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Each week, I grill thought-leaders and results-getters to discover specific, actionable insights that boost work performance.

310: Managing Your Energy to Perform at Your Best with Tony Schwartz

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Tony Schwartz delves into principles of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy expenditure and renewal for optimal performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why and how to manage your energy for performance
  2. Actionable ways to achieve high-positive energy
  3. Why you should work in 90-minute sprints

About Tony

Tony Schwartz is the CEO and founder of The Energy Project, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations solve intractable problems and add more value in the world by widening their world view. His clients include Google, Whole Foods, the National Security Agency, and the Los Angeles Police Department. Tony is considered one of the world’s thought leaders around sustainable high performance and building more human workplaces. He began his career as a journalist and has been a reporter for the New York Times, a writer for Newsweek, and a contributor to publications such as New York, Esquire, Vanity Fair, and Fast Company. His book The Power of Full Engagement spent 28 weeks on the New York Times best-seller List.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Tony Schwartz Interview Transcript

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

Tony Schwartz
Thank you. Really happy to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to hear from all of your energy management practices how’s that paying off when it comes to being a grandpa.

Tony Schwartz
Yeah, I have four grandkids and it’s all joy, no pain because as they tell you, it turns out to be true, you don’t have to actually be responsible when things start to blow up and they always do with young children. But you get all the fun time and then the moment that it isn’t fun, you hand them back over to the parents.

It’s all renewal. On that energy expenditure/energy renewal axis which we focus on, grandkids are one more way to get renewal. In fact, I’m sitting in the apartment of one of my daughters. When this over I’ll go hang out with my grandkids, two of them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome, yes. You don’t have the night shift to contend with either.

Tony Schwartz
Yeah, that’s right. I sleep at night. That’s my thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I want to dig into The Energy Project. Tell me what is this organization all about.

Tony Schwartz
We are a company that helps big companies or big organizations understand what I would say are the invisible human factors that stand in the way of great performance, whether that’s a lack of energy or it’s blind spots and fears or stories that people tell themselves.

There’s just an enormous amount that organizations generally do not take into account that stands in the way of getting stuff done. It’s what’s going on inside people. What’s going on inside people has a profound impact on how they show up in the world. But we haven’t been comfortable as a culture talking about those things.

What we’ve done at The Energy Project is really to create a language that allows leaders of organizations to feel comfortable and their employees as well in addressing all these things that have up till now simply lurked in the background having a big influence that no one was willing to address.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’d love it if you could give me just a couple biggy examples.

Tony Schwartz
Yeah. Let’s say you have a leader who is very angry and frustrated, a person who spends a lot of time in what we would call the survival zone. That leader is easily triggered by what he perceives to be as examples of incompetence or not getting his needs met.

What we would focus on is what’s going on inside that is making you feel that way. What are you missing? What are you not seeing that’s your responsibility? What kinds of strategies could you undertake to better manage the way you show up, the way you respond under stress or under pressure?

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Tony Schwartz
That would be an example. Let me give you an organizational example.

You have an organization that is incredibly collegial. This would be an example I’m taking from one of our clients. People treat each other with great care and kindness. There’s very little conflict in that organization.

On its face it looks like everything is great except decision making is completely paralyzed and people are actually extremely anxious because they don’t know beneath the surface comments that are so positive what’s actually going on because nobody has permission to actually say what’s actually going on.

In a case like that we would try to help them understand how to find a better balance between candor and compassion, between candor and care. In fact, one of the primary, what I would call set of opposites that we work with leaders on is to both be challenging and nurturing or challenging and nourishing.

To understand that if you’re too challenging, you overwhelm people and if you’re too nurturing, you are disempowering them. Understanding how to find that balance between those two qualities is the kind of thing we would do with a given leader.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great stuff. Very useful. What really made me want to interview is long ago I read your book The Power of Full Engagement and it was just so, so helpful. I’d love it if you could orient us to a bit of the work you’re doing when it comes to energy and orienting us to the four sources of energy and just kicking us off there.

Tony Schwartz
Sure. The core work of The Energy Project, which is now 16 years old, is built around energy and the notion that it’s as important to manage your energy as it is to manage your time. The notion of energy, we really introduced into the organizational well because nobody thought about it.

Energy in physics is simply the capacity to do work. If you have more energy, you have more capacity. Capacity doesn’t matter so long as demand is less than the capacity you have, but that has completely, Pete, shifted as you well know.

The intensity of demand in people’s lives, almost no one would disagree, has increased dramatically primarily by virtue of the internet and all the demands it puts on us and the fact that we are, by definition, almost never offline anymore.

What we really have worked with to understand is what is energy in the human system. What’s the fuel you need in your time to truly bring your talent and skill to life?

They talk about engagement in the workplace. It’s a very, very important variable that organizations try to measure because it’s one of those things that there’s been a clear correlation made between the level of a person’s engagement and the level of their performance. It’s a very important factor over the last 20 years – 15 years. It refers to the willingness to invest discretionary effort on the job.

What we realized is that willing no longer guarantees able. Energy is about able. You need four sources of energy in order to be firing on all cylinders at work. What are they?

You need physical energy. That’s the ground of energy. That’s the most basic form. Without that nothing else is possible. When I say physical energy, I’m really referring to four components: fitness, sleep, nutrition, and rest.

Rest meaning daytime rest. I was referring to it at the very start of our talk in terms of what provides renewal. I was referring to my grandkids, but of course sleep provides renewal, hanging out, even working out provides both mental and emotional renewal even if it’s physically energy consuming. Those are the four components of physical energy.

Then there’s emotional energy, which is really how you feel because how you feel profoundly influences how you perform. There’s only a very specific way you can feel or there’s a specific way that you do feel when you’re performing at your best. We are helping people to cultivate that way of feeling.

Mental energy really refers to the control of attention, which is of course something we’re all struggling with in the world we live in. It’s the ability to focus on one thing at a time in an absorbed way for a sustained period of time. Critical factor in being able to be effective at work.

Then the fourth one is what we call spiritual energy. If people get nervous around that word, we call it the energy of the human spirit or the energy of purpose, the sense that what you’re doing really matters, that it serves something larger than yourself. Because if you have that feeling and I have it – I’ve got to tell you – almost every minute of every day.

I do something that really gives me a sense of purpose, which is talking about the kinds of things I’m sharing with you right now. It’s an enormous energy source for me in my life and for anybody who takes advantage of it who has a connection to why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Our core work is training people to better manage those four sources of energy and training leaders to better manage not only their own energy, but the energy of those they lead.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, awesome. Well, I want to dig into a lot of what you said there, but first I was just so intrigued by your emotional energy comment. You said there’s one way we feel that really unlocks just great performance. What is that way of feeling and how do we get there?

Tony Schwartz
Pete, it’s how you feel when you’re performing at your best.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it kind of varies person by person.

Tony Schwartz
No, it’s always the same.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Tony Schwartz
I’m going to ask you how do you feel when you’re performing at your best? Give me three or four adjectives.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure. I feel flowing, grooving, enthusiastic. It’s kind of like “All right, let’s keep it going.” It’s kind of like I get into it in such a sense that if I am interrupted, I’ll be irritated by it. I try to ….

Tony Schwartz
Yup, so flowing, grooving, energized. Then the other kinds of words we hear all the time are excited, confident, optimistic, focused, absorbed. Those are the kinds of words that we consistently hear. We never hear somebody say, “Hey, when I’m at my best what I feel is angry,” or, “At my best I’m really anxious.”

The way we feel when we’re performing our best is what we call high positive energy. There are almost no exceptions. That’s the way people perform at their best. We’ve asked literally 200,000 people that question over the last 16 years and always we get the same dozen adjectives or so that people say.

In a way that’s not a big piece of news because if you ask someone, they’ll always tell you. But what most people don’t recognize consciously in everyday life is if I’m not feeling that way, and most people aren’t much of the time, then I’m not capable of performing at my best. That’s what we mean by the right emotions when it comes to performing well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m intrigued then in terms of how to be there more often. I know you teach a lot in terms of strategies and practices, but what would you say are maybe just the real top, top practical actionable prescriptions that just give you a tremendous return on your investment for bringing forth more high-positive energy?

Tony Schwartz
Yeah, well I’d say it depends on which of the four dimensions because all four of them influence high-positive energy. In the end, the feeling is a consequence of how well you’re managing each of these four dimensions.

At the physical level for example, which is the simplest one to describe, the most important thing you can do is sleep at least seven to eight hours a day. 98% of people require at least seven to eight hours of sleep in order to feel fully rested. Vastly fewer than 98% get seven to eight hours a night. If you don’t, by definition, everything else is going to be undermined.

There’s no single practice you can do that more powerfully and immediately influences your overall experience, the degree to which you feel high-positive energy when you’re getting enough sleep.

Second to that, would be intermittently resting throughout the day, meaning your body’s designed to work in cycles of 90 minutes, very much like what happens at night when you move in a 90-minute cycle called the basic rest activity cycle between very light sleep and then down into deep sleep and back out through something most people know as REM sleep, rapid eye movement sleep.

It turns out that the same exact cycle exists during the day. The only difference is that you move from a high state of alertness into a state of physiological fatigue every 90 minutes if – or the degree to which you move into that trough depends on how intensely you’ve worked during those 90 minutes.

But if you build a rhythm into your life of sprint and recover, sprint and recover it’s a vastly more efficient way to get things done and it feeds a better overall feeling in you then working continuously, which of course you can’t do at 100% any more than you can sprint two miles continuously. You’d fall and collapse if you do that. That’s very much at the most basic level, Pete.

I’ve already described to you this spiritual dimension. A practice that makes sense spiritually is to really look – there’s an awareness process that goes into identifying what is it that gives me a sense of meaning, what is it that makes me feel excited to get up in the morning  and go to work, that makes me feel like I’m adding value in the world.

That’s a blend of identifying what you do best because the things that you do best tend to be the things that provide often, all other factors being equal, the greatest source of satisfaction. But they are not necessarily what give you the most immediate pleasure or satisfaction.

In other words you may be – you may love – I mean you may be incredibly good on the saxophone but if your job is to be a salesman, that saxophone is not going to be a source of satisfaction at work. If it is, you’re probably not going to work there very long.

A second component is what do I enjoy doing in the context of what my responsibilities are. A third one is what am I doing that makes me feel I’m adding value to the world or to others. What’s adding value? What do I enjoy most? What am I best at?

Creating a Venn diagram around that, in other words finding the places where all three of those are happening for you is an awareness piece that really allows you to hone in on what deserves more of your attention.

Then once you’ve identified that, we would be helping the people who go through our work to figure out in the context of the work responsibilities that they have, how can they do more of those things in which they’re getting all three of those sources of satisfaction. That’s a couple of examples.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful stuff. Thank you for laying this out. I’m so curious to hear some more inside each of these further. Let’s start with sleep then. Seven to eight hours is just putting in the time. Are there any pro tips other than just sort of blocking that out and getting into the bed? …

Tony Schwartz
Yeah, yeah, there certainly are. There certainly are. I’m happy to share them because this is so critical.

Probably on average when we do our corporate work and I’ll ask the question, “How many people in the room by a raise of hands have got at least seven to eight hours of sleep for at least five of the last seven nights?” I would say the average is probably about 40%. 60% of the audiences I’m seeing are not getting enough sleep.

That doesn’t even address the quality of their sleep. Let’s just say the number of hours that their eyes are closed and they’re more or less asleep.

A couple of really critical things. Number one, you’ve got to identify a time to go to sleep that is consistent and a time to wake up that’s consistent. First of all that will drive a better quality of sleep. Second of all, it will make it less likely that you drift, particularly at night, later and later and end up getting too little sleep.

Building it as a ritual, which is very much at the heart of the way we help people make behavioral change. In other words, a ritual is a highly specific behavior that you do over and over at the same time until it becomes automatic and you don’t have to think about it anymore. Because, Pete, the longer you have to think about doing something, the less likely you are to do it. That’s number one about sleep.

The second thing is that you want to wind down rather than simply trying to go to sleep instantly when you turn out the light. From an hour before you go to sleep, 45 minutes minimum, your ritual ought to include that winding down.

Let me give you an example of what isn’t winding down. Watching reruns of 24 is not winding down. Doing your email, your work email, much less even your personal email is not winding down. Why not? Because the screen creates more alertness and makes it harder to go to sleep.

Taking a shower or one shower or much less – or even better a warm bath or having a cup of herbal tea or having a – reading a book would also be a really good way to wind down. In fact, better a boring book than a thriller because you’re going to fall asleep faster. You wouldn’t want to read John le Carré or any other thriller writer because that might keep you up. There’s a lot of common sense in this.

Then the third tip, if this is not the third or the fourth, I’m not keeping track. The third tip would be that before you go to sleep if you’re the kind of person who struggles to go to sleep because you perseverate, because you start to think of things that you’re worried about and then you repetitively rem them in your mind.

That can happen to people before they go to sleep or it can happen when they wake up in the middle of the night and they can’t get back to sleep. What we suggest and we have seen work really, really effectively is that if you are such a person, write down before you go to sleep on a pad right by the side of your bed what it is you’re worrying about, what is on your mind.

Because by writing it down, you get it off your mind. You give your mind permission not to think about it because your mind is being told by your writing that it will be there for you in the morning just as reliably as if you tried to run it over and over in your head.

There are three just very simple ways to increase the likelihood that you’ll get seven to eight hours of sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, now I want to talk a little bit about the intermittent resting. First of all, is that 90 minutes pretty universal across all human beings? Are some 70? Are some 110? Or is 90 the number?

Tony Schwartz
I would say science doesn’t tell us an exact answer to that question, but just as it doesn’t tell us what your sleep cycle will be. It is I would say plus or minus ten minutes probably in the 90s as a percentage. That plus or minus relative to 90 minutes is how long a sleep cycle lasts and how long a what we call an ultradian rhythm.

The sleep cycle is the circadian rhythm of night and day. I’m sorry, the sleep cycle takes place in the context of the circadian rhythm of night and day because the biggest rhythm you have is awake and asleep. Then when you go down into sleep then you have these 90-minute cycles.

Then during the day it’s called an ultradian rhythm. It too, I would say, is a 90 minute rhythm for the vast majority of human beings and within ten minutes or so of that.

I very much have adapted over 16 years, or even longer than that, 20 years during which I’ve been doing this work, my body so that particularly when I’m working intensely, my body begins to scream at me around 80 minutes. I get a little internal alarm clock, which is obviously cued up with an internal rhythm that exists in my body, that’s saying to me give me a break.

Most of us – all of us get this signal somewhere between 70 and – or 80 and 100 minutes, somewhere in there, but we override it. We override it with coffee. We override it with sugar. We override it most of all with adrenaline and cortisol. We override it with our own stress hormones because our anxiety can be arise by any number of – as you well know – any number of things that happen to you over the course of a day.

We use all of these techniques. In the case of adrenaline, we don’t do it consciously. In fact, the more intensely and the more continuously that you work, the more likely it is that you will begin to generate stress hormones. They’re like an emergency source of fuel. But they’re not an ideal source of fuel. Just as coffee is not an ideal source of fuel.

Your best way to energize yourself is to rhythmically move between work and rest. At that 90-minute interval what you want to do is you want to change channels. That might mean mentally and emotionally that what you want to do is quiet the body.

But it also might mean you want to, if you’ve been sitting, you might want to elevate the body because – elevate your physiology, meaning use natural means to increase your heart rate.

Because when you increase your heart rate one of the things that happens is the left hemisphere begins to let go, the verbal part of your brain begins to let go and anybody who has done any kind of aerobics or training, physical training, knows this experience that the more intensely you’re working out the more unlikely or even impossible it is to think. If you can turn off your thinking, that’s a very powerful source of recovery.

It’s the same – not quite for the same reasons – but ultimately the same thing that happens emotionally. Most people find that if they move the body intensely, it’s a source of emotional renewal or positive emotion. It prompts a reduction in anxiety.

Now, the flip side – I call that active renewal. The flip side is passive renewal. Meditation, yoga, taking a walk in nature. All of those are positive and useful renewal activities that you can use in that period when you are disengaging from work and you are in renewal or recovery mode.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to these cycles, if 90 minutes is the on cycle, about how long is the off cycle?

Tony Schwartz
The off cycle is completely determined by the individual, meaning it’s when you feel refueled and renewed. You can get in an amazingly short period of time if you are skilled at it, if you ritualize it, if you practice it, you can completely clear the bloodstream of cortisol, which is the most insidious of the stress hormones in one minute by breathing in and breathing out.

The particular breathing technique that we recommend is in to a count of three, out to a count of six. In through your nose, out through your mouth. The reason that we think that works better is that it extends the recovery, meaning a long out breath is a way to recover.

You know that even just by its opposite, which is if you breathe very quickly, you know when you’re frightened, it actually uses up your energy. It’s very energy consuming and anxiety provoking.

You can get this very powerful recovery in a very short time, meaning the point is not how long you recover, it’s how effectively your recover. Just as on the flip side, it’s not how long, how many hours you work, it’s how absorbed you are, how intensely you focus during the time that you do work.

For example, I’ve now written five books. I’m in the middle of my sixth. The last three, including the one I’m writing, I wrote with a full awareness of these rhythms. My way of writing as in this very moment when I’m writing a new book, is that I’m up at 6 o’clock.

I do not do any other activity before writing. If I do, if I were to look online and start reading the internet news or if I were to check my email or if I were to do some activity in my house, the likelihood that I would get my writing done would drop dramatically because it’s hard to write.

I sit down. I turn off all my devices and I work in an absorbed way for 90 minutes. I will tell you I don’t work for 100 and I don’t work for 70. I work for 90 or 80. I don’t work for 80 and I don’t work for 100. I work for 90 minutes and then I take a break.

That first break is usually breakfast. Then I work for 90 minutes more. Then I take a run. That run is a source of mental and emotional recovery after a very intense cognitive demand that I put myself under. This is how I use my time.

Now, in the first three books that I wrote, each of them took me at least a year to write. One took me nine months, but nine months to a year. I was working 12-hour days. I wasn’t working efficiently. I wasn’t working effectively. I was often finding excuses to stop writing. But I sat at my desk for up to 11 or 12 hours a day as many writers I know do, stupid writers.

