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733: How to Keep Growing Over Your Whole Career with Whitney Johnson

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Whitney Johnson shares key science behind learning and growth so you can continue growing your skills smartly over the long haul.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 3 phases of growth–and how to master them 
  2. How to get your brain to learn faster
  3. The tremendous power of ridiculously small goals 

About Whitney

Whitney Johnson is CEO of the tech-enabled talent development company Disruption Advisors, an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private company in America and one of the 50 leading business thinkers in the world as named by Thinkers50. She is an award-winning author, a regular keynote speaker, and a frequent lecturer for Harvard Business School’s Corporate Learning.  

A frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review, Johnson is author of several top-selling books including Disrupt Yourself and Build an A Team. Her latest book is Smart Growth: How to Grow Your People to Grow Your Company. She is also the host of the popular Disrupt Yourself podcast, with guests including Brené Brown, Simon Sinek, Susan Cain, and General Stanley McChrystal. 

 

Resources Mentioned

Whitney Johnson Interview Transcript

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

Whitney Johnson
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your latest book here Smart Growth. Can you tell us, you’ve been researching growth for a while, what’s an interesting maybe surprising or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about that in the maybe years now since we spoke last?

Whitney Johnson
Yeah. So, that’s an interesting question. The counterintuitive discovery that I’ve made, here’s what I would say. I think that this book is important right now because of what’s happening in the world, and so let me talk about that briefly, and then I can talk to about the discovery I’ve made. So, as we both know, we are coming out of the pandemic, we hope, and psychologists have said that when you come through a period of severe stress, which, of course, has been a very stressful period, there is this opportunity for people to undergo transformation, to do what’s called post-traumatic growth.

And so, I think we’re in this period right now where people are ready to grow, they want to grow, they aren’t always sure exactly how to grow. And so, this book that I’ve written, Smart Growth, is really addressing that question of, “Here’s a template, here’s a simple visual model for you to think about what growth looks like.”

Now, to your specific question, yes, I’ve been thinking about growth for a while. I’ve talked about the S Curve, and we can talk more about this in detail, but the S Curve of learning in my other two books, but it was always in the background, kind of this supporting actor. And what I discovered is that as I taught people about this S Curve of learning, it was very sticky. They said, “Oh, this makes sense. This helps me explain what’s happening in my career, what’s happening in my life.”

And so, I wanted to do a very deep dive in this book on what this framework is and how you can use it, how you can apply it, both as an individual for personal growth, to demystify the process, to help you decode talent development if you’re a manager, and then, from an organizational perspective, just think about this notion of if you can grow your people, then you can grow your company. So, that’s what we do in this book, is a deep, deep dive on what growth looks like using the S Curve of learning.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, tell us then, sort of what is the core thesis here or how you would go about defining smart growth?

Whitney Johnson
Yeah. So, the core thesis is that growth is our default setting, as I just mentioned a moment ago, is that people very much want to grow. And then the question is, “Well, what does growth look like?” What I have studied and researched is that the S Curve, and this is something that was popularized by Everett Rogers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, that he used to figure out how quickly social change might happen, and then we use it at our disruptive innovation fund to help us figure out how quickly an innovation would be adopted.

I realized I have this aha that this S Curve that we were using to look at social change, to look at how groups change, could also help us understand how people change. So, every time you start something new, you are at the base of an S, and if everybody who’s listening wants to take their finger and draw a picture from the left to right with your finger, of just left to right, a line, a straight line, that’s the base of the S.

And whenever you start something new, the S Curve math tells you that it’s going to feel like a slog. It’s going to feel like it’s going very, very slowly, and so you can get discouraged, overwhelmed, impatient, frustrated, all sorts of emotions that you will have. But what’s helpful about that is you now know, “Oh, this is very normal. I’m supposed to feel this way. I’m supposed to feel like I’m not making any progress.” It’s not that growth isn’t happening. It’s just that it’s not yet obvious or apparent, and so it feels slow.

And so, that’s the first thing that you want to think about from this model perspective. Then take your finger, and I want you to draw from the left to right but I want you to do this swooping line like a wave, and this is the steep slick back of that S Curve. And what happens here, and we call this the sweet spot, this is that place where you’ve now put in the effort and the growth is starting to become apparent. And what took a lot of time to seem like anything was happening, now, in a little time, a lot happens. This is where it’s hard but not too hard. It’s definitely easy but it’s not too easy. And so, this is the sweet spot where you’re exhilarated, all your neurons are firing, growth feels fast and it is actually fast.

And then what’s going to happen for you, and I want you to draw again, because now you’re at the top of the curve, and I want you to draw a straight line, again from left to right. This is that top. This is that mastery portion of the curve. And what’s happened here is that you have gotten very good at what you’re doing, you’re very capable, you’re very competent, but because you’re no longer learning, you’re no longer enjoying the feel-good effects of learning, you can get bored. And so, growth now is, in fact, slow.

So, you’ve got slow at the launch point, you’ve got fast in the sweet spot, you’ve got slow in mastery; so slow-fast-slow is how you grow. And now you’ve got this mental model, the simple visual model for you to think about your career, for you to think about any role or project that you’re on, and, frankly, for you to think about your life. And so, I wanted to give people this simple template to think about growth because when you know where you are in your growth, then you know what’s next.

