This Podcast Will Help You Flourish At Work

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

451: Deploying Your Mental Energy Brilliantly with Dr. Art Markman

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Professor Art Markman shares insights from cognitive science research for us to be smarter every day at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to making a great first impression
  2. The pros and cons of high energy
  3. The role of dissatisfaction in motivating yourself

About Art

Art Markman is a Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. He got his ScB from Brown University and his PhD from the University of Illinois.  Before coming to the University of Texas, Art taught at Northwestern University and Columbia University.

Art’s research explores thinking. Art is also the executive editor of the journal of Cognitive Science and is a former executive officer of the Cognitive Science Society. Art has always been interested in bringing insights from Cognitive Science to a broader audience. To that end, he writes blogs for many sites including Psychology Today and Fast Company. He consults for companies interested in using Cognitive Science in their businesses.  Art is also on the scientific advisory boards for the Dr. Phil Show and the Dr. Oz Show.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Art Markman Interview Transcript

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

Art Markman
Oh, it’s great to be talking to you today. Thanks so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’d have a ton of fun. And I think, first things first. I got to say I-L-L.

Art Markman
I-N-I.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. It’s great to have a fellow alum in the house. And I also understand that you play sax for a blues band. What’s the story here?

Art Markman
Yes, so, in my mid-30s I decided to take up the saxophone.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Art Markman
And I’d played the piano as a kid, and realized I’d never played another instrument, because when I was 5th grade, and they demonstrated band instruments, I asked my mom if I could play the French horn, and she said, “No, we have a piano. You play the piano.” And I realized in my mid-30s it was no longer her fault. So, I took up the sax and then started playing in bands after I’d been practicing for about 10 years. And it’s great fun. It gets me out of the house in a healthy way.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are the names of the bands? I love band names.

Art Markman
So, right now, I actually transitioned to playing with a ska band, and we’re called Phineas Gage who was a 19th century railroad worker who had a spike blown through his head and lived.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I don’t know why I know that.

Art Markman
Well, it’s just one of those random facts that once you hear it once, it tends to stick with you.

Pete Mockaitis
But didn’t he have some sort of a condition as a result of it that was studied by a lot of folks?

Art Markman
Yes. So, one of the things, so Antonio Damasio makes a lot out of this because if Phineas Gage seemed to have trouble actually connecting the emotional experience of his life with the cognitive experience. And so, it was easy to take advantage of him because that little spidey sense that goes off in most of us when we’re dealing with somebody who’s a little shady didn’t seem to affect him.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, cognitive science is your cup of tea, and you, indeed, like to talk about applying it, too, in your latest book, Career Advancement. Could you maybe orient us a little bit to what exactly does the term cognitive science mean, and what are some kind of key concepts that make a world of difference in career advancement?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, cognitive science, it goes beyond mere psychology to say that if we’re going to understand something as complex as a mind, we need to understand the science of behavior, that’s where psychology comes in, but also how brains work, so neuroscience. It’s useful to have some computation to think through how we might build an intelligent machine, and so robotics and computer science come in, as well as culture so you get some anthropology, and linguistics to understand how language functions.

And so, when you take that much broader-based perspective, you get all of these different insights into the way the mind works. And I’m sort of a native-born cognitive scientist. My undergraduate major was actually cognitive science. And one of the things that that does is it allows you to get more perspective on why you think the way you do.

I like to point out that almost everybody I know has a mind and almost nobody knows how that mind works. And, yet, if you learn about the way your mind works, it can help you to do the things that you do more effectively. For example, one of the things that I talk about in the new book is it has to do with the way that you present yourself in a resume, that you might think, “Well, I should jam every conceivable positive thing into my resume that I can find,” under the assumption that people are adding together the total amount of goodness about you. But it turns out that when people actually look at a resume, they are averaging.

And so, if you put on something that’s good but not great, you could actually lower your average a little bit. And so, if you’ve got that honorable mention for a prize, yeah, you might want to think twice about whether you want to include that because it might actually bring down people’s overall evaluation of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I think, in particular, when you’re trying to customize a resume to tell a story in terms of that’s really going to resonate for the recipient, as opposed to like, “This guy is all over the place,” versus, “Oh, this guy is a real pro and exactly the things I want him or her to be a pro at.”

Art Markman
Exactly right. So, you really want to understand the mind, not only your own mind, but the minds of the people who are going to be evaluating you so that you can be as effective as possible at impressing them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy, yes. So, we’re going to talk about a lot of stuff. But I’d love to kick it off by hearing what’s perhaps the most fascinating and surprising discovery you’ve made when it comes to deploying some of these cognitive science insights for career advancement?

Art Markman
So, I would say that one of the more surprising elements of this has to do, for me, with understanding values and value systems. That one of the things that you find, particularly when you start to talk to people who’ve been in the workplace for a little while, is they get dissatisfied with their careers because they realize that the things that they thought they wanted when they were 20 are not actually the things that they wanted.

And it becomes useful to begin to think about, “Well, what kinds of things do I value? Am I the sort of person who actually cares about prestige? Or do I really care about helping others and being part of my community? And am I on a track to be able to do that?” Because you may not be able to reach all of your goals and achieve all of the things that meet your values in your first job, but, at some point, you’ve got to feel like you’re making progress towards it.

And I think that a lot of people don’t take that into account until too late, and then you experience that mid-life crisis, or you think, “I’ve just wasted all of my time.” When, in fact, you can begin to do that much earlier in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Could you share what are some key values that folks think they want and realize that they don’t kind of often?

Art Markman
Well, so, I have a number of stories in the book because I was happy enough to be able to enlist the help of people on social media. So, as I was writing the book and had all these concepts, I would just ask people questions and they would tell me their stories. And I’ll tell you two that were kind of fun.

One is a guy named Brian. He finished college and, really, took a job that was going to pay well and give him some prestige, and he actually realized that was not what he wanted at all. He left his job, went to do the Peace Corps for a while, and came back, and really focused on jobs that were going to help others. That was actually something that he ended up being passionate about.

But there are other kinds of values. There’s another story in the book about a guy who went into a session to talk about State Department jobs, and walked out of a test that they took, and other folks were laughing at this one question about, “Who would enjoy being in a warzone?” And he realized, actually, he wanted that. He responded positively to that question. He realized that adventure was a very important value for him, and he ended up fashioning a career that put him in a lot of dangerous places, but it was utterly exhilarating to him.

So, some of us want enjoyment and adventure, and some people want stability and they want to know where their next paycheck is coming from. Some people want to be helpful, and some people really want to look out for themselves. And all of those things across the population are values that people hold. We get some of those from the culture around us, but, particularly in the United States, we’re given a lot of opportunity to really decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And so, you lay out Shalom Schwartz who crafted a set of values with 10 universal values there from power, and achievement, and hedonism, and stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, conformity, tradition, security. That was fast.

Art Markman
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
No need to dig into every one of them. But it’s intriguing, you say that there’s a couple of ways you can go about clarifying your own values and what’s most potent for you. And what are those?

Art Markman
Well, the very first thing you want to do is actually to be aware of them, to be aware that there are these values, and to begin to ask, to what degree do these resonate with you. And there are scales that you can take. I’m actually going to be putting one up online for people who read the book if they want to actually test themselves against these values.

But one of the things I think is important is periodically, throughout your career, not every week by any means, but maybe on that yearly basis, to ask yourself, “Well, how am I doing? Do I feel like I am doing the kinds of things in my work life often enough that I am making progress towards those kinds of goals? Or do I feel like my values are not being reflected at all in the work that I’m doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really resonating for me as I’m thinking about my first job that resembled a professional job. There was an internship at Eaton Corporation, which I’ve not heard of but is a Fortune 500 company, it’s a diversified industrial manufacturer. And I remember, as I wrapped up that internship, I thought, “You know what? This was pretty cool in terms of I learned some things, my brain got tickled and challenged a little bit, there were some great people I enjoyed sort of seeing regularly, and I got home at a decent hour. And, yeah, option was there to return.”

But I remember walking away, thinking, “You know, I think that this company could provide me a satisfying stable kind of a career,” but I really wanted a thrilling one. And so, I went with strategy consulting after graduation. And then after some years of that, I thought, “You know what? I want more autonomy. And I want maybe in-between 40 hours and 65 hours, somewhere in that zone would probably be better at that phase.”

And so, it definitely connects that both of those opportunities were great, and it’s just about seeing what’s the best fit for you and life, and what’s going on.

Art Markman
And it can change over time as well. Later in the book, I talk a little bit about another guy who, early on, was focused on developing that career and having that very stable career, but also one that had a certain amount of achievement in it. Then, in the middle of his career, his wife got sick, and he needed to really back off and put his value on his family and on taking care of his wife and his kids.

And then, later in his career, after he went back to work, after she got healthy again, and had some success, and engaged those values again, and then decided he wanted to really help others, and actually left the practice of law and ended up running a non-profit for a while. And so, you get these shifts over time sometimes as a result of life circumstances, and sometimes just as a result of changes in perspective as you see more things in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, we’ve already kind of gotten into some of the meat of it, but maybe to zoom out for a moment, what would you say is kind of the main thesis or big idea behind this book you got here, “Bring Your Brain to Work”?

Art Markman
Yeah, so the idea is that if you think about your career, which is bigger than any individual job, it’s that collection of things that you truly contribute as a result of the work that you do, and has this cycle of looking for a job and getting it, then succeeding at it while you’ve got it, and then considering whether to move on or move up. That that cycle can be really informed, no matter where you are in your career, can be informed by understanding more about your mind and the minds of other people.

And that this is stuff that we don’t really ever learn in class. And most people, when they hit mid-career, realize that very little of what allowed them to succeed at work was something that they learned in a class in school. And so, part of what I’m trying to do in the book is to bring more of the research around cognitive science to help people to learn some of those things that are critical for career success that they probably didn’t get in a class.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, excellent. Well, thank you. We appreciate that effort in the world. And so, let’s dig into some of the stuff then. We talked a bit about zeroing in on what you value and figuring out how a job might align to that. But you’ve also got some pro tips in terms of acquiring the job using cognitive science insights. Like in the midst of an interview, how do you figure out kind of where the interviewer’s head is at, and what they might love?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, one of the things that fascinate me about interviews is a lot of people walk into that interview focused almost exclusively on, “I have to impress the interviewer. I need this job, and I want them to think great thoughts about me at the end.” And, of course, that’s not irrelevant. You want to go into the interview well-prepared so that you’re able to really talk authoritatively about yourself and about the way that you would fit with the company, which means you need to know something about the company.

But what a lot of people don’t do effectively is to realize how much they can learn about the organization that they’re interviewing with as a result of that interview process. So, if you get totally stumped on a question, you might think to yourself, “Well, that’s it. I’ve screwed this up completely.” But, actually, it gives you this opportunity to engage in a conversation with the interviewer and to get a real sense of, “Is this a company that actually wants to support me, that wants me to learn, that wants me to help, to think the way that they think?”

And to the extent that the interviewer actually digs in and works with you to walk your way through an interview question, they may be telling you something about their willingness to help to mentor you and to train you, and for you to understand that this is a company that doesn’t necessarily think you need to be fully formed on day one in order to succeed. On the other hand, if the company just brushes you off for not knowing the answer to a question, then, well, their communicating something completely different, right?

And so, you should be paying attention to that from the beginning to really understand, “What am I learning about this organization?” through the interview process, frankly, through the negotiation process as well, where they’re communicating a lot about what they value in the way that they treat you when you are trying to negotiate salary and benefits and things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, that’s a great point there, is to, first of all, to broaden my question a bit. It’s not just about impress, impress, impress. It’s a two-way street. You’re picking up intelligence on their side, like, “Is this a good fit? Do you like the way they work it?” But then back to the wowing side of things, when you are putting half of the attention on that side of the equation, what are some things that do some of the wowing or help you sense what they’re really feeling?

Art Markman
Yeah, so one of the fascinating things about the interview is, more than anything else, companies are trying to figure out whether they want to work with you, because they’ve already brought you in, which means they’ve looked at your materials, they feel like you have potential qualifications for the job. And so, now, they’re trying to envision how you fit in.

And so, part of what you want to do is to really engage. So, yes, you need to be prepared but, at some point, you need to really have a conversation. Give those interviewers a chance to have a sense of what it would be like to have you as a colleague. But to do it by putting that best foot forward, every once in a while, you think to yourself, “Well, do I really have to put on an act for them? Do I have to be really my best self?” And the answer is yes. You don’t want necessarily need to show every single quirk in the interview. Right, exactly. Those things that people will find charming eventually. Maybe get them to learn to love you first.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got plenty of quirks, Art, that’s why I’m laughing over here.

Art Markman
And so do I, right? And it’s fine. I think quirks are part of what makes us interesting in the long run. But in the short term, you want to put that best foot forward. And I think, really, believe in what’s called the halo effect. So, the better the first impression that someone gets of you, the more charitably that they interpret every other thing that you do, because every behavior that you exhibit in the world is ambiguous, right?

Are you brash and arrogant? Or are you confident and assertive, right? Well, those could manifest themselves with almost identical behaviors. But if I like you already, I’m going to think of you as confident. And if I don’t like you from the beginning, I’m going to think that you are kind of an arrogant jerk. And so, you really want to come out initially with creating the best possible impressions socially that you can in order to get people to feel like you’d be somebody that they really want to work with.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, in terms of some of the details for how that’s done, I imagine there are some basic fundamentals, like smile, make eye contact, engage, listen, shower.

Art Markman
Shower is good, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Put on some clothes that aren’t stained and wrinkled. But are there any sort of like cognitive science secrets that are some huge do’s or don’ts when it comes to making a great impression?

Art Markman
Yeah, one of them is it’s not just smile. It’s, bring the amount of energy and enthusiasm that you want that person to feel later. So, one of the things we know about conversation is that people tune to each other, even down to the level of the pitch of your voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Art Markman
Yeah, absolutely. Really, yes, they do. And if people are laughing, right, or smiling, then if one person is doing it, the other person is doing it. They will even mimic facial expressions, and if one person crosses their arms, eventually the other one is going to do it.

And so, if you’re trying to generate energy and enthusiasm, because that will ultimately be interpreted by the interviewer as enjoyment. The fact is that the higher your degree of energy, the more invested you are motivationally in something.

And so, if you come in really flat, then you’re going to get a flat evaluation later because the interviewer is going to mimic your flatness, and you’re going to end up just it’s going to be a mediocre evaluation at the end. But if you come in with energy and enthusiasm, you will create energy. And that energy actually now feeds back into the evaluation that you get.

So, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And so, you need to bring the energy that you want the interviewer to have, particularly because many times you’re working with somebody who may be a recruiter, or a hiring manager, who might be doing 15 interviews. And so, if you don’t bring it, well, they don’t need it, right? They’re doing a ton of these all day. So, you’ve got to make sure that you create the atmosphere that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, Art, I think that I am one of those people, I don’t know how if I’m in the majority or the minority here, that could overdo it with regard to the energy, like, “Whoa, that’s a little too much. Like, are you, I don’t know, a clown, or a motivational speaker?” Like, how do we think about when is it too much?

Art Markman
Well, honestly, I don’t think that the energy level can be too much. But I do think that you have to be careful when you’re energetic to still stay on topic. So, one of the things that a high level of energy can do is to allow you to overcome your filter, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, certainly.

Art Markman
One of the things that we know motivationally is that we have in our motivational system what you can think of as a go system that drives you to do things, and then a stop system that gets you to inhibit things that your go system says you should do that on sober reflection might not be such a good idea. And the more that you overload that go system, which is something you can do when you give yourself a tremendous amount of energy, the more you can override the breaks which can potentially cause you to say something that you probably shouldn’t have said in an interview.

