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546: Choosing Better Words for Better Leadership with David Marquet

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David Marquet says: "You want to be curious before compelling."

Former nuclear submarine commander and David Marquet shares how subtle language changes can make a huge impact.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How language impacts your leadership
  2. How to use dissent in the workplace to your advantage
  3. How we’re mistaking coercion for leadership

About David:

David Marquet is a student of leadership and organizational design and a former nuclear submarine Commander. He was named one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc. Magazine and is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller: Turn the Ship Around!, and The Turn the Ship Around Workbook.  David’s new book, Leadership is Language was released recently by Penguin Random House.

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David Marquet Interview Transcript

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

David Marquet
Thanks for having me on your show, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think the first thing I need to address is have you, in fact, crossed the United States on your bicycle?

David Marquet
Yeah, I have done segments of it, not all at the same time, but I’ve done various things. So, last summer, I went from Boise, Idaho to Casper, Wyoming which was epic because it took me over the Tetons and through Teton Pass. I live in Florida, like an overpass is a hill. So, I’m out there, and as I turn left, summit 20 miles that way, 4,000 feet that way, I just looked at that, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” But I made it through.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, good work. Good work.

David Marquet
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
My dad was a big bicyclist and so respect. We have hosted bicyclists at our childhood home, I recall, as they were crossing the nation. They were from Australia. My mom said, “They sure eat a lot.”

David Marquet
Yeah, that’s why you’re a cyclist so you can eat a lot. You broke a code.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so speaking of breaking the code, just as we were chitchatting before pushing record, you keyed in on my bookshelf, Stephen Covey’s “The 8th Habit,” and you’ve got a cool Stephen Covey connection. Can you lay it on us?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, when I was a submarine commander on the Santa Fe, we were doing a lot of seven habits stuff, and in some respects, everything that we did, which I write about in “Turn Your Ship Around” was simply applying the seven habits which is kind of written at the individual level and an organizational level. So, level one, be proactive, and we kept asking the question, “What would it sound like if everybody in the organization acted proactively?” And then we would put some words to it, then we practiced those words. Imagine, it worked, and so we would do that.

And so, when we started winning all these awards, the story got out, and Dr. Covey was doing this work with the Navy back on the East Coast, and he heard about it. And I get this phone call, “Dr. Covey wants to come ride your submarine.” And I’m like, “Doggone, Dr. Covey!” and I was just like running around in circles, like, “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.” And he came, it was such an amazing day. We picked him up off of Maui, it was crystal clear, dolphins were jumping. I mean, it was just one of those magic moments.

And he’s really quiet and kind of nervous, and he walks around the ship. And he finally comes up to me at the end, we’re driving into Pearl Harbor, standing on the bridge, and he says, “I know, I’ve figured it out.” First, he said, “It’s the most empowering workplace I’ve ever seen.” I said, “Well, thank you very much.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Superlative from the man who’s seen a lot. That’s awesome. Congrats.

David Marquet
Yeah, right. Right. But I didn’t like the word empowerment. I didn’t use it because I thought it’s…I labeled it a polluted word because it meant everyone had already attached meaning to it, so it was…when you said the word, you’ve got whatever you got. I mean, everyone sort of look at it through their own lens.

But, anyway, and we talked, but it was magic, and he said, “I’m going to write about you.” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, sure.” And then in “The 8th Habit,” which I see on your bookshelf behind you, I was like this spy, looking at the bookshelf behind, and I see “The 8th Habit.” And that was really amazing. And then he wrote the Foreword for “Turn Your Ship Around.” Unfortunately, he passed away, like a month after he wrote. We got the Foreword like on the 1st of April, and he went in, he had his bicycle rides. Later that month, this was like 20th or something, about three weeks later, really tragic. He never came out of his coma.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, his legacy is living on through those who he teaches and he’s taught and touched, and you’re a shining example. And you, in turn, are passing the wisdom along, and one of your big areas of focus is the language, the actual word choice that folks use. Can you kind of lay that on us? Like, what’s your big kind of aha or insight or discovery into the notion of language and leading?

David Marquet
So, here’s the deal, all the words that seem natural and normal to us, they sound normal in our ear, like, “All-hands meeting,” or, “We have a can-do organization.” All those words, the reason they’re natural is because we’ve heard from our bosses and our parents, who heard them from their bosses and their parents, which means they’re from the industrial age.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Marquet
And, essentially, it amounts to a programming, a playbook, I like to think of it, so that in a certain situation we’re going to react in a certain way. So, someone comes up to you and tells you, give you news that you don’t like, like, “Hey, I think we should delay product release next week,” and this comes as unwelcome news, of course. People react in different ways, but I predict it’s going to be react, response, reply. They’re going to either explain why they’re wrong, they’re going to defend themselves, or something like that.

Rarely, will I see curiosity, “Oh, what do you see that I’m missing? What do you know that I don’t know?” And the question is, that I was always struggling with is, “Why does my programming take me in the unhelpful direction?” Here’s another example, we tend to ask binary questions, and especially the least helpful binary question is a self-affirming binary question, “Does that make sense?” “Right?”

Pete Mockaitis
Does that make sense?

David Marquet
“Are we good?” “Right?” So, it’s not really a question. I just want to get everyone to agree and go along with me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m just thinking about how lame my podcast would be if those were the questions I ask, “This is really the Pete Show, you’re just an accessory.”

David Marquet
Right. Exactly. But I see leaders doing it, I hear doing this all the time, and I think the reason is because, in the industrial age, that’s what you wanted. You just wanted people to do what you wanted them to do. You didn’t want a big discussion, and I didn’t need the workers to be involved in decision-making. But, of course, now that doesn’t work anymore. We need to let the people doing the work be involved in making decisions about the work. And so, what this means is all these language patterns, which we’ve been programmed to do, are no longer helpful. So, we have to go through the great reprogramming of the English language.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so can you lay it on us in terms of we have a few examples of things that don’t work, “Are we good?” “Yup.” “Makes sense?”

David Marquet
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, those are not ideal, not optimal, and the principle is that it doesn’t encourage conversation, engagement, discussion. It’s just sort of like, “Okay, let’s move it along here.”

David Marquet
And, in particular, dissenting, diverse, and outline opinions. These things reduce the likelihood, they don’t squish it to zero, but these are biases, one direction or the other. They just make it a little bit harder for the person who doesn’t agree with the group to speak up, and it’s a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I think it is a problem. And, it’s funny, as we record these words, Mitt Romney got some attention for a dissenting opinion.

David Marquet
Yeah, but look at the reaction, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

David Marquet
Well, Pete, I didn’t hear anybody. I was flying today so I missed a bunch of the news. But I didn’t hear any responses, “Oh, Mitt, tell us more about that. I’m so curious about your perspective.” I didn’t hear that. What I heard was, “Oh, you’re wrong. You screwed up. You’re blah, blah, blah, blah,” or, “You’re right. We agree with you, blah, blah, blah.” So, this is a good example of these programmed responses and you see it all the time and everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, yes, there seems to be a bias against dissent. So, let’s dig in. So, how do we get better language? Can you give us some core fundamental principles as well as some particular examples of, “Hey, let’s stop saying this, and say that instead”?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, the key way, one way to think about it is, “Are you embracing variability or are you reducing variability?” Now, there are things, there are lots of work following a procedure, manufacturing a part, that benefit from reducing variability. Actually, this is a problem because this is what we’ve inherited from the industrial age.

Imagine making Lego blocks, “I don’t want the holes to be like a little bit fatter or a little bit skinnier because it really won’t stack up very well. I want it always the same,” so variability is an enemy, and we’ve even gotten really good at tuning out variability. But decision-making and thinking benefits from embracing variability. The fact that we have special rules when we go, “Hey, guys, we’re going to do a brainstorming session. We have some special rules so we can invoke creativity.” What that means is the normal way we do work at work kills creativity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there you go.

David Marquet
It’s just an admission of that. So, what we need to do is have the language of work which allows dissenting opinions. So, here’s one thing that a lot of people are doing wrong. If you’re doing a decision meeting, what you want to do is vote first then discuss. But what most people do is they’ll talk about it, all this does is serve to anchor the group, that’s group-think build up, less the people who think different than the group, they start shrinking down in their chair and it becomes very hard to disagree, “Well, I don’t think 737 Max software is safe. I don’t think we should do the launch,” or whatever happened.

Every innovation starts as an outline and dissenting opinion. The water in Flint, Michigan is poisoned, whatever. They always start on the fringes, and sometimes they deserve to stay out there on the fringes, but sometimes they don’t, but you don’t know that if, A, you suppress them so you don’t even hear them, or, B, you don’t listen to them or their voice. So, what you want to do is vote in a probabilistic way. Here’s the trick, start the question with the word how, “How sure are you?” “How strongly do you support this?” “How likely is this assumption to be true?” Not, “Will it be true?” “Is it safe?” “Are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?” Any question about the future is going to be probabilistic, should be probabilistic because we don’t know.

And then, after the vote, you look for the people who voted highest for and highest against. These are the outliers, they’re on the fringes, and you invite them to speak.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, timeout there. So, highest for and highest against, so then it’s not a simple “I’m for this” “I’m against this,” but rather “I’m a zero” “I’m a 100.” Or, how are you thinking about the voting?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, you can use your hand. If it’s just really quick, you’re out on the field, it’s a team, a construction site team, “Hey, we’re ready to start the next phase, we’re ready to pour concrete. How ready are we to do this?” and people put their hands up, five, five, five, four, five, five, four.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Marquet
It’s a lot easier because it’s easy for someone to say four instead of five but it’s very difficult for someone to actually put their hand up than do a thumbs down.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it.

David Marquet
There’s a big cultural stigma to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s awesome.

David Marquet
Yeah, yeah. and in the office, we have a set of cards that go 1 to 99; 1, 5, 20, 50, 80, 95, 99, 1 to 99, because you don’t want to do 0 and 100 because what you’re trying to do is reprogram people’s brains to think probabilistically so that nothing is a 100 or 1. It’s like there’s never a zero chance and there’s never a hundred chance of something happening, “Will this product work?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, David, I am loving this so much. And I just, recently, with my team, as we’re assessing, this is pretty meta, a podcast guest. I said, “Okay, this numbering system might not make sense to you but it’d be really easy for me if in our system you were to give me a number between 0 and 100 based upon the probability, your best guess that this guest will be in the top 10% of engagement amongst all of our guests.”

David Marquet
Yeah, beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then it makes it easy for me. I just sort, like, “All right. These are the people my team loves. Let’s start at the top and move on down.”

David Marquet
Yeah, that’s so much better than saying, “Will this be in the top 10%?” which is impossible.

Pete Mockaitis
“Yes or no to David,” you know, it’s much broader.

David Marquet
Right, “What’s your sense?” Yeah. So, yeah, I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so all right, I’m jiving here. So, we’re thinking probabilistically, we’re voting in advance. What are some of the other best practices?

David Marquet
So, when it comes to asking questions, there’s a whole bunch of things. The key is when you’re asking questions, most people ask questions, they’re either actively inserting their own viewpoint in the question, like, “Why would you want to do that?” “Hey, I think we should delay launch, product launch?” “Why would you want…?” So, you’re sending the signal, “Hey, you’re wrong. This is unwelcome news. You need to defend it.” Versus, “Oh, what do you see that’s behind that thinking?” in a very sort of neutral way.

So, the idea is you want to be curious before compelling. You want to ask questions. You want to wipe your mind clean and not inject your point of view. Even when you’re not deliberately trying to inject your point of view, we sometimes inject our point of view. There’s this sub-school of asking questions called Clean Language, which I pulled some inspirations from, really interesting. So, for example, if your friend comes up to you and says, “I’m having trouble with this coworker,” you might say, “Well, do you have the guts to stand up to them?”

Well, this implies a whole bunch of things, like, A, “You should…” like standing up to them is the right thing to do, it’s the right metaphor, not punch them in the face, or not let them alone, and, “Do you have the guts?” suggest that the limiting resource is courage not maybe it’s time. So, you’re injecting all these…all your basic experience of what you think they’re saying into the question. So, what you want to try and do is just say, “Oh, tell me more,” or, “What kind of a problem is that?” and just be as neutral as possible about it.

The way I think about it is I wipe my mind clean, which is easier some days. I just try and make a big white tableau in my head and say, “I don’t know anything, and my job is to learn as much as possible in the next couple of minutes.” Now, I’m not saying you have to agree. They can often say, “Hey, I think we should delay product launch.” I’m not saying automatically delay product launch. Not at all. What I’m saying is make the decision after you’ve listened to them. If you find yourself saying the words, “I hear you but…” that’s code for “I’m not listening to you,” because the only reason you feel compelled to say “I heard you” is because you have a sense that they think you’re not hearing them so you feel compelled to say “I hear you.” No one ever felt more heard because someone said, “Oh, I hear you,” so just listen to them and you’ll never feel that compulsion to say “I hear you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is awesome.

David Marquet
“Trust me” is another one. If you find yourself saying “Trust me,” then you’re on the wrong track. You should never have to say that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, these are…keep it going. So, you’re sharing some phrases that are indicative of something beneath the surface that’s not working and it’s hitting home. I think I’ve said “I hear you.”

David Marquet
Me too. All the time. So, it goes back to the industrial age, and what I’m calling this playbook. So, the key thing in the industrial age, the key play, so to speak, is I label “obey the clock.” That’s why we have words like clockwork, that’s why we pay people by the hour, especially the people, the workers. You can pay the thinkers by a salary, but the workers get paid by the hour because of so obey the clock. So, there’s all these cultural statements, again, saying, “Time out. I think we got to delay product launch because it runs against the ‘obey the clock’ play.”

Now the problem to obey the clock is, of course, it’s very hard to think when you have the pressure of the clock, tick, tick, tick, and you got to make so many wishes per hour. So, what leaders wanted to do is what I call control the clock. Leaders need to say, “Hey, time out. You guys are doing a great job chopping down this fort. Now I want to talk about is this the right fort and should we be chopping at that?” And let’s give the team the ability to say, “Time out.”

Now, it’s not enough to just say, “Oh, team, everyone can say time out.” I’ve seen this in, say, for example, in a hospital situation or…

Pete Mockaitis
Or some manufacturing plants that’s a rule.

David Marquet
Yeah, a manufacturing plant, with the power plant. Then there’s this lip service, “Oh, anyone can stop.” But if you don’t actually give them a mechanism, “Okay, here’s a yellow card. If you think we need to take a pause, raise it, or say the following code word.” And practice. If it’s never practiced, the same stigmas will build up. But if we practice it, and then it’s like, “Oh, it’s not a big deal. Time out. Quit.” It doesn’t need to be a long time, you have to make it easy to exit production and go into thinking, but you also have to make it easy to say, “Okay, we’re done thinking. Now we’re going to go back to work,” otherwise we end up biased in one direction or the other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. And so, you encourage it, you practice it, you give a mechanism, and I think you appreciate it I guess when they use the mechanism, as oppose to, “Oh, dang it, David. What is it now?”

David Marquet
Yeah. So, a perfect example of this is the Andon cord in the Toyota Production System. This is Andon, it’s the Japanese word for lantern. And so, they’ve equipped the stations with what used to be a cord, now a button, for the workers. They’re in the production line, parts are moving past them, they have a problem. So, they can’t solve the problem while the parts are moving, there’s too much time pressure, so they have to push the button which signals, “Hey, I’ve got a problem. I need to shift into problem-solving mode. I need to pause. I need to call a pause and shift to problem-solving mode.” And so, that’s what that serves. That serves as a way for them.

So, you go to a construction site and say, “Well, how do the guys signal that they have a problem?” The guys on the third floor installing windows and they’ve got a problem, there’s no way, we haven’t instituted a mechanism like Toyota Production System so there’s no way for the workers.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re still yelling, “Hey!”

David Marquet
Yeah, they just yell at each other, right. Or we come down at the end of shift to say, “Yeah, I had to bang a few windows in because they really didn’t fit quite right. Oh, it would’ve been nice to actually solve the root problem.” No. So, that’s obey the clock.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so that’s about the clock.

David Marquet
So, yeah, that’s the core play. So, everything kind of stems out of that. And the second thing about the industrial age organization is we separate thinkers from doers, that’s why we have these phrases like white collar, blue collars, leaders, followers, thinkers, doers, salary.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s some terms in Hebrew like rosh gadol and the other one. Anyway, so, we’ve got these dichotomies, yeah.

David Marquet
Yeah, exactly. They’re binary dichotomies and we bend people into one of two tribes. And so, when I think about, “Well, what’s it like to be a doer?” Well, all you do is do. Do what you’re told. So, all leadership is coercive because it’s one group of people choosing what the other group of people how to do it. And then their role is to then comply and continue the production line as long as possible. And so, again, these are unhelpful patterns because coercion isn’t a good way to treat people. It’s much better to have collaboration and commitment.

Now, here’s the trick. We talked about the meeting thing. So, I had 10 executives from a big company, two tables of five, and I gave them a problem. It was like, “How many countries are in Africa? You can’t look it up.” And someone at the end of one table blurts a number, let’s say they say 50, and pretty soon that table comes at 50. And here’s the other thing, your table has to agree, so it’s a decision-making exercise for a group. Your table has to agree so they have to decide their number. Pretty soon 50. And guess what? Thirty seconds later the other table said 50. And who’s the person who said 50? It was the CEO and the co-founder.

So, that person is paying a lot of people a lot of money simply to echo back what that person is thinking. Now, here’s the key. When I said, “Oh, did you guys collaborate on this?” “Oh, yeah, sure. Everyone’s voice was heard.” No, it wasn’t. This is called coercion. And so, people use the word influence, inspire, but it’s really coercion. Like, let’s not pretend it’s not coercion. I’m getting you to do what I want you to do, and that’s coercion.

So, what you want is true collaboration and that happens first, say, “Everybody write down what you think the number is before we contaminate you with any group-think. Then everyone flips their cards up and, just like before, let’s look at the high and the low. Okay, how did you come up with your number? How did you come up with your number? And now we can call us on a number.” The maximum amount of variability in the group, the maximum amount of cognitive diversity will occur before any conversation, and you want to capture that moment in time.

David Marquet
Yes. I should know the answer to that. I think it’s 89. No, that’s 54. Sorry, my bad. Yeah, 54.
Now, here’s another thing that’s interesting. If you ask people, say, “Okay, write down the last two digits of your phone number. Now, write down how many countries there are you think in Africa. Do those number correlate?” Answer? Yes. “Should they?” No. And this is anchoring. Even when you explain to people that anchoring is a phenomenon, it will still happen. So, these are the perils of throwing out your answer first but we do it because we want to move so quickly away from that uncertainty and variability. We want to collapse variability prematurely without giving it the cognitive respect that it’s owed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, David, this is so good. This is just really getting my wheels turning here.

