This Podcast Will Help You Flourish At Work

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

589: How to Ask Better Questions that Lead to Breakthroughs with Stephen Shapiro

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Stephen Shapiro offers expert advice for shifting your thinking to uncover innovative solutions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest red flag in problem-solving
  2. How to work with—not around—constraints
  3. How an emphasis on solutions hinders us

 

About Stephen

For over 20 years, Stephen Shapiro has presented his provocative strategies on innovation to audiences in 50 countries. During his 15-year tenure with the consulting firm Accenture, he led a 20,000-person innovation practice. He is the author of six books, including his latest: Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems. His Personality Poker® system has been used around the world to create high-performing innovation teams. In 2015 he was inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Stephen Shapiro Interview Transcript

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

Stephen Shapiro
Well, I’m very excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have you. And I, first, want to hear a little bit about your childhood dream of being a gameshow host. What’s the story?

Stephen Shapiro
Growing up, I would watch The Gong Show which was one of my favorite shows because it was just so ridiculously goofy and, in particular, Chuck Barris, who was the host, was just, I mean, I loved how animated he was and how crazy he was, and I just became so fascinated with him. And, in fact, I got to meet him at BookExpo one year, which, to me, was sort of a weird dream come true.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Do you have a particular game show host voice or style that you would engage in, and could we hear a sample?

Stephen Shapiro
Oh, I think it’d probably be Chuck Barris, like, “Oh, man, this is like just the craziest act I’ve ever seen.” I just loved his physical animation, his voice animation, the craziness, the antics. It was, I don’t know. I just thought it was a lot of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I think that in high school I actually won the award for, you know, the senior superlatives, like, “Most likely succeed, yadda, yadda,” Most Likely to Host a Gameshow, which was very specific and a peculiar category that they had. It’s not a game show but, sure enough, I’m hosting a show. The seniors were right.

Stephen Shapiro
Well, that’s awesome. So, if you were to do a gameshow, I’m just curious, what gameshow do you love? Like, if you were to be a gameshow host, which one would you want to be a host of?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, I’m not an aficionado by any means, but I thought the most ridiculous concept, which was cracking me up, was Awake, it was on Netflix, it’s newer. And it’s about people who are sleep-deprived and have to tackle these challenges because I’m a big fan of sleep. It’s a recurring theme on the show. And I think that that just very much resonates, like, “Yeah, I can’t do jack when I’m sleep-deprived,” and neither can many of these contestants.

Stephen Shapiro
Oh, that’s awesome. I’m going to have to check that one out.

Pete Mockaitis
They have to like count quarters, like, all night. It’s a goofy concept but it provides a powerful, I think, reminder for being awesome at your job is get enough sleep. So, that’s one tip. But I want to hear, you’ve got more than one, nay, 25 lenses that reframe and help solve difficult business problems in your book Invisible Solutions. And so, I’m intrigued because, wow, that’s a lot of lenses. I like that. So, lay it on us, you’re an innovation expert. What’s the big idea behind this book here?

Stephen Shapiro
Well, we’re always trying to solve complex problems and, unfortunately, the biggest mistake we make in trying to solve problems is to focus on the solution, because if we’re solving the wrong problem, we’ll never get the right answer. And we don’t take enough time to step back and say, “Am I asking an important question? Am I solving an important problem? And have I reframed the problem in a way that will allow me to get better or at least different solutions?” And so, it really comes back to the question. The questions we ask are going to drive the solutions that we get.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that makes sense to me. Could you perhaps make it come to life for us with a vivid example in terms of a person or a team banging their head against the wall, making minimal progress, because they weren’t asking a great question and then the transformation they experienced when they started doing right?

Stephen Shapiro
Sure. So, one which I really like because it demonstrates a really great thought process is a team of dental experts who were trying to create a whitening toothpaste. And pretty much all whitening toothpaste uses abrasives or bleach and they decided they wanted to tackle the problem, “How do we create a whitening toothpaste that doesn’t use abrasives and doesn’t use bleach?” and they spent a lot of time and spent a lot of money trying to come up with complex chemical compounds and new formulas, and they didn’t find anything until somebody shifted the question. And it’s a really profound question because it’s only two words, it’s, “Who else?”

And so, when they shifted it to instead of saying, “How do we, the dental experts, solve this particular problem?” they asked, “Who else has solved a similar problem?” And so, they asked, “Who else makes whites whiter?” and in this case, they realized it’s laundry detergent, and the company that was working on this problem, in addition to having a dental care division, also had a laundry detergent division, and they found the solution by talking to the people in laundry care…

Pete Mockaitis
Convenient.

Stephen Shapiro
…which is a completely…and it was a totally different solution, a crazy solution, but it actually worked.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Ooh, what do you know, we’ve got laundry experts in our same company.” That’s really handy. So, okay, “Who else?” that’s a handy question. So, then let’s talk about just that. So, you say, in many ways, it starts by asking better questions. So, what are some of the best ways we can go about doing just that?

Stephen Shapiro
Well, the first step is to recognize that we have a lot of assumptions in the questions that we’re working on. We do tend to limit our ability to find new paths because we tend to do what’s worked in the past. So, the first thing is to just really question, like, “We’ve always done it this way. We’ve never done it this way.” Once you start hearing people say that, that really, to me, should be a red flag to say, “Hmm, are we really moving in the right direction or are we just moving in the direction we’ve always moved in the past?”

And then, once you acknowledge that our questions tend to be not well-formulated, then you need a process of deconstructing the problem. So, in a lot of cases, for example, we’ll ask big broad questions, like, “Okay, how can I improve the business?” Well, that’s a big question. If I asked a thousand people who worked for a company to give me their ideas on how to improve the business, I’d probably get 10,000 ideas, of which almost none of them will really be valuable. So, we need to go through that process of stepping back, and saying, “What are we really trying to solve here?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, then that’s so broad. We might zoom into, I don’t know, well, now my strategy consulting hat is coming on, it’s like, “Well, hey, there’s either, financially speaking, increasing revenue or reducing costs.” And then you could talk even more broadly in terms of like environmental, stewardship, corporate responsibility. Like, improve business, I hear you, has many, many different lenses or layers to it. So, I guess what is the right level of broadness or breadth? Because in your example, I can see it’s too broad but I think you might get maybe too narrow in the sense of, “How can we increase our toothpaste revenue by 4% or more?” I feel like you’re probably going to be missing out on some real gems if you get that narrow.

Stephen Shapiro
Well, exactly. I mean, I call it the Goldilocks Principle because sometimes they’re too soft, the bed is too soft, or they’re too broad, too abstract, and sometimes they’re too specific, they’re too hard. And so, we need to just make sure we’re asking questions that are just right, and that takes practice. Like you were saying, there are some fantastic examples of where a problem was framed to assume that the solution came from a particular area of expertise, and by opening it up, new solutions were developed.

So, my favorite story is actually the Exxon Valdez oil spill back in 1989. For 20 years, for nearly two decades, they were trying to solve the problem of, “How do we prevent an oil water mixture from freezing?” and couldn’t find a solution. And when they shifted the question to something that was less specific that had nothing to do with oil or temperature, but it was actually a common food dynamics issue which is called viscous sharing, which basically means a dense liquid, if it’s put under force or acceleration, it will start to act like a solid. They found a solution in six weeks by somebody working in the construction industry working with cement. So, there’s that little art of being able to ask better questions, not too broad or too specific.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so lay it on us, it’s an art but for us non-artisans, how can we start to do a little bit better right away?

Stephen Shapiro
Well, the first thing is to ask yourself, “Am I assuming that the solution is going to come from a particular area of expertise?” And if it is, well, then try to broaden it. If it’s too generic… so I’ll give some of the lenses. That’s probably the best way to go. So, if I’m asking the question, “How do I improve revenues?” One of the lenses that I might want to focus on is what is called the leverage lens. The leverage lens is the first one, and it basically says, “If I could only solve one part of this problem, what would it be?”

[09:07]

So, you might ask, “Well, where do we get our greatest revenues right now? Who are our most profitable customers? Where are our most profitable geographies? What are our most profitable products? Wherever it might, how we maybe focus on that.” So, that might be the first step is to find the leverage point. Or you can use the second lens which is to deconstruct it, to say, “Well, I don’t even know what’s most important but let me break it down.” Like you did. “Well, revenues could be made up of a combination of a number of different factors. There’s financial factors, there are social factors, and so how do I break it down to smaller parts and figure out which one to solve?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, hey, let’s keep it running. Let’s hear about reduce, eliminate, and hyponym. I don’t know if I’m saying that right.

Stephen Shapiro
Oh, yeah, that’s perfect. So, the reduce lens basically says, “If we’re trying to solve something that’s too big, how do we sort of reduce it down to something smaller?” Let’s talk about the eliminate lens first because I think it’s a really good one. We, so often, ask ourselves, “What can we add? What features can we add? How can we make something better?” But we rarely ask, “What can we remove?”

So, like right now, everything is meeting on Zoom at this time because we can’t meet in person. Well, what most people have done is just automated the meeting. But what if you started eliminating meetings? What aspects of meetings could you eliminate? So, what can we remove from the solution that will, in many cases, give us a much more elegant solution? So, those are two.

But let’s talk about the hyponym and hypernym. Basically, what these are, are lenses which are about abstraction. So, if I want to make something more specific, what I’d want to do is take a word. So, for example, if I’m trying to solve a transportation problem, maybe I need to break it down into vehicle, which is a more specific version of transportation, and maybe from vehicle I could go down to car or motorcycle or bicycle. So, by changing those types of words, we now start shifting the language because the important thing is we could change one word in a problem statement and get a completely different range of solutions.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess hypo and hyper just mean less than or more than, or below or greater, I believe. Latin or Greek roots here.

Stephen Shapiro
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess you’re just suggesting that we have, as artisans practicing this art, we have the ability to choose specifically as opposed to like a synonym or antonym, meaning the same thing or the opposite thing, something that means the thing more narrow or more broadly speaking.

Stephen Shapiro
Right. So, for example, I wrote a book. If I look at a hypernym for a book, which is a higher-level thing, well, offering…

Pete Mockaitis
Media.

Stephen Shapiro
Media, yeah, or product, or offering. I mean, these are all higher-level words.

Pete Mockaitis
Content.

Stephen Shapiro
Yeah, exactly. But if you think about it, “How do I create a great book?” is a different question than “How do I create a great offering or a great product?” And so, we started to look at, “Okay, well, if it’s a product, what are the range of products we’re going to include with the book?” and that’s how we started getting into multimedia and a number of different tools that go along with it. So, you can just change one word and get a completely different range of solutions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m hearing you there. And then, by doing this, all those five lenses there give us an approach to reducing the abstraction and getting clear on, “Hey, what do you mean by book, or whatever word, or problem that you’re after?” So, then let’s just keep it rolling from your table of contents, if we may.