And so, the danger with too much energy is not so much the impact that it’s likely to have on the interviewer, so much as the likelihood that it’s going to cause you to do or say something that probably was not a great idea.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good thought there, certainly. So, I imagine, so long as you’re keeping like your volume and gestures like within a normal reasonable human dimension, and you’re not just disclosing crazy things. I heard a story of a person who interviewed someone who said, “Hey, how are you doing?” He said, “Not well.” And then he went on to share quite the story of how his girlfriend threw him out of their apartment, and his clothes were thrown out of the window, and he was trying to figure out a place to, I don’t know, get a suit cleaned or something in the middle of the night. And he was like, “Okay, this is uncomfortable now.”

Art Markman
Right. I think the correct answer there would’ve been, “Fine.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Exactly. Okay. So, that’s handy. So, great energy but not so much that you      are doing unwise things and short-circuiting the stop system there. Well, now, let’s say you got the job, and you want to apply some of these cognitive science insights to, let’s say, communicate, collaborate, interact with your colleagues and clients better. What are some of your favorite do’s and don’ts there?

Art Markman
Yeah, so one of the things to watch out for in the modern environment is that we do so much discussion with our colleagues that is mediated by text, whether it’s email, or instant messages, or Slack, or any one of these ways of communicating just through the words alone being sent through the ether.

And the problem is, human communication is really optimized because of our evolutionary history for a small number of people interacting face to face in real time. And the further away that we get from that ideal, the harder it is for us to communicate effectively with our colleagues. And that means that if you’re going to do most of your communication with your colleagues via text, you need to go out of your way to create a certain amount of facetime with them in order to establish a relationship so that they can read the tone of what you say more effectively.

Because if I need your help with something, and I poked my head into your office, or over your cubicle wall, or whatever it is, and I say, “Listen, man, would it be all right, could you possibly make some copies for me right now? I’m running late, I’d really appreciate it.” You can make a request of someone that imposes on their time and still demonstrates to them through the words that you use and your tone of voice and the look on your face that you understand what a big imposition it is, and that you deeply appreciate what they’re doing.

When you say the same thing over text, it comes across as cold and as demanding. And so, unless they can hear your voice in their head, then you’re actually going to end up sabotaging some number of your relationships just because of the overuse of this kind of text. So, we have to find ways to create that kind of facetime.

And, as it turns out, that is often more efficient because things that can take you 10 minutes going back and forth by email or instant message, can actually often be resolved in about four seconds of real conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love what you had to say there with regard to give them lots of experiences of the facetime, and then they can imagine in their own mind’s eye and ear what your facial expressions are looking like and what your voice is sounding like. This reminds me when I was consulting. We had this client and we kept getting these emails back. We asked about, “Hey, we want some data like this.” And then the client sent back some things. And we’re like, “Oh, actually, hey, thank you. But we’d really kind of want it like this.”

And then she sent something back and had some red-letters in it, like, “Oh, man, she’s angry.” And then we thought, “Why don’t we just pay her a visit?” And it was like, “Hey, what’s going on? We really appreciate you taking the time to help us, think through it, share these things. We’re trying to accomplish this and it’d be really awesome if it’s possible to do that.” She’s like, “Oh, yes, absolutely. Certainly, I can get that to you this afternoon.” Just like the sweetest thing.

Art Markman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And like, “Oh, thank you.” And then it’s like it just sort of reinterpreted every email that we were like sweating over. It’s like, “Oh, I guess maybe red is just a clear means of delineating and separating that text from the original email text in black or blue, as opposed to, “I’m furious at you.” And it was quite the lesson. Yeah, eyes opened.

Art Markman
Yeah, and we’ve gotten out of the habit of doing that. We think, somehow, it’s easier to be doing everything mediated by text. So, I really think that making sure that you create that relationship, I think, is just critical for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And we had Dr. Nick Morgan, a famed communications consultant, on the show earlier. He said one great phrase used often in like a phone call or sort of less rich exchange is, “How do you feel about what I’ve just said?” You know, just to get real explicit, like it may not have been conveyed so let’s figure it out. It seemed pretty brilliant to me.

Art Markman
Oh, yeah. And if I could add to that, one of the places where it’s really brilliant in the modern environment is when you’re dealing with people who have a different cultural background than you do. So, we live in a world in which we may not just be working with people in another state, but they might be halfway around the world. And there are big cultural differences in what people will generally say to each other and what kinds of things they give voice to.

And sometimes you just need to be really explicit with people, including, “I need to know exactly what you think of this,” and to summarize your interpretation of a conversation just to make sure that you actually really are on the same page. Where, if you were talking to somebody you’d known for years or grew up in exactly the same culture, you might share more of the biases and the way you think about things that would allow you to communicate effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so good. Even just the words, phrases, idioms. I was working with someone in the Philippines, and she says, “Hey, can we meet up at this time?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, sure thing.” And she emailed back, “Thanks for giving me the time of day.” I was like, “Oh, dang, I know. I know I’ve been absent. I’ve got a new baby. I’m really sorry. I mean to be more there, and available, and guiding, and developing, and coaching.” I’m really stewing it. She’s like, “Oh, no, I just meant thank you for that time.” “Yeah, oh, okay.”

Art Markman
Oh, yeah, “I do not think this means what you think it means,” yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

Art Markman
Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, handy communication tips. And how about for just productivity, getting the job done, motivation, distraction avoidance, what are your cognitive science insights there?

Art Markman
Well, so one of the things that I think is really important is to recognize that the best way to motivate yourself is to create a gap between where you are right now and where you’d like to be in the future, that that gap is what creates energy. And I think it’s really important for people to recognize that there are days when they feel somewhat unmotivated. And part of that lack of motivation is that they’re just not dissatisfied enough with the way things are right now. And that you can actually, by focusing on how the world could be better, you can actually create that kind of energy and get yourself to stick with something.

But another piece to this that’s really important is you got to learn about what the Yearkes-Dodson curve. And I love the fact that these two guys, Yearkes and Dodson, wrote a paper in 1905 that is still relevant today. And the idea behind the Yearkes-Dodson curve is that the more energy you give to a particular goal, the better your performance up to a point. And you hit a sweet spot where you have the right level of energy, or what psychologists call arousal. And that when you’re in that sweet spot, you work really effectively.

But if you get hyper aroused, or you get more and more arousal, say, the deadline is creeping ever closer, then you may find yourself slipping over the edge of this Yearkes-Dodson curve, where now additional energy actually lowers your performance because you have so much energy you can’t think straight, you’re pacing, you’re panicking.

And so, what everyone needs to learn is, “Where is my sweet spot?” because that’s what helps us to figure out, “Will I get stuff done ahead of time? Do I need to have a small thermonuclear device detonated beneath my chair before I can get anything done?” And figure out where that sweet spot is and learn to live there with your project so that you find the right level of engagement and arousal to allow you to work consistently without getting so over-aroused that you find yourself unable to make progress on important things.

Pete Mockaitis
And you know that’s interesting as you talk about the curve, and I’m imagining, “Okay, X and Y axis here, and we got more and more energy, that’s good.” And then I guess you have two much energy, it’s bad in the sense you’re panicking and, I don’t know. I guess, we had Tony Schwartz on the show earlier. We talked about energy stuff, and it almost sounds like more energy there is equating to anxiety and panic, but I guess you just call that negative, high energy but a negative type of energy. Can you have too much what he might call high positive energy in terms of, “I’m really, really, really excited about this?” Can you be too much of that?

Art Markman
Yup, you absolutely can, because even with too much positive energy, you end up pacing, right? That energy creates actual energy for you that needs to dissipate. And if you’re sitting there trying to work at your desk, and you have much bubbling positive energy that you need to pace around, you’re not being particularly productive in that moment.

And so, you find sometimes people so excited about something that they need to get up, walk around, get it out of themselves so that they can calm down and actually get work done, even when that energy is really positive.

I know, over the course of my career, I’ve had times where I felt like I had just figured something out, and in that moment when I figured it out, I couldn’t write it. I had to like quickly say it into a recorder or something, and then walk around for a while, like calm down, and then I was in a place where I could actually write about it. So, yeah, it’s overall energy level, even if it’s positive.

So, panic, obviously, it can be negative energy, but just being hyper-aroused in general creates terrible performance. And you can even see this in athletes, right? When they’re so jazzed up about something that they actually can’t coordinate their motions.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then, with the Yearkes-Dodson curve then, is that kind of like different activities or tasks that have different curves where some things are better-suited to lower energy states and others high energy states?

Art Markman
You know, it seems to be that everyone has got a sweet spot, and that sweet spot seems to be pretty similar across tasks but different people will differ in their resting levels of arousal. So, some people are naturally very high arousal people, and so they are the ones who’d start a project six weeks before it’s due. And then there are the people who are very low arousal, who really need to have a cattle prod taken to them before they start getting anything done.

And what’s really tough is when you have a high-arousal person working with a low-arousal person, because a high-arousal person gets a whole bunch of stuff done ahead of time, and then they hand it off to the other person who does nothing with it till the last moment, sends that back to the other person 10 minutes before it needs to be submitted. And that person is a pool of jello on the floor at that point because they’re just so over-aroused by the deadline. So, you have to find ways for people to work effectively together when they have different resting levels of arousal.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any pro tips in terms of you would like to amp up or amp down your arousal in a given moment for a task at hand? How might you do that?

Art Markman
So, to amp it up, one of the things that’s useful is to create things like false deadlines for yourself, and to do things that really say, “There’s a reason why this has to get done right now,” or, really amp up your sense of how important this is to get right.

When you’re trying, though, to calm yourself down, it really is doing the kinds of things that help you to dissipate energy, which could be going out for a walk, or it could be deep breathing exercises, right, because those are the kinds of things that will actually calm you down. And, really, what you’re doing is trying to create some sense of distance between yourself and the goal that you’re engaged with so that it feels mentally further away.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I want to talk about that next is that point you made about creating a gap between where you are and where you want to be. How is that done in practice? I imagine it boils down to, you know, how you set a goal, and maybe some of this is visualization stuff, it really is worthwhile. How do you think about creating that gap and that energy?

Art Markman
Yeah, so there’s a lot of really nice work in psychology, some of it done by Gabriele Oettingen that talks about, essentially, the role of creating fantasies, and not in the kind of parlance that we often think about, “Oh, I’m fantasizing about this.” But, really, in the sense of creating that vision of the future, of, “Here’s what I could accomplish.” Or, frankly, sometimes, “Here’s what will go wrong if nobody does anything.”

And to really elaborate on that mentally, to think about how much better or worse the world could be, and then to explicitly contrast that with the present. So, you develop this vision of the future, and then you compare it to where you are right now. And it is that act of creating that contrast that actually generates that sense of the gap and that energy that comes along with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Could you maybe walk us through an example there?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, for example, think about supposed you’ve kind of stagnated in your job, but you can’t really motivate yourself to go look for another one, right? Now, so what could you do? Well, one of the things you could do is to begin to think about, “Well, let me imagine a little bit more about what my ideal job would be. What are some of the tasks that I would be doing in my day-to-day life that I’m not currently able to do?” and to really envision that clearly, and then contrast that with the job I have right now, and to really begin to compare that, say, “Whoa, here are all the ways in which my current job is not ideal.”

And what that does is it generates dissatisfaction. And that dissatisfaction is motivating. So, it turns out that when you’re utterly satisfied in life, what you tend to do is fall asleep. And so, you have to generate a certain amount of dissatisfaction in order to be motivated to do something different.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you overdo it in terms of like you’re suddenly zapped of gratitude and bitter and anxious about how crappy everything is right now?

Art Markman
Well, you can overdo it but mostly the way that you overdo it is by creating gaps that are not bridgeable. So, I’m a big believer in what I call the bridgeable gap which means not only do you need a sense of the gap between present and future. You need to believe that there is a plan, a set of actions that you’re capable of performing that will get you from here to there.

And as long as you feel like you’re on a path that will help you to narrow the gap, then focusing on that gap is not a bad thing because you have agency. You believe that you are the author of your future. But when you believe that there’s no path from the present to the future, well, then, creating that gap creates that sense of bitterness and resentment because now you feel like, “Well, I’m stuck here. I have no control over the circumstance.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Art, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Art Markman
You know what? Let’s take it where you want to go. Oh, I will say one thing, which is one of my favorite things that I got to do in the book, because I play the saxophone, I added a bunch of sections in the book that I called “The Jazz Brain,” which is basically focused on that ability you have to improvise. And I think it’s really important for people to understand that in order to improvise effectively, you need to know a lot.

I think a lot of times people feel like, “No, no, there’s the curse of knowledge. If I know too much I’m going to be constrained.” But the people I know in any field, whether it’s music or anything else, the people who are best able to adapt to a circumstance on the fly are actually the ones who know a ton of stuff, but are willing to apply lots of different knowledge to a situation.

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

Art Markman
I grew up in Edison, New Jersey, and that’s the place where he strung up lightbulbs. His lab was actually not in Edison or what became Edison. But Edison once said that, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” And while we could probably quibble about the percentages a little bit, I think there’s something important about this idea that a lot of our success is about the work we do.

Yeah, some people are more talented in something than somebody else is, but most of the difference in performance between people comes down to doing the right kind of work. And the reason that I’ve spent so much time in my life over the last 15 years, really trying to bring more cognitive science to other people is because I believe that the more you understand about minds, the more you can put in the right kind of work that can help you to be successful into things you want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite study or piece of research?

Art Markman
Let’s see, one of my favorite pieces of research that I talk about a lot comes from a buddy of mine named Frank Keil at Yale. He and one of his students, Leonid Rozebilt, did this set of studies on what’s called the illusion of explanatory depth, which is this idea that you believe you understand the world better than you actually understand the world. And so, they did this by having people describe various household devices that they thought they completely understood, and only to have people discover that there were significant gaps in their understanding about the way the world works.

And it turns out that this kind of knowledge about the way the way the world works, what psychologists a causal knowledge, is the stuff that allows you to do new things in new ways. And so, when you lack that knowledge, then all you can do is execute procedures in your work. You can’t really try a new thing. And if you’re unaware of what you don’t know, then it means you can’t work to improve the quality of your knowledge. So, I really find that study to have a profound impact on the way people should treat their knowledge.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Art Markman
Gosh, I love books, and there’s so many. But, lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit about small towns of different kinds. I’m just fascinated by it. I grew up, I’m an urban kid, born and raised, and I’m living in Austin, Texas right now. It’s a beautiful city. But, lately, I’ve been reading books like Our Towns, and Hillbilly Elegy, and things like that, just trying to wrap my head around what it’s like to grow up in a place very different than the one that I grew up in.

And I think that’s important, right? I think so much of the way we understand the world is by filtering it through our own experience, that it’s really important to find people who’ve characterized the world that’s different from the one that you grew up in, and whether it’s different within the country you grew up, or outside of it, as a way of helping you to recognize that not everything that you do is a human universal.

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

Art Markman
Gosh, I love word processors. And it’s a funny thing, right? I think we don’t appreciate some of the simple tools that are in front of us. But if my 7th grade teacher knew that I wrote for a living, I think she’d be in hysterics because of how much I hated writing as a kid.

But just having that ability to put stuff down, and then edit it easily, is such an important thing. I think very few people value the editing process enough. And having just a tool, whatever your word processor is, to have that in front of you to be able to edit is such an amazing thing. Because most of us look at good writing, and we think, “Wow, I could never write like that.” And what we really mean is, “I could never write like that the first time that something comes out.”