In the last three books, I write in three – actually for this book it’s only two, because I also run a company – but the two previous books I wrote in three 90-minute sprints with breaks in between and that was my total writing day, four and a half hours. In those four and a half hours, I wrote each of those books in six months. In the 12 hours I never wrote a book in less than a year.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful.

Tony Schwartz
It’s the energy you expend, not the time you spend.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, nice little rhyming turn of phrase. I’m digging it. I also want to zoom in on this one-minute practice. With the breathing in, I’m imagining one should breathe into the diaphragm or belly as opposed to the shoulders and the ….

Tony Schwartz
Absolutely. Yeah, okay. Good for you. Imagine, let’s do it together. You go in through your nose and you’re counting. And now you exhale through your mouth, presumably from your diaphragm. Six. You may want to purse your lips because you want to extend the breath so you’ve got more time out than in. In three, out six.

Pete Mockaitis
And my mental attention is upon the count or where is ….

Tony Schwartz
Yes, 100%. That’s what will keep you focused and absorbed.

Pete Mockaitis
Are we thinking eyes open/eyes closed? Sitting/standing posture?

Tony Schwartz
I would say sitting, though there is no rule about this. I would also say eyes closed preferable to eyes open. But listen, if you are able to be absorbed with your eyes open, it’s fine. What you’re trying to do is prompt a physiological shift. Whatever works for you, God bless.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very nice. Very nice. Well, Tony, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Tony Schwartz
I want to reconnect you to what I started with, which was to talk about the idea that The Energy Project’s work is about the invisible human factors that are standing in the way of great performance. I have walked you through now some description of the factors related to energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. But those are not the only factors that stand in the way of great performance.

One of the big insights for us was that the same understanding we came to about this simple concept of energy expenditure by itself is not the ideal way to get things done, but rather

Energy expenditure balanced with energy renewal is a much more effective and efficient way to get work done.

Likewise, no quality, no strength by itself is a virtue. Honesty, as appealing and impressive as it is as a virtue, when it gets overused becomes cruelty. Balancing opposite to ensure that honesty doesn’t become cruelty is compassion.

A person who wants to operate with the greatest amount of flexibility and effectiveness is someone who can move gracefully between honesty and compassion just as they can move between energy expenditure and energy renewal or between confidence and humility or between courage and prudence.

A lot of our work now is focusing on helping people to recognize the ways in which they choose up sides on behalf of one quality at the relative expense of the other and that expense to their own full humanity and maximum effectiveness.

There’s a very close tie between what we understood in our energy work and what we now understand in what we would think of as our human or adult development work.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. It feels very Aristotelian if that’s the word.

Tony Schwartz
It is Aristotelian. There is an Aristotelian notion that we have adapted.

There’s nothing new under the sun, as you know. I think our contribution in the world is not so much that we’re offering wholly original ideas because almost no one is, but rather that we’re creating a language and a framework in which people can make use of what in some cases are ideas that have been around for thousands of years.

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

Tony Schwartz
Yeah, I’m going to give you a shortened version of my favorite quote, which comes from the Jungian psychologist James Hillman, no longer with us but a wonderful thinker. There’s some Zen practitioners who’ve created various versions of this I think, which is “We have to accept ourselves exactly as we are and never stop trying to grow and change.”

That captures that paradox that I think is so important, which is that there is no single answer. There are no absolutes at this stage in our complex world. The notion that you can accept yourself exactly as you are, frees you to invest your energy in becoming better. But neither by itself is sufficient.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Tony Schwartz
Well, I have to say that my PowerBook is my favorite tool still to this day even more so than some of the other modern technologies because I’m a writer.

I’m a writer who actually has a notebook that I have probably several hundred of them that I keep my ongoing reflections in by hand. I still value a pen as a tool as well. But I write my books and I write my articles on a PowerBook. I’ve always used a Mac and I don’t want to advertise for Apple, but that I would say is the most important tool in my life, the most important technology tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget that you share-

Tony Schwartz
By the way, one other.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Tony Schwartz
An old-fashioned juice press because I’m a margarita lover and part of the key to great margaritas is fresh lime so that’s a very important tool in my life too.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds critical.

Tony Schwartz
Yeah, critical.

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

Tony Schwartz
Info@TheEnergyProject.com. Of course, if you just want to read more about what we do it is TheEnergyProject.com. My blogs are plentifully on our website. The book that I would recommend to people until my new one comes out next year is called The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. That’s the one I’d send people in the direction of.

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

Tony Schwartz
Make waves.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Tony, this has been so much fun at long last to meet the man behind one of my favorite books. Thank you and keep doing all the great work that you’re doing.

Tony Schwartz
All right, thanks very much.

309: Preventing Burnout in Yourself and Your Whole Organization with PwC’s Karlo Siriban and Anne Donovan

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PwC employees Karlo Siriban and Anne Donovan share their story of preventing burnout within themselves and transforming a whole work environment to prevent it for others.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Key signs that burnout is looming near
  2. How to talk to your boss about your burnout
  3. How PwC rolled out a broad flexibility initiative and saw retention soar

About Karlo & Anne

Karlo Siriban transforms businesses. He understand companies’ missions and develop strategies to achieve and frameworks to execute their visions successfully. He is a strategic, creative thinker, not afraid to challenge the status quo to achieve more effective and efficient results.

Anne Donovan is the U.S. People Innovation Leader at PwC. She’s responsible for strategy and innovation around culture change. She has a strong background in operational effectiveness and in engaging and supporting the firm and its people in leading positive change, including a variety of initiatives related to the work environment, workforce demographics and business model change.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Karlo Siriban & Anne Donovan Interview Transcript

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

Karlo Siriban
Thanks for having us.

Anne Donovan
Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with this one. A little different and but different good. First Karlo, I want to hear where are we with the Hamilton audition process? What’s the tale here?

Karlo Siriban
Do you want the whole background of it?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to hear – you’re into music. How did you say, “You know what? This is a thing I’m going to go for?”

Karlo Siriban
Yeah, I’ve always been into performance, particularly in stage musicals and singing. I used to do it all throughout my schooling, from elementary school all the way through college. Then when I started work it all just stopped. Work was my number one goal and wanting to do well was what I wanted to do. I found myself just wanting to – naturally wanting to go back into performing.

Hamilton, this was I think two and a half – three years ago, Hamilton was just becoming big in New York and they were having open casting calls. Unfortunately, I travel for work Monday through Thursday, Monday through Friday every week, so I couldn’t go to the open calls. My fiancé, my now fiancé, luckily saw some fine print at the bottom that said if you can’t make it please send in a video audition.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Karlo Siriban
I was very hesitant to. I didn’t want to, but she pushed me to do it. My video was sitting out there for a couple of months. After about three – four months I got a call that they wanted me to attend some callback auditions. About 12 auditions later I was at the final callbacks for Hamilton.

Pete Mockaitis
12.

Karlo Siriban
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh man. Well, they’ve got to do something to justify that high ticket price.

Karlo Siriban
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. The excellence that goes into it. 12, wow. What happened after the 12?

Karlo Siriban
After the 12 unfortunately my journey ended there. I’m still in contact with some of the casting agents there.

But for the past year I’ve really been focusing on my career and getting a promotion. That was my goal this year, which fortunately I’ve gotten.

Karlo Siriban
Now that I’ve achieved that I’m going to be going back into auditioning for shows, not just Hamilton but Off Broadway and Broadway shows. Luckily I’m based in New York, so makes it a little easier.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Talk about career. Can you orient us a little bit to PWC and your role within it?

Karlo Siriban
Yup. PWC, big four public accounting firm. We structure ourselves within three lines of service. Assurance, which offers your basic accounting services. You have tax and you have advisory which covers consulting. I work in our advisory line of service. I’m an advisory consultant and I focus on large-scale business transformation.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, I worked in strategy consulting at Bain. You say you travel a lot. You’re on the client site and you’re meeting with executives and such and plenty of slides I imagine.

Karlo Siriban
Oh absolutely. My life is on PowerPoint.

Anne Donovan
You know it well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so I see the picture there. I want to hear the story of you notice you were starting to feel kind of burnt out. Can you share with us what was going on and what were sort of the indicators like, “Uh oh, something needs to change here?”

Karlo Siriban
Yeah. This was about three years ago. Just the general travelling every week it started to take a toll on me. Waking up on Monday mornings to go catch a plane wasn’t as enticing anymore. I was having trouble focusing at work. Then even outside of work in my personal life, I found myself not as willing to go try new things, willing to go out with friends and family.

I realized something was wrong. I didn’t know what it was. I think most people when you hit that point, you sort of think, “Oh, what are the stressful things in my life.” For me that was work. I realized here’s my burnout. Something I don’t think a lot of people realize is yeah, there may be things stressing you out, but sometimes adding things to your life can help alleviate that burnout.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Karlo Siriban
For a lot of people, and I think this is said very often, is “Oh, go, wake up in the morning and go exercise.” That can really help you gain more energy and more happiness throughout the day. I tried that for a little bit, wasn’t working.

I realize what makes me happy. What is it? It was music. I turned back to music. It started with joining an a cappella group and just practicing and playing music in my house, finding time to play music in my apartment and at some pubs around New York City.

Slowly that just added up to the Hamilton audition and getting involved in more and bigger things. But I found myself having added that to my life, it was giving me more energy within work and it was helping me focus. It was just keeping me happy and keeping me satisfied, keeping my whole self-satisfied.

Pete Mockaitis
That is an awesome insight because when you’re in that mode, that zone of burnout, overwhelm, there’s too much, the thought of taking on an additional thing is like, “Are you crazy? I’m just trying to keep it together right now? I can’t imagine adding something.” You’re saying, “Oh, no, no. Adding something, in fact, is an improvement as opposed to more overwhelm.”

Karlo Siriban
Mm-hm, absolutely. I think it’s because when you add something that you’re passionate about, you’ll naturally find time to make it happen. That means saying no to things and managing your time a little more effectively just by the nature of wanting to do something you’re passionate about.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. I want to hear about the part in which you shared this with some folks at PWC, like I imagine that could be a little nerve-wracking in terms of saying, “Hey, I’m feeling burnt out.” You’re just like, “Oh, they’re going to think I’m weak,” or you’re not up to the high standards of performance or not an achiever, high potential.

What was going on inside your head and how did you have that conversation?

Karlo Siriban
I think that’s a very natural thought to have. You described it perfectly. Just going – the way PWC is structured, it’s a partnership structure. The partner is the be all, end all to your group and feels like your career sometimes.

I was saying to myself, “I need to make this – I need to have protected time for myself to be able to do this, to be able to pursue this.” Because traveling every week and working 40 to 60 however many hours a week, it becomes a lot.

My partner, very high performing, very focused on results. My career up until that point, I had also been focused on that. I had been very aligned with the firm first and work first and wanting to be a high performer. I thought that my idea of making time for myself wouldn’t gel with what I thought was the firm’s idea of what an employee should be.

I had spent time talking to a coach during one of our leadership conferences, talking to a coach about how I structure this and how I can present this. A week afterwards after some intense structuring sessions and messaging sessions, I went up to my partner and talked to him about it expecting the worse. It ended up being extremely easy.

He was extremely supportive of what it is I wanted to do and the passion I had. I think what helped that conversation was the fact that he knew I was devoted and dedicated to work and still performing at a high level. He also knew how passionate I was about music, and about singing, and about performing. He saw that as a way for me to sort of flex my creative muscle and flex my professional muscle.

I think the coaching that he received and the coaching that I received, it’s just a – there’s this culture of everybody’s a person. Our number one piece of capital or our number one investment at the firm is people. If you don’t keep your people happy, if you don’t keep your people trained, if you don’t keep your people whole, then what good is having them in a firm like this at PWC?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I’m intrigued. This coach, that was provided by PWC?

Karlo Siriban
Yes, my coach was provided by PWC. There is a – when you make senior associate, so this is about three – four years into your career, you’re sent to a leadership conference to sort of develop – it’s called Discover.

It’s to develop yourself, to discover within you what drives you, what motivates you, why are you here and what best parts about you can you bring back to your professional life and to your personal life to improve everything.

In that session, it’s about a week long, they assign everyone a career coach to help talk to you about those topics. Your career coach is – most of them I believe are non-PWCers if not all of them are non-PWCers. Anne, you can keep me honest on that one.

Anne Donovan
Yup.

Karlo Siriban
Yeah, they have a very objective point of view in how you can develop yourself, which I think is refreshing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great.

Karlo Siriban
That the firm would do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I’ve done some coaching and I would love to be participating in that. That sounds really cool. Were there some follow-ups then or it all happened within the context of that one event?

Karlo Siriban
That one event is where it – where that idea blossomed. Towards the end of that week I had a formal discussion with my coach. Probably four weeks afterwards there were follow-up sessions, where we just spoke to each other over the phone, over Facebook, over text to help me build up the courage to actually have that conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. You said you worked a lot on the structuring and messaging. Were there any choice words, phrases, sentences that you thought, “Oh yeah, that’s perfect. I’ve got to make sure to say that,” and you thought that they landed outstandingly when you had that conversation with the partner?

Karlo Siriban
Yeah, actually in forming my thoughts and my message, initially I had completely neglected to address the fact that I still wanted to be at the firm and I still wanted to be a high performer. Initially it was all about I need to go into music and I need to spend my time making music.

He helped me form it in such a way that I do want to make music but it doesn’t mean I want to leave this behind. It doesn’t mean that I – that you should expect less from me. In fact, you should expect the same from me and this will help me focus and help me deliver for you and for the firm.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a nice turn of a phrase. You should not expect less from me. In a way that’s kind of inspiring on multiple levels in terms of 1) you’re making a commitment and so you want to rise up and live up to it and 2) it’s like oh good, this doesn’t mean – “Karlo’s great, but hey, I guess not everyone can be the hardcore rock star, all-star, so I guess I’ll have to put him in the sort of maintenance mode as opposed to gunning for it mode.”

That’s really cool. You had the conversation, went super well. Any kind of pro tips when it comes to if others are feeling the burnout kind of beginning to settle in, how should they go about doing some reflection or engaging in that conversation?

Karlo Siriban
Yeah, I think everyone should take some time to slow down first. When people are approaching burnout mode it’s often when they’re very stressed. When you’re stressed you get into this panic mode and you need things to happen fast and you want things to happen fast. When that happens, you have a tendency to take missteps or to make decisions irrationally.

I think when that happens it’s important to take some time to breathe and to, like you said, reflect on everything about your life, not just work, but home and your friends and your community, and your spirituality, reflect on all of that and understand where your life stands on all of those places. Once you have that view, then try to build a plan about how you try to improve it. It’s all – just take that breath.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good, yes. When it comes to the fear, I guess bosses come in all shapes and sizes and varying levels of receptiveness to such a conversation, so any thoughts in terms of – that was a great sentence in terms of “don’t expect less from me” but any other thoughts to address the fear like, “I can’t tell my boss that?”

Karlo Siriban
That’s a tough question because you’re right every boss is different. I think if you build an open, honest – if you’re lucky enough to be able to build an open, honest relationship with your boss, that conversation will always be easier in real life than it is in your head.

If you have a challenging boss or if you have a challenging work environment, regardless I think it’s important to be open and honest with yourself first and to assess how your view of what will make you happy in the future fits in with your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm.

Anne Donovan
Pete, can I add something here?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Anne Donovan
I just can’t help myself. What I always advise our staff is if they don’t step up to ask for what they want, the end result is they’re going to quit the firm. They’ll go along and keep doing what they’re being asked to do and do it really, really well, and get into burnout mode. Then the end result is they quit the firm. Then the firm ends up being the loser.

I actually believe in most cases the staff ends up being the loser too because they end up quitting the firm at the wrong time. Because I do believe that most people end up quitting the firm. We don’t have a partnership that has thousands, and thousands, and thousands of partners. Ultimately we know people will end up leaving the firm.

But you want to leave the firm, and I tell staff this including my family, who are staff, you want to leave the firm at the right time, when it’s the right time and you have the right job. If you leave the firm at the wrong time, you’re the loser.

If you don’t ask for what you want and get the work environment that you need, then you’re going to end up leaving at the wrong time. There is absolutely no harm in asking for what you want, no harm at all. You might get a no, but probably you’re not going to. But if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be no.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Karlo Siriban
Yeah.

Anne Donovan
I just – I say this every single time I sit in front of anyone who will listen to me. You must ask the question. You must ask for what you want because probably what you’re asking for is absolutely not unreasonable. You’ve got to ask for it. You’ve got to create the work environment that you need to make your life happy. It will more than likely be accommodated.

Karlo Siriban
Yeah, that’s extremely true, what you said. The worst that happens is they say no. What happens there is now your want and your passion is out there and people are thinking about it and people have talked about it rather than you’re in the status quo and nothing changes.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly and you have some more clarity for your own decision making. It’s like, “Okay, well-“

Anne Donovan
Absolutely. Now you know.

Pete Mockaitis
“I need this and I can’t get it, so maybe I should-“

Anne Donovan
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
“-put a little more effort towards …”

Anne Donovan
That’s exactly right. But at least you know as opposed to making up in your head what the answer is going to be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great.

Anne Donovan
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Karlo, can you give us the lay of the land now in terms of your burnout-ness in terms of – the Hamilton audition has come and gone but there will be new opportunities? How‘s your day-to-day in terms of energy and stress and motivation?

Karlo Siriban
It’s – I’ve become much better at identifying when I’m getting close to burnout. I’m happy to say in the past two years I haven’t approached burnout at all.

Also, just having put out wanting to perform out there, I’ve been more involved in internal PWC initiatives for performance. For example, this summer PWC has what they call a Promotion Day, where everybody who’s getting promoted gets promoted at the same time.

In New York they throw a large event and I’m leading a band, a band of about 12 of us. We’re playing a 45-minute set for all of our colleagues in New York.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. That’s really cool. Could you unpack a little bit of what are some of the early wanting signs? Before full burnout is upon you, what are the little indicators like, “Uh oh, getting kind of closer?” What is that for you internally?

Karlo Siriban
For me it’s if I find myself waking up later and later.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s very specific. Thank you.

