something you share that people seem to quote back to you often and you’re known for?

Francesca Gino
I gave it to you already, “Rebelliousness can be constructive rather than destructive.”

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

Francesca Gino
I would point them to either my personal website FrancescaGino.com or my book website RebelTalents.org. The book website has an interesting test potentially for those who listen in that can tell them which type of rebel they are. And if they come out as a pirate, it’s a very good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m picturing the eye patch and the sword and the hat.

Francesca Gino
You’d be surprised. You’d be surprised. It was actually a really interesting organization to study as I was working on the book because, at a time when it was about 200 years before slavery ended in the United States, they were the most diverse organization on the planet. So, just for that, I think they get a lot of credit, especially in a world like the one that we’re living through today. And they also were interestingly organized. So, the crew was in charge of choosing the captain, and the crew could actually rule the captain quite easily if the captain was not behaving well towards the crew.

And, to me, that raises the question, that is one that I ask myself quite often, which is, “Am I the captain that my crew would choose as its leader today?” And you can ask it if you’re a parent, you can ask it if you’re leading a group of people, you can also ask it in relationship to how you relate to your friends, or to your spouse, or to you colleagues.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is some fascinating stuff. I had no idea about this and the history of pirates. Where would you recommend, if there’s a book or a resource I could pick up, to educate myself on pirates?

Francesca Gino
So, there, I’m going to be self-serving since I did a lot of integration across resources as I was working on the book. So, I would read one of the chapters in “Rebel Talent” that talks about the pirates.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m scanning your table of contents right now. Oh, “Becoming a rebel leader: Blackbeard, “flatness,” and the 8 principles of rebel leadership.”

Francesca Gino
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
Page 191. Thank you. All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Francesca Gino
I would love for people to think about ways in which they can break away from their mold. As I was working on the book, I was surprised by how much courage it takes, because we’re breaking away from tendencies that we all have as human beings, but also how really satisfying and exciting the experience is. So, if you’re like me, after you tried the rebel life, you’d want to go back.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Francesca, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in all of your rebellions.

Francesca Gino
Thank you so much.

583: Dispelling the Motivation Myths of Passion and Willpower with Jeff Haden

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Jeff Haden says: "You can create all the motivation you need."

Jeff Haden discusses what we often get wrong about motivation—and what really works.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that makes any goal feel motivating 
  2. The subtle shift in phrasing that makes goals more motivating 
  3. A surprising way to boost your willpower

About Jeff

Jeff Haden is Inc.com’s most popular columnist and one of LinkedIn’s most widely-followed Influencers. His work has also appeared on TimeThe Huffington PostFast CompanyBusiness InsiderEntrepreneurYahoo! Small BusinessMSNBC, and CNBC.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome

Jeff Haden Interview Transcript

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

Jeff Haden
Thanks, Pete. I am delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m delighted to be here as well. We’re going to be talking about motivation so I thought I might start with asking, Jeff, what motivates you?

Jeff Haden
Oh, great. That is a fun question since I talk about motivation a lot. Probably the biggest motivator for me is seeing some type of improvement no matter what it is that I do. I learned a long time ago that you can have even the silliest or least meaningful goal possible, but if you set it and then you’re making some amount of improvement towards it, it feels good, and you end up liking whatever it is that you were doing. So that whole idea that you have to find your passion first before you can set off to do something, I think it’s kind of…well, I think it’s helpful but I don’t think it’s necessary.

So, if I can tell a really quick story. I decided a few years ago when I was writing my book, I kind of took a page from the Tim Ferriss playbook and decided it would be good to have a couple of cute hooks for me for people to latch onto, so I decided I was going to do 100,000 pushups in a year. So, it works out to 347 a day. I rounded it up to 400 just in case I had a bad day.

The goal was meaningless. I didn’t care. There’s nothing from it. I wasn’t getting paid. It was just something I decided to do, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it at first, but within a month, I liked pushups, I thought of myself as the Pushup Guy. I had fun trying to be able to do more per set or get the whole thing done quicker or all that other kind of stuff. And I actually came to like it and it is because I got fairly good at it.

So, I think if you’re willing to put the effort in, you can find that you will enjoy doing things that you never thought you would as long as you improve and get better at it, and some day get to be good at it. So, I’m convinced that we like the things that we are good at, you just have to give yourself a chance and the time to get good at it.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that completely resonates. I remember I was in high school when a speaker, he’s still rocking, Fran Kick is his name, he spoke to our marching band, and he made this little diagram about…he was in the context of practicing a musical instrument and talked about work, fun, good. As you work, you get good. And as you’re good, it’s more fun. And then you’re more likely to want to work. And I was like, “That makes so much sense.” I remember this diagram, wow, nearly 20 years later because it resonates as really true, whether it’s something silly like, I think, games do this on purpose in terms of like, “Ooh, hey, you’re getting better, Jack. Keep playing us. Keep tapping away.”

Jeff Haden
Yup. And I think that’s really important for people because, like, say, in your job. You get a new job, you find that it doesn’t turn out to be what you hoped it would be, which is almost always the case. There are parts of it that you don’t like, and so people automatically think, “Oh, man, I don’t really like this. I need to find something different.” But if you can put the effort into trying to get better at the things that you don’t like, you may find that you really like them and you enjoy them. And it may not be the most fulfilling thing you’ve ever done in your life, but it always feels good to be good at something. And then when you are good at that, people ask you for advice, people ask you for help, people look up to you as a mentor. That feels good, too, so you get this really cool circle of fun from just having put in the time to get better at something.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so your book is called The Motivation Myth. What exactly is the myth that we’re busting here?

Jeff Haden
Well, I think I’ve alluded to it already, so since it’s fun to drop names, I’ll drop a name or two. So, I was talking to Venus Williams, and I said, “You’re you so this must’ve been your passion your whole life long.” She said, “No, no.” “Really?” “Dad started us out playing tennis. I thought, ‘Man, it would be fun to get better at this.’ I just kept trying to get better. And as I got better, it felt good and I just kept trying to get better.”

And so, I kind of added that up with I’m lucky enough that I get to talk to lots of really successful people in a variety of fields, and I’ve never found one of them that had that lightning bolt of inspiration somewhere along the way that’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I found my passion and I’m set for life, and I’ve got all the motivation I ever need.” They all just found something they were interested in, decided to try it, and then put in the time and effort to get better and create this little feedback loop, like you described, of effort equals success, equals happiness, equals more effort.

So, I contrasted that with a lot of the people that write to me, saying, “Hey, I’m not achieving my goals. I’m not getting anywhere. Do you have any advice for me?” And every one of them was saying, “I haven’t found my passion.” And so, the myth to me is that you have to find your passion first. When, really, what it is, is you have to just decide, “Hey, I want to try this. I have a goal. I’m going to figure out a process to get me there,” and we can talk about that, “And I will get all the motivation I need from my effort as opposed to receiving this motivation from some external source or this lightning bolt,” that carries you along your way.

So, the big takeaway is that you can create all the motivation you need if you know how.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds exciting, and I want to definitely get into the process and how that’s done. Now, first, let’s talk a little bit more about what not to do. And I noticed a couple of your reviews, I stalk my guests, in your book on Amazon, some of the reviews and some of your sales copy has some jabs at Tony Robbins. So, a fun fact, when I was a teenager, Tony Robbins was my hero and I wanted to be just like him. I’ve since adopted new role models although I still have learned very valuable things from Tony Robbins.

Jeff Haden
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what’s your hot take here?

Jeff Haden
Well, first of all, I did take a few shots at Tony. Tony is aware of the shots I took at him. Tony doesn’t mind and, in fact, we’ve collaborated on a few things since then, so I would never consider him a friend. I would never be so presumptuous as to say he’s a friend. But I know him and we get along fine, and I like him, and we just had a difference of opinion.

So, my shot at Tony was one of the things that they at least used to do, I don’t know if they still do, but they had the firewalk.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m a firewalker, Jeff.

Jeff Haden
You did? Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve walked it.

Jeff Haden
All right, then this is perfect. So, you’ve got the hot coals, and somehow, like that scene from The Office.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jeff Haden
By walking across them, that shows you that you can do anything, and that sends you off on your way ready to conquer the world. There’s a little bit of truth to that, and I’m sure that that works. But the problem is that’s a very momentary thing and it’s not something you really put a lot of effort into. All you had to do was try to say, “Aargh,” you almost had to freeze your brain for a second and just go, which, that’s an important ability to have but that doesn’t help you when you’ve been working at something for six months or nine months or a year, and it’s hard, and you’re struggling, and you’re hitting roadblocks. How do you find the perseverance to work through that stuff? That’s a whole different kind of a play.