And what we don’t realize is nobody writes well when something just pops out of them. What you’re seeing is the result of getting something out, crafting it, polishing it, re-arranging it, deleting, starting over, and then you only get to see the final product. So, yeah, to me, it’s just what we’re able to do with a simple word processor is just, to me, absolutely amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Art Markman
Favorite habit in the workplace. It would have to be that when I come into work, I triage my email. I answer the three emails that absolutely have to be answered, and then I shut my email off for a half hour and do something else that matters. Because I do believe that people take a tremendous amount of pride in their work, but I don’t think anyone looks back over the last year, and says, “The most important thing I did was to send these 18,471 emails.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and students?

Art Markman
Obviously, I think a lot of things are a matter of personal taste. But I think this recognition that we have a go system that drives us to act, and then a fallible stop system that prevents us from doing things effectively, because we are not good at stopping something that that go system has engaged. And that when you want to be productive, your job in life is to reprogram that go system towards habits whose accumulated impact will create the contribution you want.

To me, understanding that and living your life knowing that the best way to be effective is to reprogram that go system, is something that I think when people internalize, that changes the way that they go about their work.

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

Art Markman
So, you can find me pretty easily on social media. I love to have people finding the stuff that I write. I try to give away as much as I can. So, I write for Psychology Today, for Fast Company, for Harvard Business Review. I certainly would love for people to pick up my books. But you can find out all of the stuff that I’m writing on Twitter and LinkedIn. I have an author page on Facebook. I have a website smartthinkingbook.com that has information about all of my books, and I also post a few blog entries and things up there. So, all of those are places where people can find me.

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

Art Markman
Yeah, I think that the most important thing that you can do is to recognize that it is always about what you’re going to learn next, that no one is completely ready for the job that they have. And as I said to my oldest son when he was first going out on the job market, I said, “If you’re completely prepared for the job you applied for, you aimed too low.”

And so, we should think about our work lives as a constant opportunity for growth and challenge. And that when you do that, when you look for the next thing that you can learn, then it continues to open up new worlds and new possibilities. Because, as I say at the very end of the book, bumper sticker wisdom tells us that no one on their deathbed says that they wish that they’d spent another day at the office.

But, honestly, the people I know who look back on their careers with fondness are the ones who feel like they’ve really accomplished something over the course of their years, and they are justifiably proud of the work that they did.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for that. That’s nice. Nice thought. Nice final words. Art, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you and the book “Bring Your Brain to Work” lots of luck and keep on doing the good stuff.

Art Markman
Well, thanks, Pete. It’s a pleasure talking with you today.

450: Spy Secrets of Influence from Former CIA Officer Jason Hanson

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Jason Hanson shares his intelligence operation secrets to “recruiting” people and convincing them to say yes.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The CIA’s SADR cycle and how it applies to the workplace
  2. Why research and authenticity are integral to successful influence
  3. How to advocate for your case at work

About Jason

Jason is a former CIA officer. After leaving the CIA, Jason became the Founder and CEO of Spy Escape & Evasion (www.spyescape.com), a company that teaches men and women how to be safe using Spy Secrets that 99% of Americans will never know.

In 2014, Jason won a deal on ABC’s hit Reality Series, Shark Tank and opened, “Spy Ranch,” a 320-acre facility to teach Evasive Driving, Pistol and Rifle Shooting, Intelligence Operations, Cyber Security and more.

Jason regularly appears as a Keynote Speaker at corporate events, conferences and conventions worldwide. Jason has appeared on The NBC Today Show, Dateline, Rachael Ray, Fox & Friends, and more. Jason has been interviewed by Forbes, NPR and The Huffington Post among others.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jason Hanson Interview Transcript

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

Jason Hanson
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your stuff. I mean, you’ve got a fun angle. And I imagine you’re probably not going to give me any really cool stories from your time in the CIA because I’ve pressed before with Navy Seals on the show but they never gave up the goods, so good patriots you all, you guys. So, maybe you could give us a fun story about being on Shark Tank.

Jason Hanson
Well, Shark Tank was a wonderful opportunity, it was a huge blessing because, before, I was doing a lot of consulting to corporations and Shark Tank kind of opened me up to the masses and introduced me to the everyday person, if you will, so it was a great thing. I can tell you one funny quick story. I recorded right after Diamond Dallas Page, he was the wrestler who did his yoga thing, and I just remember getting back after I did my recording and hearing a bunch of screaming and yelling between people. I remember thinking, “Huh, maybe his presentation didn’t go so well.” Fortunately, mine did and, again, it was a fun ride. I had a good time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so curious. So, I’ve seen the show many times, but are there any surprises, like, “Hey, you must not expect this, viewer, as you’re watching the show”? But it’s really like this for me. Like, just how long are you in front of the Sharks? I understand there’s a very awkward moment where you’re just standing, staring them down while they’re getting the cameras and the lights just right. What’s the inside story of how it feels to be there?

Jason Hanson
Well, the inside story is you only get one chance, so it’s basically a cattle call where they have people lined up all day. So, they say, “Hey, you’re going on at 10:00, you’re going on at 11:30,” or whatever your time is, and you only get one chance so there’s no do-overs. If you screw up, it is what it is. But I was in the Tank about 55 minutes and, of course, they boil it to less than 10 minutes. So, out of that 55 minutes, sometimes I look brilliant, sometimes I look like the world’s biggest idiot, so you never know how they’re going to blend things together.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny. Well, don’t you worry, Jason, we will edit out only the times that one of us look real dumb.

Jason Hanson
I love it. Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Usually, over 98% of the words gets used in most podcasts in my experience, so good stuff. Well, then, I want to hear what you’ve been up to with regard to spy-skill training and, particularly, how that can be useful for workers, those who want to apply some of your CIA brilliance to doing better on the job.

Jason Hanson
Well, so after I left the agency, I started my own company where I do survival training but I also do business coaching and training. And in the business world versus the CIA, there isn’t a whole lot of difference in the meaning of you’ve got to go out, you’ve got to go close deals, you’ve got to work with people, you’ve got to network, and spies are the world’s best salesmen because they’re selling a very hard product. They’re selling treason. But there’s a very distinct cycle that you go through to close deals that I’ve now applied to the business world and anybody can.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, I’d love to hear a bit about that and to hear about not just in sort of sales, prospecting, and customer acquisition perspective, but also in terms of the worker who may not be in a sales role. So, lay it on us, what is the cycle?

Jason Hanson
Sure. So, the cycle is the, I’ll spell it out, it’s the SADR cycle, and it stands for Spotting, Assessing, Developing, and Recruiting. So, kind of the 30,000-foot overview is if you’re in the CIA, or you’re a spy, and you’re going over to Russia, and you’re trying to recruit somebody to spy on behalf of the United States, first you have to spot them, meaning who are the best people that have access to the intelligence you want. Certainly not everybody.

Then, let’s say, you narrow it down to 20 people. Then you have to assess them. Out of these 20, who truly has access to that extreme amount of data you need? And then it boils down even further. And then after you spot and assess, you have to develop them, which really means make them fall in love with you, make them want to help you. And this wining and dining, this is buying them things, it’s like the dating. It’s courtship.

And if all goes well, after you do spotting, assessing, developing, then you recruit them and it’s basically, “Hey, my name is John. I work for the CIA. How would you like to work for us?” Now, it’s a lot more in depth than that, but that’s the cycle and you can apply it to anything and everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. Well, sure thing. So, let’s talk about how we go about doing some of the spotting for starters. How do we figure out great people? And I guess that varies by your context, like great people to hire, great people to maybe buy your stuff, great people that you just want to be networked with internally to be an asset to you and vice versa. But how do you go about doing the spotting in your different context?

Jason Hanson
Sure. So, now in the business world, because of technology it’s super easy. Let’s say I’m looking to hire somebody who’s a Facebook expert, and I personally want to work with the best. So, I can go out and locate by Google searches. I’ve a very good network so I can talk to all my buddies in the business world, and say, “Hey, who are the best guys in the world of Facebook ads?” Then I can maybe get 10 names, maybe 20 names, whatever it is, so that is my “hit list.”

So, whether you want Facebook guys, or maybe you want a PR agency, or maybe you’re looking for an employee that has a very unique skillset, is narrow it down to those 20 people, 25 people, and then that’s when you start assessing them. That’s when you see, “Okay, out of these 20 or 25, who really has the goods?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Then how does one go about doing that assessing?

Jason Hanson
Well, there’s many ways. So, it goes back to, okay, I teach lie-detection skills, so you can interview and ask them questions so you can see if they’re being honest with you. You can run background checks on them to see if they legitimately did what they said they’ve done. You, of course, talk to others, you get referrals, you say, “Hey, show me case studies, tell me references that I can call.”

So, you basically put them through the ringer, not in a bad way, but in a good way, and that quickly weeds people out because a lot of people may not want to do that, or may be arrogant, and you say, “Maybe that guy is not the person I want to work with because they’re not very friendly, they’re not a jerk.” So, obviously, it takes time but if you’re trying to grow a business and you really want to work with the best and be the best yourself, it’s worth investing this time to do the research to find the quality people.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. But I’d love to hear then, so what are some of the secret sauce then when it comes to doing the assessment? Because I think everyone is going to say, “Tell me about a time that you were in a team, and you had a conflict, and how you resolved that conflict.” So, what’s some of the special stuff?

Jason Hanson
So, one of the questions I always ask, and I always start out baselining them. Meaning, I ask them questions that nobody is going to lie about, I see how they act when they’re comfortable, so, “Hey, where are you from? Where did you grow up? How many siblings do you have? What movies do you like?” just generic stuff.

And then, out of left field, I’ll ask them a question such as, “Tell me the last time you stole something,” or, “Tell me the last time you did drugs.” So, questions that hit them hard.

Pete Mockaitis
That just sounds like fun, Jason. I’d want you to interview me.

Jason Hanson
Well, most people will be honest and say, “Hey, in sixth grade, I stole a Snickers bar from the grocery store,” that kind of thing. But when it comes to lie detection, you pay attention to the first three to five seconds of a response. Honest people answer very quickly and their face doesn’t look nervous. But if somebody starts stuttering, or they have the deer-in-the-headlights look after you asked them that question, something is wrong, and you’re probably about to be lied to.

And I have had that instance where somebody did lie to me and, finally, came clean and told me they stole a ton of office supplies from a former employer. So, obviously, I didn’t hire them. But I ask those questions because, very quickly, I can say, “Okay, is this person honest or are they already going to lie to me about stealing or about doing drugs?”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so funny, Jason, as you asked me, I had to think for a moment when’s the last time I stole something, and I think it’s probably, I guess if you think about time, like when you’re being paid for your time, like if I’m being paid by a client, and I’m not giving them 100% of my attention but rather 97%, it’s like I’ve stolen that 3% from them. So, that’s the last time I stole, Jason, was by entertaining distractions.

Jason Hanson
And you never stole candy from the supermarket?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think the last time I stole was probably not paying perfect attention with a client. In terms of stealing, I think maybe, boy, in college, I went on a real bender in terms of there’s something called myTunes which when you’re on a shared network enabled you to download music from other people’s iTunes. And, yeah, I probably stole more than 500 songs.

Jason Hanson
Oh, this is basically like Napster you’re stealing from.

Pete Mockaitis
Kind of like Napster, yeah.

Jason Hanson
Yeah, got it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s some stealing there. Boy, all my sins are coming online, Jason.

Jason Hanson
You’re a criminal mastermind.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t bank on this being where we were headed. So, yeah, my apologies. I now have the utmost respect for intellectual property. Okay, cool. So, that’s the assessing. So, then you’re looking for, well, let’s talk about the deception for a bit since you’re a pro here. So, you establish a baseline, and you ask them a question sort of with surprise, shock and awe factor, “When’s the last time you stole something?” and then you look to see if you get a quick response, or a deer-in-the-headlights, or super nervous and stuttering. And what else am I looking for to see if there’s lying or truthfulness happening?

Jason Hanson
So, the feet, we are very terrible at controlling our feet.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, Joe Navarro was on the program and we talked about this.

Jason Hanson
And I don’t know him personally but I read his book, a fantastic book, and so I do that too. I mean, I’ll sit, because we’re used to lying with our mouths, people lie all the time with their mouths. So, I’ll see, “Okay, has the feet been still the entire time? But, now, they’re jiggling, now they’re uncomfortably tapping. Is something going on like that?” So, it doesn’t take long. There’s about nine or so things I pay attention to, and I can very quickly tell you if you’re being honest or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear them.

Jason Hanson
Well, again, one of the questions I ask you, when I’m dealing with people who want to JB with me, a lot of times, because I was on Shark Tank, I now get pitch deals like crazy, which is great, except 99% of them are junk, and there’s one that’s actually good.

So, I’ll get someone who says, “Hey, Jason, you know, we made $5 million last year and blah, blah, blah.” I always ask, “Okay, show me the proof,” and that shuts people up very, very quickly. Like, if you’re going to quote numbers to me, show me the proof, show me bank statements, merchant accounts, whatever it may be. But, also, when people are lying, they tend to freeze, if you want another one. So, if they’re very animated but in a liar’s mind, if you retract and stop moving, you’re like going into a tortoise shell, and they think, “Nobody will see me. Nobody will notice me.”

So, the example I like to give is if I went somewhere and left my wallet in a cafeteria, and came back and there were a bunch of people around, and my wallet was missing, and I started saying like, “Who stole my wallet?” I was angry, normal people would be exhibiting normal behavior, and be like, “I didn’t take it. I’ll help you look for it.” I would look for the person who is being the least animated and the most quiet because they would be trying to hide and blend in. They would be “freezing” and most likely they’d be the guilty verdict.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jason Hanson
You’re quiet all of a sudden. What is going on?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about a time in which, oh, man, someone I knew, we’re in babysitting situation, so there’s a home, a homebased sort of like a babysitting daycare situation over the summer, and I was there, and I remember someone had written a nasty letter to someone else, and I knew who did it. And then when they said, “Hey, who wrote this?” I was totally like super quiet, whereas everyone else was like, “Oh, my gosh, you’re right. Who would do that?” Like, that was everyone else was doing, and I was like saying nothing. So, yeah, there you have it, in action it happened.

Jason Hanson
We are very bad liars in real life. So, when I was with the agency, I can lie because it was my job, there’s no guilt associated, but in real life I’m a terrible liar. You could see right through me because we all do the same thing, like I said, we all freeze, we all stutter, we all look nervous in the face, because it’s not normal and natural to lie.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s interesting when you mentioned it was your job to lie, and so you did so. And I found that in certain context in which it’s sort of like I’m playing a role or it’s for a joke, it’s like I’m pretty good at it. But then, like impromptu, I’m terrible at it. And so, that’s interesting mindset that you speak to there. Tell me more about that.

Jason Hanson
Well, when it’s your job and, again, with the agency you’re doing it for your country, you’re very patriotic, and there’s no guilt associated with it because that is your job. But if you and I are going down the highway, and we’ve got a dead body in the back of our car, and we get pulled over by the cops, you better believe both of us are going to be sweating bullets and looking nervous because we know if they find that dead body we’re in big trouble.

So, it kind of goes, is there guilt association, where you’re going to be nervous, or is there no guilt? So, what do they say, 2% of the world, or 1%, are psychopaths or sociopaths? That’s why polygraphs are not admissible in courts because there is that very small percentage who can lie and they don’t exhibit normal behavior but 98% of us, 99% of us are normal, and you can see right through us when we’re lying because we have a guilty conscience about what we’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s reassuring that I am not a sociopath despite my music grand larceny of my youth. Okay, but you said nine things, I wasn’t counting. But have we ticked them all off or are there a couple more?

Jason Hanson
Well, some of these are when I do, and I don’t know, I don’t have any down, but I’ll tell you another one, a very easy one, and this is when something is missing because a lot of the lie detection stuff I do in corporation is when something goes missing. And so, they’ll bring you in and say, “Hey, find out who stole the stuff in the warehouse, or who the stole money out of the account.”