Karlo Siriban
Yeah, very specific.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Any other indicators?

Karlo Siriban
It’s waking up later. I find myself being unable to focus at work. Just little things. If I have a quick – usually I’m pretty good about if I have a five-minute task that’s something that I can complete right away. I take that time out of my day. If I find myself those tasks are taking longer, I push them off further and further, then I find myself I need to reassess what’s happening in my life and refocus.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Cool. Awesome success story. So glad to hear it that you came to the brink and came back and you’re wiser for having done so and have a more fun work and life situation going on there.

Anne, could you maybe broaden the scope of the conversation a little bit, so beyond Karlo’s story. You’ve got a full blown flexibility initiative. What’s the story with that at PWC?

Anne Donovan
Yeah, we are in year six of that initiative. I will tell you that seven years ago we could not spell the word flexibility at PWC. We did some work, did lots of focus groups, kind of travelled around.

Actually we did a lot of work studying our Millennial population and did some actually pretty scientific work, taking a look at what our Millennials wanted verse our Gen-Xers and got some pretty good data around the kind of top three things our Millennials wanted.

We’re pretty – got some pretty solid information that although they certainly wanted to be paid well and wanted stuff that the rest of us wanted, flexibility was in the top three things that Millennial wanted out of the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
What are the other two things and how did that compare to the other generations?

Anne Donovan
Yup. Top three things Millennials want out of the workplace based on our study: flexibility, appreciation and support from their supervisors, and teamwork. They wanted to work on teams that they felt worked well together. It was really about the work environment for Millennials.

For Gen-X it was about having control over their work, working on good stuff, so really good kind of developmental stuff, and pay. For Gen-X it was about the real kind of traditional stuff that we had set up the work environment around, the traditional work environment which was like, “We’re going to pay you well and you’ve got a lot of autonomy. We’re going to give you good stuff.”

Then Millennials come into the workforce and they’re like, “Well, we want to feel good and we want you to appreciate us. We want flexibility.” Those two things had a – there was a big gap between those two things.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Anne Donovan
We had this data and said, “Whoa, we’ve got to change the work environment.” Because we had autonomy, we had good pay. We still have good pay, but we had this setup that was appealing to the prior generation and we had this entire set of workers who said that we want to feel good. We changed the entire – we shifted the entire environment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. What are some of the prongs or components of the flexibility initiative?

Anne Donovan
Well we started our work. We started at the top. Got our partners all understanding the business case for it, all understanding that if we wanted to keep this entire new generation of worker, we had to really completely turn the environment on its head.

It all was based on trust, first set of rules was you didn’t have to earn flexibility. You walked in the door earning flexibility. Everyone is trusted with the work that they’re set out to do. You don’t have to have face time to earn your stripes.

We’ve got all the technology in the world. You can do it sort of whenever, wherever, however. I say however, we have all of our standards, etcetera, but what I mean is you don’t have to sit next to the guy to get your work down.

Now, that doesn’t mean that every single day we’ve got people working all over and wherever they want. But it means that in general if you’ve got to go leave tomorrow at 3 o’clock and our people work hard, but if you’ve got to go leave at 3 o’clock and you’re going to come back online at 7 o’clock to make your life work.

By the way, making your life work doesn’t mean you have to have a doctor’s appointment. It means I’m going to go play softball. We were very careful about that, Pete, because we don’t – it doesn’t have to be an emergency.

It doesn’t also have to be childcare. It doesn’t have to stuff that’s another job, that’s another thing to do. It can be because I want to do this thing that’s fun. I want to go audition. We were very careful to make sure that people understood that. It’s because you want to have life. We were very explicit about that.

We just started talking about it. We started making the leaders and the partners and the managers understand that that was how it was going to be from here on out. It really did take us three – four – five years to get the culture sort of inculcated with these messages, but we’ve done it.

I will tell you, flexibility is on every single person’s lips in the firm. You do not have to ask for it. You do not have to apply for it. You don’t have to plan for it. It’s just there.

I work from home. I don’t – I don’t hide it. My dog barks in the background. I don’t care. It’s where I am. I get on video. I’ve got bed hair. It doesn’t matter. It’s just the way it is. I’m so, so proud of it. It’s just fantastic because it’s who we are. We trust each other. We don’t have to slap on a uniform to get the job done.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. I’m curious to hear during that kind of transition time, were there some key kind of rocky moments or rocky obstacles or leaders who weren’t on board or abusers of flexibility? How did that emerge?

Anne Donovan
Actually we had less abusers than we had leaders who weren’t on board. We definitely had guys and gals who took a long time to come around. But that’s just – that’s the way life is. Change is hard.

It just took – it really took our leaders at the top, our senior partner was all about it and he pushed us hard to – he made every day a flex day. We actually changed our time reporting system that you didn’t have to report time every day. He pushed us hard to really change processes and procedures and to just push the firm to make things happen.

Eventually – I suppose there’s some pockets out there where we’ve still got holdouts, but they’re pretty few and far between. I will tell you, we have not had a – we have not had abusers.

I now speak too in front of groups frequently and I speak to clients who are interested in what we’ve done. We get asked about what policies we put in place and what are the written rules. I’ll tell you, we were lucky. We did not put policies in place. We did not put written rules in place. Like I said, you don’t have to apply for anything. It’s all based on trust.

Now, we are lucky, Pete, we don’t – these are all salaried employees, so we don’t have a lot of wage and hour laws and things like that. We don’t have union workers because we’re a salaried group of people. We didn’t have a lot of those kinds of things to worry about in our work environment.

But we really – we didn’t deal with a lot of rules. We left people up to their own devices and we let groups of people out there on client engagements make their own rules and make it work for themselves and just hit their own deadlines. It magically worked very, very well.

Karlo, I will ask you to hold me accountable if that was not true on the ground, in the field.

Karlo Siriban
No, I think definitely the adoption took a while. You are absolutely spot on. But yeah, at this point, you’re right. It is on everybody’s lips. It’s on everybody’s mind. It holds true.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear a little bit more about – so previously there was a policy or rule to report time every day. What’s the new situation with regard to time reporting?

Anne Donovan
The new situation is you report your time in a week. As long as – if you’re a 40-hour worker, and most of us obviously report way more than 40 hours, you just have to cover your 40 hours some time over the week.

If you happen to cover those 40 hours in a two-day timeframe, the other three days don’t have to show the 40 hours. In other words, you can flex your time however it flexes for you. It used to be that you had to show how you covered those hours in five-days’ time so that you had to account for where you were. Now it just doesn’t matter. It’s just flexibility.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great.

Anne Donovan
I know. It’s really cool.

Pete Mockaitis
You said many are reporting more than 40 hours.

Anne Donovan
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s kind of the – I know, hey accounting, right? Folks can get fixated on numbers.

Anne Donovan
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a sense – maybe either of you can tackle this one in terms of a number of hours that is good or too few versus too many or is it just kind of like, “Hey, it’s different every week and we’re all good with that?”

Anne Donovan
It is different every week. In general I would say most of our employees work more than 40 hours a week. It’s just how we run.

But if you’ve got weeks that aren’t as busy, certainly we want you to work 40 hours. That’s – we want people to take advantage of times that aren’t as busy knowing that if you’re working on a deal and you’re an advisory or if it’s busy season and you’re in auditor or tax, insurance or tax, you’re certainly going to work more that. It’s kind of an up and down business.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. For the non-intense weeks are you still shooting for a 40 hour minimum?

Anne Donovan
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Or it’s kind of like, “Hey, last week was 70, so this week 20 is cool?”

Anne Donovan
No, I think we in general shoot for the 40.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. I’m with you there. I’m curious to hear any other kind of pro tips or best practices if you say your clients are starting to ask, “Hey, how’d you pull this off?” in terms of having success with this kind of a shift or intervention.

Anne Donovan
Well, I just think that I have not met a group of workers and I’ve not met a client group that was not interested in this topic.

I think and I say this to these groups, if you can figure out a way to bring this to your organization, it’s really important. It is free to offer your employees. Again, if you can bring this into your workplace and you’ve got the kind of workforce that makes it easy. Again, not dealing with hourly employees or employees that clock in, I recommend it because it is free to offer and it means a lot.

Giving your employees the freedom to have some kind of flexibility in their work day, it really – it hits home. It’s a home run. Again, it doesn’t cost money to do it.

I will tell you, we took flexibility to the next level when we introduced flexibility of dress. We have what we call dress for your day now at PWC. That includes jeans. We just got rid of that whole concept of sort of the uniform. In all of our PWC offices we’re a jeans firm now.

We’ve always been a you’ve got to dress like your client. When we’re out at a – we-wear-suits clients, then we have to wear suits. But when we’re in our offices, we wear jeans too. That was a big home run with our staff as well.

Because, again, whatever kind of breath of fresh air you can bring to your staff, why not do it? Again, a freebie. We can bring it and make our staff happy, so we did it. We’ve kind of brought that in under the flexibility umbrella as well.

Just trying to – life is kind of hard enough, work is kind of hard enough, anything you can bring in that just breathes some air into the place, that’s what we’re trying to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Can you share a little bit from all of these efforts, are you seeing – what’s the lift looking like in terms of before/after attrition or retention rates?

Anne Donovan
We’ve got really – we’ve had some really good impact on our retention. That’s one of our – both our retention and our engagement scores on our annual survey. For us retention is a big deal. Turnover is very costly in a firm like ours. We’ve had a big hit on our retention rate. We’re seeing actual very nice dollars flow straight to our bottom line, which makes me very happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Could you give us a rough sense of what kind of proportion lift you’re talking about here?

Anne Donovan
Yeah, well. Yes. The sort of conventional wisdom is then when someone walks out the door it costs the firm about 100,000 dollars. Every head that stays around is a savings to us and that’s all – that includes all kinds of things: training costs, replacement costs.

When you can keep someone around it saves a lot of money. We have 50,000 people, so when you think about even saving 1% of your people, that’s – on 50,000 people that’s a lot of money.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. Roughly what extra percentage of your people are you saving as a result of all this?

Anne Donovan
Well, we’ve certainly seen a good – probably – my boss probably wouldn’t want me quoting our retention rates, but I will tell you that we’ve seen some really good savings on retention rates. I better leave it at that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then. Well, any final thoughts before we shift gears to hear about some of your favorite things?

Anne Donovan
No, again, I just – I think we’re afraid – we’re afraid of change. We as leaders think that these kinds of changes are going to wreak havoc because we’re going to see abuse in the system.

I guess my advice to leaders is that I think you’ll see less abuse then you think you’re going to see. I would take the leap on something like flexibility because I think you’ll see much more benefit than you’ll see abuse. I guess that’s my big piece of advice.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Thank you. Well, now Anne or Karlo, whoever’s feeling it in the moment. Let’s hear about some of your favorite things. Is there a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Anne Donovan
Karlo, I’ll let you go first.

Karlo Siriban
The quote I always say is, it’s a Rolling Stone quote, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.”

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Anne Donovan
Oh, I love that, Karlo. It’s so much hipper than anything I was going to come up with.

Mine’s not a quote. I just try every single day to remember what I’m grateful for because I think we can get caught up in how hard life is.

I really – before my feet hit the ground in the morning, I don’t let myself get out of bed before I remember the things for which I am very, very grateful. However small those things might be, that might be my wonderful soft pillow, but I have a lot to be grateful for and I just really, really try to live in that gratitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Anne Donovan
Oh my gosh, mine is the Millennial study. I’m happy that is a public report. I’m happy, Pete, to make that available if anyone wants to take a look at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, please. We’d love to link to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Fair enough, fair enough. How about a favorite book?

Anne Donovan
Mine is Maya Angelou, Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Karlo Siriban
Mine is How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston.

Pete Mockaitis
I met him at a book signing and I have a signed copy of How to Be Black on my shelf.

Karlo Siriban
Really?

Pete Mockaitis
I did, yes.

Karlo Siriban:
Oh you lucky duck.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s good friends with my buddy, Mawi, who was episode number one. Small world. He’s a funny guy. He deliberately said the opposite of what I asked him to say in the inscription. I said something like, “Can you say that I’m tough or a baller.” I don’t remember what I asked for, but he said, “You are so not a baller.”

Anne Donovan
I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I have to get rid of this book now. Very good.

Anne Donovan
I love it.

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

Anne Donovan
My phone. I can’t live without it. My phone, which I look at every day for everything.

Karlo Siriban
Mine is my new ergonomic mouse.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, tell us all about it. What is it? Where can I buy it?

Karlo Siriban
I got it off of Amazon. Without plugging too hard, it’s an Anchor mouse. It turns your wrist so it’s like you’re shaking a hand.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right. Yes.

Karlo Siriban
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool.

Karlo Siriban
My arms feel so much better now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good move. Yeah. Let’s link that too.

Tell us, is there a particular nugget that you find yourself saying often that really connects and resonates with people?

Anne Donovan
Breathe. Just breathe everybody.

Karlo Siriban
Yeah.

Anne Donovan
Oh I actually – no, I shouldn’t say this on the air. I have three staff and they are all women. They all happen to be women. I have two grown kids. I have 21-year-old twins.

Every time my kids irritate me I always type to these gals in text #don’thavekids. These three women all have young babies at home so that’s our team motto #don’thavekids. We always laugh at each other #don’thavekids. That’s our motto – team motto to all of us who have a bunch of kids.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s too late I have a five-month-old.

Anne Donovan
Oh my gosh, Pete, I’m going to put you on our Twitter – on our tweet #don’thavekids there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m honored. Thank you.

Karlo Siriban
I have one from my grandfather. He always says “ayos lang” which is Tagalog. It’s the Filipino language. It just means it’s going to be okay.

Anne Donovan
Lovely.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Thank you.

Anne Donovan
Lovely.

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

Karlo Siriban
Anne, I leave that to you.

Anne Donovan
Well, follow me on Twitter because I’m always tweeting about staff that we’re finding interesting. I’m going to send the study, Pete, so I’d like you to take a look at that.

I just think keep plugging away on the flexibility stuff. I guess that’s it. I think you’ve got to keep trying and ask for what you want people. Ask for what you want in your workplace because you have to be happy at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Karlo, any final thoughts in terms of a challenge or call to action?

Karlo Siriban
I challenge everyone to be more mindful of everything outside of work and outside of the things that stress you. You’re a whole person; treat yourself like a whole person.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Karlo, Anne, this has been a whole lot of fun. Kudos for the good work that’s producing good results for people and profits. Keep it up.

Karlo Siriban
Thank you.

Anne Donovan
Yay, thank you for the opportunity.

Karlo Siriban
Had a great time.

308: How to Make Creative Ideas Irresistible with Allen Gannett

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Software founder and CEO Allen Gannett shares the critical components of successful ideas–and how to create more of them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two fundamental human desires that come together in winning innovations
  2. Little things to tweak to make your offering a smashing success
  3. The four laws of the creative curve

About Allen

Allen Gannett is the founder and CEO of TrackMaven, a marketing analytics platform whose clients have included Microsoft, Marriott, Saks Fifth Avenue, Home Depot, Aetna, Honda, and GE. He has been on the “30 Under 30” lists for both Inc. and Forbes. He is a contributor for FastCompany.com and author of The Creative Curve, on how anyone can achieve moments of creative genius, from Currency, a division of Penguin Random House. He was also once a very pitiful runner-up on Wheel of Fortune.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Allen Gannett Interview Transcript

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

Allen Gannett
Thanks man. Thanks for having the best named podcast on the internet.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I appreciate that. I was kind of inspired by Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich because it’s like, I know exactly what I’m getting from you. I like that clarity.

Allen Gannett
It’s like that movie Snakes on a Plane. It was about snakes on a plane.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Oh, and it was a delight. Speaking – well, you’re a marketing guy, I loved what they did with. Samuel Jackson’s voice–calling people and leaving voice mails like, “Hey Allen, you’ve got to get your butt to see Snakes on a Plane.” I just thought that was the coolest thing.

Allen Gannett
I don’t remember that. That sounds – I need to go look that up. That’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
I hope it’s still live. It brought me such joy and probably a healthy return on investment that you could measure with TrackMaven.

Allen Gannett
This is true. This is true.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Let’s get into it a little bit, but first I think we’ve got to hear about your Wheel of Fortune experience.

Allen Gannett
Oh my God. Yeah, I think this is one of those fun facts in the bio.

Yes, when I was 18 I decided – I had this phase where I was like I want to get cast on game shows. How hard could it be? I basically applied to all these different game shows and I got – there was a local audition for Wheel of Fortune, so I went. I never really watched Wheel of Fortune before. I decided instead of studying the puzzles I would instead study the contestants.

I watched like hours and hours and I played like the web game. I did all this different stuff to get a feel for it. What I realized about all the contestants that were on the show is that they weren’t all that good at puzzles; what they were good at is they were all bubbly and they all like enunciated really well.

Yeah, I went in and I did terrible on the actual like written test part, but when it came to do the audition, I did an Elmo impression, which I will never, ever do again and I think they were like, “Okay, this guy’s sufficiently crazy.” Yeah, I went on and I lost terribly. I lost to Joan from Alexandria, Virginia who won 60,000 dollars. I did not win that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh.

Allen Gannett
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
I wonder where Joan is now and what she’s done with the money.

Allen Gannett
Joan, if you’re listening, if you’re listening, please send me a DM.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that’s fun. That’s good. All right, cool.

I want to get into your book here, but first to get a little bit of back story, so you are the founder and CEO of TrackMaven, which is marketing analytics software. Can you give us a little bit of a feel for how your experience in that world informed your view of creativity and made you think that you need to write this book?

Allen Gannett
Yeah, I’ve been running TrackMaven for almost six years now. The thing that’s really interesting is so we work with a lot of really big brands to help them find the patterns in their marketing data, so like what are the things that you’re doing, what are the stories you’re telling, the products you’re focusing on, the messages, the audiences, what are those things that are actually driving results for your business.

What we’ve found is that there’s actually a lot of science behind this sort of marketing creativity. I’ve always had this sort of right brain/left brain sort of overlap view of creativity.

A few years ago I started noticing that when I would talk to the marketers we work with, they would say something like, “Well, I’m just not that creative.” I was like, “Uh, what?” “I’m not that way. I wasn’t born like Mozart. I’m not Steve Jobs.” I was like, “Um, but creativity is like this skill that you can develop and learn.” They’re like, “No, no, no. You either have it or you don’t.”

