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755: How to Market Yourself to Maximize Career Opportunities with Diana Chan

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Diana Chan outlines best practices for improving your career prospects by marketing yourself well.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest networking mistakes professionals make  
  2. The real first step to any successful job hunt
  3. The right way to answer, “Tell me more about yourself”

About Diana

Diana YK Chan is a former Recruiter turned Executive Career Coach, Speaker and Trainer at My Marketability. Her mission is to empower you to own your greatness with confidence to shine and thrive in your career. She’s recognized as LinkedIn Top Voice in 2022 for Job Search & Careers, where she’s known for differentiating your personal brand, building strong relationships, and communicating with confidence. Diana is the Creator of Top Talent Academy, where she’s coached thousands of clients globally on how to stand out, get hired and earn more. She’s the host of the “Dare to Differentiate” live show on LinkedIn and YouTube.

Resources Mentioned

Diana Chan Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Diana, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Diana Chan
Hey, Pete, I’m so delighted to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, I’m delighted to have you and I thought it was really fun that you mentioned that you were a listener in 2018 and my producers found you now, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Diana Chan
Yeah, I’m super excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, so we’re talking about job search stuff. Could you maybe kick us off with maybe a particularly surprising or counterintuitive or extra fascinating discovery you’ve made over the years about just what does it take to win in this job search world?

Diana Chan
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’ve been helping thousands of job seekers, and since the pandemic, I’ve been seeing a lot of people pivoting. And one of the things that I really noticed is that it’s not about being the most qualified candidate, it’s about how you connect and communicate with the interviewer to convince them why you’re the ideal candidate with confidence. So, it’s not just about your qualifications but how do you show up to showcase that you are the one and how you can help them?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that makes sense in terms of many people have probably had the experience of, “Oh, I’ve got all the right stuff. I’m checking the boxes, the skills, the experience, the knowledge,” and they may even be angry at the injustice, like, “I should have been selected but I wasn’t.” So, connection, we’re going to dig into that. But, while we’re here, anything, any top do’s or don’ts when it comes to connecting well?

Diana Chan
Yeah, I love that question. So, one of my networking tips I love to share is always my ABC’s. Always be connecting, always be curious, always be cultivating. And the way I look at the connection piece is that a lot of times, people neglect the networking piece until they need to look for a job, but you really want to look at connecting with people anytime because you just never know what opportunities may unfold along the way.

So, some of my best tips is really asking questions, getting curious, showcasing the curiosity that you’re really interested in them, showcase warmth as well, like this sincerity and authenticity to really connect, finding common interests. It really helps as well to build that trust and rapport instantly there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And I guess I’d also love your take in terms of maybe zooming out a bit. Right now, allegedly, The Great Resignation is upon us, and we’re recording this in March of 2022, and it seems as though it is the employee’s market or more so than it has been before. First of all, is that a fair assessment or am I just repeating talking points that are false?

Diana Chan
You’re absolutely correct because millions of people have quit their jobs which means that employers are having a hard time to fill the vacant roles and the new roles there, so it is a candidate’s market right now. However, it’s also a very competitive market, meaning that not only, yes, there are these vacancies but this is where the whole personal branding comes in, that you need to really elevate your personal brand to differentiate and stand out and showcase not just your qualifications but what it is that you can really do for the employer.

How can you help them solve their problems? How can you really help them achieve their goals? One of the biggest or I guess newer things that I’ve been seeing right now, because I tend to work with a lot more seasonal professionals who have at least 10 to 20 years of experience and they’ve been in the same company for a long time. And what I’m seeing right now is that there are more new jobs being created that never existed before.

So, it is so important to be able to diversify your skillset to showcase the potential that you have to offer. So, for example, I’ve seen people, like I had a client who was a director in operations at a hospital in the ICU, and she made a pivot to work in long-term care. And she had a newly created role for her from the CEO where it was a combination of operations, strategic partnerships, and quality. So, it’s leveraging her background but also the need of the business of working for heading of how she can add value there.

Pete Mockaitis
What do we call that title?

Diana Chan
It’s like a combination of multiple traits.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Cool.

Diana Chan
It’s a newly created role. And I think when we look at it, there’s this need of your ability to be able to think strategically and work cross-functionally, understand multiple different areas of the businesses there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. We’re already getting into some juicy how’s and tips and tricks. Maybe to kick us off though, could you share a why in terms of why do we want to always be connecting if we feel like, “Hey, this job is working out okay”? Could you give us a story or some research, some inspiration that can get us in the mode of, indeed, always be connecting and branding and doing this stuff?

Diana Chan
Yeah, absolutely. So, the way I like to think about it, and I’ll tie this connecting and branding together, I talk about the importance of personal branding. It’s really going to help. It’s all about who you are, how you’re perceived, and what’s your promise in terms of your value proposition. When you have a strong brand and you also add that with connecting with people, it’s going to add more credibility. And when you have more credibility, it’s also going to increase your marketability which is a result that’s going to help you get more opportunities as well.

And so, when you connect with more people, and when I think of connecting with people, it’s not just about you getting something from them, but I talk a lot about give, give, give before you get. So, the more you add value and help others, people are going to remember you. So, I’ll just give an example is I used to work as a former recruiter. And one of the things I love that not a lot of people do that stand out is when the candidates I reached out to that are not the right fit but they refer other people in their network to me, and I always remember these people because not a lot of people do that.

And it’s this whole pay it forward where the more you do it, the more people are going to remember you. So, for me, in my instances, I love also referring all sorts of people in my network. If I know a client that’s a good fit for a role, or someone I know, an employer that’s filling this role, I’ll make an introduction. And the least I can do is maybe open some doors. I can’t guarantee the job but at least it opens doors to opportunities. And by doing that, you’re going to build this trust, essentially, so when it comes to asking for a favor down the road, people are more likely to say yes because you have built this credibility there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. And so, you’re saying you were the recruiter, you interviewed candidates, you told the candidates no, and they still brought you…

Diana Chan
No, no, they said no to me. Yeah, both ways. I’ve done that, too. I have rejected candidates. Actually, when I was at Google, I’ve rejected more people than accepted. And some people are just really good at relationship building that they referred me other people. And there’s the other way around where they didn’t…it was not a right fit for them that they rejected me but then they recommended others in their network to me. And I always remember these people because we’re talking like probably just 1% or 2% of the people who actually do that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. It’s rare and it’s special and you remember. And so, you’ve got a broad network of people who are looking to help you out, you increase your opportunities. And then I guess I’m thinking specifically because I’ve learned that most of my listeners, go figure, like their jobs, and I’m not trying to say, “Quit your job.” But I think that it can be quite possible to get comfortable, which is not always a bad thing, sometimes you just really want to be in that groove, and yet I think that it’s in our interests to be connecting and to have an eye open.

And I’m curious, like I heard some stat, and maybe you’ll know it better than I, that most of us…maybe I heard it from Ramit Sethi, it’s like most of us are being underpaid by, I don’t know, 10% or some amount. And, I don’t know, first of all, do you think that’s true or just how much opportunity do you think we leave on the table by not keeping our eyes open?

Diana Chan
I think you leave a lot, and this is because we don’t manage our brand or manage our network, you’re not being known, you’re not being seen, so the marketability and feasibility and credibility is lacking there, so people may forget about you if you don’t have that. So, you mentioned like your listeners here, like they love their job.

And one of the common things I see, because I work with a lot of people who either have been at the same company, say, a decade or 20 years, and they face a restructuring, or they got a package, and they need to start fresh. A lot of times they don’t know where to start. And the common thing I hear is that they have not worked on building their external network, which is understandable because they put all their time and effort in their internal company here.

But one thing I talk about is you don’t want to wait till the time when you need to look for a job to start networking. You can start even networking with people internally or people you know who made a jump externally to stay in touch with them because if you have this relationship and they’re hiring down the road, they are going to keep you in mind.

And as you move up in the company, let’s just imagine you get to this VP level or SVP level, there’s going to be less and less of those openings. And oftentimes, and I see this a lot with my clients, is a lot of times they find an opportunity to uncover new opportunities a lot faster because of networking or they are referred by other people.

Study shows that you’re five times more likely to get hired through a referral. And when you have these relationships, doors just open. I have seen where clients, the difference between an executive-level client where they have a strong external network that normally takes at least six months maybe to a year to find a VP level and above, to someone landing in couple of months, two to three months, because they were able to tap into their network there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I thought that’s a really compelling argument right there in terms of it seems obvious but I guess I haven’t really thought about it until you’ve really said it just now that if just imagine an organizational chart, I got an org chart and the boxes and they’re cascading down, like there are far more individual contributor roles than there are manager roles; and there are far more manager roles than there are director roles; and there are far more director roles than there are VP roles; and far more VP roles than there are C-suite roles; and far more C-suite roles than there are CEO roles.

So, that’s just sort of the basics of spans and layers and mathematics and how that works out. And, thusly, if you are on a cool trajectory, you’re learning, you’re growing, you’re being promoted, indeed, there will come a day in which it’s like, “Oh, shoot, there’s not very many spots left.

So, there are not many opportunities left, and it’s like, I don’t know, someone needs to die or retire, and that might be years before that happens kind of a situation. And so, if you are ahead of the game with your networks and your people, your connections, then you’ll have a much easier time making the leap into the upper echelons when there aren’t as many spots available for you. That makes good sense. Thank you.

Diana Chan
Yeah, and I think that there’s going to be a time where people will hit either a plateau in their career where they either feel like they hit their ceiling or there aren’t really that many opportunities, or things are not just as challenging anymore and they want to consider something new. One thing I can say to your listeners, from my experience, is that if you are either looking to make that bigger leap of either greater responsibilities or greater income, I should talk about the tangible results of the greater income, I know from experience you’re more likely to get a five to six-figure jump of salary by making an external jump than internally.

Pete Mockaitis
A five to six what?

Diana Chan
Five to six figures more than before by making an external jump than an internal promotion.

Pete Mockaitis
More? So, you were thinking, “Okay. Hey, I’m a manager at,” we’ll just say a cola company, “and maybe I could be promoted to a director of a cola company.” You’re saying that if I were to go become a director at a competitive cola company, I would expect to get not just an increase in compensation, which I should get, I’m being promoted anyway, but rather $10,000 to $100,000 extra on top of bigger bump just because I went external.

Diana Chan
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. Okay.

Diana Chan
It is huge. Like, internally, when you think about it, the typical pay raise is between 3%, 5% maybe 7%.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, an annual, like I’m sticking around doing the same thing.

Diana Chan
An annual increase, right. That’s like the typical type there. Like, I’ll give an example. I had a client, even not at a senior manager level, senior manager client in product management at a telecommunications company. He made a jump to fintech, a financial technology company, and it’s like a growing startup. His salary increased by 40% and received a five-figure signing bonus.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Diana Chan
At the similar level, the senior manager level.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. There you go.

Diana Chan
And so, if you can imagine for those who are making the next-level jump, even a title jump, what the possibility. Now, I can’t say this is a guarantee, but right now, because it’s a candidate’s market, and if you are really good at what you do, you have a great reputation, you have a great track record of success, you have really great skillsets that’s in demand right now, you have higher negotiation power.

I’ll give you another great example, like literally just happened to my other client, a more junior-level client, a senior business system analyst. So, a more technical role and a Salesforce type of a role there. The employer offered a number but he also had another offer elsewhere that was paying more. And so, he went back to negotiate, and say like, “Hey, they’re offering like a 100K and you’re offering me 75K. What can you do?” That’s a 25K difference, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Diana Chan
Within a couple of hours, this employer got back with him with a $25,000 more plus another 10K signing bonus.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’ll do it. Cool. Well, that’s exciting, the opportunities. Thank you. So, I think we’ve built a nice strong why there with regard to whether you want to, and whether it’s in the future by years, you get ahead of it, or you might be surprised to learn that there’s a big opportunity that you’re just not even aware of available to you right now. By doing the stuff, you increase the odds of you being able to seize that and benefit.

So, let’s talk about some of the goods here when it comes to connecting. Can you share with us a few of your best and worst practices when it comes to growing a large and meaningful professional network?

Diana Chan
Yeah. So, one of the things with networking is, first, we ought to really focus on give, give, give before we get. So, I think that’s the first thing in terms of building your network, is think about, “How can I add value to other people?” And this is where you can really think about, like, “What expertise do I have? What am I passionate about? Who do I like to support there when I think from that perspective?”

And then from there, if we’re thinking of, “Well, what type of network do I want to build?” This is where you want to map out the qualities or people that you want to learn. One of the tools I love using to build my network is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool to build your network, stay in touch with people, and it’s also a great way for you to share your expertise, to build your credibility, and authority as well.

So, over time, the more you start, essentially, giving back or helping each other out, your network is just going to increase. So, for example, like I’m connected to hundreds of recruiters on my LinkedIn and because I started off also working as a recruiter, and over time, you just meet other recruiters as well to learn about best practices. A great way to meet other people is find other people who are doing similar work as you but in a different industry to share best practices. That is a great strategy.

I have some of my very senior-level clients where they spend a lot of time in the same company, and the way they approach networking is think of how they can share best practices to help each other out there. So, that’s another great way to build a network.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s super. Okay. And so, when it comes to sharing, you can share with people that you already know in terms of give, give, give and so that they, “Boy, Diana is so swell. She always has all kinds of insightful great things that I’m so glad to know about.” So, you can do give, give give. And then when it comes to meeting them new people, how do you recommend we do that?

Diana Chan
Yeah, I love this. So, this all starts with really building the trust and rapport. And the way I like to think about it, even if we dropped careers and job search aside. Let’s just imagine we’re meeting someone new, how do you go about doing that? The key here is really finding the mutual common interests that you have.

I’ll give you a very simple example. This was a couple of years ago when I went on a cruise, so this was pre-pandemic. Pre-pandemic, you meet a lot of strangers on a cruise, and I met this family where my kid was playing with their child, and we were just standing there beside each other, and I tried to spark a conversation. And I noticed the father was wearing the Raptors T-shirt, the basketball shirt, and I could tell that he was from Canada, being from Toronto.

And that’s how I started a conversation, I was like, “Oh, I see that you’re wearing a Raptors shirt,” and we were able to start talking about a little bit of basketball, a little bit of where we’re from, what we do and all that. And just from that, we were able to actually exchange contacts at the end of the very short, like a 15, 20-minute conversation that we would like to connect further there. So, that’s one example of connecting, is building that trust and rapport by finding a common interest.

Another, let’s just imagine, like going to, let’s say, a wedding, going to a wedding there. One of the common things is that we all know the couple, so that’s a great way to bond with each other. I also believe that the way to connect a big part is really showcasing warmth and curiosity. And you just never know by just doing this, just by being genuine yourself, what opportunities may open up.

One of the examples that I love sharing is actually this was many years ago at a wedding. The emcee which was a sibling of the groom, she had fantastic energy and warmth and enthusiasm that it was just very captivating. Like, she got the entire crowd going there. And I knew that she was a new grad, I knew from my friend that she was a new grad, that she was graduating and she’s looking for a job.

And I remember, like she made this instant impression on me that I actually said to my husband that, “She would be fantastic for your new-grad leadership program at your company.” And long story short, I referred her to the company, and she got hired. And to this day, she’s still at the company.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Just working on the microphone at a wedding.

Diana Chan
Like, this is what I call opportunities that you don’t even think about that you can actually land a job by really showcasing your best self.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Okay, cool. So, that’s some of the connecting piece. Can you dig a bit more into some of our personal brand, professional story, unique value proposition, kinds of self-knowledge and representation pieces? How do we, I guess, get that clarity first of all? And then how do you recommend we write it up or what do we do with that?

Diana Chan
Yeah, that’s a big question and I’m going to break it down. I’m going to break it down from the clarity piece and then I’ll move into the branding piece. So, that’s part of a lot of work I do is really helping people get clear of who they are, what they want, what’s important to you. When you have clarity, you have more courage and confidence to pursue whatever you want and you come across as a much more compelling communicator.

So, the first step is really knowing, like, “What are my core strengths? What are my interests? What are my core values?” When you can even get clear on strengths, interests, and values, it becomes your guiding compass of what kind of opportunities that you want to pursue, and it becomes your selection criteria as well in evaluating opportunities.

So, the first step is always soul searching before job searching. I find the common mistake people make is that they jump right into job searching, updating their resume and LinkedIn profile before even getting clear on what their target is. And I have found that when you’re not clear on what you’re targeting, your messages, your brand, the way you communicate, it’s not compelling or convincing enough. So, that’s really the first step. It really pays off by doing that soul-searching work.

And I have found by doing that, for those who want to, say, make a pivot, pivot into a different industry, a different profession, it’s really going to help them with updating and finetuning the next stage which is the personal branding. I’m really passionate about personal branding because my belief is that when you elevate your personal brand, you, essentially, increase your marketability, which is ability to attract more opportunities, and your ability to increase your earning potential. So, the greater your brand, the greater your market value, which is aka your earning potential there.

And so, this whole personal branding piece is really what I love to do as a coach, is essentially identifying what differentiates you. What differentiates you? What your unique selling points? So, I have my five P’s that I guide my clients through when it comes to defining their personal brand. And so, the first, and I’ll walk your audience through here, the five P’s here.

The first is the product, which is seeing yourself as a product. So, you want to think about your features. What are your strengths? What are your skills? What’s your personality, your expertise, your interests? All those things that you want to identify, like really just getting clarity on that. If you’re not clear on what your strengths are, you can take a test called the Gallup Assessment, which is a StrengthsFinder in identifying your top five strengths.

The second P is the potential, which is really your performance and results. So, this is what I call the track record of success. This is like the proof point. Employers love to see your track record of success there. So, really mapping out all these accomplishments of yours and all these performance reviews and results is really going to help you tell a compelling story.

And then the third P is the perception, which is how others see you. This is your reputation. And what you can do if you’re not sure is to send out a survey to your friends, your colleagues, your boss, and at least 25 to 30 people. Ask them questions, like, what words will they use to describe you, what are your core strengths, what value do you bring, how do they describe your leadership style or communication style.

And I find that when my clients do this exercise, it’s always very eye opening because it helps them see, like, “Oh, this is how I’m perceived, and these are the things that I want to amplify,” if that’s really true to you. So, an example, one of the core words people always tell me is that I’m always very high energy, very passionate with what I do, so the way I show up, I want to reflect that as well.

And the fourth one is positioning. So, this is around the messaging, which is really how you craft out your unique value proposition. This is where you want to think of, essentially, like your personal branding statement, your top three unique selling points. I believe in selling yourself in three points because that’s how you become more memorable. This is where you can come up with the benefits of hiring you, like, what are the benefits are there. So, really thinking of it from the employer question point.