So, my shot at Tony was basically that if you want that momentary one-off, “Yes, I finally bungee jumped,” “Yes, I finally jumped out of a plane,” “Yeah, I walked across the hot coals,” not to downplay your experience. I’m sure it was awesome. But that’s not the thing that is going to get you a long-term dose of motivation that you need. It does prove to you that you can do things that you didn’t think you could do, and that is really important. But those are very kind of one-off momentary things. That’s not a long-term solution to a motivation problem.

Pete Mockaitis
I agree.

Jeff Haden
So, that was my shot at Tony.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jeff Haden
So, it’s really not that bad of a shot if you think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. I mean, you could say worse about any of us. You know what’s funny, my firewalking wasn’t that much of a challenge because it was raining the day of, and my feet were actually pretty cold on the asphalt parking lot of the hotel, it’s like, “Dude, my feet are cold. I want to get on those coals just to warm them up a little bit.”

Jeff Haden
How hot was it?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know the precise temperature but…

Jeff Haden
No, I mean, how hot did it feel?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, my experience was it was like, “Ooh, that’s kind of toasty.” And, now, if I were starting from a normal foot temperature, I don’t know. But it was fine, it was fun, and I learned some things, and, yeah, I think. Every thought leader has things that are more or less applicable to everyone, and that’s why we get a lot of voices. So, Let’s hear now. So, how do we get it going? So, we’ve got that sort of virtuous cycle. If I want to have more motivation, what are my first steps?

Jeff Haden
The first thing is the easiest place to start is with something that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t. So, let’s just make something up. Let’s say your bucket list is not just to walk on hot coals from a tepid fire or parking lot, but you want to run a marathon. Let’s use that. So, you’ve always wanted to do so but you’re not even a runner. So, the first thing you do is you pick your goal, and then you say, “Okay, I’m going to forget the fact that…” if you harken back to the Monty Python movie Life of Brian, where the guy says, you know, “We’re all individuals,” and then one guy says, “I’m not.” Think that you’re not an individual and realize that there are perfectly good processes out there waiting for you to follow that are almost guaranteed for you to succeed if you put in the work.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking of Hal Higdon’s program right there. Bam!

Jeff Haden
But what ends up happening is that people say, “Okay, I’m unique, I’m special, I need a bespoke process. There are things that I’m willing to do. There are things I’m not willing to do.” And by the time you’re done, you’ve boxed yourself into this thin little slice of effort and program that it’s not going to work for you. So, the first thing you do is say, “I’m willing to do what it takes to get there.” And if you’re not, then don’t even start because you’ve picked a hard goal. And the best way to find that process to work, that will work, is to forget about the idea of finding somebody to “coach” you. And I just used Dr. Evil air quotes. That instead of coaching you, the key is to find a pro. And by a pro, I mean someone who has done what it is you say you want to do.

So, if it’s a marathon, it’s a guy that you know or that you can connect with, and through social media you can connect with anybody you want at this point, and just say, “Hey, I admire you, I respect what you’ve done. I would like to run a marathon. Here’s where I’m starting from. If you were me, what would you do?” And what you’re going to get from someone like that, if they are truly someone who has done what you want to do, you’re going to get a hard process. You’re going to get the clear-eyed, cold, hard truth of, “Here’s what it takes to go and do that.”

And then, instead of whining about it, instead of saying, “Oh, but that’s not going to work for me, and I’m special and I’m unique,” or whatever. You say, “Okay, that is what I’m going to do,” and you give yourself two weeks, and you say, “For two weeks, I will follow this exactly. I’m not going to pop my head up and think about changing. I’m not going to worry about modifying. I’m not going to adapt. I’m going to do this.”

The reason for that is you don’t know enough about what it is you’re trying to do to be able to make smart revisions early on because you have no clue. And why would you? And if you revise, you’re probably going to revise to easier, which means you’re going to be less successful and make less progress. So, if you keep your head down for two weeks, invariably, you will pop up at the end of the two, and you will have gotten a little better, a little stronger, a little faster, a little smarter, whatever it is you’re trying to do. You will have seen improvement and you will realize that, “This works.” And by knowing that your effort paid off, we’re back to your band speech of, “Hey, I put in the effort, I’ve seen some success, that feels good, that makes me happy, that makes me get up tomorrow and do whatever it is I’m supposed to do tomorrow.”

And that’s the real key, is to forget about the distance between here, which is wherever you’re starting, and there, which is this long path that takes you to this goal that you want to achieve, and just focus on what you have to do today. And if you focus on today, and you do what’s on your list for today, you get to feel good about yourself at the end of the day because you’ve done what you set out to do, that’s motivating in itself, and that will keep you making progress. And then you get this endless source of motivation because every day you get to tap into it.

I know that was a long answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I love it.

Jeff Haden
But it’s a simple way to approach it, and you can do almost anything that you want to do if you’re willing to follow that kind of process.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it’s intriguing, like when you go through those steps of you talk to the pro, and then you follow it to a T for two weeks, and you observe some levels of improvement, you might say, “You know what, I actually am not that charged up about being able to run a little bit more now than I was before, about what’s happening to my body and my energy levels. As it turns out, running a marathon was cool in theory, but I don’t actually care about it and I can let go of it with peace.”

Jeff Haden
Yup. And that’s an awesome side effect because you do find out, “Is this really something I will enjoy doing?” Because the end result, you only get to enjoy that for a little bit. Actually, completing the marathon and getting your medal and having your picture taken, and all that other stuff, that’s a very small slice. If you don’t enjoy the day-to-day, then, to me, you’re kind of wasting your time because that’s a lot of effort to put into this momentary slice of, “Wow, I get to feel really good about myself.”

So, if you find at the end of two weeks that, “Yeah, this really isn’t for me, not because it’s too hard but because it really isn’t that fun and rewarding,” then you’ve done yourself a great service because you haven’t wasted six months kind of trying, kind of running, kind of feeling bad about yourself all the time whenever you don’t. And having that in the back of your mind, “Wow, that’s something I really want to accomplish,” saying no to your goals is as important as choosing the ones that you want to go after. It’s a cliché but it’s true. People have tons of goals but they don’t really know whether they want to do them or not, or they like the process. So, if you find ways to sift through that, then you’ll settle on the stuff that you really do like and you really do find enjoyable, and maybe you become a runner for the rest of your life or maybe you don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to get your take on I think a lot of goals fit very neatly with that, and maybe I’m just a quantifiable kind of a guy. I like quantification and so I’m thinking, “Hey, running. Hey, I’ve ran farther than I did before. I feel great about that accomplishment.” I’m thinking maybe sales, “Hey, I’ve made these sales calls.” Maybe writing, “I’ve cranked out these blogposts or these pages or this word count.” And so, I’m wondering about what if things are a little fuzzy? Like, let’s say I want to learn a skill. I have a goal, let’s say, to be a great presenter. I want to be confident and dynamic and inspiring. I guess that’s a little fuzzier in terms of, “Oh, how do I measure my speaking quality?” I guess I’d get a panel of judges in recurring intervals. What do I do?

Jeff Haden
It’s a good question, but I think you can still quantify that to some degree because the outcome, first of all, your goal is a little fuzzy, which is why that seems to be hard. Maybe your goal is instead of it being, “I want to be a great confident speaker,” maybe your goal is, “I want to do a TEDx,” for instance. All right, that’s a little more quantifiable but it carries with it the same qualities that you’re looking for if you just want to be a better speaker.

So, maybe you shift your goal into something that is more quantifiable. But then the rest of it, you can make it kind of numbers-based. You can say, “Okay, I’m going to create five different presentations. I’m going to rehearse them X number of times.” And you build a process that makes you better, that helps you gain the confidence, or you say, “I’m going to work my way up through the ranks of any local organization that will have me,” to, “Hey, I finally got a paid gig,” or whatever. So, you have to find some kind of quantifiable measures of success.

That’s like people that say, “I want to get in better shape.” What does that mean? That’s an admirable goal but it doesn’t mean anything. How do you figure out when you’ve gotten there and what it means to you? And so, therefore, how do you create a process that gets you there when you don’t even know what it means. Or, “I’d like to lose a little weight.” Well, okay, “I’d like to lose 10 pounds” is a little easier to work at because you have a process that you can create to get there.

So, I’ve gone all the way around the barn with my answer but, first of all, your goal needs to be sharper and a little more quantifiable, and then you can create a process and have milestones that actually tell you whether you’re getting there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. And so, some of those milestones can just be a matter of output, like, “Hey, I did these things. I said these are the five books, and I read the five books. I did 12 reps of different speeches, videotaping and reviewing of them, and I did the videotape and the review of them.” So, someone is just like, “I did the work and I feel great about that.” Or maybe you could say, “Hey, boss, this is something I’m working on. Can we get some video of before and after? And I’d like for you to tell me this is night and day better for these five reasons,” and that’s success.

