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519: How to Have Productive Disagreements with Buster Benson

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Buster Benson discusses how to conquer your fear of conflict and start disagreeing well.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising cost of avoiding conflict
  2. Eight crucial steps for productive disagreement
  3. What to do when you disagree with your boss

About Buster

Buster Benson is an entrepreneur and a former product leader at Amazon, Twitter, Slack, and Patreon. He’s now editor of and writer for the Better Humans publication on Medium, creator of 750Words.com which brings private journaling to a safe place on the web, and developer of Fruitful Zone, an online platform facilitating healthy discourse. He is also author of the Cognitive Bias cheat sheet with over one million reads.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Buster Benson Interview Transcript

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

Buster Benson
Thank you. I’m really excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be talking to you. There have been no other guests who have created a poster that hangs in my office.

Buster Benson
Oh, wow. Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you have that unique distinction. “The Cognitive Bias Codex,” it is a work of art. And could you maybe share the story of that because I’m thinking it’s so cool?

Buster Benson
Yeah. It was a really strange and long story but like, basically, I have been interested in cognitive biases fairly pretty much my whole life and yet I always felt them really hard to remember. There’s just so many of them, there’s 200 plus, they all have really weird names, like the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon so there was no easy way for me to actually internalize what was happening here. And I’ve decided to take a couple of weeks, a couple of years ago, in 2016, to essentially try to eat this entire body of knowledge and figure out how to synthesize it into something I can understand.

And so, what came out of it was this framework where, instead of thinking about biases as mental bugs where your brain is glitching out, they’re actually all there to solve hard problems, like there’s too much information in the world, so we do have to filter some things out. Nothing really makes sense so we do have to connect the dots and fill in the gaps with sometimes generalities and stereotypes. And we also have to do things, like we can’t just sit and talk about it all day long. We got to go out and make decisions and take action, and that means that we have to be confident even though we don’t have all the information in front of us.

And so, all of the biases in the world fit into these categories. And when this poster was written, I figured I might as well make it a visual because this is already still such a hard topic, but make it look really nice, and the poster came out of that. And with a friend of mine, John Manoogian. and he really helped make it look like something beautiful, like a work of art.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, it is and it hangs there and I’ve been wondering if it’s possible for me to get that as a sound wrap, like an acoustic panel, you know, and that’d be the visual so it serves a double duty.

Buster Benson
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
But, anyway, so thank you for that. It’s really cool. And I love some of those names, they’re funny. Some of them are crazy and some of them are intuitive, like the IKEA effect, it’s like, “Oh, that’s exactly what I think it would be.”

Buster Benson
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I spent all this time assembling something I think it’s worth more because I invest in that.” Is there a particular cognitive bias that shows up for you a lot still today even after all of your research and work?

Buster Benson
Well, that’s the thing is they don’t go away just because you know the name, unfortunately. Yes, so the confirmation bias is obviously one that really affects us today where we tend to not only prefer information that confirms us but, now, we’re actually also just only seeking out sources of information that confirm our biases. So, that’s an important one to think about.

There’s also the one called naïve realism which is really interesting and somewhat depressing, I guess, if you think about it too much. But it’s this idea that we think that what we think of people is what they’re actually thinking, and this happens a lot in conversations and debates and disagreements. We might say, like, “Oh, wait. I don’t understand why you think this.” And suddenly you brain is like, “Here’s a reason why they think it. It’s because they’re dumb,” and then we believe that, and that’s a strange bias that we do because we can’t read minds. We have to fill in the gaps there. But we could also ask the question to fill in the gaps, and especially if they’re right there in front of us. So, that really is on my mind recently.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, and a perfect segue to your recently released book Why Are We Yelling: The Art of Productive Disagreement because I think that’s quite one way that things go sour real fast is if you say, “Well, the reason that person thinks that is because he or she is a moron, or a racist, or hates me.” That gets you into some trouble. So, maybe let’s zoom out a little bit and, say, sort of what’s the big idea behind your latest work here Why Are We Yelling and, yeah, let’s get oriented that way?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, similar to the cognitive bias approach, I felt like there’s all these books about negotiation and rationality and persuasion that were really useful in particular context, like work, or sales, or debate in the courtroom, that kind of stuff. But there weren’t that many ways to really make it real for my everyday life. Like, what’s going to help me have a better conversation with my friend over a meal? What’s going to help me have better conversations as I’m going on a walk with my son? These things where we don’t have the tools, we haven’t been really taught how to have these conversations in a productive way.

And so, we resort to just these trial and error attempts, and some of us have luckily stumbled into the right approaches and some of us didn’t, and there’s no real way to help people develop that skill. So, that was my impetus for writing this, first, for myself, because I really need these skills and I want to synthesize it in a way that made sense to me, but also for other people because I feel like more and more these days we just feel stuck and frustrated with the way that our conversations are going.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love it if, do you have any data that sort of tell that story? Like, I’m wondering if things sure seem nastier and more hostile these days and less productive in our disagreements, but do you have any proof?

Buster Benson
Yeah, there’s proof everywhere you look. So, depending on which avenue or domain of the world you want to look, there’s different ones. So, one of them I found is that, in a work setting, for example, which is one of the safest ones, 85% of people believe that they have some crucial information about the business, about the company, and they’re not talking about it because they don’t want to start an argument. And so that’s where conflict avoidance has really risen to the surface.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Woo, I’m sorry. That’s huge.

Buster Benson
That’s shocking, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That is just… that’s huge. I think that’s like the core of so much dysfunction right there, it’s like, “I’ve got some info and I’m not telling you not because I’m diabolically trying to sabotage anything but just because, oh, man, this is going to cause a big old argument. I don’t want to deal with it.”

Buster Benson
Yeah, if you don’t feel it’s a safe environment to have disagreements or you don’t know how to have them, you’re not going to move forward and you’re not going to have that conversation, and that’s just going to linger and get worse, and eventually pop up in some other person’s lap. And this happens not only at work but obviously also in the political sphere. We don’t necessarily think that we’re trying to go out there and solve problems, where we all know what the problems are, and we’re just unhappy about it and yelling about it.

I think there’s ways that we can move away from this conflict avoidance stance, which turned out to be way more common than the unproductive disagreement stance. Most people are not having that many unproductive disagreements. They’ve given up and that’s even worse in some senses in terms of like, “Well, if you’ve already given up, how do we get you back in the game so that we can actually work through these problems?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, do tell. How do we do that? So, you’re feeling like, “Oh, that’s just going to cause a big argument. I’m not even going to bring it up, not even going to go there.” What’s sort of the next step?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, one of the first things we need to do is remember that other people are humans and other people are as complex as us. So, to do this, when we go into a situation where we’re feeling like, “I think that they aren’t as smart as I am, or I think they don’t get it,” that’s an opportunity to fill in the gaps with real information. So, having someone in front of you that has all these information and perspective is actually a blessing. You can ask them, “Tell me, I just don’t get how this works for you. Like, what’s the story? What’s the background? How did this happen? Help me get there. Help me see the world through your perspective,” just because that’s information that we don’t have, and until we have it, we just feel confused and baffled. And it’s frustrating. It doesn’t feel good.

So, use these people that you might normally think of as opponents or enemies as a source of information that can help you feel a little bit more relaxed about the world if you can understand their perspective better. And that’s really the first step is just think about, “What are the openings? What are the stories we can glean from each other in a safer setting to have a wider perspective of the world?” Not necessarily to change minds or anything, but just to see it from one more, a little bit higher on the plane of perspectives so that we can see, “This person exists because this happened to them and this is their story, and I’m like this because this happened to me, and I could see now why we both exist in the same world, and we both think we’re doing the right thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so when you say, “How do you get here?” you don’t specifically mean, I don’t know, why you did the project a certain way, but, like, their whole life backstory, history picture.

Buster Benson
Yeah, we oftentimes resort to what are the facts, what are the evidence. The facts and evidence are there to prop up our story once we already have it for the most part. So, asking for that is really about continuing the information, bludgeoning, you find the gotcha information. The stories behind the facts are the real reason we believe things, and that’s what we should go after because those are rich. Those are really filled with interesting detail, they’re exciting to hear about, they’re new. And our brains are trained to really delight in hearing these kinds of stories. That’s why all of fiction is story-based, it’s not about, “Here’s more facts about the world.” Worldbuilders spend all the time telling you about the small details. You get bored real quick, you want the story, you want the plot.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, could you maybe give us some examples of what a rich backstory sounds like, and how it can color, shape and inform a position or an opinion, and how a different backstory would give rise to maybe a contrary opinion or view?

Buster Benson
Yeah, so I try to tackle gun control in one of the chapters and I tried a bunch of different things online and in person. What ended up working was having a salon or a potluck in my house and inviting a bunch of people that have different experiences with guns. And we went around the table and each shared their own personal story. There’s someone who was a former NRA member. There’s someone that had a bunch of assault rifles. There’s someone who just bought a shotgun, and there’s a bunch of people that have never fired a gun before. There are people that have had suicide in their family. There’s people that had violence in their family.

And so, just going around, and saying, “Oh, wait, I know some of you, I don’t know some of you, but I don’t know any of these stories.” And the variety was just so eye-opening just to begin with, and that was really great. But the interesting part came when we decided to figure out, “What’s a policy we can all come to? What policy we think is going to have the biggest impact on gun violence. And let’s come up with proposals and then we’ll tear them apart together just for fun and we’ll see where it goes. Because if we all have the answers, this should be easy.”

What ended up happening as we all went into small groups and came back and now had proposals, and they were all terrible ideas. We all found flaws instantly. And this was eye-opening not because we learned that we didn’t know a whole lot about this issue but the fact that, “Oh, wait, this is complicated. And my simplistic position on it going in is incorrect.”

And that’s not necessarily changing your mind, but saying, “Okay. Well, in order to really do justice to this problem, I’m going to have to really know a lot more than I currently do.” And that can be both exciting and, if that’s not what you want to do, you could be like, “Well, I don’t have time to do that, but I know that the answer is out there somewhere. I hope we can facilitate conversations because we don’t have the answers right now.” And that’s an example where I came in with a really narrow perspective and came out thinking, “Oh, wait. Yeah, this is more complicated than I thought. I shouldn’t feel as self-righteous about this as I did before.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I really appreciate that example, and I guess I’m always a little skeptical when some people seem to know everything about everything, it’s like, “You know…” Oh, I forgot who said that quote but it said, “Some people are more sure of everything than I am of anything.”

Buster Benson
That’s very true. That’s one of the biases, right? Overconfidence is a big chunk of them, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, that’s, well, in a way that’s a “call me an optimist.”  I mean, in a way, that’s sort of discouraging, like, “Oh, man, this problem is going to be not resolved quickly because of its difficulty and complexity, but my optimism says okay.” It sounds like some people had some epiphany, some awakening, some understanding about other people’s viewpoints and were enriched as a result by being able to engage in those conversations and, well, I don’t know if you’re editing the story, but it doesn’t sound like anyone just started screaming someone else’s head off and stormed out.

Buster Benson
No, definitely not. Having food there also helped a lot because food calms you down, it sort of regulates your blood pressure a little bit more, and there’s also this culture element, like, if you’re sharing food with someone, you sort of see them as a peer or as a member of your tribe more than if you’re shouting at them over Facebook comments or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there’s one quick tip right there. Hey, food is handy. I guess I’m wondering what are sort of like the general principles such that we can disagree with folks and walk away sort of with our relationship, at least, not harmed but hopefully improved? I think that’s sort of challenging is folks believe and sometimes it’s true that, “Boy, if I go here and we argue about this, they’re going to respect you less, or I’m going to respect them less, or it’s going to get ugly in one way or another.” So, how do we not have that happen?

Buster Benson
Yeah, it’s intimidating because it is a hard skill to acquire and a hard skill to practice, and if we’re not aware of where our skills are, we’ll oftentimes put ourselves in situations that are above our skill level. And so that’s why I advocate, let’s just start with small steps and get better in safer places and then move into harder ones, more challenging ones.

So, one way to think about it is that we don’t need to answer every problem. We can think of the world as a bunch of problems that are happening, a bunch of different people that are out there. And what is the one, or the two, or the three, that we are most well-suited to really deeply immerse ourselves in, understand from the inside, and to proactively act on?

And the feeling of when things happen in the news, and you have the answer in your head, and you’re like, “Why doesn’t everyone just do this thing that’s obvious to me?” That feeling goes away when you start to understand some of the problems deeply and you can respect that there’s probably more complexity going on.

And, secondarily, it helps us propose that we do have unproductive disagreements more often because unless someone is thinking about this and working on it, nothing is going to happen and this problem is just going to get worse. So, this mix of, “What is going to help me feel better? What’s going to lower my anxiety about just watching the news, or reading the news, or having family dinners?” Part of that is just being okay with this ambiguity of like, “These problems are harder than I thought they were.” But also, what can we do to make each other better at having these conversations?

First, we have to know what that means for ourselves but, secondly, we have to respect each other and help people get there because nobody taught us this, we don’t learn this in school, we don’t learn it at work. Yeah, it’s something that we should all be better at.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, when it comes to developing these skills, I mean, what are some of the practices, or action steps, or things we should do to get them going?

Buster Benson
The easiest one just to begin with is just to want to do it. And I think it sounds sort of trite but we go about most of our day in a pre-reactive mode where we’re like, “Okay, this bad thing happened. I’m going to go attack that. This bad thing happened, I’m going to go attack that,” versus like, “Okay. Well, what would it take for me to just pay more attention to what my reactions to these things and to think about if I did the same over and over again, things aren’t going to get better, so let’s just pay attention to it.”

I say, like, starting a disagreement journal is a great way to do that, if you’re into journaling, or just like talking to yourself and going on a walk, and like, “Let’s go back in that conversation and think about where I went off the tracks, where the thing that triggered me made me change from one that’s like asking open questions to one that was more like defensive, or even insulting, or whatever it is, and see what was it that was important to me that got challenged?” And maybe even follow up with that person the next day and say, “Hey, remember that conversation we had? I realized after the fact that I felt a little bit threatened because this is a value I held. Do you have that value? Is this something that you are really thinking about? What is your perspective on that?” And you might be able to use that as a bridge because there might be something, “Well, yeah, of course, that’s important. But I was talking about this other thing, completely different from that topic. And I’m sorry for lashing out.”

And so, you can use this as a way to go back after the fact and repair that relationship, and then use it as a way to connect it and make sure that the next one is a little bit better because it’s really hard at the moment to know what to do until you’ve sort of reflected on things a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got, specifically, an eight-step process here to become better at productive disagreements. Could you give us perhaps a one-ish minute or less on each of these steps?

Buster Benson
Sure. So, there are eight of them. Each one of them is about summarizing a big field of work. So, the first one is watch how anxieties sparks. This is what we’ve been talking about mostly, like this mindfulness about that moment that you switch from the calm, curious, open person to the defensive, sort of protective person, and sort of really understand that, where that switch happens, and use that as a way to identify your own values.

Number two is to talk to your internal voices. We all have inherited these, some voices that are very authoritarian, some voices that are very calm and reasonable, and some voices that are like, “Screw this. I’m out, then I flip the table and leave,” and I call it, that’s the conflict avoidance one. And it’s different in each of our heads, and we oftentimes think these thoughts and then we speak them out loud. And so, our internal voices turn into external voices.

And to understand why we say things the way we do, we can sort of go back and think about, “Where does that voice come from? Who in my life am I mimicking in that voice? Do I still need it?” and think about that. That’s cognitive behavioral therapy and sort of the many-minds theory of like, “Oh, gee,” which is really interesting. It can help us tease apart, like, “These thoughts aren’t as necessary.”

Number three is developing honest bias which is sort of the further step past the poster you have. Not only like the what are the biases but what do we do with them? How can we use this information to have better conversations? And I think developing honest bias is the key here. Rather than trying to un-bias yourself, or point out the bias in other people, look for the damage that it does and repair that because that’s tangible, it’s practical, it’s right in front of you, it’s something that you can actually have impact on, versus trying to change the wiring in someone’s mind that’s going to be really, really hard and frustrating.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, to do that, are you just sort of identifying, like, “Hey, this is some things that show up for me in bias”? Or what are you doing exactly?

Buster Benson
Depending on what the situation is, you can say, like, in the work situation, we have this hiring flow that is biased towards candidates that come out of Ivy League colleges. Just fix that and say, like, “Okay, who knows who set that up and whose bias was the one that designed it?” But you can actually fix the process itself. The same goes for if you’re looking for a new job, you’re looking for a new place to live, or any decision that you’re trying to make, you can say, like, “Okay. Well, regardless of what my initial state is, I might seek out familiar things, or I might seek out a safe thing, or I might seek out the thing that makes me look the best.”

What options did you undervalue that you can add back onto the list before you make a decision? And so, there’s these 13 questions you can ask yourself about, like, “Am I favoring the bizarre, interesting, adventurous answers over the seemingly boring ones, even though the boring ones might be better answers for me?” and just add them back on the list, and then look at them altogether. So, you don’t have to change your bias, you can just fix the results of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you.

Buster Benson
So, number four is speaking for yourself. This is one that we do all the time where we speak for others, right? So, we will say, “That party is doing this for these reasons,” or, “That person is evil because they think this.” Rather than doing that, try to invite them into the conversation and ask them to speak for themselves, and also share your perspective from your own stance rather than trying to imagine what they’re thinking. That’s sort of what we talked about at the very beginning.

And it’s a hard habit to break because, I know, speaking from experience, we are just so used to using group labels, and saying, “This group of people has this intention, is doing these things for these reasons,” and we don’t question where we got that from, because we obviously can’t read their minds, and we don’t talk to them a whole lot. So, how can we know? Let’s go ask them directly. It also shows that these groups aren’t as homogenous as we think they are. There’s a whole lot of variation in our own groups and there’s a whole other variation in the other groups, so you can find reasonable people on both sides.