David Marquet
I’m so glad. That’s the highest praise.

Pete Mockaitis
And anchoring, well, I heard another study about anchoring, like, that even judges, right, like perhaps the most impartial of all would be anchored by the address on a piece of stationery or in like a mock case that they presented to them, in terms of like, “What should the settlement amount or judgment arbitration amount be in a case?” Like, it has nothing to do with that. These are supposed to be our most impartial and brilliant arbiters of decision-making that we have in our society, and they succumb to it, so nobody is immune.

David Marquet
Yeah. So, we all have these biases and they’re wired into us, and you want to inoculate yourself and your team as much as possible, but it’s very difficult. Here’s another thing. The bias is called escalation of commitment, which means that if you made a decision, you’ve basically tainted yourself from evaluating that decision. And in the face of evidence that the decision was not a good one, basically you double-down. Now, we have phrases like “in for a penny, in for a pound” “sunk cost fallacy” but the way this plays out in organizations is let’s say the captain of a crew ship makes a decision to do something and someone low on the team starts to…or there’s evidence that this is not a good idea. It’s going to be very difficult for that person to reverse their decision.

On the other hand, if you separate decision-maker from the decision-evaluator, so the senior person should reserve their cognitive efforts to simply evaluate, but that means the team has got to be making decisions. Another way to think about it is the senior person should only ever break pedal. The next tier below needs to have a gas pedal and a break pedal. But as soon as the senior person starts stepping on the gas, they then tainted themselves, “Hey, we all should keep selling print film,” “Hey, we should all rent DVDs,” whatever it is, we taint ourselves, and it’s very, very difficult to then reverse. So, think about that, “Am I decision-maker or a decision-evaluator?” And if you want to be the decision-evaluator, you really got to work hard not to be the maker of the decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. I’m thinking back to consulting at Bain where we would have a decision-making tool for teams called RAPID in terms of different roles and decision, who recommends something, who approves something, who performs inputs, decides, it’s an acronym RAPID. And then I thought that was great. It’s like the approve is like you have veto power and that, indeed, makes great sense to put in sort of senior leadership level, and you just add another layer there in terms of if they’re also the one sort of putting forward, “Hey, this would be really cool, don’t you think?” it’s going to taint things.

David Marquet
Yeah, and obviously they don’t do it that obviously but everybody knows the CEO wants the product to launch, or everybody knows the situation when we have the meeting, “The purpose of the meeting…” Really? It’s so the CEO can later say, “Oh, you all were there. You had a chance to say no but you didn’t,” that’s the real purpose mainly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, David, you’ve laid out a couple of what you’re calling the six plays for all leaders about the clock and collaborating instead of coercing. Let’s go ahead just rock out the others since we’re on a hot streak?

David Marquet
Okay. So, on the industrial-age side, we have “obey the clock,” which leads to coercing and the team complying with the purpose of continuing the production line as long as possible. When Henry Ford started making Model Ts in 1904, he made the same car for almost 20 years. If you worked on that line, you basically didn’t have to learn any new tools, any new skills, you’d work there almost 20 years making the same car.

What you want to do now is control the clock, collaborate, then commit, because commitment comes from within. True collaboration will result in the team making a commitment with the idea of completing, so doing the work in chunks, “Hey, we’re going to do a segment.” So, I like to think of it in terms of an expiration date or running experiments, “Hey, we’re going to do…we’re going to change the process. We’re going to run an ad campaign but not we just want to run an ad campaign. It almost feels like we’re going to stop running it. We’re going to run this ad campaign for three months and then we’ll see not only what we’ve achieved but what we learned.”

And that gets us to the fifth play which is improve versus just prove. We have this approach during the industrial age, “I got to get it done. I got to show. I got to demonstrate competence. I got to feel good. I got to justify my salary,” but that moves us away from this idea of, “How can I learn? How can I be curious? How can I get better?” And a lot of cold companies have these quarterly goals, and when you look at them, they’re goals, like, “What are we going to do? We’re going to sell 8% more of this and we’re going to ship this,” but they’re lacking when I ask them, “Well, show me what you’re going to learn this quarter.”

Even university, I worked with a university, like, even they didn’t have learning goals. So, I’m not saying don’t have doing goals. Do, but balance them, “Here’s what we’re going to do and here’s what we’re going to learn, and then we’re going to pause, complete.” Complete allows two things. It allows you to pause and reflect and improve the work, but it also allows you to celebrate. No completion, no celebration. No celebration, no sense of progress. No sense of progress, no fun at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. And what’s interesting, when it comes to doing versus learning, I guess in my brain I see maybe an overlap in a Venn diagram stuff, like, if I’m saying, “Hey, want to learn about audio, and what I want to do is make our podcast sound as amazing as possible,” sort of both are happening, learning and doing.

David Marquet
Yeah. So, here’s what I think the formula is. Learning results from thinking about something. So, you had the thought, “I want the podcast to be amazing.” Then you say, “You know what, if we tried a different kind of microphone, or if we tried SquadCast as opposed to Skype,” so you have a hypothesis. But then you actually have to do it. Just thinking about it doesn’t result in learning. Then you do it. You can’t just do one because it might’ve been a one-off, like maybe the internet connection to Pittsburgh was bad that day, who knows.

So, you say, “Let’s do 10. Now, we’re going to pause with complete. First of all, we’re going to celebrate what we achieved.” Then we’re going to say, “Hey, what did we learn?” “Well, nine out of ten of them were significantly better. One was worse. It was some special case.” So, that’s it. So, I think this is the cycle of learning: thinking, doing, reflecting. It’s like this, I draw an H because thinking is broad perspective, doing is focused, because once you made the commitment, you don’t want to say, “We’re going to use SquadCast most of the time. Well, a couple of them we did Skype but I wasn’t really sure.” No, you want to be precise, you want to do SquadCast 10 out of 10.

Then we’re going to pause, not while in the middle of podcast but, “Okay, we’ve done ten, now let’s pause. What does everybody think?” Best to do that, and that, that, that.

Pete Mockaitis
I see what you’re saying.

David Marquet
So, it’s this flip between reducing focus which means reducing variability, reducing perspective, of being focused, and embracing variability, and it’s this flip that we have to do. If we don’t recognize that we’re using our brains in two different ways, what I see is people are sort of crappily-focused and then sort of broadly expansive but their expansiveness is like this, it’s like looking through a periscope on a submarine, there’s a whole world out there, “Oh, yeah, we’re embracing new ideas,” but they’re four to six when I could be one to nine. How do you know there’s a world beyond my tennis line?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, David, so many of your ideas are really resonating for me here. I guess I’d love to hear if it’s a client or someone who just took and ran with these easy ideas and saw cool results as a result of doing so, can you give us a transformation tip?
David Marquet
Yeah, I’ll tell you another story. So, one that might resonate with readers is McDonald’s. We’re working with their franchise out in Oregon and they have 15 stores, and the ops manager was stressed, and she would, every morning, “Oh, do this, check on that, do that,” and she drives from store to store frantically, telling what to do, and checking in on them. We flipped the whole thing around, so she now would get these texts every morning and the store managers would be checking in with her, “Hey, here’s what I got, here’s what I see, here’s what I intend to do about it. Come on by if you want. We’d love to see you. Invite your feedback, but we don’t need you. We’ll do it anyway.”

And she had so much less stress over the next 12 months she lost 50 pounds, a pound a week. And she had some bad health markers and were sort of prediabetic, and all that stuff went away because we simply flipped it, we got rid of that old industrial-age playbook.

Pete Mockaitis
And she may be eating at places other than McDonald’s because she didn’t have to go there often. You can smell those fries.

David Marquet
Yeah, it’s so hard. They’re so good.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if I can follow up, so that sounds like a tidy little framework there. So, each person said, “Here’s what I got, here’s what I see, here’s what I’m going to do.” Can you lay that out for us?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, we have a framework that we applied to empowerment, which we call the ladder of leadership, and it’s simply the words that you say. We cast away the word empowerment, and it sounds like this, “At the bottom, they tell me what to do.” That’s obviously very low. And then there’s, “Here’s what I see, here’s what I think, here’s what I would like to do.” Now, the key there is unless you get approval, you don’t do it, so you wait.

And then level five is, “Here’s what I intend to do. Tomorrow at noontime, I intend to launch a new ad campaign. Next week on Wednesday, I intend to launch a product as scheduled.” Now, the key about intent is unless you say no, it’s going to happen. So, if you don’t get your email that day, you’re not holding the team up. And here’s the key, the team, knowing that there is going to happen, it’s on them. They can never…they own it. They can’t say, “Oh, well, the boss told me. I knew it was a bad idea but blah, blah, blah.”

So, it’s a trick, so to speak, mechanism better. It’s a mechanism to get thinking, because when you know, if you say something, and your boss gets a little in email, it’s going to happen, you become…you check with the person, “Hey, does everyone this is a good idea? I want to make sure it’s good because it’s going to be on me if we do this.” So, the way we would make reports is, so imagine in a submarine, or oil refinery, nuclear power plant, operating room, we always report in that sequence, “Here’s what we see,” so it’s description, “And then here’s what I think,” which is analysis, “And then here’s what I think we should do,” action.

So, the first step is detect, “I have to notice something,” so it’s D2A2, detect, describe, assess, act. And we always go in that order because we’re moving from safe to less safe because description is pretty safe, “Hey, I notice the patient is turning yellow.”

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t argue with that.

David Marquet
You may not know what you need to do. That’s okay. If you couple, if you say, “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution,” guess what you’re going to get?

Pete Mockaitis
Crickets.

David Marquet
Fewer people telling you problems. That’s what you’re going to get because every time you make a speedbump to a behavior you want. You’re going to get less of a behavior that you want. So, you just put a speedbump on the behavior of reporting problems. So, you say, “Bring me problems. You don’t have to have a solution. If you have a solution, bonus points for you.” So, anyway. And studies have showed that’s exactly the impact. Because we have these well-meaning words but they often counterfire.
Pete Mockaitis
And what’s the final play?

David Marquet
So, the final play is in the industrial age, because leaders were coercing workers what to do, the final play in the industrial age is conform. We don’t want to appear approachable because that just makes it harder for us to get them to do what we want them to do, so we conform to our role in hierarchy. The new play is connect, connect as humans. If you’re going to ask people to make decisions, decisions passed through the emotional wiring in our brain, we want to think that we’re all rational but we’re not. I mean, “Who am I going to marry? Where am I going to school? What’s my…?” At the end of the day, always an emotional complement to that decision.

Healthy decisions come from healthy emotions. Healthy emotions come from feeling human at work, which means we have to connect as human beings. And so, there’s a lot of legacy behavior at work, posturing. And I was in a big global corporation. You could tell you’re getting closer to the more important people because the carpet was getting thicker. And there’s all these trappings of hierarchy. We don’t need to reinforce hierarchy. What you want to do is actually reduce hierarchy, not to zero, A, you can’t, B, I don’t think you want to. But we’ve got to get the humanity, the connection of humanity back into work if you want your people to be involved in decision-making. If you’re going to ask them what they think, then that’s decision-making. So, that’s what the final play is.

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

David Marquet
Yeah, I really like, I sound maybe like I’m a geek, but I really love Churchill’s use of a language, and so when you take your quote like this, “We shall fight on the beaches,” and you look at the words he used. Now, I had an opportunity to see a museum exhibit where he had some drafts of his speeches, and he had different words. And the pattern was he was always going back to the Anglo-Saxon variance. So, he could’ve said, “We shall travois on the shoreline,” but those are French.

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

David Marquet
What’s popping in my head right now “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. She talks about having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Kahneman. Tversky is so good. I just read also Michael Lewis’ book “The Undoing Project” which is about the work that Kahneman and Tversky did where they came up with a lot of these biases. There’s a guy, here’s one of most of your listeners might not have heard of, a guy named Panksepp, a psychologist who tickles rats to hear them laugh.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sounds like fun.

David Marquet
Anyone who does that has got to be interesting. And he’s got a number of books. I don’t understand half of what he says, but one of the things he talks about is we’re wired with…one of the systems that we’re wired with is called the seeking system, this is the curious system. This is the one that says, “I wonder what’s behind that corner? I wonder what’s over that mountain range?” And a lot of our social ills can be traced to some sort of dysfunction in our seeking system. And I just think this stuff is really interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Hmm, intriguing. And, tell me is there a particular nugget you share that people quote back to you and you’re known for?

David Marquet
Well, we say build leaders at every level. One of the things I’ve been saying, recently I’ve been hearing all that back, is “Push authority to information not information to authority.” And what we’re referring to is in a hierarchy, oh, hierarchy is the same characteristic, which is the information rest that’s peripheral of the hierarchy at the people at the periphery of the hierarchy, the ones in the coat, talking to the client face to face, in the operating room, flying the airplane, whatever. But the authority for making decisions rest typically in the middle.

So, the 20th century approach was to create systems and scorecards and software where we aggregated the information from the periphery and channeled it into the middle for a decision, and what we say is what you’d want to do is take the authority for making decisions and push it out to the periphery as close to the person, people, who natively have that information and you’d get much faster feedback loops, you get much more resilience, agility, adaptability, and you get more responsible behavior by those people, and it’s more fun and they feel like their jobs matter.

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

David Marquet
So, our program is called intent-based leadership, so go to the website Intent Based Leadership. And I am on social media. I give myself a grade of like D+ for social media but I’m on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn at L. David Marquet. And the other thing we have is a thing called leadership nudges, we have almost 300 now, come out once a week, a one-minute…a lot of these things we talked about are in these little leadership nudges, so one-minute video, low-production quality, me just talking into the camera, saying, “Hey, when you got to ask the question, start the question with how. It’ll be impossible to ask a binary question and it’ll be a better question.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, David, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and keep up the good stuff you’re doing.

David Marquet
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

545: What High-Performers Do Differently with Alan Stein Jr.

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Alan Stein Jr. says: "Fall in love with the fundamentals."

Alan Stein Jr. discusses the fundamental habits and mindsets that separate the best from the rest.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The universal skill every professional needs
  2. The secret to making remarkable change last
  3. A powerful mantra to keep you grounded and present

About Alan:

Alan Stein, Jr. is a keynote speaker and author who spent 15+ years as a performance coach working with famous, high-performing basketball players. He now teaches audiences how to utilize the same strategies in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world-class level.

Alan specializes in improving individual and organizational leadership, performance and accountability.  He inspires and empowers everyone he works with to take immediate action and improve mindset, habits and productivity which is what makes him one of the top motivational speakers around.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Alan Stein Jr. Interview Transcript

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Absolutely my pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, let’s hear just a smidge about your background. So, you used to work as a performance coach for professional basketball players including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. May he rest in peace. What exactly does that mean, a performance coach? What do you do and how does that translate into better results?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure. Well, the original moniker was strength and conditioning coach. So, I was always responsible for kind of the fitness and athleticism side of training. But, as that industry progressed, we, I say we as in I’m uniting all coaches, decided that strength and conditioning were just two of the pillars of performance that we actually worked on. So, most coaches today that are in that field go by performance coach.

And, yeah, I was responsible for every facet of performance except for the actual skill work. So, things like improving hand-eye coordination, and explosiveness, and acceleration and deceleration, everything that goes under the umbrella of athleticism. And I was able to work with some really good players and really good coaches who taught me every bit as much as I’d like to believe I taught them, and then decided I was going to take all of those lessons and pivot those to a new audience, which is what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so can you tell us an example maybe of, hey, here’s something that you did in that realm, beyond just strength, and then what result that emerged there?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Well, I think the foundation of it all, and I know you had mentioned with the rest in peace with the very sudden and untimely and tragic death of Kobe Bryant, but one of the biggest lessons I ever learned was from Kobe at a camp that I worked for him back in 2007, and it’s actually how I open every single keynote with that story of meeting him. And the lesson that he taught me was that if you want to be great at something, you never get bored with the basics, that you fall in love with the fundamentals and you fall in love with the process of doing the basics over and over during the unseen hours until you come as close to mastery as possible.

That is incredibly applicable to every walk of life. I mean, that’s something that is very true on the basketball court. With a basketball player, you have to work on your footwork because your footwork is involved in everything you do on the court. And then I translate that same message to folks in the corporate world, about figuring out, “What are your basics and your fundamentals that you need to master to be awesome at your job?” And once folks have an understanding of those, then they just need to have the humility and the consistency to do them every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love it if you could highlight what are some of those basics that show up a lot for folks who want to be awesome at their jobs?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Almost unilaterally in any industry, I can’t think of anything where being a better listener wouldn’t serve you very well. If you’re in any type of leadership position, you’re a manager, or a director, or a supervisor, an executive, whether you’re in sales, whether you’re in customer service or customer experience, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be drastically heightened if you improved your ability to actively listen, to ask insightful questions, then listen to the response, and then make sure that either your response or your behavior pivots accordingly based on what they said.

And not only does this help you take in more accurate information and make better decisions, but anytime we listen to someone, it unconsciously shows them that we care about them. Because, in today’s day and age, our attention in the present moment is our most valuable currency. And when you show someone by listening with good eye contact and warm body language and nodding your head, you’re showing them that you’re willing to invest your most precious resource and your most precious currency into them. And that is a glue that strengthens human connection. And, regardless of what vocation you’re in, we’re all in the relationship and people business, and anytime we can strengthen those connections, it’s a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, yes, I’m on board. Listening sounds great and more of it would be good. We’ve had a couple episodes about listening and, boy, I think we’d have a whole lot more. So, let’s dig in a little bit here.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’ve put a lot of these insights into your book Raise Your Game: High Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best. What are some of the top high-performance secrets from the best of the best? One of them we talked about was basics. And I think we’re going to revisit that one some more. But what do you say is the big idea and some of those top secrets we should all know?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what’s kind of funny is my publisher always gets irritated with me when they think I’m disparaging the subtitle, but I told them, in jest, “We’re going to use the word secrets because it’s something that attracts people, and we want to get as many eyes on this book as possible, but there really are no secrets to high performance.”

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve lied to us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
I have. What it takes to be awesome at your job, those pillars are readily available to anyone. In fact, there are things that most people already know intuitively and intellectually, but it doesn’t mean they’re doing them. That’s really the big idea of the book is what’s called a performance gap. And that’s the gap between what we know we’re supposed to do and what we actually do. And if you want to be awesome at your job, you have to learn how to close that gap.