Jeff Haden
And here’s another example. Like, say your goal is to be a better leader. All right. Well, that’s a pretty fuzzy one, too, but you can quantify that in different ways. You can say, “Okay, I want to be the leader that gets the most people promoted out of everyone else at my level.” That means you’re a good developer, that you’re putting people in great spots, you’re showing that they succeed, you’re giving them praise and recognition, you’re doing all those things. Or it could be numbers-based in terms of productivity or quality or whatever else it might be. So, you can find anything that seems fuzzy and you could put some quantifiable stuff around it. And then that gives you a structure where you’re actually working at the things that will make you that better leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I dig that. And I guess I was being a little facetious earlier when I talked about, “Convene a panel of judges.” But I remember back when I was doing more keynotes on college campuses, I would have everyone fill out a little bit of an accountability form, like, “Hey, Pete, hold me accountable to doing this one thing.” So, I’d give them a follow-up email. And it’s like, “Hey, by the way, score me zero to five in how effective this was.” And I could actually see, hey, what percentage gave me the five. And then I’d also use similar language to, I guess I’m a little competitive, to what an organization that had many speakers to college students was using for their program evaluations, it’s like, “Oh, I could see what dozens of speakers got,” and I’m using the same question so I could compare against them, and then over time. And, sure enough, it was motivating.

Jeff Haden
I’ve done the same thing. Like, if I’m speaking at conferences, and I think this is a cute little tip that applies to just about anything. I can’t be the best speaker in the world, I don’t believe. But, going into a conference, I can try to be the best speaker that was there. I can be the one that people remember the most, or they got the most out of my presentation. Whatever it may be, I can try to “win” that event.

And so, if you approach it that way, now you have a goal. You can look at what other people are doing, you can decide how you’re going to stand out, you can make sure that you actually are speaking to what the audience needs and will benefit from. You could do all that kind of stuff. And you can apply that to your job. You can say, “All right. I’m not CEO yet but I can be the best supervisor in my department, and I can stand out there. And then when I get promoted, okay, now I’m going to be the best at this.” And it doesn’t make you competitive in a bad way. It just makes you evaluate yourself against other people and see where you fall short and see where you can do better. And that gives you something to tangibly do in order to improve your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re spending a lot of time here but it’s time well-spent because just the feeling…

Jeff Haden
I’m long-winded. I’m sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
No, no, I’m saying I feel the difference as I’m imagining these goals in their fuzzy form versus their precise form, like get in better shape, or run more, is a lot different than, “Complete 26.2 miles.” And, likewise, “I want to give a great speech” is different than, “I want to receive the highest evaluations at this event or the highest ever evaluations I personally received are higher than I did last year at the event,” like kind of whatever. Like, it gets real sharp and clear, it’s like, “Oh, shoot. Well, then if I want to pull that off, well, then I’d better get a really clear understanding of this audience and their needs. Just doing something off the shelf probably ain’t going to cut it.”

Jeff Haden
And it allows you to make the most important comparison of all which is not to other people but to yourself and what you were doing yesterday, and how you can be today and tomorrow, because it brings that focus back to, “What do I need to do in order to get to this place that I want to be?” as opposed to, “Well, I’m doing better than he is so I must be winning.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so I have so many things I wrote down so it might be a little bit jumpy.

Jeff Haden
That’s all right.

Pete Mockaitis
But here we’re going to go. You say there is a question that provides nearly every answer. What is this question, Jeff?

Jeff Haden
There can be one question that you ask yourself that will answer most of your questions, or that will help you make most decisions. It comes from Herb Kelleher, the passed-away CEO of Southwest Airlines. So, he framed every question that employees ask him because he’s thinking about the amount of decisions he had to make in a day. It was probably a zillion. So, he framed it with, “Will this make Southwest Airlines the lowest-cost provider?” If it would, great. It’s something worth exploring. If it wouldn’t, even if it was a seemingly great idea that might be fun, it would take them off in some other direction that didn’t drive towards whatever it is they were trying to achieve, and he could say no.

So, you can make your own one question for whatever it might be. If you want to be a better leader and you see an interpersonal issue between two of your employees, you ask yourself one question, “Would a great leader ignore this? Nah, you would probably step in.” So, you can frame everything you do as a boss through, “Would a great leader allow this? Would a great leader do this?” So, you can do that with anything. If you’re trying to lose weight, “Does a person trying to lose 10 pounds have two pieces of cake after dinner? Yeah, probably not.” “Does a person who wants to be better in band not put in the effort in order to play better?” That’s a dumb example but I was trying to harken back to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Jeff Haden
But you can create your one question and it allows you to make a whole lot of decisions based on, “That’s my goal.” So, if you know your goal then you can allow that to inform the decisions you make, and then you don’t have to have this negotiation with yourself, like, “Oh, but I could have that piece of cake because tomorrow I’ll work out twice as long and I’ll burn the calories off.” Well, you never do. We never win those negotiations. But if you just say, “Hey, that’s not what I do, that’s not my goal, that’s not part of my thing,” it’s an easy decision to make. And in fact, it isn’t a choice at all, because it’s who you are, not what you have decided in that moment. If you can adapt to the identity, then everything is easy.

Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
I do.

Jeff Haden
Okay. Do you wake up every day and think, “Hmm, I really need to be a good parent today”? No, you don’t. That’s not a decision. You’re a good parent. You try to be a good parent. That is who you are. You don’t have to make that decision. I know sometimes it’s hard. I’ve got four kids, I understand. But that’s part of your identity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, that is intriguing is that I put forth plenty of effort towards that end, and I have never asked myself that question. I’ve had self-doubt, like, “Am I really a good dad?”

Jeff Haden
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
“What do I need to do differently?”

Jeff Haden
And that’s a tough one so let’s use that differently. Let’s say that I know there’s a moment. We used the marathon example. For a while, if you’re training for a marathon and you haven’t run before, you see yourself as a person who has to go out and run. But, at some point, if you do it long enough and it becomes part of your daily routine and what you do, you see yourself as a runner. And when that’s part of your identity, no longer is it hard to go out for your run because that’s just what you do. It’s not hard for you to take care of your kids because that’s just what you do. It’s not a decision you have to make every time.

If you’ve worked at doing the right things as a leader, you don’t have to sit there and ask yourself a question about, “What is the right thing to do in this situation?” because you’re a leader, and you’re going to do what you need to do because that’s who you are. So, if you stick with something long enough, and it becomes part of your identity, it’s a really easy path to follow.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, while we talk about identity, I’m curious about where do you come out in the world of discipline, willpower, habits? What do you think about that stuff?

Jeff Haden
I think you can develop greater willpower. I think you can develop greater discipline. I think habits are easy to lose and really hard to create, and once you’ve fallen off of a habit wagon, it’s really hard to get back on. But I think the better approach is to find ways so that willpower is not required. So, like to start my day, I work from home and always have, or I have for about 20 years, so I get up, I brush my teeth. This is more information than you need. But I get up, I brush my teeth, I go downstairs, I sit down, I’ve already laid all my stuff for whatever the most important thing is I have to do that day. I did that last night. I have a bottle of water and a protein bar sitting there, and I start work. And I start work on whatever is the hardest or the most important thing.

That’s just what I do, and I’ve greased the skids, so to speak, so that it is easy as possible for me to sit down and get started, so I really don’t have to have any willpower because I’m not making any decisions. I’m just walking down, sitting down, opening up, eat while I go, it’s all good. If I eased into my day, checked some email, looked around some news, did a couple of goofy things, at some point I have to make that decision to flip the switch, and then I need some willpower in order to get going.

But if you do some kind of environmental architecture, so to speak, then you don’t need willpower. If you’re trying to drink less soda and more water, if you keep three or four bottles of water on your desk, and the soda is two rooms away, what are you going to drink? You don’t have to make a choice because the water is there and you reach for it. So, I think you can develop more willpower but it’s a lot easier if you find ways to make it so that the willpower isn’t required in the first place. And that is not as hard as it sounds like it should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. Those simple environmental shifts will go a long way. Cool. I got you.

Jeff Haden
What’s that cheesy thing about if you eat on smaller plates, you’d think you’ve eaten more food? It does work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, I think that some portion control…

Jeff Haden
There’s all kinds of stuff like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Like, if I’m drinking wine, talk about drinking, if I’m drinking wine directly out of the bottle…

Jeff Haden
Oh, yeah, you’re hammering.