I’d always read a lot of autobiographies and I always read a lot of stories of creative genius. When you read the autobiographies and the memoirs and stories from these people, what’s clear is that they don’t feel like they were just born with it. They also don’t feel it was just the result of hard work. They feel like it was a result of a lot of smart work and a lot of intentionality.

I started giving this talk at marketing conferences all about how we need to get rid of this notion of the creative genius just sort of like walking out of the womb with all these talents and that being a reason why you can’t also be creative.

That’s spiraled into a book proposal, which spiraled into broadening the book to all creatives because the thing I realized as I started digging into the topic was that creativity is one of these things that is actually one of the most misunderstood concepts in popular culture. We all think we know what it is, but there’s actually been tons of new fascinating science and research about creativity that people don’t know about.

It’s actually at this point pretty well studied. We have a really good understanding of what causes people to like certain things, dislike other things, what are the underlying things in your brain that actually drive creative thinking. We have a lot of good science on this.

The book was this attempt to both a) debunk this sort of inspiration theory of creativity and 2) to paint a picture of okay, if creativity is something you can nurture and develop, well, how do you do it.

For that half of the book I interviewed about 25 living creative geniuses. These are like billionaires like David Rubenstein, startup people like Alexis Ohanian from Reddit, Kevin Ryan who did MongoDB, Gilt Business Insider, DoubleClick. Oscar winners. I did YouTube vloggers like Casey Neistat. I did Tony award winners, Emmy award winners, all these different people.

I found that there was these consistent things they did to enhance their creativity over and over again. The book I explain what those things are and I explain how you can do them too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yes. I want to dig into these practices, absolutely. But first I’m just so intrigued. Can you unpack a little bit some of the key things that are universal like what makes us like stuff and dislike stuff?

Allen Gannett
Yeah, what I found was really interesting when you dive into the research is that people have studied this question a few different fields. They’ve studied it in psychology, in sociology, in neuroscience. It all sort of converged on this thing where it turns out a big part of our preference is tied around these two urges we have.

The first urge is that as people we crave the familiar. We like things that we’re comfortable with, that we know are safe. This is very much a sort of evolutionary or reptilian effect where part of our job of our brain is to keep us safe.

If we see – if thousands of years ago we saw a cave we had never seen before, we sort of know, “Hm, we should probably avoid that thing.” We have this ability to really seek out the familiar. Like what is – think about your home, think about visiting your grandmother’s home. These places where you feel sort of safe. That’s one thing.

The second type of thing that affects preference, the second urge is that we also are really interested in things that are novel because we like the potential rewards. For example, in the hunter/gatherer days you’re looking for new berries, you’re looking for new sources of food. You’re constantly looking for that next thing.

But the problem is that these two urges, the craving for familiarity because of safety and the seeking of novelty because of potential reward, are in direct contradiction with each other. It almost makes no sense.

The thing is and what scientists found is that this is actually a really elegant way for our brain to balance things because let’s say for example you see a new berry in a field and it looks wildly different than any berry you’ve ever seen before. You should probably not eat it because it’s probably poisonous.

If on the other hand you see a berry that’s basically a bigger blueberry, it’s just a big, fat blueberry, you can probably go, “Okay, it’s probably fine. I’m going to try it out.” Your brain has this really graceful way of balancing familiarity and novelty.

What scientists found is what this relationship looks like is that the more we see something, the more we like it, but only up until a point. Once that point is reached then every time we see it we like it less and less and less. What they found is that there’s this inverse U relationship. There’s this bell curve. There’s this bell curve between exposure and preference.

In the book I call it the creative curve. It’s this relationship where your job as a marketer, as an entrepreneur, as someone who’s tasked with creating anything is to create ideas that have that right blend of familiarity and novelty.

Star Wars was literally a Western in space. It was familiar, but it was also novel. Harry Potter was a traditional rags to riches, orphan rises to greatness story, but it was told in this whole world around witches and wizards and magic in a way which many children’s books had never done before.

That combination of familiarity and novelty, that was the thing that really stuck out as one of these findings that has been so well researched, so well founded, so well supported, but we don’t really talk about that when we talk about creativity.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. An inverse U, I guess I’m thinking of a lower case n, if you will, then how that unfolds. I don’t know who it was, a comedian or just one of my buddies who said, “Oh, that looks like something that I already know and love and yet is slightly different. I will try this new flavor of beef jerky.”

Allen Gannett
Yes. Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. “I already like this brand of beef jerky and yet this is mesquite, so I am intrigued.” That connects and relates certainty to our experience.

I’m thinking about sort of like I guess startups that are really hits like Uber. It’s like, “You’re familiar with a cab? Okay. Well, hey, how about we just do that a little bit differently in a way that you find to be more convenient.”

Allen Gannett
When you think about – I think food trends are a great example of this. You saw, for example when Pink Berry rose to prominence. It was ice cream but it wasn’t. It was a little tangy. It was a little different. It was kind of healthy I guess. Now, obviously, it’s fallen from prominence.

Right now there’s that big trend going around of sort of the sushi burrito, like these giant, oversized sushi rolls. It’s something familiar. It’s sushi. It’s also something familiar. It’s a burrito. But it’s different. It’s a sushi burrito.

That’s one of those things that it was interesting because there’s all this science about it, but in the book I have a bunch of – have some quotes from some of the interviews and a lot of these creatives, they know this. They acknowledge this.

In fact I talk about this really fascinating study that this one professor did. He’s a professor of empirical musicology, which is a study of the math behind music. He did this study looking at how The Beatles used experimental song features over their career and it follows this U shape, where they use it more and more and as their audience started getting fatigued, they started using it less and less.

They always balanced the right balance of familiarity and novelty. They weren’t doing stuff that was too new. They weren’t doing stuff that was too old.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m also thinking about music there in terms of like if there’s a hit song on the radio or always just popping up again and again wherever you go. At first it’s like, “What is this? Oh no, eh.” Then it kind of grows on you, like, “Yeah, I dig this.” Then it’s like, “I’m sick of this. It’s everywhere. It’s just got to go. ”

Allen Gannett
Oh exactly. There’s actually a study in the book that literally did that in a scientific setting where they just played the same song over and over again. Again, there’s this U shaped relationship.

The first time you hear a new Drake song, you’re like, “Oh, okay.” The third time you’re like, “Oh, this is great.” The tenth time you’re like, “Please stop playing Hotline Bling” Then the twentieth time you’re like, “Why is this playing?”

You see this over and over again is that there’s this relationship. Things fall in and out of favor. If you’re going to master creativity, you have to first master that. You first have to master this curve.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I’m wondering then, so let’s say you’re a professional. You are in an environment working with your folks, your colleagues day and day out. You need to come up with the big idea that’s going to, I don’t know, improve a process or be a new opportunity that we should chase after. How does one apply this principle in the trenches?

Allen Gannett
I think the biggest thing that you can apply from really sort of a micro-perspective is I think too often in business environments we focus on the novel. We focus on – we use words like innovation, brainstorming. We’re constantly trying to find these new, out-of-the-box ideas.

I think some of the most valuable innovation, especially in corporate America, actually comes from taking what’s already working and just updating, just doing those little tweaks, those little changes.

I think we have to get away from this idea that sort of originality and innovation are the key to success because that’s not actually what the science shows us. That’s not actually what history shows us. The things that are successful are actually oftentimes the things that are somewhat familiar. I think making that mind shift change is really important. I hate the word brainstorming. It’s like my least favorite word.

Pete Mockaitis
Is ideation also a no-no for you?

Allen Gannett
Ah, ah, you’re killing me Pete. Don’t say this. Stop.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m thinking in terms of products. I guess you always think of Apple design and innovation and all those words. At the same time though the iPhone is kind of like, well, hey, it’s a phone and a music player and some internet goodies sort of in one.

It’s like you’ve got a thing in your pocket, maybe you have multiple things in your pocket, but you sort of put them all into one convenient package that looks great.

Allen Gannett
100%. You see this a lot – basically what you’re talking about is form factors. Form factors are a really common form of innovation because it’s the same actual functionality but in a different form factor.

Now we sort of joke about Tide pods because of the viral meme about people eating them, but before that they were a really successful product line because it was just taking detergent and making it easier to deal with.

It’s crazy because it’s literally just that – people I guess didn’t want to pour the detergent, but Tide pods were hugely successful just by changing the form factor. That’s all the change they made was. It wasn’t like some huge crazy innovation. It was just let’s put it in a little plastic dissolvable bag.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. That’s intriguing how you can also think about it in terms of a Tide pen, a Tide wipe.

Allen Gannett
Oh yeah, all these things. A Clorox wipe, it’s really the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
A travel size or a jumbo size. That’s intriguing.

I’m almost sort of imagining sort of like a matrix or a spider diagram in terms of hey, form factor is one thing you can tweak a little bit on one axis or dimension. What are some others in terms of hey, form factor is one variable, size is another, what else?

Allen Gannett
It really depends on the creative field obviously. With consumer packaged goods, form factor is obviously one that’s pretty common. Brand’s another one that’s pretty common.

Oftentimes you’ll see this for example when people are writing novels, they oftentimes will use really traditional story arcs. There’s actually all this interesting research about story arcs. There’s like these six recurring story arcs that people always use. People will take that same story arc and then they’ll add their own characters, their own genre.

Sometimes people will innovate on the actual story arc and add like a weird twist or a sort of a surprise ending, but actually more traditionally successful types of art are taking the standard structures and formulas and they’re working off of that. Much more common is you see people using the standard sort of structure of formula in art and working off that.

Most successful radio songs are three minutes. There are the occasional songs, I guess like Bohemian Rhapsody that’s like forever and that are successful from a sort of popular perspective, but those are the exception, not the norm. Typically you actually have to really focus on what are going to be the things you do that are similar to the baseline not wildly different.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, one of the key pieces in your book is coming up with the right idea at the right time. You talked about this curve. Any thoughts in terms of the timing? Do you play the game a little bit different if it’s played out in super familiar versus, oh, it seems more novel?

Allen Gannett
Yeah, I think the thing you need to recognize is you need to learn how to listen to your audience to identify where your idea is and whether or not you can change it or pivot it to the right place because you need to be at that blend of familiar and novel, that right perfect blend to really take off.

In the book I talk about these four things these highly successful, creative people do. One of them that I was surprised by is that they all engage in a highly data driven iterative process. I don’t mean data necessarily purely in the data way, although some do, but I mean some sort of systematic rigorous process of creating, testing, editing, reediting, recreating, sort of doing that over and over and over again.

For example, I talk about how I spent a day with the Ben & Jerry’s flavor development, which was like a really fun, delicious day for lots of reasons.

One of the things that I thought was so interesting was you have these people who are like experts in ice cream, they’re experts in flavor, they’re former chefs, they’re food scientists, but the biggest thing, the most important thing for them that they do is every year they come up with a list of 200 flavor ideas and they survey their audience.

They literally send – they have an email newsletter. They send a survey to a subset of the people in the email newsletter. They just ask two questions. The two questions are 1) how likely are you to buy this flavor and 2) how unique is this flavor. They’re basically asking how familiar is it and how novel is it.

The reason why that’s so important is because what they want to do is if they create too many things that are too familiar, that are – people say, “Oh, I love that,” that are similar to things they already like, well, you’ll end up with a whole line of brownie and cookie flavors, which sounds good, but will eventually make the brand feel stale.

If you just focus on novelty, you’ll just get a bunch of flavors that are like crazy, but no one will actually buy them when they see them on the shelf, even if they taste good. They use data to winnow down those initial gut ideas into ideas that they feel have a high degree of success based on listening to their audience.

So much of creativity, so much about doing anything creative is about nailing that for your audience. I think it’s amazing how little we actually listen to our audience.

That was one of the things I thought was most surprising was we have this vision of these great creatives like going off into a cabin in the woods and creating these things and then returning with a finished product. In reality creatives interviewed, they love getting audience feedback because they’re creating for the audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I’m intrigued. Those two questions then is it like a 400 item survey then if there’s 200 flavors and oh dang.

Allen Gannett
Yeah, it’s like a whole production.

Pete Mockaitis
Those are the committed ice cream-

Allen Gannett
Yeah. No I think they split it up, but yeah people get into Ben & Jerry’s. They have a big email list. You’d be shocked.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s very intriguing. I remember one of the first times I had this ah-ha was when I was – I don’t know how it happened. I was with my buddy, Conner, shut up. We were watching The Simpsons movie DVD commentary. I don’t know. It just happened that day.

Allen Gannett
It happens.

Pete Mockaitis
What occurred again and again in the commentary was the creators would talk about, “Oh, hey before in this scene we did this joke, but that didn’t work. Originally we did this, but that didn’t work.”

Allen Gannett
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
“We tried it out,” and this and that. I was like wait a second. From my perspective as a consumer, okay this is just a silly cartoon movie, but from behind the curtain with the creative folk going after it, it’s like test it, test it, test it. It’s like, yeah.

Allen Gannett
Comedy is so fascinating. Standup comedy, I profile a standup comedian in the book. Standup comedy I think is one of the most interesting examples of this because they literally get on stage and their whole shtick is they’re supposed to look like they’re organic and jokey.

But literally if you ever watch the new Seinfeld special on Netflix, they have this scene where he’s sitting in the middle of a park and they took out all of his yellow legal pads of jokes that he’s written throughout his entire career and it fills the entire park.

Because the whole thing in standup comedy is what they actually do is they’re constantly writing down little ideas and then all these standup comedians, even the big ones are constantly going to small comedy shows to – they call it working out a joke because they want to get the every little pause and facial expression, they want to get that all nailed.

By the time it’s going in their comedy special a year from now, they’ve been practicing and testing and getting that joke just right for them to deliver it on air recorded. Then they mostly throw out the jokes they’ve done for their special and they do the whole thing over again.

Standup comedy is actually one of the most practiced, rehearsed, written types of creativity, but we think of it as this organic thing. It’s like, no, that’s not how it works. These people don’t just come up and start cracking jokes.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I remember I always wondered when I was watching standup comedy, it’s like that joke is not at all connected to the previous joke. It feels like if this were a conversation, there would be a segue or whatever. It’s like, “Well, what can I tell you. I’ve got a bunch of jokes that are winning and they didn’t happen to be connected to each other, so this is what you got.”

Allen Gannett
Yeah, have fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s one great process there in terms of the laws of creative success and you share a couple others. Can you reveal them for us?

Allen Gannett
Yeah, of course. In the book there’s these four laws of the creative curve. One I already mentioned obviously is iterations and these highly iterative processes, so all these creators do that. The other three, the first one is consumption.

One of the things I thought was so interesting is that we think of creators as constantly doing, as constantly putting stuff out there, but all the creators I interviewed actually spend a lot of time consuming information in their vertical.

I explain in the book why. I explain why they do that. But that was one of the things I thought was so fascinating. There’s a huge amount of time consuming information in their vertical.

The second thing is that, again, we talk about this sort of originality myth, but every single one I interviewed talked about at some level how they spend time imitating the greats. Imitation is a huge part of the creative process. The second law is imitation.

The reason why is that there’s these common structures, these common ways in which creative products are presented to an audience. When you have to balance familiarity and novelty, knowing those structures is very, very important to create the familiar.

The third one and the one that I think is probably the most important and the one that’s often underappreciated and misunderstood is creative communities. We have this sort of myth of the solo genius. The idea that there’s these creatives like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and they’re doing these things all by themselves.

This is so far from the truth. It’s so destructive because so much of creativity is a social phenomenon. You have to create work that other people recognize as creative. They have to tell people about it. People have to agree that it’s creative.

When you actually look at these stories, like look Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, he had investors. He had employees who worked for him. There’s all these people involved. In the book I break down the different types of people you need to have in your creative community.

But one of the ones that people always sort of forget about is all the creative geniuses I interviewed have what I call prominent promoter, someone who gives them and lends them credibility because if you are creative and no one ever hears about your work, sure your work may be technically proficient, but from an academic perspective, it’s actually not creative.

Creative work by definition has to be recognized as creative. People have to see it in order for it to be labeled as such. Having people who lend you credibility, who lend you air time, who do that is actually incredibly important.

The sort of social construct around creativity is one of the things that I thought was really interesting when you dive into creativity because if I asked you, “Hey Pete, is that painting creative?” It’s actually a hard question to answer because if you’re looking at a painting of the Mona Lisa, well if you’re looking at a new one today that’s an exact reproduction well, you’d say, “Well, it’s not creative.”

Okay, but what makes the original one creative? There’s other paintings from a similar time period that are just as well painted and just as interesting. There’s actually a really big social phenomenon aspect around creativity that really is actually an important sort of nuance to understand.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that turn of phrase prominent promoter. I’m just imagining sort of like a … man like, “Yeah dog. What he said. Oh, that’s so good.” What are a couple other key roles?

Allen Gannett
A couple other ones are – the other one is a master teacher. All the creatives I interviewed had someone who is a world-class expert as a teacher not just sort of middling level.

The prominent promoter and the master teacher, sometimes people find them in one as like a mentor but I think it’s important to break those two because they’re actually two separate roles. For a lot of people those came from two separate people.

The other one is what I call conflicting collaborators. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs are a great example of this, where Steve Jobs didn’t want to design his computers. Steve Wozniak did not want to go around selling them.

Oftentimes we talk about these people as okay, they’re the face of it, they’re the name, they’re the genus, but they also have all done a good job of acknowledging their weaknesses and bringing other people in who conflict with them, who have those different talents to actually get to where they want to go.

That is so, so, so important because if you buy this myth that it’s all about you, it’s just about this one person and you have to do it by yourself, you’re never going to get there. You’re never going to get there and frankly, you probably shouldn’t because you’re going to need to learn how to engage with other people to really once you have a great product to actually get distribution.

The final one of the four types of people in a creative community is what I call a modern muse. What you find with these creative people is that they often surround themselves with people who inspire and motivate them. They’re not necessarily like a teacher or a mentor.

But for example, I interviewed a couple of really popular YouTube vloggers. I interviewed Casey Neistat and Connor Franta, who probably combined have like 20 or 25 million subscribers, like a lot.