And then lastly, the last P, which is packaging. So, this is the whole how you present yourself, how you want to show up online, on camera, the whole in terms of your brand, style, your tone of voice, all those things tied to the five P’s. So, when you walk through these five steps of the five P’s of personal branding, it’s really going to help you then elevate all your other marketing materials. Like, you think of the resume, the LinkedIn profile, your elevator pitch, everything is going to tie back to your personal brand.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fun. It’s funny, when you said the P’s, I was like, “Oh, product, place, price, promotion.” Then we started with product, I was like, “Really?” So, then, okay, I got you now. So, packaging, that’s interesting. So, that could very much be the things like what you’re wearing, your resume design. And I like that in that what I like about your framework is, one, it’s alliterative so I can remember it. So, thank you. Five P’s.

And, two, it’s like resume formatting and clothing stuff is not the end-all-be-all but it matters. It is one of the five. And so, I like that because, as you said, it’s tempting to go right for the, “Ahh, let’s jump right to the job hunting.” And you said, we want to do soul searching before job searching. Nice turn of a phrase. Thank you. So, that’s excellent.

So, now, I’m curious, with regard to packaging, I think there are some easy things with regard, “Don’t have crazy fonts in your resume. Look professional. Don’t have your LinkedIn photo be shirtless or bikini, unless you’re a model.” That’s what you’re trying to represent specifically, like, “Look how I’m beautiful. You should hire me to promote your products.”

But I guess where I’m thinking most about is positioning, with the personal branding statement, the three steps, the benefits. Please, let’s dig deep into this.

Diana Chan
Sure. This takes time. This is an exercise where it takes a lot of time for people to do. Maybe we can go into the branding statement because that’s usually the arc of the rest of the things, the benefit statements there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Let’s do it.

Diana Chan
So, I can share, when we think of personal branding statement, essentially, it’s a short and sweet sound bite that is the anchor of defining who you are, what you bring to the table. That’s what it really is. And I see that as like an arc that helps set the tone and stage of the rest of your content. It can also be used as like a very simple one-liner intro when you’re introducing yourself. You can have it at the top of your LinkedIn bio statement or the tagline. It can also be part of like your top statement in your resume as well. So, you can come up with that and then just tweak it accordingly.

So, I’ll share with you, I guess, some of the guiding principles, say, like if you ask, like what are some things you want to avoid is you want to avoid being fluffy in terms of just having descriptive words that is being fluffy. You really want to focus on, essentially, impact. Like, what is the value that you really bring to the table?

So, I’ll give you an example for myself, what I’ve created is I’ll say something like, “I’m a personal branding marketer for corporate leaders and executives in career transition. I’m known for identifying your unique value, mastering your messages, and communicating with confidence to stand out, get hired, and earn more.”

So, you see what I created here is you have the title, the title of what you do in terms of your profession, and then who I serve, I’m serving those corporate leaders in transition which is like the specific scenario that they’re in, and then you can use, “I’m known for,” “I have a track record of success in,” and you either identify like one to three of these value prop statements that is, essentially, more employer-focused or what someone wants to achieve.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Now, so this can land in the summary of our resume. It can land as the top…well, let’s see. I guess we have a character limit in the LinkedIn…

Diana Chan
Tagline? Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
…tagline. So, that could be the personal branding marketing bit.

Diana Chan
What you can do shorten it is I can help you here. If you think of LinkedIn, yes, the tagline is short. So, what I can say is, “I help you stand out, get hired, and earn more.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s there. But then in your description, you can go into the whole bit.

Diana Chan
Exactly. Exactly. So, you can shorten it in the tagline that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that was great. I’m thinking more, more, more. Could you give us some more great examples and then maybe some disappointing examples, and tell us, “Hmm, what’s a little bit off here?”

Diana Chan
I’ll give another one. How about if I have a poor example one right now? I have another one, it’s a marketing person as well, “I’m an analytical marketing leader with a proven track record of managing successful marketing campaigns, and deriving insights from data to drive business growth.” So, in this example, we described this person as an analytical marketing leader.

In some instances, they like to have people who are analytical type of roles. In this case, we talked about managing successful marketing campaigns and deriving insights from data to drive business growth. So, we know that this someone is a good data-driven marketer, essentially, in simple terms. A data-driven marketer.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that was fun when it comes to recruiting or marketing or coaching. How about something in like project management?

Diana Chan
That’s a great question. So, one of the tips I want to offer the audience, because I know many of you have different professions, different area of expertise, the way I want to coach you to really think about it is, one, think about the words that will describe you, and, second is really thinking back about what’s the main mandate of what you do and what’s the significance or the importance of the work that you do.

So, if you can just ask yourself those questions, it’s like, “I help drive…” Is it revenue, if you work in sales? Or, if I’m in accounting, “I help ensure things are accurate.” Or, if I’m marketing, that, “I help drive market share.” You want to just get clear on what are those metrics there. So, let me give you an example around project management.

An example could be, “I’m a strategic project manager with proven success, driving multifaceted software implementation projects that spark incredible results and ROI for my clients.” So, this is like something short and sweet. You can go deeper if you like to have more numbers, but at least, at a very high level, you’re going getting clear on, okay, you worked on software projects that help with driving an ROI for your clients. So, that already gives a hint to someone that you could be maybe in a role that you worked with clients in a consulting role but in a project management capacity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s handy. And then that gets you thinking in terms of…I guess there’s always this delicate dance between we want more detail versus being succinct because it’s sort of like, “Oh, incredible results and ROI. I’m thinking was it more on the cost-reduction side or more on the revenue-generation side?” And then you can sort of…I guess that’s why people hire you is to really get into the, “Oh, the tradeoffs associated with…is it going to take me 20 words to describe the cool what incredible result means in my world or is it so varied that we’re going to have to leave it at that?”

Diana Chan
Yeah, yeah. Well, so one of the things I want to point out for the listeners who are listening to this is this is a sound bite, so meaning it’s like short and sweet and punchy. It’s a little different when you’re supposed to talk, come up with your elevator pitch, that common question of, “Tell me about yourself.” It’s a build-on to that. So, if you get a question in an interview, “Tell me about yourself,” don’t just use this one-liner sound bite. Make sure that you go more in depth, and this is where I guide people through another form of helping them crack out their two-minute elevator pitch there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us about that.

Diana Chan
I knew that was coming. Yeah, the elevator pitch is something I love working with people. I have a course called Master Your Glowing Introduction, and it’s my popular six P’s. I have another six P’s that I guide clients through there. And so, it’s broken down into three paragraphs. The first is, essentially, the who you are piece. So, think of your passion, that’s where the first P is your passion. What do you care about?

And the second P is, essentially, the potential. What are you known for? Think of your strengths. So, that gives a really good sense of who you are. Most people tend to just start off with a chronological order of when they finished school and throughout their entire career history. But if you start with this of what you care about and what you’re good at, it’s going to pique interests.

And then second paragraph, essentially, is your credibility, which is the third P of your past experience and your proud accomplishments. So, this is going to give credibility because you’re going to share with them a summary of your experience. So, instead of just listing out every single job that you had, you really want to think of a summary of years of experience in this industry, in these functional areas that you’ve worked in, and then highlight some of the problems or projects that you’ve worked, that you’ve done.

And then come up with a good story because no one else is going to have this proud accomplishment story the same as you so you want to think of something that you’re really proud of that’s going to become more memorable.

And then to close, which is the third paragraph, is the fifth P is present. You want to bring it back to the present of, “What are you looking for now? What’s next? Why are you looking for a change?” Or, bring it back if you’re going for an interview, like, “Why are we talking here?” And the other P is purpose. If you’re trying to sell yourself, you want to talk about why you, “Why do you believe you’re the best candidate for this opportunity? Or, why do you believe you’re going to be successful for this job?”

So, just by following this formula, it’s going to give you, essentially, when you think about it, a bit of who you are, what’s your track record of success, your motivation of what you want, and why you want it. And I can tell you from experience, every time I do this exercise with people, without them having any knowledge of the six P’s, all they talk about is what they’ve done since they’ve finished school.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so that sounds nice. So, that’s about two minutes altogether?

Diana Chan
Yes, two minutes.

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

Diana Chan
Now, one thing I do want though, since we’re on this topic, is we can maybe talk about is for those who are looking to pivot or looking to make a change, how they can go about doing that, what are some of the things they can do to help them with that. So, for those who are really feeling either stuck or at a crossroads, how to go about figuring out what’s next, there are a few pieces of advice I would offer.

One is I talked about the soul searching before job searching. That’s the first piece, it’s really gaining that career clarity. Second is go conduct informational interviews, go talk to people to find out, “What does that day-to-day look like? What does it take to be successful? What are the challenges in that job?” When you get more intel and insight, it’s going to help you have better conversations there.

Third is, once you know what you want, create a reverse-engineer roadmap to figure out, “What are the steps it takes for me to get there?” So, may you want to even identify what are those options. Like, if you’re not clear on what you want yet, identifying, brainstorm these options out, and assess the pros and cons. You can talk to people, you can do research, whatever that is, it’s really going to help you gain more clarity there.

Once you have all this information and you’re really clear on what you’re going after next, this really all the steps that I do is like about repositioning. Repositioning your brand, figuring out what really differentiates you, what’s going to resonate with the audience, and then think about, “How am I going to update my LinkedIn profile, my elevator pitch, my resume?” to really tie it back to your brand that’s really going to make you stand out there.

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

Diana Chan
Well, one of my favorite quotes I love to say, a lot of my listeners like they do know, is, “Own your greatness with confidence to shine and thrive.” And what I mean by that is when you own your greatness and believe you have something valuable to offer, and you own it with your confidence, you’re more likely to shine, stand out, and reach your full potential and make a difference.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Now, could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Diana Chan
Yeah. So, Vanessa Van Edwards, her book on Cues. Their research that was really fascinating was around how they studied 495 pitches on Shark Tank. And what they discovered, those who actually win or pitch or get the money from the Sharks are those who’ve demonstrated that high confidence and the high charisma, the warmth. I find that very, very fascinating.

And so, this is where it ties into the work I do, of what I said earlier of this podcast, is it’s not just about being the most qualified candidate. It’s about how you say what you say that’s going to win you as the ideal candidate to hire.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Diana Chan
My favorite book is Designing Your Life which is a great book for those who are not sure what they want to do next. That’s a great book to check out.

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

Diana Chan
LinkedIn, hands down. I love using LinkedIn on a daily basis to share content, share my expertise, connect with people, make new friends. I love doing that. And I also love just having my own show to connect with my audience.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Diana Chan
Well, one thing I’ve been doing is actually having this morning ritual right now, is really making sure I’m taking care of myself, whether it’s taking my vitamins, taking all these healthy drinks, or having this quiet moment of meditation before I take my kids to school. Those are some things that I really want to feel grounded and start my day strong and fresh there.

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

Diana Chan
It’s the own your greatness. Own your greatness with confidence because you know why, Pete, is oftentimes when people come to me, they lack that confidence in selling themselves effectively. In order for you to reach that next-level role or get promoted, you really have to own your greatness with confidence to really reach those next-level opportunities.

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

Diana Chan
Yeah. So, what I would say is start tracking your accomplishments and results. If this is something you haven’t been doing, create a success file, start tracking your accomplishments that you’re proud of. And then I would encourage, for those who are not active yet on LinkedIn or have a bare bones profile on LinkedIn, I encourage you to create an awesome LinkedIn profile and to connect with me as well because that’s how you’re going to start building your network and attract more great opportunities there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, on LinkedIn, they just type Diana Chan, C-H-A-N, and there you are?

Diana Chan
They type in Diana YK Chan because there’s a ton of Diana Chan. Diana YK Chan, you’ll certainly find me there.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Diana, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best and keep up the great work.

Diana Chan
Thank you so much, Pete.

704: How to Achieve Lasting Success by Thinking Long-Term with Dorie Clark

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dorie Clark says: "The things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you're going to be successful, you need to stop."

Dorie Clark reveals the critical skills that help us think long-term and set ourselves up for future success.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three barriers to long-term strategic thinking
  2. The top two skills that make you indispensable
  3. What to do when you’re stuck in a rut

 

About Dorie

Dorie Clark helps individuals and companies get their best ideas heard in a crowded, noisy world. She has been named one of the Top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50, and was honored as the #1 Communication Coach in the world at the Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Awards. She is a keynote speaker and teaches for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, which was named one of Forbes’ Top 5 Business Books of the Year, as well as Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of the Year by Inc. magazine.

A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, Clark has been described by the New York Times as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” She is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and consults and speaks for clients such as Google, Yale University, and the World Bank. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, a producer of a multiple Grammy-winning jazz album, and a Broadway investor.

 

Resources Mentioned

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Dorie Clark Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dorie, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Dorie Clark
Hey, Pete, it’s so good to be back with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom once again. And one exciting thing that you’ve mentioned I think the world needs to hear is that you have written a musical.

Dorie Clark
Yes, I have.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the story here?

Dorie Clark
Well, this is a process that started about five years ago. I actually write about this in my new book The Long Game. I’m a big fan of long-term goals, ten-year plans. And so, in 2016, I decided that my ten-year goal was going to be that I would write a show that would make it onto Broadway. And so, I have been assiduously pursuing this. I was literally starting from zero because I had no training or experience in writing Broadway or musical theater-type shows.

And so, since then, as I was mentioning earlier, I was…well, first, I applied and was rejected, and then I applied and was finally accepted into a training program, a kind of a prestigious training program that BMI, the music publishing company, runs. And so, I’ve been through that, I’m part of their advanced workshop now, have learned to write musical theater, and, in fact, have written one, which I am now shopping around to produce into regional theaters.

So, it’s just working the network and getting it out there. But I have written a sexy, lesbian, spy musical called Absolute Zero. So, you heard it here first. God willing, 2026 Broadway season.

Pete Mockaitis
I just have so many follow-up questions in terms of how that’s going to unfold but I’ll just wait to see it in theaters.

Dorie Clark
You’re going to love it. It’s going to create a whole new genre.

Pete Mockaitis
I appreciate in and of itself when things cannot be easily defined. Original genres, appreciated. All right. Cool. Well, now something that you have a bit more experience writing is nonfiction books that help people be awesome at their jobs, and it sounds like you got another hit on your hands with The Long Game. Tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Dorie Clark
Thank you, my man. Yes, this is my fourth so I have been flexing my muscles for a while with business and career books. So, the new book is called The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, and, basically, it’s about how to apply the principles of strategic thinking to your life and your career so that you can get better results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that sounds super helpful. And tell us, long-term thinking, is that something that professionals have a shortage of these days? Or, how would you assess the health of the long-term thinking game these days?

Dorie Clark
The broad state of affairs is not great, partly, of course, that’s human nature. Everybody likes a little bit of instant gratification if you get down to it, but, also, things have become harder for a couple of reasons. One is just in our society, in general, even pre-COVID, I think most of us recognize that there are a lot of forces conspiring to encourage short-term thinking.

We have at the corporate level, you have the push for quarterly earnings and how that trickles down to everybody about trying to get results sometimes with really negative consequences and corners being cut in the Volkswagen or the Wells Fargo type of situation. And in our personal lives, we’re 10, 20 years into our social media era, and a factor that has always impacted people, which is looking around and comparing yourself to other people, we always had that but now we’re comparing ourselves literally to the whole world. And that can be a little demoralizing sometimes, so there’s a push towards short-term thinking.

And then you take that and you put COVID on top of it where all of our plans got blown up suddenly. All we can do is react and be short-term because we don’t know what’s coming down the pike. So, it’s a lot of pressure in that direction. And so, it is my hope that this book, in some ways, can actually help us overcome that and put a stake in the ground because when we have been in reactive mode for so long, of course, it’s a good skill. You want to be agile, you want to pivot, you know how to, you want to know how to be able to respond to change, but, also, that can’t be the only thing you do.

We need to start making plans again. We need to be reclaiming our lives and coming up with the visions of where we want to go so that we are driving the train, not just responding to external stimuli. And, for me, that’s what playing the long game really is about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, playing the long game seems like the prudent, wise thing to do when I’m thinking about reading some Aesop’s Fables type things to my children. And so, we’ve got those stories about the ant and the   grasshopper and storing things for the winter, and the tortoise and the hare, and kind of sticking with it over the long haul.

So, I think that I’m guessing the milieu is that, “Oh, yeah. Hey, long-term thinking is probably a good and virtuous thing I should be doing.” But could you lay it on us in terms of some of the benefits for people’s careers, like, “No, seriously, if you do this, you can expect these fabulous results to come to you, and if you don’t, here’s what you’re risking”?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. Well, let me give you one example. I could ask sometimes, like, “Who is an example of someone who’s a good long-term thinker?” And one person who, honestly, stands out, of course, he has his own challenges in terms of his, essentially, world domination. But leaving that aside, Jeff Bezos is actually a really remarkable example of a long-term thinker.

And I think back in 2011, he did an interview with Wired magazine that I think was very telling. They asked him, “Okay, what is the secret to your success? What is the secret to Amazon’s success?” And, of course, this was 10 years ago, this was before Amazon became…it was successful but it was before it became the behemoth that it is today. And what he said was, “What makes Amazon special is that our competitors are only willing to plan on a three-year horizon. We are willing to plan on a seven-year horizon, and invest in a seven-year horizon. Because of that, we are able to take on bigger, more monumental, more potentially game-changing projects than they are. And that is the difference.”

And so, we go a decade out, and we see, oh, my goodness, Amazon Web Services. We see Amazon Prime. These were bets that they laid years ago, and they took time to pay off but now it’s created a massive competitive moat between Amazon and other players. And it’s the same thing for our own lives and our own careers. If you are willing to invest now and you keep at it assiduously while everybody else is just saying, “Ahh, that doesn’t make any sense. Oh, what a waste of time,” by the time they actually figure out the value of what you’ve done, they really can’t even catch up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that a lot and I think, and, Dorie, I don’t know, I read so much of the stuff you’ve written, and this might be from you, that with that Amazon example, I think Bezos is also said to have commented that he really tries to focus on things that he does not expect to change in terms of, he said, “Well, ten years from now, will people want to pay less? Yes, I think that will not change. People still like low prices. And, like, ten years from now, will people still want things faster or will that change in terms of, ‘You know what, I’d rather have it in five days’? Like, no.”

And so, with that sort of confidence, they said, “All right. Well, we’re pretty sure that people will want the prices low and will want it fast ten years from now, thusly, we can invest big on doing what it takes to make that happen.” So, yeah, that’s really resonant. So, maybe can you bring it into like careers then? If we’re playing the long game with our careers, what are some things that we can bank on as employers and the marketplace will really want from us years from now?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. So, one of the sections that I have in The Long Game is actually talking about, again, to take a corporate example, but bring it down to the granular of how we apply it in our own lives, most of your listeners are probably familiar with Google and their famous 20%-time policy. And this is the idea that Google pioneered and, well, to be fair, 3M, the Post-It company actually came up with it originally as 15% time. Google adopted it, they even expanded it, made it 20% time, but it really came to public prominence with Google.