And if anything ever goes missing, pass a piece of paper around to everybody who is part of that group, and say, “Write down what should happen to the person that stole the money or that stole the stuff out of the warehouse.” And the person who writes the least punishable thing is almost always guilty. Meaning, if you asked you and me, like, “Hey, the person that stole a million dollars from the account, what should happen to him?” We’ll say, “Well, they should get fired. They should go to jail. They should get the electric chair. They should be banned for life.”

Well, the guilty party will be like, “Well, if they return the money, maybe they can keep their job.” Like it’s one of these things, was it the Sesame Street, like, “One of these things is not like the other”? So, you’ll have all these responses which are typical human responses, then you’ll have the one response stands out of it’s not a bad punishment because that’s the guilty party.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, so these are sort of fun as we’re talking about assessing people in terms of their honesty and integrity. How do you go about assessing them just in terms of, “Okay, do you really have the goods, the skills?”

Jason Hanson
So, in the CIA, or any intelligence operative, you have to be very resourceful. And it’s not like you’re in the military where you’ve got a platoon or people behind you. You’re pretty much on the street, and you’re alone, and you’re doing your thing, there’s no backups, so you’ve got be very resourceful and creative.

Well, when people work for my company, I want the same thing. I want resourceful people. I don’t want to have to babysit them. So, I like to make up something bizarre and have them either do it or tell them how I would do it. And a bizarre example, I don’t know what just jumped into my mind, is if I said, “Hey, I want a horse in my office in the next four hours. Get a horse in my office.” Could they do that? Do they have the creativity to go Google and rent a horse and figure out how to get the horse?

So, I give them some unique thing where, “Hey, you got three hours to get me this answer or whatever.” Because if they can’t figure that out, then, clearly, they’re not creative and not somebody you want to hire.

Pete Mockaitis
So, they get the job if the horse shows up or how does that work?

Jason Hanson
If Mr. Ed is in my office within four hours, we’re good to go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, that could get a little costly, and I don’t know what horse rentals run these days. But it’s so funny, when you frame it as a challenge, I think you also get a sense about the attitude, like, “Oh, my gosh, what the heck? This is weird,” versus, “I’m excited.” It’s like, “Heck, yes, let me get on Yelp right now and see what I can do. I’ll post it on Facebook, see if I got someone who can hook it up,” and it’s sort of like, “I’m excited to spring into action to see if I can make it happen just for the fun of it, it’s like a challenge. It’s like do you have what it takes?”

Jason Hanson
Because in my business, and I run a few businesses, it’s very bizarre, meaning one day we may be doing X, one day we may be bodyguarding a celebrity, one day we may be doing training on evasive driving and crashing course. It’s all kinds of unique things. And so, the people I hire, I tell them, “It’s not going to be sitting at the desk every single day looking at a spreadsheet. You have to be able to get out of your comfort zone. I may send you to a tradeshow in Washington, D.C. one day, and then the next day you’re going and help me with an interview kind of thing.” So, if they can’t be kind of outside the box and be comfortable in many situations, they’re not going to last in my company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. So, that’s the assessing. And then how about developing?

Jason Hanson
All right, developing. As I mentioned, this the courtship period. This is when you’re making them fall madly in love with you. So, if you’re trying to get somebody to obviously betray their country, to make treason, you need to make sure they love you, that you’re best friends, so this can be a lot of it is the law of reciprocity, meaning I’m taking them out to dinner, I’m buying them a thousand dollar dinner. I am taking them out and buying them new clothes. I am taking them to the nice nightclubs or whatever. We’re hanging out. I’m basically giving them the life they wish they had.

So, you make them fall in love with you. By the time it comes to, “Hey, I’m ready to pitch them,” they feel so indebted to you, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, Jason has bought this, this, and this, and this, then, yes, I’m going to get him X, or Y, or Z, whatever he requires.” Now, developing can take months, it can take years. Obviously, it’s a case-by-case basis in the intelligence operative world, but you don’t ever pitch someone, you don’t get to the point where you’re recruiting them, recruit and pitch the same thing, until you’ve developed them so well that you know there’s 100% chance they’re going to say yes. And that is the key.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I guess what I wonder with developing is so, like do they know who you are and what you’re up to like the whole time that you’re courting them? Or how does that work?

Jason Hanson
No, I’m giving you hypotheticals of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Jason Hanson
So, let’s say I went over to whatever country, let’s just pick China out of the blue. And I would say I’m an American businessman and I maybe work for this tech company back in America, and we’re trying to learn more about missiles or whatever it would be. Obviously, it wouldn’t be missiles, but something. And then I have a big slush fund because I’m over here so they let me take people out to dinner.

So, at first, they have no idea, but the people you’re trying to recruit eventually figure it out. They don’t know 100% sure, but they’re like, “Okay, he probably works for the government.” So, when it comes to the recruiting part, the way you kind of pitch, and there’s many ways, but one way is like, “Listen, Joe, we’ve known each other for eight months now, we’ve known each other for a year, or whatever, and you probably guess I really don’t work for XYZ corporation. I work for the U.S. government and, guess what, I’m a spy. How would you like to be a spy with me? Wouldn’t that be awesome? We could both be spies.” That sounds corny but that is one of the ways you do it and it works. I’m not kidding either.

Pete Mockaitis
“Let’s be spies.” It’s like, “Let’s be friends.” All right. So, I guess in a way, well, I’ll let you comment on that. Why is that an effective way to ask?

Jason Hanson
Well, first, again, you don’t ask until you’re 100% sure, because in the spy world, if you screw up and you go asks, and the guy says, “I need to think about it,” or maybe he’s going to get back to you. Well, if he doesn’t say yes on the spot, the next time you meet him again, you may have a bag put over your head, or you may end up in a foreign prison because he goes and tells the Russian government that you just tried to recruit him.

Pete Mockaitis
Plus, the Chinese are in cahoots.

Jason Hanson
So, you know he’s going to say yes. But it’s effective because you know. In business you’ve got to know your customers, right? Well, when you’re trying to recruit somebody, you know them better than they know themselves. So, you would know in that instance that he wanted adventure, that he was a bored scientist, and that he would love to be a spy. That would be thrilling for him.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I hear you. So, you’ve zeroed in on a need and you’re delivering on that need.

Jason Hanson
Correct. So, I’ll ask you a question. What do you think, not the number one, but one of the main reasons that people spy for the U.S. if you had to guess?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m going to say they would love to have themselves and their family escape their nation and be in the United States instead.

Jason Hanson
Pretty darn close. It’s education for their children.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Jason Hanson
So, when a U.S. person, when somebody betrays America, it’s almost always for money. But when we’re trying to recruit somebody from some crap old country and they’ve got kids, they want an education for their children. They want to say, “Hey, I want my kids to be able to come to the U.S. where they have the opportunity to go to a great university.” So, once you know somebody’s hot button, that’s when you push it, whether it’s adventure, whether it’s on education, and that’s what you obviously figure out over time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I guess they have to be able to get admitted, huh? Or you got ways to make that happen too. We’ve heard a thing or two about how that can unfold.

Jason Hanson
And you know what? I’m just going to no comment, or I can either confirm or deny, or whatever you want to say there.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, that’s intriguing then. Okay, so fascinating. All right. So, regarding with making them fall in love with you, so we talked about it in a spy content, but let’s talk about sort of a workplace context. So, you probably have less capacity to provide lavish dinners and entertainment, etc. So, what are the ways that you recommend people develop relationships with potential allies stateside without the government slush fund?

Jason Hanson
Well, yeah, it doesn’t take much money. The government, obviously, has unlimited funds, our tax dollars that seem to be unlimited. But, for you and me, we don’t have to spend that much. It’s the little things. I keep going back to courtship. You’re trying to court a woman, and so if you know what they like, “Hey, I know you love whatever book. I bought this book for you.” Or, “Hey, I saw this clipping in the newspaper that talked about seven ways to help your kid with reading, and I know you mentioned your kids having trouble reading.”

So, you do little things to show you care about them. So, it doesn’t cost any money to clip out a magazine or buy, spend 15 bucks on a book from Amazon. But if you’re thinking about them, like, “Oh, Jason really pays attention to me. Jason really cares about me,” and, obviously, when you show somebody you care about them, the more they want to work with you, or work for you, or help you.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, so that’s good. So, you sort of notice. I guess it’s not that different after all. You notice their need. Maybe, in the spy example, it’s education for their children. In this instance, it could be any number of things. And then you sort of proactively make it happen. And you know what’s interesting is people have needs all the time.

And I’m thinking like over the last couple of years, we bought this house and property, and it seems like we had a heck of a time finding different people for the miscellaneous renovations, whether it’s landscaping, or carpet, or carpentry, plumbing, electrical, you name it. It’s like there’s always something. And if someone were to say to me, “Hey, Pete, I found this amazing electrician who’s super reliable at a great price,” that would make me say, “You’re my best friend. You have met an urgent need that is maybe not super important, but urgent in my mind. And so, I love you as a result.”

Jason Hanson
And you’re 100% right. We’re so busy and self-absorbed in the world we live in today that nobody does the personal touch. Like, I’ll write handwritten letters to some of my best customers. I’ll send thank you notes. And most business owners never take the time.

I’ll tell you another example. I never sent a text message in my life. I don’t text. Yeah, a personal preference, I have a flip phone, I have no desire to text. But I get people who text me, every once in a while, to try and pitch me, they’re like, “Hey, I got your number from a friend of a friend of a friend. I have this great product. Are you interested?” I’m like, “You didn’t do any research on me whatsoever.” Because in multiple of my books, and multiple articles I’ve written, I mention how I never send a text, and here I am doing it again.

So, most people don’t do the deep, deep research and are lazy, but if you do, you figure out those things, and it’s much easier to close people these days because nobody else is putting in the effort.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like what you’re saying here, Jason, and I’m thinking about the context of, well, hey, just my podcast. I think the plurality of emails I receive these days are, “Hey, I want to be on your podcast,” which is flattering. Thank you. But, you know, it also just feels a little bit like, “You know what, I’m so much more as a human being.”

Jason Hanson
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
“I feel I have so much more to offer beyond just a publicity, opportunity.” And so, I’m intrigued then. If you’re reaching out cold, well, we know what not to do is do zero research and be kind of not at all aligned to kind of how you operate. But what are some of your pro tips when you’re doing, I guess you’re talking about the spotting and assessing and developing? Let’s say that we’re developing from ground zero. We spotted them and we’ve assessed them from afar, like, “Oh, wow, that would be an amazing person to come work for me, or to buy my product, or to promote something.” How do you recommend making the very first steps in this courtship?

Jason Hanson
So, what I recommend is, in the intelligence operative world, you give people gifts and you find out what they want. So, let’s say they love Scotch, I don’t know anything about Scotch, but you give them a great bottle of Scotch, and you send it to them, and give it to them. They’ll think that’s the greatest thing in the world.

So, what I do is if I’m trying to work with somebody or somebody I don’t know out of the blue, I will send them a box of gifts along with my stuff. So, if I know they love – and I’m just making this up – railroad books, or whatever, I may say, “Hey, I’m Jason Hanson. Here’s what I do. Here is a book on railroads. I heard you love these. Also, here are some of my books just so you know who I am, that I’m not a total nutjob who reached out of the blue.”

So, it depends on how big of a customer or a client they could be, but I’ll put together a fancy, nice gift box with all the stuff, showing that I took the time to really get to know them, and spend a hundred bucks because it could be worth a gazillion times that to me. So, I like sending a big box of stuff if I’m really trying to go after somebody.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that because I’m just thinking about sort of podcast pitching. Yeah, no one has sent me a physical gift in advance. Yeah, they send them afterwards, like, “Thank you. I appreciate that,” which is nice of them. Thank you. But that’s good. So, that’s kind of like your introduction, it’s like, “Hey, I’ve learned a little bit about you and I thought you’d like this. Here you go.” And there you have it. And, you’re right, that’s quite rare. That doesn’t happen much.

So, here’s a real pedestrian question, maybe easy for a former intelligence officer. So, let’s say all you have is a person’s website or maybe even just an email address and a name, how do you get their snail mail address for this opening introductory gift?

Jason Hanson
So, yeah, I’d do research, I’d search the email in many place, I’d see if there’s anything attached to it. Now, sometimes they do not. Sometimes all you have is an email and there’s nothing else. Well, then you’ve got have a killer unique email and a totally, not bizarre, but totally unique subject line. So, in the intelligence world, if you want to get somebody’s attention, you want them to notice you, you’re not going to be boring, you’re not going to be weird. You’ve got to stand out. You’ve got to make them notice you and be like, “Hey, let’s be friends. I’m this American businessman. Can I take you out to dinner?”

So, whatever the subject line is, it just can’t be like, “I would like to ask you a question.” It’s got to be like, again, I’m not coming up with anything. For some reason, I keep thinking of horses or talk about horses.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, we can do horses.

Jason Hanson
And you’ve got to write it like you talk. And I use the truth in mine too. I say, “Hey, Bob, I’m sorry to send you this email. I looked like crazy for your physical address but I couldn’t find it so I’m going to keep this short because you’re busy.” And I always use, I’m lucky because I’m a former CIA, so a lot of times the subject line is “Former CIA officer wants to talk to you,” kind of thing. And that gets opened the majority of the time. So, use whatever unique hook you have that’ll make you stand out from the crowd.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. All right, so that’s developing. And how about the actual recruiting?

Jason Hanson
So, yeah, this is the time where you’re going to come and say, “Hey, again, I’m not the American business. I work for the government. How would you like to spy with me? How would you like to…?” And this is where you push whatever the button is, if they want money. Like, I can give some examples. There are many countries in this world where it’s normal to have a mistress. So, it’s not a big deal, the wives know, you don’t throw it in their face, and these guys need money for their mistresses.

So, you would come with a nice fat envelope and say, “Hey, Bob, as you might’ve guessed, here’s who I work for. I’d love you to continue helping us. You’ve been a great friend. And guess what? I’ve got this $5,000 in this envelope, and I can give it to you now, and then give you $5,000 every single month for your help. What do you think?” And you take that envelope out, you put it on the table, you put your hand in it while you’re talking. You don’t just push it over, you make them really, really want it, and you make them say yes, you make them commit. Then you can slide it over to them where they can touch it. It’s not a huge event because you already know they’re going to say yes or you wouldn’t do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, you present it such that they can desire it all the more and it’s not yet there until they’ve said yes.

Jason Hanson
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this was fun. I have so much more to ask you about so let me see here. You talk about the concept of active awareness. That sounds great. What exactly is it and why is it good and how do we get it?

Jason Hanson
It is keeping your head up, looking around, not having your head buried in the cellphone, and basically paying attention to your surroundings. So, if you’re trying to close a deal, or even walking down the street, what I do is I play a game, or if I’m walking to the airport, I’ll just quickly describe everybody, like, “White male, red hat, blue shorts, about six foot tall.” “Black female, big earrings, sandals,” whatever it may be, so then I’m looking around, taking in my surroundings.

Most people live in zombie land where they have no idea what’s going around. So, if you’re a business person, observing, seeing what they wear, seeing their office, and really looking around, that may be a key to closing the deal if you see that little nugget of information you need. So, just pay attention. Don’t walk around like a drunk.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re just saying in your head, like the descriptions of what you’re seeing. Like, “Blue wallpaper,” or whatever it is, just what’s there. You’re sort of sub-vocalizing the description of the stuff.

Jason Hanson
Correct. Because it makes your mind think, your mind doesn’t fall asleep, and it forces you to look around in your surroundings so you see what’s going on. That way, you can’t be looking at your feet at whatever digital device you have.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Super. And so then, so that just sounds like a good thing. In practice, what are the advantages of having it?