Number five is asking questions that spark surprising answers. There’s a whole list of questions you can just put in your back pocket and pull out right when you’re feeling flooded, you’re like, “Okay. Well, I don’t know how to address this. Okay, I’m going to ask a question,” because we oftentimes tend to ask questions that are black and white but are very limited in possibilities, and we often already prejudged many of the answers to the questions we ask. So, those aren’t going to return a lot of information about the other person that could surprise you. So, open questions, where no matter what they say, it’s going to be interesting and surprising. I think that that’s a better approach, and we can just make a list of these and use them.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us one or two right now? I like that way of articulating it, asking questions that invites surprising answers. So, that’s even a little bit more than just not just yes or no, but it gets you thinking about even better questions. So, can you lay a couple on us?

Buster Benson
Yes. So, one that I use a lot is just like, “What am I missing about your perspective that would help me understand you better?” I like to say, “How has this belief been useful for you? Who do you admire?” All these questions are ways of pivoting into their perspective and seeing the world through their eyes, which is always surprising.

In fact, the more different, the more bizarre they are in terms of their worldview, the more surprising it’ll be. And this is a self-reinforcing system because if you do this once, and you get an interesting answer, you’re going to like it. It’s going to be entertaining and meaningful to you. You’re going to want to do it again. You’re going to now have more information to ask even more interesting questions. So, it builds on itself in a really great way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is fun. I guess I’m thinking about things like, “What TV or movie character do you most sort of relate, connect, identify with?”

Buster Benson
Oh, exactly, yeah. There are so many ways to bring your own personality into the questions and ask the ones that you think has some overlap with you, because you can embed that shared interest in a question, and say, like, “Hey, we both like this story. Let’s talk about it,” and through that, talk about the world.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Very good. What’s next?

Buster Benson
So, sixth is to build arguments together, and this is an interesting one. It requires the other, speaking for yourself, asking questions that spark surprising answers, building arguments together means, “Let’s put aside whether or not your argument is right. Let’s just work on it together and make it as good as possible.” Because any argument, any position, has a best version of itself. Even something like the flat-earth theory of the world has a best argument for it.

And it’s interesting because by bringing yourself to this question, you can be creative, you can sort of start building something that you may never have thought about before. And flat earth is sort of, in the topic, but like to just illustrate the point, it’s just interesting to build that up and think about, “Okay. Well, I obviously have a lot of problems with this. I can help you address these. Like, let’s find the answers to all my questions, and then you’ll potentially will build up to a point that you can convince me from this argument, then that’s a win-win as well.”

So, it’s one way of just turning the conversation from combative to collaborative that can turn out to be really fun. You do have to have some trust built in there because you don’t want to come across as, like, “Oh, I’m going to go in and let’s play blocks and treat your argument as a game.” But assuming that you can pull it off in terms of like, “Yeah, I really do want to build this up for you, and I want the best person and the best people to represent your position so I understand it,” then it can lead to really interesting places.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Buster Benson
Seven is cultivating neutral spaces. This is one of the hardest ones because think that arguments exists in the land of abstractions and ideas. Really, they exist in the world of words, sounds, body language, lighting, and power dynamics, and rooms, and sort of it’s really important to think about, “Which ideas are allowed on the table in this conversation? What are the power dynamics between us that maybe I’m not going to share everything because I know that if you don’t like it, you can fire me?” And then there’s also the question of, “Who can be in this conversation in the first place? Who can enter the room? Can I leave the conversation if I feel like it’s no longer being productive?”

It brings to the surface a lot of the power dynamics that have to happen. And these have a material impact on the success of the conversation. You can always turn something that’s really not a neutral space into something that’s more neutral. And we do this instinctively by saying, “Let’s go on a walk,” or, “Let’s go get dinner tomorrow,” or, “Let’s do something where the dynamic is different and the space feels a little better.”

Pete Mockaitis
Or if there’s sort of anonymous inputs in terms of we don’t know whose name is on that idea.

Buster Benson
Right. Exactly. And there’s people, you know, we don’t even see faces, or there’s no accountability, and people can drop in and drop out whenever they want. That’s another thing to consider especially online where these things happen, yeah.

And the last tip is to accept reality and then participate in it. And this is the most abstract one, but, really, it’s a call to this desire that we shouldn’t try to reject the world that exists and just refuse to participate in it until it is more likable. It is the way it is, and the only thing we can do is be a positive or a negative influence within it.

And I see disagreement as this opportunity for us all to say, “Okay, we’re not going to be unscathed, and we’re not going to be on the sidelines just critiquing all the bad things happening. Let’s get into the mix. Let’s be part of the solution. Let’s even be willing to be vulnerable and compromise in those situations and admit how we’re complicit in them,” because that’s the arena that these can be resolved in, and that’s really the way to participate in the most productive way.

So, this idea, like we can just exile, or censor, or ban all the things we don’t like is the opposite. Let’s bring everyone in and let’s figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so much good stuff here. And as you kind of walk through these eight, what really stuck with me, or struck me the most, is that “speak for yourself” bit. And I remember, this will be super quick, but, boy, when we were closing on our house, we had what we call split close where this other side was in a different room with their team and they were talking through the cellphone to, say, our lawyer. And there was this one point, like, “Oh, a little bit.”

And so, our lawyer was, say, “Well, hey, we would like this and that as a result of this,” and then she hangs up the phone and says, “Yeah, they basically say, yeah, they think this is a shakedown.” And then our real estate agent says, “A shakedown? For them to impute our integrity in this way,” and it was so funny, like they didn’t use the word shakedown. Our lawyer summarized for them using the word shakedown, and then the real estate agent took Umbridge at the words they never said, and I was just like, sometimes lawyers, not to point fingers, they come back and stuff happens.

Buster Benson
And this happens all the time, the tiny small steps can really derail a conversation so quickly, so quickly that we don’t even notice that it happened. So, yeah, that’s really a good example of just how easy it is to go on the wrong direction. But there are ways to notice them and say, “Okay. Well, let’s hear it from them. Can we just confirm that this is what’s happening?” because there’s more to be gained by a positive outcome for everyone than to just leave the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
And, speaking of that, well, I guess a shakedown is probably not one of them. But I want to get your take on some common phrases that can show up in arguments that tend to make things unproductive in a hurry and show up a lot, and some superior alternatives to those.

Buster Benson
Yeah, and there are just so many. Choose a genre of conversation that we can tease apart a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. We are professionals in a workplace considering what is the best option to complete an objective in terms of, “Should we invest in A, B, C, or D?”

Buster Benson
Right. Okay, so many things there, yeah. One of them you might be familiar to is, “Let’s take this offline,” is a really, really common one in the world of, okay, that just basically means, “There’s too many people in the room. We want to have this decision between a smaller group of people. And I’m going to decide who those people are.” That’s unproductive. I think that there are ways to identify the goal instead of just saying that the entire conversation should be taken offline. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that. But there’s also, let’s see…

Pete Mockaitis
That makes a lot of sense in terms of it’s quite a power grab, really.

Buster Benson
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay. You can just unilaterally declare that these topics are not going to be discussed here and, apparently, at an arbitrary later time with a group of people to be determined, it may or may not be discussed. Thanks.

Buster Benson
Yeah. And it is a tool that works but it’s also a tool that’s slightly dysfunctional if it’s misused. So, I think that a lot of these tools, they have good intentions. They’re like, “Okay. Well, we’re not ever going to go around the room and get everyone’s opinion, and then figure out what this is going to be”  because we think that that’s the only other option. But there are ways to move fast and make decisions and include people at the same time. It’s not a tradeoff you have to make, as much as it feels like that in the moment sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. And do you have, could you share, what are your favorite approaches for pulling that off?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, I was thinking of, as a product leader, I have many projects where your team is spending months working on something, and at the very last minute, the leadership is like, “Oh, I don’t know about this. Have you considered this possible downside?” And usually you have but you only have a very limited amount of time to talk about this. And so, this can turn a project from launching to taking months and months and months.

And then they’re like, “Let’s talk to more people. Let’s take this offline. Let’s revisit this in a month,” or whenever. One way around that is to say, “Okay. Well, let’s just go through worst case and best case scenarios of this so that we can mitigate those possibilities that are bad and sort of look forward to the ones that are good,” because then they’re heard. You can say, like, “I think the worst-case scenario is that all of our advertisers, they’re going to leave, or our users are going to revolt.” And they can say, “Okay. Well, here is how we’ll know if that’s happening. We’re going to launch it with a smaller group of people. We’re going to roll it out slowly. And if this starts happening, we’re going to stop. But we’re going to start going and find out if that’s true or not.”

So, trimming it from like, “Is this going to be a problem?” to, “Let’s find out if it’s a problem as quickly as possible, and keep the ball moving forward,” can save months and months of time in a lot of situations.

And that could be used in a lot of situations where people are risk-averse and feel like they don’t want to move forward until they feel more confident. But the way you feel more confident is by learning, and so there’s ways to make a prediction, “Let’s learn, let’s move forward. And if it turns out that I’m right, great. If it turns out that you’re right, we’ve learned something. Either way it’s going to be okay and we’re both going to win.” So, that’s really one of the simplest ways to move things forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And, quickly, I also want to get your take on is there any best practices, approaches, or tips you’d suggest for when we’re disagreeing with our boss or someone who outranks us?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, I always like to turn it into, “What would the evidence be of…?” especially with power dynamics, there’s like, “Do this,” right? And you’re like, “Oh, but that’s a bad idea,” or, “I don’t want to do that,” or, “I’m not good at that,” or sometimes it’s a judgment saying, “You’re not good at this,” or, “You’re not the right person for this,” or, “Your promotion is not going to happen.” Those kinds of things, that are really about a judgment of the worth of something, sometimes you, sometimes your work.

The way to turn that into productive disagreement is to say, like, “Okay. What would you see in the world if I was performing at a higher quality? Or what evidence would there be if I was ready for a promotion? Or how do you see it?” Just so it turns it from something that’s a judgment call into something that can be found in the world. And that’s also a great way to summarize what they’re really trying to say, which is like, they’re going to ultimately going to use signals in the world to make decisions, and it brings clarity to that.

So, turning it from something subjective to objective, saying that in the future if you had done these three things, or if you had spoken for the company and those things that happened, then I would sort of think that you’re prepared for the next step. Versus, like, “Oh, you’ll know when you see it,” or, “I’ll let you know,” kind of thing which is really vague, ambiguous, and can only increase your anxiety over time.

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

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, the last thing I’ll say is that the real challenge here is not to solve all disagreements, be like a perfect disagree-r, but just to have one or two to experience what that’s like, how enjoyable they can be, what it’s like to actually use disagreement to connect, what it’s like to actually learn a bigger perspective through disagreement, because if we can feel that feeling and sort of see that as the antidote to the anxiety we feel, then we could begin to expect it from our leaders, from our politicians, and the world more broadly, because right now we just don’t expect a whole lot from people because we haven’t experienced it for ourselves. So, taking baby steps and saying, “Okay. I just want to feel this and sort of see it in other people as well,” in the long run is the challenge here, and my hope that this sort of brings out.

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

Buster Benson
So, not to be too trite, but, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a Gandhi quote, but I think that that is one that has really influenced my approach to the world. It goes back to this accepting and participating. Don’t just be the critic. Be in the mix. Get all messy in the mud and get something done. If that’s what you want everyone else to do, then you got to do it too.

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

Buster Benson
In the news recently, I saw that this Stanley Milgram experiment has been debunked, which is really interesting to me. The interesting thing I think with experiments that I love the ones that had been falsified just because it helps us understand science as an evolving process. And one of the worst biases out there is publication bias where we only look at the studies that sound good as a headline, and that can sort of validate something about our lives.

So, I love any experiment that feels like it should be right that gets disproven just to add a little bit of that complexity back into our conversation. So, we can’t just listen to what feels good in our studies. So, Stanley Milgram is the prisoner experiment is going to be one that I would recommend reading or listen to, but the fact that it was revised and that we’re now questioning this is really interesting to me.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re talking about the authority with the shocks?

Buster Benson
Yeah, the one where you would zap people until they were basically dead because you’re the authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I want to see the latest on this. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Buster Benson
Favorite book right now. There is this book by Jenny Odell called How to Do Nothing, and it is just a delightful book that is both meditative and practical and rich in imagery in stories and stuff. She talks about how to live in a world where everything is trying to make us more productive, including my book, and how to just maintain integrity and dignity in that sort of high-pressure environment.

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

Buster Benson
My pen and paper are the ones that I go by the most. To add something a little bit more quirky, I’ve been really interested in the art of tarot decks recently, and I’ve been using this as a way to add symbolism and interesting this to my life.  We just have these tendencies to get into these routines and ruts where things can get really dry and sort of abstract.

Bringing back art into our work is really important to just remember that there’s a creative force that goes into the things that we do. Not necessarily advocating for the pseudoscience of tarot but I’m saying that just seeing the magician and the empress and the hanging man next to your desk, and say, “Okay, yeah. We live in a really rich world,” has been really helpful for me.

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

Buster Benson
So, my favorite habit is private journaling. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s morning pages, Julia Cameron wrote a book called The Artist’s Way. It’s like this brain dump. Anytime that my brain is tangled up and I’m not into open question, I’ll just type furiously until all the knots get worked out. And it’s been a really, really helpful tool for me over the years to figure that out through that because, otherwise, you need to go on a long walk or ask someone out to coffee and talk about it. But this is a way that’s always handy and you can always use it to figure something out for yourself.

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

Buster Benson
BusterBenson.com is my website, there’s all kinds of weird things, and @buster on Twitter is where I live on the internet.

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

Buster Benson
Yeah. Have one proactive disagreement about something that you feel is important, and don’t keep it bottled up, and see how it goes. And be patient with yourself if it didn’t go right the first time.

Pete Mockaitis
Buster, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks. And keep on having some lovely productive disagreements.

Buster Benson
Thank you so much. It has been a joy.

518: Why to Never Go With Your Gut with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky explains why we often make disastrous decisions—and how to make smarter ones.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest decision-making mistake people make
  2. Three handy debiasing techniques
  3. Five questions to guide everyday decisions

About Gleb

Known as the Disaster Avoidance Expert, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky protects leaders from disasters by developing the most effective decision-making strategies via his consulting, coaching, and training firm Disaster Avoidance Experts. A cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist, Dr. Tsipursky writes for Inc., Time, and CNBC. A best-selling author, his new book, available on Amazon and in book stores everywhere, is Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Gleb Tsipursky Interview Transcript

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Thank you so much for inviting me, Pete. It’s a pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to learn all about you have an interesting brand for your business. It’s called Disaster Avoidance Experts. Tell us, first of all, what do you mean by disaster? What are we avoiding here?

Gleb Tsipursky
Any sort of things that seriously impact your bottom line in a negative way. Now, that might mean things like having a key employee leave, or having your website crash unexpectedly, or lacking a succession plan as I mentioned before. Let’s say, what happens if you have a disability and you can’t work for a while. What happens then? If your key client leaves and you’re really dependent on that client, that’s a problem. So, that’s one area of disaster, things that seriously impact your bottom line in a negative way.

Another area of disaster which people think about less, but just as impactful, is when you don’t take advantage of opportunities. So, let’s say your competitor goes bankrupt and you have all your money and resources devoted to your current business plan, that means you can’t take advantage of the competitor’s bankruptcy to get their employees, key employees on board with you. You can’t take advantage of your competitor’s bankruptcy to get their clients if all of your money and resources are devoted to something else.

Or other sort of opportunities to open up, let’s say the political situation. You know, you have some tariffs going on so people are changing their supply chains and you have an opportunity to be their new supplier but you’re already locked into contracts that keep you with others, with people you’re currently supplying to. That’s another problem. So, people don’t think about missing opportunities as disasters but they could be just as disastrous as threats. So that’s what I mean by disasters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’m intrigued then, what in your client experience would you estimate is the biggest disaster that you’ve helped somebody avoid?

Gleb Tsipursky
Oh, the biggest disaster. Well, that’s a tough one because it really depends on how you think about jobs or careers. I do a lot of coaching for executives which includes coaching on their careers. So, I’ll give you an example. There was this executive who was thinking about making a job switch to create an enterprise, to be a startup leader, and we talked through the situation. He was excited. He wanted to make the jump. We talked through the situation kind of what was he excited about, what were his long-term plans.

And what we discovered was that he was excited about the idea of a startup, he was excited about kind of the financial potential of a startup, the impact on the world. But when I talked to him about, “Hey, do you know what it’s like to work in a startup? Have you ever worked in that environment?” it turned out that he wasn’t really prepared for the chaos and stress of that is involved in a startup, and especially the failures.

When you start up a business and entrepreneurial in you knows, you have a ton of failures, not the whole business itself, but when you’re trying to figure things out, how your system is going to work, how your processes are going to work, who are going to be your clients. He really wasn’t prepared for that. He was very much a perfectionist and he took failure poorly so he really wasn’t prepared for the chaotic entrepreneurial nature of a startup and especially a failure, so he decided not to go for it. He stayed in corporate America and spent the rest of his career there. He was quite happy and he would’ve been very stressed out if he went for a startup. So, that’s one example with a personal career move.

Now, another career, another situation would be with a company. There was a company that I was consulting with which was a midsized manufacturing company here in the Midwest about 2,000 people, and they were going to buy another company of about 1500 people, another mid-sized manufacturing, this time in the Southwest. And so, what happened was that they really were excited about buying it. They looked at the company. They looked at the company’s financials; the financials looked good. They looked at the company’s products; the products looked good. They would fulfill a gap that the buying company currently had.

But what they didn’t think about, they didn’t really think about the internal systems and processes of this company, the company culture. Now, I worked with a company that was my client for a while to get their internal culture more team-oriented and more flat, less hierarchical. But the company that they were going to buy was much more hierarchical and its culture was much more hierarchical top down, and its internal systems and processes were much more hierarchical top down, so, honestly, they would’ve really clashed in a really bad and harmful way.

And I’ve seen companies, I mean, if you think about mergers and acquisitions, you look at the research on this topic, about 80% of mergers and acquisitions fail. So, this would’ve definitely been one of those 80% that failed, and I’m very thankful that my client decided to avoid that merger and went and stepped away from it. So, those are two disasters that I helped leaders and businesses avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’d love to hear then, in terms of humans and decision-making, what have been some of the most striking discoveries you’ve made about how we go about decision-making and often poorly?