And their concept is that employees should be able to spend up to a fifth of their time working on, essentially, speculative projects outside the scope of their regular job, but it should be things that they find interesting, obviously, but things that they believe would help the company. And that is how some of Google’s biggest innovations, like Google News and Gmail, got created.

Now, the caveat, the asterisk on all of this, interestingly enough, even most Google employees don’t do this. About 10% of Google employees actually do 20% time, which is this very low statistic. You might say, “Oh, well, that’s ridiculous. Why should we even take seriously this thing if the company that’s preaching it doesn’t do it?” But actually, I think it’s an important point for us to plumb. We know that it is not easy to carve out 20% time. You have to really be forceful in creating a fence around it. It is always easier to just lean into doing your existing job, “Oh, I’ve got meetings. Oh, I’ve got emails to answer.” And so, you allocate that time accordingly. I get it.

But if you are fencing off time for, essentially, your own professional development, for learning things, trying things, where you are developing new skills and exploring new areas, this becomes your insurance policy for the future. COVID showed us that we have no freaking idea what is going to happen. We just don’t know.

And so, we can make educated guesses and we can plan for the future, but, really, the best thing that all of us can be doing is turning ourselves into Swiss Army knives where we are not overly optimized for one task because that task could change, the company could change, it might not need it anymore. What we need to do, and 20% time is a really good vehicle to do it, is to allocate part of our time to proactive professional development so we’re learning new things and have new skills that we can fall back on if we need to. And it’ll also open up new opportunities as well. So, I think that’s one clear takeaway that can be very useful for people in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I like the notion of becoming a Swiss Army knife, and proactive professional development, and being kind of a bullet proof, invincible, depending on the winds of change and sway and stuff. And so, I guess I’m thinking what are some of the top skills, or I’m actually visualizing literally a Swiss Army knife, the bottle opener, the screwdriver, the tweezers, the scissors?

Dorie Clark
Everybody’s going to love you if you can open bottles. I say go for that one.

Pete Mockaitis
And then the hook, the little hook. I always found that tricky. Apparently, it’s for when you’re carrying boxes wrapped in twine. Okay, now you know if you were curious. You can also pull out stakes with fishing wire. Anyway, Swiss Army knife has a lot of tools. What do you think are some of the top tool skills that professionals should work to be developing that are timeless? Because, on the one hand, I’m thinking, “Well, hey, a lot of sort of artificial intelligence stuff, for example, is hot.” And then a coding language like Python or something is something that you say, “Oh, maybe that’d be good to know, but then, again, maybe that’ll be irrelevant in six years.” So, help us, Dorie, how do we think through what are the skills are really worth investing and building?

Dorie Clark
That’s right, Pete. Absolutely. I’m going to answer it in a couple different ways. So, the first one, props to you, my man, is a really simple starting point that people can do is actually LinkedIn Learning courses. And I’m an instructor, you’re an instructor, and, in fact, both of us are fortunate enough that some of our courses were among the top 20 most popular of the year. So, actually just diving in and immersing yourself in that is a really good simple way.

These courses are not long. This is something you can do on your lunch break but that’s a good regular way that you can begin to just take time that often might’ve been deployed for other purposes, maybe just messing around, maybe answering emails. Actually, really investing in learning. So, that’s one low-hanging fruit.

But, also, I think it is true, of course, we can all kind of envision that, “Oh, I should learn about 3D printing or something like that. What are the things of the future?” If you are interested in those things, then, Godspeed, go do it. That’s great. I also want to argue that there is merit in learning about things that might seem completely irrelevant. And my example, in fact, I consider musical theater to be my 20%-time activity. And it might sound frivolous in some ways, like, “Well, what does that have to do with being a business author?”

And on the surface, hmm, I don’t really know but what I do know is I am not only learning skills about how to do a particular thing, lyric writing, book writing, whatever. Those are really powerful and you can argue that there are some overlays in terms of story arcs and narrative and how it applies to my book, but, also, from a networking perspective, I am meeting massively different types of people. There’s a lot of interesting development of who I’m connecting with and what I know, and it’s giving me access to a whole new canon of knowledge.

And so, I can tell you that it’s been…there are examples where I’m meeting people in the business world and I’m able to connect with them better because I have additional knowledge that I can bring to bear about theater if that is, in fact, one of their interests. So, even something that seems really like, “Oh, why would you do that?” There actually can be a lot of surprise hidden value in it. It’s sort of the equivalent of the well-worn example of Steve Jobs studying calligraphy. Like, “Well, what did that matter?” Well, it turns out, it can create a design orientation that actually can be very influential but we couldn’t have predicted it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is cool. Okay. Well, so then in terms of the 20% time, it’s like it’s a combo then of, “What do you find really fascinating? Go for it,” and then, “What do you think you just can’t see any connection whatsoever? Don’t let that stop you.” And then LinkedIn Learning is one quick and easy and fun resource to get in there.

And so, I’m curious then, are there any – and I’m sure this will vary as the years unfold or maybe it won’t at all, and that’s the point – what will be some like the top skills you think, boy, every professional can really benefit from sharpening these skills?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. Again, with the purview so that, honestly, if you want to keep yourself motivated, the most important thing is that it should be interesting to you. But I would say, in my own experience, things that are super valuable, one, probably the biggest that I’ve put at the top of the list, is public speaking. And part of the reason that I do this is there are some very interesting research that was done a few years ago by The Center for Talent Innovation, which is a think-tank in New York. And they were studying the concept of executive presence, which is, essentially, this idea, this very poorly-defined idea of somebody looking like a leader, or seeming like a leader. Like, what does that mean?

And so, they wanted to break that down because a lot of people talk about, “Oh, he’s got executive presence but he doesn’t.” And so, okay, what are they talking about? And one of the key components that it turned out people were implicitly referring to is people’s public speaking ability. And it kind of makes sense because if we think about, for instance, how our country, how countries, in general, elect leaders, what are the trials that we put them through? Well, it’s usually debates, it’s townhall meetings, it’s rallies, it’s all about your public speaking, so a very low-hanging fruit where someone can get a dramatic ROI from investing time and effort is actually becoming a better public speaker. So, I would put that at the top of the list.

I’m also, you know, I’m partially communications in general, given that I started my career as a marketing strategy consultant, but I would say that effective copywriting, persuasive sales writing is one of the most important skills, whether you’re literally selling something or whether you are a regular professional trying to sell your boss on an idea, or trying to get a client to take a concept and let you run with it. Sales copy, which is different than regular writing, persuasive sales copy is an incredibly valuable skill to have. So, I would probably put those two at the top of the list.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. And so then, beyond just simply learning, training, skills development, what are some other ways that you recommend we can shift our thinking away from the short term and to the long term? Are there any sorts of key questions, or prompts, or exercises you recommend folks go through to get more in the long-term zone?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, I love that question. So, when we think about, “How do we kind of reorient ourselves?” One of the most important starting points is actually just, at a very basic level, creating the white space necessary to be able to have those conversations, whether it’s literally a conversation with a colleague or just an internal reckoning with yourself. It is not that it takes a huge amount of time to do strategic thinking. It does not. But it takes some time.

And one of the problems that I see with a lot of the clients that I worked with and colleagues around me is that they literally have no time for this because they are so packed to the gills with their scheduling. They’re constantly racing around. They don’t have a moment to breathe. And, therefore, they really don’t have a moment to ask very fundamental questions about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, if it’s the right thing to be doing. Nobody wants to be the person that is optimizing perfectly for the wrong goal, for the wrong outcome.

So, I think that one of the very best things we can do to begin to give ourselves the space to ask these questions is to actually just create a little room on our calendar. Obviously, it’s easier said than done, but I think we need to start becoming a lot more ruthless in terms of what we accept. Something that doesn’t get talked about, this is a skill you need to develop, although no one will tell you this, the things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you’re going to be successful, you need to stop. You need to regularly re-evaluate and create tighter and tighter criteria for what actually gets on your schedule. And this is an essential part of being a strategic and long-term thinker.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I find that actually pretty inspiring, Dorie, and I don’t know if that’s the reaction you get very often, “Tighter and tighter criteria. Ooh, boy.” But I think it’s true in that I‘m thinking about just, hey, this podcast, 700 episodes in, that’s exactly what’s happened in terms of criteria get tighter and tighter and tighter with regard to what guest gets in, which parts of the interview stay versus get edited out. And then, likewise, just as a function, I think the percentage of incoming pitches that are thumbs up gets smaller and smaller as well.

Dorie Clark
Yeah, when you were first starting, you probably would’ve interviewed my cat. That’s what it’s like when you start.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I might make a case for that in terms of, “Well, cute animal photos have been shown to reduce stress.”

Dorie Clark
It could go viral.

Pete Mockaitis
“Cats have been known to go viral.” So, then can you make that all the more real and specific for us in terms of maybe in your own schedule or others that you’ve coached or worked with and how you’ve seen, “Hey, this used to be okay, and now it’s not. And here are some particular filters or rules or criteria I’m using now that determine what gets the yes”?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. And I actually go into a lot of detail about this in The Long Game because I think your question points to something important, which is specifics actually really matter here because you can say all you want, “Oh, you should just say no more often,” and that’s great but people are like, “Okay, you jerk, like how do I do it?” So, you need to really understand the mechanics and the scripts and how do you draw these criteria.

Just to give you an example. When I first started my business, I’ve been working for myself for 15 years, I kind of didn’t know anybody. Like, when you’re starting any career, or you’re starting at a job, you don’t know anybody and so, therefore, you don’t even know who’s worth your time. And at that moment, it’s actually good to say yes to everybody because it’s not like you have so many other important things to do, and it’s not like there are so many people fighting to spend time with you. if you have an opportunity for a networking engagement, you should probably do it, right?

So, early on, the filter should be very wide. But, over time, people do begin to seek you out more, and so you’ve got to narrow it. So, some examples. Early on, I was so happy that anyone would like talk to me. I would immediately offer to go to them, “Oh, where do you want to meet? When do you want to meet?” And so, I would accept these things where I’d be taking like a 45-minute train ride into the city to go see somebody at some inconvenient place. I’d be coming back. I would literally have spent half a day in a networking meeting with someone.

Now, a half a day is extraordinarily valuable. I think about how much revenue or all the things I could be doing but, back in the day, I would say yes to that. So, over time, I slowly tightened it and say, “Okay. Well, maybe I’d meet with them but I’m not going to just offer to go to them. I would either make them come to me and meet near me, or I would only do it if I was already going to be in their neighborhood.” Also, I used to meet with people, “Hey, let’s have a networking meeting,” for like pretty much no reason. It could be, “Oh, somebody suggested we might like each other,” something like that.

Now, I actually need a pretty compelling reason, like, “Well, what do you want to talk about? Like, what’s the goal? Why is it that we should connect?” because, oftentimes, what I would discover, that I didn’t know, is that people actually had an agenda. They just wouldn’t state it. It was often to sell something to you. And so, it’s important to kind of understand what’s behind all of that. So, that’s a piece of it.

You can also, if you want, if you want to do the meeting, you’re not sure if you can say no, another strategy that I use is find a way that you can downgrade it but still say yes. So, you might say, “Oh, Dorie, can we have coffee? Can we have lunch?” and if I want to be careful, I don’t want to offend you or something, or I feel like I should say yes, I might say, “Oh, thank you, Pete. I’d love to do it. That would be great. My schedule is super crazy. I can’t do lunch but how about a call? Can we do a call next week?” And so, that way, instead of lunch, which might be two hours, two and a half hours, like getting there and then a lunch, the call is a tight 30 and then you can log off. So, you have, essentially, found a way to still say yes but save yourself 90 minutes, and all of that adds up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Dorie, I like this so much. It’s funny, just recently, I think I was getting a new insurance quote, and they proposed…because sometimes this is very easy to do, they said, “Oh, hey, when’s a good timing and we can hop on a call for me to walk you through a point-by-point all the elements of this plan?” I was like, “Wow, I never want to do that,” and maybe that might be prudent depending on the nature of the insurance product and what’s at stake and if there’s a lot of points of differentiation between that insurance product and the competition. Maybe that might be well worth your time. But for me, it wasn’t. It was sort of small potatoes insurance and I thought, “Wow, do people really say yes to this?

And so, I was able to say, “Oh, would it be possible for, instead, for you to email me the policy and share with me the key points and the price?”

Dorie Clark
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think I know what they’re doing. I think from like a sales process, I’m sure the studies have shown, you get a higher conversion rate if you have like a relationship and some engagement and some conversation, but I probably just wanted to kind of say yes, thank you, get some insurance, and move onto something else.

So, sometimes it’s easy but for me it’s kind of rare. And it’s funny, as you share those things, I’ve had those thoughts. Let’s just get real about sort of emotions here. And sometimes I will also have thoughts to be like, “Pete, who the heck do you think you are? Oh, now you’re big time, huh? Oh, you’re so important now that you can’t be bothered to have lunch.” So, I’ve got some internal dialogues in terms of just like, “Well, no, I can have a spreadsheet I can show you that time it better placed somewhere else from a business development perspective. Like, that’s a fact.”

But sometimes it’s more fuzzy, like, “Well, I don’t even know what’s going to make a bigger impact. Hard to say.” But then there’s also a little bit of the, “Oh, so now I’m too good.” And it’s like I don’t want to become, I don’t know what the anti-hero I’m looking for here, the villain I’m trying to paint here, not Scrooge McDuck swimming in money, or like Scrooge…help me out here. Like, I still want to be a generous person who is not corrupted by success as I grow but I guess that’s part of the long game as our time will become increasingly more valuable. We will need to say no more often. How do we deal with that?

Dorie Clark
Right. Well, I think you’re pointing to something important, which is that there’s a lot of layers to this. It’s not just a strictly rational ROI calculator, essentially. But I think there’s a few ways to think about this. And, also, of course, it depends who’s asking. I think sometimes, again, when we are less experienced, we often, at least me, I would essentially fall prey to people, just anyone who’d be like, “Hey, want to have coffee?” and I would just assume like the correct answer is yes, “Okay, yes.”

And then, meanwhile, you come and it’s some kind of a sales pitch or something where it’s almost like you’ve been kind of tricked or strong-armed into it, or if it’s not a sales pitch, maybe it’s they want something, “Oh, hey, Dorie, I hear you write for so and so. Can you introduce me to blah, blah, blah?” And it’s like, “Oh, now I get it. Like, oh, you want a thing that’s why you want to connect.” And so, those are things I do not feel bad screening out. I don’t want some user who is taking advantage, and so I think, partly, it’s about learning how to be more mindful if you feel like that vibe is coming off of someone.

I think, also, the truth is I don’t feel bad about saying no to people that are coming at you, or coming at me, in ways that are a little inappropriate. I think that, for me, when I was 22, when we’re all 22, we would have the college career counselors, they’d be like, “Oh, you should reach out to people and pick their brain.” And many people, again, when you’re 22, fine, but many people just kept with that, and that’s still their approach, and it should not be the approach of a seasoned professional.

If you are dealing with someone, you want to be showing empathy for their situation. And if you know that that person is, and you got to think about it, but if you actually, when you rationally think about it, realize, “This person is probably getting 10, 20, 50 emails per week with people asking for something,” you have to be mindful of what your ask is and contextualize it properly. And so, if you’re just sort of blithely saying, “Oh, can I have, for no reason at all, an undifferentiated amount of your time?” that’s actually not really being a sophisticated consumer. And so, I think that we need to…we all need to be more thoughtful in terms of how we approach people.

I actually did an analysis of the emails that I received a while back, and I discovered that, in the course of a week, I got somewhere between 10 and 11 requests per day for something. Now, sometimes it was a coffee or a meal, sometimes it was a, “Hey, will you share this on social media?” Sometimes it was a, “Will you blurb my book?” or, “Will you do this?” And many of them were from great friends, and I would be glad to do it. That’s totally fine.

But we all have to recognize for ourselves and when we’re dealing with others, if someone is getting 70 requests in a week, it is just foolish for that person to say yes to all of them. You have to triage and protect it so that I can say yes to you, Pete, and not some random person who is sort of barging in with inappropriate request.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Was it Jim Carrey where he says yes? Is it Yes Man? With all the chaos that ensues with the yes to everything. Yes, that’s helpful and thought-provoking both in terms of as the requester and the potential grantor of requests, like how to do that well. Well, thanks, Dorie. We went really deep there.

Dorie Clark
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s zoom out for a bit. Any other critical ideas from The Long Game that you think folks looking to be awesome at their jobs should know about?

Dorie Clark
Yeah. Well, I’ll just add one piece to where we were going before, which is, ultimately, if you want to actually be true to your vision, if you actually want to accomplish whatever your long-term goal is, it is not just about the people around you and saying no. We often fail to think about the opportunity costs when some requests or something is coming at us, some opportunity. We often think, “Should I do this thing or not?” And that’s not really the right question. It is actually, what we should be asking, is, “Should I be doing this thing or any other thing in the world that would take approximately that amount of time?”

And so, we have to contextualize it because if there’s a goal that you truly care about, that needs to be a north star in your mind so that you are carving out time so you can really do that and fulfilling your agenda rather than everyone else’s agenda for you. So, just connecting with that point, one area that I talk about that’s related in The Long Game is a concept that I call being willing to say no to good things.

Of course, we understand that we should say no to the bad things. It might be hard or that you worry that you might be hurting people’s feelings or something like that, but, ultimately, we get it. But where we really develop the kind of ninja-level skill, and this is very hard for all of us, is that if we want to leave room to pursue what actually is great, what is a great opportunity or a really important thing for us, if something is nearly good, we also need to be willing to say no to that. And the discipline to do that is really what can set us apart and make us extraordinary.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Boy, Dorie, we’re two peas in a pod here when you talk about saying no and sort of the alternative is like everything else that you could be doing. And I remember the first time I learned about the concept of opportunity costs in an economics high school course, it freaked me out. I’m just like, “Holy crap, so you’re saying in choosing to do one thing I’m saying no to everything else on the planet every time. Whoa!”

It kind of shook me up actually for a few weeks. It’s like a random day in economics class, a day in high school. But it’s the reality of the matter with regard to where you can funnel your time, and that’s really powerful when you’re thinking about those long-term objectives that you’re shooting for and how to get there.

I guess I want to hear your take in terms of the…well, if it’s diet or exercise or smoking or video games, anyway there’s a whole host of ways we humans have a knack for going after that instant gratification at the expense of long-term stuff. So, do you have any tips or perspectives or reframes that could help people when they’re in the heat of battle and they have a temptation to do something that maybe feel good or short term when they’d be better to do something more long-term oriented?