Stephen Shapiro
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Then on the flipside, if we want to increase abstraction, I guess the benefits of that are that we get a broader array of potential solutions that fit into there but, again, if you’re too broad, then you just might be kind of all over the place and not grabbing onto something. So, what are some of the best tools or lenses for increasing abstraction?

Stephen Shapiro
Well, so we talked about the analogy lens, which is the toothpaste example. And, by the way, the solution to the toothpaste example, I think, is actually pretty cool, because when the toothpaste people went over and asked the laundry care people, “How do you make whites whiter when you’re not using bleach?” They were told something interesting. They were told, “We don’t? We don’t make whites whiter. We actually make whites bluer. Laundry detergent is blue for a reason because it creates an optical illusion that prevents the reflection of yellow.”

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Stephen Shapiro
And so, the toothpaste they created actually has a blue dye in it that is the same blue dye that’s in laundry detergent. So, the analogy lens is all about, “Who else has solved a similar problem but in a different place?” And I think that’s just always a fun one to use.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about a few more examples of analogies there. So, we’ve got the toothpaste whitening versus laundry whitening. Lay on us a few more examples for how we might draw analogies.

Stephen Shapiro
Sure. So, probably one the more powerful examples is how an oil pipeline engineer helped a cardiologist solve a medical problem. Basically, this cardiologist was talking to an oil pipeline engineer, he said, “Look, one of the problems we have as human beings is we get clots. We get clots in our body. And if the clot goes up into the brain or the heart, we’ll get a stroke or we’ll die. And we’ve not figured out a way of preventing that from happening and when it does happen, how do we remove it?”

And the oil engineer said, “We have that problem all the time. We call it sludge, which is basically dirt and muck that gets in the pipelines.” And he created this filter that goes in pipelines to filter out and break up the sludge. And the two of them worked together to create a product which actually goes in the body that does exactly the same thing, and it saves thousands and thousands of lives. And I think it’s just so fascinating that an oil pipeline engineer found the solution to our health problem.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. Well, what do we call that thing? I think I’ve heard of it before. What’s the medical device called?

Stephen Shapiro
It’s called the Greenfield Vena Cava filter.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there you have it. That’s nifty. Well, then, I’ve heard of these stories and they’re kind of cool and fun in hindsight, like, “Well, how about that, that these different disciplines got together and then made something cool.” But I wonder, sort of when you’re in the heat of it, how would you go about getting those analogies flowing? Like, it probably wouldn’t occur to you, “You know what I got to do is I got to call a petroleum engineer or a pipeline?” You’d say, “Who else has solved a problem like this?” So, that’s one way to start triggering some of that. Although, if you’ve got no familiarity with oil pipelines, you may have no idea that they’ve solved problems like that. So, maybe can you walk us through perhaps a thought process by which we’re utilizing analogy to spark new promising pathways of exploration?

Stephen Shapiro
Sure. So, the first step is to pause and just say, “I never assume that I have all the answers, so maybe somebody else has the answer.” And when you ask, “Who else?” sometimes  you can just reframe it in a lot of different ways. So, for example, I focus on innovation. Okay. Well, who does innovation? Well, that’s a little broad. Then I start thinking about, “Okay. Well, I’m trying to solve difficult problems or I’m trying to make impossible things happen?” It’s like, “Okay. Well, who else makes impossible things possible?” And it’s like, “Bingo! Magicians.”

And so, I spend a lot of my time hanging out with magicians, studying the way they create their magic tricks because I learn as much from magicians about the thought process of solving a complex problem as I would with a fellow innovator. And it’s just that inquiry into, “Okay. Well, who else could it be? Who else could it be?” And it’s like if I’m trying to deal with something with speed, I’m trying to make something faster, okay, maybe I’d talk to a racecar team, or I might be talking to anybody who deals with speed and movement. As you start thinking about it, things become obvious pretty quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s fun. And this reminds me, when you said speed, we had a previous guest who said that, “Ideas are feats of associations.” That was a nice little quotable gem. When I think about speed, I’m reminded of the book The Goal if you’ve read it about his theory of constraints and how his epiphany, aha moment, about how to make his manufacturing plant better occurred when he was leading his Boy Scouts on a hike. And there was one Boy Scout who had way too many items in his backpack which was weighing him down, slowing him down, and they could only move as fast as Herbie, the slowest-moving person. And he’s like, “Aha, one of the Herbies, the slowest-moving elements, the bottlenecks, in our plant,” and then away you go.

So, what I think was nifty about that is that, I guess, on the outside looking in, when you start going down that pathway of talking to a magician, “You know, let me talk to a magician or a race car team,” you have no idea yet what they’re going to say and how it may be applicable. But I imagine, is this far to say, once you get into the details of, “Oh, yeah, but we do this, or the wheels for that reason,” then it may very well be that that next level down that you’re starting to get those sparks of aha. Is that fair to say?

Stephen Shapiro
Absolutely. So, for example, an insurance company, their customers were complaining that when somebody filed a claim it’s like filing a claim into a black hole. They they didn’t know who their adjuster was, they didn’t know how much money they were getting, when somebody was going to show up to look at their house. And they’re working on this problem, and I love the way they found the solution, which was, having the question in their mind, “How do we create transparency in the claims process?” And it wasn’t like they sat around and they brainstormed.

Actually, as it turns out, they were sitting around and brainstorming, didn’t come up with an answer, somebody went off to order dinner, and came back and said, “I have the answer. It is Domino’s Pizza. Because if you order a pizza at Domino’s, you got the pizza tracker which tells you basically every single step of the process. Okay, the pizza is in the oven, it’s being made by a certain person, it’s out of the oven, it’s in the box, it’s out for delivery, it’s at your house.”

Well, they modeled what Domino’s did for the pizza tracker and created a claims tracker. So, it’s just amazing sometimes how the solutions can come from totally different industries. Pizza delivery and insurance, you would never think of having anything to do with each other, but actually you can get some great solutions when you start thinking that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very cool. So, that’s the lens of analogy. Can you share some of your other favorite means of increasing abstraction?

Stephen Shapiro
In a lot of cases, you just need to start thinking more broadly. Again, it could be broader words. You can use hypernyms which is what we talked about before. To me, sometimes the best thing to do is just ask, “How do we make this less specific?” And that tends to be a very simple way of getting to a higher level. We can talk more about the lenses specifically, but I find sometimes those two lenses are pretty straight, those two categories, the reduce abstraction and the increase abstraction lenses are relatively straightforward. You just need to give it some thought. It’s the other ones that become a little more interesting because then they’re really starting to twist and turn the questions a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s hit those in just a moment, but I’ve got to know. Number seven, result. What is this lens?

Stephen Shapiro
So, the result lens is asking, “What is the outcome?” So, instead of focusing on the process, which is what we often do, and the process tends to be maybe the solution, “We need to focus on the results.” Let me give you a quick example of two lenses, one that increases abstraction and one that reduces abstraction for the same problem. So, some work that was being done in the UK around the education system, so the question was, “How can we improve the education system?” What they realized was that the education system was actually a means to an end. The goal, the result lens, would be, “Why do we have an education system? It’s to improve a child’s learning.”

So, when it was changed from education system to child’s learning, they then used the leverage lens, and they asked, “Okay. Well, if we’re trying to improve a child’s learning, what does science tell us in terms of the factors that have the greatest impact in a child’s learning?” And the greatest impact in a child’s learning, based on many studies, is actually positive parental involvement, not helicopter parenting the way some people do it, but like really getting actively involved in the child’s learning. And so, when that question was asked, the solution was found very quickly that there was an experimental school that had a 100% positive parental involvement. So, we focus on the result first and then we focus on the leverage lens and got a very elegant solution.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, we got to know, Stephen, what was the elegant solution? Tell us the story.

Stephen Shapiro
Well, the elegant solution was the school in Bogota, Columbia, of all places, where people are super busy, is they actually had parents come into the classroom and sit in the chairs that the students would sit in, and actually go through the process. It didn’t take a lot of time, but going through that experience gave the parents a deeper appreciation for what the children went through when they were in the classroom. And then, when they went back home, they were given some tools to help them engage the child during the learning process. I mean, here are people who are busy, they don’t have a lot of money, but they got 100% of the parents involved in that process.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s so powerful in terms of there’s a world of difference in terms of hearing, “This is what the lesson was about,” versus, I don’t know how long they were in the seats, they’re probably kind of small.

Stephen Shapiro
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
They were in small seats for 15 minutes squirming, “Uncomfortable,” is to say, “Oh, okay. I see exactly what that experience is like in doing so. So, all right. Well, thank you.” Yeah, let’s talk about some of that changing perspective stuff. How do you recommend we go about making that happen?

Stephen Shapiro
Yeah. So, a lot of times, the best thing to do is look at the problem from a different angle. So, one of my favorite lenses is the re-sequence lens. And the re-sequence lens basically says that if your problem or even your solution assume some level of timing, how do we shift the timing on it? So, how do we predict or how do we postpone? How do we do something earlier? How do we do something later? So, for example, paint. If you go into a hardware store, it used to be that if you wanted green paint, you would walk down the aisle and you would grab a gallon of green paint. Now, if you want green paint, they ask you, “Well, what color of green? What tone of green?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, there are hundreds of greens.

Stephen Shapiro
Yeah. And then they mix it for you there. So, they postponed the mixing of the paint. They actually create the color of the paint after you know what color somebody wants. And that’s just a great way of getting lower levels of inventory, for example, greater customization for people’s needs. So, it’s like if you go into McDonald’s, if they make it to your order, well, that would be postponing it. They would wait until somebody comes in, but during the busiest times, they might have to predict, they actually might have to make 20 Big Macs so that if somebody walks into the store, they’ve got a Big Mac ready and they know that 15 people in the next hour are going to order Big Macs so we’ll have it ready for them, and it gives us a lot greater efficiency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And let’s hear about the emotion lens.

Stephen Shapiro
The emotion lens says that we tend to ask questions that are very analytical, but what if we add some emotion to it? In many cases, positive emotion is really one of the goals. So, for example, instead of saying, “How do we engage our customers? Or how do we get our customers to like us?” “How do we get our customers to feel like they’re at home when they’re in our stores?” They actually have some emotion to it. Or maybe we can ask the question, “How do we create a wow experience for our customers?” Or if it’s our employees, instead of saying, “How do we increase employee satisfaction?” maybe it’s, “How do we get a five out of five on our customer surveys?” And so, it’s more of a positive spin and a more emotional spin rather than just numbers and facts. But you can also go on the negative side too which is pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
I liked the way you articulated that in terms of because, frequently, the difference between something that I really kind of get and resonate with versus just sort of like, “Hmm, okay,” it is the emotion element. So, if we’re talking about, I don’t know, employee engagement, okay, so there’s a term and a tool and a metric and best practices and all that associated with it. So, if you ask a question, “How can we improve employee engagement?” you’re going to get a very different set of responses than if you asked the question, “How can we make a work experience so awesome folks never want to leave?”