Gleb Tsipursky
I think the most important thing that I have discovered, and I have been doing this, just to be clear, for over 20 years in consulting, coaching, training and decision-making, so I’ve been doing this for a while. I’ve also went into high academia. I researched this topic. I’m a cognitive scientist and behavioral economist, that’s where my research is, and research level doing peer-reviewed research.

What I found was that, really surprising and very bothersome, was that people very much tend to go with their gut, with their intuitions, what they feel is what they do. So, they equate the feeling of rightness and correctness and intuitiveness, “This is the right thing to do. I feel it in my gut.” They equate that with truth and the rightness and what’s best for their bottom line, what’s best for their long-term goals, and that’s terrible.

Our gut evolved for the savannah environment. It’s evolved for small tribes of 15 people to 150 people, and the saber-toothed tiger-response when we need to flee from a saber-toothed tiger. That’s what our gut is adapted for. We are the descendants of those who jumped at a hundred shadows and successfully avoided that one saber-toothed tiger. In our current environment, that’s really bad to jump at a hundred shadows. We get so much stress, so much problems, there are so many people who are anxious and depressed because of these excessive reactions from our gut. But people still trust their gut, they trust their feelings, they trust their intuitions, and they make really bad mistakes as a result.

The most fundamental thing I convey to my clients that has helped them so much is to distance themselves from this feeling of rightness, from this feeling of comfort. When you have comfort, when you’re comfortable about a decision, that’s the time to most suspect your decision because you’re often going to make the most wrong decision when you feel most comfortable with it. It’s counterintuitive but that’s the civilized thing to be, just like it’s counterintuitive to eat with our fork and knife. We had to learn how to eat with forks and knives. Now, it would be very weird if we don’t eat fish and steak with your fork and knife, but that’s something you had to learn to do. But we still make decisions as though we eat with our hands.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So much there. I think that makes a lot of sense, is to know there’s a wide distinction between the feeling of rightness and truth. And often, when you’re the most comfortable, that is not an indicator that it’s right, and especially if in the sense when you’re trying to do something new and different and challenging, or that sort of stretches you in some way, it’ll naturally be uncomfortable. So, I guess I’m wondering then, so are you saying then that intuition has no place? Or how would you contextualize and position intuition in the scheme of decision-making?

Gleb Tsipursky
So, intuition is a complex concept, and we need to separate two things here. We have to separate gut reactions which have to do with our evolved tribal intuitions, and that’s kind of coming from our instinct, from our savage primitive environment. That’s when we were babies and we responded to things. That’s intuition, that’s inborn, that’s genetics, and that’s really, really harmful in the modern world.

In a modern business environment, you don’t want to use the genetic, inborn intuition, that tribal response where you think, where you look at a person, and if the person seems like that person is like you, you will like that person much more. That’s the halo effect where we tend to like other people who look like us, who think like us, who feel like us, who have our color, our skin color, and someone who have our politics, our value sets. That’s very dangerous. And, of course, we don’t like people who don’t have that. That’s called the horns effect.

Now, in the current business environment, it’s very bad to use this tribal sensibility to make decisions because then you’ll hire other people, let’s say you’re a business leader, you’ll hire other people who are like you, and then you’ll be making very bad decisions because you’ll be all thinking alike and you won’t question each other’s decisions. Same thing if you’re a solopreneur, you’ll be collaborating with other people who are like you and you will not be getting the huge benefit of collaborating with different people. So, that’s kind of one area where you want to very much be aware of these inborn intuitions.

Now, where intuitions are helpful. Here’s an area where they’re helpful. They’re helpful where you have learned overtime to make good, quick, effective decisions. For example, right now, pretty much any professional has learned how to look for their email and quickly separate the spam from the quality email. You don’t need to think about that for a long time, you just say, “Okay, this looks like spam.” Leaders, people who are in leadership positions, have learned how to organize judgment and decision-making, delegation effectively. How could you delegate effectively to other people? You can do that effectively now but that’s a learned habit.

Now, people who have been working effectively for a long time have learned good productivity and organization systems. They’re really productive. They know how to do that. But, again, they had to learn these things. So, now they feel intuitive just like eating with your fork and knife feels intuitive. But what they are is healthy learned mental habits. It’s kind of like driving a car. You have to learn how to drive a car. It took a lot of time. It took a lot of effort. I remember driving, learning how to drive a car myself. I failed my first driving test. I couldn’t pass it the first time. Now I can drive a car very easily and it feels like I’m driving on autopilot, which feels like I’m using my intuition, but what I’m actually using is healthy learned mental habits. So you want to differentiate those savage primitive instincts from those healthy learned civilized mental habits, that natural state to the civilized state.

And so, the intuition is useful when you’ve been doing the same thing in a specific domain for a long time and you’ve been correct there. What you don’t want to do is apply to new domains. So, for example, many business owners trust their ability to hire people based on interviews. They have someone come in, they talk to this person, they hire this person or not. Extensive research has shown that that’s a terrible decision, that’s really bad strategy for hiring people because they don’t have enough experience in hiring people. They don’t really know how to do it effectively and some people might be offended by it when I say that, but, hey, I’m just telling you what the research shows.

Another area is when you sell your business. When people are selling their business, they make many, many, many mistakes because they haven’t done this before, and they haven’t done this often. Same thing in mergers and acquisitions, they haven’t done this often so they don’t know what to watch out for. So, any new area, anything you haven’t done before, anything important and significant, anything emotionally salient, anything that really pulls at your emotions, you want to be especially aware of and not use your intuitions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m curious in particular about intuition when it comes to, let’s say, the matter of trusting another person. You know, it seems like they have a proposal for you, maybe it’s a business-related thing in terms, hey, there’s this new vendor. They can provide this thing at this price and they seem to have all the right answers and check the right boxes based on your criteria but there’s just something inside you that says, “You know what, I kind just don’t trust this guy. I think he’s going to not deliver the goods.” Is that a particular type of intuition and what’s your take on that one?

Gleb Tsipursky
Yeah, that’s bad. If you don’t know this person for a long time, it’s likely that it’s your tribal intuitions. If this guy is a slick salesman, and he’s able to sell you it’s because it’s a famous salesperson technique to make it look like and appear like he is similar to you. They try to mimic you, they try to use your wording, so this person is most likely just not a very good salesperson and doesn’t fit your idea of what it looks like your tribal member should be. So, you don’t want to trust your instincts around new people.

This is going to offend a lot of people. It already has. The research shows it offended a lot of people, and it’s okay. I’m just telling you what the research says. You shouldn’t trust your instincts around new people. You need to look at that person and say, “Hey, is this person any way significantly different from me, different in race, ability, gender, sociality, politics, the way this person speaks, this person’s background?”

I’ll give you an interesting example. So, I was doing a presentation for over a hundred HR professionals at a diversity inclusion conference here in Columbus, Ohio. And Columbus, Ohio is, of course, famous as the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes, our football team, “Go, Bucks!” and it’s very, very popular around here. So, our big rival is the University of Michigan up north, the Wolverines, not very popular around here.

Pete Mockaitis
“Yeah, those Michigan people.” I went to the University of Illinois. It’s fun to hate people who went to Michigan. No offense, Michigan listeners.

Gleb Tsipursky
There you go. Well, let’s hate Michigan, I agree.

Pete Mockaitis
Not everybody but some of them are really obnoxious so you got to stick it to them. Please continue.

Gleb Tsipursky
I know, I’m joking. But, anyway, what I asked these HR professionals who are leaders in diversity inclusion here in Columbus, Ohio was, “Hey, would you hire somebody who’s a University of Michigan fan?” So, out of those hundred people only three people indicated that they would hire a University of Michigan fan, and these are experts in diversity inclusion. They would not hire a Michigan fan. Just because that person is a Michigan fan that would exclude that person from hiring, so that shows you the importance of tribalism in something so, you know, I mean, everyone likes to hate a Michigan fan but, honestly, it’s kind of a trivial thing which is extremely rude for. It’s just about which team. It doesn’t really matter for your work performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe in that context, I wonder if they were sort of afraid to raise their hand because people would look at them and go, “Ugh!”

Gleb Tsipursky
No, no, I mean, that’s indicative, that’s why they wouldn’t hire this person, right, because they know that other people would be like, “Why the heck did you hire this University of Michigan fan at their job?”

Pete Mockaitis
I would hire them and tell them not to let people know that they’re a Michigan fan.

Gleb Tsipursky
It’s not a viable scenario. It’s not a scenario we should have, but that’s the way our brains work. So, just because someone is from the University of Michigan. So we should not trust our intuitions about new people. That’s the critical important thing.

What you want to do if this is a new person, you want to bring in someone quite different from yourself if you are kind of serious about using this person as a new vendor, and use this external trusted advisor to evaluate this person and see what they say.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, that makes sense in terms of, you know, and then the intuition still is serving a function. It has given you some bit of information which may be confirmed or denied, and that probes you to go a little further in your investigation versus if they weren’t there, you might be like, “All right, we’re good to go. No need.”

Gleb Tsipursky
And that’s something to be afraid of also because if this person is a slick salesperson and sells you a bill of goods, if you feel very comfortable with this person, you want to step back and see if this person is using typical salesman techniques like copying you, mimicking you, echoing you. These are techniques that you can learn about and protect yourself from. But if you don’t know, if you just go with what’s comfortable for you, and you don’t protect yourself from this comfort feeling techniques, then you will be sold the bill of goods.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay. So, that’s handy. Well, then let’s talk now about cognitive bias. First, could you define that for listeners who are not familiar with the term? And then list out just a couple of what you’ve observed to be the most pervasive and disastrous cognitive biases in the workplace.

Gleb Tsipursky
So, cognitive biases are mistakes that we make because of how our brain is wired. A lot of it is due to our heritage. Like I mentioned before, tribalism, the flight or fight response. Other aspects are due to just our information processing is imperfect, just the way we process information, our brain is far from perfect, and so that is why we have systematic errors that cause us to deviate away from the perfect decision-making.

So, the perfect decisions are decisions that most benefit in the workplace, so just in the workplace, most benefit your bottom line. In other life spheres, it’s going to be decisions that most benefit your life goals or your professional goals, or whatever goals you have. So, that’s the perfect decisions, the ones that can give you the most benefit. Cognitive biases are systematic errors that cause us to deviate away from these perfect decisions. I gave you an example before already of the halo effect and the horns effect. Another cognitive bias that a lot of people get struck by very problematically is called the planning fallacy.

The planning fallacy is an interesting one because it’s where we tend to assume that everything will go according to plan. We invest a lot of resources. I mentioned before what are disasters. Disasters are when we don’t anticipate the risks and when we don’t anticipate opportunities. So, we invest all resources into our plan, and when problems happen or opportunities happen, we don’t have enough resources to take care of them, and we don’t anticipate, we don’t look for these opportunities or threats in advance, and we are unable to address them because of that. So, that’s the planning fallacy.

And you’ll often hear the phrase “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Again, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This is a common phrase. It’s very common, just like “Go with your gut” is a common phrase. They’re both wrong. They’re both problems. You don’t want to go with your gut and you don’t want to think that failing to plan is planning to fail, because our plans, we tend to make perfect plans. So, what you want to think about is never go with your gut and, for the other one, you want to think “Failing to plan for problems is planning to fail.”

Again, failing to plan for problems is planning to fail. What you want to do is plan for what kind of problems might come up and address these problems in advance. And the same thing for opportunities. What kind of opportunities might come up and address these opportunities in advance, as well as reserve some resources for unexpected threats and unexpected opportunities, so that’s the planning fallacy, that’s one.

Another one that a lot of business leaders run into is overconfidence bias. Overconfidence bias is our tendency to be way too confident about our decisions. And, honestly, the higher up a leader is, the more experienced somebody is, the more they tend to be confident and the more biased they tend to be, the more excessively confident they tend to be. Not everyone, but this is the general tendency.

So, for example, we found research that if somebody says, “I’m 100% confident about this. Yes, I’ll bet the company on this. I’ll bet my career on this.” They’re only going to be right about 80% of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting. Those who say, “I’m 100% sure about this,” are right 80% of the time.

Gleb Tsipursky
That’s correct and that’s horrible because they lose the company and they lose their careers, so 20% of the time, so this is very dangerous for people who say they’re 100% confident definitely in this thing, just because of the way our brain works. So, we have to be very careful to develop a sense of humility, and this is really important. Humility is such an underappreciated business emotion. We need to be able to have this sense of humility, have this sense of, “Oh, hey, I might be wrong, and it’s okay. Let me step back and let me evaluate this situation. Let me be less confident than I intuitively am. Let me ask others for strategies.”

My book Never Go With Your Gut goes for a whole bunch of strategies that you can use to evaluate the situation, address threats, seize opportunities. So, you want to be more humble, and that is one of the critical emotions that you want to develop in order to get yourself to use these strategies effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got a number, a dozen, of de-biasing techniques. Could you share what’s perhaps the most one or two powerful or efficient means of really helping remove some bias and improving the decision-making of every professional?

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, I’ll share a very quick one, and then some more complex ones. The quickest one is counting to ten. Your mom probably told you, “Count to ten before you do something emotional, especially when you’re angry.” And that actually works. The recent research has shown that counting to ten, delaying your decision-making works quite effectively for day-to-day decisions. That’s really one good useful strategy that you can effectively deploy. Counting to ten, taking the time to think about it at least for 10 seconds before day-to-day decisions. So, that’s one.

Another one that many people don’t use but it’s incredibly helpful is making predictions about the future. Again, making predictions about the future. Let’s say you are in a meeting of the C suite, and people are saying, “Hey, this product will go great,” or, “This product will not be good at all that you’re about to launch.” Have everyone make a prediction, have everyone make, “Hey, here’s how I think it will do in the next 6 months,” and make sure that you check back on what happened 6 months ago, that way you’ll calibrate.

How well do you think your business, if you’re a solopreneur, is going to do? Or, if you’re the business leader, how well do you think it’s going to do? How well the specific aspects of your business, how well as they going to do? How well is the client, a specific client, going to be with you? How much will they order? Thinking about these things. Make predictions about the future and then check yourself, and you will slowly improve your ability to make good decisions because you’ll calibrate yourself over time. So, that’s another one that I want to mention.

And another one that I think is incredibly important is to get an outside view, or have an external perspective. Step back from your current context. So, people tend to be greatly overconfident, business leaders especially tend to be very optimistic. I’m an optimist myself. I tend to be too optimistic. I think the grass is greener on the other side of the hill, things are less risky than they seem. However, what’s really helpful for that optimism and overconfidence is stepping back and say, “Hey, if somebody else was launching a product just like that, how do you think it would work? What is the typical situation for mergers and acquisitions?”

So, a typical situation for mergers and acquisitions is that 80% fail. So, if you’re going through a merger and acquisition, you shouldn’t think that you are better than all the other business leaders who’ve gone into mergers and acquisitions. You should assume that the most likely situation, four out of five times you’ll fail, so you have to really work hard to make sure that your specific merger or acquisition is going to be so extremely good that it overcomes this very, very high typical rate of very smart people. I mean, business leaders who do mergers and acquisitions are pretty smart people, and you have to make sure that it will not fail and it overcomes a pretty high barrier. So, those are three things that I would share with people.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, you also spent a period of time discussing our human tendency to try to minimize loss. And so, what’s going on there and what should we do about that?

Gleb Tsipursky
Yes, so we as human beings tend to minimize loss, and that is a big problem because we don’t look sufficiently at gains, and this is a tendency called loss aversion. So, for example, when somebody, let’s say, has invested their money, and loss aversion, the tendency to minimize loss is there are a couple of cognitive biases around that.

So, for example, when somebody has invested money into some project, let’s say, I was working with a client who invested 2.5 million into a manufacturing project. And the client was really reluctant to look at the situation and see the external environment changed. It actually changed because of the recent tariffs, and there was nothing nearly as much demand for the product anymore because of the changing supply chains. And I was helping this client, I was pointing out the situation, and he was really reluctant to let go of his vision of the future. So, he didn’t want to lose this. He didn’t want to lose his vision of the future because he invested a lot of emotions and he felt a lot of positive emotions over it, and he didn’t want to perceive himself as someone who made a mistake, as someone who’s a loser. So, that’s one of the worst emotions for business leaders.

When I do trainings for business leaders, and I talk these examples, “What are you most afraid of?” Failure is probably the biggest, biggest most common thing I hear about. People don’t want to be perceived failing, they don’t want to be perceived as losers, so they are trying to do a lot of things to avoid these losses, and they throw a lot of good money after that. So, he kept going quite a bit longer with that project than he should’ve. Eventually, he got out of it, fortunately. But that was a pretty bad investment. At the time he made it, it wasn’t really terrible but he put quite a bit more money into it than he should have. And that’s a tendency that’s called sunken cost where we tend to sink too much money, too much resources after previous resources we have made because we don’t want to feel like losers, and we don’t want to lose these initial resources.

What’s much more effective, the strategy to address this loss aversion, this sunken cost is to say, “Hey, okay, these resources, they’re lost. Let them go. Just from the situation where you are right now, what is the best decision to make for your long-term goals, whatever your long-term goals are in this professional activity, let’s say, for your bottom line?” The same thing applies to personal life, in relationships. So many people sink a lot of their time, resources, into relationships that really aren’t going to work out that they should’ve cut off a long time ago. So, that’s a common thing that happens in relationships unfortunately.

So, you want to be thinking about, “Hey, ignoring the previous investments, what’s the situation now?” Because of your previous investments, you might feel bad about them, but it doesn’t really matter from that perspective. You want to think about your current position. And from your current position, what kind of steps do you want to take to maximize your long-term future returns in all life areas? And so, that’s a strategy that you can use to address loss aversion.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
One of the things I want to mention, to make sure is that there are techniques that people can use to very effectively and quickly address their decision-making problems that we all tend to have, and these are five questions that you can use to avoid decision disasters. So, here are the five questions that you should use for everyday decision-making, and you can even use them for major decision-making when you don’t have time to do a more thorough technique.