Dorie Clark
Oh, as someone who ate a large ice cream sundae last night, I can totally speak to this. But to be fair, I planned. I planned that sundae. I saved up for that sundae but, nonetheless. I think there’s a couple of things that we can keep in mind. And one of them, in The Long Game I tell the story of a woman named Kim Cantergiani who was a busy mom, a busy wife, had a great job as she was a C-suite executive at a nonprofit. And the thing that always fell through the cracks was her health, and she had gained weight that she wanted to lose, and she just had not been able to do it.

And, ultimately, for her, what proved successful is she created a pound-a-thon campaign where she publicly pledged to all her friends, and she got them signed up, that for every pound she lost, that they would donate X amount of money to the local Battered Women Shelter. And so, at that point, it became about something bigger than herself. She was going to be letting down other people if she did not lose weight.

And so, she told me, she said, “After that, I really couldn’t be seen walking around with chips and a Diet Pepper after that.” So, I think sometimes it’s about external accountability and tapping into the bigger picture of a cause outside yourself. And the third point that I’ll make is that oftentimes it’s really about committing to a date certain for something, because humans, we love to kind of blur the lines or make exceptions or, “Oh, I could do this a little later.”

But I tell a story of a woman named Sam Horn who was a very successful speaker, author, just running herself ragged in the pre-COVID world, traveling everywhere, giving these talks. And she decided that what she really wanted to do, it’d been a longstanding goal, is she wanted to move near the water, and actually not just one place. Not like get a lake house, but she wanted to spend an entire year as kind of a digital nomad, living by the water in beautiful places, like Florida and Hawaii. And she ended up doing it but she said the only reason was that she just forced herself to commit. She circled October 1st on her calendar and she made herself happen. And she said, “If I didn’t have a date, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, Dorie, tell me, any final thoughts about the long game before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dorie Clark
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete. I will just mention, for anybody that wants to dive in further to strategic thinking and creating a long-term vision, that I have a free resource, which is a Long Game Strategic Thinking Self-Assessment, and folks can get it for free at DorieClark.com/thelonggame.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. Thanks. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dorie Clark
One of my favorite quotes is actually one from Theodore Roosevelt, and I love it because, fundamentally, to me, long-term planning is important but it’s acting toward those long-term goals. It’s about the action. And his quote is, “In any moment of uncertainty, the best thing to do is the right thing. The next best thing to do is the wrong thing. And the worst thing to do is nothing.” And so, I think we learn by taking action, and, to me, that quote exemplifies it.

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

Dorie Clark
So, I have to pick a sentimental favorite. I actually talk a lot about this in The Long Game as well, is the famous marshmallow study by Walter Mischel, talking about, “Do you take one marshmallow now or two if you wait 15 minutes?” If we can figure out how to crack that code, that’s the ultimate in long-term thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Dorie Clark
One of the things that was most inspiring to me as I was starting my business and my business career was the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Pete Mockaitis
Had him on the show. So amazing.

Dorie Clark
He is. It’s so beautifully written. It is so engaging. And I think it just taught me so much about life, so I really respect the work that he’s done.

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

Dorie Clark
Yes, a favorite tool that I use, actually all the time, is Google Translate. I feel like these days, I’m working with so many people internationally, and where I can, at least learn a few phrases or say something as kind of a tip of the hat for them and their culture, I try to do that. So, I enjoy using that tool for connecting with people across borders.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you’ve been sharing that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Dorie Clark
Well, one of the things that I feel like seems to be resonating for people a lot, perhaps especially coming out of COVID, is a concept that I talk about in The Long Game called thinking in waves. And the basic idea is that, oftentimes, when we feel stuck, we feel like we’re in a rut, the problem is that we are, essentially, trying to just keep doing more of the same thing, and it’s the same thing that we’re good at, or the same thing that we’ve gotten results at. And, unfortunately, one of the things about being a successful human and a successful professional is that we actually have to do different things and we have to shift into a different wave.

And so, one of the most important things, I believe, is that we need to recognize, “Okay, which wave are we in? And where are we in the cycle? And how can we shift?” So, as just one example, for a lot of people, many of whom, frankly, have been kind of hard on themselves about this, they may have had a lot of extra home responsibilities or family responsibilities during COVID, and it’s not like you had a lot of choice in that. That’s sort of what the situation called for. We can’t beat ourselves up about it. But the important thing is to recognize that if we are playing the long game legitimately, then we need to lengthen the time that we’re looking at, and realize that it’s not necessarily about having perfect work-life balance, let’s say, during a set period of time.

During the past 18 months, you probably didn’t have very good work-life balance, but what you can do is actually make a choice to over-index in other areas. And once you are able to re-allocate some of that energy toward work, or toward non-family relationships, like friends, and deepening connections, and things like that, or if you’ve been going crazy with work, working way too hard, that’s fine in the short term. Sometimes you need to do that in order to be successful, but the problem comes when you do that always.

And so, it’s just understanding what wave are you in and how can you transition successfully so that over a long-enough period of time, you are getting the balance that you need.

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

Dorie Clark
One of the final challenges that I will suggest to people is in The Long Game I talk about a concept that I call optimize for interesting. And we all know that in our culture, oftentimes, things are a little bit polarized. It’s either, according to conversations, it’s either that we’re optimizing for our passion or we’re just making money, “Okay, let’s get some money.” I feel like those are fine options. They all have their limitations.

But because not all of us necessarily even know what our passion is, or it might change over time, or maybe your passion isn’t something that you can or that you want to monetize, what I like to suggest that we have as one potential orientation is the idea of optimizing for interesting. Because even if you don’t know what your passion is, for sure, you know what you find interesting. There’s hobbies, there’s things, you know what, some people really like birds. Guess what? If you like birds, you know it. If you’re not into birds, you also know that.

Some people are into wine, some people are into golf, some people are into football, some people are into theater. Optimize and try to direct your discretionary time and learning and knowledge and effort toward things that you find interesting. And you really can’t go wrong because you will enjoy the process, you will get more data, and you will learn things about yourself. And if it stops being interesting, no problem. Just pivot to something else.

Pete Mockaitis
Dorie, thank you. It’s always a treat. I wish you much success in the long game.

Dorie Clark
Pete, thank you. Always a pleasure to be here with you.

686: How to Make Your Next Career Move Your Best Move with Kimberly Cummings

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Kimberly Cummings shares her top tips on how to make career transitions easier.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make the next best move for your career
  2. The key indicators that it’s time to explore other options
  3. How to identify power players–and become one yourself 

 

About Kimberly

Kimberly B. Cummings is a leading career and leadership development expert and an accomplished speaker and podcast host whose mission is to empower women and people of color in the workplace. Her personal and professional development company, Manifest Yourself, LLC, provides in-person and virtual workshops, trainings, and coaching to professionals looking to lead a dynamic career and life. 

Kimberly has had the opportunity to speak to and create workshops for many organizations, including the New Jersey Conference for Women, Ellevate Network, Urban League, Princeton University and National Sales Network, SXSW, among others. She is also on the Board of Directors for The Power of You Teens organization. Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning into a Career You’ll Love is her first book. 

Resources Mentioned

Kimberly Cummings Interview Transcript

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

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much for having me. Very excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about how you’ve studied vocal jazz for 10 years. What’s the story here? And any interesting adventures come from that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, definitely, I think growing up, I was a kid who always liked to sing. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “Whitney Houston.” That’s what I thought was going to be the career path for me, and I took piano lessons for a bit but I kept on trying to sing. But piano takes a little bit more skill to kind of learn the chords and all those things. My voice clearly was much more advanced than my hands were so I went to vocal lessons. And, oh, my gosh, I absolutely loved it, all the great Ella Fitzgeralds, the Sarah Vaughans. I actually performed a 26-song concert in 2005 to raise money for kids.

Pete Mockaitis
Twenty-six songs.

Kimberly Cummings
Yup, I had a pop set and a jazz set. And I say that I’m retired after winning every talent show in undergrad, mind you. I retired. So, now, I only sing for folks who know that I sing. Sadly, it’s more funerals or weddings and things like that. But you can hear me in the shower or in the elevator. There’s great acoustics there too.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you sing in your speaking on stage?

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, no. I’m fully retired.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there we are. So, you’ve retired and you’ve moved on into the world of career and leadership development. So, yeah, tell me, when it comes to people and their careers, often you end up working with folks who feel stuck. What leads to people feeling stuck in their careers?

Kimberly Cummings
Many times, I really believe it’s not having a plan. If you don’t have a plan to take yourself to the next level, it’s very easy to get stuck in your career. Not knowing what your next move is, not understanding what your own skills and strengths and how those manifests in the workplace, a lot of times people can find themselves being underemployed or unappreciated because they have no idea, they’re essentially treating jobs like old boyfriends or girlfriends, romantic partners, in that they’re just like they keep going on to the next. They get a little bored, they go to the next, they go to the next, hoping that it will get better and better and better and it never really does if you don’t have a plan in place to make strategic career moves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then when it comes to forming that plan, where do you recommend we start?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the first stop is really understanding your own skillset and your strengths. I like to have folks who work with me go through a full assessment of all of their strengths, all of their opportunities, all of their weaknesses, their gaps, and really get clear on, “What are the skills that they’ve gained from every single job that they’ve had?” Every single job. That long resume that no one really ever looks at, the one you probably can’t even send to anyone that has every job on there and literally look back and say, “What have you learned? What are your strengths? What are the things you want to continue to use?”

“And what are the things that you no longer want to use? And how can we start to build a career based upon your strengths? And if you don’t have the strengths that you need to get to the next area, what are the things that we need to work on? What are the gaps that we need to attack in order to make your next move?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, you mentioned a full assessment. What are some of the key tools or resources or questions or things folks work through to get that picture?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the assessment really begins with you. Where are you? What have you done? What are the key skills you’ve gained from all of your jobs? What is the feedback that you’ve consistently been receiving from leaders? And if you don’t have that feedback, we walk through how to get that feedback using a simple start-stop-continue exercise with people in your industry and people who worked with you.

Of course, there are traditional assessments we can do. I’m a big fan of StrengthsFinder or Strengths Profile by Cappfinity. Those are also great as well but I want the baseline to always be the experiences because, generally, where you’ve gained your experiences, how you gained your experiences, what you’re taking away in terms of skill sets and strengths, that’s the baseline for you making your next move. So, the assessment really focuses on where you’ve been and what you’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you talked about how to get that feedback. So, start-stop-continue is a good way to organize the conversation. But how do you recommend folks specifically say, “Hey, tell me what I should start, stop, and continue doing?” Or, how do you recommend approaching that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I always recommend finding time to have career conversations with your management. Many times, folks have one-on-ones, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or team meetings, and those are focused on doing the work but career conversations are a little bit different. So, I always recommend that people reach out to their leader, and ask, “Hey, I’d love to have a one-on-one with you but focused on my career.” And ask them simple questions like, “What is it that I should continue to do in my role? What are you seeing as good skill sets that I’m building? What do I need to stop doing? What is going to prevent me from moving to the next level? And what do you need to see more of?”

And the big question I always ask for folks who are thinking about making their next move before it’s time for them to make their next move is the big question of, “What do you need to see from me in order to know that I’m ready to get to the next level, I’m ready to make the next move?” so you’re not asking that question when you’re applying for the new job. You want to ask that question well before it’s time for you to have to apply.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a fine question. And, yeah, as I imagine that scenario, I think there’s probably any number of unsatisfying answers you might get, like, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Kimberly Cummings
That’s a fan favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not quite the right…that’s not helpful.

Kimberly Cummings
No, not at all.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do you recommend pushing or digging a little more?

Kimberly Cummings
Now, 100% just like you said, that is the age-old, “Oh, my gosh, you’re fabulous. Things are great. End time.” It’s like, no. If you’re not getting good feedback from your leader, I recommend asking other folks, asking your peers, asking other people who’ve also been promoted, and sharing your experiences so they can share a little bit more insight on what it takes to move to that next level.

And then, also, honestly, having a candid conversation advocating for yourself, like, “Thank you so much. I love hearing that you think I’m doing really, really well. However, I want to make sure that I can be extremely planful, that I actually have a plan. Is there any direct feedback that you’d be able to provide me? Like, what is it that means that I’m doing really well? How do you know that I’m doing really well? What are the indicators for that?”

Or, even if you could call up someone else, like, “I saw that Joe got promoted last year into a similar role. What was it that made you know that Joe was ready?” Try and push back to advocate for yourself just a little bit more because feedback is hard. It’s very hard. Leaders don’t like it, employees don’t like it, so it’s really pushing the needle. And if they say that they need a little bit of time to think about it, make sure you circle back and push again.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I think that is the perfect response along those lines of, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” It’s like, “Well, I couldn’t help but notice I wasn’t promoted,” in the nice or professional diplomatic way that you get there because, yeah, those are the realities, is that there is something…well, unless the organization is just broken, which I’ve seen some of. There is something that causes people to move up, “What is it? And am I doing it? And how can I do more of it?” Perfect.

And then you mentioned doing this prior to when you start applying to other jobs because you’re ready to be out of there. What are some of the key indicators that it may, indeed, be appropriate to move on and out from a current role or organization?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I’m really big on role mastery and impact. So, when you have essentially mastered your role, when you are doing things with ease, when people are asking for assistance because you know that you have it down, when you’ve built relationships in your role so you have…I always talk about four key relationships that you need. So, you have great peers that you’ve networked with, you have teachers who can help you if you need help, or sometimes people call them coaches, and you have mentors, and you have sponsorships. You have those four key relationships.

If you know where your role fits within an organization, like, “What does your role do?” Every role has a purpose in helping the company reach some type of milestone, even if you feel like it’s a small piece. Like, there’s a reason why that role was hired. Once you really know those things and you could think about, “What is the value you contributed to that role? Have you been able to innovate? Have you been able to move the needle?” Once you’ve been able to do some of those things, then it’s time to start thinking like, “Okay. Well, I think it’s time I start exploring whatever the next move is in this role, whether it’s internal to the company or external.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then if we are looking to transition away, what are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Kimberly Cummings
The most common mistakes I see are people relying on the amount of time that they’ve been at the company. Many times, people are like, “Oh, I’ve been here a year,” or, “I’ve been here two years. It’s time for me.” It’s like, “No, there’s people who’ve been in roles for 10 years who still aren’t ready.” The reality is you have to make an impact. You have to articulate value and what you’re going to do moving into that area.

And I’m not sure what your feedback is on what I’m about to say next, but I think that, many times people want to not do a tinge more work to showcase that they’re ready for the next role, especially for folks who are moving internally. They’re a manager, want to be a director. An analyst, want to be a manager. Whatever it is.

But what I explain to folks is that in your role, you’re essentially in a box. Like, this is the role of the manager. You’re doing everything that needs to be done within this box. When you’re ready to move to the next box of the director, you have to showcase that you’re ready to leave that box to go to the next level. And in order to showcase that, you almost have to show people like a little bit. Give them a touch of what they’ll see from you as a director. And it’s important that you start doing a few of those things, making sure that you’re aligning more to a director role than you are to a manager role so people can literally see you in it.

A lot of times, when there’s a job search that’s happening, I used to work in talent acquisition as well, and when you have someone who is internal applying to a job, and you have someone also who’s external, the internal person, you’ve essentially been in the longest interview of your life. They see you every single day. They know you. And if they have questions, like, “Well, why didn’t so-and-so start doing this already? Well, l really don’t see them doing this. They’re doing so well in their current role.”

Versus an external person can come in and just sell them the world because they don’t know them, they’ve never seen their work, and they can easily align to that director role. So, I think it’s really important that when you’re thinking about moving, you start thinking a little bit more on the level you’d like to be on versus the level that you’re currently at.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And, well, if you wanted my feedback on what you said with regard to doing a touch more work, I think that’s the right answer to advance in your career. But I think it’s also true, what you said is that a lot of people don’t want to do it, yeah, because it’s like, “Well, I’m not getting paid for that. I don’t have the title. It’s like they’re not paying me to do that, so it’s unfair or not justified in the give-and-take relationship between me and employer to do that while being paid what I’m currently paid.”

But what I’ve seen is that frequently your fastest movers and shakers are already doing the next job, and the promotion is kind of a formality, like, “Hey, you’re already doing this. We’d be embarrassed if we didn’t give you the title or the raise, promotion, etc. associated with that.” So, yeah, I think that’s kind of how it shakes out.

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, God, I’m happy we’re aligned there because some folks are like, “Nuh-uh, don’t give them a preview till you get the paycheck,” and I’m like, “Nah, you get the paycheck when you give them a preview.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. Indeed. And so then, when it comes to the networking world, you’ve got some perspective on identifying power players. Can you tell us how do we find them and build great relationships with them?

Kimberly Cummings
So, in every industry, I strongly believe that there are power players. They are people who are at the head of the curve, the people who are the key stakeholders who everyone listens to. There are always a few key people that are great to really look at as sponsors in your network. So, the way I always try to identify them are looking up professional associations. Who’s speaking at the conferences?

If you’re at the conferences, virtual or in person, whose room is packed out every single time? Who is it that has your boss’ ear or your skip leader? Who’s the person who really has the power to make the decisions and you see being frequently called upon? Those are what I call the power players, the people where a business doesn’t happen unless you hear from them first, where they have a significant influence over whatever is happening in the workplace.

When we’re talking about power players, one of the key words there is influence. Same thing with sponsors. They have to be able to influence and impact change. Otherwise, they really aren’t a power player in the industry. So, when you start seeing people speaking at events, or people always tapping that person, you know that person has power in the workplace. And my key is always finding a way to get in the room with them. How can you get as close as possible, again, virtual or in person?

I think you could still do it virtually. In some respects, virtual can even be a little bit easier than trying to navigate yourself into a room in person. But find a way to get in the room. And whether it’s interacting with that individual at the event, even as simple as asking a really great question, or being super active in the virtual chat. Find a way to get involved with that power player and initiate some time, whether it’s a 15-minute meeting to introduce yourself, learn more about them, or attending quite a few events.

If I’m very honest, there are some people who I have relationships with now where it took me years to build a relationship. It wasn’t one time to get on their radar. It was multiple events, multiple things before I reached out and got any individual time with that person. I think, especially when you’re looking for someone who has influence, it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to be a quick one, two, three the first time you try to hear back.

And if you can’t get in touch with that person, I recommend also looking at who’s around them. So, let’s say there is a senior SVP in your workplace and you want to get in touch with them but you know you have not had any luck on getting on their calendar. Well, then who are their direct reports? Let’s see if we can get in contact with them and work your way around, so the next time when you try, you already have some relationships that are close and someone else who can refer you or make an introduction. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time to get that power player.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so then, so you stick with it and you keep your eyes open. You ask for those recommendations and you’re watching. And then how do you yourself become such a power player?