What was interesting was that all of them would surround themselves, their friends, their friend group with other creators, other YouTube creators, other people and would keep them motivated, to keep them pushing, to give them that energy and it also gave them that friendly competition. It gave them that push of saying, “Okay, he or she did that, so I want to do that too.” They inspired each other. They did that.

Those four elements were incredibly important to have. Even missing one of those can be fatal to creative success.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Thank you.  I also want to dig in a little bit. You talk a bit about neuroscience and what it has to say about inspiration and ah-ha moments. What are some tidbits there?

Allen Gannett
Yeah, one of the most amazing things is that ah-ha moments, these flashes of genius we have that we think of as so magical are actually really well studied, Pete. People know, we know a lot about why they happen and all of that stuff.

The thing is that as people we can’t explain it. Oftentimes for things we can’t explain ourselves we ascribe sort of like magic, like it’s unexplainable. It’s not unexplainable. It’s actually pretty simple.

We have two different types of processing that go on in our brain. One is logical processing the other is sudden insight.

Logical processing happens in our left hemisphere. It’s very step-by-step. It’s like when you solve a math problem or work out a word puzzle letter by letter. It’s all conscious. You’re aware as the steps are going through. You know it’s happening.

The other type of processing is sudden insight. This happens in your right hemisphere. This type of processing is all subconscious. This is more connecting dissonant ideas together. Only once the answer comes together and three’s sort of like the left hemisphere is quiet enough, only then do you actually consciously experience these things.

That’s why we have this idea of sudden insight because these ideas suddenly pop out of consciousness but that doesn’t mean they’re magical. They’re in your right hemisphere and in fact this is why you have these so much when you’re in the shower or a lot of these stories people were in bed or they’re on a train or they’re on a commute is because in these moments your left hemisphere has sort of quieted down.

You kind of think about your left hemisphere and your right hemisphere as your left hemisphere is your noisy lab partner who won’t shut up about working through the problem and your right hemisphere is your quiet, smart lab partner who’s like working through and they say like, “Hey, I got the answer. I got the answer,” but you can’t actually hear them say it until your noisy lab partner kind of shuts up.

The thing is that since it’s really just a different type of processing, we actually have pretty good insight into how to have more of them. It’s more complicated than this and I explain in the book. But the short version is that if you want to have more sudden insight, you need to do two things.

One, obviously, you need to have the time, the sort of quiet time for your left hemisphere to sort of be settled. The second thing, the thing most people miss, this is why consumptions were in the laws, is you need to consume a large amount of information. You have to have the raw ingredients in your right hemisphere to actually connect.

I experienced this in the book where I’m reading thousands and thousands of pages of peer-reviewed research on creativity and so when I have ah-ha moments in the shower or whatever, I’m having ah-ha moments about these really dorky creativity concepts. If I hadn’t been reading all that, I wouldn’t have had those moments.

People are like, “Well, J.K. Rowling had these ideas for Harry Potter,” but she also spent her entire childhood reading because she had this chaotic household and she wanted to get away from it. Yeah, those are the raw ingredients in her brain. Those are the things that were percolating around.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that notion in terms of the quiet. I’m finding – we had a great podcast conversation with Dr. Michael Breus talk about optimal timing and our ultradian rhythms and neurotransmitters and goodies kind of internally biochemically you’re kind of predisposed to functioning in one or the other place better.

For me, I see it all the time, I actively sort of schedule my workday around it, sudden insights, creative goodies happen in the earlier part of the morning and then logical processing happens when I am kind of more fully woken up, breakfast and cruising.

I kind of deliberately try to schedule, “Oh, I’m going to write something for the early morning and then I’m going to categorize all these tax transactions in the later part of the day.” My brain is happier having the task match up what is required from it in the state that it happens to be in.

Allen Gannett
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
Well this is so cool, so good. Allen, tell me anything you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.

Allen Gannett
No, that was great. I think that the one thing that I worry about is that the book is saying that there is science and a path towards creative success. Pete, I’m not saying it’s easy. I think that’s a really important thing. In fact, I think it’s incredibly hard.

I think oftentimes we sort of think because it’s like a luck-based thing that, “Well, I don’t have it so I have an excuse not to try.” I actually want to challenge people. I think you can do it but you do have to try, you do have to lean in, you do have to really, really push yourself if you want to achieve that.

It’s not that I’m saying it’s easy. Actually, it’s really, really hard, but there is a path. That I think is an important thing to know.

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

Allen Gannett
Oh my God. I have so many. I love Ben Horowitz book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. I mean there’s like 500 quotes in there that I just think are – speak to me so much because I think at the end of the day if you haven’t read that book, it’s a book by Ben Horowitz, who’s one of the early employees of Netscape and he went on to found Andreessen Horowitz.

He talks about sort of the – he talks about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur in a way that I think is very authentic and real. The big point he makes is that the stuff isn’t easy. It’s not simple. It’s not straightforward. There aren’t silver bullets. I just think that message really resonates with me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh beautiful. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Allen Gannett
Oh, I think anyone who gets into creativity will tell you that the study Robert Zajonc did the mere exposure effect study a long, long time ago. It has such a big influence in marketing and neuroscience and creativity research.

Basically the finding was that people’s exposure actually has a pretty big relationship on whether or not they like something. From there we’ve sort of gone down the rabbit hole and there’s been all this fascinating research around preference and likeability. That study started the whole thing.

Basically it’s kind of cute. He showed people these fake Chinese characters. They didn’t mean anything. Then he showed it to people different numbers of times and would ask them a) how positive or negative they thought it was and how much they liked it.

It’s really funny because people are like – people actually have opinions on it. “Oh, that’s a positive meaning word.” It turns out how that often people see it does affect it.

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

Allen Gannett
Oh my God. I love Boomerang. I’m one of those people who tends to write emails at like 1 AM in the morning. I don’t want to be that obnoxious person or obnoxious boss who’s sending emails at 1 AM, so scheduling stuff for 9 AM is like – keeps me sane and makes people think I’m sane, which is good. We want people to think that.

Pete Mockaitis
But you just ousted yourself. We all know that you’re not sane.

Allen Gannett
Yeah, I know. Everyone’s like why do these emails come right at 9 AM.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Allen Gannett
For me every Saturday I take an incredibly long walk with the dog. It’s one of those times where it’s just like – I just think. I have that moment. I have that breath. I have that pause sort of in life. It gives me a chance to check in with my body. I can sort of feel is something wrong. Am I anxious? Am I tense? Usually we may stop and get a doughnut along the way. It’s a delicious habit.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a key nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks when you say it?

Allen Gannett
I think the biggest think I’ve realized just in running a business is that everyone you work with is so human, people on my board, the people we sell to, the people who work here. Everyone is so human with flaws and contradictions and messy feelings.

I think as you come to realize that it really opens up your mind to how to interact with the world, how to interact with other companies and customers, and prospects, and all these different people because you realize that you need to treat people with the sort of respect and dignity that you treat any new friend or any new human you meet.

That for me has been a really powerful experience personally and something that I think has benefited other people.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued. Dig into that a bit in terms of have you shifted your behavior in terms of how you’re interacting with folks based upon this kind of core premise?

Allen Gannett
Yeah, I mean the thing is I tend to treat people with respect but as peers and I think it tends to be the biggest impact, especially for someone who is younger, is not overly formalizing things. I think you realize as you sort grow in your career that if you make everything overly formal, people don’t really want to work with you or interact with you. I think that’s a very common mistake that people make early in their careers.

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

Allen Gannett
My website is Allen.xyz. That’s A-L-L-E-N-.-X-Y-Z. You can check out the book at TheCreativeCurve.com. It comes out June 12th everywhere books are sold.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their job?

Allen Gannett
My call to action for all of you is that every single day when you walk in, know that if you are responsive, if you are responsible and you get done what you say you’re going to get done, you will outpace, outshine 95% of the people you work with.

If you’re building a team, you want to build a team of people who are all performing at that level and that’s where the magic happens. That’s where you get the lift. That’s where you can really step back and see a team grow.

Pete Mockaitis
Usually that’s the final word for that, I must know more. Tell me then, it seems like that seems foundational, “Yes, but of course I should do the things that I say I’m going to do.” Can you unpack a little bit in terms of common practice versus what you’re saying is an exceptional practice that makes an exceptional difference?

Allen Gannett
Yeah, the thing is that as people we’re busy. We get tired. We generally have a tendency towards homeostasis. We don’t actually always want to put in that extra incremental 10% effort. I know for me sometimes I’m tired. I don’t want to respond that email. I don’t want to do these things.

Those little actions, those actions that seem so small and inconsequential that you can write them off, that’s actually where the magic happens. That’s actually where high-performing teams happen because when the basics, when the foundations are taken for granted, when they’re assumed that you got that done, that’s when you can focus on the big stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Allen, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you and TrackMaven and The Creative Curve tons of luck and success here.

Allen Gannett
Thanks man, I appreciate it.

307: Persuasive Speaking with Carmine Gallo

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Carmine Gallo discusses the ancient power of persuasion and shows how it can make you irresistible and irreplaceable in the workplace today.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why storytelling is key in any field of work
  2. The 2000-year-old formula for persuasion that still works today
  3. The brain hack that Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, and Picasso used to unlock their best ideas

About Carmine

Carmine Gallo is an influential communications expert, Harvard instructor, and bestselling author of  Talk Like TED  The Storyteller’s Secret, and his new book Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great. As a popular keynote speaker, Gallo teaches CEOs and leaders to deliver dynamic presentations and share inspiring stories that sell products, grow brands and inspire change. He writes regularly for Forbes.com and Inc.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Carmine Gallo Interview Transcript

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

Carmine Gallo
Oh, thanks, Pete. Thank you for the opportunity to help our listeners become more awesome at work.

Pete Mockaitis
I think this is going to be a really fun one. To kick it off, I understand that there’s a special creature in your life, not a person, Double Doodle. What’s the story here?

Carmine Gallo
Isn’t that the most ridiculous name? It’s a Double Doodle, which we got a couple of years ago, so his name is Rocky. He is – I don’t know why they call them Double Doodles because they’re actually a mix of three breeds. It’s Lab-

Pete Mockaitis
It’s Triple Doodle.

Carmine Gallo
Yeah, triple – it’s like a Triple Doodle. It’s a Lab, a Poodle, Retriever.  The Poodle – it gets the smarts from the Poodle and retrieves like a Lab, and it’s just a wonderful dog, but for people like me who’ve got some allergies with the animals and the pets, this is great. I get the best of both worlds. I’m glad that breed exists.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, intriguing. The name, Rocky, what’s the back story?

Carmine Gallo
Okay, well, with a name like Carmine Gallo, okay, you can start putting the pieces together. I’m Italian, Sylvester Stallone, Rocky, you know? It kind of goes back to the movie. What can I say?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. I loved the Rocky movies so much when I was a teenager. I rushed to the video store actually of all places, to rent them and watch them in quick succession. Which one is your favorite?

Carmine Gallo
Well, Pete, I’ll tell – the first one. I actually liked Creed, that last one that they did I thought was very good.

But Pete, I’ve got to tell you, in the last few years, Rocky has taken on a completely new experience for me and not just because of my dog. I wrote a book on storytelling prior to this one, storytelling in business. It’s called A Storyteller’s Secret.

I began speaking and interviewing a lot of Hollywood producers and Hollywood type of people because if you really want to understand storytelling, why not go to the source? The Hollywood folks who do it well.

Well, Rocky has the greatest dramatic arc of any Hollywood movie. Most producers will tell you that. I started looking at it completely differently. It helped me as a storyteller in business.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you say the greatest dramatic arc, what makes it the greatest?

Carmine Gallo
In Hollywood, you need to have that three-act structure. All successful Hollywood movies have that three-act structure, which is the setup, the conflict, and the resolution. Star Wars obviously falls into that genre as well. In fact, George Lucas studied narrative and storytelling while he was writing Star Wars.

But in terms of Rocky, the man is down and out and not just a little bit. His best friends are turtles; he breaks thumbs for a living. You’ve got to start really down and then so that arc of that you’ve got experience of reaching success is even more dramatic.

Of course there’s hurdles and ups and downs, but the beauty of Rocky is that it doesn’t necessarily mean that at the end – a happy resolution doesn’t mean you win the championship. He didn’t win. He didn’t win, but his-

Pete Mockaitis
Spoiler alert for those that didn’t see the first Rocky yet. I’m so sorry.

Carmine Gallo
But as long – Pete, this is the important part – as long as the hero of your movie undergoes some sort of transformation, that’s what’s important to storytelling. The hero has to be a better person because of the experience. We can actually apply that to business very directly.

It’s really interesting talking to Hollywood types, which I actually included some of the things they talked about in my new book. I talked to some Hollywood producers and screenwriters about how to craft more compelling narratives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Let’s maybe back up for a second. Your company, Gallo Communications Group, what are you all about there?

Carmine Gallo
I write books. I do a lot of public speaking and keynotes. Then a third of my business is communication advising.

I used to be a journalist. I was a trained journalist. I went to Northwestern, worked for CNN, worked for a number of different media outlets for about 15 years. Then I transitioned into helping executives of all types, in all fields become more effective and more persuasive at telling their stories, giving presentations. I sort of became a presentation coach.

But since then I’ve evolved into an author of nine books and a communication advisor to some rather large brands. In fact, I like to say there is not any day that goes by when you are not touching a product or using a product or eating a product, I do a lot of agribusiness too, through whom the leaders or the business people who actually make those products haven’t gone through my workshops.

Pete Mockaitis
Impressive. Very cool. All right, so then your latest, the book is called Five Stars, what’s the main idea behind this one?

Carmine Gallo
Five Stars, the subtitle is The Communication Secrets to Get From Good to Great. In a nutshell, it’s in the age of AI, artificial intelligence, I make the argument that mastering the ancient art of persuasion, we can talk about what that means, but mastering the ancient art of persuasion, is no longer a soft skill. It really is the human edge that will make you irresistible and irreplaceable in the work place.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, there we have it. That is a thesis statement for you.

Carmine Gallo
And I’ve never been more confident, Pete. I’ve never been more confident about a book. I’ve written books on Steve Jobs and how he delivered presentations. I’ve written books on how to give a TED-style talk. I’ve written books on storytelling in business.

I’ve never been more confident that the one skill that sets people apart from the rest to go from average to transformational leadership is the ability to communicate emotionally and effectively with another person.

The whole book is really a ton of examples of people in a wide range of fields, from CEOs down to college graduates who are being promoted above their peers, who can credit directly their ability to communicate more persuasively as the secret sauce, the secret ingredient that sets them apart from the rest.

That’s the whole metaphor of Five Stars. It’s not enough to be average anymore. You can’t be average. Not even good is good enough. You have to be exceptional. How do you get there? That’s why I try to tackle.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, now you mentioned – you talk about being persuasive. I’ve been studying up on copywriting lately and your fascinations or bullets associated with the book are very on point, so it seems like you already have street credit and authority from me just by reading your book descriptions.

I can’t resist, I’m just going to ask if you directly off of there, so is this indeed the skill that Warren Buffet says raises our value by 50%?

Carmine Gallo
Warren Buffet is fascinating. Warren Buffet was giving a discussion. He was in a class, I believe it was Columbia University. This was when I first started studying Warren Buffet and persuasion and public speaking.

He’s giving a talk at Columbia University to a class of MBA students, business students. They said, “What is the one skill that you think we need to excel in the workplace?” That was one of the questions. He said point blank, “You have to develop your skill as a public speaker.”

He said, “If one of you comes to me today, I’m willing to invest like 100,000 dollars in your future earnings for any of you because of your degree,” because of your degree, Pete, right? Because they have a business degree. The degree counts for something, but then he said, “And if you’re a good public speaker, I’ll increase your value by 50% on the spot.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, there we have it.

Carmine Gallo
That’s when I started really focusing on the ability of certain people to be more persuasive, to have better presentation, better communication skills. It really does set them apart.

But I think what’s really empowering for all of our listeners today, Pete, is to understand that anyone can develop this skill. A lot of people – men and women, young and old alike, it doesn’t matter where you are in your career. I’ve met them all from Millennial to senior CEOs – most people do have a reluctance to either speak up or to speak in front of larger groups or groups of people.

It’s a very natural nervousness that we have. To the extreme it’s called stage fright, but we all are a little reluctant to be judged by our peers in a social setting. There’s an evolutionary purpose to it from what I’ve read. It’s really fascinating. But we have to kind of get over that hurdle, those nerves, and we have to really embrace the opportunity to speak in front of groups and in front of people at the workplace.

But what’s empowering, Pete, is that I have met and I have heard from a lot of billionaires and CEOs, and very persuasive, very successful people that they too had a real fear of public speaking, not just a little nervousness or being uncomfortable, but a terrible, paralyzing fear of public speaking.

That’s another reason why I like the Warren Buffet story because he’s very open and candid about the fact that when he was a young rising professional in the stock brokerage industry, he had a terrifying fear of public speaking.

He said he went to a Dale Carnegie course and dropped out of the course because he was afraid to speak in front of anyone. He finally got through the course a second time and he said that was the greatest thing that could ever have happened to him, but he had to get over that.

To this day it’s the only degree – I saw this in a documentary – it’s the only degree that he has framed in his office, above and over the business degrees. They’re not in his office. It’s the public speaking certificate. That’s why this content, what we’re talking about today, Pete, is so important to all of your listeners because it really is the skill that will set them apart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I want to dig into that reluctance point a little bit.

I think some skeptics or those who maybe are just not into doing the speaking, the persuasion, might think, “You know, Carmine, really don’t the best ideas rise to the top? Won’t sort of the good, brilliant ideas be the ones that win while the ones that are intrinsically bad will just fall apart on their own lack of merits?” What’s your take on this one?

Carmine Gallo
Pete, I can trace throughout history – but let’s go back say within 200 years. The greatest movements of our time were triggered by people, by individuals, who had the gift of persuasion, who were better at communicating than other people.

You can go back to the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, which actually I’ve analyzed all of that and it had all of the elements that Aristotle talked about in persuasion: ethos, pathos, logos, all that.