Pete Mockaitis
It goes way faster than if I pour it into a glass first.

Jeff Haden
Yup. And if you do short pours every time, you’ll probably drink less. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly.

Jeff Haden
Yeah. That’s not really on topic, but still.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think, I mean, you can talk about your portion in any number of ways, whether it’s what’s on your to-do list or your food and drink, that’s either that you’re trying to eat more of or less of, that’s great.

Jeff Haden
But I do have one tip, if you don’t mind, about increasing your willpower. We all have these limits that we’ve created for ourselves, and it’s mostly out of habit where if you’re used to working eight hours, then into that ninth hour feels hard. So, an easy way to kind of reset your limits is not to try to go, “All right. Today, I’m going to do eight and a half.” But do something wildly past whatever your normal limit is, and it will allow you to reset.

So, I like to ride bikes, and so if I’m averaging 30-mile bike rides, if I, one day, just say, “You know what, I’m going to do a double. I’ll go 60,” then when you ride a 30 the next time, it seems really easy because, in your mind, you’ve done the 60 recently. So, a cool way to develop more willpower is to go way over the top of whatever it is you’re doing. You don’t want to do it every time because you’ll burn out pretty quickly. But that will reset what you think your internal limit is and it will take you a little farther. And maybe that’s doing something faster, not necessarily longer. It could be all kinds of shifts.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and that’s actually kind of exciting too when you’re in the midst of it. I remember one, there were a couple of times I did 10, 11 hours of coaching sessions in a day. That’s been a while since I’ve done that.

Jeff Haden
Ooh, that’s a long time.

Pete Mockaitis
And, sure enough, it made it seem easy when there’s a moderate four, five, six, seven hours of coaching in a day. And so, it’s been a while since I’ve done that, such that now it would seem very hard. But I remember, on those days it was exciting because it’s sort of like, “Oh, boy, we’re breaking a record.” It’s like, “Ooh, can I do it? Can I do it? Play the inspiring music. Do a little energizer dance.” It’s sort of like I had to dig deeper to just figure out how the heck to stay sane and focused and present and energized.

Jeff Haden
And the other funny thing about that was probably the first six or seven hours didn’t seem long at all because, in your mind, you knew you had a long way to go so you forgot about the whole, “Ooh, I’m already two-thirds away through my day. I can’t wait for the eight hours to be over,” or whatever it is. You’re just in it. You’ve settled in, you’ve found your Zen place kind of, and you’re just in it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got a term, an extreme productivity day, EPD. Is this sort of what we’re talking about? Is that a different concept for you?

Jeff Haden
No, it’s kind of the same thing where you say, “All right. I’ve got this task and it’s going to take me longer than some block of time I would usually associate with it but I really want to get it done.” So, let’s say you think it will take you 12 hours, and you just say, “You know what, I’m going to give it everything towards that, and that is going to be my day, whatever day it is,” and you prep yourself for it, and you set some things in place, and you let people know you can’t be disturbed, and there’s a lot of tips that I have with that.

But, basically, what you’re doing is you’re saying, “For this one day, I am going to knock this thing out,” and you create little breaks for yourself, and you make sure you’re hydrated, and you make sure you get snacks along the way, and all those other things. But the idea is that every once in a while, you take something that has been kind of nagging at you, you haven’t been able to get done, and you just say, “For this day, that’s what I’m going to finish.” And it feels awesome when you’re done, and that also ratchets up your productivity expectations because you realize that if you put your mind to it, you can, which sound like a little Tony Robbins, yes, it will, but that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it just has all sorts of follow-on effects in terms of you feel great about just your self-confidence and ability to rock and roll. Well, awesome. Jeff, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about motivation before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jeff Haden
No, let’s go. Let’s do some quick ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear about your favorite quote.

Jeff Haden
So, my favorite is from Jimmy Spithill. He was America’s Cup-winning skipper some years ago, Team Oracle, I believe it was. And his quote is, “Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.” And I like that because I’m not as smart as most people, I’m not as talented as most people, I’m not as connected, all those other things, but if I want a competitive advantage, I can always try to outwork you.

Pete Mockaitis
What I also like is that it’s rarely, it’s like occasionally in workaholic burnout situations that is the better move. But rarely.

Jeff Haden
Yup, exactly. So, that’s the quote I like.

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

Jeff Haden
One of my favorites is, it’s kind of hard to describe, but if I was going to sum it up, it’s that if you talk about your intention, let’s say you’ve decided you’re going to do something, and you talk about it to other people, you are significantly less likely to actually accomplish what it is you say that you are going to do. And I have a quote that I wrote down, it’s from this researcher, “When other people take notice of an individual’s identity-related behavioral intention,” it sounds like a researcher wrote it, “this gives the individual a premature sense of possessing the aspired-to identity.” So, if I say that I’m going to run a marathon, and you and I are talking about it…

Pete Mockaitis
Good for you, Jeff. You’re amazing. Wow.

Jeff Haden
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so great, Jeff.

Jeff Haden
Inside, I feel like I have already done it. And so, therefore, I’ve gotten some of the mental kick out of it, and I’m much less likely to do it. So, if you feel like you need some people to hold you accountable, like you need an accountability buddy, or you want the peer pressure to keep you on your task, don’t talk about the goal other than just very briefly. Talk about the process you’re going to follow and have them hold you to that. So, instead of, “Hey, how’s it going towards your marathon?” It should be, “Hey, you said you were going to run three times this week. Did you?” And hold me accountable to my process because process is going to get you there. Goal isn’t going to get you there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jeff Haden
I’m going to go with two. One is So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. It’s about probably six or eight years old but I really like it, and if, for no other reason, then it kind of helped inform some of the stuff that I wrote about where it’s all about process and identity and you can learn to find passions through doing things as opposed to having to discover them. And the other one is The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Do you watch Billions, the Showtime show?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, not yet. It keeps coming up more and more. I’m going to have to take a peek.

Jeff Haden
You should. I don’t love this season as much but the first three especially are really good. But, anyway, one of the characters on there actually was reading that book last night, and I emailed Daniel, and said, “Hey, did you know that was coming?” And he said, “No, but it’s really cool.”

Pete Mockaitis
It reminds me, we had Kim Scott who wrote Radical Candor on the show, and then I was watching Silicon Valley, and they kept referencing it, it’s like, “Ah, what’s Kim have to say?” And so, I went on Twitter, so that’s a fun moment.

Jeff Haden
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
When us semi-famous people have moments of TV-style fame.

Jeff Haden
Yup, it is always fun to see. It is always fun to see people you know, or have talked to, or somehow have some sort of small relationship with, out there somewhere, and you go, “Oh, that’s really cool.” I don’t know. It’s like you lived through them a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Jeff Haden
I already talked about that. That’s to start my day with the most important thing that I need to do and prep for it the night before because all the decisions are gone. And the cool thing about that is when you get it done, instead of saying, “Wow, I’m finished,” and you’ve lost motivation. You’ve actually gained it because you knocked off that tough thing and it creates momentum that takes you into the rest of your stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, people quote it back to you frequently?

Jeff Haden
Quoted back to me? No, but I have something that I just read recently that I really like. It’s called The Ben Franklin Effect. And so, the idea is that if you think someone doesn’t like you particularly well, and you’d like to kind of bridge that relationship or make it better, ask them to do you a favor. And, typically, they will find that they like you better, which sounds totally counterintuitive. Psychologists say it’s because there’s cognitive dissonance involved which means that you couldn’t have done me a favor if you didn’t like me, so somehow you reconciled that in your mind.

I think it’s because when you help someone, and they appreciate it, you feel better, and you like that. We always like to help people and be appreciated, and that makes us like people more. But either way, if you have somebody you don’t think you’re getting along with very well, oddly enough, ask them to do you a favor, then thank them profusely and they will probably end up liking you better.
So, that means if you ask me for a favor, then I’ll know that there’s a problem with our relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
No. Well, I feel like it’s a favor that you’re on the show, and maybe you feel like I’m doing you a favor because exposure and platform…

Jeff Haden
Maybe it’s mutually beneficial.

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

Jeff Haden
Oh, I write for Inc. Magazine, so if you go to Inc.com I’ve got several thousand articles there. Probably I’m a LinkedIn influencer, which is the only time I’ll ever be on a list with Richard Branson and Bill Gates and those folks. And so, I do accept connection requests. I wouldn’t appreciate it if you say you want to connect, and then the very next thing you say to me is, “Would you buy this from me?” then that’s not really my favorite thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I agree.