Kimberly Cummings
Again, I think that’s so much about impact and value. It’s about being a subject matter expert, being the SME in your area. Many times, people believe that leaders have to have this big title, they have to be the SVP, the director, the super long title that is confusing, and you can barely say it yourself. But I really believe that everybody has the ability to be a leader.

You are hired for any particular role. That role has tasks and responsibilities. Regardless of your seniority, you need to be the subject matter expert for your role. Nobody needs to do that role better than you are doing that role. You have to lead in that role. When you are leading in your role, so you’ve mastered it, you are the person who they come to for questions or concerns, you have networked yourself appropriately so people also know that you are the best at that role.

You’re not just behind closed doors or in your virtual office, not speaking to anyone. That’s really how you can start positioning yourself as the go-to person and, ultimately, positioning yourself as a leader or the power player in your area. And, also, having that strategy, so knowing what’s next, which means having some of those tough career conversations even if your leader isn’t kind of giving you what you need, making sure that you kind of push forward or find someone else who can give you that feedback.

Having that strategy so you can continuously be evolving your career and moving to the next level, that will slowly but surely be able to position you. And, you know, for some folks, it takes time. For me, even thinking about my own career, for a long time, my goal was to be a director of career services in higher education. I spent nearly 10 years in career services offices working with people at 18 who don’t know what they want to do with their entire life, to people who are in their 60s who want to use all their experience and use that to kind of launch into something that just makes them happy in the world of work.

And I wanted to just be a director of career services running a large office. That was it. And I knew that in order to move to the next level, this wasn’t an arena where I’d be able to stay in one office unless I wanted to stay in one office for like 10 to 15 years to slowly work my way up. So, every two years, I made sure I knew what my next move was, I understood the skills that I needed to gain with each strategic move in order to build a career for myself, and also increase my influence.

I participated in conferences. I spoke at conferences. I always made sure I was able to level up in my career. And, ultimately, I did not get that director of career services job, but I became a director in a global Fortune 100 company in financial services leading some of their diversity talent acquisition recruitment efforts. So, you just have to make sure that you’re continuously leveling up and having a strategy for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thanks for sharing your story there. And could you share also the story of someone you think did a fine job of kind of integrating all of these learnings and seen some cool results?

Kimberly Cummings
Definitely, success stories. Like, everyone always loves success stories. I have a current client who I was working with who came to me because they were feeling stuck, they’re in one of those jobs that we talked about earlier, Pete, where they were just kind of over it. They felt underemployed, definitely underpaid, and they really wanted to start positioning themselves for leadership roles.

Then when we first started working together, she just wanted to get on track. So, we went through the assessment, we went through kind of understanding all of the skillsets, was she in a career that was aligned to what her goals were. And at that time, she was but she didn’t have the level of seniority that she wanted. She didn’t have the impact that she was looking for.

So, for that particular person, we worked a lot on the relationships. How can we start making sure people know about the work that she’s doing, networking, cultivating some of those sponsors, some of those mentors? And, in about three to six months, I think probably around the five-month mark, if I have my memory serves me right, she’d been applying to jobs and she finally landed a role.

And because she’d done so much work with building relationships, understanding her own personal and professional brand, she rocked this interview process, making sure that she was finally positioned for a role. A lot of it was the language she was using to make sure that she was no longer underemployed and being in a role that was in much better alignment.

She negotiated a $35,000 salary increase. She got added to a committee right away that was aligned with some of her career goals. And she was able to speak a lot about career pathing even in her interview process, so she knew what would be the next step for her, being very candid about looking for longevity in an employer and not just for a defined role.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you.

Kimberly Cummings
No problem.

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

Kimberly Cummings
No, I think this is good. I think you had me cover it all. I love how actionable all of our questions are.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, there’s a quote by India Arie. It is, “The only thing constant in this world is change.” I put it in my high school yearbook, and I think it’s so, so, so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kimberly Cummings
I really like the research on diversity, equity, and inclusion when it comes to privilege. I’ve been doing a lot of research on that, kind of looking into more of the privilege walks. I know Drexel has a lot of information on that arena.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Kimberly Cummings
So, my new favorite book is Winning is Everything by Tim S. Grover.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I think StrengthsFinder, the assessment, is one of my favorites. It helps you understand yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Kimberly Cummings
I live and die by a planner and a task-list system that I use. I have it every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m now intrigued. What’s the system?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I use Asana but better than that, I really do it in my notebook every single day. I prioritize my tasks by functional area, and for my business, by revenue impact in order of importance. I have a little color code system too. I’ll have to take a screenshot for you, but it helps me knock out even more every single day by having all those priorities in line and make sure that I’m working on what actually needs to get done versus the mini-tasks that we do all day that keep us from doing the big thing that we should be doing.

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

Kimberly Cummings
A lot of it is around confidence. I think I have a quote from my business, my manifesto that I always share. It’s, “You must believe in yourself and your vision. When you do this, you’ll manifest the life you desire.” And I share this a lot because when we’re trying to make any type of career change, I think the number one thing you have to do before we get into all the strategy pieces is believe that it’s actually possible for you.

And a lot of times, when we start talking about that, people are like, “Oh, my gosh, like that really resonates. Like, I didn’t even think that that was important. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been moving.” It’s, like, you have to believe that whatever you want to do is possible for you.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I would point them to KimberlyBCummings.com. I’m also on all the social places. So, Instagram and LinkedIn are probably my favorite. LinkedIn, it’s my name, and Instagram is kimbcummings.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, shameless plug or not so shameless because you said I can share. But I’m a very brand-new author. So, in June 2021, I wrote a book Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love and it is available wherever books are sold. And this is the process to help you put together a two-year career strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kimberly, thank you. This has been a treat and I wish you lots of luck in each of your moves.

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much.

681: How to Achieve Greatness without Talent or Hard Work with Ron Friedman

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Ron Friedman says: "Measurement begets performance"

Ron Friedman provides a third path to greatness through reverse engineering.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to reverse-engineer greatness 
  2. How to train people to give you better feedback
  3. The 5 minute trick that will boost your performance by 20% 

About Ron

Ron Friedman, PhD, is an award-winning psychologist who has served on the faculty of the several prestigious colleges in the United States and has consulted for political leaders, nonprofits, and many of the world’s most recognized brands. Popular accounts of his research have appeared in major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, the Globe and Mail, The Guardian, as well as magazines such as Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today. 

Ron is the founder of ignite80, a learning and development company that translates research in neuroscience, human physiology and behavioral economics into practical strategies that help working professionals become healthier, happier and more productive. His first book, The Best Place to Work, was selected as an Inc. Magazine Best Business Book of the Year. 

Resources Mentioned

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Ron Friedman Interview Transcript

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

Ron Friedman
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom you’ve put forward in your latest book.

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

Ron Friedman
Great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom that you’ve packaged in your latest book Decoding Greatness, which, in fact, releases on the very day we’re recording this conversation. How is that going? Is it a crazy week for you?

Ron Friedman
You know, it’s an interesting experience. It is my second book. A friend of mine asked me, “What is it like to have this out in the world?” And I think the experience of going from zero to one is qualitatively different than going from one to two. It’s still exciting but you know what to expect now. And I think the first time is a little bit more nerve-wracking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I remember when the release date for my book happened, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is the day. This is the day. This is the day.” But all that really changed was on Amazon, it switched from like pre-order to order.

Ron Friedman
That’s exactly right. And so much of the actual launch activity happens way before the launch and it’s actually very a little bit anticlimactic. It’s not like a movie premiere where you get to see people’s reactions. It’s like you don’t see the reaction for a very long time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Well, I have a feeling the reaction is going to be strong because I’m excited by what I’ve read thus far. So, the book is called Decoding Greatness. First of all, just to be on the same page, what do we mean by greatness?

Ron Friedman
Greatness is top performance in your field, whatever that may be. So, if you’re a writer, it could be someone like Malcolm Gladwell. If you’re an elected official, it could be someone like Donald Trump or, in some cases, Barack Obama. It really depends on what it is that you do and who it is that you want to understand a little bit better. And what this book is about is it gives you a process for identifying what makes a particular work unique so that you can learn from it in a little bit more analytically and then apply that to your work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds exciting. Could you maybe share with us a story that illustrates what it looks like in practice how someone goes about decoding greatness and the cool results that flow from doing that?

Ron Friedman
Absolutely. So, one of my favorite stories in this book is how Kurt Vonnegut, the famous writer, would reverse-engineer or deconstruct famous stories. And what he would do is he would take stories and map the protagonist’s fortunes on a graph. So, in other words, he would take a story and turn it into a picture.

And so, on the X-axis, at the bottom, you would have from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. On the Y-axis, on the vertical axis, you would see the protagonist’s fortune. So, how are things going for the main character? Are things going well? Are things going poorly? And by the end, he would have a picture.

And what he noticed, as he did this, is that the vast majority of stories that we fall in love with are basically the same story retold with different characters. So, a great illustration is Cinderella versus Annie. They’re basically the same story. So, at the beginning for both characters, things are going poorly. Annie is an orphan; Cinderella is being abused by her stepmother and stepsisters. They get rescued. There’s a ball, or in the case of Annie, she goes to the home of Daddy Warbucks. Then things go horribly wrong. The clock strikes midnight, Annie gets kidnapped by people pretending to be her parents. And then, finally, there’s a climax and things are resolved. They live happily ever after. Same story, different characters.

And we don’t notice it because it’s so well-told that we just find them both fascinating. Once you understand that you have a tool for this, for stepping back and getting the bigger picture on seeing why something at work is working, you can use it in all kinds of places. So, another great example of this is in the case of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

So, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is a great story. The first time you read it, you can’t help but fall in love with the characters, and the settings, and the fascinating storyline. But then, after a little while, you take maybe on a summer picnic, you start thinking about it, and then you realize, “Wait a second. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a story about an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle, who’s whisked away in an adventure and has to fight an evil villain using magical powers.” There’s another story just like that, and it’s Star Wars. And it illustrates the power of just stepping back and seeing what’s really happening at the story level that you can apply to any work not just fiction.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, this can apply to fiction. You start with a great story in your book about Xerox and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It’s actually so good just to tell it. It was riveting. Let’s hear it.

Ron Friedman
Oh, I appreciate you saying that. It’s a story of how it is that we got the personal computer. And back in the 1980s, computers looked nothing like the sleek intuitive devices that we all use today. If you wanted a computer to do anything, you’d have to reach out for a keyboard and input a rigid text-based language to input your instructions. And today, of course, we do none of that. We just have a mouse, we point and click, and everything is represented visually.

That innovation is called graphic user interface. It’s GUI for short, people in Silicon Valley refer to it as GUI. And Steve Jobs was about to go to market with the Macintosh which was going to be the first personal computer with a graphic user interface, and he’s beaten to the punch, and it turns out Bill Gates is about to launch Windows just before the Macintosh is about to reach market.

Now, these two were not competitors. Microsoft and Windows, I mean, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Microsoft and Apple, were not competitors at the time. In fact, Microsoft and Bill Gates were a vendor for Apple. They were writing software for the Macintosh. And so, Steve Jobs was furious. He felt like he had been stolen from. He felt like this was his innovation and Bill Gates stole it from him.

And so, there’s this showdown, that’s the opening of my book, in which Jobs accuses Gates of having stolen his technology, and Gates’ response was, “Well, actually, Steve, it wasn’t you I stole it from. It was Xerox.” And in both of their stories, it was the inconvenient fact that they had both seen what Xerox was working on, Xerox Alto, which was a computer with a graphic user interface that wasn’t directed at the consumer market but rather to large businesses, and Xerox didn’t see the potential of that technology for developing the personal computers because they never thought personal computers were going to catch on. And they thought that really typing was the domain of secretaries. It really wasn’t for the everyday individual, and so they were sitting on it.

And so, Steve Jobs, after seeing the Alto, reverse-engineered it by telling his team what they did so that they could work backwards to figure out how they can recreate something similar but evolve it in a different direction because it wasn’t simply the recreation of the Alto. In the case of Apple, they were looking to add artistic fonts and making computers user-friendly. And Bill Gates also saw the Alto, told his team about it, and they were working to create personal computers that were affordable to a mass audience.

And so, both of them took an underutilized idea, the Xerox Alto and its graphic user interface, and applied it in different directions. And that turns out to be the approach that many of us simply aren’t educated about. We don’t hear these stories about how ideas are built upon previously existing ideas. And so, what I wanted to do in this book is give people the tools for learning from the best in their field so that they can evolve those ideas in different directions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so cool. So, that seems like the value of this concept is self-evident or already illustrated with these examples. Like, if we see something that’s great, we can kind of figure out, “Hey, what made it great?” and then we too can make great things. So, that’s awesome whether you want to be awesome at your job, or singing, or maybe any number of skills or results you want to create out there in the world. So, then how do we go about doing that?

I guess Kurt Vonnegut, that’s kind of clever. I don’t know if he reverse-engineered the idea of how to go about reverse-engineering, but it’s like, “You know what, I’m just going to go ahead and graph this on an X-Y plane and see what goes down.” How do you recommend we begin the process of we noticed something that we like or want or want to replicate, and then what?

Ron Friedman
So, the first step in this process is to collect great examples. And when we think about collections, we tend to think about physical objects. So, some people I know collect stamps. My dad collected stamps. People collect wines. They collect shoes. But that definition of collections as physical objects turns out to be too narrow. There are collections that designers have of logos that they have found impactful. Writers collect words or headlines. Presenters collect presentation decks.

And when you have a collection, then you can look through it to identify, “What are the things that make it different from items that didn’t make my collection?” So, it’s like playing a game of spot the difference which is a game we all played as kids where you have two visuals side by side, and you compare them, you say, “Hey, what’s different about this one? What stands out for me?”

And through this process of using spot the difference with items in your collections against items that didn’t make your collection, you’re able to identify what it is that makes successful works unique. And that’s a process that can help you identify the ingredients that make something really effective. So, for example, you might come across a memo that’s particularly well-written, an email that really gets you to take action, a website that you want to opt-in for.

And developing a collection by either putting things in Google Docs, or adding bookmarks, or even using Pinterest, that gives you a resource you can turn to when it’s time for you to start creating something new that is far different than just staring at a blank page.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that so much and I guess I have not the most organized of collections but I have noticed things, like, “Ooh, why do I love that? Like, that’s grabbing me.” And I think it might just be a little bit of copywriting. Like, well, copywriters, you mentioned collecting headlines. They call them swipe files, it’s like, “I’m going to swipe this or modify this a little bit to be persuasive.”

And I saw something, this is for a property management company, and it said, like, “One hundred percent occupancy. One hundred percent market rents. You should expect nothing less.” I was like, “Whoa!” and it’s like, “Why is that amazing?” It’s like because it is exactly to the maximum what a property owner would want from a property manager, and boldly put, front and center, and that’s awesome.

Or, like Andreessen Horowitz, I love their slide decks. On SlideShare, I’ve gotten a few of those, I was like, “Why do I love this so much?” And it’s like, “Oh, because the slide headline makes one great point and then has compelling data that share that as opposed to just being like revenue over time.” What about the revenue over time? It’s like, “Oh, this sector has grown rapidly.” Then I say, “Oh, yeah, sure enough. Those companies in that industry, I see their growth over time,” and I can’t argue with those numbers. They convey that point.

And so, you get a collection and then you think about it. And what’s interesting is sometimes it leaps out at you with a quick question, like, “Oh, why do I like this?” And other times, it seems you got to dig a little deeper. And you suggested kind of comparing collections of greatness versus not-so greatness.

Ron Friedman
Yeah, looking at the difference between ordinary against the extraordinary, so what makes this unique. What I think is interesting about the fact that you’ve noticed that this works for you is that more people need to know that. And I think so many of us assume that we need to come up with great ideas on our own without having any kind of direction from the works of people who preceded us, but that’s not how creative ideas happen.

Creative ideas happen through the process of combining winning ideas from different fields or different sectors in new ways. And the last thing you want to do when you’re looking for creativity is to work in isolation because then, invariably, you will just keep considering coming back to the same ideas again and again and again. But when you have that swipe file or that collection you can turn to, that’s a source of inspiration.

And I can tell you that, personally, as a writer, I collect great words, I collect, in other words, words that got me to sit up and pay attention on the page. I’ll circle them in a book and then I’ll move them over to a Google Doc. I have openings of stories that I think really set the tone really well. I have transitions, I have conclusions, and all of these resources enable me to pay closer attention when something works, identify why it’s working, and then, in certain cases, learn from that to apply to other things that I’m building.

And as I talk to creative professionals, as I was writing Decoding Greatness, invariably, I would get the same response from people who are in fields like design or writing. They would say, “I’ve been doing this all my life, and I’ve never read anything about it. I just kind of stumbled on this approach myself.” And what I tried to do in writing this book is give people the tools to learn a little faster from the best in their field so that they can accelerate their success.

I think so many of us assume that learning is what happens when we were at school, and now we’re kind to have to fend for ourselves. And this is a systematic approach you can use at any field. And just to make this concrete, we talked about what happens after you’ve got that collection. So, in Decoding Greatness one of the things I do is I take you through how to reverse-engineer winning TED Talk. And so, I give the example of Sir Ken Robinson who’s got the most popular TED Talk of all time.

And what I did was, with his TED Talk, is I looked at the transcript, and then I reverse-outlined it. So, everyone has heard of outlining. Outlining is the process of identifying bullet points for what you intend to put into a work later on, into an essay, or into an email, or into a document of some kind. Reverse outline allows you to use that same process but by taking a finished piece, and it could be somebody else’s finished piece.

So, here, what I did was I took the transcript to this TED Talk and I reverse-outlined it to show you what’s happening in every section of the talk, so now you see I’ve reduced a 20-minute talk into bullet points. And now you can see, okay, here’s a progression. Then I identified what is happening in terms of the emotional valence of every section. So, what is the emotional journey that Sir Ken Robinson takes you on?

And there are a few other things that I do in the book, but what the takeaway here is, when you do this analysis, what you discover is all kinds of interesting things, like the fact that Sir Ken Robinson relays one fact over the course of this entire talk. So, if I was writing a TED Talk from scratch, I would assume I need to pound away at multiple persuasive facts in order to convince you of my point. He does none of that and he’s got the most popular TED Talk of all time.

What he is doing differently is he’s telling you a lot of stories, a lot of emotionally engaging and funny stories. And that’s the thing that makes his talk memorable and gets people sharing it. And that tells you something really impactful for when you’re creating either a TED Talk or a presentation of any kind, which is that people want the facts to be there, but that’s not the thing that’s going to make you engaging. If you want to be engaging, you’ve got to do a ton of storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And so, the reversed outline is one particular tool that we can use if it is a piece of speaking or writing, and trying to see, “Hey, what made that great?” Lay on some more with us. So, if that’s for a piece of writing, I guess I’m curious if someone…let’s talk about skills. Like, let’s say, I don’t think I’m particularly handy and I’d kind of like to be. How might I go about decoding the greatness of those handy people who can just create and fix anything with just the greatest of ease?