A perfect example would be I bet everyone of your listeners right now knows what healthy foods are, knows that they’re supposed to get adequate sleep every night, and knows that they’re supposed to do some type of physical fitness workout throughout the week, a couple of times a week. I mean, I don’t think there’s a functioning adult on the planet that doesn’t know those three things to improve health, vitality, longevity, so everybody knows that but we can even look at the statistics, not very many people are doing that. Not many people eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep, and workout consistently.

And that’s a perfect example of, in health and fitness, performance gap. We all know what we’re supposed to do, but very few people do it. And when I bring that up, it’s never to disparage or diminish someone, it’s never to call them out or to make them feel bad, it’s simply to shine the light on the fact that you know what you’re supposed to do but you’re not doing it. And that’s where we have to start making progress.

I just use health and fitness as an example because it’s an easy one. We could easily say the same thing for our financial lives or for relationships. There’s not a person alive that doesn’t know what things they should do to continue to have a thriving marriage, yet many people, after 10 to 20 years of being married, they no longer do those things, and then they wonder why their relationship is on the rocks. Or financially. Does anyone know you’re not supposed to save some money and put some money away for the future? Everybody knows that but not very many people do it.

And, to me, I’ve always been fascinated why groups of really intelligent people, which is what we all are walking around as human beings, why would we not do the things that we know we’re supposed to do. And the answer comes down to these things aren’t always easy to do. And we all, as human beings, usually default to what’s easiest and most comfortable, yet that’s not very often the path to growth, is ease and comfort.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, there’s lots there. I like it. So, there’s quite the distinction there between it’s basic, in other words it’s not complicated, but it’s not easy. It takes some effort from you. So, they call it entropy or whatever the concept is. We like our comfort and kind of doing what feels good in a given moment and not maybe what seems super boring because it’s basic and you’ve done it a lot of times. So, yeah, I think you did a fine job of teeing up the challenge, there’s a performance gap, that we’re not doing the things that we know we should or could do to get the results that would be helpful.

So, let’s talk about some ways to push through that then if you want to do more of the basics. And I’m just going to say for being awesome at your job, boy, we could talk about a lot. I think sleep is a big one. Listening is a big one. I think maybe one would be not checking your email constantly but rather just take, I don’t know, a couple batch times a day. Email is easier and maybe interesting, like, “What I have to do now is kind of boring and hard, but my email might be cool and easy, so let me go over there.” Maybe making a list of things that are the most critical to do during this day or week or month, and then making sure that you attack them.

So, those are some of the basics. We’ve heard it from many guests many times. So, if you’re not doing it, you’re not feeling it, how do you start doing it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, absolutely. I’ve got a basic process to follow but not necessarily an easy one. I’m so glad that you brought up the difference between those two because many people do use basic and easy as if they’re interchangeable, as if they’re synonymous, and they’re not. I tell folks all the time during my keynotes, “Everything I’m going to share with you today is going to be very basic. Nothing I’m going to share with you today is going to be easy to implement because if it was, you’d already be doing it.”

So, first and foremost, and this is just kind of the ground level, you have to have the self-awareness enough to know that you have a performance gap. Like, you have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I know I’m supposed to get enough sleep but I don’t. I know I’m supposed to save money but I’m not.” So, without awareness, then you just continue to go through life a loop. So, once you have the awareness then there’s a very distinct three-step process.

The first process is once you’ve narrowed it down to the performance gap that you’re talking about, and let’s just say it’s getting more sleep, then you just have to pick one habit or one behavior that you want to change. You see, especially with a lot of high performers and high drivers, they’re enticed into wanting to change several things at once, “I’m going to get blackout curtains for my room. I’m going to get an easy Nest Thermostat for my room. I’m going to buy a sleep mask. I’m going to take this cocktail of melatonin supplements at night.” And they come up with this long list of things they’re going to do, and then they up getting so stifled by it that they end up doing none of it. The key is just picking one thing to have hyper focus on.

So, if you realize that you’re not getting adequate sleep, pick one thing, and let’s just say that one thing is going to be, “I’m going to set a consistent bedtime.” So, that’s the only thing you’re going to focus on. You’re not going to worry about anything else right now, just the one thing. Then the next thing you need to do, so once you’ve established that one thing, is you want to aim to do that for 66 straight days. You want to start to build some momentum and some continuity.

Now, there’s nothing really magical about 66 except there is some research out there that says that when you do something daily for 66 days in a row, it starts to reduce the friction. So, I just like that because it’s an easy number to remember and it could be something very visual. I’m a visual guy so, for me, I’ll go get an old-school calendar from Office Depot and a big red Sharpie, and every night that I go to bed, at this bedtime that I set, I’m going to put a big red X on my calendar, and I’m going to be committed to doing this until there’s 66 red X’s in a row.

Now, anyone that’s into habits, I highly recommend you read James Clear’s book called Atomic Habits. Most of everything I teach on habits has come from James, and he’s got a lot deeper insight into that concept. But let’s just try to build some momentum, so that’s the second step. So, we pick one thing, we’re committed to doing it for 66 days. And then the third piece is you need to keep the spotlight of accountability on, and you do this by insulating yourself with an accountability partner or an accountability group of people that is going to hold you to that.

So, in this example, I might say, “Hey, Pete, I’m really trying to get better sleep at night. I promised myself I’m going to go to bed every night at 9:30. I’m going to make a commitment to doing this for the next 66 days, but would you mind checking in with me? Since you’re my buddy, would you mind texting me every morning and asking me if I did go to bed at 9:30 so that way I’ve got someone else keeping that light on me?”

And, statistically, if you’re willing to focus on one thing at a time, you’re committed to doing it for 66 days and you have some self-accountability, and you get people that you know want to see you successful hold you accountable, if you do those three things, you have a really good chance of changing that behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Super. So, then I suppose that you lock one in over the course of 66 days, and then start another, as opposed to doing multiples at once. You focus on one at a time, and then you give it that amount of time before you take on another.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You nailed it. And, to me, that’s the main reason that most New Year’s resolutions don’t work it’s because of the plural part, because most people wake up on January 1st and say, “I’m going to eat better. I’m going to get more sleep. I’m going to start working out. I’m going to start saving money. I’m going to start doing this. I’m going to call on my…” and they want to do all of these things. While I certainly applaud how noble their intentions are, and I love that they’re trying to better themselves, statistically, by the third or fourth week of January, most of those people aren’t doing most of those things. And it’s because, as human beings, we’re wired to have that hyper focus. So, set yourself up for success by only picking that one thing and having hyper focus.

And that, in and of itself, is hard to do because most people think, “Oh, I can handle two or three changes at once. Oh, those statistics are for normal people. I can do it.” Well, you might be the exception, but let’s play the odds in our favor, let’s use the statistics and the research to say, “I’m going to do my very best to stay focused on this one thing.” Very basic in premise, very hard to do.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve fallen for that myself, “Oh, I can handle doing that more and more.” The compromise I try to reach myself when I’m having this argument is like, “Okay. Well, only one of them counts.” It’s like for the X, if you will, on the calendar, the points, or to report to the accountability partner, it’s like, “The rest are like extra credit. If you really feel like it or you’re in the mood, go for it, but I’m not bending over backwards to pull those off.” It’s like it’s the one thing that gets the point scored and gets supported out.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Exactly. And I think we can all fall victim to that. And, once again, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to change more than one thing at a time, and I’m not saying people can’t do it. I’m just saying we should all have the humility to go into it not thinking that we’re the exception and let’s do our best with this. And, of course, these, I’m throwing out a very general prescription.

I don’t think anything is one size fits all, but I think if you’re going to start, you’re better off starting conservative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. So, then let’s talk about some of the basics that make a world of difference. Sleep, I think, is huge, and so we’ve given that as an example. What have you found, I’d say particularly for professionals, are some basics, some habits, that are often real top contenders for being things that unlock a whole lot of power for you?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’ll do is I’m going to give you a framework so that your listeners can actually figure out what those things are for themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’d say is, for your listeners, to take five or ten minutes, and I just want you to reflect on the four or five activities that really fill your own bucket, that charge you up physically, mentally, emotionally. Sit with pen to paper and think, “What things get me going?” Maybe it’s taking a yoga class or a spin class. Maybe it’s prayer or meditation. Maybe it’s quietly reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, or taking a hot bath, or taking your dog for a walk. Whatever activities fill your bucket, I want you to come up with a list of those four or five things.

And then take another few minutes, and I want you to reflect on what your morning and evening routine looks like. Jot down what you do most mornings and what you do most evenings. Now, I’m aware that most people listening, if you work a conventional job, your Wednesday morning is not going to be the same as your Sunday morning, or your Saturday evening is not the same as your Tuesday evening. That’s okay. But I’m willing to bet that what you do most Wednesday mornings and what you do most Sunday evenings is probably fairly similar because, as human beings, we’re creatures of habit.

So, just start to etch out what you do on the bookends of your day, and then you’ve got these two sets of notes. And what I want you to do is compare those two sets. I want you to see if you’re actually making time in the beginning and end of your day to do the things that you know fill your bucket. And for most people, this is when they start to find some glaring performance gaps. They know that taking a yoga class or meditating or taking their dog for a walk are the things that jive them up, and yet they don’t make the time to do those things near as often as they should. And that’s why I want folks to start making the first little tweaks is using the bookends of your day, the first 60 minutes when you wake up and the last 60 minutes before you go to bed, to do things that refill your bucket, because that’s the only way for you to be awesome at your job, is if your bucket is full. It’s the only way you can serve others.

There’s an old adage that’s been around a lot longer than I’ve been breathing that says, “You can’t pour anything out of an empty cup,” which means if your cup is empty, you have nothing to give other people. So, in order for you to be the most awesome you can be at your job, you have to make sure your battery is always charged and your bucket is always full. And the last way I’ll illustrate that, since I’m a basketball guy, I don’t know if the Lakers are playing tonight or not, but I know if they had a game tonight and LeBron showed up, and he didn’t get good sleep, he wasn’t well-hydrated, he didn’t eat anything, he didn’t do his stretches or his corrective exercises, if he didn’t do all of those things, and he showed up tonight, he would give the Lakers less of a chance to win because he chose not to fill his bucket before he showed up.

And we all have to view ourselves as kind of the LeBron of our jobs in that, “When I show up, I need to show up as my best self. And in order to be my best self, I have to make the time to take care of myself.” And when we’re all willing to do that, that’s the most basic principle we should all be living by to become the best versions of ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so much good stuff there. Thank you. Thank you, Alan. So, let’s talk about the game day, if you will. You talk about playing present, and so, I guess, part of the game was, hey, prepping in advance, and then another part of the game is really being present while you’re there. First of all, what do you mean by this term?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’ve heard both Nick Saban, the head football coach at Alabama, and I’ve heard Oprah Winfrey, who I probably need to say her last name because she’s that famous. They’ve both used the term “Be where your feet are.” And I love that because, to me, it has such a strong connotation of being in the present moment. Be where your feet are.

Now, if anyone listening is going, “Well, how could you be anywhere other than your feet?” Now, I’m talking about the connection between mind and body, because in today’s day and age of digital distractions, there’s plenty of times where we’re somewhere, well, we’re not really somewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
He was using his fingers on the phone since we’re not recording the video.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, and that’s ultimately the problem. And I think a lot of us do that. You’re out to lunch with someone, and you’re so preoccupied with your phone that you’re not really with that person. And the key to high performance is making sure mind, body, and soul are all aligned right where you are. And, once again, very basic premise, very, very difficult to do, especially with all of these digital distractions that we have. So, learning how to be in the moment, not distracted by the past, not worried about the future, not worried about the play that just happened, but completely focused on the next play is vital to being awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I buy it. And so then, how do we get there? In terms of if we’re naturally distracted by our devices or other thoughts, worries, what else we need to be doing, how do we develop the capacity to be present?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Like anything else, it’ll take some practice. And, as I said before, it starts with awareness. So, first, you have to be aware of when you’re not present. You have to be able to catch yourself saying, “Man, there I go thinking about yesterday,” or, “Here I am worried about tomorrow,” or, “Here I’m constantly letting my phone own me instead of me owning it.” So, you have to have the awareness. And once you have the awareness, then you’ll start to catch yourself more quickly. And once you do that, the other part is really important, is giving yourself some grace and some compassion. Just know that even a Tibetan monk of 80 years isn’t present every moment of every day.

Now, they’re present more consistently than probably guys like you and I are, but nobody is perfect, and I don’t ever want someone to get stifled by perfection. I want you to be motivated and inspired by progress not stifled by perfection. So, just know that you’re never going to have a day where you’re 100% present every moment of every day. But can you be more present today than you’ve been in the past? Can you have a self-talk or a triggering mechanism that you catch yourself when you’re not present to snap yourself back into the moment?

I, literally, say to myself, not out loud, they’d have me committed, I’d say to myself, “Be where your feet are. Be where your feet are. Don’t worry about that, that one is over, Alan. Get back to the present.” And I really believe that the definition of mental toughness is the ability to refocus the lens on the next most important thing regardless of the environment. It’s the acronym WIN, W-I-N, what’s important now. And as long as you can always stay focused on what’s important now, you’ll be in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that a lot, be where your feet are. I’ve heard some variations. I think it’s from Joseph Goldstein, a mindfulness teacher, talking about, “Sit and know that you are sitting.” I don’t know if he made it up but I think it’s really good, or just sort of breathe and know that you’re breathing. Because, in a way, it’s like, “Well, of course, I know I’m sitting. Of course.” It’s like, “Yeah, but you’re not really sort of there-there in terms of what’s going on.” So, be where your feet are, another way to convey that. I dig it.

And so then, I’d also want to get your view, if we’re kind of focused in the present moment, is it possible to lose sight of the bigger picture, the overall goal because we’re just, maybe, I don’t know, reacting, responding, we’re so in the now moment of what’s happening, we’re not sort of charting a course and driving to wherever we’re trying to go? Is that a risk?

Alan Stein, Jr.
That’s an excellent perspective, and it’s one that I’ve wrestled with numerous times, because we can look both ways on that. I mean, for one, even though I want to be focused on the present, I still want to make sure I’m learning from the past. If I step on a landmine today, I want to make sure tomorrow I don’t step on the same ones. So, part of us does need to have a system in place where we’re constantly looking at previous performances and finding ways to tweak those and move it forward so that we continue to get better.

And then, along the same lines, what you just brought up so insightfully is we also want to make sure we’re prepared for the future. I mean, right now I’m focused on the present moment, but I’m hoping tomorrow does come around and I want to make sure I’m ready for tomorrow. So, I think we want to make sure that we pay homage to both, that learning from the past and being prepared for the future, but we don’t live in either one of those spaces. We’re aware of them, we’re doing our due diligence on both sides, but we’re still in the present moment.

A perfect example would be somebody in sales. They’ve got a yearly quota, or a quarterly quota, of things they’re suppose to sell, and it’s okay to have that number off into the distance, “I’m suppose to sell a hundred whatever by the end of February,” and that’s great to know that but I don’t want to live there. What I want to constantly ask myself is, “What do I need to do today to get me closer to that 100 goal? What do I need to do this hour that will take me closer to that goal? What do I need to do right now, in this very moment, that will take me closer to that goal? And if I can stay in the moment and in the process, there is a very good chance that outcome of 100 will simply take care of itself.” Especially, if you have some analytics behind it.

If you know that every 10 prospects you reach out to, one of them buys, well, now it’s simple math. If every 10, one of them buys and you have to sell a hundred, well, it sounds like you need to reach out to a thousand people over the course of a month. Well, if we divide that thousand by a five-day workweek, four weeks by 20, that tells me how many calls I need to make every single day to be in the process of being able to reach that actual goal. Some days you’ll go higher, some days you’ll go lower, but then if I know that I have to make X number of calls today, I don’t want to worry about any of the calls except for the one I’m about to make right now. That is the only call that matters because it’s the only one that’s directly in front of me.

And then no matter whether this call goes well or not, it’s in the rearview mirror and now I focus on the next call. And this is very similar to building a brick wall. If you’re tasked with building a brick wall, the best advice I have for you is lay each and every brick with care and precision. And if you put your focus on laying each brick perfectly, there’s a very good chance that wall will just take care of itself.

Pete Mockaitis
And if you are an excellent mason in the Chicago area, get in touch with me because I need to hire one. Thank you.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, perfect. And whoever that person is, you make sure you lay Pete’s bricks brick by brick.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, right. Well, that’s a whole another talk, that’s a whole another conversation, in terms of people being awesome at their job in the home renovation world. That could be hard to find at times. So, anyway, refocusing on here and now, huh? How’s that for presence and tie-in.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Oh, that was perfect. Look at you.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. So, I want to get your take on is there anything else you really want to make sure we mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alan Stein, Jr.
No, those are really the big ones. And I readily acknowledge that there’s really nothing sexy about anything I’ve just shared. There’s nothing flashy, there’s nothing new, there’s nothing trendy. Master the basics and the fundamentals during the unseen hours. Do your best to stay present. Those things aren’t sexy, that’s why they’re not tons of Facebook memes or Nike slogans with those in them, but those are what’s required at being awesome at your job. And once you’ve found something that you love to do, if you can fall in love with that process and doing that work on a daily basis, you will be awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I love it. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alan Stein, Jr.
“If you do the things others won’t do, you’ll have the things others won’t have.” And that really is something that piggybacks on everything that I just shared. If you’re willing to commit to the basics, which most people aren’t, you’ll have plenty of things that other people don’t have. If you’re willing to be an active listener to the people you care about, you’ll have deeper relationships than most other people have. If you’re willing to lay each brick with care and precision, you’ll probably build sounder and nicer walls than anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ll get a lot of referrals.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yes, absolutely. Without question.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, there was an interesting on that goes back on that why I told your listeners to pick one thing. There’s a gentleman named John Berardi, who was the Founder and CEO of a company called Precision Nutrition, and he did a study and he found that when you try to focus on one behavior change, you have an 85% chance of being successful, that as soon as you try to split that in half and change two behaviors at the same time, rate of success drops to 40% to 45%, so almost cut in half.

And then if you try to focus on three things at once, it drops down to 4% or 5%. So, once again, the statistics will show and the research will show that if you want to change a behavior, just focus and get hyper clear on that one thing to change. I remember when I read that for the first time, that was eye-opening to me because at the time, I was trying to juggle many changes at once all of the time and was getting frustrated with myself that none of it was working.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Leading with the Heart by Coach K. That was one of the first, like epiphanic books that I read from cover to cover in one sitting that just completely jolted the way that I look at building teams, and leading, and creating cohesion with an organization. It’s an old book but it’s still just as good as the day it came out.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I use the Headspace, the meditation app, the guided meditation, and I use it daily. It’s a 10-minute guided meditation which allows me to start my day in a much more present way, it allows me start my day in a grounded and mindful way, and it just kind of, in a very soothing way, talks you through 10 minutes of keeping you present. And I really love it because I’m a pretty competitive guy, and there’s kind of a daily run clock on it which will say how many days in a row is your Headspace streak. And as of this morning, at the time of this recording, I have done this for 929 straight days without missing a Headspace daily meditation. And, for me, I just love that.