Jason Hanson
Is that you’re more successful because you see what’s going on, you see things other people miss. Before, we talked about Shark Tank, I read every book they’d ever written, I watched every episode, I knew every question they asked, I knew everything about their families, I watched every interview they ever did. I knew them backwards and forwards, and I actually used that, remember I was in there for almost an hour, and they boil it down to 10 minutes, and I know some of the key things like throughout to help me get the deal because I observed their body language, how they were removing what they were wearing. And most people are probably not as observant as I was.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I can’t let that go. So, body language, there’s a lot of ambiguity there, but you mentioned feet earlier. Are there any other sort of just key body language things you notice over and over and over again that prove quite useful as you’re interacting with folks in work settings?

Jason Hanson
Well, most of them are common sense, meaning, “Do they look interested? Are they smiling? Do they lean forward?” Like, when I was on Shark Tank, I could see who was leaning back in the chair, and as I said certain things, they had literally leaned forward. I was like, “All right, I’ve these two. These are the ones I’m going to focus on, dedicate more time because they’re clearly paying more attention at the moment.”

So. It’s all stuff that it doesn’t take a spy to see. All of us can quickly pick up, if they look bored, or leaning forward, or they’re crossing their arms in disgust, or they’re open and they’re being animated and talking because they’re excited so it’s easy to pick up on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so then, I want to get your take on how do you recommend that we apply some of these approaches to just better advocate for ourselves in terms of we are trying to make the case that you deserve the promotion, or the opportunity, or the raise, or to be heard?

Jason Hanson
Deep research. So, deep research on everybody else. So, if you want a raise, why you deserve a raise of the other five people in your office, and what proof. So, in the intelligence business, you’ve got to have proof for everything. Meaning, when somebody says, “Hey, we need you to take out this terrorist.” Well, what’s the proof that they did something? What is the proof that they’re behind it? If you’re going to take someone’s life, or snatch someone off the streets, you got to make sure you have all the details.

So, the same thing, if you come in, “Why do you deserve a raise?” “So, I’ve been here five years.” “Well, I don’t care if you’ve been here for five years. What have you contributed?” So, have files, have all the, “Hey, I made an extra $5 million for the business off of this project alone.” So, come in, pretend you’re in front of a jury, and you’ve got to have proof beyond reasonable doubts, and if you do that, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get the promotion or get whatever you’re looking for in life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, when people try to apply some of this stuff that you’re teaching, are there any sort of ways that they mess it up, like they’re trying to implement it, and they make this mistake over and over again? What should we watch out for?

Jason Hanson
You have to be authentic. So, when you’re trying to recruit somebody, and you’re trying to make them fall in love with you, if you’re faking it and you’re not showing empathy and really caring about this person, they can see right through it. And it’s the same thing in the business world. So, when somebody is trying to close a deal on me, I can tell when they’re being fake. The old cliché of like, there’s a model sailboat on the table, and it’s like, “You like sailing? I like sailing.” And, of course, you know they don’t know anything about sailing. So, you’ve got be genuine and authentic because people are not idiots and they will spot it.

Pete Mockaitis
I like sailing.

Jason Hanson
I don’t know anything about sailing.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny. You like sailing, I like sailing. Well, that’s funny. Back to podcast pitches, a lot of times people been coached to start with a compliment, but it’s sort of like, “I don’t think you’ve ever actually heard the show. That’s just sort of something that you’re saying. All of the stuff someone told you, you’re supposed to do that.” So, that’s good. So, be authentic. Well, that’s interesting. Well, when it comes to be authentic, I mean, you do want something from them, and that is why you’re having that conversation. But you’re still authentic in the sense that – how would you distinguish it?

Jason Hanson
Well, you’re on the authentic of, “Hey, I really want to work with you.” If you’re flattering them because they’re the best at what they do, you’re not using cheesy flattering, you’re being genuine in your compliments to them, like, “Hey, I really do admire how you wrote this book,” or, “I really do admire the way you do your podcast interviews.”

So, you can be authentic and all that, and then, of course, you’ve got to offer them something. So, you don’t want to come out, like in the intelligence world, “Here’s 5,000 bucks. If you do this, I’ll give you 5,000 bucks a month.” You’ve got to have something that’s going to make it worth their while because people are busy. So, what is going to be beneficial for them to work with you? And, obviously, be able to present that.

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

Jason Hanson
No, I already know your life story and how you’re a criminal, so I think we’re good to go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the essentials. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jason Hanson
Something I find inspiring, a favorite quote. There was, I think it was a book, like, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” And, I don’t know, I think it was a book or a quote, it doesn’t matter. So, I love that because in the intelligence world, and also in the business world, there’s always going to be tough times, but you got to keep on trucking, never give up, and those are the successful people.

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

Jason Hanson
I love psychology. I try and read all kinds of psychology books. Robert Cialdini has written some great books on that. I’m a fan of his. I read sales books because when it comes to business, and when it comes to humans, and when it comes to getting people to spy, it’s all psychology. It doesn’t change.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, Bob Cialdini’s books, Influence, Science and Practice, as well as Pre-suasion are amazing. Any others that you really love?

Jason Hanson
I mean, I’m old school. The old Zig Ziglar sales books just to learn from them, Tom Hopkins. I’m the kind of the guy who reads all kind of books because even if I get just one nugget, it’s worth it for me.

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

Jason Hanson
A tool? I’m a gun guy. I love guns. I love knives. I love flashlights. I’m like a gear junkie. If you come to my house, I’ve got tents and sleeping bags and all kinds of survival and outdoors gear.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Jason Hanson
Favorite habit? Well, I like and don’t like. I wake up at 4:30 every morning, so not necessarily that I like waking up early, but I like being productive and be able to get a lot of work done that most people are not able to.

Pete Mockaitis
And what time do you go to bed at night?

Jason Hanson
I got to bed at 9:00 p.m. if I can. The latest 10:00 p.m. but, yeah, I’m trying to be in bed at 9:00 every night.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key thing that you share that often gets quoted back to you, a nugget that you’re known for?

Jason Hanson
I teach people anti-kidnapping skills, especially how to take escape duct tape since it’s the number one way people all over the world are kidnapped, so a lot of people know me from teaching people how to escape duct tape.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, and while we’re on the topic. What’s the trick for escaping duct tape?

Jason Hanson
Well, it’s going to be hard to say on the radio, but basically when your hands are duct-taped together, and you put them higher over your head, and then bring them down and pull apart as if your elbowing somebody from behind, and that will allow you escape in less than two seconds.

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

Jason Hanson
I would point them to CelebrityMethod.com because that is my website where they can find all kind of stuff about me.

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

Jason Hanson
Get up at 4:30 a.m., plan your day ahead of time, and work your butt off, and do deep, deep research because most people are lazy these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you, Jason. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you and lots of luck for the book Agent of Influence, and all your adventures.

Jason Hanson
Thank you. I appreciate it.

449: Leaning Out with Marissa Orr

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Marissa Orr shares fresh, actionable wisdom on the workplace gender gap and reframes how alleged weaknesses can actually be strengths.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The problem with the ‘lean in’ mentality
  2. How power and money trigger value judgments when it comes to gender differences
  3. Why strengths depend on context

About Marissa

Marissa Orr began her Google career over 15 years ago as a founding member of Google’s Sales Operations & Strategy team, after which she worked as Vertical Marketing Manager at Facebook. She has conducted talks and workshops for thousands of people at diverse organizations across the globe. Originally from Miami, she now lives in New Jersey, with her three children.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Marissa Orr Interview Transcript

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

Marissa Orr
Thanks, it’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your perspectives. I think it will be provocative in a fun thought-provoking kind of a way. But maybe before we go there, let’s hear about your love for reality TV.

Marissa Orr
It’s a great way to start out in terms of setting my credibility, but that’s okay. It’s my escape. I actually have – I don’t watch it as much as I used to. Years ago I lived on Bravo – a steady diet of Bravo TV, Real Housewives of New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, LA, wherever. I’ve always been a big fan of The Bachelor and things like that.

In the past few years, my time has been crunched and I haven’t gotten to watch nearly as much as I would like to, but I’m still a fan. I’m not going to lie. I’m not ashamed.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, my brother loves The Real Housewives as well. You articulate from your world view and preferences and values and such, what is it that you dig about the show? No judgment. I genuinely want to understand you.

Marissa Orr
Yeah, yeah. No offense taken. Like I said, no shame here about it. I think if I’m really kind of digging into why these shows appeal to me so much – and I don’t mean to turn it into something highbrow because it’s certainly not – but I have always just been fascinated by the drama of humanity. These women on the show are such caricatures of people that we all know in some way that I just find it fascinating in terms of even just like observing people and how they act.

For example, on The Bachelor, I also love to guess based on what I’m reading from The Bachelor and the contestants or whatever, their body language, what they’re saying, it’s fun for me to guess who’s going to make it on to the next round it sharpened my ability to sort of read people’s behavior. When you’re right, it feels great and when you’re wrong, you learn something. That’s really The Bachelor.

But Real Housewives is just an escape. It’s drama. It’s kind of like why do people like to watch sports. They’re not participating in the sport. It gives them a little kick to root for a team. I think it’s a similar thing. It gives me a little kick. It’s fun. I find these people crazy and hilarious. I work so much. I make so many decisions every day. It’s fun to just watch other people and kind of laugh at them or with them.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear that. Sometimes at the end of the day it’s like, “I want to do the opposite of thinking.”

Marissa Orr
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What is that?

Marissa Orr
Yes. There’s nothing wrong with it I think as long as it’s in moderation I suppose.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to hear about your book, Lean Out. What’s the big idea here?

Marissa Orr
Lean Out is really, quite obviously, a counterargument to lean in, but really a counterargument to most of modern-day feminism because we have been throwing the same solutions at the gender gap and at women at work for 20 years and virtually nothing has changed in terms of the numbers.

The first part of Lean Out really explains everything that modern feminism and conventional wisdom, frankly, has gotten wrong about women at work. One of those things, a broad theme, is that equality doesn’t mean we all have to be the same. We don’t have to like the same things, want the same things, get the same things. After all, diversity is about diverse set of interests, talents, strengths, perspectives and experience.

That’s one of the big themes. There’s a lot more underneath that, but I don’t know if you want me to go further or-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Well, we’re going to talk about all kinds of things.

Marissa Orr
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d say one of the themes in your book is you say that there is a systemic dysfunction in our workplaces. Can you kind of paint the picture there? What is it that is broken?

Marissa Orr
Well, let me set that answer up first with a little bit more detail around the difference in the premise lean in and lean out. The general premise of lean in really pins the blame on women for the gender gap.

The prescriptions for success hinge on women acting more like men, so being more ambitious and assertive, whereas lean out really pins the blame on our institutions, which have not changed since the Industrial Age, at a time when there were no women – virtually no women in the workforce. Since then, our entire economy has transformed and the composition of our workforce, but these structures, these competitive hierarchies have remained exactly the same.

One of the things that I ask in the book is what makes more sense, rewiring women and their personalities and what they want or rewiring a system to better meet the needs of a more diverse workforce?

Part of my problem with lean in and that whole school of thought is that it dismisses women’s wants and needs as a product of culture. I think instead of dismissing them as needs, we should embrace them because men and women a lot of times want different things at work. We should embrace those differences instead of sort of dismissing what women’s concerns are and attributing it to a product of cultural oppression.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right, there’s so much good stuff to dig into here. First, I just want to get really clear on terms here. When you say ‘the gender gap’ what are we talking about here?

Marissa Orr
I refer to the gender gap to explain the fact that there’s four percent of Fortune 500 CEOs for example are women or a highly disproportionate amount of the C-suite and executives in corporate America are men. It’s a great question because at the beginning of the book, I really define the scope, which is corporate America, which has very different dynamics than small businesses or-

Pete Mockaitis
Education.

Marissa Orr
Education or even things like being a doctor or lawyer. One way to look at that is through the lens of academia, which you mentioned. Women dominate academia. They have for many, many years. A big question is why doesn’t that dominance last after graduation.

The conventional wisdom, again, points to culturally reinforced behavior of women bodes well in school, but not in the corporate world, whereas, my argument is that that’s not the explanation. What’s really happening is in school, performance is graded objectively. You get 94 out of 100 questions right, it doesn’t matter what your personality is, it doesn’t matter how long you study, you still got a 94.

In the corporate world, especially in today’s knowledge economy, it’s really hard to tell who’s doing a good job. We don’t have grades, so we grade instead of on competence, we grade on visibility, who is talking about their work the loudest and the most and all these really visible behaviors that correlate more highly with men.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting how the grades go. When it’s subject to a human interpretation like, “Oh, I like that behavior,” “I don’t like that behavior,” then that can work against women in your worldview.

I guess, now I’m intrigued I guess when it comes to sales. That’s one of the grand sort of fair zones of performance. It’s like, “How many sales did you make?” We’ve got a number, so we can compare that there. Do women fair better in sales? I don’t actually know that answer.

Marissa Orr
I don’t actually know that either, but I think – it’s a good question – but I think there’s so many kinds of sales and so many industries. I think the context is really important, but it’s a really interesting question. I haven’t looked at it through the lens of just sales.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so I’m with you. That is intriguing. I remember when I was at my cousin, graduated from high school a couple of years ago. I was beholding all of the valedictorians – and I was a male valedictorian in high school – but they were outnumbered like four to one. It was like 80% of the valedictorians were women. It was like interesting.

Marissa Orr
It is interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Then the numbers in terms of colleges, in terms of getting into college and then not flunking out of college are also more so in favor to women. I guess I’m really intrigued. We talk about the systemic dysfunction. You had a great video in which you shared some statistics associated with how many men versus women want to be the CEO. Can you share that piece for us?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. One of the statistics that I cite in the book is the fact that only 18% of women aspire to sort of executive or C-level roles versus 35% of men. I think what you’re talking about – is it when I said that means that the majority of the population doesn’t want to be CEO.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Marissa Orr
Why don’t we look at what’s wrong with the job instead of all the people who don’t want it?

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. I think that’s a compelling point there. So what is wrong with the jobs and the systems and the hierarchies and the competitiveness? You say it’s old. It’s from the Industrial Revolution. What about that is suboptimal here now today?

Marissa Orr
There’s just so many things to talk about with respect to this, so if I go off on a tangent on any of them, just rein me back in.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure thing.

Marissa Orr
But I did want to dovetail off that earlier point quickly because it is obviously relevant. Of it is not just the systems, it’s how we’re measuring female progress because obviously one of the measurements that we use is positions like CEOs and corporate executives.

Only 18% of women desire to be a corporate CEO. That means the majority of women don’t want to be one. If we push them to do it anyway and they get the corner office, but they sit there sad and alone, can we really call that success? I think that goes back to what I mean about embracing women’s stated desires.

If we did a study on how many men want to run their household and do the majority of chores and domestic tasks, I wouldn’t think it would be much more than 18% either, but we don’t sort of make nationwide campaigns to push up those numbers. We judge sort of what women do in a way – or what women want in a way that we never really do with men.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. You talk about the campaigns and I’ve sort of wondered we’ve got sort of the gender wage gap with I don’t know the number of cents now – 72-ish cents on the dollar – but sometimes I wonder about the gender child time gap, like men only spend 41 minutes on the hour with their children as compared to women. But I don’t see that campaign being made.

Marissa Orr
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
So I think you’re really onto something. Discrimination and bad behavior totally happened, but you’re saying, “Hey, let’s take a look at what people actually want as a way of evaluating things.”

Marissa Orr
Yeah. What a revolutionary idea, right? Actually measure female progress based on what women say that would make them happy or make them sort of improve their wellbeing, which is a whole other chapter, which is in the book called Well-being Versus Winning, measuring female progress on wellbeing instead of winning, how we’re winning against men or in the corporate world. But should I go back to your question about what I mean with-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please go. Please continue.