Ron Friedman
Yeah, that’s interesting. So, I’ll say a couple of things. One is, first, let me just take a step back and just explain kind of the big idea for the book. The big idea is that we’ve been taught that greatness comes from one of two places. So, the first story is that great story comes from talent. This is the idea that you’re born with certain inner strengths, and that the key to finding your greatness is identifying a field that allows your inner strengths to shine.

The second story is a story of practice. This is the Malcolm Gladwell story of 10,000 hours, practice, practice, practice. Eventually, you get good enough and then you become a master. The third story though is one that is unique to creative fields, so it’s not necessarily applicable to handymen but it is applicable to when you’re trying to create something new, whether it be writing a song, creating a dish, or writing a book. And that is reverse engineering. And that simply means looking at finished examples and then working backwards to figure out how they were created.

And, as we mentioned, this is a popular thing that happens in Silicon Valley. There’s a whole history of products that were reverse-engineered and evolved. And yet, what most people don’t realize is that reverse engineering is also how Malcolm Gladwell learned to write, and how Claude Monet learned to paint, and how Judd Apatow became the great comedic writer that he is, So, working backwards turns out to be far more popular than anyone ever imagined.

And now, in the case of somebody whose physical skill you want to understand, there’s a chapter in the book on how to interview experts, and gives you the questions that you need to ask in order to learn from someone whose expertise you wish to deconstruct. One of the interesting things that you want to cover when you look at the research on the way that experts communicate is that experts, surprisingly, turn out to be pretty terrible instructors, and there are a number of reasons for that.

The primary reason why experts have a hard time communicating is because of the curse of knowledge. And so, the curse of knowledge simply states that knowing something makes it impossible to imagine not knowing it. And so, if I know how to fix an overflowing toilet and you don’t, if I tried to explain that to you, I’m probably going to miss some steps because some things that are obvious to me may not be obvious to you as a novice. That’s one of the issues.

The other issue is that they have automated large chunks of information and procedures that they don’t even consciously think about as they’re doing it so they’re missing a lot of information. And, in fact, I point to a study in “Decoding Greatness” where over 70% of their thought process somehow goes missing as they’re trying to explain to you how they go about doing things.

And so, here, what you want to do is you want to interview experts in a way that illuminates some of the discoveries they made along their journey. And so, just to give you an example of a type of question you might ask is, as somebody was training to become a handyman, what are some of the things that they thought would be important when they first started out, that turned out to be not very important. That’s a type of question that forces the expert to think about their initial entry into the field against where they are today.

And those types of questions where you’re forcing the person to think about their actual experience against their anticipated experience, that’s where they acknowledge some of the things that they’ve learned that they can then share to you and make your job a little bit easier.

Pete Mockaitis
And as I’m thinking about this, it’s going to be very, very mundane but it’s sort of like, “It seems like I strip screws frequently. It’s like was there a time in which you used to strip screws frequently and what discoveries did you make that helped you stopped doing that?” Like, “Oh, yeah, certainly. Well, it’s all about the hardness of the screw versus the torque required to stick it in the thing, and so sometimes you got to pre-drill a hole but usually I just get really hard screws and then it’s not a problem anymore. This one is awesome.” It’s like, “Well, alright. Thank you. Now I know.”

Ron Friedman
Exactly. But if you had simply asked the question of, “How do I do X?” you would’ve gotten a) probably a lot of information that you have a hard time making sense of if they’re speaking in a different language than you because they have that expertise, and they would’ve missed that thing that you consider so valuable.

And so, the point here, and I start with that particular chapter with the story of Marlon Brando teaching an acting course late in life where he invited all of Hollywood’s elite, he hired a director. He was going to transform this into a paid class that he was going to then charge film schools to screen. And the acting class turned out to be a disaster.

And, in fact, by day three there was a walkout. Some of the things that he thought would be helpful to the students was requiring them to strip naked in front of each other to demonstrate courage. He thought it would be helpful if he brought homeless people off the street and then try to teach them how to act. And, as it turned out, it was a complete debacle. There was a walkout. The director quit. It was just a fiasco. And it just illustrates how experts have a hard time evaluating what it is that contributes to their own greatness.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we ask about discoveries they’ve made, things that they thought would have been important that weren’t so important, surprises that they’ve had that turns out that was actually super important. Any other thoughts on how to interview experts well?

Ron Friedman
So, we talked about the discovery questions that you can ask an expert about things that they thought wouldn’t be important, ended up being important, or vice versa. Other questions are process questions. So, here, what you’re trying to do is drill down on the particular steps an expert applies to bring their work to life or to make adjustments if they’re handymen. So, questions like, “What do you do first? And then what? What’s next? What’s after that?” kind of walking them through the particular process step by step by step because, again, invariably, they’re going to skip some steps. But if you take them through that process, that can help.

Now, just to give you another tip here. What I talk about in the book is that you want to act like a focus group moderator. And so, focus group moderators are outstanding at getting people to disclose sensitive information within a short period of time. How they do that is by adopting a mindset of naïve curiosity. So, they’re not showing off about all that they know. What they are doing is they’re almost pretending like they know nothing and they’re letting the expert feel like they’re super smart.

So, there’s a saying that you may have heard, which is, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” I love that saying because what it suggests is that if you’re not learning from those around you, you’re not growing as well as you could be. Here, focus group moderators are never the smartest person in the room. They’re the last person to buff up their ego. They’re here to just learn and soak up information as much as they can. And that’s the same attitude you want when learning from experts because you want to let them take all the spotlight and ask them just naively curious questions and listen to their responses very carefully.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s true. It’s funny, as you think about the focus group moderators, I imagine it’s true. Well, I know it is. Like, people really do want to tell you a lot about whatever, how they think about their sponges. But they know that no one cares and they have to rein it in. But then when you just give them that permission to unleash the floodgates, it’s like, I could talk to you about some clubs, Ron, and why I love them and why I chose them and why I spend so much time researching them, and what I was looking for. But I know, Ron, you and nobody else cares, so I just have to keep this treasure trove all bundled up to myself. But if someone were naively curiously probing in that dimension, boy, I’d enjoy telling them about it. So, I think that really resonates. So, thank you for that.

Ron Friedman
Yeah. And if you’re interested, I’ll just do the thing that you said that you should not do. I’ll tell you more about what focus group moderators do well, and that is that they prioritize questions but not by placing the most important question first. They ask the least invasive question first. And so, what that does is that it builds a sense of comfort so that you can build up to the question that’s a little bit more sensitive later on. And that’s another interesting way of getting an expert to open up.

So, for example, if you’ve ever taken a survey online, it doesn’t start off by asking you your income. What does it ask you? It asks you something much simpler, “Where do you live? Where were you born? How many kids do you have?” The last questions on the surveys are a lot more difficult, like, “What is your household income?” It’s because you’ve been sharing for 20 minutes now, 50 items. Now you’re much more likely to be open about your income.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And even if I don’t want to share my income, it’s like, “Oh, I’m almost done. I just want to knock this thing out. Fine. Here it is.” That’s good. Okay. So, we got the reverse outline, we’ve got the interviewing of experts. What are some of your other favorite approaches to going about decoding greatness?

Ron Friedman
Well, another interesting approach is to quantify features, and now that’s going to scare a lot of people. If you’re not into math, that might be a little intimidating, and I want to just comfort you a little bit by letting you know that this should not be intimidating.

And so, one of the techniques that I talk about in this book is looking at websites that are extraordinary and comparing them to websites that are a little bit less extraordinary or ordinary websites, and looking for spotting the differences. But there’s a technique you can use by quantifying particular features. And so, I did this in the book by showing you how to reverse-engineer Apple’s website and compare it to Apple’s chief competitor Samsung.

And when you do that, what you uncover is that Apple does some things very, very well. Number one is that they don’t mention price all that often, whereas Samsung has got price on every single item. There’s a lot less movement on Apple’s website, it’s a lot more calm, whereas Samsung is a lot busier, it’s got a lot of flashing buttons, etc.

One of the reasons Apple has such a muted design is because Apple is aiming for simplicity. That’s their mantra. And busyness causes anxiety, and anxiety is the opposite of simplicity. And so, when you quantify some of the features, like, “How many buttons are flashing? How many of the messages include price?” That’s an example of a way of data mining in a way that allows you to illuminate some of the key differences, and that’s a technique that you can apply to anything.

So, if you’re looking at someone’s writing, what you might look at is how many times they use an adjective versus verb. What language level are they incorporating in their writing? All of these approaches help you illuminate hidden patterns in some of the things that you find impactful. And once you have that, once you have that reverse outline, once you’ve outlined some of the quantitative differences, you can start to create templates.

So, we talked about that ad that you saw, Pete, that you mentioned that stood out for you. If you were to zoom out and look at what’s really happening on line one, what’s happening on line two, what’s happening on line three, you can detect a formula. And it’s by zooming out, doing reverse outlines, and that allows you to templatize some of the most important work you’re creating.

So, if you‘re someone who writes emails, or memos, or proposals, there is a template out there that is hidden in plain sight. All you need to do is find those great examples, figure out what’s happening at each paragraph, and turn that into a template by asking yourself a question. Like, for example, I talk about in the book of how I uncovered this when I was writing academic journal articles. And at the time when I first started doing this, I had no idea how to start. I was staring at a blank page, racking my brain, trying to write an academic journal article.

And then, one day, I decided to look at the writing of an academic whose work I admired, and I looked to see what he was doing in every paragraph. And I read article after article after article, and then, eventually, it dawned on me that he was using a formula. And that formula was, at the beginning of the article he would start off with some type of jarring fact, so a news story, that he would raise a question. Then he would give you a literature, showing you all the previous literature, and then he would present his thesis.

That formula is one that I could then take and apply to my writing. All I needed was to find a jarring fact, find a question to pivot to, do a research review, and then present my thesis. That’s an example of hidden patterns inside works we admire. And if we have the system for figuring out what’s happening in every particular paragraph, and then that allows us to not just figure out what’s working but also templatize it to make our work so much easier.

Pete Mockaitis
And as you described this, I’m curious to get your take on the role of feedback and iteration because I guess I’m thinking, it’s like, “Okay, I know the ingredients now. Jarring fact.” And so then, you find something you think, “Ooh, I found that pretty jarring,” but maybe your audience, and maybe the case of the academic paper review board, or the people in the conference room you’re going to be presenting to, don’t find that to be too jarring. So, how do you think about getting input to see, “Hey, how am I doing here?” and tweaking and fine tuning and proving and proving and proving?

Ron Friedman
It’s a great question. And, in fact, in Decoding Greatness the first half of the book is, “How do you reverse-engineer and evolve formulas?” It’s not just about copying. It’s also about evolving. The second half of the book is about shrinking the gap between your vision, in other words the formula you’ve reverse-engineered, and your current ability. So, just because you know what the formula is doesn’t mean you’re going to execute it well. It’s all of these science-based strategies for scale-building that will enable you to shrink the gap between your current skills and your ultimate vision.

And so, there’s a section in there on how to train the people around you to give you better feedback. Now, it turns out that feedback can be surprisingly harmful. In over 33% of cases, the feedback that we get actually makes our performance worse. We tend to think of the more feedback the better, that turns out not to be true. What you need to do is you need to have the ability to train the people around you to give you better feedback.

And so, one of the techniques that you can use to get better feedback, number one, is finding the right audience. So, a lot of cases, we go to our spouse or the people who sit next to us at the office. That’s not always the best audience to deliver the feedback. So, we have to think really critically about who we’re asking these questions.

But then, on top of that, what you want to do is be really specific about the type of feedback that you want. You might say, “Hey, is this fact jarring enough? Does this cause you to think twice about something that you thought before? Or, is this kind of so-so?” That specificity will give you the level of feedback that is actually useful.

A third thing to do is to ask for advice rather than feedback. There’s research out of Harvard Business School showing that when you ask people for advice, they tend to give you far more solutions than if you just ask for feedback. And the reason for that is when you ask someone for feedback, they tend to compare your current performance against your past performance.

And so, what they often will come back to you with it is, “It’s good,” meaning that your performance has improved. That’s not particularly insightful or helpful when you’re trying to improve. But when you ask them for advice, what they do is they compare your current iteration against your possible future iterations. And now they can see a lot of potential future avenues for you to take the work, so they’re more likely to give you suggestions when you ask for advice.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, how else will we do the skill-building?

Ron Friedman
Well, another tip is to create your own personal scoreboard. So, in chapter four, I talk about the scoreboard principle. And in business, it’s quite clear that using metrics helps improve performance. You probably heard of the saying, “What gets measured gets managed.” In everyday life, we’re all flying blind. We have no metrics to tell us whether or not we’re succeeding. And the scoreboard principle is simple. What it tells us is that measurement begets performance. Anything you measure, you are likely to improve upon. And there is just a flood of reasons for this.

Evolutionarily, our chances of survival improve the more sensitive we were to numbers. And the reason for that is that having that kind of sensitivity around numbers told you which food source was larger than another. It also helps you detect if you’re in danger when you encountered another tribe. And so, we’re all built with this mechanism, and neurologists refer to this as a numbers instinct, that is actually across the animal kingdom.

And so, we’re all very sensitive to numbers which is why when we track our behaviors, we tend to be a lot more successful at executing them. And so, the key to improving your skill at just about anything is to identify, “What are the behaviors I’m trying to get good at?” and then monitoring them on a regular basis. And to the extent that you do that, your performance will improve.

And so, we know this from the research. There’s actually a study showing that people who track the amount of food they consume are far better at losing weight, even when they’re given the exact same diet as another group that wasn’t asked to track their food consumption. And the reason for that is when you’re monitoring your caloric intake, you get this emotional rush when it’s low, whereas, you feel a little bit ashamed when it’s high. And those emotional jolts actually motivate you to do a better job in the future.

And you can apply that same technique to how many uninterrupted minutes you have during the workday. That improves your focus. Just by tracking how much time you spend on focused work, that will likely improve your performance from the perspective of not being distracted.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really good. And I’ve had that experience myself with regard to, hey, I’m not actually going to try to eat any differently but I just want to get a sense for, “How am I doing?” but sure enough, I do. I eat better when I’ve used the LoseIt app. I find it very easy to enter the goods, and so that’s cool. And, likewise, when it comes to like habit-tracking type things, even when I’m not trying, it’s like, “Hey, I’ve already got a lot on my plate. I’m not going to commit to some huge goal right now, but I just want to get a sense of how I’m doing on these things.” And so, I use like the Tally or The Done family of apps, I find very handy and easy to use there. And it’s like, sure enough, I end up doing way more of the thing just because I’m measuring it.

Ron Friedman
That’s exactly right because anytime you gamify an outcome you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to be more successful at it. I’ll tell you something else from my own personal life which is I got an Apple Watch which tracks your sleep, but also there’s the opportunity for tracking your water consumption. And the more items you track, the better you get at identifying leading indicators of the outcomes you’re trying to achieve.

So, for those unfamiliar, a leading indicator is a metric that projects whether or not you’re going to be successful at an outcome later on, so that’s a lagging indicator. So, just to make this concrete, let’s say I want to be productive at work, that’s my lagging indicator. My leading indicator could be things like how much sleep I got the night before or how much exercise I got the night before.

And so, the more things you track, the better you get at identifying leading indicators of lagging indicators, or, in other words, the outcome you’re trying to achieve. In my case, what I discovered was that water intake leads to better sleep, and better sleep leads to greater productivity. I wouldn’t have known that if I wasn’t tracking all those metrics.

And so, having an app on my Apple Watch that entices me to indicate how much water I’ve consumed, that has been useful for me because it’s elevated my water intake, plus it’s helped me identify a leading indicator of my performance at work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I’m a big believer in adequate hydration, and it didn’t even occur to me that it could lead to better sleep. I will be looking at that. Thank you. Any other thoughts on skill-building?

Ron Friedman
Let’s talk about practice, okay?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ron Friedman
So, when most people think about practice, they think about practicing in the present but it turns out they are neglecting two other critical dimensions of practice. And so, I talk about this in Decoding Greatness as practicing in three dimensions. So, what does it mean to practice in three dimensions? Well, we know about practicing in the present, there’s also practicing in the past, and that is reflective practice in the research.

So, we’ve all heard of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is the idea that has been popularized by Gladwell in the Outliers and Anders Ericsson in the book Peak. Deliberate practice is simply focusing on things that you don’t do particularly well, and then isolating them, doing them frequently, getting the feedback to improve your performance over time.

Reflective practice, or practicing in the past, is simply thinking about what you learned while doing an activity. And so, there’s research out of Harvard Business School showing that if you just take five minutes at the end of the day to write down what you learned today about work, your performance will improve by over 20%. Just that simple exercise of reflecting on your performance at work will improve your performance.

Now, in “Decoding Greatness,” I recommend a tool that anybody can use, which is getting a five-year diary. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, Pete. The five-year diary is a diary that you can get on Amazon or any bookstore, really, that has 365 pages, one page per day for every day of the year. And within each page, there are three lines in five slots. And the idea here is you just write three lines for your day. You do those for a year. And then, after a year, something fascinating happens, which is you get to see what it is you did on that day one year before.

And so, you’re constantly learning things about yourself, your memory is improving, your identifying patterns in your own behavior, new learnings, new insights. You’re reminded of past challenges that you’ve overcome. You’re building your confidence. Overblown fears that turned out to be nothing. It’s a wonderful, wonderful tool.

And it’s a process that automates reflective practice because it’s not intimidating. It’s just a few lines a day but it forces you to slow down, reflect on what you’ve learned, improving your performance, and also teaching you some lessons about the past. So, that’s practicing in the past.

Practicing in the future is imagery. So, there’s plenty of research, and we have all heard stories about athletes using imagery before a major athletic event. But it turns out there’s also research showing that if a surgeon uses imagery to think through a surgery, they’re likely to make fewer mistakes. Public speakers who visualize their performance on stage end up being more persuasive and less anxious. And there’s research showing that if a piano student is about to learn a new piece, visualizing themselves playing that piece leads them to learn that piece faster.

Now, we could all use visualization in our own lives. And just to be clear, it’s not visualizing success that helps. It’s visualizing the process. So, for example, if tomorrow morning I need to write a proposal, if I visualize myself walking into the office, gathering all the documents I need, and think through how I might structure my piece, that enables me to frontload critical decisions so that when I actually sit down to do it the next day, there’s less thinking involved and a lot more presence. I can actually focus more on doing my job.