Stephen Shapiro
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And they’re like, “Ooh, well, I’ll tell you,” and so things can really fly in terms of, “Well, I never wanted to leave this workplace because this manager really cared about my development and invested in all these things. I never wanted to leave this workplace because they had kegs of…” I don’t know, whatever, “…delicious beverage.” So, yeah, I really dig that. I think, there’s probably good science on the brain, neuroscience here, in terms of you are tapping into different part of the brain straight up when you are posing the questions in that way.

Stephen Shapiro
And what’s interesting is the way you originally framed it as, “How do we improve?” Anytime you say improve, you imply there’s something wrong. And so, the brain now starts processing the information differently, “Okay. Well, I’m trying to fix a problem rather than elevate and lift something up.” Even those very, very subtle words can have a huge impact.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think what’s intriguing about this is it’s almost like, maybe we’ll zoom out for a bit in terms of just how our brain works, I don’t think this is just me. Stephen, you let me know. Once a question is posed, it’s like, I’m just off to the races in terms of generating answers for it, and it’s just like, “Away we go sprinting forward. Like, I’m answer-generating machine.” And so, it follows that almost like…I’m thinking, I’m imagining like a compass here in terms of like 360 degrees. If you have a subtle difference in your question, that might be off by like just three degrees from the other question, I am effectively pointed in a new direction for my answer-generating brain that can lead to a wildly different final destination.

Stephen Shapiro
Spot on. Spot on. In fact, I think it’s useful for us just to step back, and since we’re talking about the brain, look, the brain’s primary function is survival. And so, if you think back to the way that we’re originally wired, we would, especially in times of a crisis, run quickly away from the threat. But the problem is if we run quickly, we might be running in the wrong direction which means we’re moving further away from the ultimate goal. And so, even though we’re wired to, as you said, identify the problem quickly, find a solution quickly, and move as quickly as we possibly can, that doesn’t mean that’s going to give us the best result.

And so, when you can put the pause button on it, it’s like Einstein reputedly said, “If I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend 59 minutes defining the problem, one minute finding solutions.” And I just think that’s…he never actually said exactly that but I love that, metaphorically speaking, as a mindset of saying, “Look, if we’re going to move somewhere, let’s move in the right direction.” But in order to do that, we need to make sure we know what the right direction is.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, Einstein, I mean, if you compare that to Justin Timberlake and Madonna, was it four minutes to save the world in the song? Well, that’s pretty impressive work, Einstein.

[30:02]

Stephen Shapiro
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Now, back to business, Stephen. So, that’s a bit about changing perspective. Let’s hear a bit about how you switch elements. What does that mean and how do we do it?

Stephen Shapiro
So, switch elements have some really great stories. I’ll give you one. So, one of the lenses is called the flip lens. And the flip lens is basically saying instead of solving for this, we solve for that. And the short version of a story that I love is an airport that had its passengers complaining that the bags took too long when they were waiting at baggage claim. So, they spent a ton of money trying to solve the problem, “How do we speed up the bags?” And they basically cut the wait time, they cut the amount of time in half from about 15 to 20 minutes down to 8 to 10 minutes. And so, they thought, “This is a 50% improvement. This is awesome. People are going to be excited.” But passengers were still complaining. They were still waiting too long. And they realized they couldn’t speed up the bags anymore. Then they had an epiphany. It only took the passengers 1 to 3 minutes to get to the baggage claim so that’s why they were waiting.

So, instead of speeding up the bags, they slowed down the passengers. They literally reconfigured the airport so that it would take, on average, 8 to 10 minutes for the passengers to get from the plane to the baggage carousel. And now they get to the baggage carousel, their bags are waiting. We experience wait time differently than we do walk time. And I think that’s just a really fun example of how solving a different factor, like, wait time is actually the speed of the bags and speed of the passengers, and they were only looking at one aspect of it.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard that software user interfaces will do this too in terms of what they are displaying so that you feel as though you’re waiting less even though the actual stopwatch time between when you’ve, I don’t know, clicked the thing and when you get what you want is unchanged. So, you could see that in the reality of physical space as well as digital spaces. So, that’s flipping. Tell us what’s the lens of pain versus gain?

Stephen Shapiro
Well, pain versus gain is basically saying that most people will take action to eliminate a loss, prevent a loss, or to eliminate a pain rather than trying to get a gain. So, if one of the things you’re trying to do is, let’s say you’re a bank, for example, and you’re trying to sell people financial wealth, and that might be a nice gain, but if people aren’t able to pay their bills right now, maybe the focus, the pain that you want to solve is, “How do you make sure that, even in a time when people are out of work, their bills are still being paid?” So, it’s flipping it so if you can be the aspirin for somebody’s pain, that will typically get greater reaction and adoption from people than it will be if you give them something nice to have.

Pete Mockaitis
And that financial bank example reminds me, I don’t know who said this but I think it’s so true, like about sort of about financial planners, financial advisors, they say, “Oh, if you call your client and wake them up at 3:00 a.m. to tell them about an investment opportunity that’s going to make them $20,000, then they’re going to fire you, and say, ‘Don’t wake me up.’ But if you can wake them up at 3:00 a.m. to tell them what they’ve got to do to avoid losing $20,000, they’re like, ‘Wow, this guy is amazing. I’ve got the ultimate financial planner on my team.’”

So, that’s handy in terms of sort of getting urgency. I wonder, we talked previously about positive emotions triggering happy things in terms of results of creativity ideation. I don’t know, when we focus on brainstorming about removing pain, is there a sense of constraint that happens on us mentally?

Stephen Shapiro
Well, you say it like constraints are bad. I’m actually a big fan of constraints. I think, in fact, constraints are the key to good problem-solving and innovation. So, we always say, “Think outside the box.” But come back to those first of lenses we were talking about, when we have a big broad abstract problem, well, we tend to just come up with a lot of boring, obvious, and irrelevant solutions. So, I say, “Don’t think outside the box. Find a better box. Shift the question.” Instead of speeding up the bags, how do we slow down the passengers? We could shift it from, “How do we reduce the wait time?” to, “How do we improve the wait experience?” We could change just a couple of words and now, all of a sudden, people don’t mind waiting if it’s a great way to experience. So, it’s really shifting the language, shifting the box and the constraints, but we still have constraints and those are valuable constraints.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, that reminds me, I’m thinking about one of my favorite restaurants, Bakin’ & Eggs here in Chicago, and it doesn’t seem that hard at all, I don’t know why all restaurants don’t do this. You can get a mug of coffee started and going and sipping as you’re chilling and waiting for your table, and it’s like I don’t even mind waiting for my table, it’s like, “This is part of the experience of Bakin’ & Eggs, is we’re over here with our coffee, chatting away with my party, comfortable. And, oh, here’s the table.” We feel great about it even though we still had to wait but the experience was awesome.

Stephen Shapiro
Yeah, that’s a great example. Another one, which is maybe more about distraction rather than great experience, but you think about Uber and Lyft. You get off the plane, you’re standing outside. What is everybody doing? They’re staring at their phone. So, what are they looking at? They’re looking at this, like, microscopic car that’s moving infinitesimally slow on their screen, yet somehow it gives them a sense of comfort to see it move like a millimeter every minute.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, it’s working, it’s happening, it’s in process.

Stephen Shapiro
Something is happening, so we feel movement, and that’s also a way. So, we can distract people, we can engage people. The point is there’s never one solution because there’s never one question, and the more we question our questions, the more we’ll be able to find better solutions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then the final set of lenses is about zeroing in. Can you regale us with this?

Stephen Shapiro
Sure. I think these are a great place to start. So, you have, for example, the real-problem lens, which is just to make sure, “Am I solving the right problem?” One of my favorite ones though is the real-business lens, and it’s to really even just question, “What business am I in?” So, for example, if you asked me, let’s say, a year ago what business am I in. I would say, “I’m a keynote speaker. I give speeches. I talk about innovation but I’m a keynote speaker.”

And then what I realized was, well, especially now where we can’t meet in person, being a keynote speaker, there are no stages to speak on. And if you’re so focused on being a keynote speaker, if that’s your business, you’re in trouble. But if you shift things, so I think of myself as a problem-solver and an innovator, so I help companies solve their problems and help them be able to solve their own problems. Well, that’s shifting my business. And by really asking, “What business am I in and what problems am I solving?” as a result of that, it helps me identify new opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, if I can put you on the spot, Stephen, could you give us a kind of a capstone finale story or example in which we are utilizing multiples of these lenses to get from stuck to somewhere really cool?

Stephen Shapiro
Well, let me give you a story that I think really wraps it up nicely. It only uses one of the lenses but it’s one we haven’t talked about and I think it really makes a powerful point. I lived in England for five years, and, of that time there, I worked for a Formula 1 race car team for three years. So, if you don’t know Formula 1, they’re basically fast cars. And the thing which I loved were the pit crews that would be able to change the tires, and back when I worked for them, fuel the car, do minor maintenance in a matter of seconds. And so, I would watch them and I was always amazed.

And I remember having a conversation with somebody from the Formula 1 team, I said, “How did they get them to go so fast?” And so, the way they would typically do is they’d sit there with a stopwatch and they would tell them to go fast, and they would time them over and over and over, and no matter what they did, no matter how hard they tried, there was a point that they couldn’t go one one-thousandth of a second faster. They decided to try a number of different techniques, and the one that they landed on that was quite interesting was they told the pit crew members, “You’re not going to be timed, but rather we’re going to be evaluating you on your smoothness, your style. And so, as you’re changing the tires, think smooth.”

Back when I worked with them, they’d fuel the car, think smooth. And they, of course, were timing them but had them go fast but thinking about their movements. And they found that they were able to shave off two-tenths to three-tenths of a second off of their best previous time. And the pit crew, when asked if they thought they were going faster or slower, felt they were going slower. And I call this the performance paradox which is one of the lenses, which is paradoxically sometimes the more we focus on a goal, the less likely we are to achieve that goal. And I think the same thing is true with solutions. The more we focus on the solution, quite often, the less likely we are to find a solution. But if we can stop, pause, and ask a better question, and make sure we’re reframing it and moving in the right direction, we’ll find better solutions faster paradoxically than if we just jumped and try to focus on the solutions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Was it Coach John Wooden who said something like, “Move very quickly but don’t hurry”? Something. I’m butchering it. But that notion that really does resonate. And I think maybe in terms of, hey, if you’re keynote speaking, if you’re dancing, if you’re doing any number of things that have some precision and elegance to them, fixating on, “I got to nail this. I got to crush this. I got to knock it out of the park. I got to go fast, fast, fast,” can be just the opposite of what you want for that smooth flow, and then that can carry over. Share another one, please, if you could with the performance paradox. So, there’s the notion of speed. What would be another place where we overfocus on performance in a work story detriment?