Back to the brick-by-brick analogy, most people will think, “Well, 10 minutes of meditation, what’s that going to do?” Well, I agree, a one-time 10 minutes slice of meditation will do nothing for you, but I’m living proof that 10 minutes a day, for 929 straight days, can have a seismic effect on your presence, and awareness, and mindfulness, and mood, and the way you start your day. So, it goes back to the brick-by-brick. One brick doesn’t make a wall. Several bricks laid perfectly, now you’ve got yourself a sound, sturdy wall.

Pete Mockaitis
This is intriguing because here you are, a case study, 900 plus days, so not a lifetime, under three years, but an awesome habit that’s locked in. So, you say it’s made quite a difference. Can you sort of lay that out for us? Because I think there’s a lot like borderline, fence-riding, half-meditators listening to this show, and I’m one of them in terms of, it’s like, “Oh, hey, I did that. That felt kind of good. okay, I’m glad I did that.” And then I got busy, it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t do that.” So, it’s up and down, and I’m generally on board that the data is clear, the research that the benefits exceed the costs, and then sometimes I just get wrapped up, and it’s like, “That sounds boring. I don’t feel like it, so I’m not going to do it.” I’m a little sassy or self-indulgent, and at other times I do it and I’m so glad I did. Other times I do it, I was like, “Okay, well, that happened.” So, let’s get your take so that myself and listeners may be convinced. What is different for you now as compared to 900 plus days ago?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I mean, the biggest difference I would say is kind of my mood and outlook in how I start the day. Like many people, I used to wake up and the first thing I would do would be check my phone, check text messages, email, social increase, and I started to find, like most people, that I was giving my power away, that. I was putting my mood and rolling the dice into the hands of anyone that text me, emailed me, or sent me something on social, and many times I was losing that battle. I would get something that would frustrate me, or irritate me, or upset me, and it’s the very first thing I’m putting on my hard drive in the morning, and I just decided that enough was enough.

And I wanted to make sure that that was not what I was doing to start my day, and I needed something else to replace it. And around this time, somebody that was a mentor and very influential to me, was talking about his own Headspace meditation journey and how much it had helped him, and I think it was just perfect timing.

Everything that you just said, I found true especially in those first few months. There were times I didn’t feel like doing it, there were times where, even in that 10 minutes, I couldn’t stay present for more than 10 seconds. My mind would start racing about all of the things I had to do that day. But over time, it just started to chip away, and, over time, I just found that I was becoming more mindful. I was becoming better with just sitting in silence for 10 minutes, that I was starting my day with a little more pep in my step, with a little wider smile because I was in this rounded fashion.

I also like the consistency of it. I travel a ton as a professional speaker and this is something that I can do whether I’m home or whether I’m traveling. It’s something I can do whether my kids are with me or they’re not with me, so I had some control over it. And then, as I mentioned, I’m rather competitive, so once I had done it for 10 straight days, I was like, “Well, let’s not stop here. Let’s keep it going.” And, yes, there were definitely a few times where I did not feel like doing it but I was like, “You know what, I can’t let my streak break.”

I started putting it out on social because that’s a form of accountability. I had people come up to me at my talks all the time and say, “Hey, Alan, what’s your Headspace streak up to?” because they remember a few months ago I posted how many days I had in a row. So, it’s kind of a self-accountability, like I mentioned earlier with that spotlight, but it’s definitely allowed me to start my day in a much more mindful and controlled manner. And I know that’s very hard to measure, once again it’s not super sexy, but I’ve found that it’s a great tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think the most compelling there was you’re not putting your mood in other’s hands, so, I mean, it’s powerful right there. So, then, some meditation, Headspace is the tool. I was going to ask about a favorite habit. That might be it, but if you have another one, lay it on us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You know, the longest running habit that I’m aware of that I have is probably going on 26, 27 years now, and it’s similar to the meditation. I make my bed first thing every single morning. I do that because I’m a firm believer that it takes discipline to make your bed. I mean, it might only take 8 to 10 seconds but it takes a little discipline, and that discipline is the key to freedom. Discipline is the key to everything that we want in life. If your goal is to be happy and fulfilled, well, self-discipline is what’s going to allow you to achieve that.

If you’re a hard-driver and your goal is success and significance in the board room, discipline is what’s going to allow you to do that. So, I love knowing that I start every single day with a very small simple act of discipline, and then I’d parlay that right into my meditation, and the first 11 minutes of my day, I’ve kind of set the groundwork for the rest of the day. And if the rest of the day is going to be filled with adversity and challenge and chaos, and I’m expected to respond and put out fires, I’m able to handle those things much better just by laying that foundation first thing in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And, tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that really resonates with folks and they quote it back to you, you’re known for it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
The number one, and this is not an Alan Stein, Jr. original, I think Coach K was the first to do it, but where I really learned it was from Mike Jones, who was the head basketball coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. I worked for him for six years, and was just phenomenal. And he always talks about this concept of next play, and it’s part of being present. And, basically, what he says, anytime during a basketball game when things don’t go well, Coach Jones says, “Next play.”

So, a player turns the ball over. No worries. Next play. You missed a wide-open layup. It’s all right. Next play. I know, the referee missed that call. Next play. And that mindset is what allows you to be in the present moment. You don’t worry about what just happened, you’re focused on now and what’s about to happen next. And I’ve had many people in my keynotes, you know, I’ll give a 90-minute keynote and they’ll say that was the stickiest most helpful thing I shared was the ability to move to the next play. And many people have told me, I mean, they use it with their children, they use it with their families, I know I use it with my kids all the time.

My kids would get into arguing about something, and I’ll say, “All right, let’s resolve this,” and then we’re moving to the next play. My kids will say they want a dessert after dinner, and I’ll say, “Well, not tonight,” and they whine about it. I say, “Hey, we’re moving onto the next play.” And that terminology, I found to be really sticky and something that’s been very helpful for not only myself but lots of people that I’ve worked with.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
They can go to RaiseYourGameBook.com if they want to learn more about the book. And if they want to hear more about my speaking services and what I do on social, they can go to AlanSteinJr.com.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I would say, actually, what you just said, is to put something that we talked about today into action, that knowledge without action is useless. I mean, it’s no different than the book on your shelf that you haven’t read. It’s doing nothing to help you. So, while you may have been sitting here listening to this episode and nodding your head, maybe even taking some notes and thinking, “Wow, this is great stuff they’re talking about,” if you don’t actually put it into motion, it’s not going to change anything. So, just remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alan, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in your future adventures.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Thank you so much, Pete. I appreciate you.

544: How to Build Exceptional Influence in a Noisy Digital Age with Richard Medcalf

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Richard Medcalf says: "Transaction is the opposite of influence."

Richard Medcalf shares strategies to grow your influence despite the noise and overwhelm of the digital world.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The language that gets people to listen to you
  2. The two ways of effectively relating with anyone
  3. A quick trick to exude charisma and confidence

About Richard:

Richard Medcalf has advised exceptional founders and senior executives in complex, fast-moving industries for over 20 years. After earning a first-class degree at Oxford University, Richard became the youngest-ever partner at tech-sector strategy consultancy Analysys Mason. He then moved to tech giant Cisco, where he held various senior positions over 11 years, most notably being hand-picked for an elite team set up by Cisco’s CEO to lead new board-level business initiatives. Believing that there’s no business transformation without personal transformation, he founded Xquadrant to work at the intersection of leadership, strategy and purpose and help digital-age leaders create extraordinary positive impact.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Medcalf Interview Transcript

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

Richard Medcalf
Hi, Pete. Fantastic to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m excited to have you and I really appreciate you staying up extra late in France to have this conversation with us.

Richard Medcalf    
No, that’s great. It’s 11:00 p.m. here but I’m energized and ready to go, so let’s do this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I see it and I’m excited. Well, I want to kick it off, you have a very impressive bio but at the same time you also discuss vulnerability in some of your work. So, I want to put you on the spot and ask for you to publicly admit something that you’re terrible at. I’ll start just to break the ice. And that is I’m not good at drawing three-dimensional shapes. I had a new product design class and that was actually a reasonable part of it and I didn’t do so well and it was so embarrassing, they’re like, “What is wrong with you?” So, now, the world knows that. But, meanwhile, I’m looking at your bio, I was like, “Man, this guy looks like he’s amazing at everything he touches.” But that’s never quite true, and it’s always comforting, so lay it on us.

Richard Medcalf
No, yeah, I can give you that. Well, I think my kids would say that I’m just bad at animals, like any animal comes near me, I’m jumping around, freaking out. Really bad. Like, when my daughter was one, we went to Australia to see some family there, and she stroke a baby kangaroo or something, and I was like, “Okay, Richard, come on. You’re 40, whatever it is, years old. Go and stroke that damn kangaroo.” So, that’s probably the funny one. And then probably I think I come from a long line of people in my family who are just not particularly good at sports, and that’s all we’ve been like. I was always the last to be chosen in school teams and all that kind of stuff. So, I think I had a school report that said, “Richard tries hard at a subject to which he’s not naturally gifted.” So, I said, “All right.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the kindest possible way that they could articulate that. I, likewise, didn’t do well in most sports. I was good at swimming. Weightlifting, depending on the lift. But, anyway, now we know. Thank you. You’re on the record. But I want to mostly talk about influence today, that’s one of your areas of expertise and so let’s dig in. And maybe if you could tee this up for us with maybe a compelling story that captures just what’s at stake when it comes to professionals being influential or just what is possible when a typical professional upgrades their influence game.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, going to my story a little bit, and, again, be a bit vulnerable about times when I actually didn’t sure I have the influence I needed. So, my story in a nutshell is I studied in Oxford University, I got like a top grade there, ran into consulting, strategy consulting, became a partner very fast in that. I think it was just a lucky fit having to be good at that as a bit of random choice but it worked well. And then I moved into Cisco, it’s obviously a massive global company, a smaller fish in a bigger pond. And I think I didn’t manage that transition actually particularly well. It took me a while because I had a lot of expertise to bring but I hadn’t quite understood quite how much you needed to work that broader organization to really have an impact.

And so, I think if I look back and I’m honest, I think I kind of got a bit pigeonholed into the next big role for a while, and they’re quite high-profile projects, they’re quite having a certain impact but I kind of knew that there was more that I should’ve been doing and there was more of me that I wasn’t bringing to the table. And so, I think there was this gap where I was kind of trying to struggle with, “How do I actually do this?” And nothing was bad but I just knew that there were others perhaps who’d made a much better transition in, and I was seeing I was a bit envious.

So, I started to kind of dig into this and think about it and a bit of self-reflection and I started to realize, actually, as often the case, that all of these answers are actually under our nose, and we have to kind of do the thinking and do the searching and come back to it, and say, “Well, what have I really got to offer and to whom?” a number of other things. And the net of that was my last role in Cisco, before I then left and setup my own company Xquadrant, was actually part of a small group setup by the CEO and global head of sales of Cisco to really have influence, to really capitalize strategic partnerships between Cisco and some of its large customers and partners.

And so, that was a role where it wasn’t a hierarchical power role. It was very much about, “How do we actually get people who are not under my direct control, not even in my own company, to perhaps collaborate in ways that they weren’t used to?” And so, that for me was really where that whole journey was where I got passionate about this idea of, “How do we all take our impact up a game, up a notch, play a bigger game and channel our natural skills in the best possible way to have the impact that we want?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so that is pretty cool transformation from, okay, you’re kind of hanging out and treading water for a little while in the career because of not having those influence skills, and then you’re selected for a role that is just chock-full of this influencing-type activities and requirements, so that’s pretty cool. So, it seems like you learned a thing or two to get that role and to flourish within that role. So, can you lay it on us, what are some of the foundational principles that can make a professional influential?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, let me give you a few of the models that I’ve been using and I found really helpful. But, perhaps just to go back a second and just to realize that the context that we’re in, whether we lead or whether we’re an individual contributor, the whole world has shifted, as we know, with digital technology and everything else, and so there are these very unique contexts for making things happen. As I said before, most of this is actually in the roles where we can’t just tell our subordinates what to do and get everything done, right? Almost every role, even if you have a big team, is going to involve influencing across those boundaries. But there are some traps that I see.

So, the first one is this always on culture, right? Everyone is always connected, there’s always things going on. I call it managing infinity because it’s an infinity of people to speak to, movies to watch, books to read, emails to address, tasks to write. It’s never finished. It’s always on. But we often find ourselves neither really productive, or neither really present, and more to the point, we often do the wrong thing at the wrong time. So, we’re trying to be productive when we should be present with people, and we’re perhaps getting distracted when we should be being productive.

So, we’ve all been in that situation where it’s a social event and somebody’s on their phone doing emails, it’s just not the right time, an undermine of influence. Or if you’re in a meeting, and the boss is like on his phone and not listening to your presentation, he actually undermines his or her influence at that point with you, you think, “What’s going on? Is something wrong with this work? What’s going on?” And so, the first thing is to realize that always on actually has a bit of a trap because if we’re not in the right mode at the right time, we don’t see it, we see it in others.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
And that undermines it. And I think the other one that I’d speak to is the virtual world. In other words, we have distributed teams, and a lot of times we get onto conference calls for a lot of our work, and the issue is it can become very transactional at that point. We all know that example, anyone who’s been in a distributed team where there’s a conference call, people get on, people are in awkward silence, perhaps the odd comment here and there, the odd bit of banter but it’s pretty quiet, people are doing their emails, typing away, people are joining, it’s a bit awkward, and then suddenly, “Okay, let’s go. Right.” And we start.

And so, if you imagine in the real world, if you’re all in the same office, those five minutes would be spent finding out about each other’s weekend, the family, “What’s going on? You look a bit tired, stressed,” and so forth. And so, relationships can get very transactional because of the digital culture. And I think that is actually something, if you are working in a distributed team, you need to be careful about, because transaction is the opposite of influence, really, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued then, I think some people worry they might lose influence if they are not responsive and fast enough in replying to whether it’s Slack or email or whatnot. So, how do you think about the, if it’s tradeoff or it’s just a matter of, “Hey, you schedule time to do both, and then you do both, then you engage appropriately based on what you’re doing”? I guess this is all vary organization by organization, and request by request, but how fast do you got to respond to maintain influence?

Richard Medcalf
I think there’s a lot of fear around this topic, fear of missing out, fear of not being seen, and as ever, it’s always the other side of the fear, that you actually get into a safer place, and probably few, a more secure place. And so, think of people that you really admire and respect, they’re not always easy to get in touch with. The people who are available at the drop of a hat, your esteem of them doesn’t necessarily go zooming up just because they’re super responsive. They’re super responsive, it’s useful, it’s nice.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an excellent distinction. “Yes, I appreciate it, that’s cool of them, it’s convenient, but my esteem doesn’t go up. It’s like, “That is a true professional, rock star, person of influence I respect.” It’s like, “Oh, I appreciate that. Thanks.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. And so, I think there’s a time in my consulting career where I think I pretty got a promotion delayed by that six months because I took on too many projects because they’re all really high-profile projects and I thought, “This is fantastic opportunity,” but I took on like all three of them. Frankly, if I’d done one of them really, really well, I would’ve been promoted. As it was, I did three of them okay but I did not knock the ball out the park. It was fine. It was okay. The client was happy. We got signed up. But I think less can be more, and we forget that, and we think more is more, and it’s not. They don’t actually notice the quantity so much as the quality, right?

So, even if we’re in a job like sales where you got to get through, it’s actually, “Who are those 20% of clients that are really going to make the 80% of your revenues, right?” Yes, so I kind of try to force myself, as there’s barriers in place, and to realize that we’re often playing this game with ourselves and our mind about having to jump in. But when you’re always trying to be super responsive, you don’t create the space for the deep work that actually sets you apart.

In Cisco, one of the things I did do to increase my influence was I remember I actually carved out once, literally it’s just one day, where I took on some work I had done and turned it into a piece of thought leadership, like really said, “Okay, what have I learned? What is cutting edge here?” And I developed this little model and some material with it, and I remembered about 3:00 p.m. on that day, I was like, “What am I doing wasting my day writing this stuff?” I was like writer’s block and all that trying to do this stuff. And that day, I spent the time, I was like, “Well, was that just a waste of time?”

But, no, because suddenly I’ve created something that was valuable, that was unique, and the people had not seen it before. And, suddenly, it was in demand, the customers wanted to see it, I was flown here and there to deliver it. So, this investment of one day where I was not being responsive and much more impact than if I was just doing my emails all day. You know that.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, yeah. That’s very tactical, practical, tangible, and real, I love it, in terms of if we really look back, we can probably think there were a couple deliverables that changed everything, and they weren’t made with the email box open on the side with being interrupted every 10 minutes.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I say, often when I’m working with executives, I work a lot with senior executives in a kind of coaching capacity, and one thing I’ll say is there’s a slowdown because often we advance in the first part of our career by sheer churning things out, but we get to a stage where it’s like, “Okay, just stop a second. What’s the one phone call that’s going to make all the difference right now? What’s the one partnership to form? What’s the one thing you need to shift, the one conversation you need to have, whatever it is, that’s really slowing it down? What is that number one lever that’s going to have the most impact?” And I think when you do that, then you differentiate yourself, and people’s estimation of you rises.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s excellent. Okay, cool. Well, then you mentioned there’s some traps, and we covered a couple. Are there more?

Richard Medcalf
Well, I’d say there’s a number of traps. I think the other one is around noise, I suppose. We could use that one. So, just the sheer volume of content and information coming our way. So, when we want to create influence, this does matter because what we say can easily get lost in the mass of everything going on, that infinity I talked about.

So, one of the things that I do, I actually have a saying, my saying is, “Do you have a saying?” You see what I just did there? So, what I did is, the point is when you actually say, “I have a saying,” you actually put a context around what you’re about to say next and it becomes a thing.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Richard Medcalf
Right? So, if I say to you, “I’ve got sayings. Slow down to speed up,” it’s a good saying, right? But it has more impact than if I just say “Slow down, to speed  up,” in the middle of a sentence that I’m rattling through.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. The receiver of that message naturally thinks, as I do, it’s like, “Well, what is it, Richard?” It’s like, “I’m listening. Bring it on.”