First, “What important information did I not yet fully consider?” You want to especially look for information that goes against your comfort levels, that goes against your intuitions because this will tend to hide the kind of problematic aspects of your decisions. So, you look at information that goes against your intuitions especially.

Second, “What dangerous judgment errors, cognitive biases have I not yet addressed?” In my book, Never Go With Your Gut goes over the 30 most dangerous ones. Third, and I mentioned this before the program, “What does a trusted and objective advisor suggest that I do?” So, imagine a little bit little Pete on your shoulder, and think about, “What would Pete suggest that you do?” Or somebody else that you trust who’s an objective advisor to you. Now, those are the first three questions that have to do with making a decision.

We’re transitioning into the last two questions about preventing failure and optimizing success in implementing the decision. First, “How have I addressed all the ways this decision can fail?” Again, “How have I addressed all the ways this decision can fail?” Think about all the potential problems, realistic problems you can anticipate, and address them in advance. And the same thing for opportunities.

Finally, “What new information would cause me to revisit this decision?” Again, “What new information would cause me to revisit this decision?” You really should make this information identified as in advance of implementing the decision because in the heat of the decision-making implementation, you will tend to run into situations where you want to, “Oh, maybe I should change my mind. Maybe I should revisit the decision.” It’s much more effective if you already decided what would cause you to revisit the decision or rethink things in advance.

Pete Mockaitis
What I also love about that question, “What new information would cause me to revisit this decision?” is it can reveal your sort of, I guess, one-track mind, obsessed, like, “If the answer is nothing. This is what we must do.” It’s like, “Oh, that’s probably a red flag that there should be something that could possibly cause you to revisit it. And if nothing comes to mind, we’re probably not done thinking about it yet.”

Gleb Tsipursky
Yup, you’re not thinking about it straight is the problem, that pretty much any decision can be and should be revisited if you have specific information. And if you can’t falsify this decision, that you can’t falsify this choice, if you can’t say, “Hey, this would make me change my mind,” then you’re probably way too overcommitted to this decision

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Sure. I really like Ben Franklin’s quote that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s a very insightful quote, and it’s something that I live by, and I encourage everyone that I meet to live by because we tend to spend way too much time dealing with disasters as opposed to preventing them in advance.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or a piece of research?

Gleb Tsipursky
I really like a study where, and this was a good study, I don’t know from which university it was done, let’s say it was Ohio State, where a bunch of students were given a math test as an experiment. They were paid for the math test, and they were paid for how many questions they would get right on the math test, and they were given the opportunity to score themselves. So, everyone in the Ohio State was given the math test, and then there was one student who was obviously cheating, very obviously, very clearly cheating.

And this student, in one set of experiments, was wearing an Ohio State uniform, so he’s kind of part of the tribe. And at that set of experiments, many, many other students cheated, a whole bunch of other students cheated. Now, in another set of experiments, that student who was wearing a University of Michigan uniform…

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, those cheaters from Michigan. That sounds about right.

Gleb Tsipursky
Yeah, exactly. And pretty much nobody else was cheating at that experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
So, no one else ended up cheating. They were not influenced by the outsider.

Gleb Tsipursky
Yeah, nobody else. Influenced by tribalism. The first experiment where this person wore an Ohio State uniform, it’s like, “Oh, my tribe is cheating, therefore, this is a good thing. Therefore, this is appropriate.” The second set of experiment is the enemy is cheating, “No, we will not cheat. We will do the true, honest, ethical thing.” So, it shows us how much we’re influenced by tribalism. And so much of this is very, very applicable to culture within organizations.

So, whenever you see people within an organization cheating, it’s because this culture induces cheating. Whereas, if you see people in an organization being honest, it’s all about the culture causing honesty. We’re very much influenced by our culture and the people around us much more than we tend to believe we are.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Gleb Tsipursky
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This is the seminal book on cognitive biases. I really like it. It’s part of that older generation of scholars. Daniel Kahneman is part of the first generation of scholars on cognitive biases. I really like his work and I think it’s incredibly important as a foundational base for all future work that was done on this topic.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, what I have found is that I really like flexible tools, and the flexibility of Trello as an organizational tool. I’m not being paid by Trello, I’m not an affiliate of Trello in any way. But Trello is a system of essentially Kanban board where it uses a combination of index cards, cards that you move around from different columns. So, I use it all the time for my organization and for various projects that I do because it’s very flexible and that’s kind of pretty intuitive for me to use, kind of index cards. So, that’s my favorite tool.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
My favorite habit that’s really important is, as part of my routine, I always do journaling in the morning about what I learned from the last day and what I’m grateful for and a couple of other things. But that’s the essence of the journaling, kind of what I’ve learned and what I’m grateful for. So, the first one, what I’ve learned, helps me keep a constant habit of self-improvement throughout my life.

The gratitude, what I’m grateful for, helps improve my mood. And we tend to greatly underestimate the importance of mood. So, the research on this topic shows that we are about 80% to 90% driven by our emotions. Again, 80% to 90% driven by our emotions to do what we do, to make the decisions that we make. So, I make sure to take care of my emotions, and that’s one of the ways I take care of my emotions, by having a gratitude diary.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, I’ll tell you, something I mentioned in the presentation, in the podcast earlier, is that you want to avoid, avoid, avoid equating the feeling of comfort with trueness. So, avoid. Comfort is not true. So, whatever you feel is comfortable and intuitive is often going to be the worst thing for you to do, so you want to very much question that feeling of comfort and intuitiveness even if it feels right, even though it feels right. That’s exactly that time when you need to most question it in order to make the best decisions going forward.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, they can check out my book Never Go With Your Gut. They can check out my website DisasterAvoidanceExperts.com for blog, videos, podcasts, and so on. And they can check me out on LinkedIn, connect with me there please. That’s Dr. Gleb Tsipursky on LinkedIn. And if you have any questions about anything you heard today, I welcome you to contact me by email at gleb@disasteravoidanceexperts.com.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
I want you to remember to be aware of going with your gut. Going with your gut is a very common piece of advice. It’s probably one of the most common pieces of advice, and I want to challenge you to question this piece of advice. It’s very dangerous to just go with your gut. It causes you to run to serious career disasters, serious business disasters, and you don’t want that to happen to you like it happens to so many people.

Don’t trust your gut. That’s one thing. And the other part of this that I’ve also talked about is “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Don’t trust that. Our plans tend to not survive contact with the enemy and you want to make sure to think that failing to plan for problems is planning to fail. So, those are the challenges that I want to give folks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Gleb, it’s been lots of fun. I wish you much luck and fun in all your upcoming decisions.

Gleb Tsipursky
Thank you so much, Pete. And I wish you the same and thank you so much for helping people be awesome at their jobs.

517: Doubling Your Productivity with Tim Campos

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Tim Campos says: "Give yourself that time."
Tim Campos discusses how he doubled Facebook’s productivity—and how to double your own.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to how Tim doubled Facebook’s productivity
  2. The biggest mistake people make with their calendars
  3. The two kinds of time professionals have

About Tim

Tim Campos doubled productivity for Facebook while he was Chief Information Officer between 2010 and 2016. Now, Tim runs Woven. Woven is a digital calendar that helps people get the most out of their time while studying the analytics behind how we’re using our time.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Tim Campos Interview Transcript

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

Tim Campos
I am glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and hear some of your tales of increasing productivity at Facebook. And, for starters, I understand that just a couple of weeks into your job, you’re called into a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg himself. What’s the story here?

Tim Campos
Well, actually, it was from Mark Zuckerberg’s EA. She sent me an urgent note, two weeks into the company, she said, “You’ve got to show up at Zuck’s desk first thing tomorrow morning, and there’s something really important that we need to discuss.” And I was really excited, I was happy that Zuck was interested in getting strategic with IT from the get-go. This is a really good sign when a CEO is that interested, and so I showed up.

The first learning was Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t actually show up until 10:00 in the morning so an 8:00 a.m. meeting is a sign. The second was I was ambushed by Anikka and Camille, this is Mark and Sheryl’s executive assistants, and they basically sat me down and said, “Look, this calendar thing does not work for us. Here’s a long list of problems that we’re having. These are not only strategic issues for us. They’re becoming embarrassments for Mark and Sheryl. And you got a week to fix them.” And it was a rude awakening to the challenges of calendaring at a next-generation company like Facebook’s.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting because, so, weren’t they just using the same stuff everybody else uses? But what are they using and what was wrong?

Tim Campos
Yeah, they were using Microsoft Exchange which is what everybody else uses. But a couple things that were different. One is Facebook, at the time, was using a much higher density of Mac and Apple devices than anybody else, so 80% of the workforce is on Macintosh, and most of the workforce used iPhones at the time. And the second thing was just the nature of how Mark and Sheryl’s schedules are very dynamic, a lot of changes to the calendar events and this was really aggravating many of the problems that already exist with calendars.

So, they were experiencing problems where a conference room would forget about the meeting, or it could get double-booked, or Mark was supposed to be in one place and the calendar said he was supposed to be in someplace else, and these were hugely embarrassing for everybody involved. And to fix it required me to do something I’m actually quite good at, which is getting into the details of how this thing was built, why is it behaving the way that it is because it wasn’t just a simple problem of this button hadn’t been pressed or something like that. And it gave me insight to why calendars are so bad.

And throughout my tenure at Facebook, I had a love-hate relationship with the technology. And, with time, I got so motivated to do something about it. I actually decided to quit my job at Facebook and start a company to help the calendar be a lot more intelligent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool, yeah. Well, so what a nice prompt and bit of inspiration. And I guess I can understand how that would be embarrassing, it’s like, “Well, you’re one of the most advanced tech companies in the world and you’re telling me that your calendar is wrong? Okay. What else is broken over at your organization?”

Tim Campos
Yes, exactly. And, for Mark and Sheryl, part of why I was hired was, and this was 2010, and Facebook had no specific plans to go public but they knew that was going to happen, and they were concerned if something like this doesn’t work, what does it mean for the financial system? What does it mean for the things that really matter for the company? And so that’s why it was such an important issue for them and why they hired me.

But, like I said, as I got into the nuts and bolts of this, my job at Facebook was the productivity of the workforce, make everybody more productive including myself, and that starts with time. Time is the most valuable asset that we have. And one of the things that I found that was just incredibly frustrating is it was so difficult to understand how I was spending time, in fact. I wanted to know from my EA, like, “How much time am I spending at 101s? Or, how much am I spending on sales versus finance versus recruiting?” It took my EA hours a week to just do the math on it. And why wasn’t that a simple button that you press on the calendar to get that question answered? I just never understood that.

And things like we want to have effective meetings, or at least do an effective meeting, have a purpose for it, have a reason for this meeting to occur, whether it’s a staff meeting, or an interview, or a 101, and those meetings require agendas and some of that purpose to be communicated ahead of time. Sign on a calendar, in the description field maybe there’s some information about how to log into the meeting if it’s a BlueJeans meeting or a Zoom meeting or something like that, but everything else is nowhere to be found. If that stuff exists, it’s hidden in email someplace. Another system that is just absolutely built to drain our time. And none of us have time to go search email for why we’re supposed to be in an event, so you end up spending the first 10 minutes of every meeting setting the stage what the purpose is as oppose to doing what you really need to be doing, which is meeting, getting something done, making a decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, there’s so much I really want to dig into here, so let’s see. Okay. So, that is one of your big claims to fame there, is doubling the productivity of the Facebook employees. And so, I want to give you a hard time for just a moment. So, when you say productivity, you’re specifically referring to the metric revenue per employee moving from 900K to 1.8 million per employee. And I guess doubling productivity, on the one hand, makes you think, like, “Wow, everyone is getting twice as much stuff done. That’s awesome.”

And so, I guess there’s certainly some of that, which we’ll talk about, although, for the skeptics listening who are saying, “Well, yeah, but, I mean, Facebook makes a lot of their money through ads, and that platform doesn’t really require any humans to do anything. So, isn’t that more just a function of more people buying ads and having a similar number of people in the workforce?” So, I’ll let you make your case, Tim.

Tim Campos
Oh, it’s absolute a fair criticism, and I’ll be the last to say that 100% of Facebook’s productivity gains were solely due to things that my organization was responsible for. Quite the opposite. There’s a lot of things that Facebook would do for itself in terms of how we built the product. You point out some industry aspects that contribute to productivity. But it’s worth looking at revenue per employee because it’s a useful benchmark. It’s easy to calculate across different companies, and you can look across an industry to see what’s the standard here.

For technology, for example, most companies are between 300,000 and 400,000 in revenue per employee. For a company like Google, at the time they were closer to 1.1—1.2 million per employee. But the other thing is how is it trending. As we’re growing as a company, what do we have to grow and what don’t we have to grow? Most companies, for example, they want to grow revenue but they don’t want to grow costs. That’s how you grow profit and that’s how a company is valued.

And you can achieve a lot of that through economies of scale, that if you’ve got a manufacturing facility, or, in Facebook’s case, a data center, you can drive more revenue out of that data center without having to build another one, then you’d get more profit. Well, for knowledge-based companies, the human capital is the thing that you’re looking for economies of scale with, “Can we do more without having to hire more? Can we support more customers without more salespeople? Can we recruit more engineers without having to hire more recruiters?” And these were the challenges that my team was given.

And we accomplished that, in large part, through technology innovations. So, we think things like, “How do you do CRM? How do you manage customer information? How do we source for candidates? What’s the way to make predictions about who would be the best candidates? We can surface those resumes to the recruiters first.” And by doing enough of that, we were able to offset the need to grow as much proportional to the company.

Actually, oftentimes, a lot of companies get less efficient as they get bigger because you need middle management, you need people inside the company just to coordinate with other people, and that’s tax, that’s an overhead. And it can become just a significant driver of cost and bureaucracy. And this is something Facebook was deathly afraid of as they got bigger and why we placed so much emphasis on productivity.

So, I completely agree with the criticism, but at the end of the day, I think it survives review when you take a look at what we did that a lot of the growth in productivity ultimately comes down to, not just the culture of the company or the space that it’s in but tooling. And Facebook has absolutely grown its productivity much more than even companies like Google and Microsoft which are already very productive on their own.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Tim, thank you. I am convinced. You checked that box. I think I can do the due diligence here. So, let’s talk about, then, what are some of the interventions that made the biggest impact and are the most transferable? Because I imagine most listeners are probably not going to say, “Hey, let’s build out a new system that helps predictively surface resumes of candidates,” although some might, so that’s not off the table. But I’d love to know which ones have the most impact and are the most transferable?

Tim Campos
Well, I think it does very much depend on what kind of business you’re in. So, if you’re a lawyer and you’re trying to make yourself more productive, optimizing recruiting is not going to help, or even optimizing your ability to predict what a customer might need. So, you really have to adapt your productivity strategy for the business and even for the role that you are in. But a few things that I think are general strategies that we employed. One is really understanding what are the long poles and getting things done.

So, for Facebook, the biggest function in the company is the product organization. The second largest function is the sales organization. The product organization, their productivity is driven by how much code can they write and is that code impactful. And, to be quite frank, that really wasn’t a problem that my organization could fix for them.

But sales is a different story. Salespeople, you know, they got to meet with customers, they need to understand which customers to spend time with, and there were a lot of things that we could do to help them be better prepared for those conversations. And, especially, because Facebook’s customer base was growing so much, having a much richer and better understanding of, “Who’s an advertiser of the company? What is their advertising objective? What problems are they trying to address with Facebook advertising? Where are they in their journey? Are they being successful and, therefore, they need some more advanced advice? Are they just starting and they don’t really know how to use the different advertising products?” would affect how the sales organization would approach customers.

And so, a lot of what we did was just centralizing information to make it clear at what stage a customer was in, and that helped to give the sales organization the right tools, the right conversations to have with companies, conversations that were specifically designed to help them alleviate problems with the advertising products, and help them be more successful with accomplishing their objectives, and, therefore, spend more with the company. And we became very, very good at this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. But, you know, I’ll tell you what, that resonates in terms of you’re centralizing information. And, in a way, that doesn’t seem like such a revolutionary move but, in practice, it makes a world of difference. So, just even putting on a podcast, you know, and sort of like, I’ve got to pull a lot of different pieces of information in terms of after this interview is concluded and before it’s published to the world.

And I’m pulling information like, “Okay, what’s the date of the release? And who’s the guest? And who are the advertisers? And what’s the copy for that advertisement? And is that copy new or is it similar as to last time? And who’s the next guest that we’re going to tease at the end? Is there anything cool happening that we’re going to mention? What are the parts of the interview that we’re going to cut versus sort of try to tease?”

And so, it’s actually pretty cognitively intense and it requires me to kind of open up, like, five or six different windows. But, sure enough, with my awesome team (Thanks, guys) has put more and more of that into one place and so I can do less work in terms of, “Yup, I like that teaser. Yup, I like that quote. Hmm, yeah, I agree. We should cut that part. Yup, that’s the sponsor. Let me change a few of the key words or segues,” and then away it goes. As opposed to, in a way, this is going to make a big deal if I spend 8 minutes pulling information from different places. But multiply that by hundreds of episodes, or occasions of an activity, and you’re really impacting productivity simply by centralizing information.

Tim Campos
And making it easier for people to access.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Tim Campos
Another example of this was, “What do we do for recruiting?” It’s the same thing, same objective, where this information about a candidate, their resume, their LinkedIn profile, who they’ve met with, if they’ve given us permission to answer this question, who are they friends with, Facebook friends with, in the company, who might know them, have they interviewed in a previous stage. Like, maybe they declined to accept our offer but a couple of years later, now we’re interviewing them again. What was the outcome of those interviews? What did people have to say?

By just centralizing all this information, it streamlines a recruiter’s ability to put the right candidate in front of the right manager quickly. And so, you can follow the same methodology in almost every role. I do this today for a little bit for my customers. When we onboard users, some of our users request personalized onboarding where we literally get on the phone with them, talk with them about what they’re trying to do with their calendars, and teach them how to use the product.

And we start with all the information that we know about them going into the discussion so that we don’t have to ask them things that we should already know, like, “What platform are they using? And do they have a lot of calendar data or just a little bit of calendar data? Are they busy? Are they not so busy?” And, by having understandings of these questions, we can more effectively tailor our conversation to our customers in a way that’s going to give them a better outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in practice, this streamlining, I guess, at times that requires you and your crew to create some custom applications and coding and such. But what are some of the things that the every-person can do to realize some of these gains associated with centralizing information?