Stephen Shapiro
One of the other examples which someone told me once, which I thought was just really fascinating, was he worked in a home for people who are the elderly. And one of the concerns that everybody had was that if you were to fall, you would break a hip or break a bone, and it’s one of the leading causes of trauma and death and everything else. And so, what they initially started doing is trying to get people to not fall. And the problem was when people started focusing on not falling, they would actually fall more and they would hurt themselves more.

So, what he did was he actually decided to totally do exactly the opposite. And he said instead of getting them to worry about not falling, he’s actually going to get them comfortable with falling. And he created classes around people falling, and “How do you fall?” and having fun with falling. And the second that people stopped focusing on not falling, they stopped falling. And so, it’s just interesting to just see, and a lot of it has to do with stress.

If you’re thinking about creativity, we know that if I put you under a stopwatch, and I said, “Come up with a thousand ideas,” or however many ideas, you would really struggle because the stress associated with the time will cause you that. And that’s why a lot of times when we’re goal-oriented in companies, we’re less likely to achieve those goals because we get so focused on the goal that we stop actually focusing on the process and the whole creative endeavor that takes place beforehand.

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

Stephen Shapiro
I think that the most important thing for me just to say is that being able to ask better questions to question your questions, I found to be one of the more important skills. I know in a lot of companies, people will tell you, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” My perspective is I don’t want solutions. I want better problems, well-thought out problems, reframed problems. And if you become a master of problem-solving and problem-reframing, according to the World Economic Forum, that is the number one skill that people in organizations need right now in order to stay competitive. And so, I think that’s hopefully just proof enough to keep focusing on that.

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

Stephen Shapiro
There’s one which is from Mark Twain, I won’t get it exactly right, but basically he said, “There’s nothing new. It’s impossible because basically everything is just old-color pieces of glass that get twisted and turned around and create something new.” And I love that perspective because I’m inspired to think about, “How do I, instead of trying to invent something every time, how do I connect new ideas in new ways?” And I think that’s just a great way to look at it.

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

Stephen Shapiro
For me, anything having to do with confirmation bias. Basically, anytime we have a strongly-held belief about something, we’re only going to find evidence to support that belief. And so, for me, that’s a really fascinating part of business and life is understanding that.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stephen Shapiro
Probably, my all-time favorite book is Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a great title.

Stephen Shapiro
It’s a great book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued. I’ve heard of the legend of Richard Feynman but I haven’t read the book. So, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Stephen Shapiro
One which just keeps me sane is something called SaneBox, which is an email tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I use it too.

Stephen Shapiro
It’s just like I look at my inbox and it’s very, very little, and then my SaneLater folder is like humongous, it’s like, “I won’t worry about it till later.” So, that definitely keeps me sane.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Stephen Shapiro
Hot tub. I try to, when I can in the morning, wake up, just sit in the hot tub to just meditate, quiet my brain. I find it just prepares me for the day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate and gets quoted back to you often?

Stephen Shapiro
When it comes to innovation, the one which a lot of people resonate with is my expression, “Innovate where you differentiate.” So, not all problems are important, but if you can focus on the problems that actually help your organization stand out from the competition, and you put more energy into solving those problems, that really has a huge impact.

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

Stephen Shapiro
To learn about the book, InvisibleSolutionsBook.com. And there’s videos and tools, you can download the 25 lenses and everything from there. That’s probably the best place to just learn more about me and the book.

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

Stephen Shapiro
I think the challenge really is to, coming back to something you said earlier, we are solution machines. If we can just stop focusing on our ideas and actually put the pause button and make sure we’re really focused on what will create the greatest value, what will move us forward in the best way, what will create the most elegant solution, that will always give you a better result than if we just run with our top-of-our-head ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stephen, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best.

Stephen Shapiro
Well, thank you so much. I really enjoyed this.

588: How to Calm Anxiety and Achieve Peak Performance with Dr. Luana Marques

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Luana Marques says: "Once we get stuck on patterns of thinking, we forget that those are habits."

Dr. Luana Marques discusses how to face anxieties and fears head-on using proven strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to stop avoiding and start taming your fears
  2. Why anxiety isn’t always bad
  3. The TEB cycle for calming your anxious mind

 

About Luana

Dr. Marques is a licensed clinical psychologist in the states of Massachusetts and New York and an expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for a wide range of psychiatric disorders.

She received her B.S. in Psychology from the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo) in 2001, as well as her Masters and Ph.D. at SUNY Buffalo in Clinical Psychology in 2005 and 2007, respectively. She completed an internship and postdoctoral fellowship in the CBT track at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and was subsequently hired as a post-doctoral fellow in the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic & Research Unit at MGH. Currently, Dr. Marques is the senior clinical psychologist at the MGH Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders program, as well as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Luana Marques Interview Transcript

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

Luana Marques
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to…is excited the word? I’m highly interested in digging into your expertise when it comes to anxiety, and fear, and coping, and resilience, all that good stuff. But I want to understand, first, I understand that you had a fear of heights at one point. Past tense, I’m using. What’s the story and how did you overcome this?

Luana Marques
You’re absolutely right. I learned it the hard way. I was actually hiking Yosemite National Park, and when I got to the end of Half Dome, I realized that there are cables there and I had the fear that I was going to fall down. My heart was pounding, a classic fight or flight response. I was already in graduate school thankfully and so I took matters in my own hands to make sure I’d overcome that fear, so it is past tense. I go skydiving as often as I can.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s exciting. I’ve been skydiving once, twice. At least once. And it is a thrill. Well, how did you do it? What were the key steps for you personally?

Luana Marques
So, the key step of anything when it comes to a fight or flight response is, really, approach and not avoid. But it’s not just to approach completely, it’s what I call comfortably uncomfortable. So, the idea is to create your hierarchy, your approach ladder, and to start small. What you’re trying to do is to teach your limbic system, the emotional part of your brain, how to cool off a little bit. And the limbic system is wired really for fight or flight, and so what you want to do here is approach, stay with the fear situation again and again until the anxiety comes down. And so, I started with ladders, then I went up on stairs and roofs, and then I went to Disney, I did 16 rollercoasters in one day. I don’t recommend it. Skydiving is a lot more fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so good. Well, now I’m thinking, I’ve just been playing with my Oculus Quest headset a little bit when I can’t get out in the real world, and they have a plank experience which is just freaky in which it’s like you’re top of a skyscraper walking out on a plank, and it’s not real but it sure makes you feel crazy, like, up there. So, I don’t know where that falls in the ladder, but I guess that’s sort of one other way that you could initiate a type of exercise, experience, encounter, a something, that is not the whole thing but it’s somewhere on the rung there.

Luana Marques
Absolutely. So, the virtual reality world has taken over and, really, today, there’s virtual reality treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder. So, whatever you can do to play with the brain a little bit, and really what we’re trying to teach is it’s a false alarm. And this example of the plank is great because you’re still in your house but I bet you get your heart pounding a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Really, you know, the first time I did it, I was actually…my brother came into town and we went. This was maybe a year or two ago, we went to his VR lounge place, and I sort of embarrassed all of us because I was, “Oh,” made quite the scene, and people looking at a dude with a headset on, like, “What’s his problem?”

Luana Marques
Now it makes sense. And I really like that you’re sharing that, Pete, because often we can’t understand when somebody is anxious, what the experience is like, and at the core of it is this fight or flight response.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, I guess we kind of jumped right into it a little bit of the how and some steps. So, maybe let’s back it up a little bit. When we talk about anxiety, could you give us a definition? It doesn’t have to be supremely, precisely, academically perfect, but just so we’re on the same page for what we’re talking about here.

Luana Marques
Absolutely. So, when we’re talking about anxiety, often we’re talking about a couple things. First is the physiology that comes with this fight or flight response. And so, for a mild sort of just heart pounding a little bit to a full-on sweaty palms, tension, feeling ready to run from threat. So, one component of anxiety is really the physical component of anxiety. The other component of anxiety is where it falls more in sort of the anxious thoughts, it becomes worry, “What if this happened? What if that happened?”

And so, I tend to think about anxiety through the Yerkes-Dodson Law, really thinking about how low levels of anxiety results to low levels of performance. At moderate arousal, we have this peak performance. At mid arousal, peak performance. And then when we get to too much arousal, too much anxiety, then our brain shuts down a little bit and becomes really hard to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
I totally buy that in my own experience in terms of…and I’m thinking about…What was the model you mentioned? What was the name?

Luana Marques
So, it’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law.

Pete Mockaitis
Yerkes-Dodson Law. I guess I’m thinking about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Flow with regard to if it’s too little, it’s we’re bored; too much, we’re freaked out, overwhelmed; and moderate, it’s like, “Ooh, an interesting challenge,” and we’re in the groove and flow. And I experience that as well in terms of just thinking about career moments, like, “Ooh, this is a big opportunity.” I’m a little nervous and excited about it, and then I’m stretched, as opposed to, “This is wildly overwhelming, and I’m freaked out or I’m really bored by what’s going on here.”
So then I would like to hear, in terms of the research and discoveries, what for you has been the most fascinating, surprising, enlightening discovery you’ve made about anxiety and how us humans work during your long career of psychologist and researcher and real-time adventurist?

Luana Marques
So, early on in my career, a lot of the studies I worked on were questions like not, “Does therapy work?” but “Does it work better with medication?” In therapy, the ones I’ve studied really fall on the cognitive behavioral therapy, so what you’re saying to yourself, what’s that making you feel, your emotions, and what is your behavior, the actions you’re taking. And early on, what we knew is that CBT is not only effective but it can help you rewire your brain. Pre-imposed studies, so 12 weeks of therapy. Pre-imposed function MRI, you see a change in the brain domain that you’d want to see, decrease limbic response, increase frontal cortex of thinking brain.

So, early, what was exciting, is to know that, before we even talk about neuroplasticity, that we could actually change our brain with therapy, is really cool to me. And then, now that we know it works, what gets me the most excited these days is, “How do we get out of the ivory tower and into the streets? How do we actually think about this as brain health and so that you need to exercise your brain with those skills? And how can we get it to everyone?” And that’s really what our research lab focuses on mostly these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let us know, what are some best practices if more people want to taste some of those benefits without, to the extent possible, doing a full-blown 12 weeks of therapy? What can we do?

Luana Marques
So, there are a couple of ways you do it. One, on July 12, we’re going to release a course called Mental Health for All, and it is a very simple dosage of the skills I’m talking about. There are four modules, and it’s going to be available for free for anybody in the world. So, if you think about building resilience, you’re going to be able to learn how to slow down your brain, separating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. You’re going to be able to learn how to charge up. So, the role of eating, sleeping, and exercise for your physical and mental health. We’ll teach people how to approach their fears and to also change some of their thinking.

And you can find more about the course on my website DrLuana.com. You can also practice the skills like mindfulness and meditation. Those are definitely some things that are out there, easily accessible, and shown to rewire your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, boy, I’d love to talk about all those things, I’ll just have to take the course. Let’s talk about changing thinking, shall we? We talked a little bit about the going up the steps, and we’ve talked with a few guests about charging up and self-care and energy stuff. So, how do you recommend we go about changing our thinking?