Richard Medcalf
And having a saying is important because language, we adopt language really powerfully. It’s a natural human instinct, right? I say language creates culture. So, if you want to change a culture, or a team, or your family, then think of the words that you use, because it’s how we celebrate. It’s how we relate. And so, as you kind of introduce words, and you use phrases, that does have a big impact.

The idea of a thing as a phrase, as a saying, is about context. So, I always say this, “You should never really have content without context.” So, the context is a frame around the content. So, if I’m going to say, “Hey, Pete, I’ve got something that’s really important for you to hear right now, and it’s going to change your life,” then you’re suddenly ready for it, you know what I mean? Whereas, if I just said it, you wouldn’t perhaps appreciate it, the fact that I really believe this was something important for you.

And so, say, if you’re talking to your boss, it might be one important issue you really want to raise and a load of tactical issues you do every with him. So, you might want to say, “Hey, today, there’s three or four things that we need to rattle through as normal, but there’s also one big topic that I think is really going to be important for how we work together in the coming year.” So, suddenly, they’re kind of mentally getting ready for that, and they’re kind of more ready to receive it. Whereas, if you suddenly launched in with whatever it is you want to say, they’re not mentally prepared.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is so powerful. And you said a couple of things that both reminded me of Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion, which is outstanding. And in terms of language, how that shapes things, he told a story about how he did a presentation for a health, was it hospital or…it was health-oriented, and the presentations, they’re not allowed to call them bullet points, it’s like, “Bullets are weapons that harm people, so we don’t use those words here.” And at first he thought, “That’s kind of ridiculous,” but they’re saying, “Oh, this really does shape things in terms of the culture.” And then the context creating content, or shaping, making more impact, how do you say it? You don’t want content without context.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I say it frames. The context frames the content.

Pete Mockaitis
It frames. And I guess I’m thinking it amplifies in terms of it makes all the difference in terms of like, “What should I be paying attention to?” And I think this is all connecting in terms of, yes, in this digital noisy always-on and managing-infinity world, that becomes extra important to know. It’s like, “I’m looking at this here in a matter.” So, maybe, I would love it if you could just give us some more of your favorite content phrases. So, one is “I have a saying,” the other one is, “Hey, the really important thing is this.” What are some other just tried and true winners?

Richard Medcalf
I think a lot of them, to be honest, are kind of quite natural and would depend on the people, right? So, what I mean by that, you create context whenever you just create that sense of anticipation. And so, it’s as simple as, “Hey, I’ve something important to tell you.” That’s what we’re saying all the time to people. That already sets up a context.

So, as a leader, one of the things you’re trying to do actually is instill the way you think in other people, not to make everyone robots but to help them kind of make the decisions that you would need them to make rather than making all those decisions yourself. And so, for example, I was working with a leader at a global kind of industrial process engineering company, so it might’ve been chemical products and various things, and so safety is very important. And he was complaining that his team were not autonomous and coming to him for all sorts of decisions.

So, I said, “Well, how do you make decisions?” So, he talked about it, and it came down to he looks at the business impact of the decision and he looks at the safety impact, and those two things are so important because this stuff is so dangerous that they’ve got to be both up there equally. So, those were the basic questions. So, I said, “Well, when somebody comes to you with a question, would you say to them, ‘Hey…’”

“Well, first of all, you will tell them, ‘Well, you know, these are my criteria.’ But when they come to you with a question, you say, ‘You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you?’” Once again, it’s a bit of context. “Oh, yeah, you’re going to say, ‘What’s the business impact and what’s the safety impact?’” “You got it. So, please answer the question for me.”

And so, that’s another one. Slightly different framing the content because, first of all, you would have to deliver the content to say, “Hey, this is the way I would think about it, safety and…” Again, he’d probably say, “I have a rule of thumb.” Again, you’re kind of phrasing it, “I have a rule of thumb,” or, “I have a…” how could you put it?

Pete Mockaitis
Mantra, dogma, guideline.

Richard Medcalf
Exactly, yeah. Mantra or guideline, yeah. I always look at the two big factors, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Command.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. Anything like that. Yeah, exactly. So, “I have a manta.” It has to be positive on the business and positive for safety. So, you say that to them. And then, afterwards, when they come to you, you can then refer to that and they start to embed that way of thinking about the world. So, I think that’s just another way of doing it.

But it can just be as simple as starting a meeting by saying, or starting a conversation by really just explaining the relevance of what you’re going to say to somebody. If you want to have influence, you need them to put their ears up, right? So, you want to say, “Look, we’ve come up with a project proposal that we think is probably one of the most significant things that we can do this year. And, as well, we think we’ve really mitigated the risks, breaking it up.” But, suddenly, your boss is going to be interested in that, right? Whereas, if you just launched straight it, they might be checking their email still.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, my next question will forever transform the way every listener thinks about influence forever. See, I’m practicing.

Richard Medcalf
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if I can deliver. I was just practicing setting up some contexts. But I guess I am curious, so these are really great tools. And so, we’re talking in this context of technology. Can you share, are there some rules or guidelines or principles about influence that used to be true but now are not so much true? Like, “Hey, stop doing this,” given how we’re living today.

Richard Medcalf
It’s a great question. My instinctive reply to that is I think that it’s back to less is more, right? It’s back to everyone has lower attention spans, more solicitations, and so we need to make our interactions count I think even more. So, it’s not that it’s totally changed but I do think mistakes are risen on that because people don’t have time to listen to all of that stuff that you might want to tell them often. So, I’d say it’s more there’s dialed up, those things. It’s always been a good idea to be succinct and to say things and to have high quality when you open your mouth. But I think it’s probably gone up.

I have a little model which, I think, worked in the past but definitely works now, and I think could be helpful for people and certainly it worked with me and I can give you an example of this in a second, of this working out in practice. But it’s really this idea that, I’d say there’s two levels of relationship and influence. There’s the kind of transactional level, which is kind of about basic transactional trust which is important to establish. And then the second level is a deeper level of relational influence where you’re really seen as a trusted mentor or ally or somebody who’s really able to speak into your life.

So, on the transactional level, you might’ve heard of something similar to this, there’s various models around. It’s really these four Cs that’s very simple. So, there’s competency, chemistry, character, and criticality. So, first of all, character. So, character literally is like, “Do I believe the assembly with integrity? They’re not going to stab me in the back.” Who’s basically a good person, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
“In fact, are we going to work together with some degree of trust?” Chemistry is, “Well, are we going to basically enjoy working together enough, for that to be not a horrible experience?” Competency is, “Yeah, are you somebody that can actually do this job? Are you actually going to do the work and get it done?” And around that one, there’s often this question of confidence, so, “Are you confident in your own competency?” Often, there’s a whole load of people who are extremely competent but they actually kind of the traffic light goes red, one of the people think of them because they’re just not confident enough in their skills. So, that can be a real…

Pete Mockaitis
Right. There are some who are over-confident in their skills and they say things so assertively, like, “Oh, okay.” And then they’re like, “Wow, you were so wrong. I’m surprised based on how empathically you said that.” And then I think that diminishes influence in a hurry, it’s like, “Hmm, just because that guy seems really forceful and convinced doesn’t mean it’s true as experience has taught me.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, so these traffic lights, I kind of imagine these four Cs with the traffic lights, and sometimes they all go green at the start for some people, a rare number, like when you meet them, they all go green. The question is, “Can these people deliver?” Often, those people are great at winning you over but then the delivery doesn’t quite match the elevated expectations.

And the fourth one is criticality. And the criticality, for me, is really essential. It’s about relevance. It’s, “Can you combine all these skills and character and everything else you’ve got and solve one of my top problems, actually do something meaningful? So, you’ve got the skill, but is it what I really need right now or is this a conversation for another day?” And so, here’s the thing, so in order to really get that good level of working together, you need green on all of those, okay? Character, chemistry, competency, and criticality.

The funny thing though is that we all naturally focus on two to start with. We want to unlock all four but we often look for two to start with, and once they’re validated, we move onto the other two. But we also project the thing to ourselves, to other people. So, for example, I know that, for me, whether it’s by birth or by training in consulting through my career, competency and criticality are really important. I’m always like, “Okay, how am I going to show to add my value, show that I know my stuff, show that I can speak into the situation right now?”

So, I tend to probably project that to other people as the first things, and also looking for, “Are these the people? Are they relevant to my strategic plans? Are they competent? Are they the people I’ll be working with?” Once I have that, I’ll then switch into, “Okay, as a person, are they the right fit, the right feel?”

Other people will start the other way. First of all, they want to build that relationship, that feeling, “Oh, yeah, this person, I get that they’re trustworthy, they’re really nice. Oh, yeah, they’re great people. Now, actually, can they do this job or this task that I have in mind?” And they’ll kind of work the other way around. So, they’ll start more in the relational side. And so, of course, what happens is that when somebody is more task-focused and somebody is more relational-focused meet up, they’re kind of projecting the wrong signals for each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. And it’s so funny, I’m often task-focused when I’m evaluating or early stages of evaluating like, “Am I going to buy something, like sign up for service or whatnot?” And so, I think it’s funny because a lot of salespeople have been trained, “Hey, you got to build that rapport and that relationship.” And so, I’m just thinking, “I already have my criteria. You have to check five boxes for us to continue this conversation,” and they’re like, “Yes, so where did you grow up?” It’s like, “I don’t want to talk about that now. Maybe we’ll discuss that if we end up having a longstanding business relationship. What I need to know from you is A, B, C, D, E, F.” So, yeah, that mismatch is annoying.

Richard Medcalf
So, they’re losing influence in that moment because what’s happening is they’re not picking up. You’re actually very task-focused in that moment and some people are probably, “I need a sales advisor. And is this person trustworthy? Do I want to talk to this person?” And so, it’s their reading. So, actually, when I work with sales teams, I talk so much about finding your own personality or be aware of your tendencies. Essentially, it’s about, “Can you read the person opposite and what are they looking for? What mode are they in? Are they trying to relate at this moment? Or are they trying to get down to business?” And you do need both.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s great to identify. Just having that frame of mind, “Hey, is it more A, more B?” as you’re kind of assessing things. This is great. And then what are some of the telltale signs and indicators, “Ooh, this person is in business mode. Okay,” or, “Oh, this person is in relate mode.” What are some of your key…?

Richard Medcalf
I think you can pretty much detect, right? I think it’s kind of leaning forward versus leaning back effectively. Are we leaning forward, getting down, is it, “Okay, are we starting to talk about that always”? Or is it the opposite, actually not so pressed for time? They’re kind of more just interested in you, they haven’t got quite to the topic yet. Even just on their face, right? If they’re kind of smiley, they’d probably be more in relational mode. And if they’re kind of a bit more serious, they’re more in the processing stuff and they want to proceed on their role.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I relate to my nanny right now. I’m often in task mode because it’s like, “I’ve got to get this day started. I’ve been with the kids this morning and it’s been fun, but now the time is coming, there’s things to do.” And so, it’s like, “You know, I just changed the diaper and they woke up at this time, and welcome.”

Richard Medcalf
And actually you get from home.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. But then every once in a while, it’s sort of like the exception, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, how is it going? How’s your weekend?” I think that can be your indicator right there in terms of, “How was your weekend?” and they say, “Oh, it’s fine. We fixed our furnace.” Like, “Okay, that’s a quick fact.” As opposed to, “Oh, we just had the loveliest time. My mom came into town and she brought this delicious chili.” And I guess at the same time, and then sometimes I guess there’s a whole continuum as well. Like, some people maybe kind of overshare, it’s like, “Oh, I was just kind of being polite. I didn’t expect this level of detail about what you ate for each meal over the course of your weekend.”

Richard Medcalf
So, the match and lead, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yes, so match and lead in those situations. So, matching is if they’re being relational, be relational. But then if you don’t want to stay there, then you can move the subject on.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I’ve heard that before, I was like, “Well, boy, I could talk about chili for a couple hours.” But, Richard, I want to make sure that we figure out the key principles of influence, so that’s good.

Richard Medcalf
Yes. So, you’re talking here about environment as well, about presence and productivity. It’s really about, “What environment are we going into and what’s appropriate?” So, for example, if you’re going into basically some social setting, it might be a business social setting, it might be lunch break or whatever, and everyone is kind of chatting about social stuff, or they’re networking, or whatever they’re doing. And, suddenly, you walk up to your colleague and you start giving them all, “Oh, I got to catch up on the project, A, B, and C,” right? It’s just like, “What are you doing that for? Look around you, it’s not the right moment,” and that can create awkward stuff.

But we do it all the time. We get off the phone, we walk into the house, we’re on the phone, our family is happy to see us, and we’re still in task mode and we’re not present. Or the boss who has an open-door policy. I tend to say to a leader, “Don’t have an open-door policy. Be very intentional about when do you need to do your focused-work, when you need to do your task-level work, and actually when do you actually, when are you going to look up and actually be totally present for people?” So, actually have a smaller window but where you’re not secretly a bit annoyed if somebody walked in because you really are halfway through an email you need to finish. Because I think we can have an open-door policy, often you don’t quite focus on your work you’re meant to be doing, you’re not quite focused on the person who wants your attention unless you’re very, very disciplined.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, I’m really liking this. Do you have some slides, diagrams, charts, tables? Because it really seems like I’m seeing two columns and, like, side by side to make this contrast come alive. Do you have that? Can you make that? Can we link to that? I’m putting you on the spot.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Yes, so I’ve actually already got a little thing on influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Richard Medcalf
Which is basically a three-step very simple process based on this kind of framework I’ve been explaining, very simple process to figure out. Who, right now, do you need most to exert your influence with? And where are you and where do you need to get to? What is the lever that you really need to focus on to do that? And so, I’ve set it up already. I can add in a couple of extra slides based on this conversation. But if you go to my, for the show notes, my company, Xquadrant.com/awesome and that’ll be there for you and for everybody there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I appreciate that. And, boy, we had some fun getting deep into it. Tell me, Richard, anything you wanted to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Richard Medcalf
I think we’ve covered a lot. I think perhaps there’s one little extra thing which is almost another topic in itself, but I think it could really help, which is that sometimes we know there is a moment of truth, as I call it, when we need to step up and have influence. It’s a meeting, it’s a presentation, it’s one of those keys, perhaps it’s a high-stakes situation. And sometimes we can do the four Cs and we can map it out and everything, but, it’s like, “How am I going to show up more powerfully in that moment?”

And what I find is really powerful and is probably along the conversation, but it’s about deciding who do you want to be rather than the techniques. And so, I’ll give you a personal example. I’m a big Queen fan, the rock band Queen, ever since I was a teenager. I got into the band, I played electric guitar because I got inspired by them, everything else. And at one stage, it occurred to me that I really respected Freddie Mercury’s ability to be bold and be flamboyant and really communicate with the back of mass of stadium in an epoch where a lot of rock bands were very kind of like trying to be cool and not really moving around and so forth, and he just went for it and he totally embodied his message.

And so, somebody once said to me, “Hey, Richard, actually, you should be like Freddie Mercury of consulting,” or whatever they said, and I kind of took that away. And, actually, for me, that’s a really powerful kind of alter ego that I can use, which is when I’m about to go into a meeting, a presentation, I kind of think, “Okay, can I release a bit of my inner Freddie Mercury in this moment and be a bit less in my head? I can get very intellectual and a bit kind of in my head. How can I embody this, be totally, powerfully demonstrating the message that I bring, not being afraid, not like doing a half-baked thing, but totally all in in this moment?”

And so, for me, it’s just a really simple shift but it helps me kind of get into that zone. And so, I think sometimes it can be helpful. And it’s not being inauthentic. It’s just another part of my personality. I already have a bit of that slightly extravagant side to me. I don’t mind prancing around. I mean, I don’t prance in front my clients. You know what I mean? I won’t play any guitar in front of another party or whatever. I don’t mind that kind of stuff. So, it’s a bit a part of me but it’s a reminder to bring out this part of me that’s kind of latent or perhaps that I’ve been trained not to use in certain circumstances.

And it has an impact because, actually, I’m fully living my message in that moment where I’m freely delivering what I’m there to say. And so, I think that my influence goes up in that moment because it’s like, “Wow, this guy is really on. He really believes what he’s saying. He’s there.” And I think we all have perhaps those moments where we know, oh, perhaps we’re too hesitant, or perhaps we’re too bold, perhaps we need to be the more smoother relational individual rather than the abrupt decision-making machine, or whatever it is. But if we just identify that a bit of a name to it, again, it kind of creates that context again for that next interaction.

So, perhaps that’s just another thing that we didn’t talk, which I think could be helpful for people because it’s a powerful tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I totally agree. So, “Who do I need to be or who do I need to be like in this moment?” And we’ve had some guests use some phrases like enclothed cognition, alter egos, psychological Halloweenism, that kind of get after this notion, it’s like, “I am stepping into this role,” whether it’s someone that you admire or fiction or non-fiction. Was someone I want to step into a number of times in high school and college. I’m excited that there will be a TV Series in which he comes back to that role.

Well, thank you. That’s a great extra point in terms of to show up and embody and deliver that. That can be a much more direct path to getting it done. So, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, apart from “Make it so.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there you go.

Richard Medcalf
One of my favorite quotes is by an author called Kary Oberbrunner, he said, “We don’t get what we want. We get who we are.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I recently read this book by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, and he interviewed 80,000 professionals.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that took a long time.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, over his career, he’s been going for many decades, to rate their performance. And he had 98.5% placed themselves in the top half of their peer group, and 70% believe they’re in the top 10%.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Richard Medcalf
I call it the 70/10 fallacy. The point is it’s like I’m thinking, “Oh, my God, yeah, so do I.” He said that just using that to really realize, “Okay, what is it that I need to see in myself that makes part of growth?” And with the CEO, asked them to rate his team from one to ten just how they’re doing, and then we actually looked at their level of self-awareness basically. So, the people actually who were scoring the highest in terms of his evaluation were also the ones who really felt they had to work a lot of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
So, it’s actually the ones who felt they had the biggest problems were actually the least problems. The one who felt they’re pretty much sorted were the ones that he was the most concerned about. So, I just love that, so I call it the 70/10 deception, you know, 70% of people think they’re in the top 10%, which I think we need to be aware of that because that’s actually where we live in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. So, thank you for that context. And how about a favorite book?