Jeff Haden
That’s not my favorite thing but, nonetheless, I do connect with people, and I will certainly talk to them there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, tell me, any final challenges or calls to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jeff Haden
I guess I would go back to what I said earlier where whatever you are doing, try to find some slice of that that you can be the best at. Say you’re going to a meeting, you don’t necessarily have to “win the meeting,” but maybe you can be the most prepared, or maybe you can be the one with the most research to your disposal, or maybe you can be the one that helps kind of keep the conversation on track or whatever it is. Find some way to be the best person at something at whatever it is you are doing and that habit will lead you to a lot of success.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. And sometimes you can just be the person who seems the most engaged and listening in a meeting, like that gives a great energy in terms of you’re not checked out on your phone

Jeff Haden
It also makes you feel better about yourself. I ride bikes a lot and I have people that I’ll ride with sometimes that are professional cyclists, which means that I’m in a world of hurt for the whole time and sometimes can’t keep up, and so I know that I can’t do the most pulls from the front. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t do, but I can be the guy who always has a couple of spare tubes, a couple of CO2 cartridges in case somebody has a flat. I’ve got a couple extra bottles of water, so I can be the little Sherpa of sorts on the group ride, and I can do that. And that makes me feel better about the fact I’m there. It gives me a little sense of belonging in that way and actually makes it a little bit more fun, so I get to be that guy. So, I’m winning that one small thing, but when you do that, you feel a little better about yourself. And ain’t that what we’re all looking for?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, absolutely, and it’s great for your own confidence. Once again, I’m going back to the college keynoting stuff. It’s like, maybe this event has a lot of topnotch speakers or super famous heads of state, whatever, speak at that school, and I think, “I might not be the greatest speaker that you see this year, the most famous or inspiring. But, by golly, I am the most equipped to resolve tech headaches. I got every adapter you could conceive of, and some cables, and some transmit…”

Jeff Haden
I’m going to be the AV guy’s best friend.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, the AV guys are like, “Do you have the adapter?” “I got every adapter.”

Jeff Haden
Yeah, and I look at that, sometimes I’ll be invited to things or…and I just say, “You know what, I’m going to be the lowest maintenance person they have ever worked with. I’m going to be the least needy, the least babysat, the least whatever, the most accommodating, that’s going to be me. And even if I’m not perfect at everything else, that I can do.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. So, it’s affirmative somewhere, gets you the confidence and the feel good and momentum. Love it.

Jeff Haden
Awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jeff, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and motivation in all your adventures.

Jeff Haden
Thank you, sir. I appreciate it. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for doing it. Thanks for your prep. It was really fun.

582: The Five Behaviors That Make You an Indispensable “Go-to” Person with Bruce Tulgan

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Bruce Tulgan discusses how to build real influence and become the go-to person in your workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset that makes you indispensable
  2. Why you shouldn’t stick to your speciality
  3. How to stop juggling and start finishing tasks

About Bruce

Bruce Tulgan is the best-selling author of It’s Okay to Be the Boss and the CEO of RainmakerThinking, the management research, consulting and training firm he founded in 1993. All of his work is based on 27 years of intensive workplace interviews and has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world. Bruce’s newest book, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, is available July 21 from Harvard Business Review Press. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his website at rainmakerthinking.com.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Bruce Tulgan Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Bruce, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you so much for having me back on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. And last time we spoke, which is way back in episode 302, I was impressed with just how real a sense you had for the worker and the crisis of under-management, as you called it at the time. Can you tell us, what’s the lay of the land right now in terms of the worker experience amidst remote work and pandemic, and what’s really going on here?

Bruce Tulgan
I think most people right now are feeling a tremendous sense of uncertainty. A lot of people, of course, are afraid for their health and wellbeing, or the health and wellbeing of their colleagues or their family. I think a lot of people are worried about the security of their jobs. I think in the environment where a lot of people have been furloughed or who have been let go, usually as a result of just economic necessity by employers, are leaving fewer people to do as much work, or more work in many cases, trying to reinvent the work in some cases, or trying to figure out what to do the same and what has to change. I think most people are feeling very vulnerable to a lot of forces outside their control.

And, look, even before the pandemic era, I think, like employers were trying to get more and more and more out of every person. Most people were feeling, I think, like they have to deal with more and more people, up, down, sideways, and diagonal, all over the organization chart. People are fielding requests all day long from their colleagues, not just from their boss and their teammates but from people in other teams and other departments.

So, I think people are grappling with a tremendous sense of uncertainty and over-commitment, and that’s where we find ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you addressed many these questions even before the pandemic came about in your upcoming book The Art of Being Indispensable at Work. Can you tell us, what’s the key thesis here?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, everywhere I go people are saying, “Gosh, I want to be one of those indispensable go-to people but how can I say yes to everyone and everything?” And the result is you get over-committed, and then, all of a sudden, you’re juggling. Pretty soon, if you’re juggling, you start dropping balls. What do you do? You work harder and harder and harder. You try to juggle faster and faster and faster.

So, those, increasingly with the questions that people have been asking me in our seminars, led me to our research. One of the things I’ve been doing for years is studying what I call go-to people. Everywhere I go when I’m doing talent assessments, I ask everybody, “Hey, who are your go-to people?” For years I’ve been trying to figure out, “What is it that these people are doing? Why did they make it to these go-to list over and over and over again, consistently over time? What is it that they have in common? How is it that they don’t get over-committed and don’t suffer from siege mentality, and don’t go from saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ to saying, ‘No, no, no, get away from me, it’s not my job. You’re not my boss.’?” So, it was really an effort to study that data and draw the lessons from it that led to this new book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, do tell, what does make a person a go-to person? And, first of all, what are the benefits of being a go-to person? I imagine job security, feeling good about yourself. But you may have a more research-based answer to that.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. Look, if everybody always wants to go to you, this gives you an incredible source of power that other people want to work with you, other people want you to want to work with them. And so, I wanted to see, “Well, what is it about these folks?”

It didn’t take long to realize that it was a true service mindset. People who they really want to add value in every interaction with others. They really want to add value. They focus on, “Hey, here’s what I can do for you not what I want from you.” And so, it sounds very selfless but, of course, that is exactly what leads to over-commitment syndrome, right?

So, that was the conundrum, right? How do you make yourself a go-to person and serve others consistently without succumbing to over-commitment syndrome? And what I came to realize was what makes it seem like an unsolvable puzzle, is actually the key to the solution, that it was the people who realized that, first and foremost, you have to fight and defeat over-commitment syndrome. You have to resist the over-commitment syndrome because if you say “Yes, yes, yes” to everyone and everything, you end up doing nothing for anyone ultimately because you make lots of unnecessary mistakes. You get into all kinds of trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, this is resonating in terms of that’s what makes an indispensable person is just that they want to add value, they genuinely care. We’ve heard this sort of theme in a number of ways, from a number of guests. They’re not so much motivated by climbing the ladder, being the top dog, looking awesome. They just really do believe in what they’re doing and want to help people and achieve those objectives. So, cool. So, there we have it. That’s the thing that makes them indispensable and, yet, they also have to then play defense against the tendency to overcommit to do everything for everyone at all times. So, how is that done?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, I started calling this the peculiar mathematics of real influence because it’s become conventional wisdom that if you don’t have authority you have to use influence. And I try to figure out, “Well, what do people really mean by that, use influence?” Often, what they really mean is stand-ins for authority. And what is authority? Authority is control over rewards and punishments. Authority is a position, power, whereby you enforce the rules using rewards and punishments. That’s what authority is.

Influence is power you have without position. But this leads a lot of people down the wrong path because, “Are you supposed to badger?” Sometimes people deputize themselves, right? They go over your head, or they go to their boss, or they try to play the quid pro quo, “You do this for me, I’ll do that for you. You don’t do this for me, then maybe I’ll withhold my support for you in the future.” Sometimes they try to flatter and ingratiate themselves. But none of these things build real influence.

The reason I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence is it’s an asset that you have but it lives in the minds of other people. My influence with you lives in your brain and your heart, right? And so…

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I feel powerful.

Bruce Tulgan
Right. So, that’s why the mathematics are so peculiar because if you try to badger, or bribe, or threaten, or bully, or ingratiate yourself, or go over somebody’s head, you lose real influence. They stop rooting for you, they root against you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That kind of sucks.

Bruce Tulgan
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to not think, if possible.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, so you might get your way in the short term but in the long term, you do not build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds. So, the way you build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds is by conducting yourself in a certain way. And I call it playing the long game one moment at a time. It’s doing the right thing in the short term so that, in the long run, more good things happen for everyone. That you try really hard in the short term to conduct yourself in a way that makes things go better for everyone over time.

And so, as a result of that, you build a track record of making good decisions. You build a track record. Nobody wants to hear no to their requests. So, so many people they say, “Yes, yes, yes” to please you in the short term.