Marissa Orr
Okay. I was going to go back to the original question, which is I think how the systems are broken. One of the ways is what I mentioned about grading on visibility versus competence because in a knowledge economy – and anyone who works in a big corporation knows that it’s really hard to tell these days who’s doing a good job.

When your job is to create marketing campaigns and strategies and even service customers, most people don’t even agree on what success looks like, let alone know who’s achieving such success or making an impact. We talk about creativity and imagination, but those things are really hard to see and measure.

One of the ways that it’s broken is that we really use these subjective and emotional measures, which are riddled with biases, to determine who’s doing a good job and we default to these proxies.

But another way is the reward system. Once you get past a certain level of management and make a certain salary, the only reward really that’s there to motivate people to climb higher and higher up the corporate ladder is power, more power over more people. But-

Pete Mockaitis
Right because you’re saying money – you’ve already got more money than you need, so it doesn’t do much for you to go from two million to two and a quarter million.

Marissa Orr
Exactly. When you look at what’s driving those people to keep going, it’s power. Research is fairly conclusive that that kind of power – power has a lot of definitions, but I’m talking about professional authority, power that’s based on your position in a hierarchy. It’s not universally motivating. A lot of women are less sort of unsatisfied.

It seems so obvious. We learn in kindergarten, everybody likes different things, but at work there’s only that one thing, so naturally the winners are going to be the ones who like that one thing more than anybody else. If you-

Pete Mockaitis
Power lovers get the power.

Marissa Orr
Well, I mean, yeah. What kind of – one of the things I joke about, but have you ever seen a corporate CEO that is kind of more like a hippy than a Gordon Gekko? No. The profile of winners are always going to be the same if you’re only motivating a very narrow subset of your workforce.

One of the things I talk about is increasing the variety of incentives. There’s other ones too, but I’ll pause here if you want to go in a different direction or have a-

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool, yeah. It’s a good point. Just while we’re there, what are some of the other incentives that should be on the menu?

Marissa Orr
Well, research also shows that women have less – their life goals are – fewer of them are focused on this kind of power. They have more life goals and they’re more varied. Some of that is balance. I would have traded 50,000 dollars’ worth of my salary for increased flexibility.

But those things in the corporate world are looked at as let’s say weakness. If you’re not in the office as much as somebody else, you’re not going to get the work assignments, the recognition and the respect if you’re only there part time. It’s not only just the incentives; it’s really how those incentives are viewed, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Marissa Orr
That’s one example. The truth is when I talk to women who’ve read the book, one of the things that really resonates with them is a part where I say that people say women lean out or don’t want to lean in once they have kids or childcare and all that stuff. That’s all very true, but I think there’s another reason.

[18:00]

I think when women start having kids and get into more of their middle to later 30s, with their time squeezed, they have dramatically lower tolerance for the office politics and BS frankly. So many women I know want to go to work and do a great job and they want work that’s meaningful, but there is just so much politics and bureaucracy and stuff that really doesn’t matter.

I think that’s another big reason that you don’t see women wanting to climb higher and higher. It’s just not – good, competent work is not rewarded, so what is left there for women at the office, but these power games that they have no interest in playing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. That makes sense, especially if you have less time, your opportunity cost is increased and you see that junk, you’re like, “Why am I spending my life in this way?”

Marissa Orr
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I can do something else.” That makes sense.

Marissa Orr
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Then let’s share a bit about strengths that are more often associated with women and more often associated with men.  I want to get your take first of all just because some folks aren’t even on board with that notion that men and women are different. In fact, I found an American Psychological Association brief entitled Men and Women: No Big Difference. What’s your take on this one?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. That’s interesting. I have so many things to say on this point, but with respect to that study, I have to look at it and see what that headline really captures because sometimes there are nuances, but I think what it’s probably referring to is the fact that men and women largely are the same when it comes to personality traits. I think it’s something like 60% overlap, so yeah, that makes sense.

However, at the extremes – and 40% is not insignificant – there are differences. After all, testosterone is proven to run – we all know that that – men have more and women have more estrogen and that those hormones influence our behavior, so I don’t think that we can sidestep that sort of biological fact.

But the other thing is we all – I don’t know – I have two boys and a girl and everybody talks about freely, “Oh, boys are like this. Girls are like this.” There’s certain elements of their behavior and personality that are different. We joke about it. If you say to your mom friend or whatever, “Oh, my boys are so wild. Your girls play so nicely. Girls are – they’re not as rambunctious, whatever,” nobody accuses you of being sexist for saying that. It’s kind of something we all intuitively see with our own eyes.

But the second you put an element of power into the equation, people go crazy and take a lot of issue with that. For example, when the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus came out all those years ago, I don’t recall that being a controversial thing. It was focused on the therapeutic and communication aspect to it. We accept that in a way.

But when it comes to power and money, I think people really take issue because they believe that if we say men and women are different, that it’s implying one’s better than the other or one’s weak and one’s strong. If you say, “More women like red and more men like green,” there’s nothing offensive about that.

Pete Mockaitis
How dare you, Marissa.

Marissa Orr
Right. People would accept that without an argument if that’s what a study said. People wouldn’t bat an eye. But it’s when you put in things like, “Women don’t want professional authority as much as men,” people start to see that as – they start making value judgments on it. I think that’s really people’s issue is the value judgment.

When you report on things like this, if they perceive that one is better than the other, it makes people defensive. But when I say women don’t want professional authority as much, I don’t mean women don’t want power. Power is a much broader concept and that’s just one kind of power.

I think women wield incredible amount of power in this world. They just – it’s not the power through a male-world view. Men have a very different relationship to power. The power men and women wield are different in a lot of ways. The only reason that would be offensive is if someone’s making a value judgment on one being better than the other.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an interesting perspective there. Folks tend to get really riled up when it has to do with power, but if it’s about boys and girls and what they do on the play yard or color preferences, then it’s no big deal.

Marissa Orr
Or if you say, “Men like sports – watching sports more than women. Women-”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s outrageous.

Marissa Orr
Right. Nobody cares when you say it on things that they don’t believe is superior.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s intriguing. When you talk about sports, now if we’re talking about consumer activity, now these are just facts that every marketer knows. Well, yeah, this product is interesting for women or for men, which is why we’re pursing advertising in particular channels because those are also consumed disproportionately more so by women, more so by men. Fun fact, the vast majority of my audience is women.

Marissa Orr
Hi girls.

Pete Mockaitis
Isn’t that interesting?

Marissa Orr
Hi ladies.

Pete Mockaitis
But we also have about a quarter of gentlemen, so hello to you as well.

Marissa Orr
Hi men.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so with that being established, then what are some of the research findings about the strengths that show up at work that are more so tend to be represented more frequently in women and then more so represented among men?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Something is a strength only in context because let’s take the corporate world, which is mostly competitive. At Google and Facebook it was a zero-sum game. It was very intensely competitive. We think of these companies as sort of progressive, new wave organizations, but their structures are exactly like any other corporation. These are very intense zero-sum games.

If my teammate gets a promotion, it means I didn’t. Even performance scores are graded on distributions, where you can’t be equally amazing as your peer. You have to be a little more amazing or a little less amazing, so it’s all very intensely completive. In that context, some of the strengths – some of the common behaviors and traits of men show up as strengths.

Men are more motivated by competition. Research shows that in competitive scenarios they perform better. In the corporate world you see that as a strength.

But research also shows that women are more collaborative and they are not as satisfied or motivated by these zero-sum games. They prefer win-win scenarios, but in the corporate world there’s not many – you don’t come by much of that. In that context, even though collaboration is a strength in many respects, in the corporate world it becomes not a strength.

Research shows that women perform worse in competitive environments. Their performance suffers. They become less creative. Then the opposite happens when it’s collaborative. That’s what I mean by strengths depend on the context.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an outstanding example. Could you lay it on us? What are some other strength representations that we see more so with men versus women and vice versa?

Marissa Orr
There’s a thing I talk about in the book, a story, there’s a book called The Confidence Code. I really sort of try and unravel its premise, but one of the stories from the book that I talk about that they have is there’s a women giving a presentation in a room. She sort of starts to hesitate before she moves on to the next point. She tries to get a temperature of the room so she knows which way to go next in her presentation.

And a man – it was I think her manager – was a man talked to her afterward because he saw that hesitation as lack of confidence. He said, “These things hurt women. They show up as less confident.”

When I read that story, my first thought was she’s demonstrating empathy. More women have a talent for taking the temperature of a room, building consensus. That was my interpretation of what she did there. If the goal was to really build a consensus as a team moving forward, she was doing great. If the goal is to act like you know everything and that you have this infallible certainty and are decisive, then she failed at that.

“What do we want from people at work?” is the question. But that consensus building is another strength that, again, can be interpreted as weakness depending on your perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Give us some more of typical men’s strengths, typical women’s strengths.

Marissa Orr
Let’s see, another example. Again, context. There’s times when you need a really authoritative voice, where certain situations call for a display of dominance in a room to align people towards something. Research shows that men communicate with the intent to establish sort of authority. In situations that call for it, that comes out as a strength for many men.

I want to make one thing clear too, when I say men are like this and women are like this, I’m obviously not talking about all men and all women. A good portion – could be upwards of maybe 30% of men have some strength that’s female dominant. These aren’t black and white things. I just talk about them that way because if I created all those nuances are conversation would be ten hours long.

It also doesn’t mean that men should behave one way and women should behave another. The goal is to behave authentic to who you are. These are just more reports of – observations on patterns of behavior. That’s an important distinction. Maybe it’s obvious. I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s handy. Sure. Thank you. What else have we got there?

Marissa Orr
Wow. Let’s see. Empathy, cooperative, consensus building, win-win for women, that’s a lot, no?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Marissa Orr
There’s more in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
… for men. Do men have …?

Marissa Orr
Oh, oh, I mention-

Pete Mockaitis
Competitive, authoritative, dominance.

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Assertiveness, things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then given that how do we go about leveraging these strengths optimally, both to get great results as well as to look good doing it, to get our props and advance?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, there’s a few things. One is just how we frame this conversation. First we need to stop measuring women against what men have. We need to stop thinking about female progress in terms of winning and really kind of reorient to wellbeing because then we’re serving the largest issues for women for people who need it most. It’s really about how we measure it.

I think also people are diverse by their very nature. The reason that diversity is not reflected at the top of the corporate world is because it rewards a subset of that behavior. I think first, we need to recognize that our institutions, as they are today, are limited. They’re not built to fulfill lots of people’s needs.

For women, I think the first step is always to turn inward and really kind of untether yourself from how your company defines success and how your peers define success and really better understand how you as a person define it. What is most important to your wellbeing?

If a promotion is going to get you a rung higher, but you’re playing more politics, which you hate, and you’re working longer hours, which you don’t want, that is not your definition of success and it’s okay to set the terms for what you need and what you want.

A lot of this is really on an individual to learn more about what their own strengths are, how they can put those to work in a corporate setting while understanding that that setting might not be designed to capitalize on those strengths. A lot of is about figuring out how your institution/organization can meet your needs, how they can’t, and then how you, yourself, can fill the gaps.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, I dig it. Well, then when it comes to some of the stuff that’s broken, do you have any kind of short-term tactics like, “Okay, you’ve got a broken system?” What are some maybe self-defense tactics or things that you’ve got to do just to make sure you don’t get an unfair shake?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, I go into a whole chapter about this in the book. There’s so many things to say to all these great questions. But I think ultimately we have to own our own path and our own success. For people suffering – can you be more specific so I can give you kind of maybe a personal story of how I handled something of that nature?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Well, so for example, if there’s tons of subjectivity going on and you’ve got the right stuff. You’re bringing it and delivering good things, but it doesn’t seem to be kind of noticed/appreciated/rewarded, what do you do?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, I think people need to get really clear with their management team or their direct manager about how their success is being measured. It’s a conversation we rarely have with our manager at the beginning of performance season. We talk more about – or at least in my experience at Google and Facebook – we really talked much more about what our goals were more so than what success looked like.

Pete Mockaitis
So your personal goals as an individual professional.

Marissa Orr
No, no, your work goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, the work goals.

Marissa Orr
For example, if you talk with your manager at the beginning of every quarter about what your goals are for the quarter. Let’s say you have five of them. Let’s say we build this new order entry system and we get 50% there by the end of the quarter. That’s your goal.

One important question to ask is how are you measuring if we get to 50%. What does 50% look like? What does 100% look like? What does a bad job on this specific goal look like? It’s a question we rarely ask, but at the end of the quarter, if you get a bad grade, if you haven’t asked how you’re being measured, you don’t really have anything to stand on.

But if your manager at the beginning of the quarter says, “Well, if we get X, Y, and Z in place, then we’ve reached 50%,” then at the end of the quarter you can show whether or not you’ve reached X, Y, and Z. That’s a much more objective way of communicating how well you did that quarter. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, understood. So you want to get crystal clear on okay, these numbers, what’s the numerator? What’s the denominator?

Marissa Orr
Or what the expectations are. What does success look like? Paint me a picture. What are the five things that need to be sort of very clearly accomplished for me to exceed expectations this quarter? I think the more specific and objective things that you can get from your manager, the easier it is to make a case for your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. More tips like this please. Lay them on us.

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, it’s hard though because in most positions in corporate America, your manager has absolute power over you and your livelihood. Even when you get a bad grade and you don’t deserve it, there’s really no recourse. Sometimes all of this advice is meaningless because you are basically – your career is at the whim of this person with total power over you. It’s kind of like tyranny by another name.

I think until our corporations have better systems in place to – like checks and balances on some of that power so that if you did do those five things and you still got a bad grade, there’s something in the company that you can – a team – HR is really mostly there to serve the people in power. I would say HR, but they’re not set up with any real authority to help.

I think part of the onus is on the organizations to rebalance that power a little bit to the employees so that if you do a good job and you do get a bad grade, if you have these objective measures – I don’t want to say a court, a trial, but there needs to be some recourse. Showing these objective metrics helps that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.

Marissa Orr
I just want to be real about it because so much business advice that people give in theory is great, but when you’re in a power structure under somebody with total power over you, it kind of doesn’t matter.

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

Marissa Orr
Nope, I think we covered it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Marissa Orr
I hoard quotes. It’s a little like asking to pick favorite children, but one quote that I love because I think it has a lot to do with kind of the story of me and my work life and how I came to write this book, it’s a proverb, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”

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

Marissa Orr
One thing that’s in the book that I love is research showing that disagreeable people, so people that are not very likeable let’s say – and disagreeableness is one of the – or agreeableness one of the five big personality trait categories. So disagreeable people are more likely to get ahead in business than agreeable people, so people that are – agreeable people are more warm and likeable. It’s actually a detriment to getting ahead in the business world.

Being unlikeable, being disagreeable is a better predictor of who rises to the top. By the way, the authors of these studies always say it doesn’t mean they’re better in that job, it just means they’re more likely to get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, I can just think of so many examples in which folks who were less agreeable are just all the more comfortable demanding the thing they want or the goal is, whereas I’m pretty agreeable.

Marissa Orr
I am too.

Pete Mockaitis
Where sometimes I’m just like, “Well, okay, I guess we can do that your way.”

Marissa Orr
Yeah, I’m actually-

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to “No, this is not optimal per the objectives. Fix it now.”

Marissa Orr
Totally. Absolutely. By the way, in every person – I’m like the highest on the continuum of agreeable that you could possibly be, which says a lot about why I never made it to the top in that world, but it is what it is. I’m happier now.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. How about a favorite book?

Marissa Orr
Again, it’s hard. One book – can I say two books?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Marissa Orr
One book that gave me sort of some of my best foundational understanding of behavior is a book from the ‘80s from a psychologist called Nathaniel Branden. The title is terrible, clearly needed some marketing help, but it’s called The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. It really opened my eyes and was a paradigm changing book for me. I understood myself and people in a totally new way, so I love that book.