Luana Marques
The first step with changing our thinking is to remind ourselves that thoughts are not facts, and that’s really important. Once we get stuck on patterns of thinking, we forget that those are habits. So, you show up at work and somebody gives you a look, and you might say to yourself, “That person is mad at me.” You jump to a conclusion. And that thought immediately probably makes you a little anxious and you might avoid that person.

So, the first thing is just sort of like listen, “What am I saying to myself? What is exactly that thought?” And then a very simplistic way to change your thought is to say, “Okay, what’s the evidence that I have to support that thought? And what is the evidence I have against that thought?” So, in the example here, you may say, “Okay, maybe that person is mad at me, but I don’t have evidence. Maybe they are preoccupied, maybe they’re tried, maybe they were thinking about something else.” And so, you really want to put the evidence for and against in a balance, like in a scale, and be able to say, “Okay, based on this evidence, do I actually have data that can prove that thought right?”

And if you can’t, then we need to really arrive at a more balanced thought. And the trick here, Pete, is really balanced. Often, when we talk about exploring thoughts, people are like, “Well, is it a happy thought? Is it a sad thought? Is it a good thought?” It really is not. It’s balanced. Sometimes there are thoughts that are realistic. I can’t say to a patient who had an experience of racism that that wasn’t real, right? But if you focus only on that experience, then you’re going to continue to feel upset.

Pete Mockaitis
So, with some fair synonyms for balanced in this context be sort of like accurate, truthful? I get the sense that when you say balanced, you mean that it is reflective of full reality more or less. Is that what you mean by balanced?

Luana Marques
Exactly, Pete. That’s what I mean by balanced. By really looking at the whole picture and understanding sort of all of the facts in front of you, and almost summarizing them in such a way that you can say, “Huh, I’m saying this to myself for a long time. I have a habit of saying this. This may not be an actual fact. It could not be held in a court of law as a fact.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure thing. I’d love if you can maybe give an example here, and let’s talk a little bit, shall we, about coronavirus, shall we, a source of much anxiety these days? Let’s say someone has some thought patterns like, “I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I must do this. I must do that. I’m freaked out that I could catch it and have a horrible time, lose my sense of smell or taste forever,” and they’re just all kinds of anxious and freaked out. How would we go about moving to balance?

Luana Marques
So, the first thing I would do is slow down. So, let’s imagine that was you for a second, that you’re the person saying those things to yourself. So, the first thing I’d want to know is, “What is the situation that triggered those thoughts? Where were you? I’d like to see exactly what you’re doing when those thoughts came up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say, so I’m the person who’s highly anxious. Let’s say my wife suggested she wanted to go get an oil change, and I thought, “Uh-oh, we can’t have that. There’s all sorts of person interaction there.”

Luana Marques
So, your wife suggests, I can see great situation. So, the first step is to actually anchor in the situation, because if we don’t anchor in the situation, we can’t isolate a specific thought that may get you anxious. Now, in that situation, there were a bunch of thoughts that you had, right? So, let’s walk through the thoughts again. What are the first two thoughts that may have jumped in your head?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Well, now that we’re anchored in the situation, I’d say, “Uh-oh, she might get it from a mechanic, and then she could be hospitalized, and we’ll be in a world of trouble with taking care of the kids and work and everything.”

Luana Marques
So, I’m going to stay with the person, “She may get it from a mechanic.” Okay. When you say that to yourself, how did you feel? What’s your emotions like?

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I could use the word, I want to say anxious but it almost feel like cheating in this conversation, so we’ll say afraid, concerned, worried.

Luana Marques
So, afraid and concerned, which makes you get worried, right? And what do you want to do? What’s the behavior?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d say, “No, don’t go. Let’s not do that.”

Luana Marques
“Let’s not do that,” right? And your wife then says, “No, I really, really want it.” What does that do to that fear that you’re feeling?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it makes it more, it’s like I wanted to exert some control over in this hypothetical situation, and now I apparently am failing.

Luana Marques
And so, the first thing I’m illustrating for us, before we even get to this balanced thought, is that before we get there, we need to understand what we call our TEB cycle, T for thoughts, E for emotions, B for behaviors. TEB cycle. That’s really separating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors anchoring in a situation. Once you do that, then you look at that thought, “My wife might get it from a mechanic” Now, let’s ask questions out of that thought. What is the evidence – and evidence, I mean, something that could be held in a court of law, that a judge says true – that your wife might get it?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if it was Dr. Anthony Fauci, or one of these health people, said, like, “Oh, the best course of action is just to assume that everybody has it.”

Luana Marques
So, I agree, that may be the best course of action, but how does that help us prove that your wife will get it?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Well, I guess one authority figure said, “Assume everyone has it so you might…” I guess I don’t have the best stats here. I think some health experts estimated perhaps 10% of people in the US have it right now.

Luana Marques
Okay. So, your brain is saying your wife will get it, and the stats are saying 10% of the people are getting it. So, perhaps the probability may be slightly lower than she’ll get it. Is that fair?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, yeah. It would be 10% or less.

Luana Marques
Or less. What would be the evidence against it, that she might not get it?

Pete Mockaitis
That she might not get it. Well, I guess then the 90% don’t actually get it.

Luana Marques
I know. You see the brain tricks us. The minute you say to yourself, “She’ll get it,” then you’re locked into this worst-case scenario, right? Getting to a balanced thought is really looking at, “Okay, there’s 10% chance, there’s perhaps 90% chance that she won’t, and I bet we could work together through the steps of making her stay so that she could still engage with it in a safe way.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Luana Marques
Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I agree.

Luana Marques
So, a balanced thought may look like something like this, “My wife is taking a chance but we really need that oil change to be able to keep doing the things we need to do, so we’ll make sure she’s wearing a mask, that she’s distanced, that we’re going to disinfect the car after, and that would decrease the likelihood that she’ll get it.” That’s more of a balanced thought versus, “She’ll get it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. And so then, a balanced thought…well, let’s say it’s as balanced as you can get. Why don’t we say based upon deep research and many epidemiological bottles, we can infer that there’s approximately a 0.34% chance, give or take, that she will contract the coronavirus from an interaction with a mechanic. So, that’s very small. Now, that may be balanced, but it might still have all sorts of anxiety emotion wrapped up in it, like, “Oh, that’s a lot more than zero, and it could be real bad if she gets it.” So, where does that leave us?

Luana Marques
Well, it leaves us to face reality a little bit, and I think this is where it’s hard to fully balance our thoughts when we’re talking about more realistic thoughts. A thought of somebody is mad at me, for example, it’s very distorted and black and white. When we’re talking about a pandemic, there is the reality that some bad things are really happening. And so, there’s this piece of having to tolerate being comfortably uncomfortable, and then I think really trying to right-size your willingness to take some chances, right?

The best chance is to do nothing, to not get the oil change, I agree. But it’s sort of hard to live that way. And so, I think it’s a sense of like, “Can I tolerate some uncertainty?” And if you really can’t, then, in a pandemic, I’d say, “Don’t do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And then I guess it’s balanced in that we can then really compare, it’s like, “Okay. Well, that is the risk that we would take.” And on the flipside, “What is the consequence of not getting the oil changed? I guess there’s a risk that the car will break if you don’t intend to basic maintenance. You okay with that?”

Luana Marques
Yeah. And it is tough. It is a hypothetical scenario and we’re joking around, but it is a tough time. And the idea of exploring thoughts in a pandemic is to be able to at least making sure that you’re not adding to your anxiety. Anxiety is biologically adaptive up to a point. Up to a point, you get to that zone. What we don’t want to do is be tipping over that zone to a really negative area by having thoughts that distort it. So, that’s really where I think the juice is in exploring thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, let’s talk about that notion of not adding to it. I imagine there’s all sorts of implied do’s and don’ts for us right now or any sort of stressful time of change and difficulty, whether it’s economic or social or health, and we got all three at this moment in the US. So, yeah, I imagine, for example, reading news could make you feel more anxious.

Luana Marques
Definitely do’s and don’ts. So, what we don’t want to do is anything that adds to this fight or flight response. So, anything that activates your emotional brain, we don’t need more of that. We have plenty of it. We have a real threat, coronavirus. On top of it, we have an economic crisis and lots of other difficulties, so we don’t want to do anything that turns it on. So, what do we want to do? The opposite. You want to cool off your brain. How do we do that? By turning on your thinking brain, your prefrontal cortex.

So, the five skills that we often talk about, so the first one is anchor and unplug, and you handed it to me beautifully, which is we know, for example, research shows us that during the marathon bombings here in Boston, that individuals that watched six plus hours of the news related to the bombing at home had a heightened stress response than those that were actually there.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow!

Luana Marques
So, the news can actually induce stress.

Pete Mockaitis
Actually there. Okay.

Luana Marques
Right? And so, think about what that says, that just watching, you’re activating your thinking brain. So, we really need to unplug as much as we can from the news, perhaps watch it twice a day. And then you need to anchor your brain on something that’s good: mindfulness, meditation, talking to your family, doing things to slow down the brain. That’s one of the skills that I often recommend based on science.

Pete Mockaitis
Something good. Well, I think about John Krasinski with his “Some Good News.”

Luana Marques
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So, nice work there, John. I’ve never met him but we’re on first-name basis. So, give us some more examples of maybe even, hey, research-based, sort of a big bang for the buck in terms of good stuff that do good things to us biochemically.

Luana Marques
Well, in many ways, we get actually sort of a second set of skills which you’ve mentioned you’ve talked with several of your guests before, but it’s the idea of charging up. Eating, sleeping, and exercise, our bodies are like the batteries of our heart. We actually have to spend energy to get energy. And the problem is, when we’re feeling really anxious, people get stuck, right? They don’t feel like doing something, so they don’t exercise. They forget to eat or overeat. And we know that those three things not only help your physical body, it actually decreases depression, decrease anxiety, and increase wellbeing. So, charging up is extremely important, and I think not optional during pandemics. It’s one of the few things we actually have some control, for the lucky ones, to be able to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s go there for a bit. So, charging up, exercise, good nutrition. Are there any particular high-leverage areas here? Well, there’s sleep. I mean, can you tell us something that we might not know in terms of…?

Luana Marques
About sleep?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, in some ways, that’s the hard thing with great common-sense wisdom, you know, it’s sort of like, “Oh, yeah, I should eat healthy and I should sleep and I should exercise.” So, I‘d love it if you could put a little oomph to it in terms of, “Ooh, this particular nutrient makes a world of a difference,” or, “Hey, this study showed that, boy, a little bit of sleep deprivation is actually devastatingly harmful.”