But if you really want to get into it, you can look back at people like Abraham Lincoln, who Doris Kearns Goodwin said was a better storyteller. People came from far and wide, from villages all over to hear this magnificent storyteller.

John F. Kennedy, we would never have put a person on the moon if it had not been for John F. Kennedy being able to blend both the emotion and logic. He was a poet and a leader. There’s actually studies on that that he was persuasive and emotionally resonant.

There’s a great story that I talk about. I didn’t really know too much about this, but in the 1850s I guess people didn’t realize that infections is why people died in hospitals. In Britain there was the Crimean War and Florence Nightingale, I didn’t really know about this story, but Florence Nightingale, she was early STEM. She knew more about science and health than anybody.

She realized, “Oh wait a minute, people are not dying of battle wounds; they’re dying of infections because there’s germs in the air and they’re infecting people.” We didn’t know this at the time. She had to convince the British society at the time, who said, “Well, you’re a woman. What do you know about science and health care?” She said, “No, I’m actually certain about this.”

She was dismissed. She was completely dismissed outright by the men at the time, so she created the first pie chart.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Carmine Gallo
She created this colorful pie chart way before infographics ever were introduced to actually show people visually why people were dying in hospitals. It was because of that that the scientists of the time said, “Wow, that’s pretty persuasive.”

Pete, I can tie this to almost any great movement of our time or any great experience that has transformed society, we can actually trace it back to somebody who was a really, really good communicator. There’s a ton of examples. One third of my book is history.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s intriguing. Now, I’m going to kind of go a little farther here with the devil’s advocate play.

Carmine Gallo
Sure, absolutely. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I would say those seem like good and true ideas. Infections are problematic. Freedom, independence is good. Maybe could you share an example of how great persuasion made a terrible idea that should have lost, in fact win and take root?

Carmine Gallo
Well, see now you’ll get me into trouble with that because there’s certainly a number of issues. You could look at politics. You could look at all sorts of different issues of our time where – and this is something that I study.

There are a lot of complicated issues out there, a lot of complicated issues in business and in geopolitics. The ability to communicate those issues and explain those issues really, really clearly is something that a lot of people really need to understand, and study, and take seriously.

Narrative, for example is being studied everywhere, Pete. Narrative, storytelling, is being studied in hospitals. It’s being studied in healthcare because we know that doctors are not the greatest communicators. It’s being studied in science because you can have a great idea as a scientist, but if you cannot persuade another person of that idea, then those great ideas get lost. That’s problematic.

In fact, over the last year, I’ve actually been contacted, I’m not exaggerating, by about five different departments within the US military, doing completely different things, but they are all studying narrative because it’s crucial to study why people behave in a certain way.

In my opinion, Pete, regardless of whether it’s in business or any field, if you can really get good at understanding narrative, I think it’s an amazing skill that will help you succeed in any industry, in any field.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well let’s talk about how that is done. In practice, how does one master this narrative of persuasion, inspiration?

Carmine Gallo
Yeah. One more thing before I forget and I’ll get into right into that Pete.

One of the reports that I read that kind of prompted me to write a book just on the art of persuasion. I read a report last year, 94% of hiring managers will say an employee with stronger communication skills has a better chance of being promoted, than an employee with more years of experience but weaker verbal skills. That’s the why. That is the why behind this book.

Let’s get into, well, how do you do it. Well, one is to recognize that persuasion is something that actually does come naturally to us. Storytelling, for example, is a big part of persuasion. That is something that is innate in us. It’s part of our DNA.

You may have heard about the history or the science of it, but there’s a lot of science now, which shows that the way we connect with one another is through storytelling, telling anecdotes, telling stories about one another. That’s the best way of transferring ideas from one person to another. This has actually been shown in the lab with neuroscientists I’ve talked to.

But it comes naturally to us. We are natural storytellers, Pete, until we get into the business world. Then all of the sudden we open something called PowerPoint, which is – I have nothing against PowerPoint per se. I’ve actually seen beautifully designed presentations.

But it is one of the least effective ways of transferring an idea to one another, especially using bullet points, which is why you never saw a bullet point on a Steve Jobs presentation. He used a different presentation software, but you never saw bullet points. He had an intuitive feel for story and for narrative.

This is something that very much comes naturally to us. What I like to do and I think this has been very effective in terms of helping people through this because I know how abstract this could sound, Pete. Storytelling, narrative, persuasion, it sounds so abstract. The formula was handed down to us 2,000 years ago. We know how persuasion works. We know it. Science proves it.

We know it because 2,000 years ago a really smart guy named Aristotle gave us the formula for persuasion. He said in order for me to convince you of anything, I need to do three things. I need to have three things. He called them appeals. You may have heard about these before and so have your listeners, but it’s worth repeating.

One is ethos, which is my credibility, my integrity. Before you interviewed my, Pete, you went online. You kind of looked at, “Oh, he’s got nine books and here’s how well they’re doing.” That’s my credibility. That is part of who I am before I even enter a conversation.

Then I need the data. That’s what Aristotle called logos. I have to make a logical argument for you to accept my idea. I need to deliver data and information and facts, like the one I just delivered to you, the 94% of hiring managers. I need to do that as part of my persuasion toolkit.

But without pathos, which is making an emotional connection to you through the power of story, then the other two don’t matter.

I have studied TED speakers, for example. I’ve studied the most viral TED talks of all time and I’m pretty close to the TED conference too. They know of me. I know them and I’ve worked with different TED speakers. The best TED talks are the ones that blend all three.

If you want to be persuasive, ethos, we can set that aside. That’s just establishing credibility for who you are. That’s your resume. Those are your credentials. But you have to be able to use facts, figures, data, and logical reasoning in order to convince your boss or your team to accept an idea or to take action for an idea.

But what I have found, especially in the great TED speakers of all time, 65% of their presentations fall under what Aristotle called pathos, which is story, emotion. You have to have a right balance.

Pete, when you walk into any conference room in corporate America today and you watch a standard PowerPoint presentation, it’s 99% data, 99% logos and only 1% maybe pathos. It needs to be more of a balance. I argue a higher element needs to be emotion and story followed up by the data.

It is hard to get across to people because I think people are just – I’m not going to say they’re not courageous, but I feel like they rely too much on the data because they think that they’re being more persuasive that way, where really the smartest people and the people who are the most successful in the fields very much use a combination of both emotion and data.

I can give you a perfect example of that if you’d like.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I do want to hear that example. It’s true I’m thinking about some of my favorite TED talks, like with Amy Cuddy, hearing her journey of transformation, like she didn’t think she was good enough and then oh by the way, if we look at the cortisol levels in blood after engaging in power posing and they are different. It’s like, oh, well, there you have it. It’s kind of hard to argue with the data.

Carmine Gallo
Pete, let me stop you there. Perfect. Amy Cuddy, Harvard researcher. Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Carmine Gallo
All right. I’m going to stop you there. Do you remember any – she had a lot of data in that TED talk. Do you remember anything? I’m going to put you on the spot. I’d love for you to ….

Pete Mockaitis
I think there was a bar chart that – I don’t remember the specific numbers, but I was like, “Whoa, that’s definitely quite the drop,” was what I remember.

Carmine Gallo
Yes, but what’s the first thing you remember?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, she had her story associated with she felt kind of outmatched in the academic environment, like maybe she didn’t belong there.

Carmine Gallo
Pete, you just confirmed the thesis, which neuroscientists are concluding in the lab. You and I as human beings are wired for narrative, are wired for story. It is the most effective way of recalling information that we have. It’s the most fundamental verbal tool that we have in our toolbox.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about courage maybe being the missing element. I guess, okay, I’m going to put myself in the shoes of someone about to give a presentation to let’s just say a vice president of a corporation with tens of thousands of employees.

Carmine Gallo
Let’s say confidence. Maybe confidence more than courage.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I’m wondering – I guess it’s a little spooky one to buck the trend of the norm of what you see all the time and two if you start and say, “Pete is a customer in Chicago, who purchased our product and Pete was having some difficulty opening the packaging.”

I guess I’d be a little concerned that the executive there would be like, “Do you have any idea how busy I am? How about you get to the point right away so that we can make this meeting shorter and I can continue generating gobs of shareholder value?”

Carmine Gallo
Oh, Pete, we can handle that one too.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Carmine Gallo
Okay. Everything falls under storytelling, but let’s be clear.

When I talk about storytelling in business as a way of setting you apart from your peers and everyone else, it doesn’t mean necessarily, “Oh, I’m going to tell you a personal story,” or, “I’m going to tell you a story about this persona.” It simply means using the elements of persuasion, and story, and pathos, that we know work.

Here’s another element. Remember at the very beginning of this conversation we talked about Hollywood movies. All successful stories, whether they are books, movies, plays, or presentations have a structure, a formula. There has to be the setup, the conflict, the resolution. There’s no successful Hollywood movie that actually doesn’t really fall in those three buckets.

It’s a formula that works throughout all of time. They’ve traced books back thousands of years. There are hundreds of years. The stories in the oldest books follow this formula. It’s not something that we just made up. This is how the brain works.

If you’ve got ten minutes in front of your boss, you can think of that story structure. It doesn’t have to be a particular story. It can simply be the structure of narrative.

You can start with, “Here is where we are today. Here’s the status quo. Here’s what our company’s dealing with today. Here’s the hurdle. Here’s the problem that is manifesting itself or the problem that is going to come up if we don’t handle this particular issue today. Here’s what the world, our industry, our company will look like once we’ve handled the issue.”

If I’ve got ten minutes in front of you and I have to make an argument for something, I’m still going to be thinking in narrative structure, Pete. I’m not going to spend ten minutes telling you this amazing story of somebody whose life was transformed by a product because you’re right. My boss is going to say, “You’re wasting my time. I don’t have time for this fluff.”

But I can still grab your attention by saying, “Here’s the state of our company today. Here’s a conflict that’s happening and this is going to cause a lot of problems for us. Here is the potential solution or maybe three solutions that we can choose from. Here’s how the world, our company, will look after either of these is implemented.”

I’m still using a narrative structure. I can also use metaphor and analogies. Warren Buffet is a big fan of this. This goes back to Aristotle as well.

When Warren Buffet talks about something complex, like financial strategies, he’ll often use a metaphor. He will compare the abstraction to something concrete. Metaphor has been found to be, again, one of our most effective verbal techniques.

But that still falls under Aristotle’s pathos or emotion. Aristotle gave us these formulas thousands of years ago and we can use them today to really stand out in any field.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of the three part evolution there and the storytelling arc and pathos, you’re seeing that even if you’re not telling a quote/unquote story insofar as an individual did a series of events and this is what unfolded, it’s still a story if you start with, “Here’s where we are today. Here’s the problem and here’s what it looks like if we fix it versus don’t fix it.”

Then I guess for the logos, you’re just sort of laying out the data associated with it, like, “We’ll lose 43 million dollars if we don’t fix it,”

Carmine Gallo
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s sort of like it’s integrated into that pathos arc.

Carmine Gallo
Pete, “We will lose 43 million dollars if we don’t take this action,” that is the logos. Then I can follow that up with, “Here is an example or an anecdote of a company that was in our similar position and did not take action,” that’s the pathos. That’s the story.

You’re still using the elements of narrative and everything we’ve learned about connecting with people emotionally, but you’re just simply putting it into an abbreviated form.

Pete, this is a big deal. The ability to speak – and we can move past storytelling – but the ability to speak concisely and clearly in ten minutes – ten minutes is actually a good rule of thumb – is something that very few people have but everyone can build on it.

I was at – and I wrote this in the book and I had to be very careful about what I said, but I felt pretty good about it. Last year I was actually invited to kind of a secretive Air Force base in the middle of the desert. It was one of those –

Pete Mockaitis
Is it where they have the aliens, Carmine? Come clean right now.

Carmine Gallo
It was close to it. It was close to it.

Pete Mockaitis
You saw alien corpses over there.

Carmine Gallo
I was actually asked by a very – we’re not going to call him secretive, but it’s a very elite group of Navy and Army officers who are the top 1% in those particular departments. They are dealing with – they’re the ones being trained to deal with some of the most sensitive global issues of our time.

I went to their class. I actually sat there for about four hours listening to this class. They had one of my books as their required reading. They were dog-eared. They were looking at them in paperback. It was all marked up. They’re actually using one of my books. I thought it was fascinating.

Then near the end of it I said, “Why? Why would they need this kind of book for the most complex issues of our time?” Pete, I’ll never forget what the instructor said. They said, “Carmine, when these officers graduate this program and they go into the Pentagon or the White House or they go all over the world, they will have sometimes ten minutes to make an argument.” That’s it.

Why should we take this direction over another one? You have to be able to tell your argument, make a persuasive case in as little as ten minutes, but wow. You would think there would be a little bit more debate about some of these issues. But you understand where that’s coming from.

I think that’s something – I’ve heard this in business as well. Andy Grove at Intel, would give you ten minutes to give him a presentation.

People would go in there with these stacks of PowerPoint slides. They were ready to talk for 60 minutes and he said, “You’ve got 10. If you cannot express your idea in 10 minutes, clearly, succinctly and in a compelling way, I’m not interested.”

You see, Pete, it really does get back down to this idea that whether it’s through the elements of persuasion, the elements of narrative, or simply the ability to communicate your idea concisely and in a way that engages both my emotion, and my reasoning, and my intellect in a short amount of time, that’s a pretty powerful skill.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is. I want to make sure we get to hit two quick tactic tidbits right before we shift into hearing your favorite things. First, these fascinations, so compelling. What is the brain hacks Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, and Picasso used to unlock their best ideas?

Carmine Gallo
I think you got that from one of the chapters of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well yeah, I’ve got to know. It’s here.

Carmine Gallo
That is a fascinating brain hack. I’m sure you’ve come across this before, but it’s the idea of getting out of your industry and looking outside of your industry for the most creative ideas, so connecting ideas from different fields and applying it to the field or topic that you’re working on today. That is the secret to creativity, to kind of jumpstarting your creativity.

That’s why people like Steve Jobs, if it wasn’t for Steve Jobs, you know this story.

But if it wasn’t for Steve Jobs taking a calligraphy course in college without any indication that it was going to be used for anything other than just a creative outlet, if it wasn’t for that course, we never would have had this beautiful font and typography and desktop publishing that we have today because he brought it into the Mac.

He did this all the time. I did a lot of research on the Apple store. The Apple store was not inspired by another computer store. An Apple store was inspired by the Ritz Carlton. It’s fascinating. That’s why they do not have cashiers, but they have a concierge greeting you at the front. That’s why there’s a bar in the back of every Apple store. It doesn’t dispense alcohol; it dispenses advice, called a Genius Bar.

That’s a fact because I learned it from some of the top retailers who worked on the Apple store. This was the genius. The genius was looking outside of your field for inspiration. You have to be able to kind of follow your passions, follow your creativity and trust that something is going to connect.

Walter Isaacson goes into it in his book, Leonardo da Vinci was surrounded by people in Florence who were not just painters and sculptors, but they were artists and they were merchants.

Just by being around people who were outside of his little echo chamber, today we call it an echo chamber, Pete. We surround ourselves by the same like-minded people, who think the same and act the same.

Instead you have to kind of get out of your zone and start talking to other people and reading things that you wouldn’t otherwise read and traveling to places you wouldn’t otherwise travel because, and scientists have told me, that is the best way of getting your brain to think completely differently and creatively about problems that you’re working on.

That’s why Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with Hamilton only after he picked up a book that he rarely would have read, which is a history book on Alexander Hamilton, and went on vacation to read the book. That’s when the ideas came to him, not when he was sitting in front of a computer screen.

The best ideas, the most innovative ideas in the world in almost every field, actually happen, there’s a lot of science behind this, actually happen when people are outside of their field. It’s so fascinating to me.

But the reason why I put it in a book on persuasion, Pete, is because those people who can think outside of their field and can bring in different elements from completely different fields and associate these ideas, are much more interesting communicators.

I’m sure you’ve seen that too. People who read a lot like Bill Gates, a voracious reader, they’re interesting people because they are looking outside of their field for inspiration. Would you agree with that Pete? What do you think?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. It’s cool I was just at the new just insanely gorgeous Apple facility on the Chicago River there, downtown here. It was so funny. I didn’t even know exactly what we were stepping into. Once we got there-

Carmine Gallo
I haven’t seen it yet.

Pete Mockaitis
It was like, “Whoa, what is this beauty I’m beholding?” Then you go down the stairs and you say, “Oh, it’s an Apple store.” I didn’t even exactly know what activities transpired in this Apple sponsored building. It was really cool.

Carmine Gallo
I’ve actually never seen that store yet. There’s actually a really, really good lesson here, by the way, for all of our listeners. Steve Jobs asked better questions.

When they were creating the Apple store. He did not ask, “How do we sell more computers?” That was not the question he wanted answered. He asked, “How do we enrich people’s lives? How do we enrich the lives of every person who walks into a store?”

That’s why the Apple store looks the way it does because he asked more empowering questions. Really interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
That is excellent. Now I’d love to hear some of your favorite things. Let’s hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Carmine Gallo
I actually came across a quote that I heard in a TED talk last year. I’ve been using it a lot and I put it in one of my chapters in the book. It’s actually by Gary Kasparov, the chess champion who lost to IBM computer. Remember that? A long time ago.

He gave this incredible TED talk that – and it inspired me to write more on my book. He said there’s only one thing or “There’s one thing only humans can do and that’s dream, so let’s dream big.”

Pete Mockaitis
I do like that. Thank you.

Carmine Gallo
Oh man, I love that because – that’s where I realized there is a human edge here. There is a way for us to outsmart the smart machines that we’re building, but it requires us getting back to what we do best, which is making those emotional connections to each other.

I love that though. It’s like that’s true. There’s only one thing we can do and that’s dream. A machine can’t dream, so we might as well dream big.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Carmine Gallo
Okay, I read about 75 books a year because I write a lot for different platforms. My favorite recent book is the same book as Bill Gates said is his favorite book of all time and that’s Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.

You may have heard of that Harvard psychologist who has 500 pages of evidence as to why we should actually be very, very grateful for the life we’re living today because we’ve made so much progress in every measure of living, which is pretty amazing.

But it’s a hard book to get through. There’s some wonderful passages, but it’s 500 pages of data. There’s not a lot of pathos going on there.