Tim Campos
Well, I’ll actually start by saying some of what I did, actually everybody can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Tim Campos
For example, with sales at Facebook, we changed the onboarding process for a salesperson. Most salespeople are not technical, right? However, they can be taught some aspects of technology, so we would send them to data camp.

Data camp was a way of understanding how to answer a customer information at Facebook, so how to access the data, and how to write queries, how to use SQL, and we would teach them how to fish on their own so they wouldn’t have to come to us to get us to build some special custom report for them. They could do it on their own. And that empowered people.

So, there is a bit of self-learning that can be employed, even for the individual, of, “Learn to use the technology yourself so that you can solve some of these problems.” It very much does help to have an advanced, very business-oriented technology function to partner with who can help solve some of the more complicated things that you can’t do.

So, if you’re a manager at a company, and you have some control over this, that can make a gigantic difference, and, therefore, IT professionals still have a job if the rest of the world becomes coders and able to do this. But I think then there’s even simpler things, “How do you organize your time? How do you spend your time? What are the things that you spend your time on?” This has huge impact on most people’s lives because most of us, in today’s day and age, we’re knowledge workers, where it’s our thoughts and ideas that result in the value that we create. It’s not our ability to pick up a brick and move it to another side of a room and put it down. For those people, there’s a different way to drive productivity. But for knowledge workers, time management, and time allocation, has a huge impact on what people do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to talk about that in just a moment. I’m thinking, with regard to using the tech yourself, you could even have some of the tech do some of the centralizing for you. I’m thinking about Zapier, for example, right now.

Tim Campos
Great product.

Pete Mockaitis
I have Zapier yank the stuff from my Calendly scheduler onto my Google Sheets media sheet, and I think that’s pretty awesome. And so, sure, so maybe you could have someone make a quick app, or maybe Zapier or a tool like it can do some of the automation for you. But, moving past the tech, yes, let’s discuss organizing your time. What are some best practices and worst practices that are really high impact?

Tim Campos
I think one of the best practices around time management is to be deliberate and proactive about your time, deciding upfront, “This is how I want to spend my time in the next week or the next month,” and blocking it, giving yourself that time by saying, “Okay, I’ve got to write this presentation. I’m going to schedule time on my calendar to make that happen. I’ve got to do this investor or customer outreach. I’m going to schedule time for those things.”

And even though they may not involve other people, just by taking the time to block it. Now, when somebody else makes a request of my time, either I know I might not want to do take that request at that particular time, or I can, again, be proactive, “All right, that means I won’t be able to do that presentation on Thursday morning but I can still get it done Friday afternoon, so I’ll just move that time block from Thursday morning to Friday afternoon.”

Conversely, I think one of the worst things that people can do is be reactive. If we’re responding to the request of others, we are responding to their definition of what we want to get done, of, yes, what we want to get done, not our definition of what we want to get done. And it is best to own that and not give that up. And we see with Woven, as an example, that most people don’t schedule that far in advance. Most people schedule the events that they have two or three days in advance. Why is that important?

Well, imagine, I’m really busy and I got all these things going on, and somebody says, “Hey, can you go and meet with me for this lunch meeting sometime in mid-December?” If I don’t have a proactive view of what my calendar should be and how much time I should be spending on networking or personal relationships, it’s easy to say yes to that when it’s actually not as important for me, and I just gave away some time that’s going to prevent me to do something that I need to do when that week comes.

On the other hand, if I am very proactive about my time and I’m using these time blocks to forecast my availability, I might know that I can only spend three hours a week on these kinds of personal discussions. And if I already have three hours that week scheduled, well, maybe I’d push it up to the following week in that way I can just preserve it and not put myself in a position where my time is being dictated to me, I’m a slave to my calendar, instead of what it could be where I’m the master of my time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, this is really expanding my brain and I love it. The phrase you said that’s sticking with me the most is give yourself that time. And, for me, it’s such a flip because ever since I was a kid, it’s been very important to me to have “free time,” and I think that just means time that I don’t feel obligated to something or someone so that my brain can just percolate or I can decompress or whatever. And so, when you talked about scheduling the time, sometimes I’ve done some of that but I’ve also had some resistance in terms of, “Oh, boy. Well, then if all these hours are spoken for, then when is the ‘free time’?”

But when you say it that way, “Give yourself that time,” it really does shine a light on it in terms of saying, “Well, if you don’t schedule that time for that important thing for you, it’s at risk and it will likely just not occur, so you have to give yourself that time.” And that language feels as though you’re giving yourself a gift, or a treat, or some sort of luxury spa time or something.

Tim Campos
That’s exactly what events are, they are gifts of time. And you could give yourself time to do nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

Tim Campos
I mean, maybe some people need that sort of free unencumbered time just to think and take a breath, experience what’s going on around them, and that itself can be the objective. But you won’t have it if you don’t reserve it.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, when you say that, that’s also connecting to I was watching this Netflix documentary about Bill Gates, like Inside Bill Gates’ Brain, and he schedules think weeks, which I think is awesome. Like, “This is what this week is about. It’s me reading a lot of books and thinking about them,” and it sure seems to be effective for the guy. So, he gave himself that time with good effect.

So, I’m also intrigued by that notion that most people only schedule items three or four days in advance. That kind of gives you a little bit of a clue that you’ll have better luck getting on people’s calendar if you schedule it with a greater amount of lead time, so there’s a little tactical takeaway right there.

Tim Campos
Yes and no. So, it’s easy for people to say yes, but what happens?

Pete Mockaitis
They change up on you.

Tim Campos
Yeah, if things get really busy, and then all of a sudden now somebody needs to reschedule, and they need to reschedule because they didn’t properly plan. And that’s a burden on them and it’s a burden on you. So, reschedules are probably 20% to 25% of events that something changes after they are put on the calendar. And they’re hugely impactful in terms of being a time drain because imagine all the prep that you had for that event. If I rescheduled this podcast for you, you both weren’t able to do a podcast with somebody else, and any preparation that you did for this podcast would have been not necessarily wasted because, hopefully, we would reschedule for a different time, but done at the wrong time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’d have to refresh my brain on who you are and your background and what I want to ask you, so there would definitely be something lost.

Tim Campos
And that holds true for one-on-ones, for staff meetings, for interviews, for any kind of event that there’s a drain on both parties when the time has to change. So, it’s much better if people can be proactive and effectively forecast their time. Now, obviously, things happen, right? So, maybe you get sick or there’s an emergency thing that you could not have planned for. Those things are obviously going to be disruptive but even there, the more proactive you are about managing your time, when those emergencies happen, sometimes you can anticipate you’re going to have an emergency, therefore don’t book 100% of your time. Have some time left over for emergencies. Or other times, because you weren’t able to in this particular case but you are elsewhere, when you reschedule, you’re only going to have to reschedule once, or you only have to reschedule one other thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, Tim, you really piqued my curiosity. You dropped a couple of fun stats that I did not know before, and you are uniquely positioned to know working over at Woven there. So, most people only schedule items three to four days in advance, rescheduling occurs to 20% to 25% of events. Any other intriguing benchmark data points that have real relevance for professionals?

Tim Campos
Here’s a very interesting fact. We looked at, “When does the workday start?” And we had a debate within my team on we put default work hours in the product. Should those default work hours be at 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m.? And when do they stop? Do they stop at 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m.? And it’s fascinating to see that it’s not a simple Bell curve when you look at, “When do most meetings start?” There is a very strong bias against early morning meetings. Most people don’t schedule before 9:00 or 8:00 o’clock. There’s a significant drop off there.

And there’s a strong bias for later evening meetings. Some of those makes sense, right? We’d like to have a dinner meeting than a breakfast meeting. But it does get to, “Where does one have the most control over their time?” And it’s when there aren’t things that are being scheduled in the universe, and that’s the morning.

And this very much fits into my own personal experience. I find that if I’m going to have my most productive time of the day, or if I’m going to have the time to work out, it’s usually in the morning. It’s not in the evening. If I try to do things in the evening, inevitably something gets in the way that I didn’t plan for. And so, that bias turns out not to be just slanted to me and the people that I meet with, but it actually seems to be somewhat universal.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that is a great takeaway. People say, “Hey, wake up early and do your stuff. It’s magical and powerful,” and it seems like that’s largely just because it so happens that your odds are better if you’re having less interruption by third parties if you take that strategy.

Tim Campos
Yeah, absolutely. What we found that’s really interesting is there’s something magical about 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. meetings. It’s the highest frequency of events that occur in our system is the 10:00 a.m. or the 11:00 a.m. meeting that seems to be when people would want to go begin their day. So, it’s also, conversely, the worst time to try to schedule something. It’s not an easy time to get access to a meeting. More people than any other time are busy there. But there’s a lot more richness and depth into this.

I mean, what’s really interesting is that a lot of what is different about time allocation for people is very contextually dependent, “What company do I work for? How big of a company is it?” And so, certain predictions I could make are different depending on the context. If I were to say, “What’s different about a smaller company than a bigger company?” I can tell you one defining difference between those two. Small companies tend to spend most of their time meeting outside of their company. They schedule with people who are not inside of their corporation. Whereas, large companies tend to spend most of their time meeting internally. And the difference is striking.

I mean, you go from a 10-person company to a 10,000-person company, you go from 80% to 90% of the small person’s time is externally focused, whereas, 90% to 95% of the large company’s focused is internal. And imagine all of the people who don’t have an outside view, a company like Facebook where 90% to 95% of the time that the workforce is spending is with itself, then you don’t have the same sources of information and insight that you would have if everybody spent more of an equal portion of their time internally and externally. It can very much lead to different kinds of biases and perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very thought-provoking. Thank you. I would schedule some time to think about that later, and while I’m with you, dig more into the notion of…so let’s talk about optimal calendar management. You’re a human being, you’re a professional, you’ve got a number of goals you want to achieve inside work and outside work. You mentioned that one of the keys is to really proactively give yourself that time on the calendar specifically during this time and doing that even if it’s just with myself. What are some of the other pro tips in terms of really maximizing our use of the calendar to get great results?

Tim Campos
So, the most valuable events on your calendar are going to be recurring. Now, they could be recurring but you haven’t been strategic about how they got there. I used to have this problem at Facebook where I would setup one-on-ones, those one-on-ones would go on into perpetuity, and they might’ve been important in the early days but, as time went on, the one-on-ones were less important yet people were still having them. So, they were taking up time on my calendar.

But when you get into things like time blocking, where you have, for me, I like to reserve the time in the morning for maker time, short time, time to work on the things that require uninterrupted intervals. I make those recurring meetings so that they’re always there and I look very strategically at the recurring events that I have. And I also try to minimize them so that I don’t have recurring events just because somebody said, “Oh, we should always have this particular meeting at this time.” It may be important for me to have that meeting on a regular interval but not necessarily at that specific time. So, recurring events are very important.

I think another thing that is really notable is the difference between – I wish I could properly attribute the thought here. It didn’t come from me, for sure, but this idea that there is two kinds of time that people have – maker time and manager time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I think that came from someone in The Lean Startup movement.

Tim Campos
I wish I could attribute this. In fact, you’re making me…

Pete Mockaitis
But I love the idea. It hasn’t come up before. Lay it on us, Tim. Lay it on us.

Tim Campos
It’s an incredible idea. There are certain tasks that we have to do, like email or making coordination, quick calls. They don’t take a lot. The context switched to start, perform, and complete them is very low. And then there are certain things that take a while to get your brain going to do and then complete. You think of like a software engineer, for them to code, they have to really sort of get in the mood, get going. If they have to write 10,000 lines of code, they can’t just split that up into 5 minutes here, or 5 minutes there, or 5 minutes someplace, because the whole thing ties together, and they have an idea in their mind that has to be front and center. Or if I’m writing a document, or a presentation, for me, I need a lack of interruption in order to complete that. And so, that happens during maker time for me.

Manager time is time that I reserve for all the stuff that can be interrupted. It is not challenging at all for me to be interrupted from going through my email, because each email only takes a few seconds or maybe a few minutes to complete, and I don’t need to go through my email all at once. I could do that in 10 minutes here, and 10 minutes there, or 10 minutes there. Slack, dealing with Slack, or dealing with customer service, customer response, just small inquiries that are easy to respond to and deal with.

And so, my manager time, I try to reserve for the times in the day that I will most likely have conference calls, or coordination with others, because what that leaves me with is these little holes, so 30-minute holes here and there, that I could not put my presentation-authoring time in, but I could easily put my manager time in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it makes great sense. And so, your personal approach is to have more maker time in the morning and more manager time in the afternoon. And so, do you think that that is a, dare I say, universal best practice given the human condition and energy levels? Or do you think it’s more a person-by-person condition?

Tim Campos
Oh, I absolutely believe it’s the person-by-person. I know many people who are quite the antithesis of me and they’re most energized and engaged in the evenings. Mornings, it takes them a while to wake up, and so they need to do lightweight tasks. My co-founder is this way, for example. So, I do think that each individual has to find what works for them and then optimize it, but the concept holds true. The concept that there are different activities that you’ll perform that require lack of interruption, and others, activities which are interruption-friendly.

Pete Mockaitis
Interruption-friendly. That’s well-said.

Tim Campos
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Most of my life is in maker mode these days with some manager here and there with my team.

Tim Campos
I’m envious.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it is fun. It is fun to chat with you, interruption-free, or think hard about what the future, the next cool product, or whatever to make. And so, you’re right. I don’t feel as friendly when I’m interrupted in those moments as opposed to when I’m doing emails, like, “Oh, sure. Hey, what’s up? Interrupt me away.” Interruption-friendly, nice turn of a phrase. Boy, we’ve got so much good stuff I want to jump in. So, at the risk of being a little bit scattered, let’s hear a smidge about you’ve got a cool phrase. You say that lazy people are often the most productive. What’s this about?

Tim Campos
Well, it’s a learning that I’ve had over the years. It started when I was at Silicon Graphics, my second company, and we had a build engineer who was a self-professed, he would just say, “I’m super lazy.” If you ask him to do something, “I don’t really want to do that.” “Why don’t you want to do it?” “Because it sounds like work and I’m lazy.”

But he was also one of the most productive people because he was so lazy at what he was doing, he valued free time. And so, part of how he would allocate his time is finding ways to eliminate the repetitive recurring activities that were a drain on his time. And so, he built tons and tons of automation.

And this, I think, in part was endearing to me because my first job as an intern is the same thing. I found a job to be working at a company called Sybase, and the job was really boring. It needed to be done but it’s really boring. And I was grateful that they were paying me but I didn’t really want to do it so I wrote a bunch of automation to figure out how to do my job in less than 45 minutes of the day, and then I had all these other time to do other stuff, and, eventually, more interesting work found my way.

And so, I started to see that there’s this pattern. And when I got to Facebook and had an opportunity to work with some of the best engineers in the world, I saw that this pattern was strongest in those engineers, that they would find ways to just eliminate the work from work, to cut the work out of work, in large part by just identifying where the redundancies are, and whether that manifest itself as an architecture in terms of how they would design something so they wouldn’t have to reimplement things over and over again, or a process for, “How should we assess candidates who are being considered for hire? Or, how should we do our performance reviews?”

That these engineers were really good at identifying ways to simplify the work. And if you ever them, “Why?” it’s because they didn’t like it. They were lazy. They didn’t want to do the work so they found ways to eliminate it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a cool perspective in terms of lazy we might define as highly motivated to not do work. And then, as a result, they have an extra dose of creativity and persistence to do what’s necessary to do the automation or the simplification or the elimination such that that work doesn’t have to be done because they don’t want to do it.

Tim Campos
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. I’m reminded of David Allen we’ve had on the show a couple times, of Getting Things Done fame, and he says that he’s so lazy he doesn’t want to have the same thought twice, which is why he’s got this whole system of organize your mind so that you don’t have to have your brain continually remember things. It’s done for you.

Tim Campos
I think it’s brilliant. It’s brilliant. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg is famous for wearing the same clothes every day because he didn’t want to allocate thought-time to what he’s going to wear.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Tim Campos
So, he didn’t actually wear the same pair of jeans and the same T-shirt, but he had hundreds of the same T-shirts so he didn’t have to think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yup. I’ve heard that Einstein and some others similarly, and Steve Jobs certainly had recurring motif in his apparel. Maybe last one before we hit the fast faves. How do you think about burnout? And what should we do to prevent it?

Tim Campos
That’s a great, great question. Yeah, for myself, what I have learned is that the hardest part about burnout is detecting when I’m in it because it’s a vicious cycle, “I am busy and so I’m not being as…I’m working really hard so I’m not getting as much rest. I’m not taking a break. I’m not thinking creatively, and so things are taking longer, which means I have to work even harder, and then I’m busier,” and it just builds upon itself.

One of my leaders at Facebook that I worked for was, his name is Jonathan Heiliger who said this. He pointed out, the analog was cycling, that one of the things he loved about cycling is that you’d climb a hill and it’d be lots and lots of work, and then when you get to the other side of hill, you coast, and you coast down. And you actually really needed those pauses and effort in order to be able to complete a century, without going on to be able to complete the century, that you would sprint and you would pause, you’d sprint and you’d pause.

And he brought that same idea into work, he’s like, “Look, there’s going to be times when we’re all going to be working really, really hard together, and we’re going to be really busy. And after those times, it’s really important we all, in our way, find a way to pause, take a break.” And I think that one of the reasons why his organization was very effective and productive was because of this notion of sprinting and pausing. And this is an idea that you can bring into your own life, that if you haven’t taken a vacation, or you haven’t…one of my favorite ways to pause is to take a class, to learn something new and different. Then, yeah, maybe you should, maybe it’s time to do that.

And I always find for myself, when I make that time, when I give myself that time, I’m rewarded in either a brilliant idea that comes out, or just that renewed energy that I have to bring to my job. And I know it’s hard. I’ve certainly suffered from this where you just get to a point where you feel like you can’t do it, you can’t take a break, and sometimes that’s exactly what you should.