Luana Marques
Yeah. Well, sleep deprivation not only decreases your immune system but also create memory deficits, so that, for sure, we know it’s a problem. But when it comes to sleep hygiene, broadly speaking, one of the things that most people completely violate in the sleep hygiene is that their bed should be used for sleep and sex. That’s it. You should never watch TV in your bed. You should really make sure that when you transition to bed, you’re really actually trying to slow down your brain, and that’s what most people don’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, tell us, anything else that you recommend we do or not do before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Luana Marques
I guess I recommend that we really hyper focus on the value of social support, of staying connected. It’s the only buffer that we really know against mental illness. And so, no matter what it is, even having this conversation, right, staying connected one way or another can really help us decrease the chances of developing emotional difficulties as a consequence of this pandemic.

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

Luana Marques
So, my favorite would be “Whenever you really want something, the whole universe conspires for you to have it,” by Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

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

Luana Marques
I go back to neuroplasticity. The fact that you can rewire your brain, pre-impose cognitive behavior therapy. It’s incredible.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Luana Marques
I go for The Alchemist. Searching your personal legend, I know it’s a fiction book but it really helped me in my journey here to this country.

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

Luana Marques
Approach, not avoid. So, the most important thing is to be comfortably uncomfortable all the time. I define myself as an over-approach-er, so always ahead of it.

Pete Mockaitis
An over-approach-er. I want to dig into that. So, you’re saying you would approach perhaps even more than…what are we over-approaching?

Luana Marques
So, the thing is anxiety is biologically adaptive up to a point, right? And then when it becomes too much, our brain starts to really stop working, as we talked about. I don’t like the experience of anxiety, like nobody really does. And so, whenever I wake up, if there’s something I really don’t want to do, it’s the first thing I do. I over-approach and I try to get ahead so that I stay as close to the zone as possible. That’s what I mean by over-approaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And, well, it seems related, but how about a favorite habit?

Luana Marques
That’s pretty much it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay.

Luana Marques
Approach. Approach. Approach. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Comfortably uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for and people quote back to you frequently?

Luana Marques
Recently it’s really been this idea that it’s okay not to be okay, that we all experience strong emotions in the pandemic but that we can also be able to change what we experience by using science-driven skills like we talked today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn or get in touch or take that course, where do you point them?

Luana Marques
To my website, DrLuana.com. You can sign up for the newsletter there. And we’ll be releasing the course in mid-July.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that’s D-R-L-U-A-N-A.com?

Luana Marques
Yes, you got it.

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

Luana Marques
Yeah, I would encourage you to really work on approaching areas of discomfort, really this idea of being comfortably uncomfortable, and share with us. I’d love to hear more.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Luana, it’s been a treat. I wish you all the best in your approaches.

Luana Marques
Thank you. It’s been delightful to be here, Pete. Thank you for having me.

587: Finding the Beauty in Conflict with CrisMarie Campbell

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

ChrisMarie Campbell says: "Do you want to be relational or do you want to be right?"

CrisMarie Campbell discusses how to get comfortable with handling disagreements.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make conflict productive 
  2. The magic question for when you reach an impasse 
  3. A handy script for when you need to disagree with your boss 

 

About ChrisMarie

CrisMarie Campbell is a former Olympic and World Championship rower. She has also previously worked at Boeing as an engineer and helped initiate a groundbreaking cross-functional team approach for how Boeing designs and builds airplanes.

CrisMarie, together with her partner Susan Clarke, founded Thrive!–a coaching and consulting firm that specializes in helping individuals, leaders, teams and entire companies learn how to deal with differences to ignite creativity and innovation.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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CrisMarie Campbell Interview Transcript

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

CrisMarie Campbell
I’m excited to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your wisdom. You have had adventures in Olympic rowing, Boeing engineering, and now speaker, author, thought leader in the realm of conflict stuff. So, could you just give us a snippet, an anecdote, a tale, from your adventures in Olympic rowing?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yes. Well, first, you have to know I did not pop out of the womb being, “Woo, conflict.” Definitely, I was a professional conflict avoider. And I rowed at the University of Washington, go Huskies, and then went on to the Olympic team, and the National team really, and I had two boats that were very different. So, high-caliber athletes, both teams, but one team, I call it the tale of two boats because one team shouldn’t have performed, and we did, and the other team, we should’ve performed and we didn’t.

And what happened is, in the year before the Olympic Games, I was on the National team, and we had a group of people, I was wet behind the ears, I’d never been really on the world stage. I could’ve stroked the boat, which is the leader of the boat, the first person that everybody follows and sets a rhythm, but because I hadn’t raced at a national level, that we had this conversation and we picked a more senior person who had been at the Olympics before to row.

And so, that boat, we trusted each other, we dealt with conflict, we had each other’s backs. And when we came to the World Championships, we hadn’t beaten the Russians in like 15 years, and the Russians, they were so dominant. They were on lane one which is smooth water on the inside lane. We were all the way across the course on the outside lane, lane six, choppy water. And the start of the race happened, the Russians just took off, and we were rowing in the pack. And then halfway through the race, the cox then said, “We’re moving on the Russians.” And, you know, our boat just sparked alive and we picked up.

In the end, Romania won gold, we won silver, but we’re also happy to topple the mighty Russians. There was this big Romanian woman, and when we came to the docks, she had this big white hair, she picked me up in her arms, she picked another U.S. rower in her arms, “We beat the mighty Russians!” It was so cool. But that boat, we were able to deal with conflict and we trusted each other.

Now, the Olympic year, we had the same caliber of people. My story was I was injured and so I was off the water for three months before the games. I had to climb my way back in. I had made it into the boat, but that boat, we had factions, we had egos, and when it came, a month before, so bad, strategic decision, a month before the games, we made a last-minute decision to use an experimental boat. And I tell you, in that conversation, I didn’t speak up. I couldn’t row the boat, but I was like, “Who am I to say anything? I’m the last one in. I’m not going to speak up.”

And at the Olympic Games, we came in a disappointing sixth, and it was really heartbreaking, and that boat was never rowed again. It was scrapped because it was built on a computer. It was designed. But that team, I think we were more brittle because we didn’t have conflict, we didn’t speak up, I didn’t speak up. And so, I think that happens all the time in business where there’s egos, factions, people say, “Well, it’s not my place to speak up,” and then you don’t get good results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is a tale of two boats, and handy in the illustration there. So, your book is called The Beauty of Conflict. Tell us, can you make your pitch for why, in fact, conflict is beautiful?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, and I never would’ve believed it. I think conflict is beautiful because when people are willing to hang in there and hold for the tension of conflict, because conflict is when you have different opinions, passion, and you’re focused on a goal, and you bump into each other’s, well, different opinions, and we’re not comfortable with that tension, so we tend to opt out, and, “I’ll just do it myself,” or, “Wait a second. I just want to make sure you’re okay with me,” or, “I’m just going to focus on something else, not this problem,” and so we don’t hold for that tension. And that tension is potential energy. That conflict, that discomfort, that none of us like is pure potential creativity.

And what I’ve seen time and time again is when people can develop enough trust on a team or in a relationship to hold for that, what happens is new ideas emerge. That’s not your idea, Pete, or my idea, but something else percolates up because we’re holding that tension. And this happens all the time when we work with teams. We’ll do a two-day offsite when we could meet in person. We’re doing it virtually now, but that we develop trust, people get to know each other, they clear up some differences, and then we start talking about their business ideas.

If they had started right at first in the morning talking about it, they’d be grinding away. But when they’ve learned something to hold for that tension, new ideas percolate, and they have so many innovative and creative solutions that emerge. It’s really powerful. So, that’s what I think the beauty of conflict is.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it’s intriguing. And you say that it’s uncomfortable for everybody.

CrisMarie Campbell
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I think that’s handy to understand that it’s not…is it fair to say that it’s not so much that once we just understand the theory about why conflict is beautiful, then we no longer feel those feelings? I guess that’s what I want to hear. So, I’ve done some training in Myers-Briggs workshops, and thinkers versus feelers. What’s really fun is that I’m a feeler myself.

CrisMarie Campbell
Me too, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I will talk about conflict, and then I’ll ask, “Hey, if you get this weird sensation of discomfort, like crawling on the back of your neck, raise your hand.” And, usually, it’s mostly feelers and no thinkers who raise their hand, and it’s sort of a fun aha moment, like, “Oh, we are getting mutual understanding. Thanks, Pete. You’re great.” Anyway, that’s where I’m going for. And so, for those who are feelers, and still have this uncomfortable and unpleasant icky feeling like we still would prefer to avoid the conflict. Well, how can you encourage us and give us hope?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, you know, it is tough. And I think thinkers, because Susan is also a T and I’m an F in the Myers-Briggs, but it looks like they enjoy it. They like debate but only kind of on their terms. If they get threatened enough in their ideas, it’s uncomfortable for them, I think, as well. My story, I could be wrong. But I do think… so your question was how to actually get comfortable with it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so yeah, maybe and maybe we never will. But if you could give us a little something so that we can feel better when we’re in the midst of it.

CrisMarie Campbell
Right. Well, there are things that I actually do to help settle and I teach people to do this, just help settle the nervous system. Because, really, if you ask anybody, “What did you learn about conflict growing up?” That’s a great team conversation because I grew up with an Army colonel dad who was pretty angry at dinner times, pretty consistently, but you never knew what was going to set him off. And my older sister liked to press his buttons, so every night at dinner I was like, “Oh, my gosh, don’t get him upset.” And so, I’d change the subject, I’d rephrase what my sister said, I’d do anything to kind of try to diffuse the energy of conflict. So, that’s how I became a professional conflict avoider, an accommodator.

And I think what I learned is that was wired into my nervous system so I’ve had to actually do things to help settle me in the midst of conflict. And one of the things that I do is I actually bring my awareness down to my feet because usually in conflict, my energy is up and out. I’m trying to manage and calm everything down, “Please.” And if I actually bring my energy in and down, I cultivate a sense of safety in my own skin. I can also notice…

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re just thinking about your feet and how they feel? This is what you’re doing then?

CrisMarie Campbell
So, you can do this right now. Like, wiggle your toes, swipe your feet, and just imagine, you could feel your feet getting heavier, and you could even visualize like you’ve got roots coming out of the soles or cement blocks on them. And when I do that, because I’ve done that enough…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m waiting for you to insult me now, it’s like, “Okay, I’m ready. Bring it on, CrisMarie.”

CrisMarie Campbell
Often what happens is I take a deeper breath because, usually, when I don’t feel safe inside my own skin in conflict, I think, “Oh, my gosh, you’re going to get mad at me, or you’re going to attack my idea, or you’re going to leave.” So, we have these two basic things. Either somebody is going to attack me or somebody is going to abandon me at the core root of who we are as humans. And that’s the fear that comes up. So, when I can cultivate a sense of safety in my own body, it expands my ability to tolerate the tension out there if you’re upset at me. Does that make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s interesting, I think I buy it as I’m doing it right now. And I guess I used to, when I was getting nervous when I was an interview candidate, you know, job hunting, I would just try to plant my feet on the floor, like, “We’re grounded here.” And so, it seems like you’re really kicking this up a notch in terms of imagining cement blocks and weights and rooted firmness, and sort of take it to the next level, so I think that would be just as good or better.