Then when I was going through a hard time at Facebook, I read this other book that really got me into sort of another paradigm shift and it got me into meditation and changed my life in other ways. That is called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Marissa Orr
You’re welcome.

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

Marissa Orr
Does meditation count?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Marissa Orr
I would say I wouldn’t have been able to write the book without meditation because it was a foundation for me to learn discipline and a host of other life skills that I wouldn’t have been able to write the book without.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite nugget, something that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they say, “Yes, that is so right and wise. Thank you, Marissa.”

Marissa Orr
Nothing I ever say to my kids that’s for sure because that’s never their reaction.

I would say that if you really get the fact that at the end of the day all people want is to be heard, I think a lot of problems in this world would be solved because we’re always trying to – we speak to other people, we listen with the intent to sort of control them or control the situation and everything is about control. Things work in the exact opposite way.

When you try and control people, they rebel in ways big and small, but if you really try and understand people, things have a way of working themselves out. When people feel heard, they are empowered. They’re empowered to fix their own problems and whatever. I think that’s a very underestimated concept when it comes to communication.

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

Marissa Orr
They can find me on Twitter at MarissaBeth. It’s M-A-R-I-S-S-A Beth B-E-T-H Orr O-R-R, @MarissaBethOrr, on Medium, it’s just @MarissaOrr and LeanOutTheBook.com, but also it’s on Amazon for preorder, but LeanOutTheBook.com is the book’s site.

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

Marissa Orr
Turn inward. Know who you are and hold on to that regardless of what those around you are doing or saying. Just be you. How’s that for a clichéd ending?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it was fun. Well, Marissa, I wish you all the best. Keep on doing the good work and have fun with it.

Marissa Orr
Thanks so much. This was a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Ashley

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ashley Goodall Interview Transcript

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

Ashley Goodall
Hi, Pete. Thanks for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Too hot for “Nine Lies.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashley Goodall
Working hard, I think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like never give up.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, say more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Propelling?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

Pete Mockaitis
You’re not ready.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashley Goodall
Pete, thanks so much.

447: What Innovators Do Differently with Hal Gregersen

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Hal Gregersen reveals the key skills of disruptive innovators–and how you can get them too.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The core five skills required for innovation
  2. The questions disruptive innovators ask
  3. How to network for new idea

About Hal

Hal Gregersen is the Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management where he pursues his vocation of executive teaching, coaching, and research by exploring how leaders in business, government, and society discover provocative new ideas, develop the human and organizational capacity to realize those ideas, and deliver positive, powerful results.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Hal Gregersen Interview Transcript

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

Hal Gregersen
Delighted to be with you, Pete, once again.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m thrilled to have you again. And so, last episode was 385 for folk who didn’t hear back in January, and we talked about questions, and it was so fun. But I’d love to hear, in the interim period, what are some fascinating questions that you’ve encountered in these months that have passed?

Hal Gregersen
Well, one that I bumped into came right after a speech at South by Southwest. I had the chance to get in the car and drive north of Austin, Texas to Waco, Texas and did some work with the folks at Magnolia, Chip and Joanna Gaines and their senior people there. And at the end of some conversations about where they’ve been and where they’re going, we actually explored, quite deeply, what kinds of questions really matter in this new launching point at Magnolia.

And one of the questions that crossed my mind, that we talked about briefly, was, “What is truth in a healthy relationship?” And I realized that when a relationship, be it at work or even at home, is unhealthy, truth takes on a completely different element or definition in unhealthy versus healthy relationships. And I honestly don’t have the perfect or great answer to that question. I’m exploring it. But it was one that’s caused me to think twice about the kinds of things I do at work and at home.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that reminds of the gospels with, I think, it’s Pilate who asked, “What is truth?” It’s like, “What a question, man. That’s tricky.”

Hal Gregersen
Well, I mean, whatever it is, truth, lie, but the notion is in a very unhealthy relationship, truth gets defined by a single person. So, think of an abusive boss or even an abusive partner or spouse. In those instances, the world revolves around that individual, and truth gets singularly defined by them. And their version of truth is very untruthful. It’s just full of shades of grey and ugliness. But in a healthy, equal sort of context relationship, be it, again, at work or at home, truth is a different thing, and it’s consensual, and we’re creating it, and it’s something beautiful versus the opposite.

So, again, it was an amazing conversation with Chip and Joanna Gaines and some of their senior people around some of the key issues, and they just raised some really important questions. And they care deeply about creating spaces there, in our homes especially, where truth can thrive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, we were just breaking the ice and then you’ve got some…

Hal Gregersen
We love to break deep ice. We love to break deep ice, right, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I appreciate it. I’ll be chewing on it for sure. And I want to chat with you, in particular, right around now because you’ve got another book coming out here, The Innovator’s DNA. What’s the big idea here?

Hal Gregersen
Well, the big idea is this book is a revised version of one that came out in 2011, and basically, we’ve updated it. But here’s the genesis of the book The Innovator’s DNA. Jeff Dyer, a good colleague, and I were talking about the innovation skills of disruptive innovators, and we then crossed paths with Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School who coined the term “disruptive innovation.”

And we asked Clay, in a very direct way, “You made up, you created this concept of disruptive innovation arguably,” and the question we asked him was, “How do people like Jeff Bezos at Amazon, or Peter Thiel at PayPal, Niklas Zennstrom at Skype, this again was 15 years ago, how do those people get the ideas that actually disrupt entire industries?”

And Clay had his big, six-foot, seven-foot hands, scratched his head and thought, “I don’t know. I mean, we collectively concluded, ‘Let’s figure it out.’” And so, we interviewed a hundred plus of these people from all over the world, Diane Greene who founded VMware, Fadi Ghandour who founded a company in the Middle East called Aramex, and basically had the chance to ask them, “What were you doing when you caught the initial idea that led to a very disruptive organization that changed the world in the face of it?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an exciting question, and I’ve enjoyed perusing your Appendix A, Sample of Innovators Interviewed, and it’s an impressive lineup there. So, what were they doing? Were they all showering? What were they up to?

Hal Gregersen
Well, what you do is you watch them go about their everyday work, and they spend 30% of their time doing something that other leaders don’t, even CEOs and founders. And here’s what they do. Number one, they wake up in the morning with a problem or a challenge to be solved or found. They are problem finders and solvers. That’s how they approach the world.

And so, they have that mindset. And once they get into that sort of focus, it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to now try to figure something out,” and they do it with five very specific skills. They ask very challenging, status quo challenging questions, frequently and often. They observe the world like anthropologists. They’re carefully watching and paying attention. They network and talk to people who are the polar opposites of them, very different, in order to get new insights and spark new insights. They experiment and try things that other people aren’t willing to try, small, fast, cheap experiments.

And when they behaviorally do those things – questioning, observing, networking for new ideas, and experimenting – it actually gives them the ability to connect the unconnected, to think associatively, to put together ideas that other people couldn’t. Einstein called it “combinatorial play.” And imagine someone actively solving a problem, getting up, getting out, getting into the world, asking provocative questions, making deep observations, talking to creative people, experiment and trying things, and taking the time to associatively think and put stuff together that other people don’t.

Imagine that kind of active problem-solving process, getting primary information, primary data, versus other leaders, or people even in organizations, sitting in their office space being tasked with giving a creative new idea, and that’s basically all they do. They think.

Pete Mockaitis
“Go get an idea.”

Hal Gregersen
They think. They sit there and think with each other, and they talk in their office spaces, and they look at Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint files. And at the end of the day, if you’re betting your retirement income on the ideas that come out of those pretty stilled land, office space conversations versus this very active problem-solving and finding approach, of getting up, getting out, observing, networking, experimenting, questioning, and associatively thinking, you know, where would you put your retirement funds? And, basically, they go towards the people who are using these discovery skills to find and solve problems. Because when we use these skills that way, we actually reduce the probability of failure with our brand-new idea. It makes it more likely to happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it also sounds like a whole lot more fun.

Hal Gregersen
Oh, totally. Absolutely. Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, there’s so much good stuff in there, so I want to maybe start with the problem finding and solving. So, you say they spend 30% of their time doing stuff that others don’t, and that is they wake up, these innovators, and they just want to find a problem or solve a problem. It’s just like it sounds like in the first minutes of arising.

And so, those problems, are they kind of like all over the place in terms of, “Oh, this is an interesting thing I want to tinker with”? Or are they kind of pretty focused in terms of in their kind of functional or industry zones?

Hal Gregersen
They’re deeply focused within their own. They’re deeply focused within a space but they’re open to other surprises. And this is where, if you go to Jeff Bezos at Amazon, it’s like, here’s this guy working in financing, notices out of the corner of his eye, 25 years ago, that the internet was explosive growth rates of 1200% to 1500% per year, and he’s like, “What’s going on over there?” And that’s the point at which he then becomes very curious and very actively using these discovery skills to collect new data, and all of that work relentlessly trying to figure out, “What’s going on with this internet thing?” leads him to sell books on the internet which other people weren’t doing.

And so, the notion is we actually do care about something, as Richard Branson said, enough to do something about it. I remember this story of an animator at PIXAR talking about Steve Jobs getting in the elevator, 20 plus years ago, and surprising this young animator with a whole series of questions, again, two or three decades ago, around, “What kind of music do you listen to? And what are you paying attention to with your music? And where do you listen to your music? And how do you store your music?”

And he’s asking him all these questions about his music in the elevator, and Steve Jobs was trying to figure out the iPod. And it didn’t matter where he was, even if he was in an elevator with a stranger, he was trying to figure out better data to find and solve this issue around the iPod. And so, they care deeply about an issue.

And, frankly, I bet more than half of the leaders I interact with around the world really don’t care about the work they’re doing. They don’t care deeply about the problems and challenges they can find and solve in their own space. That’s the starting point to use these discovery skills to build something different.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it feels kind of like an obsession. It’s like, “I’m going to talk to anybody I bump into about this thing because it’s on my mind a lot.”

Hal Gregersen
And that’s how it works. And so, whether it’s David Neeleman who founded JetBlue in the U.S. a while back, and Azul Airlines in Brazil, and now he’s founding a new airline in the U.S. called Moxy, but Neeleman’s constantly exploring and trying to source new information with these discovery skills to be able to solve problems and build things other people don’t build.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And this reminds of the times I’ve certainly been in the throes of a question, and I just want to investigate. And I’ve often thought, “Boy, if I were to become a detective in law enforcement, I might become a terrible husband,” because it would just play in these, like, “Oh, I’m so close. How does this all fit together?”

Hal Gregersen
Yeah, exactly. But that’s how it works, Pete. That’s how it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so I imagine that, well, some have it, some have not found out ways to, I don’t know if the word is “control” or “harness” or “tame the wild stallions of obsessive innovative thought.”

Hal Gregersen
These hundred plus innovators, disruptive innovators, we interviewed for The Innovator’s DNA book, I don’t think they did shut it off, you know. They are relentless, obsessive problem finders and solvers. And so, I mentioned David Neeleman. Here’s this guy who grew up, he’s roughly my age, late 50s or early 60s, and this is 40 years ago. He bumps into a woman named June Morris, and they found Morris Air, and then that gets sold off to Southwest Airlines. And then David Neeleman gets fired from Southwest by Herb Kelleher because he’s too innovative, and he has a five-year non-compete agreement. He comes back and he founds JetBlue Airlines, and is incredibly successful by all metrics and standards.

Then he goes back to where he was born, in Brazil, to found Azul Airlines on a JetBlue model slightly modified for the Brazilian markets. And so, David, whenever he’s operating in the world, he’s asking these catalytic questions. And the first starting point becomes, “What’s going on here?” And so, David’s constantly asking of the world around him, “What’s working here? What’s not working and why?” And those are simple to ask but it requires huge trust to be able to get answers to them.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say trust, what do you mean?

Hal Gregersen
You know, if I walked outside of my office right now and asked the staff around me, “What’s working? What’s not and why?” They would be maybe looking at me, like, “Can I trust you with the real answers? This is working and that’s not.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s on their point of view.

Hal Gregersen
Exactly. So, it takes a deep commitment that I’m not just asking these questions to be clever or get a career advancement, I’m asking to make this place better off for us and for the people we’re serving. And that’s how David operates in the world. And so, you’ve got these relentless set of questions about the way things are, the status quo, and what’s working and what’s not and why, to lead him then to like, “Well, why don’t we try this? And how might we do that? And what if we try this?” These are very prescriptive world-changing questions.

So, his what-if question around, “What if we stopped having paper tickets? And what if we gave people codes over the phone to get on our planes at Morris Airlines?” ultimately led him, he actually was the inventor of electronic ticketing. And then when he goes down in Brazil, their issues of, “Where are we going to fly out of? What airport are we going to get some landing rights to?”

There were two major airlines in Brazil who’ve locked up all the major airports near Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In Sao Paulo, there was an airport an hour and a half away, and they actually got some landing rights there, ended up getting it all set up. And a few months before the launch of Azul Airlines in Sao Paulo, they realized the taxi ride from downtown Sao Paulo to the airport, on average, costs more than the ticket of the airplane. It was just too far away and too expensive.

And so, David’s like, “Well, why don’t we just build a huge bus system to transport thousands of people every day?” The senior leaders were like, “We’re not in the bus business, David.” And David’s response was, “Well, why not?” And he was persistent about it. And now they have these amazingly clean, Wi-Fi-equipped, very wonderful rides in downtown Sao Paulo to the airport.

Conversely, in Rio de Janeiro, they again couldn’t get landing rights at the main airport, but there was this airport off the Copacabana Beach in right down downtown Rio de Janeiro. There was a military airport that was not being used. And David and his team went to the government and asked them about it, and their answer was, “No, you can’t.” David’s response was, “Well, why not?” And he was completely persistent about this “Why not?” to the point that that’s where they finally started the Azul Airlines, was at that, “We’re not going to have it here” airport off the coast.

So, yeah, it’s just the way he operates and others like him. They’re constantly asking these questions of descriptively what’s working, what’s not and why, that leads them very practically to, “Well, how might we do this differently? And what if we try that and why not this?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, boy, there’s so much there. I think maybe we talk about these people. I want to maybe touch upon some of the research in the book about nature versus nurture, if anyone is saying, “Oh, yeah, but that’s them and not me.” What do you have to say to that?

Hal Gregersen
Well, my first response would be, if I could see the hands of everybody listening to this podcast right now, and ask them, “How many of you define yourself as innovators?” If the group out there was like any group of leaders I asked that question of in the world, about at most 50% of the hands go up. And then I’ll ask them, “Well, do you solve problems?” And everybody’s hand goes up. And now I’ve got them cornered to that plan, it’s like, “Well, if you’ve got a problem you know the solution, and you have to create a solution, what do you have to do? Well, you’re an innovator, right?” And they’re like, “Oh, got me. You’re right.”

And so, the issue is some of challenge of this nature versus nurture and “Am I innovative or not? Am I creative or not?” it all gets bundled up into these weird words of innovation versus “Do I just solve problems creatively?” The second part is, you know, truthfully, part of our discovery innovation skills are actually nature.

In fact, five systematic studies of genetically identical twins who, they’re born, but for tragic reasons they get separated at birth, and they grow up in different families and neighborhoods and context and schools, then they test them as adults. And about one-third of our ability to use these innovation skills regularly, of questioning, observing everything, experimenting and associational thinking, one-third of that is actually a bit genetic.

So, I’m very tactile. I touch and explore things with my hands. In the world, I got kicked out of school five times by the time I was in junior high school because I was always creating problems. But the issue is every one of those touchpoints, because I got more dopamine formed in my brain, caused me to get data that somebody is not touching doesn’t get. And all those datapoints of all those touches allows me to connect and see things other people don’t see. So, one-third of it is arguably genetic.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, that’s the majority.