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

Tim Campos
Well, I love these questions, they really prompted a bunch of great ideas that I love to talk about, so, no, I think we’ve gotten through all of that, and there’s nothing that comes to mind that I really wanted to get out there that we haven’t had a chance to talk about yet.

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

Tim Campos
A good friend of mine says, “There’s no time like the present.” It’s very much get-things-done kind of mindset of if you can do it now, just do it. And one of the things I love about my product is scheduling. We’ve come up with a way where you can create that event and schedule it without having to have everything figured out. Put together a schedule and then send it off to somebody. It’s got times that they can have on their calendar and they decide which of those times work for them and, lo and behold, we’ve eventually scheduled. But just getting it done now, whatever it is, when you can saves you having to put it on your to-do list and manage it later.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I’m super intrigued about how Woven does the tabulation of the categories of time usage, like that’s cool. So, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Tim Campos
The one that comes to mind is The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Not to get too political on this but in today’s time where it seems like we don’t all agree on things. This book really studies some of the motivations and the reasoning behind it, and it’s surprisingly applicable even outside of the context of politics. When you are working in a work environment and you have a difficult coworker or a difficult boss, it provides a different perspective on how their mind might be organized to better understand the rationale. And I found that that book, in many respects, has changed my life.

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

Tim Campos
Going for a walk with my wife. It’s probably one of the best things that we can do is just take that break, take that step away from the noise of life, my children, company, housecleaning, everything, kids’ college applications, taking a step back and going for a walk, enjoying each other’s presence, and enjoying the gorgeous outside, taking a breath, enjoying life.

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

Tim Campos
Well, both my team at Facebook and my team at Woven know that I’m a firm believer in using data to make decisions. “Data wins arguments,” is what we used to say at Facebook. And so, when you don’t have the data, the question is, “Why? What is the measure that you should have?” And whether you’re talking about retirement, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time for blah, blah, blah.” “Well, why don’t you have time? Is it because it’s not important? Or is it because you haven’t properly allocated your time to allow those things that is important to get done? And then, well, how do you allocate your time? Where is the data on that?” So, I definitely find that data wins arguments.

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

Tim Campos
Well, if they want to learn more about Woven, our website is Woven.com, very easy to find. If they want to just keep in touch with me, I’m easy to find on Twitter @tcampos is my Twitter handle. And between those two, I would love to hear from people.

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

Tim Campos
Take control of your time. Spend time on what matters most and go find the tools and the capabilities to help you do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, this has been lots of fun. I wish you lots of luck and much enjoyment in all the ways you’re spending your time.

Tim Campos
Well, thank you very much. I really enjoyed this interview. It’s been fantastic. You have great questions.

516: Making Difficult Conversations Easier with David Wood

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David Wood says: "The tough conversations we haven't had form the boundaries of our world."David Wood shares his process for making difficult conversations more manageable.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes difficult conversations so difficult
  2. The four-step blueprint for tackling difficult conversations
  3. The simplest way to receive more quality feedback

About David

After life as a consulting actuary to Fortune 100 Companies, David built the world’s largest coaching business, becoming #1 on Google for “life coaching.”

He wants every human to play the best game they possibly can in work AND life and to have zero-regrets when they die. David coaches both high performing leaders, and soon-to-be-released prison inmates, to higher levels of Truth, Daring and Caring.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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David Wood Interview Transcript

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

David Wood
Hey, my pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to kick it off if you could share an interesting story about some of your work with people in prison.

David Wood
Well, I’m moved by their stories, and I’m particularly moved by some of the tough conversations that they need to have. There’s one inmate who we interviewed. We took in a film crew and we interviewed her, and she was part of a robbery. She didn’t actually do the robbery but she conspired to plan the robbery, and they didn’t follow the plan. They did something else, and someone got shot and killed. So, she got sentenced to 25 years in prison for planning a robbery whose plan wasn’t followed.

And one of the toughest conversations of her life that was coming up when I spoke to her, and I haven’t spoken to her since she had it, was she said, “How do you explain to the widow of your victim how sorry you are? How do you say ‘I understand that your kids are now suicidal, and you’ve lost your husband, and it was all because of something that I set in motion’? How do you explain how sorry you are?” And I didn’t really have any answer for that. So, that’s one story I’m moved by. I’m moved by many of the inmates and what they’re facing on a daily basis.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued. And so, in terms of your life’s work and expertise, what is it that you think that causes you to return this population again and again?

David Wood
I keep wondering why I go back into prison. I think, initially, it was a fascination with confronting my own freedom because I think that we take so many things for granted, and I wanted to see what was it like to go in and serve this underprivileged population. And then when I got in there, I found out how grateful they were. They were really humble, and they were really listening. They wanted to learn, “How am I going to communicate with a potential employer? How am I going to handle tough conversations with my family while I’m in prison and then when I get out since they’re blaming me for everything that’s gone wrong?”

So, they’re listening, and they want to know. And when we leave there, they’re just so grateful. They said, “A lot of people won’t come and spend the time with us. Thank you so much.” So, it gives me a chance. A lot in my life is going really well and it gives me a chance to do some service.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, can you zoom out a little bit? I want to hear a little bit about your philosophy and organization, play for real, what does it mean?

David Wood
Well, I believe we’re playing a game. I know not everybody has that viewpoint but I think life is the greatest game there is and the stakes are very high. Literally, we can die. So, the stakes don’t get much higher than that. But if you don’t know that you’re playing a game, what can happen, let’s say in your job, you can get tense, you can start to feel overwhelmed, you can start to get a bit crabby and snap at people because, now, you’re stressed and you’ve forgotten that you’re playing a game. So, I’d like everybody to be able to tap into the flow of life by remembering this is a very high-stakes game.

But I don’t mean we’re being frivolous about it and we’re just, say, dancing through the daisies with butterflies floating around our hair and not a care in the world. I’m saying, let’s play the game but let’s play it like we mean it. Let’s play it as if we may not get another chance to be reincarnated and live a second life. Let’s play but let’s play for real. So, to me, that means let’s try and live so that on our deathbed we will have zero regrets and say we absolutely gave our job and our relationships and our life everything that we possibly could.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. And so, we’re going to spend most of our time talking about how real conversations are difficult conversations play into it. But just to get oriented to the broad picture, you lay out four particular obstacles or enemies of playing for real. So what are those if you can give us the quick version for how we overcome those?

David Wood
Yeah. So, one thing that people are missing is real goals. They’re going through life but they haven’t actually set goals to light them up. So, that’d be the first thing that’s missing. The second thing, suppose you have goals, you know where you’re heading, but not everybody sits down and creates a strategic plan, and says, “This is exactly what needs to happen for me to achieve those goals.” So, we’re just talking about a lack of a strategic plan.

The third one is there’s no real action. It’s one thing to have a plan, it’s another thing to implement the damn plan. So many of us get distracted by Facebook messages and text messages and people coming and knocking on the door that we don’t actually take action on the things that we say matter. So, lack of real action is the third one.

And then the fourth one is lack of real growth. And I’ve identified three values that I found critical to up-leveling in life and business, and that’s increasing your truth, increasing your levels of daring, and increasing your levels of caring. So, by addressing these four, we can actually create real goals, we can create a real plan, we can get in real action. And by increasing levels of truth, daring, and caring, we can actually have real growth in our life. And if you follow all four of those, then I say that leads to a regret-free life.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that makes a lot of sense to me in terms of, yeah, I can see those four things need to be in place to move toward really cool stuff that matters. And if we increase the truth and daring, that’s going to certainly help you out there. Now, I guess I have a bit of a picture or assumption on how daring and caring apply and how they’re special. But could you expand upon increasing truth? What does that mean and how is it done?

David Wood
Right. Well, let’s say, this is about being awesome at your job, right? So, if you want to be awesome at your job, let’s look at how you can increase your levels of truth. Now, if you’re not speaking up and talking about something that doesn’t work for you, then you’re hurting yourself and you’re hurting the team. So, let’s say Bill, over in accounting, is doing something that’s actually slowing down your job, and you stay silent. Well, that doesn’t really help anybody. So, by increasing our levels of truth, we can start to speak up about what I need, about what the team needs, and about what the company needs. It might be that you need a pay raise, and so while you’re sharing that with your boss, you’re increasing your level of truth.

And I actually have a secret mission. I want everybody in the world to increase their levels of personal responsibility, increase their levels of agency so that we’re speaking up and we’re causing the matter instead of just being passive or, even worse, complaining or gossiping. So, that’s an example of how we might increase truth.

Now, to increase daring, I think you can start to see how it goes hand in hand. For you to speak up and be the squeaky wheel at work, it might take some courage to go to your boss and say, “May I have more money?” or, “Can I get a transfer to this environment?” or, “Hey, I think I’m being discriminated against sexually in the workplace.” All of these things take daring to speak up. Also, it’s daring to say, “Can I have that Japanese account?” or to say to a prospective customer, “How about you sign up for a year instead of one month?” So, those are just some examples of the daring.

And then caring, you can care for your fellow workmates and actually care that they do a good job, and that they’re doing well, and that they’re feeling appreciated. You can care for your direct reports. You can care for the relationships between you and your customers. You can care for your personal relationships and nurture your relationship with your kids, with your parents, with your spouse, and you can also practice self-care, because burnout’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem in the workplace. And if we’re not taking care of our nutrition, and our rest, and our exercise, then, eventually, we are going to burn out and it’s going to whack us with a big stick.

So, does that answer your question of, “How do we increase levels of truth, caring, and caring?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, so I’ve got a broad picture for how that unfolds there. So, now, yeah, let’s just talk, when it comes to pulling all that and you’ve got some conversations that are tricky, I mean, for starters… I made this more philosophical. Let’s see how it goes. What makes a difficult conversation difficult in the first place?

David Wood
Fear of loss. We’re usually worried about losing something. So, a difficult conversation at work would be, again, “May I have a pay raise?” We might be worried about annoying our boss and getting cut out of the next project, or maybe the boss says, “You know, we really don’t have the budget to support your salary, and you’ve just reminded me. You’re fired.” Or, let’s suppose, with our partner, a really tough conversation can be a confession, “Hey, I kissed someone and broke an agreement three years ago, and I want to come clean about it.” We could lose that relationship. So, fear of loss is one of the biggest things that make something a tough conversation.

The other thing, which I think is linked to this, is vulnerability. We can’t control a tough conversation. We can’t control the other person’s reaction if they get upset, if they get defensive, we can’t control what they do. We can’t even control how the conversation goes so we’re stepping into vulnerability to have a tough conversation. And I can understand why a lot of people might want to just sweep that under the carpet.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that’s why it’s sort of tricky. So, then how do we go about having these conversations effectively?

David Wood
Well, I have a four-step blueprint. And, by the way, tough conversations, I’ve been interested in those for 10 years in helping my clients, but I only recently, but I realized how well they fit into truth, daring, and caring because it’s all about telling the truth. It takes a lot of daring to have a tough conversation, and it takes a lot of caring to do it right. So, I’ve been very excited when I realized, “Oh, this is a way I can express truth, daring, and caring in the world and one the ways that we can play for real.”

So, how we do it, as I have a four-step blueprint, and if you like, we can give listeners a download at the end of this so that they don’t have write down a whole bunch of notes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Let’s do that too. So, okay, four steps.

David Wood
Yeah, four steps. And if you like, we can use an example with an authority figure. So, it could be something that you want to say to your boss, or we had an example with one of the prison inmates, and she was saying, “When the guard was late to his shift, that meant that I couldn’t be where I needed to be in the prison, and I got chewed up by another guard, and it really impacted my life.” And she said, “How do I have that tough conversation with an authority figure who has the ability to make my life hell?” And anyone with a job knows that their boss has a lot of power over them financially, their work hours, a whole bunch of things. So, we can use that as an example perhaps.

Step one is you ask permission for the conversation. Don’t just launch into it. So, with this prison inmate, for example, she could say to the guard, “Excuse me, Mr. Smith, do you have just a few minutes for a quick conversation?” And this is a good point to share your hope for the conversation, and we’ll give listeners a worksheet as well. When they download the four-step worksheet blueprint as a worksheet so you can prepare for this, and that’s where you work out your hope.

Now, her hope was, “My hope is you can understand a little more about what it’s like to be an inmate and that, hopefully, that might influence some of your decisions in the future,” something like that. Or, “My hope is that my life might be a little bit easier if you understand a bit more what it’s like.”

And then, step two, this is where you can share your fear or concern. Now, I guarantee there’s a fear or concern or you wouldn’t be calling it a tough conversation. So, in her example, “I’m hesitant to bring this up because I don’t want to offend you. You might feel offended or defensive and you might not want to listen to me, and I might get in trouble.”

And then, step three, this is where you share the issue. And if you have a request from your worksheet, this is where you put it in the request. So, in her example, again, it might be something like, “When you were late, I got in a lot of trouble. I got chewed out and I couldn’t pick up my property, and it really had an impact. And my request is, to whatever extent you’re able to, if you could try and be on time, then I’d be really grateful.”

And then, step four, the last one, I think can be the most important. This is where you get curious and you listen and negotiate. We don’t want to have tough monologues. We want to have tough conversations. And this is also where caring comes in. So, it might look, in this example, something like, “I’m wondering how is it for you to hear that? Does that make sense? Does that sound workable? Do you have a better idea? I’d love to hear anything you’ve got to say,” because you don’t want to just dump this and then run. And you may find out, she may find that this corrections officer may have a better idea than she had. The corrections officer may be like, “Look, I’ll speak to the other CO and I’ll smooth things over for you,” or, “I can’t guarantee I’ll be on time but I’ll help you out if you get in trouble because of it.” We don’t know. But that’s the plan.

Step four is get curious, and then we listen and negotiate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yes. I like that. It makes sense. It’s handy when you sort of have, I don’t know, a preamble but you share those bits in advance. And I think it makes them more kind of sympathetic or appreciative that you’re a human being and you have some sensitivities and vulnerabilities and you’re not trying to attack them.

David Wood
Yes, that’s right. It’s relational and it’s vulnerable. It’s like, “Here’s my hope out of this, here’s my fear or concern out of this, I’m a real person. I’m kind of at my edge here.” It changes the whole space. And people are more, I find, they’re more likely to listen when you show a bit of vulnerability and let them know the context of what’s going on instead of just you working it out in your head, and then launching into a tough monologue trying to get what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s do another scenario here and I think this happens a lot at workplaces. Okay. Let’s say you are responsible for your project to get done and that has any number of dependencies from other departments which you don’t have really control or authority over those folks who need to provide key stuff or inputs for you to get the job done. And so you’ve got to do some of those prompts, like, “Hey, you didn’t give me your stuff when I needed it.” But I always found that tricky in environments, in terms of, “How do I do an appropriate follow-up and what are the prompts I should be using to get what I need without being sort of offensive or pestering?” Because I don’t want them to think like, “Who’s this guy and why is he always in my business pestering me non-stop?” So, yeah, there’s the scenario. Let’s walk through how’d you approach such conversations.

David Wood
Perfect example and very similar to this inmate who wanted something from someone else who had some authority, she couldn’t control it so it was really a request. And in giving that preamble, I think you’ve given all the answers we need. So, first step would be asking permission, right? We’re not going to dump it on someone. We’re going to say, “Hey, if you’ve got a few minutes to talk about this project,” and this is where you’ll sweep in your hope, “My hope is we can be more in sync as a team and to be honest that I’m going to look even better with my boss,” for example, right? I’m making that up, “But I probably want to look good with my boss. So, that’s my hope.”

“And then my fear, or my concern about bringing it up is I know you don’t report to me, I know it’s not your job to make me look good, and I don’t want to be too obnoxious. I don’t want to be stepping on your toes, and I don’t want to put you offside, so I’m a little hesitant to bring it up, but I think it’s worth talking about.” So, now, we’ve been real, we’ve shared a hope, we’ve shared a concern.

And then, step three, share the issue and include a request if you have one, “So, the issue is I would share the impact. When I get the material later than you said it’s coming, there’s a whole pipeline that gets messed up, and it ends up taking us longer, and then sometimes I get in trouble for it. That’s the impact. And so, my request is that if we can be more rigorous around our deadlines, and if you don’t think you can get it to me by Thursday, give me a firmer deadline of Monday. But if you say Thursday at 5:00 o’clock, my request is that we be a bit more rigorous with it. Do you think that would work?”

And now I’m already going to slip straight into number four, “What do you think about this? Have you got any other ideas? Because this isn’t quite working and I’d really like to find something that does work.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, defensiveness pops during the course of the conversation. Do you have some pro tips for navigating that?

David Wood
Yeah. And I like what you said, like, “I don’t want to be obnoxious. I don’t want to be nagging all the time.” So, I’ll share that concern and I’ll say, “How do I request things from you without being a nag? How do I do it? Do you have a suggestion for language? I’d really like your ideas on this because I’m a little bit stumped.” And then you work it out together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure. Now, can we talk about going first. I’ve got Stephen Covey in my head here now. You know, “Seek first to understand then be understood.” How do you think about that sequencing or timing of who’s going first, and when is it optimal?

David Wood
Yeah, yeah, great. I love that. So, in the download, you’ll get some pro tips. And one of the tips is if you find that the other person is not really listening, they’re just jumping in, so you say something like, “You know, if I get the things later than we said, then I said, ‘Oh, well, my boss was doing this, and blah, blah, blah,’” they’re not listening, then you could try some words like this, “Hey, I want to hear that, and I want to try and get this out in one go. Do you think you could give me just two minutes? And I think I can cover all the bases. And then I’d love to hear everything you’ve got to say. So, we’ll just take turns then. Is it okay if I go first?”

And if it’s not, “Okay, maybe you go first and I’ll listen first. I’m okay with that.” The main thing is that you take turns and that there’s actually a two-way communication instead of someone just getting triggered and kind of running the show. If that happens, make the request, “Can I go first? And if not, you go first.”

Can you say the question again about the sequence of timing?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. So, we talked about, “Can I go first?” and I’m thinking about Stephen Covey with one of those seven habits of seek first to understand then be understood. So how do you think about the timing, sequencing of who goes first, talking versus listening. And are there particular circumstances in which you recommend listening first or just how do you think about that?