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, yeah, you can do feel your feet and also your seat. So, you can feel the weight of your bum in the chair, and just relax into it. Because, again, I’m up and out trying to like protect, “He’s leaning back.”

Pete Mockaitis
Adjust the mic stand.

CrisMarie Campbell
It usually helps me settle down. And if I’m really stressed out, okay, let’s say I’m really stressed out and I need to take a break, I actually go to the bathroom and I do a sound called voo, and this is from Peter Levine. And what it does is it vibrates your vagus nerve which is the second largest nerve in your body beside your spinal column, and that goes into your rest and digest.

And anything you can do to turn on your rest and digest, which it actually, it floods your brain back with more blood so you’re thinking more clearly. When you’re in that, “What’s going to happen here?” we’re in flight or fight, or freeze, or faint, whatever it is, and our brain is not online so you’re not going to be saying the best things or your eyes get very narrow like, “There’s the enemy over there,” versus opening up your eyesight, and even turning your head sideways. That’s another thing you can do. And I would suggest doing it slowly, and then picking an object and noticing it, and then turning slowly again.

And it gets you out of that, “Oh, my God, somebody is going to attack me over there,” which is the beady-eyed narrow focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that and I experienced that when I’ve done some keynotes in terms of if I’m sort of doing this scan. I just somehow feel more powerful in terms of, “I’m surveying my dominion,” as opposed to, “Uh-oh, that guy thinks I suck.”

CrisMarie Campbell
I can so relate to that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say voo, is that it?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, it would be a big inhale and a vooooo. I’d keep doing it, like a long exhale, and that’s the vibrating. And you could even…

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a lower tone, too, as opposed to…

CrisMarie Campbell
I like to do it lower, yeah. And if you purse your lips tight enough, you’ll vibrate your lips which, by the way, even if you were in a meeting and you couldn’t do the voo, you can touch your lips, and that actually accesses your vagus nerve which, again, goes to your parasympathetic rest and digest. So, even in meetings, if you can’t get out and go voo, because who wants to do that, you can just rub your lips like you’re thinking, like, “Yeah, hmm. Tsk, I wonder.” And that’s why kissing actually makes us feel better because it’s accessing your parasympathetic nervous system. That’s one reason, yeah. It activates a lot but…

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, CrisMarie, this is the good stuff in terms of it’s simple, it’s actionable, it’s tactical, and I have heard it before, so that’s why I love to hear it. Thank you.

CrisMarie Campbell
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there we have some comforting approaches when you’re in the heat of the moment, so that’s really handy. Thank you. Well, then let’s discuss maybe the actual content of the conflict in terms of what makes it come about and how do we engage it well in terms of actual maybe word choice or do’s and don’ts?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, I think, Pete, most of us sometimes we’re not aware we just bumped into conflict. Like, if you’re upset about something I’ve said, I may not be aware of it, that, “Oh, my gosh, we’re, all of a sudden, in conflict.” So, to be aware and checking what are the signs and signals that somebody is upset. A feeler is probably hyper-aware, could be, scanning, “Are you okay with me?” that sort of thing. And if you are, let’s say, somebody gets defensive when you’re saying something, and you’re kind of taken off guard, the key that I usually suggest is rather than respond or apologize, is actually just reflect back what you’re hearing them say, like, “Oh, so it sounds like you think I don’t like your idea and I’m actually trying to put you down. Is that what you’re thinking right now?”

Because, one, if I take the time to reflect back, I’m buying myself time if I’m escalated or heightened. I’m also letting this person know that I hear them and see them and that they matter. I’m not agreeing with them. I’m just reflecting back what they’ve heard. And that, I know when somebody does it to me, I often settle down, and go, “Yeah, that is what I think is happening,” if I’m brave enough to acknowledge that. And then that’s a place of starting if you do bump into defensiveness. Or even if you’re defensive, you can reflect back what somebody else is saying as a way of buying yourself time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a handy tip right there. And is there anything else that you recommend in terms of particular, I don’t know, scripts or specific words that seem to really help out frequently?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, reflecting back is good. And then, also, usually, the heat comes up inside of me if I think you’ve said something that I take as like disrespect. That’s how it lands over here and that’s when I get upset. So, rather than just assuming that’s what you meant to do, is actually stepping back and asking, “So, I heard you say the Olympics were dumb. I’m wondering, was it your intention to insult me and my Olympic background? I just want to check.” So, I’m pulling something.

Pete Mockaitis
Has anybody said, “Yes. Yes, CrisMarie, I’m trying to stick it to you”?

CrisMarie Campbell
But you’re usually not trying to stick it to me. You’re usually just being you, but I take offense to it. And if I can say, rather than just react, like, “Pete, stop acting that way. You’re such a jerk,” which often people do. Rather than doing that to just, “Wait a minute, is that what your intention was because that’s how it’s landing over here?” And often you can say, “Well, yeah, I was in a snarky mood. I was trying to give it to you.” And then there’s something we can talk about, “Well, I don’t like that.” Or you can say, “Well, no, I was just teasing you,” or whatever is happening for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That is helpful. And then tell us what not to do. Those are some top things you recommend we do do. And what should we not do?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, a lot of times what happens is we take in information through our senses, what we see and hear, and then it goes through our own personal filter. And this is all our historic significant emotional events, our gender, our culture, our race, what’s ever happened to us. And we have this giant data table in our head that says, “This is good and this is bad,” and out pops our story. And the problem that most people have is we think our story is right or fact.

“And so, it’s clear you don’t respect me,” that might be something that I lead with. We’re like, “No, no, no, don’t lead with your story.” Actually, break it down and say, “Well, I heard you say this. My story is you disrespect me but I want to actually check it out and find out what is going on with you right now.” So, one, break it down, and, two, check it out. That’s another language thing.

So, you’re not saying, “Am I right or not?” You’re just saying, “What fits and what doesn’t fit?” so it creates room for dialogue in this whole interchange. So, what you don’t want to do is assume your story is right. What you do want to do is break it down, check it out, and come to the conversation with some vulnerability and realness, and also curiosity about maybe, just maybe, you aren’t right about how this person is responding to you in that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really handy in terms of I guess this entangling honest misunderstandings and I think that really does cover a lot because most people most of the time are not trying to stick it to you. Can you share then when we think about healthy conflict versus unhealthy conflict, are there a couple sort of principles or guidelines that you recommend that just sort of all professionals follow all the time?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, there’s no one right way to be. Like, even teams, different collections of people have different things that they think is okay. Like, you can work with a team in New York and they’re into really hardnose teasing, and then somebody, a team in L.A. and they’re all very polite and nice. Those could be any two spots. So, each collection of people has to figure out what fits for them and in relationships.

I think if I could give kind of…when you’re stuck in a spot, do you want to be relational or do you want to be right? And, quite often, we get stuck trying to be right because that’s what we’re trained to do in school is get the right answer. That’s what got us the good grades. And that is just never going to be an influential relationship tool. If I proved that I’m right to you, what does that make you?

Pete Mockaitis
Wrong.

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah. Who wants to be wrong? So I would say notice, if you’re trying to be right, or do you want to be relational? And can you actually bring some curiosity even if you think that…Like, we were dealing with a group and we work a lot with teams of people. That’s often what we come in and do. And so, my examples are related to that.

But we had a team, it was an executive team in China, and we had done kind of a one day of healthy how to get along, deal with tough conversations, and then we’re dealing with their business strategy. And they were coming up to something, and everybody was kind of agreeing except for this one woman and she had a differing agree. Well, they got so mad at her. It was almost like they were going to back her into a corner like, “No, you have to agree with us.”

And we said, “Time out. Wait a minute. Do you remember any of those tools that we taught you?” And so, one person said, “Okay, I want to see if I can do this.” At first, he went over and sat next to her, so not right across from her, but next to her, and said, “Okay,” and this is a magic question we suggest you ask in your relationships at work when you’re at really big odds and you can’t get through, is, “Tell me, why is this so important to you?” And he said, “You keep pounding on this one idea. None of us agree with you. Tell me, why is this so important to you?”

And she started to talk, and he was reflecting back, he was doing that really well. And then, all of a sudden, you saw that, like, we’re going through interpreters. But, all of a sudden, you could tell like lightbulbs started going off in his head because he had slowed down the conversation enough to get what was underneath the strategy. So, they were all fighting over strategies, but he said, “Why is this so important to you?” And she was talking about how to grow the business in a whole different way, and then the whole room lit up, and they totally took in her idea and changed their strategy to incorporate it only because he was willing to slow down enough to try to understand what was going on with her.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is powerful and I think a lot of times, we just sort of assume that the other side is aware of these strategic implications, and we’re just sort of ticked off, like, “What’s wrong with these people? Why on earth would you be advocating these things which are diametrically opposed to what we obviously need to be doing?” And then they say, “Oh, yeah, we actually kind of forgot about that thing that we said we were supposed to be doing. Oh, I do kind of see.” So, that’s excellent.

And I’m curious. Like, I know that a lot of times, we want to move quickly and we want to have something close-ish to consensus and we find that holdout irritating. Like, “You’re slowing us down and being difficult. Now, cut it out.” But I think most of the time we don’t say it like that. But what are some like maybe the words or phrases that, if we hear ourselves saying them or hear someone else say them, we should be on the lookout, like, “Ooh, watch out. It sounds like you’re quashing dissent or destroying psychological safety to get the benefit of those holdouts”?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, I think it is like, “Could you just…? Like, what is your problem?” That would probably be one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
“Is this fun for you to slow all of us down and be annoying?”

CrisMarie Campbell
Because, again, usually people are just…they are putting the world together very differently, and so, yeah, “Could you just stop being a problem? You’re always the naysayer. Why are you such a pain? We just all need to agree.” And we don’t actually believe in consensus. We believe in having each person, kind of as adults, we don’t need to get our way but we do need to feel heard and considered.

So, if you have that naysayer who contend to be a scapegoat or the black sheep, if you can slow down and see how are you putting the world together, because this happens all the time with Susan and I, we work together. And she puts the world together so differently. And I have to admit, my first impulse is, “You’re just dumb. No way.” I have my arrogance about me because it’s so clear to me. And I have been confronted with, when I actually slow down and listen to her, it’s that same aha like, “Oh, wow, I did not think about that.”

And this is so important with what we’re going through today in our divides because it’s like we all collect our different pieces of data differently and put a story around it. Most of us want health and safety and success, economic, and all these things, but we’re almost too afraid to talk about it because we’re talking about that topline, like, “You’re right,” “You’re wrong,” versus, “Wait a minute. How did you come to that conclusion?” That would be another good question, like, “Help me understand how you came to your conclusion,” and slow down and don’t interrupt how they’re putting the pieces together so you can see what’s underneath that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it when someone shares a magic question, which you did, “Why is this so important to you or what makes that so important to you?” Any other magic questions that we should all know?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, “Help me understand how you put the world together, how you put these pieces together.” That’s one. Like, “Help me connect the dots.” And then the other is, “Why is this so important to you?” Because what happens, this is a really good one in couples because we also work with couples. And often, “You want to save money, I want to spend money,” we’re focusing on that. But when we slow it down, and couples usually want to get to a solution, work teams want to get to a solution, and so a lot of this is about slowing down and having the conversation, which seems like such a timewaster in the moment but it’ll save you so much rework in the end.