Hal Gregersen
No, no, no, it’s one-third. The other two-thirds is pure nurture. It’s the families. It’s the schools. It’s the places we work. And all we have to do, Pete, is think of four-year olds around the world, and if they’ve grown up in reasonable homes and places, I mean, if it’s really extreme abuse, it’s a different story. But most four-year olds, what do they do? They ask a gazillion questions. They’re watching you like hawks and eagles. They are talking to just about anybody. They’ll try just about anything and they are exceptional at connecting the unconnected, and surprising you with ideas you never thought of.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Certainly.

Hal Gregersen
So, a 100% of us were once four-year olds, Pete. We had these skills. We had these creative problem-solving skills. But, unfortunately, sometimes homes and schools and even work can crush them. And so, given that two-thirds of the discovery creative innovation skills is just the world around us, is nurture, if we want to get better at it, it’s a choice. We just have to choose to use these skills to solve our problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s encouraging as compared to, say, IQ. It seems like we got a whole lot more room to grow and expand our creative skills than maybe our IQ.

Hal Gregersen
Oh, absolutely. And so, the data around this are, following what you just said, we are far more capable of making improvements around our creativity and discovery skills than we are around this thing we call IQ. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then, let’s talk about how to do it. So, we talked about questioning and some detail last time and it was a blast. I recommend Episode 385, everybody. But anything else you want to add about questioning or should we kind of move into observing?

Hal Gregersen
No, I think questioning is a starting point. It’s like, number one, care about a problem enough to do something about it. Number two, start asking more questions. And if you have no other time than this, one way to ask better questions is what I call a question burst. Whatever your issue is, set a timer for four minutes, don’t answer any of the questions, don’t explain why you’re asking them to yourself or to other people, and in four fast minutes, generate as many possible questions as you can about the issue.

And simply doing that, if nothing else, will help any of us ask better questions to start down the path of getting better answers. And once we define two or three of those questions that really count, what we know from the data from “The Innovator’s DNA” assessment where we’ve collected data from self and 360 assessments of leaders from all over the world, all kinds of industries, 20,000 of them, we basically know that if we only asked questions, there’s no relationship with that in getting valuable new ideas, new businesses, new products and services and new process.

So, all we do is ask questions. We’re not going to go anywhere. It’s like spinning wheels. But if we ask questions and actively get up, get out into the world, and either observe like anthropologists, network for new ideas, or experiment and just try things, then there’s an interaction effect they call in regression analysis where, in fact, questioning and observing does deliver valuable new ideas. Questioning and networking does deliver valuable new ideas. Questioning and experimenting it does that.

So, it’s the combination of asking with doing that makes the big difference. And I’m happy to share an example too if you’re interested.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please do. Yes.

Hal Gregersen
So, you may have never heard of Rod Drury? Does that ring a bell?

Pete Mockaitis
I think it was the Drury Lane?

Hal Gregersen
No, that’s good. That’s really good. On Drury Lane in London. That would even work for the Gingerbread Man. No, not that Rod Drury. So, I had never heard of Rod Drury, and one of the things we did related to “The Innovator’s DNA” book is we worked with Credit Suisse, we built this innovation premium metric where we’re able to, with the share price of a company, a publicly-held company, determine if investors believed that this company is going to do valuable, new, and different things in the future.

And so, part of the share price of a stock is related to things we’re currently doing, and for some companies, investors pay a premium because they say, “Look, you’re going to be doing something different, I think, in the future. I’ll pay you more than you deserve today.” So, this list we do every year for the last several years with Forbes, in collaboration with Forbes. And a few years ago, this company called Xero jumped onto the list. It’s one of the most innovative in the world. We’re like, “What’s that company?” In fact, it was near the top.

And when we looked at it, we discovered that Rod Drury founded this company that basically solved the exact same kind of software to small businesses and individuals that Intuit sells with QuickBooks and Quicken. And we called Rod Drury and we asked him, “How did you get the idea to build this company that outside of the U.S. is taking Intuit on head to head?” And his answer? He said, “I, for five years or more, watched and read everything that Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, did.” Now, that’s interesting.

And he said he literally would go to conferences to hear Scott and to watch how he operated as a leader. And here’s what he discovered. Scott Cook founded Intuit on his deep questioning and observational skills. He can really see things other people that don’t see. And so, Rod Drury noticed that. And what does Rod do? Well, he founded one software company, and then he’s like, “I think we could do something in this personal and financial and small business software.”

And so, Rod and his team went to 200 small businesses with questions swirling in their head about how to make small business software, financial software better for them. They went into 200 plus small businesses, and spent three to four hours in each of them, simply watching how they went about their day, and then talking to them about what they noticed and observed. That’s a 600-hour commitment by a founder. It’s not like delegating this innovation work to somebody else, it’s doing it yourself, which is what these innovators do.

So, what Rod discovered was many things. One, for example, was he watched these people come up, open their small business at the beginning of the day, get their cup of coffee or hot chocolate, go back to their computer two or three minutes later, and all of them were looking on the computer at basically the same information. So, pretend, Pete, you’re a small business owner, and you’re starting your new day, and you’re looking on your computer for some key information. What do you think that most important data that was that they were looking for?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, how much cash do I have in the bank right now? And how much cash do I need?

Hal Gregersen
Bingo! Bingo! Bingo! That’s exactly it. They were looking at their bank balances to figure out cashflow, “Do we have enough money to operate today?” And what they basically did was they took that observation, which at that point bank statements weren’t linked to this personal financial or small business financial software. They took that datapoint and a hundred or a thousand others to build a user interface, an introductory report when you log on, that’s incredibly intuitive and incredibly simple, and delivering the data you need to work today with your small business.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it must feel cool. What’s interesting about this synergy is questioning plus observing is because it might not occur to you to ask the question, “What is the first thing that you open up and look at in your financial software?” But once you do some observing, you’re like, “Huh, this is an interesting little pattern. I’m going to go ahead and kind of validate or vet by sending a survey to a bunch of people. And, say, hey, sure enough, everybody does this.”

Hal Gregersen
Oh, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I can see how they go back and forth there.

Hal Gregersen
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we talked about the questioning and the observing. So, then how do we think about networking and experimenting?

Hal Gregersen
Well, the networking piece to think through is, okay, they’re not networking to get a career advancement. It’s not networking to get resources. That’s a different kind of networking. This is a networking to expressly spark new ideas. And so, whatever your challenge is, whatever you’re trying to figure out, it’s like, “Okay, who are the top 10 go-to people that, if I talked with them, they would help me get a new idea, a new angle on this issue, possibly asking the questions I’m not caring about?”

And, in this instance, when we’re trying to get new friends, we usually try to find people who are like us. When we’re trying to get new ideas, the whole point is “People who are not like me.” That’s the point. They have a different technical background, they work for different organization, a different industry, they’re a different gender, a different generation, by age, different nationality, a different political group, a different socio-economic group. They’re different somehow, someway. They’ve lived in a different space and world enough that they can give me an angle I’ve never considered before.

And so, Marc Benioff, whom we first interviewed for The Innovator’s DNA book, and I re-interviewed for the Questions Are the Answer book that you and I talked about recently, but Marc, at the very core, is incredibly inquisitive and he excels at networking for new ideas. He calls them listening tours. He gets up, he gets out. When he’s got an issue, sometimes his listening tours last three months, sometimes one month.

He literally goes and embeds himself in a space in order to figure out what’s going on by talking to rich people, poor people, business leaders, government leaders, religious leaders, small businesses, large businesses, non-businesses, literally dozens, hundreds of conversations, collecting information, getting surprised in order to formulate an idea that otherwise he wouldn’t.

So, one of their ideas is this thing called Chatter, which is kind of this integration of Facebook and Twitter internally to facilitate conversations and get work flowing better on their systems. That idea came from a regular dinner that Marc holds with young leaders out in Silicon Valley to get new ideas, and that’s where that spark came from.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then so you’re networking for new ideas, and one of the guidelines is you want to talk to folks who are unlike yourself. But it sounds like they can be from any industry, or functional area, or geography, or socio-economic background. So, what am I kind of looking for when I’m choosing who to get in the room?

Hal Gregersen
Well, often it’s somebody who’s dealt with a problem similar to the one we’re dealing with. And so, if I’m a radiologist working in CAT MRI scanning machine, and I’m having trouble getting kids to settle down and be quiet and be comfortable in this space, I might go talk to dentists who deal with some of the same challenges, and ask them, “How do you deal with this issue? How do you approach it?” And they might get some incredibly new ideas otherwise they wouldn’t get.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Hal Gregersen
Now, I mean, there’s a historical example that’s absolutely fun around this. Have you ever heard of Kutol Wall Cleaner?

Pete Mockaitis
No, I haven’t.

Hal Gregersen
So, back in the 1940s, you and I, if we lived in a home, we probably had wallpaper on the wall. It was paper and we had a coal-burning stove, and the coal put out soot. By the end of the year, the spring, new spring, our walls will be black, not white, because the soot is all over the walls. So, Kutol Wall Cleaner was this putty-like substance that was rolled up and down the wallpaper, because you couldn’t wash it, in order to clean that black soot off, and you’d buy gallons of it to clean your walls off in the spring after a long cold winter.

And after World War II, these coal-burning stoves, they were no longer going to be used because electric and gas-burning stoves were replacing them, so there’s no more market for Kutol Wall Cleaner. So, imagine being the president of that company. It’s the market-leading wall-cleaning putty company on planet Earth, and your market now is disappearing because there’s no more need for it. And the founder actually passed away accidentally, tragically in an airplane accident, so his son took over in the middle of this downward transition, and then the son got cancer, so then they’re really in difficult straits.

And the family is sitting around the table trying to figure out, “What do we do next? The machines aren’t even running. We’re not going to have a spring this year. What are we going to do?” And at the dinner table is a daughter-in law of one of the founders who’s a school teacher, and she raised the problem at school, “You know, it’s cool when the kids do their art stuff. If they used sculpting clay, it stains their clothes with all the color, and if they used the stuff you make with flour, salt and water, it just doesn’t work as well.”

So, somebody at the dinner table says, “Why don’t you take a can of Kutol Wall Cleaner to school tomorrow and see if it works for your sculpting class.” They did. It was incredibly successful. That became Play-Doh.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Same stuff.

Hal Gregersen
Same stuff. So, all they did, the only thing they did was they changed the label on the can, removed the borax cleanser, put in almond scent. They sold the same stuff in the same can within the same factory. It used to be 37-cent wall cleaner, and it was a $1.50 one for the Play-Doh. And they sort of hit a wall with trying to market it.

Pete Mockaitis
The wall.

Hal Gregersen
There was this kid show called “Captain Kangaroo” like “Sesame Street” but way, way back. And they went to “Captain Kangaroo” and said, “Would you put this Play-Doh stuff on your show so we can sell more of it?” And said, “Here’s how much it would cost.” And they’re like, “We’re just barely digging out of a real hole here. What else can we do?” Captain Kangaroo says, “You give me 5% of your profits in the future and I will put it on my show three or four times a week.” He did and now it’s billions of cans later, you know, incredibly successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Captain Kangaroo grew the…

Hal Gregersen
Yes, sure. So, the point here, Pete, is Play-Doh never would have happened if people wouldn’t have been sitting at a table and talking across industries, education and wall cleaning, in order to solve a problem. And then having an experiment, “Just try some at school tomorrow. Small, fast and cheap to make it work.” And it did.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, Hal, tell me, if you’re thinking from the perspective of a typical professional as opposed to a CEO or head of a product, what are some of the top things you’d recommend we do to get better at some of these skills right away?

Hal Gregersen
Pay deep careful attention to the world around you and find an opportunity or a problem or a challenge related to your employees or to your customers that if you did something about it, it would make their world better. That’s the first step. You have to care about something that you want to do something about it. Once you have it identified, then it’s actively, use these discovery skills to find a solution.

And so, just today I was talking with a leader in my office here today who has a legal training and is trying to figure out the new legal tech integration with basically it’s technology, AI, machine learning, deep learning, what’s the impact going to be in the legal field. And I said, “Well, on one hand you can just sit in your office and think it, or you could use these skills and do something about it.”

So, starting point A, build your questioning muscle, your questioning skill by doing that question exercise about your challenge. Take four minutes, generate as many questions as you can, you’ll find some you didn’t discover before, and pick one or two that really matter. Starting point, ask a different question.

Then, I want you to get up, get out, get into the world. So, in this case, it was for this lawyer, “Go and observe the people who are actively using artificial intelligence in their legal work, watch them do their work. Watch people who are not doing their work. Learn about how both of their worlds operate.” Then I said, “Go talk to other people who are integrating AI into their world, biotech, fintech. Have conversations with them and even beyond that world, maybe in the world of transition and change due to technology.”

Then I said, “Try a few small, fast, cheap experiments based upon what you’re learning to see if it might work. And intentionally, once a week, step back with all this data you’re getting, observing, networking, and experimenting, and take a moment to think to yourself, ‘Is there anything I’m learning new, different, surprising from observing, networking, experimenting, anything new and different, surprising, that would be relevant to this problem I’m trying to solve?’”

If we don’t take the moment to make those connections, they don’t get made. And in the business life, we often miss that simple but important element.

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

Hal Gregersen
Whether you are leading yourself or leading your team or leading an entire organization, everybody is looking at how you find and solve problems. And all I know is if you walk into the most innovative companies in the world, these are not passive problem finders and solvers. The senior leaders, the executives who innovate and disrupt, they actively use these five discovery skills over and over and over to do their work. And that’s what makes them so good.

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

Hal Gregersen
Favorite quote. You ask me difficult things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m honored to hear that from you.

Hal Gregersen
No, there was one I ran across. I was playing with two of our grandchildren at the beach, treasure hunting actually, and as I was looking out over the water and the sun was coming in, I had this quote come into my mind by E. B. White, “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” It was just that moment of wonder, “What new treasure are we going to find in the beach? What new treasure are we going to see in the sky?” And to always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder is a creative way to start and end every day.

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

Hal Gregersen
I’m in the middle of reading The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines. I’m a fan of Magnolia. It’s basically their life stories behind the creation of this incredible business that they’ve created. And the powerful thing that I get out of it is they are very, very different people, Chip and Joanna Gaines. But they deeply admire and respect and honor each other’s instincts about how to do things and what they might do next. And that is partly, I think, not partly, I think it’s been crucial to their success and what they’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share in your speaking, your teaching, your book that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and get quoted back to you often?

Hal Gregersen
Innovation is a choice. We all wake up, we all go about our life be it work or at home, and we all have demands that force us just trying to get things done every day. But one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and others is choosing to innovate, choosing to create something new and different, choosing to build a future that looks different than the one we’re living in today. And what’s really cool about making that choice to innovate and create is it not only gets us brand-new ideas but it also buys us more years here on planet Earth, more healthier, we have fewer heart attacks, less depression. It’s just going to lead to consequences that can build a better world not just for us but for those that we care most around us.

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

Hal Gregersen
Easiest is HalGregersen.com. But if you look up Hal Gregersen online, you can chase me down at MIT or beyond and we can connect with each other.

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

Hal Gregersen
Leadership is not about us. It’s about building other people, and it could be those that are working directly with us, it could be the next generation who’s going to take our place. But, at the end of the day, leadership is not about me. It’s about somebody else becoming better at exactly what you and I talked about, Pete, finding and solving the most important problems to make this place better.

Pete Mockaitis
Hal, it has been a fun and inspiring. Yet again, I wish you all the best with this book and your questions and all your adventures.

Hal Gregersen
Thank you. And, Pete, same to you. Wish you well in your journey and adventure. In my simple terms, quest well. There you go.