David Wood
Well, I think it’s sometimes a matter of charge, like, “Who has the charge?” So, if you’re the one that has some emotional charge on something, and you’re a bit at your edge, you might just want to request permission, “Can we talk about this? Can I share this issue?” And if you a yes, go for it. And then find out their reaction. So, I think it makes total sense for you to go first.

If you think that they might have a bit of charge, let’s say that you think they’re really upset with you about something, then you might say to them, “Look, I want to have a conversation about this and I can go first if you like, or if you like, you go first and I’ll listen, and then we’ll switch.” So, you’d still ask permission for the conversation, then you might throw it up in the air. Because if they’ve got a lot of charge, then the chances are higher they’re going to get triggered, angry, defensive, upset, something like that, and I might want to preempt it and let them, just hear their issue first.

But sometimes you’re taking something to someone where you don’t even know if they’ve got an issue, so I don’t think we have to artificially try and get their side first. I think it’s fine to just lead in and see if there’s permission for you to share your side.

Pete Mockaitis
I got you. Thank you. And then in terms of sort of managing in your own head and the emotions in the midst of these conversations, anything you recommend on how you can do that well? So if you’re starting to freak out, do you have some tips? Or if you’re feeling a little scared, nervous, anxious, and some things show up that you weren’t expecting… What do you do?

David Wood
I can see why you’ve got so many reviews on your podcast. You ask really good questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

David Wood
So, yeah, we’re talking about some emotional regulation now. If you know that you’re going to have an issue, for example, I had a podcast host say, “How do I share with my mother who’s got Alzheimer’s and who’s dying? How do I share with her all the things that I’ve been disappointed about in my life? I want to have no secrets between my mother.” Now, that’s a tough conversation.

And one of the tips that I gave her was to talk it out first with a friend or even journal it. Like, get it out. Don’t take all your charge about your disappointment about how your mother raised you and dump it on your mother. Better to go through your worksheet, work out your hope, work out your fears, you might write down all your disappointments, talk them out with a friend, in this way you can release a lot of that emotional charge so that when you go into the live conversation, you can be more matter of fact and deal with the facts, say, “Yeah, I was disappointed about a few things. Here are a couple of the key ones. And now that I’ve talked it out with a friend, I’ve realized that you’re actually doing the best you could.”

Those kinds of insights can come out of doing this. And I’ve also, I had one client who’s a manager in a tech company, and she said, “I’m worried about this tough conversation with my staff. They’re going to give me feedback on my management style. What if I get triggered? What if I get defensive and shut down?” Which is a super smart thing to be aware of. So, I said, “Great. We’re going to practice it. I’m going to be your employee, and I’m going to give you feedback, and I’m not going to go very easy on you, and we’re going to see how you go.” So, she got to roleplay it. And I started easy, just with a few things, and she handled it really well. And then, finally, I said, “You know, basically, you’re just clueless.” And that was too much.

So, we found her edge and she shut down, and then we slowed down, and we worked through it, found out why she would shut down, and she learned a new language. She learned how to say, “Ouch! That hurt,” instead of pretending and covering it up. So, long answer to a short powerful question, you can roleplay it, and you can talk it out with your friends first to release a lot of that charge so that you’ll be more settled when you actually have it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is good. And while we’re talking about feedback and being on the other end of some of this, are there other perspectives in terms of, how can we be open to the feedback and encourage and receive it and put it to use all the more often?

David Wood
Well, one way, this might seem flippant, but one way that we can get good feedback more often is to listen to the feedback we get. Now, I’ll put myself up and confess straight away that this isn’t automatic for me. If someone says something that I receive as critical, my first thought might be to defend, “Well, the reason that happened was blah, blah, blah.” I’m not listening. I’m not listening to their experience. So, if you can catch yourself, you go, “Oh, wait a minute. I just reacted to that. Let me slow down and listen to this. All right, you’re saying when I deliver this late, it has an impact on you and you get in trouble with your boss. All right. So, what I need to do is to be better about managing my deadlines.”

Now, if I’m willing to actually listen to someone’s woe instead of just defending myself, they’re more likely to come to me next time and say, “Hey, you know that conversation went well. How about this one? Would you be willing to try this?” But how many people do you know at work who just, historically, have not been open to requests, or criticism, or feedback that’s less than glowing. I know people that I’m not going to give them any feedback because they’re bumpy and they’re just not open to it so I stop giving it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, yeah.

David Wood
Yeah, I’ve got this manager I was just talking about, she wants feedback. She wants to be a great manager and she knows to be a great manager she’s got to know if there’s a problem so she’s gone to each of the team members and said, “Would you be willing to tell me if there’s something I’m doing that’s not the best?” And she told them a story about her boss. She told her boss, “What could I do better?” The boss said, “Oh, everything is good. Everything is good. No, you’re doing great.”

Pete Mockaitis
What happens?

David Wood
And then when it came to review time, the boss said, “Well, here are five things you could’ve done better.” And she was naturally pissed. She’s like, “I wanted that feedback. I could’ve been better already.” So, she told that story to her staff to let them know that she really does value feedback, and to model for them what it’s like to actually request for feedback so that some of them could go, “Oh, same here. Let me know if I can do something better.” A real ninja move to cause some of that.

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

David Wood
Well, I like talking about my favorite things, so let’s shift gears.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, let’s do it. How about a favorite quote or something you find inspiring?

David Wood
Well, I’m going to quote myself because I said something a couple months ago and it stuck with me, and it feels so core to the work I’m doing. And what I said was, “The tough conversations we haven’t had form the boundaries of our world.” They literally form the boundaries of our reality. But the tough conversations we do have become the defining moments of our relationships, our career, and our lives.

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

David Wood
A favorite bit of research? Well, there’s an assistant professor on the East Coast of the U.S. who surveyed, I think, it was 150 hospice nurses to find out what people actually regret on their deathbed. You hear so much talk about, “Oh, on your deathbed, people wished they hadn’t spent so much time at the office, blah, blah, blah.” But where’s the research? Well, I’m telling you, there isn’t any. This guy has got the closest piece of research, it’s very hard to get to the actual people dying due to privacy laws and permissions at the hospital and family and all these things. I’ve tried. But he actually researched the nurses and found, say, the top five regrets of the dying. So, that’s one of my favorite pieces of research just because it’s the closest that exists to what I really want to see which is actually asking those who are dying.

Pete Mockaitis
And for those who haven’t seen the study, could you share a couple of them?

David Wood
Oh, being true to one’s self, that’s one. And I may not have the words right but being true to one’s self, speaking up for you instead of living other people’s dreams, that’s one. And I think an example of that would be telling people how much you love them.

And I can relate to that. When I imagine being on my deathbed, there’s a scan, and I’ve been near death. I’ve been sitting on a plane with the engine caught on fire, I’ve had my parachute collapse and head plummets towards the ground, and I’ve scanned, “Is there anything left? Is there anything left unsaid?” In fact, I turned to my partner, with the engine on fire, and said, “Well, good, Ray. Is there anything we haven’t said?” And we agreed we were solid. I want that experience for everybody, that you don’t die with anything left unsaid.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

David Wood
I’m a fan of The Work of Byron Katie. And so, I’m going to mention Loving What Is because it was my first introduction. I didn’t get a grasp for The Work from that book but it was what led me to go further with Katie and finally get a grasp on The Work. So, Loving What Is by Byron Katie will start to introduce you. This reminds me of a quote of hers which is one of my favorites, which is, “The worst thing that can happen to you is a thought.” Yeah, a whole gamechanger to start to realize that circumstances don’t give us our experiences of our life. It’s what we’re believing that gives us our experience of life. And Katie gives us a way to hack those painful thoughts to get to peace.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a favorite tool you’d recommend to people to be more awesome at their jobs?

David Wood
Yeah, I recommend the four-step blueprint for tough conversations which we’ll give your listeners in a few minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

David Wood
Ooh, I like something called somatic sequencing. It’s new. This is new for me. I’ve been running from a lot of the sensations in my body for years and years, and I believe this is what people pick up with cigarette, or they smoke, or they have a glass of wine. Or you take some medication to kind of numb ourselves, or watch TV. But I’ve been experimenting with a therapist in feeling the feelings. Like, I’ll go and lay down a special place in the house and I’ll be like, “What is happening in my body?” I’ll just feel it and I will try and welcome everything that’s happening. And that’s been a bit of a game changer for me. So, that’ll be my new favorite tool or practice.

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

David Wood
You can go to PlayForReal.life. At PlayForReal.life you can download the blueprint. If you are serious about up-leveling in career and life at the same time, then see if you qualify for a discovery session with me. If you do, I don’t charge for those sessions. And I have joined the ranks of the podcasters in the last week, Pete. And if you’d like to listen to me as well as Pete, then Tough Conversations with David Wood is a new podcast you can subscribe to, again, at PlayForReal.life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Well, David, it’s been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best and keep on doing the great work as you’re playing for real.

David Wood
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate you.

515: Mastering Your Motivation with Susan Fowler

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Susan Fowler says: "You're always motivated. The question is, "What type of motivation do you have?"Susan Fowler explains what we get wrong about motivation and how to make the shifts to master it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Major misconceptions about motivation
  2. The three keys to mastering your motivation
  3. An overlooked leadership practice to improve engagement

About Susan

Susan Fowler is dedicated to helping others master their motivation and achieve their highest aspirations. A sought-after speaker, consultant, and motivation coach, she has shared her message on optimal motivation and thriving together in all fifty states and over forty countries. Susan is the bestselling author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does, and coauthor of Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard. Her latest book, Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals, released last June. Susan is also a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership program at the University of San Diego.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Susan Fowler Interview Transcript

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

Susan Fowler
Thanks, Pete. I’ve been trying for years to be awesome. I hope there’s something that I can help other people be awesome with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I definitely think there is. You’ve done some research in the realms of motivation. Maybe, for fun, could start by sharing a surprising or fascinating insight you picked up from your research into motivation?

Susan Fowler
You know, there are so many surprises. I’ve been studying motivation now for almost 25 years, been very involved in the research community, and there are thousands of amazing academicians and behavioral and neuroscience researchers out there. But what’s most surprising is, I think, that we’ve just had this totally wrong impression of what motivation is, and it’s hard to change our perspective because a lot of our notions about motivation that were developed during the B. F. Skinner days, where we did all the research on animals and operant conditioning, you know, carrots and sticks, it’s so prevalent in our society. It’s embedded into psyches that it’s hard to change our perspective because it’s literally built into our language.

So, for example, when we ask a question like, “Are you motivated?”, or if you ask yourself, “Am I motivated to do something?” that’s just the wrong question. That question literally sets up a paradigm that we now know is not true. So, I think what’s most surprising to me is how powerful, exciting, and valid, and applicable the new science of motivation is, and also how challenging it is to change people’s perspectives based on what they already know even if they know it doesn’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
So, could you give us a short synopsis of what would be the current model of motivation and then how is that broken?

Susan Fowler
Thank you for asking that question. You know, there’s basically three prominent theories of motivation that are embedded, for example, in leadership competencies in the workplace, or that the workplace tends to use to reinforce their ideas of motivation. So, one is the one I just mentioned would be of Skinner when they did all this research on animals and realized they get, for example, they could get pigeons to do what they wanted them to do if they gave them a pellet and it was called operant conditioning.

And so, the rationale was, “Well, we can get pigeons to do whatever we want them to do. Maybe we’d get people to do whatever we want them to do if we just give them something.” And so, that’s where the carrots came in, and then people thought, “Well, the carrot is not working so let’s use a stick. Let’s give them pressure. Threaten them or make them fearful.”

And the thing is all those things do motivate us but it’s what’s called suboptimal motivation. It’s the kind of motivation, like the carrots, it’s like eating junk food. When you eat junk food, your blood sugar rises and you get a burst of energy, but then you crash. And when you’re eating all that junk food, it might give you that burst of energy but it’s not healthy, especially in the long run but even in the short run. It diminishes your creativity, your innovation. And so, that’s really prevalent in the workplace.

Another thing is like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that is the most popular idea of theory of motivation in the world, and Maslow didn’t even come up with that triangle, Maslow’s triangle, the hierarchy. He was writing about psychological needs and really started people thinking about psychological needs instead of biological drives. But the hierarchy has never been proven and even Maslow would be dismayed if he thought people were actually just using his theory that came out in the 1940s as their basis of motivation.

And then the other one is really prevalent, and I see it all the time in the workplace, is achievement motivation. This whole idea that what people really want is power and status and clout and money, and that leaders especially have this kind of special motivation to achieve without thinking about the implications or what’s behind the achievement and what they’re doing to themselves and others. So, what we really need, basically, I would say, Pete, we’ve been in the dark ages when it comes to motivation and yet there is a totally different way of perceiving and using motivational science and that’s what my purpose is to get my message out there so that people can do things differently.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then what is the optimal theory as far as what we know now in terms of what really does motivate people?

Susan Fowler
Well, they’re operational but at a suboptimal level. Well, I think what is really basic is that people are not lazy, all right? So, we have this notion that people are disengaged at work, and oftentimes they’re disengaged because we’re not motivating them enough, or we’re not motivating ourselves enough, we don’t have enough perks or benefits, we have to make everything a game to make it fun because, otherwise, we wouldn’t do things.

But that’s just the opposite of what science says about our human nature. Our human nature is we want to thrive. We want to have meaningful challenges. We’re actually motivated by meaningful challenges. We want to make a contribution. We want to feel like we’re doing meaningful work and be connected to people.

And so, what the research has shown is that there are three psychological needs that when these three needs are satisfied, when we can create them, or when we’re experiencing them, especially in the workplace, but this goes for life, then we are going to thrive. And when we thrive, again we’re going to be more productive, more innovative, creative, we’re going to have a sense of wellbeing, and we’re going to generate positive energy that is sustainable.

So, the key to motivation is these three psychological needs that we can create because they’re real and they’re things that we can actually create in the workplace. If you’re a manager, you can help create it for others. And if you’re an individual, you can create it for yourself. And that’s really what my book Master Your Motivation is all about. It’s about how you do you create your own choice, connection, and competence. Those are the three psychological needs.

Pete Mockaitis
And the choice is where the key comes in, it’s like you choose what matters to you?

Susan Fowler
Well, actually, it’s interesting. Choice is what gives you a sense of autonomy. Otherwise, you feel that you’re being imposed on. You know, there’s a difference between getting up in the morning and saying, “Ugh, I have to go to work,” “I have to support my family,” or “I have to make money so I can live,” versus “I’m choosing to go to work. I’m choosing to make a living. I’m choosing to live a certain lifestyle.” 

You know, the reason that diets don’t work, think about this, as soon as you go on a diet, what do you say to yourself? You say, “Oh, I can’t eat certain things. I can’t eat that muffin, I’m on a diet.” So what happens is, immediately through your own language and through your own interpretation, you have just eroded your perception of choice. So, you’ve just eroded one of the three key psychological needs.

So, we think, “Oh, wow, I can’t have that muffin.” What’s the first thing you want? You want that muffin. And you think it’s about the muffin, but it’s not. It’s about your need for choice. It’s about your need for autonomy. And so, what we need to learn and part of the skill of motivation is to be able to say, “I can choose to eat this muffin or choose not to eat this muffin because I have a goal to lose weight,” and then we’ll talk about that in a minute, “I am choosing not to eat this muffin.”

It seems like just a reframing but it’s more. It’s literally creating a perception that stimulates a part of your brain that activates this psychological need that is absolutely necessary for what we call optimal motivation. So, choice is your interpretation or internalization that no matter what’s happening around you, you have choice about how you react to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like one great practical tip right there. You don’t even say, “I can’t do this,” or, “I must do that.” It’s like, “Well, hey, because of this, I’m choosing this.” And so, it keeps that choice factor alive and functioning for your motivation in that domain. So, that’s already very handy. Thank you.

Susan Fowler
Right. Well, yeah, think about this. It’s so funny because people will send out like a meeting invitation. They’ll call the meeting, send out an invitation, and then it pops up on their calendar a couple weeks later, and they go, “Oh, I can’t believe I have that meeting.” I mean, they called the meeting. But just the fact that it’s on their calendar can oftentimes trigger that thing of, “Oh, I don’t have a choice. I have to go to that meeting.” And so, we actually do it to ourselves all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you then maybe share a fun story that kind of illustrates there what’s really possible in terms of someone who felt unmotivated and then dug deep into the three needs and tapped into some great motivation to do great things?

Susan Fowler
Well, can I just point out, Pete, that just in your very question, which is a kind of question that would be normal to ask but it actually sets up the wrong paradigm of motivation? So, we use the term unmotivated. Well, the research shows is that you’re always motivated. You’re always motivated. The question is, “What type of motivation do you have?”

And so, if you’re motivated by money, or power, or status, or image, or even fear, or guilt, or shame, you’re motivated but you’re motivated, what we call, sub-optimally. And so, you’re either not going to take action or you’re going to take action but you’re not going to be persistent at it. So, that’s the first thing I really want people to maybe get in their heads is that we’re always motivated and it’s really important for us to think about the type of motivation that we have.

And then, the other thing is that we tend to think we need to have motivation to achieve great things. And so, I would just challenge, what is a great thing? What does that look like? And what the research will show is that just achieving small everyday goals is more satisfying than some big pie in the sky. I know we need to have those big hairy audacious goals, but what really gives us day-to-day satisfaction is seeing progress and sometimes it’s the mundane things in life.

I’d love just to share one example of myself that’s just a little thing. So, I travel a lot for my work. I do a lot of international travel and so I go through security at the airport a lot. And that’s something I will never be inherently motivated to do. In other words, I will never find that just naturally fun, or what people call intrinsically motivating to go through security.

So, one day, I’m at security and I get all tense. I feel really a lot of pressure because I’m usually in a hurry, and also, I hated going through there so I want to get through quickly. So, I’m looking at all the lines, and I’m thinking, “Which of these lines is moving fastest? I really need to get through the line fast.” So, I’m looking at the TSA agents to see which one lets you through best, and I’m looking for lines that are short, and I’m also looking for a line that doesn’t have like a family in it with a bunch of kids.