And you ask, “Why is this so important to you?” You’re going to get to people talking about what their values are, and why this matters, and what they’re really trying to get at. And that’s really the influence piece. This is a neat little tool that you can use this at home, you can use it with a coworker, if you are really stuck in loggerheads. It’s usually best done one-on-one, it’s called the 5-5-5, where, let’s say, you have a topic, let’s say you and your business partner are talking about expanding, and one agrees and one doesn’t.

And so, this 5-5-5 is you take the first five minutes and person A just talks about their position on that topic. There’s no interrupting, B is just listening and letting it in and letting it soak in, and A has enough time, five minutes could feel like forever. You don’t have to fill that whole space but it’s kind of like your space, your block of time to kind of, “Hmm. Well, I think this is why it’s really important to me. And, wow, I haven’t thought about that.” And so, what happens is the person is thinking out loud a bit more and they’re connecting the dots, and B is witnessing. And you use a timer, at the end of five minutes, then you flip, and B talks and A listens. Again, uninterrupted, not with a lot of reactions or theatrics, just kind of taking it in. You don’t have to take notes. You’re just kind of letting it wash over you.

And the last five minutes is a dialogue where that’s where you can ask clarifying questions, or, “Wait a minute. Did you just say that because I disagree?” You can have more of the dialogue. But at the end of the 15 minutes, you stop talking about it. It’s not a 5-5-45, it’s a 5-5-5. And what happens is the idea is not to come to solution. It’s more this investigative process. And if you have a stuck issue and you did this like once a week, or once a day, or whatever it was the right rhythm, you will find a much better solution and you’ll at least know you’ll have so much more clarity about what’s going on with each of you and what you want to do in that situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, what I really love about that is that, in a way, so it’s time-bound, so that’s great, it’s not going to carry on forever so you feel a bit more maybe safe or comfortable going there, it’s like, “Oh, boy, this is such a mess. I don’t even want to start.” It’s like, “Well, hey, no, we’ll do it in 15 minutes.” And, in a way, the fact that it’s likely incomplete after the 15 minutes, almost creates an improved condition to have great ideas in terms of like, “Hey, I know some stuff I didn’t know before, you know some stuff you didn’t know before, and now as we live our lives, we go to sleep, we wake up, we’re in the shower, like new ideas can come to life over the interim period before the next conversation pops up.”

CrisMarie Campbell
That’s true and I love that. And what you’re describing is what we think happens in the brain. Your brain keeps working on it in the gap, and that’s the same thing when you hold for the tension and you don’t run to a solution or opt out of the conflict. Like the energy is held and things start to percolate that’s why new ideas emerge with a group or a pair of you versus just the same thing that happens in your brain happens in the system, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, tell me, I’m also curious, if it’s someone more senior, like your boss or your boss’ boss, how do you play that game? If you have a difference of opinion and you’re extra uncomfortable about bringing it up, what do you recommend?

CrisMarie Campbell
There was a study, it wasn’t done by us, it was where this organizational development group, they would do a survey, you know, they did their regular company surveys, and they said, “Hey, can we tack on a question just for our own research when we’re doing your survey?” And they said, “Sure.” And the question they added on is, “Who’s most influential in your company?” And if the name showed up three or five times, no big deal. But 30 times, they ask if they could shadow that person.

And what they found is, first, all the influential person weren’t the VPs. They were scattered all around in the organization. And what they found is that those people were most influential when…they were pretty average performers, not too stellar, but 5% of the time, when there was a difficult conversation, they showed up differently. And what they did is rather than let it go by or assume they couldn’t speak to a person in power is they would actually basically check out their story and say, “Hey, I heard you say this. I’m thinking this,” so they’re saying, “I’m thinking, I’m making up this story. My assumption is, my theory is, the story I’m telling myself is blank, but I want to check it out with you. Do you agree or disagree?”

And that simple model of, “I heard you say this,” or, “I saw you do this, so my story is blank, but I want to check it out with you,” is a very, “I’m speaking tentatively. I’m not attacking. I’m not assuming.” That was so powerful in shifting the dynamics of the discussion that they were influential in specific situations, powerful situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s beautiful because, I mean, anyone can do that and to know that that can get you on the most influential list with one little trick. It takes such courage I think to do it but it’s nice to know that there’s a framework. And it’s very hard to imagine the person on the other end saying, “How dare you?” So, it’s like, “Oh, well, no, that’s not what I meant.” Or, I guess the worst-case scenario is like, “Yeah, you’re darn right that’s what I meant. If you don’t like it, you can get out.” It’s like, “Oh, okay. Well, I guess I know now where we stand and, in a way, that’s helpful too.”

CrisMarie Campbell
Right. That’s clarity. I really appreciate that, Pete. You’re exactly right. Do you really want to be working for that type of person in that sort of situation? And it does take courage. And we say courage is vulnerability and curiosity. We call those the two magic ingredients – vulnerability and curiosity. The willingness to share, “This is how I’m putting the world together,” and most people just want to ask a question, like, “Do you really agree?” whatever it is. They don’t want to reveal themselves. But you are more influential when you do speak up, and say, “Hey, this is what I saw, or this is what I heard, and so this is the impact over here, the story I’m telling myself but I want to check it out.”

And nine times out of ten, when people don’t take those times to speak up, they start to feel smaller, like a victim, and resentful in the situation if they have to take on more work or things like that. And even if I do speak up to you, you’re in a position of power and I speak up and it doesn’t go well, or I don’t get what I want, you don’t change, you’re my boss and you still give me this same amount of workload, you’re right, at least I have that clarity, and I also have my own back. I spoke up for myself. And that’s often what I am coaching.

I typically coach women leaders who are successful. They’re smart even assertive but struggle speaking up to power in those 5% of the times to actually create the influence that they want and, I mean, because that was me. I remember my boss, I was working at Arthur Andersen for a big project and I was leading a team of six and we mapped out the strategy. And my manager came in, a senior partner, and he said, “No, you’re not going to do that, you’re going to do all this.” And he changed the whole thing. And I thought, “That’s not going to solve the client’s problem.” But I didn’t say that. I just asked a question, I said, “Do you think that’s going to solve the client’s problem?” And he barked at me, “Yes! Get back to work.” And I was catapulted back to the colonel, my dad’s dinner table, and I shut up.

We got to the end of the project, we did it his way, it didn’t solve the client’s problem. And, of course, we wanted to have more work at this client so all the partners came in, they invited the vice president in, and all the project managers were sitting around the sides of the room, you know, the peons. And they said, “So, how have we been doing?” And he goes…this is a humiliating experience. He actually pointed to me and he goes, “Well, you know that project, CrisMarie ran? That’s a disaster. Complete disaster.”

Now, my manager was sitting in the room, he didn’t say, “Oh, no, she followed my strategy.” I took the blame for it, and I was like, “Okay, I got to figure out how to speak up because this is career-limiting.” And it often is when we don’t learn how to speak up to power and especially bully-type power. We wind up feeling marginalized and less than, and we energetically shrink and take less risks, which I think is horrible.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you have to finish the story now, CrisMarie. So, then what did you do in the moment?

CrisMarie Campbell
I did not know. I did not know. I actually met Susan like in a few months, and I saw her deal with a group of people, this is why I probably thought of the bully. She was facilitating this group, and this guy was just being not very…I don’t want to say anything bad on your podcast. He just wasn’t being a nice guy. And she said, “Hold on a minute.” And she went toe-to-toe to him, and he backed down, and the rest of the group took a sigh of relief, and I thought, “I want to know what she does.”

And so, that actually was the start of our working relationship because I wanted to work with her, and that was 20 years ago. I brought her into a project, a different project than Arthur Andersen, and she just was willing to stand up to people in power in a way that was strong and worked. And I thought…and so that’s how I solved it. I changed my whole career.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is this sort of using the tools that you’ve spoken about here? It’s like…

CrisMarie Campbell
It’s using the tools and it’s also really, Pete, I had to go through my own un-programming of my nervous system based on my upbringing with the colonel, the dad, because I basically was terrified. But that wasn’t because of what was happening in the room right now. It was actually because of how I grew up. And so, when I realized, “Wow, this is just like…” how you know it’s an old pattern is it happens every time, you feel the same way. That grip on your shoulders. Mine was like, “Ugh.”

I remember I was in a situation where I recognized it. I looked down, my shoulders curled…I couldn’t breathe, and I went to the bathroom, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m terrified of conflict,” and I was shaking. And I came out and I said, “You guys…” this was with a group of friends and they were debating, and I said, “I can’t…I need you to stop.” And they were actually more curious but it was the start of me unraveling this pattern from before.

And once I did that, you know, you can have all the tools but unless you do kind of that discovery work, and it’s often in the body in the nervous system, that is what really creates the free…the courage, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
This is lovely. Thank you. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yes. “It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next,” and that’s from Susan Clarke who I work with. And she’s a great believer in, “Hey, if you say something, and somebody across from you is like looking hurt or upset, it’s not not to say it, but then to be interested.” Like, “Whoa, okay, something I just said landed over there the way I didn’t intend. Tell me what’s going on,” and to be interested. So, “It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

CrisMarie Campbell
Currently I am reading Permission to Feel, and it is a book about how emotions are so important and we try to pretend they’re not there, and it’s really harmful for us. And so, how to actually deal with your own emotions as a tool to help you make better decisions and have a happier life.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
It’s going to be feeling my feet and my seat because I probably do that 20 times a day. It seems simple but it’s something that brings me back inside of myself versus trying to please or achieve, and it helps me settle down and make better decisions. It’s free.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
A lot of people like “Do I want to be relational or do I want to be right?” They think about that in their primary relationships because we so often want to be right when with our spouse, and that seems to really resonate for them. Ask yourself that in the midst of a tense situation.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
You can check out our website which is ThriveInc.com and I’m also CrisMarieCampbell on LinkedIn and Facebook, there’s not too many of those that spell their name like I do.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
I would say slow down and ask the people around you, “Why is this so important to you?” to really find out how they’re putting their world together. And while you’re doing that, especially if you’re getting triggered, feel your feet and your seat so you can keep coming back to yourself and not worry about changing them or agreeing or thinking you have to do something different because that’s usually when we get ourselves upset.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. CrisMarie, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your conflict situations.

CrisMarie Campbell
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate that. You, too.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

 

About Nicholas

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nicholas Bloom Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It looks good.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Logitech CD920-ish.

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

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

 

About John

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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John O'Leary Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Those are good reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John O’Leary
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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