Richard Medcalf
I think probably 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a gamechanger for me. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we just had John C. Maxwell, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I think it’s helpful because it kind of just made me realize how much of our impact starts with us. He has those great phrases, “The leader is the lid,” the leader sets the lid on the whole organization, these kinds of things. It’s just powerful stuff. So, yes, those are probably two. Let’s keep it there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Richard Medcalf
I probably live my life with a mixture of Evernote and Todoist. Those are probably my two kind of structuring apps I guess of my day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Richard Medcalf
My favorite habit, which I’ve learned recently, well, not recently, but I’ve been doing more and more, is breathing out. I’ve just done it and it’s changed already. Breathing out, it just takes you down and it’s also probably a good influence tip, thinking about it. Just by breathing out, you just slow down that a notch, and the gravitas comes a bit more.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a particular nugget you share, I guess a saying, if you will, that you have, and maybe it’s just, “I have a saying”?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, there’s lots of nuggets. I like the one which is “What kind of person has already achieved his goal?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Richard Medcalf
“And then be that person.”

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

Richard Medcalf
So, I guess my website Xquadrant.com. LinkedIn is where I’m happy to connect with people, on LinkedIn. That’s probably where I publish the most, kind of most of my fresh content and videos and things because most of my clients are kind of there in the business world. Of course, you’ll find me on Twitter, too, a little bit there.

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I’d simply say let’s focus on the behaviors. Pick one behavior that you would like to change and don’t actually even worry about changing it but just start to ask yourself every day, “Did I do my best to do that behavior?” and just score it from one to ten, it just raises your awareness, and then just keep scoring it at the end of every day, “Did you do your best?” because that kind of connects to that emotional component. And I think what you’ll find is if you actually stick with it, and if you write down on a piece of paper those numbers from one to ten over a period of time, you’ll find that you just start doing that behavior naturally. It will just start to emerge because you’ve got that little feedback loop.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Richard, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you tons of luck in all the ways you’re influencing.

Richard Medcalf
Pete, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks again for all the great stuff you put out. It’s pretty impressive the amount of material you’ve been able to build up over the years, and it’s such high quality. So, thank you.

543: How to Build Skills Faster and Improve Mental Performance with Britt Andreatta

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Britt Andreatta says: "Our body is built for learning."

Britt Andreatta shares neuroscience insights for boosting your learning, memory, and creativity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make your learning stick
  2. The striking benefits of boredom
  3. How to deal with information overwhelm

About Britt:

Dr. Britt Andreatta is an internationally-recognized thought leader who creates brain science-based solutions for today’s challenges. As CEO of 7th Mind, Inc., Britt Andreatta draws on her unique background in leadership, neuroscience, psychology, and learning to unlock the best in people, helping organizations rise to their potential.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Empower. Save more money, effortlessly. Get $5 free when you reach your savings goal at empower.me/awesome with the promo code AWESOME

Britt Andreatta Interview Transcript

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

Britt Andreatta
Hi, Pete. I’m super excited to talk to you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Me too. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom associated with learning and I understand you’ve been learning some things about fabric art lately. What’s the story here?

Britt Andreatta
You know, I’ve discovered a new hobby for myself, which kind of surprised me, but I am just really into it and it takes me to that place of flow where I can do it for hours and not feel like I’m working. And because I’m a researcher, I’m always in my head analyzing stuff and it gets me out of that. And I just get to play with color and textures and build these beautiful fabric murals that I just take great joy from it. But it’s a new hobby so I’m now in that place where you’re trying to feed the flames of a new hobby and investing way too much in it and then figuring out where I’m putting it in the house and have scraps of stuff everywhere, so it’s kind of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, a fabric mural, I don’t know if I have seen a fabric mural before. I probably have, I just don’t even realize it. Help me visualize that.

Britt Andreatta
Well, so you can draw something on a piece of fabric, and then instead of using paint to fill it in, you use pieces of fabric to be your paint, and so you’re sewing them on, or stitching them on, or quilting them on, whatever technique you want to use to build the image using fabric.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. I’ve heard that these kinds of activities, here’s a segue for you, like these sorts of things, kind of like knitting, is something that can sort of put you into a different brain groove. And I imagine you are one of the most qualified people to comment on this. What’s the story there?

Britt Andreatta
Well, whenever we have something that takes our attention but doesn’t require a whole lot of cognitive thought, you know, really concentrating on something or analyzing something, it can just take us to that zone, a little bit of a zone state where you can be really present.

I think we all have something like this. For some people, it’s running. For some people, it’s some kind of knitting or fabric art. For some people, it might be gardening. But there’s real pleasure in it because it acts as a mindfulness practice. It allows you to hit that place of presence and really just being in the here and now, which is, for me, it’s hugely relaxing. I find that I’m so much calmer and happier after I spend a little time doing this thing. The fact that I build things and then that I can give away as gifts is also cool. But even if I couldn’t, just the value of being in that state makes me a happier person to be around.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear that, yes. That’s excellent. Well, so we’re going to talk about brain science and learning and such, so maybe we can go meta for a moment before we do that. Do you have any quick tips for listeners right now because we’re about to learn something? What might they do in this very moment of listening to maximize the learning from the exchange we’re having right here?

Britt Andreatta
Great question. So, the big myth that we all believe but which is not true is that we can multitask while learning and we just cannot do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-oh. Everyone doing the dishes right now, like, stop. Put the wash down.

Britt Andreatta
Put them down. We can multitask in other parts of our life, like you can cook and listen to something. But when you truly want to learn, and learning requires that you take it in and it gets pushed to your short-term memory and then ultimately your long-term memory, our brain really needs to be able to focus on it and gather all that information so it has a complete set of data to push into memory.

And when we multitask, we kind of flip back and forth, it’s called switch tasking, so if you’re also trying to look at your email and listen to this podcast, what your brain would do is I’d become the Peanuts character in the background, “waah, waah, waah, waah,” as you read the email, or you’re listening to what I say and you’re not really glomming onto what the words in the email are saying.

So, if you really want to learn, just focus on learning. If you’re listening to this for entertainment, it’s okay that you’re doing the dishes at the same time. But if you really want to push it into memory, give it the focus it deserves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s the first thing is giving it the focus. But does anything else leap to mind?

Britt Andreatta
Yeah, with any kind of learning, learning is stickier, meaning you’ll be able to recall it better in the future if you try to find a way to attach it to something you know. So, as we’re talking today about brain tips and tricks, if you remember a time that works for you in the past, or you imagine a time doing it or it calls up a memory, and each time you can attach it, or it reminds you of something you learned in the class in college, hook it to something you already know and it makes it stickier than if you just let it be kind of a free-floating piece of information.

Now, good teachers will do the work and help you attach it to something you know, but that’s a trick you can also use for yourself, is find a way to connect it to something you’ve already experienced or heard or seen or lived through.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny, that really reminds me of when I was in high school in Economics class, I started thinking about the firm and profit maximizing and how, in a way, that’s kind of like life, there’s stuff you like doing, that’s like revenue, stuff you don’t like doing, that’s like cost, and you might try to maximize your profits, or you might say that’s a hedonistic way to live your life, and you shouldn’t. But, anyway, that’s how I was kind of like connecting with things and it makes a world of difference. And then, subsequently, I guess you might call these scaffolding or mental models, or there’s probably a number of terms neuroscientists use for these concepts we have to attach stuff to. What do we call those?

Britt Andreatta
It’s called a schema.

Pete Mockaitis
Schema, there it is.

Britt Andreatta
Yeah, so there’s schemas in your brain for all kinds of things, and they’re different for each of us, but the trick to good learning or to putting it to memory is to hook it to a schema you already have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, as I think about that, I’ve done this kind of naturally with a lot of things and maybe that’s why I got good grades. So, it’s interesting, like anything from a computer game I loved to play, it’s like, “You know what, this is a lot like a missile base, they’re defending a planet.” Tell me, what are some of your go-to schemas you find yourself naturally attaching new learning to frequently?

Britt Andreatta
So, I build learning for other people frequently, so when I’m trying to build an experience for my audience, I try to find something that I know is pretty common knowledge. So, for example, I have a change training and I’ve built it all around this idea of going hiking or mountain climbing, and even if you’ve never done it, you know what it is, right?

So, as I’m playing with the concepts and likening change to different kinds of terrain and journeys, your brain has a place in it because it’s heard of that before. So, if you’re designing learning for other people, this is what great science and math teachers did in high school and college, is they took something that’s fairly abstract and they found a way to attach it to something you already knew about, and how you did that with your own Economics class.

So, if you’re designing learning for others, think about that. And for yourself, whenever you can put yourself through that little pace of, “Huh, what does this sound like? What can I connect this to? Do I have an experience of this?” it just gives your brain something to physically adhere it to in a way that makes the difference in terms of how it is stored in the brain and the ways your brain can call it up in the future.

Because the way our brain calls up a memory is all of our senses are part of when we learn, so we’ve got the visual, the auditory, the taste, and the smell, all of those are like threads, and they get bundled up, these bundled up sensations get kind of packaged as part of the memory. And so, pulling any one of those threads can pull it back.

This is why if you’ve ever traveled in Paris, for example, and you were there and you were feeling the rain, and smelling the croissants or the stinky cheese, or whatever it is, if you ever smell a croissant in the future, it can pop you back to this picture of Paris, “Oh, my gosh, I remember I’ve been there.” So, memory is actually tied through all these senses, and if we’re intentional about that, then we can use those threads to help pull that thing back out of the brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that is interesting. And so, while we fast-forwarded right to some immediate tactics, but maybe we can zoom out a little bit in terms of so you’ve got this book Wired to Grow and now a version 2.0 even. Can you tell us, what’s the main thesis and what’s sort of like the hot new discoveries that warranted a second version?

Britt Andreatta
Great questions. So, I wrote the first book five years ago and it came out, honestly, for me, just doing research into neuroscience because I wanted to be better at my craft as a chief learning officer, so I literally did the learning for my own benefit. And then I ended up sharing it as a presentation, and people were like, “Oh, my God, you need to share this with more people.” So, I started doing it as a keynote, and then it turned into a book.

Neuroscience is still a relatively young field. It’s only recently that they’ve even had the technology, and new technologies coming online all the time, to even see inside of us and see what really is happening. So, neuroscience is relatively fresh on the scene in terms of giving us a new way of looking at any behavior. I happen to look at learning but you can apply it to anything.

And so, honestly, I had written two books since the first one. I’d done the one on change, which is Wired to Resist and I had done the one on teams Wired to Connect. And, like anything else, as I wrote books, I got better at it. So, then I kept looking at this first book, and it just looks so sad compared to the others. It wasn’t as well-researched. The graphics were terrible. I was just like, “You know what, it needs a refresh,” and I was really busy. And I thought, “Instead of writing a whole new book, why don’t I just refresh ‘Wired to Grow’? I can update some studies. I can clean up the graphics. It won’t take that much work.” So, I actually took it on as “doable” project.

Well, in five years, so much had change around what we know about learning that I literally had to rewrite the whole thing. I mean, it’s 90% new material and 10% some of the original concepts from the book. So, the reason I did, you know, the real reason I did a second version was to kind of get that up to speed with the other ones. But what was really exciting was seeing just how much more new information we’ve discovered about how we learn, what memories are, how we drive behavior change, what creativity is, like there’s just so many good things that the book ended up being twice as big as it was originally.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, can you share with us, like what is sort of a new discovery that is sort of mind-blowingly cool?

Britt Andreatta
All right. Well, there’s several of them, but let me give you a couple of them. One of the first is just really understanding what creativity is. They can now see when we have those aha moments, and a lot of our best ideas come from aha moments. Even if you’re trying to solve a problem, usually you don’t solve it in that minute that you’re concentrating on it. It’s usually when you step back and take a break, or you’re in the shower. Oddly enough, showers are one of the number one places people have moments of creativity.

That they can now see the aha moment, and they can see the brain waves change on the MRI machine a few milliseconds before the aha moment actually happens. And they can also see that right before the aha moment happens our visual cortex goes offline. Scientists call it brain blink. But, essentially, it’s all happening in that millisecond before we go, “Eureka!”

And what’s interesting now is, as they’re understanding what creativity is, we can now set ourselves up for having moments of creativity. So, some things to do are the resting neocortex, take a break, give your brain that chance to step back from what it’s concentrating on because that allows more regions of the brain to come online and those connections to happen, those synapses to fire.

The second thing you can do is prepare your brain to have connections. So, this is really about getting outside of your comfort zone, reading sources and topics that seem unrelated or that would not be your normal go-to. So, it’s kind of like walking into a library, and instead of going to your favorite section, you go explore a lot of different sections in the library and expose your brain, let it take in more stuff. You’re preparing it to draw connections that you might not normally see.

And then the third thing that you can do, it’s called sensory gating, which is stuff like taking a shower where we have the white noise and we’re warm and we can kind of setup this place for things. Sitting out in nature is another form of sensory gating. Being near water seems to be particularly effective. And so, you just allow these senses to kind of take a break, and it seems to setup that moment to create more aha moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, you got me wondering about hopping into a sensory deprivation chamber, a.k.a. float tank. Like, is there some science there? You’re gating all kinds of senses there.

Britt Andreatta
I haven’t personally sat in one, and I didn’t remember reading a study specifically about that, but it makes sense to me that that would work, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s like, “I need my pen and paper though. Can I get that in here?”

Britt Andreatta
Exactly. This is what’s funny, is that before, I’m sure you’re like this too, like when I’m trying to solve a problem, I just want to keep at it, and I used to get annoyed when I would feel tired, or I just need to have a break. I’d feel like I was slacking. But since I read this research, I’m now like, “Great. Take a break. I’m setting myself up for the aha moment.” So, it gets me more committed to the breaks. And, honestly, it’s made work go better now that I’m kind of working with how the brain creates moments of aha.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I really appreciate that explanation associated with sensory gating, like that’s what these things have in common, that’s why showers do that because you are in an environment where some things are shut off, they’re closed, and so there you go. I heard a fun story, I guess I think it might’ve been Aaron Sorkin, got great ideas in the shower, so he just built a shower in his office and took like eight showers a day, which I respect.

Britt Andreatta
When I’m teaching this group to crowds of people, I’ll ask, “Where do you get your best ideas?” and shower is one of the number one reasons. In fact, I encourage people to read a book that’s written, it’s called The Blue Mind and it’s all about the research of why water, being in it, on it, under it, around it, seems to lend itself to both us feeling calmer and having more creativity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s really cool. Well, so I want to talk about some calm for a moment. So, we’re talking about brains and working to process and learn information. It seems like quite an epidemic folks have these days is just information overwhelm, overload, too many emails, too many incoming things, competing priorities, like, “What even do I focus on? I just feel…” maybe like you’re drowning in all this stuff. So, can you tell us, what does that to our brain and what should we do about it?

Britt Andreatta
That’s a great question, and I definitely suffer from this as well. Well, it’s true. Technology has outstripped biology. We now have technology pushing things at us faster, bigger, better than we are biologically designed to consume so we are overwhelmed. And that’s why, I think, we’re seeing stress levels go up, people not taking vacations. Used to be that email was a convenient way to communicate, and now there’s just so much pressure. People want instant communications. There are so many different channels at which we can have information pushed at us, and we are living in the information economy, so everyone is trying to get our attention with, it’s about screen time now, “How long can we keep eyeballs on the screen?”

So, remember there is a capitalistic component of it where people are maximizing that because that’s where their dollars come from. That’s why when you’re on social media, it constantly is loading up more things to click on. You will never get to the bottom of the page or get to the last video because it’s designed to keep taking you down the rabbit hole.

So, with that, and I love technology, it’s beautiful and wonderful, and yet it can really stress us out so we all have to have some agency and some sense of self-control. I think this is why digital detox is really important. Like, giving yourself a day to just not be on any screens, coming home at the end of the day and just setting your devices down and not picking them up for a while, and definitely, so you don’t take your screens to bed. These are all important things to think about.

The other thing, too, is that, remember, we’re a tribal species. We are designed and built to live in tribes of about 150, and that’s what our brain was really built to keep track of, relationships we could manage. And so, now that we’re global, and trust me, I get the beauty of being a globally-connected world. I think it makes us more empathetic to our brothers and sisters of different cultures around the world. It also means, though, that we’re trying to track too many things. And, particularly, because news likes to send us all the negative stories, it can put us into that amygdala, a fight of flight response, of feeling stress all the time.

Because when we look at the news, what we’re hearing about is 10 people drowned in Bangladesh, and so many people this happened to them here, and a plane crash over there, and fires here. Not that we shouldn’t be informed, but if you’re not careful, your brain is literally feeling like you’re under attack all day every day, because your brain, these are all members of your tribe, and you should gear up to fight that foe.

So, I think it’s also a little bit about controlling access to yourself, not letting all these messages come to you. And then also, intentionally finding ways to find good stories and counterbalancing the negative spin that’s designed to sell things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I think that’s well-said, and I feel it in terms of sometimes I’ll hop into an Uber and then they’ll just have sort of some news going, it’s like, “This home was broken into, and this thing burned down.” I kind of go back and forth with this in terms of like, “Just how much do I really need to know this? Like, being informed sounds like a good thing that we want to be, but then, again, how crucial is it?” And sometimes I get a little bit snarky with the newspapers or media, it’s like, “Here’s the news you need to know.” Like, “Do I need to know it today? Really? Is that a need? To what extent do I need it?” And I get all philosophical about the matter.

So, I guess, what I’ve come away with this in terms of, hey, different professionals at different times have different needs for news consumption. So, if you’re running a political campaign, yeah, you’re going to need to know a lot of those things about what’s going there. And if you’re sort of just engineering innovative technological solutions over at XYZ company, you may not need to know what the headlines are all that often.

Britt Andreatta
Exactly. And then it’s just about realizing that your devices and the companies that feed those devices are going to be trying to get your attention. They’re going to use whatever strategy they can to get more of your time. So, at some point, you just have to say, “No, I’m turning it off. I’m having a no-technology window of my day.” And then just pay attention to your body. Our body is really an amazing thing and it will give you information. If you’re getting a knot in your stomach, turn it off. If you’re starting to feel anxious, give yourself a break. Your body is giving you information about how it’s receiving it.

This is why mindfulness is so great. It makes us pay attention to our bodies. And it’s also why fabric arts and knitting and running and all these stuffs is great too because it gets us out of that zone. It gets us more into the here and now where probably we’re okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned mindfulness, and I’m thinking about I was amused in our last interview, I asked you about a favorite book, and you told me, I’m thinking you said, “I haven’t read this book yet but it’s going to be my favorite. It’s Altered Traits,” because this is a topic you love and authors you love, so you know it’s going to be great sight unseen, which I thought was pretty awesome in terms of that’s how closely you’re following this stuff.

So, while we’re talking about mindfulness, maybe you can convince me and many listeners here, what were some of the striking research results coming from that book or elsewhere that you’ve seen to make say, “Pete, I am 100% certain you will see an amazing return on your time and energy invested in mindfulness practice”? Can you lay it on me?