Pete Mockaitis
This reminded me of the movie Up in the Air where he’s analyzing and profiling all the different people in the airport, where he’s trying to figure out who’ll probably go faster. Okay, so you got your statistics and heuristics that you’re there, and you’re going. All right, I’m with you.

Susan Fowler
Yes, exactly. Exactly. So, I find a line that I’m going to get into, and then I stop, and I just have a mindful moment. And this whole concept of mindfulness is so powerful when it comes to motivation. Just to be aware in the moment, “What am I experiencing?” And then in that moment I thought, “Well, I’m feeling pressure and tension and stress and all this stuff.” And I think, “What am I doing? Susan, you talk about this stuff. This is what you write about. You research this. What are you doing to yourself?” And I thought, “Okay, I am obviously sub-optimally motivated to go through security. What do I need to do differently?” And I thought, “I need to shift my motivation.”

And this is where motivation as a skill comes in. So, I thought, “I’ve got to practice what I teach.” So, I started thinking, “Okay, one of the reasons I’m sub-optimally motivated is I don’t have choice.” I have to go through security, right? I have to go through that. And then I started thinking, “Well, I don’t really have to go through it. I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to do this as a job. I could choose to do something at home, just stay home and write.” And I thought, “Well, I’m choosing to travel and I know how much I love it once I get there and I’m working with the people I’m working with, so I am actually choosing to go through security. Okay, I’ll give that one up.”

And then I thought, “I’m really competent,” that’s the third psychological need, “I’m really competent. I’ve been through a million times. I’m pretty well geared-up to do it.” But what was missing from me, really missing from me in that moment was connection. And connection means that you have some deeper meaning, you have a sense of the values that you hold, or that you’re making a contribution, or that you feel an affinity with the people you’re working with. And I realized I didn’t have any connection going through security. I’m not sure it really works. I’m kind of thinking sometimes that it’s just bureaucratic thing we have to do to make people feel safe but I’m not sure it really works.

Anyway, I have all these negative reasons not to go through security. And so I thought, “Okay, but how do I shift my motivation?” Well, in order to shift, what you can do, one of the ideas, is to align whatever you’re doing to a value that you have. And so I started thinking about my values. So, it means you have to have values and know what they are. And the first thing that popped into my mind as a value is learning. I love learning. I’ve always been a teacher, a learner. And I said, “Okay, what could I learn going through security?”

And I realized I could learn patience because I obviously am not a patient person. It’s just not my personality type, so it’d be something I would have to do consciously. And I said, “Wow, okay, I value learning. I’m going to learn patience.” So, I found the longest line and that had a family. It had a family with a father, a mother, and two kids, one was a toddler, one was a newborn. They had more stuff than I realized you could even take through security. And after standing behind them, they were just struggling, and I finally said, “Would it be okay if I held your baby? Maybe it would be helpful.” And they said, “Oh, would you? That’d be so great.”

So, I’m holding this baby, Pete, and I’m realizing, “Wow, I’m really having a wonderful moment here because I love babies. I love holding babies.” And so, they go through security and I’m going, “Excuse me, you want your baby?” “Oh, my gosh, yes.” So, they grabbed their baby and I helped them on the other side packing up and everything, and I go to my gate and I’m thinking, “Wow, that really worked out great because I love holding babies.” And I see the father coming towards me, and he says, “Oh, I’m so glad I found you.” He said, “We just feel terrible because we never even thanked you for your help.” He said, “This is the first time we’ve ever traveled with two kids. We had no idea how hard it would be. And we don’t think we could’ve even gotten through the security thing without your help and we never even thanked you. So, I just want you to know you made our day today, you really helped us.”

And I said, “Oh, no, no, no. Thank you. I love holding babies.” And so, we’re going back and forth, thank you, thank you, thank you. And I get on the plane and I’m reflecting, which is part of the skill of motivation. And I’m reflecting on what just happened, and I realized I not only have experienced what we call the inherent motivational outlook, is that I actually enjoyed holding the baby. That’s something I love to do. But I also had experienced what’s called integrated motivation. Because my life purpose is to be a catalyst for good, and in that moment, I had helped a young family and they told me that I did good. And that felt so satisfying, I can’t even tell like the joy I experienced in that moment, that sense of wellbeing. And I knew that, from then on, I would go through security differently.

Now, that’s been years that that happened, years ago that that happened. And anyone who travels with me or see me traveling will tell you that I enjoy going through security, not because it’s fun going through security but because I’m able to live my values, and I’m able to live my life purpose every time I go through security, so I’m always on the lookout for an elder couple that I can help, or a young couple that I can help, or a single mother traveling, or just being nice to the TSA agent who’s getting a lot of backtalk from people. So, that’s literally changed the quality of my travel experience, which is a huge part of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely. So then it seems like, in the terms of what we’ve discussed here, so we’ve got the choice element present in the story, “Hey, this is the career I’m choosing. I prefer fast and being with people in those places, and part of that is security.” And then for the connection, we’ve got, “Okay, what are my values?” And then you’ve come up with learning and, “What’s something I can learn here?” And patience is the thing you’re going to learn. You’re going to be patient in that context with the security line. And then forming connection with the folks who are there. And so, competence, did we touch on that?

Susan Fowler
Well, the competence, I already felt like I had because I’m really good at going through security, but I have to tell you I think that’s a really good question, Pete, because I actually feel more mastery now of going through security because I know how to do it, I’m able to help others. So, what the research shows about these three psychological needs of choice, connection, and competence is that they’re all totally interrelated. And I call it the domino effect.

If you are missing one, the others will fall. So, if I said, “Oh, I’m choosing to go through security,” but didn’t have the confidence to do it and didn’t feel like I was making progress, or if I was going through security and I was choosing to do it but I found no meaning, no connection with other people or to my values or to my life purpose, then all the choice in the world wouldn’t matter. And you’re not going to find connection if you don’t feel a sense of choice. You’re going to feel pressure and tension and stress, and you’re going to feel like people don’t care about you if they’re putting pressure on you. So, they’re all totally interrelated.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s great. Well, then I’d love it if we think about professional workplace here. Let’s say someone, they’ve got a project, and you know, they’re just not feeling it so much. They’re responsible for it, and so it seems like day after day, rather than to finding or making the time to proactively advance that project, they tend to, “Oh, what’s in my email? My desk needs to be tidied.” So they’re kind of procrastinating or putting it off. So they’re doing some of the less value work instead of pursuing this project which is important although doesn’t light their fire in terms of they’re just not feeling motivated with that over the course the days. So in that world, how would you recommend we apply some of these principles to summon or stir up or whatever you want to call it, to get those motivational juices flowing?

Susan Fowler
Yeah, when we’re sub-optimally motivated to do something, how do we shift into optimal motivation? And so, how do you apply the skill? And I’ve got so many examples, and especially in my book there’s one that I love, like filling out expense reports. I mean, who is actually “excited” to fill out expense reports? The only reason you might do it is you need your money back, but it’s drudgery.

And so, what I’m encouraging people to do to create choice, connection, and competence is to ask themselves, “Okay, what choices do you have?” And as soon as you ask that question, “What choices do you have?” just the idea that you have choices will often help you make the right one. But if you say, “What choices do I have?” And you say, “Well, I could choose not to submit my expense reports.” Or, if you’re working on a project like you were saying, “I could choose to not work on this project,” or, “I could choose to just do the minimum, put in the minimum amount of effort, and just get by, and hope that it’s okay, and that it doesn’t make me look bad.”

So, what you do is you just go through in your mind, and this takes a couple of seconds, to say, “Okay, what are my choices? And then, how do I feel about those choices?” And so, if you get in touch with the fact that you have choices, I mean, when you’re laying in bed in the morning, just get in the habit, and I do this every single morning, I go, “Okay, what choices do I have today? I could choose to lay in bed for another couple of hours or I could choose to get out, get up and write my blog that’s due this week. I have a choice of what to do.” So, that’s the first thing, no matter what the project is, no matter what you’re working on, is to ask, “What are my choices? How do I feel about those choices? What choices have I made that I’m glad I made? Or what choices do I wish I had made?” So, just to think about choice.

And then the second thing is to ask, “What connection do I have with this? And so, what I find meaningful.” So, in my book, Calla is writing about, “Okay, I’m choosing to do my expense reports,” but it was drudgery and she hated it. And then when she asked the question about connection, she realized that Jenny Luna is the gal that would receive the expense reports, and if Jenny doesn’t get them on time, and if they’re not completed correctly, Jenny is the one that suffers because, then, she can’t meet her deadlines that needs to go into accounting, etc. So, Calla said that she realized that, for her, doing it so that Jenny wouldn’t suffer because Calla has a sense of purpose around being a good friend, around being the kind of person that helps others not hurts people. And so, she said getting in touch with that connection was really important to her.

And then Calla realized that the company had gone through a new system and she didn’t have the competence she needed. So, she realized that she was missing two of the three psychological needs for doing expense reports. And once she got in touch with, she’s making the choice, she really wanted to do it because she cared about Jenny and she wanted to be a good organizational citizen, and she needed to learn more about how to do it. She actually got tutored and, in my book, she actually wrote about that experience, and how that transformed her expense reports. And I actually double-checked it with Jenny Luna, and Jenny confirms Calla does her expense reports correctly and on time every month.

So, that’s just it. It’s just asking ourselves, “What choices do I have? How can I have connection here? Where can I find meaning whether it’s to a person, to my values, through my sense of purpose, through making a contribution?” And then asking ourselves, “How did I learn? What did I learn? How did I grow?” And so, if we would just ask ourselves at the end of every day even, “What were the choices I made? How did I make connection? And how did I grow? How did I learn? How did I build competence?” If we could just learn to ask those questions around choice, connection, and competence, we literally would shift our motivation and it transforms the quality of that experience.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to get your take here. So when you’re managing other people and you want them to experience motivation, what are some of those best practices we can take on so they’re getting connected to those drivers of motivation?

Susan Fowler
So, if you’re a leader, I think one of the things you need to do is start to think about the competing leadership competency. So, if you’re being held accountable, for example, to drive results, I think you need to realize that your method of driving results may actually be putting people into suboptimal motivation. If they’re feeling imposed on, if they’re feeling like they don’t have choice, if you’re using your power to get things done, like, “Do this because I told you to do it,” like a parent often says to a child, then you’re driving for results could undermine the very results that you’re trying to get.

And so, as leaders, what I am constantly teaching, and I’m just sharing with you that I just delivered this message to 300 leaders at the biggest bank in Russia, and basically asking them to, every day, ask people, “Okay, tell me about the choices you made today. Or, let’s talk about the choices you made. And what did you like or what didn’t you like?” Or, let’s say you’re saying to someone, I do a lot of work with pharmaceutical industry, and the FDA has real boundaries. You can’t do this and you can’t do that. What I’m trying to teach leaders is, “Okay, how do you have a conversation about, okay, here’s what you can’t do. But what can you do? What are the options you have within the boundaries? We don’t want you getting creative with the way you approach doctors then talk about research, but where can you be creative in terms of the way you interact with the doctors that you’re selling to?”

And so, we’re trying to teach leaders how to have conversations, or what I call motivation conversations, that really create choice, connection, and competence for people. And so, to ask people, “You know, here’s a goal, this is a goal that is required for your job. How do you feel about this goal? What’s meaningful to you about it? How can we align this goal with the values that you have? Not the values in our organization, although, hopefully, the goals align to organizational values, but your own values.” And what we found is that most leaders have never had a values conversation with the people they lead. We plaster the organization’s values all over the walls and make sure people memorizer them, but we’ve never asked individuals to actually think about, “What are your values? What is it that you bring to work every single day and make decisions with?”

So, I’m encouraging for leaders to have those values conversations to help create connection for people at work, and to ask them, “How do you feel like you’ve made a contribution no matter what your job is?” I was talking to a janitor at a high school the other day, and I asked him these questions about choice, connection, and competence. And you can’t believe how these man’s eyes lit up, and he said, “You know, there’s a lot of kids at this school that come from underprivileged families, and I’m like a surrogate father. I’m kind of like the wise sage or guru, and they come to me, and they tell me their problems, and we talk.”

Now, this is a janitor at a high school who works nights because he has a day job. And he is so optimally motivated in that janitorial job, and the primary reason is because he feels like he’s doing something good for the kids, and he also feels that when he creates the school that’s clean and pristine that he’s giving them an environment they might not have at home.

So, it’s just fascinating to me how, as a leader, you can have these conversations and reinforce the values that a person has that they might have but never thought about. Maybe they haven’t consciously chosen them and talked about them, so, yeah, those conversations are really important. And a leader can always ask at the end of every day, “What did you learn? How did you grow? Tell me about the progress that you’ve been making,” so that you’re reinforcing their sense of competence.

Pete Mockaitis
You also have a term I really want to touch upon for a moment. What is a fatal distraction? And how should we counteract that?

Susan Fowler
I love the concept of fatal distractions because it implies, for me, that we have a basic nature, and that what happens when we are acting lazy, when we are slacking, when we’re doing things that we’ve been held accountable for doing, what fatal distractions implies is that there are things that, outside of ourselves, or the way we’ve interpreted things, that pull us away from our basic nature of experiencing choice, connection, and competence.

So, a fatal distraction, for example, is, in a game, wanting to win, and wanting to win for ego purposes, or wanting to win because there’s a prize. This is why I’m so hesitant about gamification in the workplace. Research has shown, for example, that a lot of HR departments will say, “Hey, join our healthy contest. If you lose the most weight during our contest period, you’ll win an iPad.” And what the research says is that 12 weeks after the person wins the iPad, they revert back to their old habits and actually gain the weight back plus more weight. Plus, they then have this belief that, “Wow, I failed. I may have won the game but I’m never going to win in the long run,” and so they stop trying.

So, all of these fatal distractions, these games, these incentives, the rankings, all these stuff that we thought, because of the carrots and the sticks and the achievement motivation, all those theories that are out there, that counteract our true nature. So, a fatal distraction is the belief, for example, that, “People don’t care about us, and it’s not worth us caring about others.” Or, a fatal distraction is that, “I have to do this or I’m going to fail,” or, “I have to do this or I’m going to feel guilty.” It’s all of the negative self-talk is a fatal distraction, so are all the shiny objects and the junk food that entice us in the workplace every single day.

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

Susan Fowler
I think the thing that I really want people to hear is that motivation is a skill, that if you become aware of your choices, the connection you have or don’t have, and the competence you have or don’t have, that you literally can change the quality of your everyday experiences. And that’s what it takes to eventually achieve great things. You don’t achieve great things overnight. You achieve great things because you have day-to-day optimal motivation that keeps you doing one step, another step, another step. And so, that’s what I would encourage people, is just to really think about how they could create choice, connection, and competence in their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, now, could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Susan Fowler
I happen to see a young woman on the internet and she described herself as a self-quoter, and I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve always wanted to have the nerve to do that.” And so, she’s inspired me. And I wondered if you might permit me to just read the last paragraph in my new book because it really says in kind of a nutshell what I believe and it’s important to me. So, I’m going to do a self-quote, which is very audacious.

“A common thread of every great spiritual practice throughout history is the belief that human beings can raise their conscious awareness and live life at a higher level. The belief that change is possible entices you to greet a new day. Hope if a belief that things, and you, can change for the better. Not believing that you can and do change is to wonder what your human experience is about. We are beings with self-determination, and the ability to reflect and mindfully choose who we are, what we believe, and how we behave. The skill to master your motivation may be your greatest opportunity to evolve, grow in wisdom, and be the light of the world so desperately needs.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And do you have a favorite study or experiment or research?

Susan Fowler
Oh, a favorite. Oh, my gosh. You know what I have, Pete? No, I don’t. I have an entire book called Self-Determination Theory that is a handbook of thousands of research studier. And one of the reasons that I’m so, I guess, enamored with or have such a strong belief in the research basis for what I write about is that thousands of researchers have been doing very structured and progressive research for over 60 years, and it hasn’t been one big research study that proves it. What they’ve done is systematically and very consciously and with intent built these ideas on really solid, solid research. So, I think the message I’d like to get across is when somebody says, “Oh, there was a research study, and here’s what it proves,” I would never do that.

What I would say is, “You need to have meta studies, and you need to have years and years of validating the conceptual ideas and the theoretical framework.” And I’d like to think, I’ve been told, that I’m representing this volume of research in a way that honors the work that those researchers have done for over the past 60 years.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Susan Fowler
My favorite book is probably Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. He didn’t know about the three psychological needs but that is what helped him thrive. And if you read that book in light of what we talked about today, it’ll give it an entirely new meaning.

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

Susan Fowler
I can’t live without my iPad. The thing I love about my iPad is that I use it for news, I use it to keep in touch with people, I use it for social media, I use it for games, I use it to shop. I can’t think of hardly any aspect of my life that I don’t use my iPad for. And since I travel so much, I would say that if there was an iPad chip in my forehead, I probably would be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Susan Fowler
I think I have an issue with the whole concept of habits, and so what I would rather say is that I have a ritual. And my morning ritual is, before I put my feet on the floor, I say a prayer, and then I also ask myself, I remind myself, “How am I going to create choice, connection, and competence today?” So, you might call it a habit but habits are subconscious, and a ritual is something that I consciously do because I know it improves the quality of my life.

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

Susan Fowler
I hope people will take the “What’s your MO?” for motivational outlook, “What’s your MO?” survey. It’s free. You get immediate results. It’s on my website at www. SusanFowler.com.

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

Susan Fowler
One of the things that I would challenge people to do, my life motto is that I teach what I most need to learn. And so, when I realized that there’s something lacking in my life, I delved into it as if I would need to teach it to someone else, not because I want to show them up or because I want to use my expertise power or whatever. But I feel that when you can turn around and teach someone else what it is you’re learning that that’s a form of mastery. So, go through life and think, “What is it that I really need to learn? And maybe if I taught it to others, it would reinforce it in myself.”

Pete Mockaitis
Susan, thanks so much for sharing the good word. I wish you lots of luck and motivation in all your adventures.

Susan Fowler
Thank you so much, Pete. Same to you. I appreciate it so much.