And so, I talk all about how you can apply imagery to every aspect of your life, and that’s basically practicing in three dimensions in a nutshell.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And what I love about the visualization, I also find that when I do it, I’m less likely to have, I don’t know, resistance, procrastination, and I have just a little bit more motivation. It just seems like, “Well, no, this is what I’m doing now because I’ve already visualized it.” And I’m less likely to be like, “Oh, but I’m not really in the mood. Maybe I‘ll just do some more email first.” There’s better, more consistent self-disciplined execution when I take some time to visualize.

Ron Friedman
That’s a great observation. And also, just to put a bow on this, there’s also research that shows that athletes who use visualization are actually able to cut down on their physical practice by as much as 50% and not show any decrements in their performance because visualization is that powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds a lot easier.

Ron Friedman
It’s a lot easier. And it just goes to show, like this is a completely underutilized tool that all of us have at our disposal. I think we kind of dismiss it as, I don’t know, kind of like, “Oh, that’s for athletes,” or, “It feels unnatural,” or, “That won’t work for me.” But why not give it a shot? If all it takes is five minutes to visualize the day in advance, and then just kind of do an experiment, see if it helps you. I recommend doing it and it seems like it works for you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Ron, I should ask, is there any research or best practices in the mind’s eye, first person versus third person, are they equally good? Is one more powerful than the other?

Ron Friedman
Well, what ends up happening is that if you consistently use first person, that could get boring for you. And so, you want to toggle between them, and you’ll get a fuller experience. So, in other words, seeing yourself on stage, feeling the glare of the light, holding a cooker in your hand, start there. And after you’ve done that for a while, you can kind of visualize yourself speaking while sitting in the audience.

And a critical piece here is that we’ve been taught that we could just visualize ourselves succeeding, but I actually recommend, every once in a while, thinking about yourself faltering and then continuing and going through with concluding your speech, if we’re talking about a speech in particular. But you want to power through it. And what that does is it teaches you to expect things to potentially go wrong, but having the confidence that you can overcome those challenges anytime they come.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great.
Well, Ron, now can you tell me about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ron Friedman
Well, one of the things I talk about is this idea that we can learn from those around us in a way that’s more methodical that enables us to do our work a little bit more easily. And I think that part of the challenge for reverse-engineering this idea of taking apart other’s work is that there’s a real stigma about copying other’s work and plagiarism and not being fully original. And I think that’s really the wrong way of thinking about how we can best learn from the works of others.

And, in fact, there’s research showing that taking the time to copy someone else’s work makes you more creative not less, and the process of copying, it opens your mind up to new ideas that you hadn’t been considering in your own work. And there’s a great quote that I often think about, which is from Carl Sagan. And Carl Sagan said, “If you want to create an apple pie from scratch, you would need to recreate the universe.” what I love about that quote is that it illustrates that nothing comes from nothing. Everything is built on something else. And that when we think about creativity, we really should think about combining ideas rather than trying to be completely original.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ron Friedman
I don’t know if it’s a favorite book, but it’s one of my favorite books. I just read it with my son, The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling. And she is so good at finding the perfect word and structuring her stories in a way that just keeps you interested and curious. And so, I highly recommend that book “The Ickabog for any age.

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

Ron Friedman
So, I am a Google Doc fanatic, and I have tons and tons and tons of Google Docs. And for a while, I didn’t even know how to organize them. And a friend of mine taught me this approach, which is to use the Google Sheets And then use that to hyperlink to other Google Docs. So, in other words, you can have a directory of all your Google Docs in there, the ones that you frequently use, that you could then easily access and use that as an organization point for your other Google Docs. So, that is a tool that I highly recommend to a lot of my coaching clients because it’s a way of easily accessing documents you frequently use while also having a central location so you’re never searching.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers, they highlight it a lot or quote it back to you frequently?

Ron Friedman
All right. Well, that’s a great question, Pete.

So, “We’re often told that growth requires courage, that the only way to improve is to somehow find the gumption to stomach more risks and embrace situations that make us uncomfortable. “…that’s not the only path to personal development. Tackling difficult challenges and putting everything on the line are simply not the same thing. Know when it comes to developing our skills and growing our abilities, the wise approach isn’t taking more risks. Far wiser to find intelligent opportunities that render risk-taking entirely less risky.”

And so, this is about how businesses grow. And how they do that is by taking tons and tons of risks that actually end up not being particularly risky at all. And just to give you an example of that is they often will use test audiences to determine whether or not an idea is working out.

And so, we can all do that in our own lives by testing our ideas with a smaller group before releasing it to the wider public. And so, I give the example of how Tim Ferriss came up with the title for “The 4-Hour Workweek.” And he had 10 titles that he was considering or something like that. It was a large number. And so, he just purchased Google Adwords for each title, and looked to see what generated the most clicks. He used $100, came up with this amazing title.

It wouldn’t have done it if he had just picked a title, a guess. Using that feedback enabled him to, and obviously wasting $100, to find out what was most effective, was a way of him minimizing the risk in risk-taking.

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

Ron Friedman
I would point them to, if you’re interested in learning more about the book, go check out DecodingGreatnessBook.com. it’s a great website to go to because you get a free course with your purchase of the book. If you’re interested in learning more about me, you can find me at RonFriedmanPhD.com.

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

Ron Friedman
Yeah, I think you should stop assuming that greatness comes from talent or from practice. You don’t have to be born with a particular path to greatness. You don’t necessarily need to put in 10 years of practice. What you do need is a system for learning from the best in the world, and that’s what “Decoding Greatness” offers.

Pete Mockaitis
Ron, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you all the best as you decode more greatness.

Ron Friedman
I appreciate it, Pete.

634: How to Get Ahead in Your Career by Developing Your Professional Value with Don Miller

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Don Miller says: "The only way you make money is you make somebody else more money."

Don Miller shares how to advance your career even without the need for a fancy title or degree.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical skills an MBA doesn’t teach you 
  2. The harsh truth every professional must accept to succeed 
  3. How to craft a compelling business case 

About Don

Donald Miller is the CEO of Business Made Simple (BusinessMadeSimple.com), an online platform that teaches business professionals everything they need to know to grow a business and enhance their personal value on the open market. He is the host of the Business Made Simple Podcast and is the author of several books including the bestseller Building a StoryBrand. He lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Elizabeth. 

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Don Miller Interview Transcript

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

Don Miller
I’m so glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am excited to talk about your latest work Business Made Simple. And one of your theses is that we don’t so much need a college degree or a bachelor’s or MBA for career success, and that’s actually your own story personally. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Don Miller
Yeah, perhaps I have a chip on my shoulder but I grew up really poor and mom wasn’t home till about 7:00 p.m. and so I just learned bad habits and didn’t pay much attention in school. So, it wasn’t until, gosh, I think I was 25 or 26 that I even discovered that I wanted a career. I sort of felt sorry for myself with my friends off to college, and thought, “Well, I have to go back to college and figure this out.”

But a guy happened to give me a job in the warehouse of a publishing company, and I was just going to wait a year and then go to school because I had moved state and was going to get residency. Within four years, I was president of the publishing company and just discovered that I had a knack for business like some people do. And it happened to be a publishing company and so I was interacting with authors, and so I just thought I want to write my own book. And wrote a book, and that book ended up being on the New York Times’ bestseller’s list for about a year.

So, I left the publishing company and started just being a memoirist for a long time. And then about the time they wanted me to write my 8th memoir, I realized that if you write your 8th memoir, you’re a clinical narcissist. And so, I just wanted to be a regular narcissist, not a clinical narcissist so I switched gears and actually wrote a business book, because in order to be an author, I had to start my own little private enterprise, and I had ran a publishing company so I wrote a book about storytelling and how to clarify your business’ story. And that book ended up selling half a million copies.

And, suddenly, I had 30 employees and we scaled this business to, we’ll do about 20 million this year. We did that about five years. And I realized that the whole time, and I think your listeners will really understand this, the whole time I was scaling the business, it was just chaos. It was just organized chaos. And the more people I met who had business degrees and the more people I hired who had business degrees, none of them knew how to fix it.

And what I realized now is that from zero to 10 million, it’s basically chaos anyway. You have to just sort of lead and guide the chaos. So, I wrote Business Made Simple as almost the blue-collar version, almost the trade school version of business school. Where in a business school, you’d go and you’d read a whitepaper on trade with China, you’d study a Volkswagen ad from 1973 and how to reach suburban housewives five decades ago, and none of that, none of it, you use when you actually get a job in the business world.

In fact, business degrees, I’m convinced, really just get you an interview and to the bottom rung of the ladder. At least they get you on the ladder, which is great. But then you have to figure out how to climb the ladder. And what we found was the hidden staircase. We found that there was a certain order of skills that you had to develop as your company got bigger.

And I turned around and started explaining those to people in short five-minute videos. A 100,000 people signed up for those videos, and realized, “You know what, if I took a year and really organized this well, it could be better than a business degree.”

And so, the book now, it comes out January 19th and it’s called Business Made Simple. It’s 60 daily entries. You pour a cup of coffee, you read the daily entry, and then you get a video that day in your email box. And it will literally teach you how to negotiate a contract, how to sell, how to give a speech, how to manage a group of people, how to run an execution framework. It’ll teach you how to clarify a message, how to create a marketing sales funnel, how to create mission statement and guiding principles.

My favorite is the first 10 entries, are just the character of a value-driven professional, what characteristics do people have who tend to climb the corporate ladder very, very quickly and make a lot of money. So, I love this book. It’s the book that I wish I had when I was 22 years old, right when I realized I should’ve gotten to college like my friends. And now I hand it out to college grads, saying, “Here’s what you should’ve learned when you paid all that money for school.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Boy, there’s so much I want to dig into. So, the hidden staircase is a particular set of skills. Is that fair?

Don Miller
It is, yeah. I think it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Like Liam Neeson.

Don Miller
That’s right. Less deadly. Less people are dead at the end of it. More people have more money at the end of it. But, yeah, I really think it is. And it’s actually amazing to me that in MBA programs, they’re not teaching this. They’re not teaching mission statement and guiding principles. So, how do you actually align a team? How do you get a team to say, “We’re going to align around a mission here”? They don’t teach you to clarify a message unless you go to Vanderbilt University because they actually teach my framework in the Vanderbilt MBA program on how to clarify a message.

I teach an execution framework. Every company that passes about maybe $3 million, they need an execution framework. You need a series of meetings that you have at the same time on the same day, sometimes every day, sometimes once a week, and sometimes once a month, with a worksheet that you fill out and usually stand for these meetings. And at the end of that meeting, usually in the morning, everybody has complete clarity about what their five priorities are for the day, and they are kept accountable to meet those priorities.

And then, in the fourth quarter, you assess how you did, and your compensation package is actually tied to that. You install that execution framework that I talk about in this book into your company, and some companies will double in productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. And so then, it’s just a matter of doing it and ensuring then that the right things are getting executed and the focus remains where it needs to go, eh?

Don Miller
That’s where it is. I really think that the majority of succeeding in business is focus and intensity. Focusing on the right things, letting go of things that you don’t need to focus on. And then intensity, intentionally blocking out the hours to get those things done. But it’s easier said than done. You literally have to have your entire team on the same page aligned around a mission. It sounds easy but most people can’t get it done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, to that end, I’d love it if maybe you could share an inspiring story of someone who dug in and learned the stuff and saw some cool results from it.

Don Miller
Well, the most inspiring story is just our team and what we’ve done. I’ve got PhDs on my team. I’ve got people without a degree. I never ask in the interview whether you have a degree. I ask really one question, “How can you make us money? What problems can you solve? If I bring you on this team, how would you make us money?”

And you should see the looks on, especially the college grads’ faces or whatever. They’ve never been asked the question, and yet the whole point of me hiring you is to give you a paycheck that is an investment that you would give me a return on.

The very first entry in the book is about, it starts the 10 characteristics of what I call a value-driven professional. And the first characteristic is this: they see themselves as an economic product on the open market. And, Pete, that sounds probably really coarse and really harsh.

Pete Mockaitis
Dehumanizing.

Don Miller
Dehumanizing, yeah. And I would agree with that, it is dehumanizing. But in the reality, God doesn’t see you as somebody with an economic price tag on your head, your spouse doesn’t see you that way, your kids don’t see you that way, I don’t see you that way. Donald Miller doesn’t see you that way. The market, 100%, absolutely sees you that way. It’s just a fact.

If your skillset involves being able to cut up a potato, put it into a metal basket and dip it into oil for three minutes and pull it up, if that’s what you’re capable of doing, you’ve got a $15 an hour number above your head. That’s what you are worth, and that’s a terrible thing to say except when you realize that that same person is in control of what that number is.

So, if they say, “Okay. Well, I know how to deep-fry some potatoes. I’m going to learn how to unify a team around a mission statement and guiding principles so that we’re all aligned. And then I’m also going to learn a business strategy, how to keep cashflow strong, how to keep overhead light, how to keep products profitable, how to get your marketing engine going, your sales engine going, and how to look at cashflow so that we don’t run out of it. And I’m going to master that.”

You, all of a sudden, have gone from 15, to 25, to 45. And if you can do what I just said, at the end of that year, you’re capable of being a CEO with a little bit of practice, so now you’re at $150 an hour. You’re actually in control of that. So, it’s only an offensive statement to say you’re an economic product on the open market if you don’t have control of the number. And what’s amazing is most people don’t realize they have control of the number.

So, when you actually realize that, you start learning the skillsets that allow you to be a good investment. Well, how do people actually get rich? Well, the way people get rich is they’re a great investment. Our company has gone to about $20 million. We did that in five years. No venture capital, no private equity, no bank loans. We’ve gone to $20 million. How did we do that? We did that by making other people $200 million. That’s the only way you make money is you make somebody else more money.

Or, you solve somebody’s problem, or you increase the amount of time that they have. You decrease their frustration. You increase their status. Whatever it is somebody is paying you for, if you just promise yourself, “If somebody gives me 100 bucks an hour, I’m going to make them a thousand bucks an hour.” If you have that mentality, you will be wealthy.

One time an acquaintance, came up to me after a speaking he gave me, he said, “You know, you and I live in the same town. Why don’t you fly home with me?” And I said, “Well, what flight are you on?” And he said, “Well, no, I have an airplane.” The next morning, I get on this $50 million jet with this guy, and I’m asking what he does. He’s a hedge fund manager and blah, blah, blah, and I said, “Well, this is the life, man. I can’t imagine ever living like this.”

And then he said something about, “I was flying one of my clients around and they kind of like this drink and we didn’t have that drink on the plane so we had to stop and get some,” or whatever. He was just telling a story. And I realized, “Oh, he actually has this 50-million private jet because people pay him and he makes them even more money. So, now there’s a guy with some jumbo jet who’s the king of Dubai, or whatever, who actually has even more money.” And you start realizing, “That’s the key.” The key is to be a great investment so you’re giving people a strong return.

And so, when I wrote this book, what I wanted was you start at whatever you’re at, some of you listening are worth $30 an hour, some of you are worth $50 an hour, some of you are worth $12 an hour, you read the first one and you become worth about $5 more. And you read the second one and you become worth about $5 more. You read the third one you become worth about $5 more if you execute it and actually practice these skills in your professional career.

And what I wanted was you start this book being worth $15 an hour, you end it worth being $150 an hour if you actually execute the skills that you learn in the book. I wanted to make people worth more money. But the first thing you got to do, if you want to do that, is admit you’re actually an economic product. If people see themselves that way, they tend to make a ton of money on the open market.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s zoom into a few of these particular skills. Let’s say our audience are professionals. If we want to get quantitative, I mean, incomes vary wildly, but let’s just call it 75 grand a year, and maybe a few years out of their bachelor’s, so just to paint a picture, maybe half have direct reports and half do not. I know it’s a wide audience. But zero in a little bit for us in terms of what is a skill that professionals generally need and is highly valued, and what can we do to get better at it right now?

Don Miller
Well, one of the things you need to do, if you have a boss, let’s just talk to the folks who have a boss, what you want to do is you go to your boss with an idea, and you say, “I want to do this.” What you really need to do is go to your boss with a business case. And my team members know this. Don’t come to me without a business case.

And so, instead of coming to me, and saying, “Don, we really want to launch a new podcast.” Well, they would come to me and say, “Don, we want to launch a new podcast. It’s going to hit this demographic. On that podcast, we’re going to focus on these three products and only these three products. If people buy these three products, we’ll have their email address and we’ll upsell them to these other two products. If the podcast does what our last podcast did, we would anticipate that 2% of the people listening to the podcast would buy these three entry-level items and 5% of those would buy the upsells. So, we’re talking about 6.2 million. We think that that’s going to cost about a million dollars to produce so we should see a profit of about 5.2 million pre-overhead.”

You start talking like that to your boss and they’re going to promote you because almost nobody talks that way. They just go, “I think this is a good idea. Let’s throw spaghetti at the wall and see if it turns into art.” And people who understand business get a little bit tired of that. And so, that’s the sort of thing that this book teaches you to do.

If I just flip open this book and just put my finger down, so I just did it, put my finger down, there’s five pages, this is number 3 on negotiation. Here’s a skill that if you don’t have a boss, or if you do have a boss, it doesn’t matter, almost nobody has taken a course on how to negotiate a contract or negotiate a deal.

So, let me just give you one thing. The page that I turned to is that you need to understand that there’s always something “below the line.” So, you’re negotiating, it’s a package deal, there’s this bestselling author that you want to speak at your conference, they’re $50,000 to take the stage, there is something that that author wants more than money. And if you actually do a little due diligence, you’ll figure it out.

For instance, I’ve done this. I’ve told a bestselling author that I couldn’t afford to bring to one of my conferences, I said, “Look, I’ve written a lot of bestselling books. Would you want to spend about four hours together, just talking about whatever your next book is about? We can maybe outline some chapters of it or we can talk about a marketing plan. I can’t afford to pay you the $125,000 that you are to take the stage, but I would be able to give you four hours, and I think it’d be worth your time.” The person did it for $25,000.

It even gets more fun than that. My buddy runs a poetry week in San Diego, California at Point Loma University. He wanted Billy Collins to come. Now, Billy Collins is my favorite poet. I’m that geeky that I actually have a favorite poet. He’s really funny and he’s brilliant but he’s probably a hundred grand to come speak. He is like a rock star in the poetry world. He was the poet laureate. He’s a professor at NYU. He doesn’t do very many speaking engagements.

So, my buddy started Googling around on the internet because he’s not going to be able to pay $125,000 to have Billy Collins come. He found that Billy Collins is an avid golfer. So, he goes over at Torrey Pines, he can’t get on at Torrey Pines, it’s very hard, and he says, “I want to get Billy Collins to come speak at my thing. How much would it cost for me to get a round of golf to Billy Collins?” “This guy sounds like a rock star. We’d give it to him for free.” He said, “Great.” So, he calls Billy Collins, he said, “Look, I’ll give you $40,000 and a round at Torrey Pines.” And he comes and he does it, and they raised a ton of money.