But a lot of people, they’re saying, “Yes, yes, yes” because they’re trying to please you right now. I always tell over-promisers, “Mark my words, you will be known for whether you deliver on that promise ultimately, so you might make me happy in the moment, but if you over-promise and don’t deliver, that’s what I’m going to remember.”

Whereas, in fact, you don’t have to say yes to everything. What you have to do is take people’s needs seriously, you have to engage with the ask, engage with the request, give it respect and due diligence. And what you want to be doing is trying to do the right thing for the right reasons every step of the way. And this is what builds up your real influence. When you become known as somebody who’s adding value in every interaction sometimes by saying no. You’re adding value in every interaction.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, this just reminds me of my marriage in terms of often what is needed is empathy and listening as much or more so than swooping into action and fixing things, and it also takes less time but more maybe mental effort in terms of remembering, “Ah, yes, this is what I need.” And so, I liked when you said that in terms of respecting the request, you’re sort of you’re taking it seriously, you’re honoring it. And I can kind of just imagine, I’m thinking about my buddy Pat right now. He seems to exemplify a lot of the things that you said here, in terms of you’re really listening, you’re interested, you’re curious, you’re kind of saying, “Oh, so what’s the implications of this? What’s at stake? What makes this hard? What have you tried so far?” I guess having that kind of conversation and then offering, hopefully, something that’s somewhat helpful along the way even if it’s not you, goes a long way.

Bruce Tulgan
That’s exactly right. So, what sets apart the go-to person who’s indispensable? It’s the person who’s most likely to help you get your needs met on time, on spec, in ways that build up the working relationship rather than damage it over time, right? So, the people who are most consistently likely to help you get your needs met, that’s why you keep going back to that person.

You go to somebody who says, “Yes, yes, yes” and doesn’t deliver, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody who only has no in their repertoire, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody though who is all about trying to add value. So, let’s say you come to me and say, “Hey, look, I’ll offer that you do this for me and I’ll do that for you.” If I’m a go-to person who’s really trying to build real influence, I’m going to say, “Look, if it’s the right business decision, if it’s aligned with the chain of command and the mission, if I can understand the ask and I’m the right person to do it for you, if I can do it, if I’m allowed to do it, if I should do it, if I’m good at it, if it’s one of my specialties, or it’s something I can get good at, if it’s something I can get done for you, I’m going to do that because it’s my job, not because you’re going to offer me a quid pro quo.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Bruce Tulgan
Be the person other people don’t want to disappoint not because of where you are on the org chart but because of how you conduct yourself, how you treat people, and the role you play in the workplace.

So, that’s the peculiar mathematics of real influence. Sometimes you got to take the bullet by saying, “No, I’m not going to do that for you” and making somebody unhappy in the short term, or, “Yes, I can do that but in a month, not right now.” But, over time, you build the reputation. So, that’s why I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence because the more you really serve others, the more power you have in that they want you to succeed, they want to do things for you, they want to do things with you, they want to make good use of your time.

So, there’s five steps that we identified that sort of come out of that way of thinking. And the first step is, if you don’t have authority, align with authority. So, there’s still somebody in charge, so it’s, “Oh, hey, work it out at your level.” Well, wait a minute, step one, make sure you understand what’s required, what’s allowed, what’s not required, what’s not allowed. So, first, you’ve got to go vertical before you can go sideways or diagonal.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say align with authority, in practice that just means something like, “Hey, boss, we’ve got this request coming. It seems helpful.”

Bruce Tulgan
In a way, it does. Because, look, you’ve got three choices if you’re trying to work things out at your own level, right? One, you sort of say, “All right. Hey, let’s proceed until apprehended. Let’s just do this and let’s hope this is the sort of flipside of better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” But, often, if you proceed until apprehended, you have a lot of work to undo because, it turns out, “No, that’s not what we wanted you to do.”

Another possibility is that you escalate every disagreement, right? And then the other possibility is that somehow you try to use some kind of stand-in for authority, like a quid pro quo or some other form. But what makes the most sense is to go over your own head first. And so, yes, it’s, “Okay, boss.” But here’s the thing, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, does that mean that I have to go to my boss before I work out anything at my own level?” And the answer is only if you’re not already aligned with your boss.

So, you want to be that person who already knows what your boss would say. You’re so aligned that you almost could speak for your boss. And if you have people who report to you, should they have to come to you before they work things out at their own level? Only if they’re not exactly sure what you would say. So, that vertical alignment becomes an anchor. But I put it there first not that every single time you are going to work things at your own level you should go over your own head but, remember, you’re not going to be in a position to work things out at your own level unless, first, you have really good vertical alignment.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s excellent. We’ve heard from Mary Abbajay about managing your manager and how that’s so critical to have those conversations up front in advance, what’s important to you, what are the top goals, what are the least priorities, etc. So, are there any other particular key questions or things to cover with boss that go a really long way in terms of getting that vertical alignment?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, here’s what you want to be doing. Number one, you want to be making sure you know mission, priorities right now, ground rules, action steps, so that’s where you want to be getting alignment. And then, today, tomorrow, this week, what are our execution priorities? And, also, you want to be feeding information up and down the chain of command about anything that’s changing in the boardroom, or anything, “Hey, here’s some frontline intelligence,” that can help your boss stay in the loop on the other end of the spectrum.

So, you want to be having regular structured conversations with your boss. If anybody reports to you, you want to be having regular structured conversations with the people who report to you. That’s the vertical anchor, right? Then you’ve got guardrails, and then you got to create structure and alignment sideways and diagonal. And here’s the thing, so much sideways and diagonal communication comes in meetings but a lot of it comes in relatively unstructured informal communication.

Much of what we have to say to each other all day at work is asking. Much of our ongoing dialogues are making requests of each other. And so, sometimes this happens in the middle of a Zoom team meeting with cross-talks, sometimes it’s a text or a call. When we used to work together in offices and other workplaces, it might be stopping by one’s cubicle, or a hallway conversation.

And so, one of the things that we identified that these go-to people do is once they have vertical alignment, and they’ve got their guardrails, they know what’s not up to them, that leaves a lot which is basically everything else. So, then step two is know when to say no and how to say yes. And that’s really not creating a bunch of cumbersome bureaucracy but it means putting some due diligence into how you take an ask or a request and make sure you really understand it. Tune in to other people’s needs, tune in to the ask, and then make sure you really understand it.

If somebody starts to make a request, stop them and visibly take notes. Ask good questions. Make sure you really understand what they’re asking. That’s a great way to respect somebody else’s needs and tune in to their ask. And then, know when to say no, “Can I do this? Am I allowed to do this?” And then, “Should I do this?” which is that’s the tough one, right? “What’s the ROI on this?” And sometimes the answer is, “Not yet,” or sometimes the answer is, “I’m not sure. Go back and fine-tune this ask so I can give it even more due diligence.” Sometimes it’s, “Yes, I could do that in two weeks,” or sometimes it’s, “Oh, you know who could do that for you is this other go-to person I know.”

So, steps one and two are align vertically so that, step two, you can give every ask the due diligence it deserves. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that to be a go-to person you’ve got to say, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” No, every good no frees you up for a better yes. Now, yes is where all the action is. Yes is where you have an opportunity to add value. But don’t waste your yeses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, the image that comes to mind for me here is like just a venture capitalist in terms of there are many, many deal opportunities that come across their desk, but the right answer tends to be say no to the vast majority of them to say yes to the ones that are just right. And even then, still, most of the yeses are not fruitful in terms of creating value but, boy, a few of them are plenty fruitful so it works out.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. And, look, it is an investment decision. It’s how you’re going to invest your time and energy. You can’t do everything so it’s a matter of if you’re going to beat over-commitment, you have to get the right things done. You can’t do everything for everybody so you have to do the right things.

So, step three in the process is work smart. And what that means…

Pete Mockaitis
Before you we go from there, working smart, I’d love to hear, do you have any pro tips on how you recommend articulating a no when necessary?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, look, a lot of people say, “The secret is knowing how to say no.” I have racked my brain and I have looked at data from hundreds of thousands of interviews, I cannot find a proper sugarcoating for no that makes it taste good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Bruce Tulgan
So, I think, yeah, you got to learn how to say no is kind of a red herring. The trick is knowing when to say no. And when to say no is when yes will turn out to be a disappointment, when yes is going to turn out to be the wrong answer. That’s why it’s playing the longer game because your no’s are as valuable as your track record of making the right decision on no. No is a huge favor. No, at the right time, is a huge favor because the ask was half-baked. So, we might say yes and go off in the wrong direction, “No, no, no, let’s fine-tune that ask a little more before we say yes.” Or it might turn out that this was not a priority and it’s going to take up a huge amount of opportunity costs.