Britt Andreatta
Okay. No tall task, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Britt Andreatta
Well, two things, boredom is a good emotion. Somehow, we’ve been convinced that being bored is bad. And yet, boredom is oftentimes where creativity comes from. Boredom is oftentimes when our brain makes those connections. Boredom is often calming for our system. So, let me just challenge the myth that boredom is a bad emotion. I think we want to cultivate a little bit of boredom in our lives. It’s not a bad thing.

Two, mindfulness looks a lot at different ways. So, for people like you and me, I can tell by just looking at the bookshelf that’s behind you right now that you and I both can, like, live in the world of the mind, and read stuff, and be into the study, and analyzing stat, like we live in the life of the mind. So, classical meditation is actually hard for me because my mind can really just chew on it. Physical mindfulness practices, like yoga, walking meditations, even doing the dishes can be mindful. This is why the fabric arts thing is really working for me because it gets me into my body and out of my head.

For some people, getting into their head and doing the traditional meditation of just kind of watching your thoughts and letting them go, that’s really valuable. So, each of us needs a different type of mindfulness practice. There’s a lot of different ones out there so play with them. Please don’t just give one class a try and say, “That’s not for me.” Try different formats and try a couple of different teachers because you’re going to find the one that makes you go, “Oh, yeah, that feels good. That made me better having done that.”

In terms of mindfulness, why you want to explore it, the research is pretty damn convincing and pretty darn consistent. It really does amazing stuff to us. So, there’s some immediate benefits that you get in terms of lowering your blood pressure, but that’s only if you’re in a mindfulness practice you enjoy. If you’re in one that’s rubbing you the wrong way, your blood pressure is probably going to go up. But, generally, when we find the right one, blood pressure goes down, our body gets into a more relaxed state.

The more we practice mindfulness, the more we can stay at a calm state, and even if we have an upsetting event, we don’t escalate as high as we would have before having that mindfulness practice. So, our highs are not so high. And we come back to stasis faster, being able to achieve that calm state longer.

In addition, it’s doing all kinds of things physically. Like, people who have regular mindfulness practices have lower risks of heart disease, have lower risks of age-related decline, there are just some good stuff that happens. And here’s the kicker, they’re actually showing that you live longer with a mindfulness practice, that the chronological age of your body shifts.

And so, one of my favorite researchers on this, Richard Davidson, one of the co-authors of Altered Traits which did turn out to be my favorite book, I was right. It’s amazing. Anyway, he has put Tibetan monks on MRI machines, like, he’s taken the people who have thousands of hours of meditation under their belt, and then he’s compared them to people who have never meditated. And what was astounding was some of these monks who probably are like world-class champions at meditation, they are many decades physically younger than their actual chronological body.

Pete Mockaitis
Many decades, like three, or four, or five?

Britt Andreatta
Yes, like it helps you live longer. And I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but our DNA strands have these little things on the end, they’re kind of like the tips of the shoelace.

Pete Mockaitis
Telomeres?

Britt Andreatta
The telomeres, I can’t pronounce it correctly but there’s these telomeres things at the end. And as we live, those get shorter and shorter. And they say that, basically, that they predict how long we live. And when you kind of run out of the ends of those things, you’re ready to die. Well, people who have regular mindfulness practice, those telomeres tips, they slow down, they don’t shorten as fast for those people who don’t have mindfulness practices.

So, literally, the body, the brain was built for a mindfulness practice of some kind which is why you’ll find a form of it in every religion and every culture, it’s just that we’ve all kind of forgotten that, and so we’re kind of having to come back to something our body was built for. And I would just say, Pete, give it a try. Find the right channel. Find the right teacher, but don’t give up till you get one that makes you feel good.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. And I’ve gotten into some good grooves from time to time with, well, so, Simple Habit is a sponsor, and I think they’re great and I really enjoyed working through those. And I think it’s almost like any other positive habit like exercise or you name it, in terms of like, “Oh, I get on the wagon, I fall of the wagon,” so there’s that. Okay, cool. Well, go ahead.

Britt Andreatta
Well, I wanted to answer, I wanted to say one more thing when you asked me the question of, “What were like some big key findings?” So, I got into creativity, and there’s one more I wanted to highlight which I think is relevant here, which is our bodies can repair themselves in ways that are just astounding researchers.

And a couple of the things that have really developed just in the last decade is you can take people who are paralyzed and have been paralyzed for years, and using the right kind of neural stimulation, you can regrow the nerves that have been damaged. And so, they’re actually seeing people that have been paralyzed walk again. I have seen videos; the research is outstanding.

And so, there’s some things that we’re learning about our bodies and the ability of our bodies to regrow nerves, and it’s more that we just haven’t had the right knowledge to work with how the body can do it but now researchers are starting to get that ability. So, some of the things that I was seeing in the research was just neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, the ability for our nerves to be flexible and also to grow new ones is truly astounding. And so, yeah, if a paralyzed person can stand up and walk again, I can probably learn a new habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Britt Andreatta
There’s no excuse for any of us to say, “I can’t do it.” It’s really about, “Do you have the right teacher? Do you have the right motivation? And are you willing to put in the time?” But if you get enough habits under your belt, if you get enough repetitions under your belt, you really can rewire most parts of your body in significant ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s exciting. So, whew, boy, we’ve covered a lot of fun territory. Let’s see. Talk about learning again, so let’s hear, we’ve hit a few strategies associated with connecting things to an existing schema if you want to have some creative ideas, having some gating. I’d love to get your take on what are some of the most powerful learning strategies you’ve discovered that just make a world of difference in terms of what you absorb and remember and are able to, in fact, apply in life.

Britt Andreatta
Great question. So, one of the things that came out in my researching the second edition was our understanding of memory has actually changed a lot in the last five, six years. And scientists have actually identified that there’s nine different types of memory, okay? So, there are some memory we know of, like when we are trying to learn something academic and we’re studying facts and figures. That’s one kind of memory. It’s called semantic memory.

There’s a different kind of memory which is embodied memory. It’s called episodic. So, if I was studying about France and studying facts about Paris, that would be semantic. If I went to Paris and was standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, about to enter the Louvre, I would now have all these sensory pieces of data that would be part of that memory.

No surprise here. Episodic memory is the most enduring. It’s the one that is the stickiest because it’s tied in our memory banks to a whole bunch of experiences and sensations not just, “Did we memorize it?” right? And then there’s some memory that’s kind of unconscious to us, stuff like the Pavlov dogs thing, right? We can create cues and get somatic responses. Habits, you know, when we do something over and over again, our basal ganglia turns it into a habit. That just becomes something that we can cling to and we don’t really have to think about it.

So, part of when you’re thinking about learning is to think about, “What kind of memory am I working with here?” and then build the learning to align with the right kind of memory as opposed to sticking the same approach. So, with that said, this is really pointing to why virtual reality is a gamechanger, particularly for certain kinds of things to learn, that when we can take something and literally put on a headset and be in the physical space, our brain takes a VR experience and codes it as a lived memory.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome.

Britt Andreatta
And it responds to being in that setting as if we’re really there. So, it’s tricking the biology enough that your brain really feels like it’s in that setting, and so then it’s coding it as a lived memory. So, VR has the potential. You wouldn’t use this for everything but certain things, like when you have people who need to learn a dangerous task, having them build up experiences in a safe environment is really important. Or when people need to learn a physical space and it’s not easy or safe to get them into that physical space, they can build the memories of the space in a virtual environment.

And, certainly, things that are about people, like having empathy or having emotional intelligence. When we are in a headset dealing with another person, that is also lived memory, so we can gain some of those skillsets. So, I would say virtual reality, because of how it’s aligning with our biology, is really worth looking at and, realize, it’s evolving quickly.

So, if you tried a headset a year ago, it was a little wonky back then. It’s already better and it’s going to get better every six months, so just keep trying it. But I think a VR strategy should be part of every organization’s learning plan for the future.

Pete Mockaitis
So, VR, interesting, you know, new tool available. And then let’s say if we don’t have that and we have kind of the basics in terms of audio-visual stuff, PowerPoint, keynote, projector, laptop, videos, audio, flipcharts, whiteboards, talking in person, these things.

Britt Andreatta
You’re going to run through the whole list, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, a few more. So, if you’ve got the traditional tools, and based on how people learn, how might we choose to, say, deliver or structure a presentation or a training differently such that more is absorbed?

Britt Andreatta
Great question. One of the things that I like to say is our body is built for learning. Like, we’ve been learning for hundreds of years before we ever had any of these technologies. So, what’s cool is we’re designed to learn from each other. Mirror neurons are specifically designed for observational learning. So, we’ve been learning each other since we were chasing down the woolly mammoth on the plain, watching each other do it. The original PowerPoint was the cave drawing, where we, “Okay, we all gather over here and we’re going to go do this,” and sitting around the fire and telling stories.

So, learning is innately in our DNA. We learn from each other, we learn through story, narrative. I always say, whatever you’re teaching, build it into a story because the brain is built for story. Whenever you can, show and tell. And then, more importantly, let people do it. This is where people fall down a lot. I’m not kidding, I’ve gone into Silicon Valley and sat through a two full day manager training where they’re spending thousands of dollars to take people “off the job” for manager training. and great visuals, great content, and yet there was no practice. Not one minute of practice.

[39:25]

Pete Mockaitis
Anything.

Britt Andreatta
Yeah, I mean, practice is how we change our behaviors, it’s how we change our habits, so you got to make sure that whatever behavior you’re trying to drive, whatever that looks like, what kinds of words and actions do you want to see out there, have them do it in the room and make it safe to make some mistakes, and do the coaching and the improving in the room. Because once people get strong in the room, they’re much more likely to go do that back out in the fields or on the floor, or wherever they have to go do their jobs. So, make sure that your learning elements have those pieces to it.

Then in terms of what kind of technology you’re doing learning through, it just depends on what you can afford and where your audience is. If they’re working globally, you’re going to need to be leveraging video conferencing and some digital assets. If you’ve got people in the room, then you could be dealing with a whiteboard and some conversation. So, I hesitate to tell people, “Go out and invest in a bunch of stuff,” because good learning can happen anywhere. You can make great learning out of any tools that you have.

And then, because of observational learning, I would say, if you have the ability to use video, it’s great because you can show people stuff and make that scalable because you videotape it once and then a bunch of people can see that. And so, scalability comes down to if you invest in something, then that may be usable by a lot of different learners over time. But all those bells and whistles don’t get you away from building good learning with aha moments and driving behavior change.

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

Britt Andreatta
I would say people learn best when learning is chunked in 15- to 20-minute segments. What we have found is that human attention span really can’t focus for longer than 20 minutes. So, even if I’m running a half-day program, it’s all done in 15-minute content pieces broken up by processing of activities and practice sessions. So, string a bunch of bite-sized stuff together to make a longer learning event, but don’t talk to people for more than 20 minutes because they just can’t retain it, and then they’re not going to have the thing that you want to push into their memory.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say processing activities, I guess I’m thinking of all kinds of interactive exercises that can take a while, but I imagine you’ve got a couple processing activities in mind that might just take a minute or two. What are some of those?

Britt Andreatta
Yeah, absolutely. Literally, it can be as short as take one minute and jot down some notes about how this applies in your own life or memory you’ve had with this, right? So, you’re just asking them to attach it to something. You can give them some kind of reflective questions to answer or a conversation to have with a partner. They could take a quick assessment. I kind of always do like five-minute activities, one- to five-minute activities. They don’t have to be long. But it basically just says, “This thing that you just learned, play with it for a minute.” And when you play with it for a minute, you’re naturally pushing it and attaching it to your schemas, you’re naturally personalizing it a little bit. And then the brain can be ready to learn more.

But if we keep giving people more content, not only does their attention span wane, but then they have more and more and more to try to attach to something, and then they’re going to miss some pieces. So, chunk it. Chunk it into bite-sized experiences. It doesn’t have to be big and showy. Literally, a couple good reflective questions or a dyad conversation and you’re good to go.

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

Britt Andreatta
I love this quote from Robyn Benincasa, she’s a world champion, and she says, “You don’t inspire your teammates by showing them how amazing you are. You inspire them by showing them how amazing they are.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I like that. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Britt Andreatta
You know, I’m still into what’s happening with mindfulness. I think that continues to be a great place for us to explore. But I’m really interested right now in kind of sense of purpose and innovation. So, I’ve been doing a lot of research on what drives innovation and also the brain science behind having a sense of purpose or a meaningful life, so those are some things that I’ve been really digging on right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And we mentioned Altered Traits. Any other favorite books?

Britt Andreatta

I’m really enjoying Bill Bryson’s current book called The Body. It’s just really interesting research about our whole internal working, but he’s also a comedian so he makes it really funny, so I’m enjoying the science behind that.

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

Britt Andreatta
You know, PowerPoint is my go-to thing for everything but I also have been doing a lot of video editing with Camtasia, and so those are two tools I use frequently to do the work that I do.

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

Britt Andreatta
I recently heard from some folks who went through the change training and they just said that they found that they were able to apply it to everything, not only work changes but personal changes. Even just kind of our response to things that are difficult in our life, that that’s a type of change journey as well, and how we resist. So, I oftentimes get people who email me and say, “Hey, thanks for sharing that. I now really see all the ways that I’m resisting or people around me are resisting, and have some new ways to try to help people move through it.”

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

Britt Andreatta
My website is the best place to go BrittAndreatta.com. Everything I’m up to is there. And then I love it when people connect with me on LinkedIn. I really do enjoy my community of folks on LinkedIn, so please connect with me. I’d love to hear from you.

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

Britt Andreatta
I would say give yourself permission to have a break. We need more breaks than we need more to-do lists. So, put down the device, go find your knitting or fabric art or running, or whatever gives your brain a break, and just let all this stew around for a while so that you can have some aha moments tomorrow.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Britt, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and fun and all the ways that you’re growing and learning and connecting and doing your thing.

Britt Andreatta
Thank you so much, Pete. I love connecting with you. I love your podcast. I love your audience of learners. We’re all part of the same tribe. And I’m excited to stay in touch.

542: How to Turn Your Adversity into Advantage with Laura Huang

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Harvard professor and author Laura Huang shares how to build your edge and be perceived positively.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the myth of hard work is so dangerous
  2. How unfair perceptions can quietly limit your career–and what to do about it
  3. A formula to turn embarrassment and bitterness into enrichment

About Laura:

Laura Huang is a professor at Harvard Business School, who specializes in studying interpersonal relationships and implicit bias in entrepreneurship and in the workplace. Her research has been featured in several publications like the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, and Nature. She was also named as one of the 40 Best Business School Professors Under the Age of 40 by Poets & Quants.

Laura has also previously held positions in investment banking, consulting, and management in several companies such as Standard Chartered bank, IBM Global Services, and Johnson & Johnson. She received her MS and BSE in electrical engineering from Duke University, an MBA from INSEAD, and a PhD from the University of California, Irvine.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Laura Huang Interview Transcript

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

Laura Huang
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear what you’re allowed to tell us about your first job offer out of college being to work at the CIA.

Laura Huang
How did you know that?

Pete Mockaitis
We dig. We dig deep in your background. Maybe not as deep as the CIA did but…

Laura Huang
I know. You must have an in with the CIA. Most people don’t know that, yeah, that was my very first job offer, actually. And I wasn’t actually sure what it was about, to be honest, because I was an engineer, and I had applied for this role, and it turned out to be a different role than I had expected. Well, suffice to say that that’s what I was offered. And I sort of tried a conversation with a couple of my family members about it and I, essentially, was forbidden from taking that job. So, that was the end of that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What are the key drivers that lead to that being off the table immediately?

Laura Huang
It was things like, “They trust you with a gun? They would trust you with a gun?” So, things like that. And I speak multiple languages and they weren’t quite sure exactly what situations I was going to be placed in, what kind of counterintelligence projects I was going to be involved in. And so, instead, I became a professor.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I guess some professors still do get recruited into intelligence agencies depending on what they study. I’m not sure in a personal relationship.

Laura Huang
Sure. Well, you never know.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Interpersonal relationships and implicit bias doesn’t sound as much like something that they would recruit for, but maybe. Maybe they will.

Laura Huang
Well, every so often, you know, when my husband is being particularly difficult or something, I’ll say, “Just be careful because you don’t know, I might still be in the CIA.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so the intrigue is sown. And so, I love the forced segue, but I’m also intrigued by the work that you’ve been doing talking about getting an edge. And so, I want to hear, maybe we’re going to cover a lot of good stuff. But perhaps we could lead off with what’s perhaps one of the most surprising and fascinating and counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about how people successfully attract attention and support from others?

Laura Huang
Yeah. You know, I think the most surprising thing that I’ve discovered over the last decade or so of my research is that how very many people from just a young age were taught that success is about hard work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Laura Huang
To just put your head down and keep working hard, and that your hard work will speak for itself. And the thing is, is that hard work is critical. I would never say that it’s not critical. But I think there comes a time when people realize that hard work alone is not enough, and that hard work leaves us feeling frustrated. And we hear so many super successful people, you know, we ask people that are at the top of their game, people who are CEOs of companies, on top management teams, people who are Olympians and in professional sports, and we ask them the secret to their success, and they will inevitably say something along the lines of, “It’s hard work. Just keep working hard.”

But that often leave us frustrated because we can see how much effort we’re sometimes putting in and how much hard work, and how even when we putting in all that hard work, the rewards seemingly sometimes go to somebody else. And we realize that it’s often about the signals and the perceptions and the stereotypes of others that are actually dictating who gets the rewards and who gets those coveted outcomes. And so, I think that’s something that I realized is that we all sort of have this implicit understanding of that but yet we keep telling this narrative around keep working hard, putting your thing, and just keep working hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I’d say that adds up to me in terms of that sounds true, but you’ve got more than just anecdotal stuff. Can you share some of your most compelling evidence or data out there that shows this is absolutely a big force affecting professionals all the time?

Laura Huang
Yeah. I’ve studied this in a range of different contexts, with a range of different qualities and characteristics, because I wanted to see how much we could push it, how much this could hold. So, I found, for instance, people who have an accent are much less likely to get hired for top executive-level positions. They’re less likely to get raises, they’re less likely to get promotions, they’re less likely to get funding for their ventures, even when we control for all other factors. The type of venture it is, what industry it is, it’s overwhelmingly people who have an accent have this negative, have this sort of disadvantage.

We see this with women. Women are only receiving 2% of the venture capital financing out there. They’re less likely to get raises, less likely to have the same salary or the same position, a host of different things. I’ve studied this with gender, or race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, across a whole different host of things. Probably the most appalling or surprising one to me was when a couple of my colleagues and I wanted to try and find a context in which bias and disadvantage should not occur, where we should see no difference at all.