There’s almost always something below the line in a negotiation. We think we’re having a financial negotiation but we’re human beings. There’s something that people want and value even more than money. And if you can find it, you can negotiate really, really great contracts. So, you go back and you tell your boss you did that, you’re going to get another promotion and another raise. When it’s time to get a raise, they’re going to give you the biggest possible raise. And why? Because you are such a good investment that, “When we give you a paycheck, we get so much more in return.”

We all do this. If you buy stocks, you buy more stocks that are making you more money, and you divest of stocks that are losing you money. And in the open market, people are like stocks. They don’t want to be but they are. And the real pros, not the amateurs, but the pros, they really like that. They actually want to be an investment because they know how to get you a return.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Thank you. Well, now, I want to hear a lot of things but let’s go with this. Now, what you’re putting forward here totally makes sense to me as a business owner, and I’m thinking about there’s an unfortunate reality in many workplaces that meritocracy, for whatever reasons, is broken or limited or slow, such that let’s say I’ve got a boss and then they do a performance review, and they say, “Wow, Pete, you are just so amazing. This initiative saved us all this money. This other product launch was so successful and profitable. You are just crushing it.” I say, “Well, thank you very much, boss. I appreciate that.” And they say, “And here is your 4% raise for your great performance this year.”

And so, I’m thinking, “Well, as compared to the value I gave you last year, it is miles beyond 4% more,” and then maybe you have the conversation, like, “Hey, it seems like I’m doing these things and I’m making this impact, it would seem appropriate to increase the compensation.” They go, “Oh, you know, Pete, you’re making some sense here, bud, but, unfortunately, with COVID or,” insert excuse, “there’s a hiring freeze or a budget freeze or a pay increase freeze.” So, there’s some kind of a policy something that’s getting in the way of the beauty of value created and compensation for that value created to flow as it should.

How do we deal with that?

Don Miller
Well, that’s a tough thing but when you have the skills to make people money, there’s just one thing you need to do. You need to actually make a business case for yourself. So, you’re not going in and asking for a raise or begging for a raise. If you’re doing that, the person that you’re talking to, the company that you work for, has the leverage. And so, what you really want is you don’t want to compete for the job. You want them to compete for you. And so, if they’re going to keep you and keep making this money, they’re going to have to give you more money.

And if they don’t, if you really are that good, everybody here is an economic product on the open market so you take your skills elsewhere and you charge what you think that you are worth. We have reviews at the end of every year and people get a bonus based on their performance. There are some performers that they’re great, we love them, we give them the most percent, that will be a 5% raise plus they get a bonus based on whether or not we hit our goals as a company. And that’s it.

There are other performers though, for instance my marketing director, we called my marketing director in four months before the end of the year, and said, “Look, we want to give you a 20% raise right now, and at the end of the year we’re going to give you your bonus which is a percentage of your salary as though you would have that 20% all year long.” And he was baffled, he loved it, and he said, “Don, thanks.” Two of my team members called me and said the same. They said, “Thank. This is so generous.”

And I said, “Listen, I hope I’m a generous guy but I want you to understand something. You are so good at making this company money, I have to compete to keep you. I know that some people can come in and get you, and I want you to know that. I want you to know you’re a rock star and if I pay you more, maybe you won’t leave.”

Now, there’s always somebody, some billionaire, who’s going to come in and say, “I’ll pay you some obscene amount of money because I don’t care about the money.” I can’t compete with that person but I can compete in other ways. You like your job, you get great time off, nobody here works really after 5:00 unless they want to. It’s a great environment so I compete in other ways besides money too.

But that’s where you want to get your boss. And let’s say your boss isn’t like that. Well, now you’ve got a resume. You’re going to write your resume completely differently, and the resume is going to be, “If you invest in me, here’s the ways that I can make you money.” And not every company needs the ways that you can make them money, but you’re going to find the ones that you can.

Andrew Grove, who ran Intel for so many years, says that, “Don’t be confused. Every single human being is a company. And you sell your services to other companies in exchange for pay.” Now, I got to tell you also this. We’ve had plenty of these conversations where somebody comes in and they say that to us, they say, “I think I’m worth this. I’ve made the company this much money.”

And in turn we say, “We think you’re worth a 5% raise. We don’t think you’re worth, as an economic investment, you’re two years out of college, you don’t know how to do this, you don’t know how to do that, we’re training you, you’re becoming more valuable but I think you have an inflated idea of the economic value you’re actually worth. If you stay here for two or three more years, I think you’ll learn a lot more. You’ll have more value on the open market.”

We had one person once who got pretty huffy about that and they were pretty upset about it, and they said, “Well, I disagree with you and we’re going to have to have further conversation.” Great. In the next conversation, we said, “Listen, we’re not letting you go, you have two months, we you to find another job. We’re not kidding. We actually think that if we’re going to pay you what you want to be paid, we can get somebody better with more experience on the open market.”

And that person said, “Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. I want to keep my job. I really like it here.” And we said, “Listen, if you come back and you turned in a two weeks’ notice, we’re going to be ticked. If you want to stay here for a couple more years, we will train you, you will get some experience that will make you worth more on the open market.” And that’s what this person decided to do and that is, indeed, what actually happened.

So, you’re going to have disagreements. Almost every employee thinks they’re worth more than their company does, and almost every company is paying somebody more than what they think the person is worth. They think they’re being generous. That tension always exists. But here’s how I want you to see yourself. Always see yourself as an NBA player and negotiating a salary to stay on the basketball team. And you also need to learn what it is that actually makes the basketball team money.

I love the example of JJ Watt, he’s a football player, of course, for the Houston Texas. This is a losing team. They won four games this year. JJ Watt is paid $100 million to play football. And when you watch him, he has negotiated, so during the game they play a certain song and he dances during the game before the snap on this one particular play. Well, why did he negotiate that? Because it gets the crowd riled up and they start chanting JJ Watt, it puts butts in seats, it sells JJ Watt jerseys, it makes the football team money. So, not only is he great as a defensive player, by the way, he’s a defensive player making $100 million.

He figured out how he can make the football team money. He also negotiated that nobody on the sidelines can wear a red baseball cap except for him. So, when he comes off the field, he takes his helmet off, he puts a red baseball cap on. You know why he does that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then people can pick him out, like, “Oh, that’s him. That’s JJ.”

Don Miller
Exactly it, so the camera can find him. He has figured it out. Now HEB is a grocery store in the Houston, Texas area that paid him another $100 million to be their spokesperson. So, he’s saying, “Buy your eggs at HEB.” Now, what’s he doing? He figured out how to make Houston Texas money, and he figured out how to make a grocery store money, and he’s worth $200 million. That is called a value-driven professional.

Now, if the team doesn’t want to keep him, he can go to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and say, “Look, this is how much money I make at Houston Texas in jersey sales, when I show up on NFL commercials, when I agree to do at least one interview after the game. This is how much money. It’s not just about football.”

And so, as a value-driven professional, if you’re on the marketing team, you’re going to say, “Listen, I built a sales funnel that it looks like it made $4 million that didn’t exist before I got here. I also do a segment on the company’s podcast that goes on every other episode. The leads from that has turned into another $4 million, so that’s $8 million. You guys paid me $45,000 last year. I made you $8 million in value. I think I’m an $85,000 a year person. But before you say no, let me give you three more ideas that I want to implement that I think will make you another $4 million.” That’s how you negotiate.

Don’t come in and say, “Look, I show up on time, I don’t smell bad, I comb my hair, I make sure I pull my old lunch out of the fridge so it doesn’t rot. I think you owe me 5%.” Nobody is interested in that conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, let’s shift gears a smidge away from…so we had that core economic value delivery principle there. You said that your first several installments, videos and pieces of the book, are all about character. Lay it on us.

Don Miller
Well, I kind of wondered, I read these books about character and it’s talked about things like integrity, it talks about things like work ethic. Not that I don’t think that stuff isn’t important. Integrity is incredibly important. But, in my opinion, integrity is a core value of being a human being not of just being a professional. We have places for people who don’t have integrity. We call them prison.

So, you can’t work here unless you have integrity. You can’t work here unless you tell the truth. So, I started thinking, “Hey, what are the ways that real value-driven professionals, people like JJ Watt, what are the ways that they see themselves?” And, amazingly, I got to meet Barack Obama when I was on a White House taskforce. I got to spend time with Michelle Obama, I got to spend time with members of the judiciary, lawmakers, NFL coaches, professional athletes, professional musicians at the highest level. And I was looking for, “What do these people have in common?”

And the 10 core characteristics are very interesting. The first we’ve talked about at length, and that is they really do see themselves as an economic product on the open market. The second is that they see themselves as heroes not victims, so they identify as the hero in the story not the victim in the story, and that’s really critical. At no point will any of these people start feeling sorry for themselves. Heroes don’t feel sorry for themselves. They may not like their challenges but they take their challenges on. And those challenges transform the hero into a better version of themselves.

Victims suck a lot of the energy out of the room. And there are actual real victims in the world. I don’t mean to victim-shame anybody but most of us see ourselves as victims when we’re in fact not. My friend Henry Cloud defines victims as somebody who has no way out. And most of the time in my life where I’ve seen myself as a victim, I actually had plenty of ways out. I was just too discouraged to actually take them. So, we have to make that transformation from victim mindset to a hero mindset.

The third is they know how to deescalate drama. Drama in the workplace costs people a lot of money. And the reason it cost people a lot of money is because it sucks all the energy into the dramatic employee, and it’s that energy they can’t use to make a product or serve a customer. So, people who know how to deescalate drama, they’re actually worth a lot more.

Another one is that they accept feedback as a gift. We just interviewed Mathew McConaughey the other day. He loves criticism. He loves it because it makes him a better actor. Number five is they know the right way to engage conflict. The more you rise as a leader, the more conflict you have to deal with. In fact, the more power you actually have in a company, the more time you spend only dealing with problems. And so, if you understand how to engage conflict and resolve conflict and the ways to do that, you are going to rise because people hire you to solve problems. And the more problems you can solve, the more money they pay you, and the more promotions you get.

Another one, day six, this was on tough for me because I felt it a lot. It was they long to be trusted and respected more than they want to be liked. And leaders who want to be liked, or people and companies who want to be liked, they compromise, they don’t tell the truth. But people who want to be trusted and respected, they tell the truth, they set very clear expectations, and they give people encouragement when they hit those expectations. A lot of people don’t like their coach but they trust and respect that coach to make them a better player. And, in my opinion, that’s an even stronger bond.

Day seven is they have a bias toward action. I’m just going to say it really bluntly, I’ve met a lot of really dumb people who are not very intelligent who are billionaires. And the difference is they take action when other people are still thinking about it. So, a bias towards action is a fantastic competitive advantage.

Day eight is they do not choose to be confused. And this is something my business coach taught me years ago. I was thinking about a problem employee, and I was going over my problems with him and how I wanted to deal with it. And my coach said to me, he said, “Don, you are choosing to be confused.” I said, “What do you mean choosing to be confused?” He said, “Step outside yourself and look at the situation and clearly articulate what you need to do.” And, immediately, I said, “I need to fire him.” He said, “Don, you knew it the whole time. You were choosing to be confused because there’s something you don’t want to do. It’s obvious what you need to do. Stop choosing to be confused.” Isn’t that fantastic?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’m going to sit with that. Thank you.

Don Miller
I’ll tell you what, I choose to be very confused about whether a cup of ice cream is good before dinner. I mean, before breakfast. I mean, before going to bed. I choose to be confused about that all the time. The truth is it’s not, right?

So, day nine is be relentlessly optimistic. People who are relentlessly optimistic, they tend to try harder things and not give up when the challenge is greater than they expected. So, optimism actually means you fail more than the average person because you try harder things, but you get so delusional about the fact that you can do it that you keep trying and trying and trying, and you accomplish more than people who don’t try.

Day ten is from Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford. And she says to us to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. And that is believe that you are a human being, always changing, transforming and getting better rather than somebody who is fixed. So, never say anything like, “I’m bad at math.” Really, the way you want to word that is, “I’ve not chosen to study math enough to get very good at it. But, of course, I’m capable of being good at math. I just haven’t chosen to study math.” That’s a fixed mindset, “I’m bad at math,” versus a growth mindset that says, “I’m perfectly capable of being great at math. I just haven’t chosen to study that very much.”

When somebody sees themselves through the growth lens, they tend to escalate in their skillsets much, much quicker than those who feel stuck like they were born bad at math. And she wrote a whole book on that, and it’s fascinating. It’s a fascinating study. In fact, I brought in a teacher for an entire day for my company just to teach everybody in the company a growth mindset. And we’d constantly say, “We don’t know how to do this but let’s all have a growth mindset.” And it’s led to an enormous success for us.

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

Don Miller
There was a guy, well, two guys, who delivered a bed to our house today. And they were in their early 20s, one of them had served in the military. As we talked to each other and I was helping with the bed, and we started telling each other stories and those kinds of things.

I said, “Hey, before you leave, can I just give you a copy of this book Business Made Simple?” And I said, “Listen, I don’t know your story about college, but I didn’t go to college. What I discovered though was a way of making money and being a value-driven professional that allowed me to go around the college system. And I wrote it all down in this book. In 60 days, you can be, whether you went to college or not, so much more valuable than almost anybody around you if you just understand and apply these principles.”

And they looked at me, and said, “Dude, this is amazing because we’ve just been approached by somebody who wants us to start a business with them by buying a warehouse and we would be delivery people and so on and so on.” I said, “That’s a great opportunity. Read this book. Take that opportunity. But let me tell you something. Learn that for about three or four years and then go buy your own warehouse because you need to own the business. That’s the key. And this book will teach you how to run that business, run your friend’s business, and run your own business someday.”

And I almost got choked up with tears in my eyes walking away because that was me. My first job was Popeyes Fried Chicken, my second job was delivering Chinese food, my third job was Kmart, my fourth job was Radio Shack. This is talking about somebody without a degree. And then somebody gave me a shot at a publishing company and I end up running that company and starting my own company.

If somebody would’ve handed me at Popeyes Fried Chicken, this book, I think it might’ve ignited my entrepreneurial imagination and maybe saved me about 15 years of running around not advancing in my career. It really is the hidden staircase. We’re all trying to climb the ladder but there’s a hidden staircase, and I think I’ve written it down in this book.

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

Don Miller
It’s from Victor Frankl. Are you familiar with Victor Frankl?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Don Miller
He saved my life many years ago. About 12 years ago, I read Man’s Search for Meaning, and he saved my life. I’ve been working on a new project that won’t be out till later this year called “Hero on a Mission,” and my brain is stuck in that right now.

But what I love about Viktor Frankl is, and Sigmund Freud at the time Frankl was alive, was going around saying, “The dominant desire of men is to pursue pleasure.” And about the same time, Alfred Adler was going around, more or less interpreting Nietzsche, saying, “The dominant pursuit of men is the pursuit of power.” And Viktor Frankl came along and said, “In my opinion, you’re both wrong. I think the dominant pursuit of men is the pursuit of meaning. Women and men want to experience a deep sense of meaning. And when they can’t find meaning, they numb themselves with power and pleasure.” And I just thought, “That explains our culture.” We don’t have meaning and so we eat ice cream and watch Netflix and entertain ourselves and distract ourselves with social media because we don’t have meaning.

But what I love about Viktor Frankl is he actually gave us a prescription to experience meaning, and it’s existential. You don’t find it in a philosophy book. In fact, he says you can’t find meaning in a book. What you can find is a recipe that if you enact that recipe, that formula, it will give you meaning. And the first was find a product or a project that you can build, something that demands action, that takes your time. Find a community of people who care about you or also spend time in nature. In other words, become involved in something outside yourself, that attracts you and brings you out of yourself and into a reality that you’re not the only person on the planet.

And then the third was find a redemptive perspective for your suffering. And what he meant by that is no matter what sort of painful thing you go through, find something in that pain that’s actually benefiting you. So, maybe it’s humbling you, or maybe it’s making you more empathetic, or maybe it’s building muscle, emotional muscle or physical muscle, whatever it is. And if you do those three things, you’ll experience a deep sense of meaning.

And, lo and behold, about 12 years ago I read that book and started applying what he called logotherapy, a therapy of meaning to my life, and, truly, I have not woken up a single day without experiencing a deep sense of meaning. I’ve woken up really sad, I’ve woken up really tired, I’ve woken up really angry or frustrated, but never ever without a deep sense of meaning. And I am so grateful for his book. It’s been the most eye-opening helpful discovery in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Don Miller
I actually created my own day planner, and you can get it for free. It’s at HeroOnAMission.com. And I fill up this planner every day and it helps me organize my mind and my time. It’s actually a reflective meditative exercise. I fill it every morning. And that has been the key to my productivity.

Another thing that I found unbelievably helpful was studying story and story structure. My favorite book on story structure, now it’s a 600-page book, typeface smaller than your Bible, is Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. But, really, when you study story, you’re studying life, you’re studying what matters in life, and you’re asking yourself all sorts of questions about what kind of story, not what I want to write but what I want to actually live. And with Viktor Frankl, the study and the understanding of story structure has been a fantastic tool that helped me experience more meaning.

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

Don Miller
If you go to BusinessMadeSimple.com, you can read all about what we’re up to. And if you’re interested, go on Amazon and buy Business Made Simple. We’re not sure what they’re charging for it now but it should be about 20 bucks. You get the 60 videos, but if you forward your receipt from Amazon to this address, book@businessmadesimple.com, I’ll send you a free mini course that I created called Zero to Ten. And it’s five videos on how I took my company from zero to 10 million. It’s not as hard as you might think it is to do that but it’s really, really messy. And so, I hope you kind of make your way through the mess in that course. So, you just forward your receipt to book@businessmadesimple.com you get that free mini course.

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

Don Miller
There are four characters in a story normally. Four kinds of characters: hero, victim, villain, and guide. The hero wants something and overcomes challenges; the victim is helpless and exists in the story only to make the hero look good and the villain look bad, the victim doesn’t play any other part in the story; the villain is seeking vengeance; and the guide is the wise sage helping the hero win.

Now, here’s the challenge. Every day, those four characters exist in story because those four characters exist in you, and all four exist at the exact same time. On any given day, you can catch me playing the hero, the victim, the villain, or the guide. I am convinced that the more we identify as the hero or the guide, the better our life goes. And the more we identify as the victim or villain, the worse our life goes. So, if you want to control how your story ends up, spend more time being the hero, more time being the guide, less time being the victim, and less time being the villain, and things are going to go okay. So, the challenge is notice which character you are playing from hour to hour throughout the day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Don, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in business that you’re making simple, and life, and keep on rocking.

Don Miller
Well, thanks so much for the time. It really is an honor.