No and yes are all about opportunity costs. You want a yes to lead to a productive collaboration where you’re going to make an execution plan and execute on tangible results that end up adding real value. So, every bad yes is a squandered opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s well-said. And I agree that there is no way that you can say no, that I found, that makes everyone say, “You know, thank you so much, Bruce. That’s amazing.” So, maybe if you can’t make it taste good, how do you make it taste the least bad? So, if you had to tell me no right now, Bruce, “Hey, Bruce, could you give a thousand copies of your book for free to our audience? I think that’d just make a huge difference for them and they’ll really appreciate it.”

Bruce Tulgan
Well, see, I’m going to consider that one, but let me take it as one that I would have to say no at the outset. So, what I would say there is, “Oh, hey, I need to know more about that ask. I need to know who are those audience members. How do you anticipate we get it to them? What’s the upside?” You have to ask a bunch of good questions. So, the first part of helping somebody swallow a no is asking lots of questions to understand their ask, not to humor them but to really investigate the opportunity.

Then the next part is you say, “Oh, hey, I can’t do that for the following reasons, right? Gee, I could feed my family tomorrow or I could give you some books. I’d love to give you some books but I got to feed my family.” That’s, “I can’t. I don’t have the resources so I’m not allowed to.” It could be if you’re one of my government clients, I am not allowed to do that because that’s a violation of law.

But let’s say we get past the, “I can do that for you, I’m allowed to do that for you, I’m just not going to because I’ve balanced I evaluate this is not my top priority.” So, I might say, “Hey, I shouldn’t do this because it’s actually a bad idea.” And then I might try to talk you out of it which could end up being a big favor to you, “I don’t think you should pursue this idea.”

It could be I say, “Hey, I might be able to do this in a few weeks or a few months, so if you’d be willing to stay in dialogue with me, I’d be willing to revisit this down the line. Now I’m not stringing you along. If I know the answers, know I’m going to tell you no.” But maybe the answer is, “Gee, if you’re bound and determined to do this, get books and give them to a thousand of your listeners, I’d hate to miss that opportunity, so let me see if there’s some way I can make this happen.”

Another might be, “I’ve developed another go-to person and I could do a huge favor for that person because that person happens to have an extra thousand books, and I bet that person would be thrilled to have this opportunity to give those books. So, I’m going to put the two of you in touch. I’m going to do you a favor by introducing you to that person, I’m going to do that person a favor by introducing that person to you, and you’re going to proceed.”

Worst-case scenario I say, “Hey, let me explain what I do. I sell books not give away books. So, if down the road you want to buy some books, I’m your man. Or what I normally do is seminars, so if you need someone to do a seminar, hey, I’d still love to work with you.” In other words, what you want to do is be authentic. And so, when you’re saying no, you’re explaining why, you’re trying to help the person come up with a solution to their need maybe. At the very least, you’re saying, “Hey, I want to understand what you do. Let me explain what I do. Maybe somewhere looking around the corner, there’s a way that we could be valuable to each other.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear, what are some of the best clarifying questions to really respect the request and do a great job with this? One of my favorites, as we’re talking through this, is something along the lines of, “What are you hoping to achieve by getting a thousand books out there for free to listeners?” Because that’s sort of like sparks all kinds of potential ideas and opportunities. Do you have any other kind of go-to questions, huh, go-to questions for go-to people, that help you do a great job of clarifying?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. So, I think it’s useful to come up with the objective because then you might find out that the person hasn’t crystallized the ask very much at all if you can help them meet their objective with a much better ask, right? But I think basically what you’re trying to do an intake memo which is really building a proposal from the inside out. So, what you want to know is exactly what’s the deliverable. So, in a way, that rhymes with the objective, “What’s the deliverables exactly that you want?”

And then, “What’s going to be required of me? What part of this can you do? How can you help me help you? How can you help me help you help me help you?” You can keep going on that track. But, “What’s the timeframe? Let’s estimate the resources that would be needed, the obstacles. Whose authority do we need? Where are we going to get the resources? What’s the time horizon? What are the steps along the way? What would be the sequence of steps and ownership of each step?” You want to build a short proposal inside out, even if it’s on the back of an envelope or on a napkin.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what’s so funny about this, as I imagine how this plays out, even if you ended in no, they’d be like, “Oh, this is kind of a buzzkill because we’re really excited about the progress we’re making, but at the same times, as a result of having spoken with you, I am enriched and en-valued, if that’s word, and better off because now I have some more insight and clarity on what I’m up to and what I should go do, so even though you told me no, I am better off for having asked you.”

Bruce Tulgan
I think so. And even if you already had it crystallized, doesn’t it tell you how I do business? Doesn’t it tell you that I’m serious about trying to help? I’m serious about understanding what you want, and I’m serious about trying to do what I can in the conversation, and maybe following the conversation to operate in such a way that it adds value for you. And so, a big part of this is slowing down so that you make good use of other people’s time, show other people that you’re serious about adding value.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. Well, please, continue. Step three, work smart.

Bruce Tulgan
So, step three is work smart, and sometimes people are like, “Oh, yeah, work smart. Got it. Never heard that one before,” right? But the reality is a lot of people think that to be a go-to person you just gotta keep working and working. What is the go-to person? They’re just the one who can outwork everyone. And, in fact, if that’s your only strategy, you’re going to burn out.

So, then some people will say, “Oh, well, work smart. Well, what does that mean?” Well, on one level it means do the things you’re already really good at, do the things you can do very well, very fast, with a good attitude, you know you can deliver on that. The problem is that most people don’t have the opportunity to only work in their area of passion and strength, right? So, “Oh, not good at that. Sorry. I’d like to but I’m committed to working smart so I won’t be able to help you with that.”

And so, what I tell people is there’s a lot of tasks, responsibilities, and projects you’re going to have to do that might not be something you’re already good at, or that’s in your area of passion and strength. But if that’s true, slow down and get really good at it. Don’t just wing it. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t keep trying to, “Oh, you know, I’m so busy that I don’t have time to stop and get good at it.”

If you’re so busy that you don’t have time to stop and get good at it, you are in a pickle, right? So, you gotta stop and get good at it. Learn best practices, “Oh, this is how I do it.” Is it? Well, is that the best way? Maybe you need to learn, “No, no, I’ll figure it out on my own. I don’t want people to see me learning. They might think I’m not competent.” Well, they’re going to think you’re not competent if you pretend to know how to do it and then make it up as you go along and reinvent the wheel, then you’re going to seem not competent.

One of the ironies is that people who are really good at stuff know that people who learn in plain sight are probably the ones who are going to get good at stuff too. You’re not showing yourself to be less competent by learning in plain sight. Again, you’re showing the kind of person you are. Like, so, look, if you ask to do something, I go, “Oh, that’s my specialty. I can already do that very well, very fast, with a great attitude and deliver for you.” Okay. But if it’s not my specialty, and I say, “Gee, I keep getting asked to do this, let me tell you, that’s not my specialty, but it’s going to be one of my specialties soon. I’m going to learn best practices, I’m going to study, I’m going to master them, I’m going to develop repeatable solutions to the most common problems and issues and needs, I’m going to create job aids to guide me.”

That’s how you professionalize what you do. Find the best practices, create repeatable solutions, get good tools. So, anything you find yourself having to do regularly, professionalize, and then you make it one of your specialties because once something is one of your specialties, then think of any minute or hour you spend on one of your specialties, you’re going to add more value with less likelihood of failure than something that’s not one of your specialties.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Bruce Tulgan
So, there is a kernel of genius in working in your area of passion and strength, there’s a kernel of genius in, “Hey, that’s not my job,” because, really, what somebody is saying is, “Gee, every minute I spend doing that, I’m not going to be adding optimal value.” But everything you professionalize and make one of your specialties is another thing you can do very well, very fast. So, specialize for sure, but when something comes up that’s not your job, you got to kind of put it through the following routine.

First, is it something that really shouldn’t be your job? Like, “This is a wild goose chase,” or something like that, right? Like, “Well, wait just a minute. I’m not even sure if anyone should be doing this.” Or is it something that’s not your job, like the paperwork part of almost anything. Well, I always say to people, “Actually, that is your job so you should professionalize the paperwork part to it.” Or is it like, “Well, it’s not my job to take out the trash.” Well, that’s what I call “Somebody has got to do it, so don’t be a jerk about it.” And, okay, maybe you don’t have to be the goffer, but maybe you’re like, “Okay, I’m the guy. Sure, I’ll be the one to take out the trash,” and you do it really well.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I remember when I was the junior person on the team in consulting, we needed lunch, someone had to get lunch, and the delivery apps were not proliferating at the time the way they are now, and so I did it but I did professionalize it and it was appreciated because I kept disappointing people, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t want beans in my burrito.” It’s like, “By golly, I’m just worked a full-blown burrito spreadsheet, and you’re just going to circle what kind of rice, what kind of beans, what kind of meat, and then we’re going to pass that little printout around, and then I’m going to Chipotle, and then no one’s disappointed anymore.” And they loved it, like, “Ha, ha, ha. Great.”