And so, what we decided to look at was people who were suffering from heart attacks and were in the emergency room. And we figured, “This is a situation, this is an instance where the physicians, the emergency room physicians, their only job is to save that patient regardless of their gender or regardless of other factors.” But, indeed, we found, again, that when women were having heart attacks, they were more likely to die from heart attacks when they’re being treated by male physicians than when they were treated by female physicians.

And so, it was this amazing sort of revelation that even in life or death situations, we’re seeing the impact of signals and perceptions and ways of communicating, and how that has an impact. But I should say also that it’s not just men, for example, that are discriminating against women. I find in venture capital and in entrepreneurship, female investors and male investors are both equally likely to bias against women entrepreneurs in a host of different ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, yeah, that’s so intriguing and I could just imagine all kinds of contexts and all sorts of combinations of times in which folks are discriminated against. I’m trying to imagine sort of the reverse as I thought you were going with, and I think men might be discriminated against when folks are hiring a nanny.

Laura Huang
Yeah, absolutely. This is what I talk a lot about. Everybody has something. Like, everyone has something. We tend to think a lot about the typical cast of characters – gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, religion. But, really, it has everything. Everyone is susceptible to the perceptions and the stereotypes of others.

You go into any situation, what happens is that you are being perceived by your counterpart, and it’s based on their background and their experiences, and your background and your experiences, and so every time you go into a different situation, when you change one thing, whether it’s the context or the person that you’re interacting with, those perceptions will change as well.

And so, we are all susceptible to these sorts of first impressions and stereotypes and obstacles that others present on our behalf.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get a sense, and it’s okay if you don’t have every datapoint right off the top of your head, but maybe just a quick sense for the order of magnitude here in terms of like with the accent here, for example, or whatever example you happen to know the numbers. Is this like a 4% difference or like a 40% difference, or more?

Laura Huang
No, we’re talking 30% to 40% differences.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Laura Huang
Yeah, and it’s very, very robust in terms of repeated over different contexts. And, you know, the interesting thing about that, which is really sort of where this book came from, is that for the last decade, I had been studying inequality and disadvantage and people who are underestimated, and it’s starting to get really depressing in the sense that I saw all of these disparities and all of these disadvantages. And people would sort of ask me these questions around, “What can we do about it? Is there a way to prevent against these disparities?” And I don’t have the answers.

And so, really, what I set out to do, and over the last couple of years, what I’ve tried to do is figure out, “Are there things people can do, are there strategies that people can take to sort of inoculate against these biases and flip these signals and perceptions, these stereotypes in your favor?” And I found, indeed, we could, that there are ways to flip stereotypes and obstacles in our favor, and then we can find and create our own edge.

So, in the example of the person, if people with the accent, what I found, for instance, was that people typically think that people who have an accent are not able to communicate as well. But, in fact, it’s not about communication. When I did blind studies where I had some people with accents and some people without accents, giving pitching their ventures, I found that the people with accents were just as likely to communicate as much information, if not more, and people were just as likely to comprehend and understand what their company was about, if not more.

Instead, it was around perceptions we made about people with accents. Things like the fact that they may not, you know, we would perceive them as being not as interpersonally influential, or not as good at team interactions, or being a team player, not able to think out of the box, or be innovative. And so, preventing against these things, well, we had those same people with accents go into an interview situation and say things like, “Let me give you an example of a time when I fought for resources for my team,” or, “Let me tell you about a time when I didn’t stop until I had closed the deal.” Hence, showing how interpersonally skilled they really were. That actually prevented against these negative outcomes.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay. Well, so then that’s a rather particular instance, folks with accents trying to acquire venture capital money, sharing particular stories that combat where the bias is going. Can you share with us, to the extent that it’s possible, what are some of the best recipes in terms of, “Hey, if you have this adversity, here’s what you do to turn that into that advantage”?

Laura Huang
Yes. So, there are so many things embedded just within how we do this, which is, number one, it’s really the more that you make it authentic and recognize the way in which you are being perceived, the more equipped you are to stop and redirect. Like, that’s really the key. When you realize that somebody is perceiving you in a certain way, just stopping that sort of perception and redirecting it the perception that they should be having of you.

And people often want sort of, “What are the 10 steps to doing this?” I wish I could give like a recipe, or like the 10 steps to do this, but it’s so personal in terms of how you’re being perceived, who that other person that is perceiving you is, and how you redirect that in sort of the best way. But that’s, really, essentially what it is, is knowing yourself really well and being able to know where your strengths are, trusting and relying on your strengths as well as your alleged weaknesses, and turning those underestimated strengths upside down to succeed in both business and in life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so what are some of the best practices to go about decoding that stuff in terms of how you may be perceived?

Laura Huang
Yeah, so there’s a number of different things that you can do. I talk a lot in the book around knowing what your basic goods are. Your basic goods, those are really the things, those are like your superpowers, the things that you’re really good at that really make you who you are.

For example, you could be somebody who is really hardworking and trustworthy and compassionate. When you get to somebody else who’s really hardworking and trustworthy, but maybe isn’t compassionate, and it totally changes things. It makes you a completely different person even though two out of the three of those traits very much embody you. It’s understanding things like that.

And then it’s understanding that when you are engaging with someone else, that those aspects, those traits of yours are going to interact with that other person. So, creating and gaining an edge is really edge stands for sort of the framework for this perspective around how you can gain that advantage for yourself.

The E is for enrich, and that’s those pieces are your basic good. How are you enriched? What do you bring to situations? What is the value that you provide to other people? The D is for delight. How do you delight others? Because, often, even if you know how you enrich and the value you provide to other people, you don’t have the opportunity. Like, we don’t belong to the right group, we don’t belong to the right networks, and so we don’t have the opportunity to show how we enrich or provide value. Your ability to delight, really, is your way of getting that entrance, getting that opportunity.

And then once you get that opportunity, G is for guide. Guiding those perceptions of others so that you can continue to show how you enrich and provide value. And, finally, the last E is for effort. And effort and hard work comes last in this framework because we often think that effort and hard work should come first, that it comes first and that it’ll then speak for itself but, in fact, that’s where we get very frustrated where we don’t know how we enrich and how we delight and how we guide, and when we do know those things, that’s when our effort and our hard work works harder for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then I’d love to get your view in terms of to gather this self-awareness. Are you sort of interviewing people, doing 360-degree surveys, just sort of asking your good friends and family sort of? What’s maybe the intelligence gathering look like in practice?

Laura Huang
It’s a sort of continuous process, right? There’s no sort of easy solution to this. There’s a number of different ways that I sort of present this. One way is by following patterns and looking for patterns in your life. I talk about this a lot as life rhymes. So, your life really rhymes, and when you’re able to look for these patterns, things that maybe you had this feeling as a child, and you weren’t sure exactly what that was, but it either made you uncomfortable or didn’t sit well with you, or somebody had said something to you, or had interpreted you in another way, in some way, and then a couple of years later you might have a similar situation. You feel that same type of feeling. Something didn’t sit well. You start to develop an understanding and an awareness of what those sorts of things mean, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Laura Huang
That’s something that we implicitly start to get an understanding. The other sort of way is that it’s much more explicit, and I always say that anybody can learn how to do this. Anybody can learn how to really have that authentic self-awareness, but not everybody is willing. Everyone is able to but not everyone is willing to. And the reason why not everyone is willing to is because it does mean putting yourself out there and asking for that uncomfortable feedback from people, putting yourself out there and allowing yourself to have the humility and also be embarrassed.

I talk a lot about how being embarrassed is so key to growth in our lives, and having this real understanding, because a lot of times we’ll be in situations and something will happen and we’ll be…it won’t go right, it won’t go the way we expected, or sort of we’ll be embarrassed about it. And then we’ll say, “Never again.” We won’t ever put ourselves in this situation again. We don’t ever want to feel that way again, “That just made me uncomfortable and I didn’t like it, especially when the stakes are really high.”

But when we push through in those moments of embarrassments is a lot of revelation. And there’s a lot of revelation about ourselves, and why we felt uncomfortable, and what it was that made us feel uncomfortable, and how we can sort of go past that in the future, but sometimes it takes multiple times where we’re embarrassing ourselves in the same sort of situations before we learn how life rhymes.

And so, it’s sort of those types of situations. And there’s also this element of we’ve all been burned before, we’ve all had people who have…it’s amazing how you can ask pretty much anyone to name an instance with somebody or some situation still bugs you. Like, you still have this chip on your shoulder because that person wronged you or burned you so badly. Like, within seconds, we can bring up two to three, at least, examples of situations where we still bitter, or we feel jaded, or we still have a chip on our shoulder because we still feel wronged, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Laura Huang
Those types of situations where we really allow ourselves to experience that bitterness and think about, “Is this making me bitter? And how can it make me better?” Let it make you better not bitter. That’s also a situation where we can learn a lot about ourselves and who we really are, and those perceptions that others have of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that is intriguing in terms of, like, if you feel super bitter and wronged, I mean, I’m right with you. It’s like that is indicative that, hey, there’s a deeply-held value here that you think has been flagrantly violated. And by sort of digging into that a little bit, you can kind of deduce what that is.

Laura Huang
Totally. That’s exactly it. Because it still leaves us feeling that way, there is something there, there’s something substantive there that tells us a lot about our deeply-embedded beliefs and values and what we really care about. But, instead, we sort of avoid those because they’re so painful, and we sort of chalk it up to frustration because, often, those are the instances where our hard work didn’t speak for itself, and somebody else sort of wronged us or our hard work didn’t speak for itself, our hard work was not enough. It left us frustrated. It didn’t go according to how we think it should go. There’s this myth of meritocracy. For some, that was the meritocracy was violated. And it tells us about our values and how we think the world, the orderly world should be and how things should work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, so I’m thinking about my own life and examples. But I’d love it if you could share some cool stories here in which someone came to terms with some situations that were embarrassing or caused bitterness, and what they learned and took away, and were enriched from those when they really dug in.

Laura Huang
When I talk about sort of life rhymes, there’s multiple instances where I didn’t advocate for myself because of inexperience, because I didn’t know better. And then later on something else happened that was really similar and I sort of learned how to advocate for myself and then advocated in the wrong way.

And then you sort of learn through the years. I think it still stinks every time I read about frivolous lawsuits, people who lose lawsuits because they don’t have the resources, or the know-how, or the people, it doesn’t seem always like justice is being served. It seems like the people who are getting out on the right side of things are the ones who had some sort of secret inside understanding, or had the resources and the money to continue hiring the best lawyers, and so the other participant couldn’t sustain it anymore.

It’s these instances where you…like for me, loyalty is so huge. And so, instances where I really gave my all to somebody and someone took advantage of that. Or instances where I had somebody’s best interests at heart, but then they were very willing to, for their own personal gain, even just a little bit of personal gain, create huge disadvantages for others. And those sorts of situations, I think I’m speaking on behalf of situations that lots of us have had.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And then can we sort of hear the conclusion of that in terms of, all right, so there you felt it, you noted it, you captured it. And then what?

Laura Huang
Well, I think the painful part of this is that you don’t win. You don’t win everything, right? And you only win when you take these experiences and, like I said, you let it make you better. That you allow it to inform you in some way so that in the future you can try and flip things in your favor. The tough part of this is that because it’s so often about the signals and the perceptions and the stereotypes that other people have of us, it’s these soft things that are really the poison. But, at the same time, because they are the soft things, they also become the anecdote.

We’re able to shift things and reposition them and flip them in our favor. We’re not able to put in the same thing, things when it’s a hard anecdotal of sorts of things. So, just like those signals and perceptions are the things that are leading to disadvantage, so, too, can we flip those things in our favor.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love it, if possible, if we could maybe zoom out a bit. So, much of the work you mentioned is certainly getting that deep knowledge of yourself, and then your potential, how you’re being perceived. Are there any things that you see just show up again and again and again that are maybe nearly universal in terms of, “Here are some easy little things that just about all of us should start doing or stop doing to help positively influence how we’re being perceived”?

Laura Huang
You know, a lot of it is about recognition. A lot of it is about going into situations, and realizing that people are going to have these perceptions. But, at the same time, I think it’s really important to understand that people are very complicated and varied and embracing the fact that there is not just one version of each person. What I mean by that is that it’s very easy to go into a situation when somebody says something, and then, all of a sudden, we equate that person with that statement and personify that person as everything that that statement encompasses, rather than sort of seeing it as just one aspect or one facet of that person, understanding that they are also very complicated sort of people.

I think we can all identify situations in which we said something and it came out, it would come out in a way that we didn’t intend for it to come out. And we sort of think, “Oh, I hope that that person didn’t misinterpret it, or I hope they didn’t think that I meant this.” But we don’t think the same when somebody else says something to us, that past, if ended. No, we don’t think, “Perhaps they didn’t mean it that way, or it came out the wrong way. And let me sort of understand what they meant,” thinking then as that person. So, we don’t often look at the intent of other people but we evaluate things that we say based on intent.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yes. It’s funny, when you talk about bitterness, for me, personally, that’s one of the best ways that I personally found to resolve some of that, is when someone says something I think is just outrageous, like, “What on earth? That is just so out of line,” etc. I stop it. And sometimes, hey, it’s worth just acknowledging and addressing and digging into it, but other times it’s not. But if it sticks with me, that’s kind of what I think as like, “Well, hey, there have been times I’ve said things I didn’t quite mean to and it came out wrong and I regretted and felt like, ‘Oops, I made a mistake.’” And they, too, very well may be experiencing those same emotions, like, “Oh, man, that is not what I meant to say there. Oops.”

Laura Huang
Yeah, I mean, it was really funny. Just the other day, we were having this conversation, a couple of us were having a conversation, this person said something that was like so out of left field that we all looked like, “Whoa, wait. Where did that come from?” And one other person was like, “Whoa, where did that come from? I know you didn’t mean it in that way. It totally must’ve come out.” Like, just give that person the benefit of the doubt, and so we’re laughing with that person being so, so out of left field, but he didn’t mean it that way, like, “What do you mean?” Like, that other person was, “Oh, yeah, yeah. I totally meant it that way.” And they sort of clarified, right?

But who knows, they could’ve meant it that way but in a benign way. Give that person an opportunity to like learn, to realize, like, “Oh, I shouldn’t say things in that way.” So, it could’ve just come out the wrong way, and then we gave them, in a really safe way, a way for them to clarify. But even if they did mean it that way, it also gave them an opportunity, in a very safe way, to kind of understand and have this dialogue with us. And that’s really what getting at this really deep, rich interpersonal sort of interactions is all about, it’s like understanding and coming to this recognition and overlap and shared sort of experiences and values. That’s where you really start to enrich the lives of other people and really show where you can add value.

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

Laura Huang
Yeah, I mean, I just think one of the things that I always sort of emphasize is that when we’re trying to sort of shift the perceptions and the stereotypes of others, and flip these perceptions in our favor, I often get the question, which is, “Well, you know, it just feels like manipulative. It feels strategic. I don’t like when other people sort of do that and act manipulative. And I really don’t want to do that either.”

And what I always point out is that this is something that’s very different. This is about people are going to have perceptions of you regardless of whether you guide them to who you authentically are or not. But it’s actually much more authentic and much more real and not manipulative at all when you are guiding these perceptions and you’re not passively letting others write your narrative. You’re writing your own narrative and guiding people to who you really are. And that’s where you get much richer and much more authentic sort of relationships.

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

Laura Huang
If I had to pick just one, recently I love “Keep the main thing the main thing.” And what really is like behind that is, like, no, you know what the main things in your life are, the things that really are important, the things that really drive you, and the things that you feel are like worth fighting for. But we often get caught up in the things that are more immediate or the things that demand more of our attention, and we lose sight of what that main thing is.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Laura Huang
I write non-fiction but I love to read fiction. There’s just something about fiction, so I love “When the Legends Die” it’s one of my favorites. “Because of Winn-Dixie” is another of my favorites. These are sort of like the Young Adult books that really impacted me. I love “Girl in Translation,” which is like a really powerful story about identity.

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

Laura Huang
I used the timer functionality on my phone a lot to keep me organized. It’s really easy to get off course, and so sometimes I’m like, “Okay, I have 30 minutes.” And if you set your timer for 30 minutes, you sort of focus, like, “I’m not going to work on this for longer than 30 minutes so I better get this right.” So, it’s such a simple funny thing. I tend to use really simple tools and try and leave the more in-depth things to projects I’m working on, the papers, the writing that I’m trying to do and so on and so forth.
Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Laura Huang
I have one that’s really aspirational. I really want to spend like 10 minutes every morning meditating and just thinking through, and just having like silence. I’ve been really, really bad at that so I can’t say that that’s a favorite habit but it’s one that I see as very valuable and I’m really working on.

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

Laura Huang
One of them is “Hire slow, fire fast.” And it applies to entrepreneurship very much so because, as you’re growing your company very quickly, the tendency is to hire very quickly and it sort of destroys a lot of companies because you’re bringing on lots of the wrong people but, yet, you feel like it impacts you.

But it also applies in life a lot too, which is like, really, we’re not as careful about sort of pruning the things in our life that are not good for us and, instead, we try and bring on lots of things that we think are going to help us without knowing that we already have all of this other stuff that’s going on that’s kind of interfering. And so, it’s like get rid of the bad, so fire quick, fire fast, get rid of those things and then hire slow, being really careful about what you introduce, whether it’s habits, people, or experiences. Being really methodical and thinking, not even methodical but being really intentional about how you do that. So, that’s one of them.

Another one I’d say a lot, that I used to say a lot in my entrepreneurship class is, like, you got to stop the bleeding. And a lot of times we start to think about all of these bigger more macro-level issues but we’re not focusing on stopping the bleeding. You got to stop the immediate bleeding. And then, as you’re doing that, sometimes you’re discovering and figuring out. But just stop the bleeding but you also have to look at what’s the root cause. And so, both of those are really important.

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

Laura Huang
Yeah, so on my website LauraHuang.net there’s lots of resources, how-tos, there’s a downloadable guide to finding your edge that has strategies and tips that you can find or exercises for how you can do exactly some of the things I’ve been talking about. I’m also on a variety of different social media, I’m on Twitter, Instagram. Laura Huang is my handle on Twitter, Instagram and a bunch of other things, Facebook, LinkedIn, all of those sorts of things.

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

Laura Huang
Yeah, the call to action is really just practice this, know that you can do it, and share with us your experiences of how you’ve been able to flip these stereotypes and obstacles in your favor.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Laura, thanks so much for taking this time and good luck in forming your edge.
Laura Huang
Thanks so much. Take care. Appreciate it.