My favorite category, Pete, recently has been those kind of progress books. There’s Hans Rosling’s book is called Factfulness. I would start with his. I would start with Steven Pinker’s book. I’d also read a Swedish historian named Johan Norberg who wrote a similar book. There’s a number of books in this category. I call them progress books.

But I’ve got to tell you, Pete, after reading about five of these books in a row and speaking to three out of five of the authors, you’ll never complain about anything again. Pete, it’s weird.

I won’t complain about a delayed flight. I won’t complain about being in a long line in Costco. Because you look around, you realize, wow this is – never in the history of civilization have I been able to access this much food in one place or get from here to where I have to get in a few hours. Yeah, you get to a point where you actually you feel so grateful that it’s hard to complain.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s awesome. What a transformation and a value to install a permanent upgrade of gratitude inside you just by reading five books. That’s a good trade. Very cool.

Carmine Gallo
We need that. All of your listeners need that because if they want to set themselves up as leaders and as people who aspire for more, especially in their career and workplace, they can’t think like the average person.

These books will teach you that there is a bias psychologically toward the negative, which is why it’s so easy for all of us, Pete, to go negative. But if you want to be a great leader, you’ve got to stand out. You’ve got to see things for what they are and you have to be much more positive. But it takes a little work. It’s actually kind of hard to do, to reframe everything like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. Could you share with us a particular favorite resonant nugget, something you share that really seems to connect, get retweeted, note taken profusely?

Carmine Gallo
Yeah. I wrote this two books ago. I wrote a book on the TED talks called Talk Like Ted. I made an observation that in – I go back to Steve Jobs, I know I’ve mentioned him several times – but one of my first communication books is about Steve Jobs, so I know a lot about Steve Jobs and Apple.

At the end of his last major public presentation, again, he asked an empowering question. He said, “What makes my heart sing?” He said, “It’s the intersection of technology and liberal arts that makes my heart sing.”

I actually used that question. I said this is a great question to ask ourselves because if you ask what you do, then it’s pretty factual. It’s pretty unemotional. “Carmine, what do you do?” I’m a communication advisor or an author.”

Then if you ask, “What are you passionate about?” which is a very good question to ask and I ask my clients that all the time, “What are you passionate about?” you still don’t get a really deep response. I can say, “Well, I’m passionate about communication skills.”

But then if you ask, “What makes your heart sing?” then all of the sudden you get completely different reactions from people. For me what makes my heart sing would be to help people with ideas that can potentially change the world, articulate those ideas in a way they get heard.

When you ask what makes your heart sing, you can try this with other people. I do this with clients all the time, Pete. In order for me to really elicit the best communication messages, and the best presentations, and the best stories, I ask people what makes your heart sing. It’s very interesting.

But anyway, that is a portion of one of my books that actually gets retweeted and posted on Instragram quite a bit. I saw how it resonated with people. I didn’t know that at the time. I just thought it was, “Hey, that’s a cool way of looking at the world,” but it seems to resonate with a lot of people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like it. I’m going to try it out and see how that plays in opening conversations with people because I think it can get right to some fun stuff quickly.

Carmine Gallo
Oh, use it as one of your questions. Yeah, I can’t wait to hear what people say. Use that as one of your questions and you’ll see that their answers are unexpected, very different than what you would think.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Carmine, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Carmine Gallo
CarmineGallo.com is going to be the easiest way to get ahold of me or remember me. It’s a good Italian name, so it’s kind of hard to forget. But CarmineGallo.com, that’s where you can join my newsletter. You can learn more about all of my books including the new one.

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

Carmine Gallo
The final call to action is understand that you have an edge in the workplace. You have the ability to be irreplaceable and irresistible if you master the ancient art of persuasion. Ancient being critical because it’s a formula that we know works and we know how it works, and we can prove it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, Carmine, thanks so much for sharing this time and expertise. I hope your book, Five Stars, is a smash hit. Good luck in all you’re up to.

Carmine Gallo
I hope so too. Thank you very much, Pete. I put a lot of work into it and I’m very optimistic and very confident about it. If people want to just learn more about that, they can just look it up, Five Stars. It’s sold everywhere or TheFiveStarsBook.com. But you can also get it through my website, CarmineGallo.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect.

Carmine Gallo
All right. Thank you Pete.

306: Taking Care of Your Brain With Dr. Mike Dow

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Dr. Mike Dow speaks on how to keep your brain healthy and continuously improve its functionality.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Key foods that keep your brain healthy
  2. The types and benefits of different Omega-3s
  3. How and why to practice mindfulness every day

About Mike

Dr. Mike Dow is a psychotherapist, bestselling author, brain health expert and television personality. Inspired by his brother who suffered a massive stroke when he was just 10 years old, Dr. Mike made it his personal mission to help others in their quest for health and happiness. In his new book,

Heal Your Drained Brain: Naturally Relieve Anxiety, Combat Insomnia, and Balance Your Brain in Just 14 Days (Hay House), he shares information, actionable steps and guidance to naturally relieve anxiety, combat insomnia, and balance your brain in just 14 days. Dr. Mike has hosted series on TLC, E!, VH1 and Investigation Discovery. He is a recurring guest co-host on The Doctors, one of The Dr. Oz Show core experts and makes regular appearances on Today, Good Morning America, Rachael Ray, The Talk and more. Dr. Mike holds a Master of Science degree in marriage and family therapy and a doctorate in psychology. Other bestselling books include The Brain Fog Fix and Healing the Broken Brain.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Mike Dow Interview Transcript

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

Michael Dow
Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get started a little bit – normally we have sort of a fun opener, but your opener is kind of intense. You’ve got a tale of how your brother had a stroke at a young age that really shaped your whole path. Can you share a little bit of that with us?

Michael Dow
Yeah, so when my brother was just ten years old, he had a massive stroke. One doctor told us that his stroke was just too massive, the damage in his brain was just too bad, that we should just put him in a nursing home for the rest of his life, that physical and speech therapy probably wouldn’t help enough.

I saw what you can do if you use your brain in the right way, if you challenge yourself. Today, I can tell you that my brother – he still can’t use his right arm – but my brother is living a happy, independent life. He travels, he drives, he walks, he runs, all the things that people told us – one naysaying doctor told us that it would be literally medically impossible.

My brother did some of the things that I recommend in Heal Your Drained Brain and also my other books, like The Brain Fog Fix and that the book that my brother and I – my brother is also, by the way, now a published author because we wrote a book about stroke recovery, Healing the Broken Brain, omega-3 super foods, high doses of omega-3’s, challenging your brain each and every day in your work, in what you do.

You have the power to rewire, to work your brain each and every single day in novel and challenging experiences. That’s why I became a brain health expert because I saw what you can do in the little, the mundane, the challenges, in the spreadsheets, in speech therapy.

But it’s not just these formal therapy modalities; it’s what you do at your Mac, in front of your – in that Excel document, in challenging, in rewiring the brain. It’s kind of cool.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s already so much I want to follow up on here. I’m an Excel enthusiast myself. I have fallen off the train of taking my morning fish oil. Let’s maybe just very quickly touch on these before we lose the moment. Omega-3’s are a big deal, huh?

Michael Dow
They’re huge. Most Americans aren’t getting enough omega-3’s. There are two types of omega-3’s that are usable for the brain. In Heal Your Drain Brain, which is my latest book, there are two usable forms. People get really confused and most omega-3’s on the market – I was just having this conversation with a tech enthusiast the other day.

He was like, “Well, I’m just taking an omega-3.” I’m like, “Well, what kind of omega-3?” He’s like, “Well, I’m just going to start taking massive doses.” I’m like, “Well, are you taking a high EPA or are you taking high DHA?” He’s like, “Well, does that matter?” I said, “Well, yeah, it matters because there are different benefits for both.”

In Heal Your Drained Brain I talk about EPA as your stressless omega-3. In The Brain Fog Fix, I called it your feel better omega-3 because EPA is associated with better mood and less stress. If that’s your target – it also helps you to fall asleep because you have less anxiety.

If that’s what you want and that’s your problem, you want to look for an omega-3 supplement that has very, very high levels of the omega-3 EPA and very low levels of the omega-3 DHA. You want like a seven to one ratio. On the back of the bottle, you’d want something that says like EPA, let’s say like, something around like 700 milligrams and something around let’s say like 100 milligrams – or that’s the ballpark because they’re all a little bit different.

But if you want to think better – so in Brain Fog Fix I think I called DHA your think better omega-3 because that book was more about dementia prevention and brain fog. In Heal Your Drained Brain, I called it your sleep soundly omega-3 because DHA does two things. It’s all about cognition. It’s about dementia prevention and it’s about deep sleep.

If you’re somebody who is not sleeping soundly – so EPA helps you to fall asleep if it’s anxiety, but DHA in research helps to improve deep sleep. DHA if that’s what you want, then maybe you want an omega-3 that has higher levels of DHA or maybe you just want like a –

If you want both, then just get one of the vanilla supplements – not a vanilla flavored, but just an everyday omega-3 supplement because most supplements on the market have like a one-to-one ratio of EPA and DHA or a two-to-three ratio or a three to two.

But if you’re specifically targeting one of those targets in mood or cognition that I just mentioned, you may actually want to go higher on one or the other.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now is the ratio what makes the difference or is it the dosage, that thought from the buddy you mentioned who’s just going to take massive doses, would that give me everything I want? I want better mood. I want better stress. I want to sleep faster and sleep deeper and think better.

Michael Dow
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
… bunch of both, would that do the trick or is the ratio important?

Michael Dow
Yes, yes. That’s a great question. It is both because they compete for space in your cells so that’s why the dose and the ratio matters.
We know from research that if you want the mood benefits, you can’t just take a ton and just think, “Oh, well, I’ll just take a ton of both because then I’ll get both benefits,” because the DHA actually sort of in your brain cells pushes the EPA out.

Then you can take a very, very high EPA dose of – let’s say for anxiety the research shows that you need if you want really potent anti-anxiety effects, you need about 2,000 milligrams of EPA, but you also need a seven-to-one ratio of EPA to DHA.

This is all in my book because I know it’s really confusing to people who are just listening to this really, really quickly. It’s all written down. I know you probably have show notes or something or they can get this transcribed.

It’s about both. It’s about the dosage but also the ratio because they compete for space in your cells. These two omega-3’s can sort of push each other out.

I’m also going to give you one more thing that is going to possibly confuse people and that is if you’re vegan, you’re probably not getting enough DHA because the vegetarian sources of omega-3’s like walnuts and flax seed convert to EPA but hardly any of that converts into DHA. You’re probably not getting DHA at all. The way to remedy that is to take a plant-based, algae-based DHA supplement.

I coined a phrase because it’s sort of my dietary philosophy that I preach in my books, it’s what I follow. I follow a Keto-Terranean diet, which is a Ketogenic plus Mediterranean, so Keto-Terranean.

The Mediterranean is the best diet for brain health, but I do a little bit of intermittent fasting and lower carb principle, so it’s Keto-Terranean. If you sort of put those two philosophies together or if you’re vegan, I would do a Kegan, sort of a Mediterranean but also a lower carb, sort of a Kegan diet.

Americans are really all or nothing thinkers. We get really obsessed with one thing and we use a lot of black or white thinking.

We get obsessed with like one thing and we do that, like it’s all Atkins all the time. Then okay, we’re going to throw that out the window. Now it’s all vegan all the time. There’s all of these different strategies make sense, but we kind of have to take a little bit of everything. We have to use a little grey area thinking.

This is very true for work too because I think there’s a lot of people out there who say, “Oh, just quit your job and just follow your dreams,” Well, yeah, but I also have to pay the rent and feed my children and have health insurance.

I think we have to sort of click all the boxes, which is why I was really excited to be on this podcast because I know that’s what you really talk to your listeners about. It’s how to click all the boxes at the same time, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Yes, thank you. Boy, we just went deep right away in terms of the EPA and DHA and all that.

But maybe could you paint a little bit of a picture in terms of just how much of a difference does this stuff make? Is it like I’ll be able to think 10% clearer or it’s like night and day, my cognition is transformed because of omega-3’s?

Michael Dow
You will feel a difference. There are some things – in Heal Your Drained Brain, some of the things you’re going to feel right away, some of the practices, some of the tools and tips and tricks and hacks that I give you, some of them are in the moment, here’s a little hack.

I just talked about identifying when polarized thinking shows up in your life. Let’s say you’re at work and you see some YouTube video and you’re like, “Yeah, I need to follow my dreams and quit my job,” and you realize, “Oh my God, that’s black and white thinking and I need to nip that in the bud.”

I need to realize how maybe I can – a great example is how can I use grey area thinking and have a side hustle and build my side hustle until that is generating enough income so that I can – when I left – I used to work for the Department of Mental Health in LA.

I heard this quote that I loved and it was, “Sometimes you have to jump and build your wings on the way down,” but I didn’t jump until – I was building a private practice while I was working for the Department of Mental Health.

For me, to just jump – I would say I did jump, but I had a soft landing. For me to jump and leave the department of Mental Health and leave my health care plan and all that would have been really sort of, it would have been sort of foolish. But I also believe in people following their dreams.

Then I jumped from private practice into writing books. I help people to follow their dreams all the time. But if you have three kids, I’m not going to tell somebody to quit their job with nothing built. I’m going to help you to sort of create stepping stones. Oh gosh, I digress.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. I was just wondering, how substantial is the impact of some of these interventions?

Michael Dow
Yes, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Is omega-3’s the big one to start with?

Michael Dow
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Or is it the black and white versus grey thinking-?

Michael Dow
Yes, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
-that will give you the most bang for your buck?

Michael Dow
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to hear some hard-hitting numbers from the research and like, “Holy smokes, if I do this, I can see that.”

Michael Dow
Yeah, thank you. Omega-3’s – and I have a chapter in Heal Your Drained Brain about – I call probiotics the new Paxil. Both omega-3 dosing and just simply eating a probiotic and combining that with a prebiotic, like the prebiotic fiber in a banana or onions. By the way, Heal Your Drained Brain also has recipes in the appendix that helps you to do that.

We know from research – there was a really groundbreaking study at UCLA that had people – and this was not placebo effect. What they did to make sure it wasn’t placebo effect, they gave women in one group a dairy product that contained probiotics, so like yogurt that had those good gut bacteria and then they gave another group a dairy product, but they sort of took out the probiotics.

After a month, they scanned their brains and they assessed for their anxiety and they found that the women who consumed one – dairy products, like something as simple as drinking kefir. I say kefir. Some people pronounce it the fancy way, but-

Pete Mockaitis
Like Keifer Sutherland?

Michael Dow
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Drinking Jack Bauer.

Michael Dow
Yeah, exactly. But just doing that will help to decrease your anxiety after 30 days in this research and they saw the changes in brain scans.

Similarly, omega-3’s after 30 days there was this research in Canada.

There are some people who need prescription medication. I’m not going to tell somebody who’s diagnosed with bipolar one disorder or schizophrenia to manage their symptoms with nutrition and exercise. I’m not going to do that. But most Americans are getting prescription anti-depressants from their primary care physician.

Here’s a study that came out of Canada. They gave people diagnosed with major depressive disorders, so we’re not talking about, “Oh, I just feel a little blue,” and they gave half of them the high EPA omega-3 that we started on. They gave the other half a prescription SSRI.

Pete Mockaitis
A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor?

Michael Dow
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, we’re on the same page.

Michael Dow
So all these really popular medications, Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, all these medications that are so popular with Americans. They found that the high EPA, so it has to be that seven-to-one ratio that we talked about, was as effective in treating major depressive disorder as the prescription SSRI anti-depressant.

That to me is groundbreaking, like what. Why are so many Americans still taking these anti-depressants that cause weight gain, sexual side effects, emotional blunting.

There was also another study I believe that was out of Australia that was just published in the past year that found that the Mediterranean diet, of course I modify it as the Keto-Terranean diet with a little bit of lower carb intermittent fasting thrown in, not just prevented, but treated, was effective in treating major depressive disorder.

Are Americans, are they trying diet? Are they trying omega-3’s before they’re trying Paxil and Lexapro. Are they trying probiotics? Because listen, probiotics manufacture – there are different strains that manufacture GABA, serotonin in your gut. Those are the same two neurotransmitters that are manufactured by Xanax and Paxil.

To me it’s just – for lack of a better word, it’s crazy that we’re taking so many medications, which is why the subtitle in my book is – the word natural is in there because my book is chockfull of natural approaches to treating anxiety disorders, which are by the way, twice as common as depression.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America. Not shocking because Americans are more stressed out than ever.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well then that’s the anxiety side of things. Can you give us a perspective for when you’re talking about healing your brain drain, what are sort of the primary culprits of our brains getting drained in the first place and some of the other kind of really high leverage intervention?

It sounds like bad diet is big, but maybe could we get a little bit more precise, like these are some foods that are really troublesome.

Michael Dow
Yeah, well sugar shrinks your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Michael Dow
Here’s the thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Shrinks your brain.

Michael Dow
This is crazy. It shrinks a part of the brain, the hippocampus that makes you more resilient to deal with stress in the long term. It’s sort of a vicious cycle because the crazy thing is that when you are stressed out, you are more likely to crave sugar and flour and then you eat the sugar –

Okay, so let me – you’re sitting at your desk and you have an awful co-worker who gets on your nerves.

Pete Mockaitis
She’s the worst.

Michael Dow
And you have a boss. She is the worst. Then your boss calls you in for this meeting. You have this deadline and your kid is texting you or mom is texting you. You have stuff going on. It’s called life. Then what do you want to do? You want to reach for that bag of chips or you want to reach for that candy bar, whatever – that blood sugar spiking junk food.

Repeatedly – and listen, we all have our little cheats. My cheat food is macaroni and cheese. But what repeatedly when we spike our blood sugar with sugar, flour, soda, you name it, these junk food coffee beverages, so we put skim milk, high-sugar skim milk in our coffee or these sugar coffee beverages that have like 400 calories.

We shrink that part of our brain that in the long term helps us to remain resilient, so now we’re less likely to deal with stress and now we need more sugar and flour and pasta to deal with the stress and the cycle goes on and on and on.