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. And it’s like, “Oh, I’m the lunch guy.” Well, wait, no. What you’re showing people is, “I’m willing to be the guy to get lunch and there’s nothing I do regularly that I just wing it and make it up as I go along. That’s just how I do business, is I professionalize the things I do.” And the funny thing is, also hidden is these other things that are sort of close to your job that, “Hey, maybe that could be another specialty.” Or, okay, it’s far away from your job, but, “Hey, maybe that could be one of my specialties.”

The funny thing is there’s a tension between spending most of your time on your specialties and then paying attention to the things that are not your job because those are your opportunities to actually expand your repertoire.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well-said. And I tell you what, I really appreciate when I talk to someone and they say, “You know, I don’t know how to do that yet but I am excited to learn or to come up again and again. I just need to nail this down.” And so, I appreciate that. And I guess sometimes the answer is, “You know what, actually, we need it perfect and we need it fast, so maybe you’re not the right choice right now but you could be some weeks, some months down the road.” And other times it’s like, “You know what, that’s the best yes I’ve gotten out of everybody I’ve asked. I’ll take it.”

Bruce Tulgan
I’ll take it. Right, exactly. And, by the way, so you’re putting people on notice that, “Let me be clear, I am a professional but this is not one of my specialties, but I’ll take a crack at it. But be on notice that this is my first go around, or whatever it is,” and it’s one of the reasons why job aids, repeatable solutions, and best practices captured in checklist and stuff like that, checklist is a good example, because, “If I haven’t done it in a while, maybe I’m rusty. The job aid is going to help. If I do it all the time, the job aid might keep me from going on autopilot. If I can’t do it, and I need someone else to do it, and they’re like, ‘That’s not my specialty,’ I say, ‘Oh, here’s a job aid,’ that’s going to help you learn a lot faster.”

It also will help me educate my customer and state, “Let me just show you so you can understand.” Job aids come in really handy when it comes to trying to get someone new up to speed faster on something that isn’t their specialty.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you’ve reference job aids numerous times, and I contextually can glean that this is a document that contains useful information about how to do a job. Can you expand on what are the components or key elements of a great job aid document?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a job aid is anything that helps you follow best practices, apply repeatable solutions, or draw from repeatable solutions, to extrapolate for a problem of first impression, or a past work product that gives you a jumpstart on making a new work product.

Pete Mockaitis
So, this could be a checklist, it could be a process map, it could be an instructional video, it could be some example deliverables, just sort of anything that, hey, it’s going to do the job.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a checklist is a classic example, a plan is a classic example. Sometimes surgeons use a job aid which is that somebody uses a magic marker to put an X on the right spot so that they don’t cut on the wrong side. That acts as a job aid and it comes in handy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, that’s working smart. What’s the fourth?

Bruce Tulgan
Step four is finish what you start. And people will say, “Oh, I’m always so busy I’m always juggling. I’m double and triple-booked for meetings,” as if that’s a badge of honor. And I tell people, “If you’re double or triple-booked, that means you can’t decide what meeting to go to. And if you think you’re multitasking, there’s no such thing. And juggling is what you’re actually doing because multitasking is a fiction. What you’re actually doing is task-shifting.” And some people do it really fast, that’s why I call it juggling. But if you’re always juggling, you’re bound to drop the ball.

So, one of the things we wanted to look at is the people who were able to have a really busy schedule and an ever-growing to-do list but they still get stuff done. And what we identified was that the people who get the most done are the people who break work into smaller chunks and break their execution time into bigger chunks. So, it’s bigger chunks of time, smaller chunks of work.

And so, the drill is simple. Look at your schedule every day but find the gaps in your schedule, your “Do not disturb” zones for focused execution. And then look at your work and your to-do list, and plug in doable items, doable tasks, doable chunks of work in those scheduled gaps. So, what you’re looking at, so you know there’s 168 hours in a week and nobody is making any more of them. But, in fact, if you create scheduled gaps in which you execute on concrete results, and start with the highest-leveraged concrete results, then you are actually manufacturing time for yourself because what you’re doing is you’re obviating unnecessary problems, you’re obviating problems hiding and getting out of control, you’re obviating squandered resources, you’re obviating work either getting done wrong or not getting done, you’re obviating holding other people up.

So, high-leveraged time is setting someone else up for success. High-leveraged time is avoiding an unnecessary problem. High-leveraged time is planning for optimal use of resources. High-leveraged time is if there’s a set of steps that need to be done in sequence, and one of them takes time up front, so I call it preheating the oven, is a great example, or putting the bread in the oven before you make the salad. It’s sequencing. Those are all high-leveraged execution times, and that’s how you start to create more and more scheduled gaps for yourself in which you can get more and more concrete results done.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like the notion of the oven, or it’s sort of like getting something in motion so that it’s moving while I’m doing other things.

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. So, it’s giving somebody instructions, it’s cleaning the machine, sharpening the saw, what Covey would say, sharpening the saw. It’s high-leveraged time. But you got to execute, execute, execute. So, people who don’t make time for focused execution, they’re the ones who are always busy but never finishing things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And the fifth step?

Bruce Tulgan
Is keep getting better and better at working together. And there’s so much finger pointing, and so much politicking in the workplace, and that’s because everyone knows relationships are where it’s at. The problem is, yes, the relationships are key, but if the work goes wrong, the relationships go sour. And if the work keeps getting better and better, the relationships get better and better. So, I always tell people, you know, take time to review and look around the corner together.

Every time you get a task, responsibility, or project done with somebody, stop. Don’t go into a conference room and blame. Don’t whisper behind people’s back and finger-point. What you do is go to your collaboration partner, and say, “Hey, here’s what went well. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And let’s look at how we can work better together going forward, and let’s look around the corner and plan the next collaboration.” So, it’s basically taking a continuous improvement approach to relationship management.

So, when people say, “It’s all about the relationships and networking,” that doesn’t mean making best friends and politicking or undermining the people you don’t like. It means taking continuous improvement to working relationships and things will go better and better and better. And if you do that, if you align up and down the chain of command, and then put structure and substance into your sideways conversations, if you make good decisions about yes and no by really tuning in to the ask, if you professionalize what you do, work smart, finish what you start, and you keep fine-tuning how you work with people, then people notice how you conduct yourself.

The ones that people keep going back to over and over and over again, the ones everyone wants to work with, the one everyone will want you to want to work with them, that’s what they do, that’s what go-to people have in common. And when you do that, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, the problem is I’m the only go-to person here.” Well, are you sure? They say, “Well, if I work in a greater organization, well, that would make it easier to be a go-to person.” Well, sure, if you work for a greater organization it makes it easier. But it turns out, if you conduct yourself this way, you become a magnet for other go-to people. It becomes much easier to find go-to people. And if you can’t find them, build them up. They will remember.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bruce Tulgan
Stephen Covey says, “Remember, you can’t take a screwdriver to somebody else’s head and tighten the screw or loosen the bolt, but you can control how you respond to other people.” And Covey called that being response-able. So, that’s one of my favorites.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, how about Pavlov? Thanks, Pavlov, I’ll do that again. I always tell people, if you reward people in close proximity to the performance in question, then they’ll say, “Thanks, Pavlov. I’ll do that again.”

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, right now, I guess my only tool is this studio we’ve just created. It is now my portal to the world because if you’re in the business of selling hot air to auditoriums full of people, this is not the best time. And so, we’ve created a production studio so that we can deliver our research services and our training and consulting services right from this portal to the world.

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

Bruce Tulgan
The best place to go is RainMakerThinking.com or I’m told you can link in with me at LinkedIn or @BruceTulgan on Twitter.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Every single interaction you have with people, stop focusing on what you need or you want from them, and focus on what you can do to add value. Focus on what you can do for other people, and you will build up the most valuable asset you possibly can have, which is real influence. You will build that up. And just remember that the bank is the minds and hearts of other people. So, stop focusing on what you need from other people and start focusing on what you can do for them, and you will become very rich in real influence.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bruce, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your adventures and all the ways you’re indispensable.

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you. Well, you’re great at this. You make it so easy and you make it so much fun. And thanks for bringing out the best in me here.