I think the thing that really helps is cognitive behavioral therapy. I think in 2018 people are less likely to go therapy once a week just because we’re busier than ever and we have so many balls up in the air.

Listen, I have a private practice and I think people need it more than ever, but if you can’t go this week to your therapist, I think we need to realize that the way we interpret the events in our life, affects the way our brains are going to release what I call our three brain draining stress hormones, which are adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol.

I showed this on The Rachael Ray Show. I showed my graph. You want your cortisol levels – cortisol levels in general, we want them to be low, but we also want them to rise 50% when we wake up. That’s called the cortisol awakening response.

In a healthy brain, that stress hormone cortisol should rise 50%. That helps to wake you up. Then cortisol levels should slowly go down throughout the day.

For example, we can use high levels of vitamin C to bring down very generally high levels of cortisol and just one of the – I have hundreds of interventions in my book, but if the cortisol is not rising and falling at the appropriate time of day, we can use – there’s a chapter in my book, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or CBTI, we adjust your circadian rhythms because there is an inverse relationship.

Cortisol rises when melatonin falls and vice versa. At night, when cortisol is falling, melatonin is supposed to be rising. Let me give you an example. It’s 10 PM and – so what are you doing at – let me ask you a question. What are you doing at 10 PM? Have you ever been doing something that you’re not supposed to be doing at night? Watching TV or checking your iPhone for emails?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m usually asleep, but it does happen sometimes Netflix, etcetera, 10 PM.

Michael Dow
Yup, I’m guilty.

Pete Mockaitis
With … of course, but still Netflix.

Michael Dow
I’m guilty of that as well. Netflix is bad, but checking your phone is even worse. If we’re checking our phone and a work email pops in. Americans are guilty of this.

We’re going to wear our work polo’s everywhere we go. We’re going to email – they’re going to email you at 11 PM and they’re going to expect you to work on a clock. That’s a cultural thing.

What happens when you get that email from your boss at 11 PM, your cortisol levels rise when they should be falling. Number two, the blue light from electronics sends a signal to the pineal gland in your brain to suppress melatonin production, so melatonin goes down when it should be going up.

Which means that you can’t fall asleep, which means that your circadian rhythms are off, which means that you have insomnia, which means that the next day when you go to work and you’re groggy, you’re much more likely to experience high levels of stress and anxiety and then the cycle, and then you’re more likely to drink a lot of caffeine, and then you’re less likely to fall asleep the next day.

You just feel cranky. Then the cycle gets worse and worse and worse.

When we can test for this with a simple saliva test, it gives us a little snapshot. I recommend that people test – because it is a one-day test, test it on a normal day. Like if you sleep terribly the night before and you have a kid and your kid didn’t sleep the night before, don’t test on that day. Test your saliva on a normal day, so we get a good snapshot of your cortisol levels.

But I think it’s really interesting that so many of these strategies are so natural so that people don’t have to rely so much on Xanax and Ambien and anti-depressants and we can rely more on probiotics and vitamin C and vitamin B rich foods. I’m obsessed with B vitamins and foliate and vitamin B 12 because they’re just so incredible for the brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. So given all of these potential levers, I’d love to get your take. If you’re a professional and if your brain is drained, and tired, and stressed, and stressed and not creative as a result of all these things, what would be sort of your top three, okay, this is easy and if you do it, you’ll feel a huge difference recommendations?

Michael Dow
Yeah, I think changing your diets is number one.

Pete Mockaitis
Less sugar.

Michael Dow
Less sugar. Well, can I give you my top three diet and then two others?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, let’s do it.

Michael Dow
My top three diet recommendations because diet is – it’s just the most important thing we do. Less sugar, more omega-3’s and more B vitamins.

Of the B vitamins foliate – so get those – not folic acid. Folic acid is just terrible for you. If you’re supplementing, you want to look for methyl-foliate. Foliate converts to methyl-foliate. You want to get the more expensive form of foliate, so methyl-foliate.

The same thing goes for vitamin B 12. You want to get – you want to look at the back of the label. You want methyl-B 12 or what you can just do is get the natural forms of both by eating lots and lots and what I recommend in my book is seven servings of vegetables and whole fruits a day, lots of dark, leafy greens and remember, drinking fruit juice is like drinking a soda in terms of your blood sugar.

Don’t forget to eat your fruit, so whole fruits. If you want, you can just remember the little phrase, “Eat your fruits, drink your vegetables.” You can also eat your vegetables, but it’s okay, so I love drinking vegetable juice. Of course lemon and lime make a great low calorie – those are the fruits that it’s okay to squeeze lots of great lemon juice to cut that bitter vegetable flavor.

In terms of the three top practices to heal your brain, I love, and this is a chapter in my book, it has a sort of a funny – I actually got to – I don’t know if any of your listeners got to see it. This episode aired recently and hopefully it will replay and people can Google this, but I got to hypnotize Dr. Oz on his show.

Now hypnosis is really fascinating because it moves the brain into fast – from fast beta waves – and if you’re working on that spreadsheet at work, your brain on an EEG would read very fast – it would show very fast beta waves, which are associated with anxiety. Hypnosis moves it into very slow theta brainwaves, which are the brainwaves that you’re in when you’re dreaming.

No surprise, your dreams are usually very creative. Well, guess what? When you’re in hypnosis you tend to be very, very creative.

If you’re trying to solve a problem doing a little self-hypnosis and I have a script in the book that can help you to be really creative. If you are a tech executive or you’re an ad executive or you want to write a chapter in your book and you’re a little stuck, do a little self-hypnosis.

A little anecdote is when Thomas Edison was inventing the light bulb, when he tried to solve a problem, he would hold these ball bearings and he would take a nap. When we fall asleep we pass from beta down into alpha, which is in between, then into theta, then into delta, which is dreamless sleep.

But in order to get from awake to sleep, we pass through theta on our way down into dreamless sleep. At that point our bodies sort of go limp and he would drop the ball bearings and that would wake him up.

He knew that he would be in that creative state and he would then wake up and he would be more creative. We could say that that theta brainwave that you’re in during hypnosis helped Thomas Edison to invent the light bulb. Isn’t that cool?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is cool. I’m curious then, so there’s different brain states. The beta, I suppose, is useful if you were doing sort of the high-alertness, less creativity stuff.

Michael Dow
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a way to get to there quickly if that’s what the situation calls for?

Michael Dow
Yeah, there is. You can put your – if you’re in a shared work space environment, if you’re working at a WeWork or a space like that, if you’re in one of these tech offices with no doors and no one has offices, you can put your Bose noise-cancelling headphones and you can put on hard rock music or any sort of like really fast music.

If you want to slow the brain down, you can put on really slow classical music. Because really slow heavy metal will help the brain go into a beta wave state. Or you can just think about something really stressful, but I don’t recommend that because sometimes those brainwaves are hard to get out of and you’re probably also going to release a lot of adrenaline and cortisol, which is not only cardio toxic, but also depresses your immune system.

But listen, beta brainwaves are great in small bursts and for shorts amount of time. They can be really helpful while you are trying to stay really focused.

What’s also interesting is that patients diagnosed with ADHD have too many theta brainwaves and not enough beta and patients with anxiety disorders have too much beta and not enough theta, which makes sense, right? If you’re brain is too fast, you’re anxious. If your brain is too slow, you have inattentive ADHD.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us the one-minute version of how does one do a self-hypnosis?

Michael Dow
Yeah, so the one-minute version is take yourself to a relaxed state. Imagine in your mind’s eye you’re going down an elevator from the tenth floor down to the first floor. See yourself in a really happy, peaceful place. Then see yourself solving whatever creative problem you need to solve.

Then once you have that answer, take yourself back up that elevator and then crack that computer code or that ad sale that you need to solve or that new chapter in your book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good. So we’ve got the diet. We’ve got the self-hypnosis. What else?

Michael Dow
Mindfulness. I’m going to give your listeners a mindfulness hack. Some people think they have to go to some really fancy yoga meditation studio and pay 26 dollars. But the way, I love these new meditation studios and I love meditation apps.

But if you want to do something and you’re really busy just the next shower that you take, make that your meditation because all you have to do to be mindful and I have a little section on mindfulness in the book, is mindfulness is simply paying attention on purpose to the present moment.

We all, hopefully all your listeners shower, so all you have to do is pay attention to the smell of your soap or your shampoo and you have to pay attention to the temperature of the water on your skin and all of the skin receptors telling you that the skin is feeling the water running down the back of your neck. That’s sort of a shower meditation.

If you don’t have any extra time to take the L train into the city and to the yoga studio, then you can just take a five-minute shower, which hopefully you’re going to do anyway and you can make that into a meditation.

Then you can take a walk. You probably have to walk from your car or from the train into your office building and you can make that your meditation. You can put down your phone and turn your ringer off and on your lunch hour today. You can take a mindful walk. That will allow your brain to unplug.

A little hack, remember that – listen, I’m not somebody who – I’m a little bit of a hippy. I believe that we should choose natural strategies whenever we can, but I also love my iPhone and I love apps. But the electric signals are not great for our brain.

Instead of just turning your ringer off, what I recommend is give yourself a 20-minute practice over work and put your plane on airplane mode, turn of the Wi-Fi, turn off the towers because then your body is not getting all that radiation, the electrical signals and you’ll get a little break.

Take a 20-minute walk that will help you to actually be even more mindful. You can actually stop checking Instagram and you can just take a walk around the park and be mindful for those 20 minutes. It will just really change your brain and actually thicken the most human part of your brain, which is your prefrontal cortex, which is kind of cool.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say mindful, part of it is not looking at technology. What else makes a walk mindful?

Michael Dow
It’s simply using your five senses. Pay attention to three things that you see, two things that you can hear, one thing that you can taste, maybe another thing that you can smell. Maybe there’s even a taste landing on your tongue. Just pay attention to those five senses.

Those five senses that you are perceiving in the only moment when your life is unfolding, which is right here and right now as you’re walking will suck you into that present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to cover before we shift gears and hear a few of your favorite things?

Michael Dow
Yeah, I think just the power of relationships and connections. Whether or not you’re in a relationship, just remember – I’m actually doing this interview with you and Rocco is on my lap and I’m actually – he’s very high maintenance, so I actually prevent him from barking when I’m doing podcast interviews from home by petting him.

Oxytocin is an incredible – in Heal Your Drained Brain, I have those three brain draining stress hormones, which I already mentioned, but I also have the brain balancers. Those are the feel-good neurotransmitters, which include GABA, serotonin, and also oxytocin and some others that I mentioned in the book.

Remember that connection is potent. Whether or not you’re in a relationship, there are many ways you can release feel-good neurotransmitters. I’m releasing oxytocin just by petting Rocco right now, my little rescue – my tough guy who I rescued from South Central LA. It’s just – it’s amazing there are natural strategies we can use each and every moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh absolutely, it’s so exciting the stuff with oxytocin. We had Paul Zak, a big researcher in the field back in episode 124 and it’s so huge.

I’m curious when it comes to say petting the dog, is there a certain dosage. Like if I were to take a break and hang out with my precious baby Jonathan, just how much touch kind of releases a dose?

Michael Dow
Well, I would say the more the better. I don’t have a dose specific. I should measure that.

Because when it comes to the brain and also anxiety disorders, one of the pieces of research that I was most excited that I had to put in my book was the fact that intranasal oxytocin given to people who went through a trauma actually prevented them from developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s just really incredible that these so-called hippy airy fairy quote natural strategies are maybe really potent medicine. I can’t – I’m just so excited about them. I have to – it’s why I was so called to write this book because I think people just need to know how incredibly potent and powerful they really are.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michael Dow
Yeah, I think it really was that quote, “Sometimes you have to jump and build your wings on the way down,” but the other quote that I really love that helped me was that, “It’s that intersection where preparation meets opportunity.”

I think that’s so true for all of us. I think the success that I’ve had in my career – this is really interesting. My first book was published by Penguin. It was a huge failure.

Then I’m now about to publish my – I just published Heal Your Drained Brain, which was my fourth book. This fall I’m releasing – I’m writing the next Chicken Soup for the Soul. It’s called Think, Act & Be Happy, which is my fifth book.

What’s so crazy, after my first book was – I got a very sizeable advance and it was a very huge bomb. Then my second book was – I had to take – it was very hard for any – my lit agent said, “Mike, it’s going to be really hard for me to get any publisher to take a chance on you after the huge disaster that was your first book, but I’ll try.”

We went directly – the first book we did like bidding war and all that nonsense. I – she said, “Who-“ even that first time around there was one publisher that I really loved. The second time around I said, “I really want to be a Hay House author,” so we went directly to Hay House.

We didn’t do the bidding war thing. I just took a small advance relatively speaking. It wasn’t like 10 dollars or anything like that and I was very, very grateful for the advance that they gave me and that book became a New York Times bestseller.

It’s crazy when preparation meets opportunity. I feel like everything in my life now looking back sort of makes sense. You just have to be ready and you have to look at the failures, the so-called failures, I guess, to me I have reframed as learning opportunities.

I’ve learned – I think I’ve – I’ve definitely learned as much or I guess probably more from my failures as I’ve learned from my success. That’s kind of cool. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite book?

Michael Dow
The Alchemist. I think as a – looking at my own neurochemistry, I’m an explorer. I’m an ENFJ. I like the way dopamine feels in my brain.

I have a chapter in my book in Heal Your Drained Brain that helps people to really understand their neurochemistry and their personality type. Just giving you an example, people who are like me, if you are a sensation seeker, you’re more likely to be diagnosed with addiction, but less likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

The opposite, the converse is true if you’re an introvert or a sensation avoider. That sort of makes sense. I think it helps people to understand the intersection between sort of your genetics and epigenetics and sort of this whole nature and nurture question.

For me, The Alchemist really helps to keep me – for me The Alchemist is sort of – it’s this story of this seeker who like has to like seek, go around the world, but then he sort of realizes that everything was sort of here all along. That’s for me as an explorer and a sensation-seeker, that’s a message that really grounds me because as somebody who really my brain chemicals are really the way dopamine feels.

My only problem with that is sometimes I can just never be happy with what I – not that I’m not happy with what I have, but I can – I sometimes have to realize I can just want more and more and more.

I have to also realize that – I’m the kind of person who gets really excited about things, so I could literally try to write like 18 books a year. I have to realize that the book that I’m writing now is the book that I’m meant to keep my focus on and I can’t get distracted and write 18 books because I have to focus on this book because this book is important too. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Michael Dow
Yeah, I think for me I’m just generally obsessed with apps in general. I love workout apps and I love all apps these days. I think Uber was the first app that sort of like landed on the general public’s sort of – on the public stage and was sort of like first app that your grandmother has heard of.

But for me now, I love Audible. Audible has allowed me to read, or listen to I guess you would say, a new book a week. It has allowed me – every time we challenge our brain, we’re forming new neurons.

Before it was – a car ride was just music. I love music. Music is great. Music is good for your brain in a different way, but for me to hear a book without advertising and I’m challenging my brain and learning something new, I can increase my productivity with the time that I already have and I don’t have to carve out any new time. My time is so limited. That app has allowed me to take the time that I have.

Also workout apps have allowed me – I love – I have ClassPass, so I can take – instead of belonging – I used to belong to all these different classes, but it’s like okay, well they have classes at 12 and 4 and 6, but if I have a call and that conference call goes over and then I have to be in my private practice and I need to treat these people at this time or I’m doing a talk show and it goes over.

Well, I can either look at ClassPass and find a class that starts an hour later or I now can go on my phone and do a workout at a gym and still have a trainer talking to me and music playing in my ear so I can still get a great workout anytime I want. I think apps have really sort of helped me to grow my own brain in really cool ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get quoted frequently?

Michael Dow
Yeah, use it or lose it. It’s sort of for stroke survivors and for people that’s a brain health little nugget but I think it’s not just for people who are recovering from a stroke. I think all of us need to realize that all of us have a brain.

Listen, we all have brains that are actually, and listen, of course we talked about this, if we are eating sugar, we’re actually doing this more rapidly, but if you are an adult, your brain is actually shrinking a little bit just with age every year, but if you are exercising, if you are consuming a lot of omega-3’s and B vitamins, you can prevent your brain – and learning new things.

There’s something really cool, we’re talking about – there’s all this new research on stem cells, but guess what? Stem cells are already here and you don’t have to go to a university hospital. There’s this really cool stuff, BDNF, Brain Drive Neurotropic Factor.

We can boost this through the power of exercise, omega-3’s, all of these cool things that we know help to increase neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells. We do it with our everyday tasks.

I always go back to this nugget of use it or lose it when it comes to the brain, but I’m going to – I take it one step further which is use it and improve it. We always have to look at the brain, which is our most important organ and always be looking for opportunities to use it and improve it because yes, –

When my brother had a stroke 20 years ago, my brother is now in his 30’s, they thought that neurogenesis was something that didn’t happen after you were 18 or in your early 20’s. But we now know that you have the power to make new brain cells throughout your adult life.

Yeah, everything that I recommend in my book is always geared towards use it and improve it, create new brain cells, use exercise, use omega-3’s, use – consume turmeric every day. These – and combine them with – I call them probiotic boosters, these anti-oxidants, make sure you have lots of curry in your diet because they work synergistically.

Coffee, turmeric, they work synergistically with the probiotics and the prebiotics to make sure that your brain is improving every day. It’s just incredible that if we really get on board with these sort of actually new strategies, that we can quote use it and improve it, it being our brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. If folks want to learn more or get in touch with you, where would you point them?

Michael Dow
I love Facebook. I do a lot of Facebook lives because I love long form. I do a lot of 20-minute videos, like backstage from the doctors and Dr. Oz. I do a lot of stuff on Facebook, so I’ll go to my Facebook page or DrMikeDow.com.

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

Michael Dow
Yeah, I would say that to be awesome at your job, use your brain to  – just figure out a way that today you can use that adage of use it and improve it and by doing so you’re probably going to be a little bit more awesome at your job and you’ll probably also be a little happier too.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Dr. Mike this has been really fun. I wish you so much luck as you continue to spread the good word and heal drained brains and appear on all the cool shows and keep it up.

Michael Dow
Thank you so much. I really appreciate you having me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, that’s the recording.

Michael Dow
Awesome, Pete.