Pete Mockaitis
And I appreciate the finger movement since we’re in an auditory medium here, and I drew it. And so, just to remove any potential confusion, so this is sort of like a graph with the X-axis being time and the Y-axis being like skill or capability or how good you are at a thing.

Whitney Johnson
Yeah, I love that, how good you are at a thing. Well-said.

Pete Mockaitis
And we might define that in any number of ways, like from pumping iron to making slides, to building models, to recruiting people, to sales, or any number of skills or things one might master.

Whitney Johnson
Exactly. Exactly correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And when we say S, again, not to get into the weeds here, I think of my S as kind of has a curve, but I guess that doesn’t quite happen. It might look more like a slanted Z. Is that okay to say?

Whitney Johnson
Yeah, you could also think of it as almost like a rollercoaster ride. So, you’ve got the base of that rollercoaster and then you’ve got the steep part, but in this case, you’re going up the rollercoaster, not down, and then you’ve got the flat part before you go onto another rollercoaster.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, I think that sounds right from my own experience. Could you share with us a couple cool experiments or bits of research or measurement that reveals this like pretty compellingly and quantitatively?

Whitney Johnson
Yeah, absolutely. So, when we do our research, we’re always looking at both the qualitative and the quantitative, but from a more quantitative research-based, one of the things that I did is looked at both biology and this idea of carrying capacity, but then also looked at the neuroscience around this. And so, basically, what’s happening is that your brain is running a predictive model. So, every time you start something new, pumping iron, like you said, learning how to build slides, or give a presentation, your brain is at the launch point of that S Curve.

And what’s happening is it’s running this model, it’s making lots and lots of predictions, many of which are inaccurate. And because those predictions are inaccurate, your dopamine is going to drop, which is why when you start something new, it’s hard to start because your dopamine is dropping, and we like that chemical messenger of delight. We like to get that and we’re not getting that, that’s why it’s hard to start at the launch point.

But then what happens is you continue to run that model and you continue to make predictions, and your predictions will get increasingly accurate. And as your predictions get more accurate, what’s happening is that you’re getting more dopamine, you’re having these upside emotional surprises, lots and lots of dopamine, which feels good, “This is fun. This is exhilarating. Oh, I love being on this S Curve,” going up the rollercoaster, if you will.

And then at a mastery, what’s going on in your brain is you’ve figured it out, the model is complete. It’s like playing middle C on the piano, or major C core for those of you who are musicians, you’re like, “Got it.” And so, what’s happening now is that your brain is saying, “Well, I get a little bit of dopamine but not very much. I’m a little bit bored. I need more dopamine,” for these thrill-seeking species. And so, that’s when you need to jump to the bottom of a new curve or find a way to push yourself back down into the sweet spot so you can continue to get that dopamine.

So, that’s one of the things I really looked at, is I had looked at the work of Rogers, all the diffusion theory that really backs this up, but I wanted to look at, “What’s going with the neuroscience? What’s going on with biology?” And then, of course, I’ve got all the anecdotal qualitative stories but the neuroscience very much backs up this idea of what growth looks like and what’s happening in our brain.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, is there, for quantitative neuroscience, I don’t even know what the units are, but like synapse connections, or FMRI activation of, I don’t even know what units we’re talking about.

Whitney Johnson
Yeah, it’s a great question. So, one of the things that’s happening is that, first of all, when you start something new, you don’t necessarily have a neural pathway for it. So, you’ve got what you’re doing today, so whatever it is you’re doing today, you’re basically at the top of an S Curve, and it’s sort of like this super highway of habits, like you’ve got this very thick neural pathway and it’s just super comfortable. It’s like going down the road that you always go down every day.

And when you get to the launch point of a new curve, whatever it is you’re trying to do is basically like a cow path, there isn’t anything there, and so there isn’t a neural pathway, so you’re going to do something but it’s certainly not a habit, it’s not who you are, it’s sort of out here separate from you. But as you start to do that more and more, and you get the dopamine, it’s forming those neural connections and creating those neural pathways so that it starts to become automatic and habitual.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then in practice, let’s say, let’s look at these phases. We’re at the beginning, or launch point as you call it, and we are frustrated, I guess I’d love to get your thoughts on what we should do. We’ve had a couple researchers talking about motivation on the show, and there are some research suggesting that adherents to stuff is most linked to that stuff being enjoyable as oppose to it being important, which is kind of intuitive, even like, hey, we do stuff we like doing and we don’t do stuff that we don’t like doing as much, even though the unenjoyable thing that might be pretty darn important.

So, if we’ve decided, “Yeah, this is an important thing I want to learn, I want to master, I want to get good at, but I am frustrated and overwhelmed and discouraged and not having fun,” well, one thing, as we know, that that’s normal, that’s nice. What else should we do when we’re in those unpleasant moments?

Whitney Johnson
So, are you talking about BJ Fogg’s research?

Pete Mockaitis
So, we had Katy Milkman and Ayelet Fishbach, their research.

Whitney Johnson
Okay. Yes. So, I love that idea of celebration and being able to. So, the research of BJ Fogg, I think, is really interesting. And building on the two recent guests you’ve had, including Katy, who, I love her work, is this idea of whenever emotions create habits. And so, if you can enjoy something then you’re more likely to make it habitual.

So, one of the things you can do is, when you’re at the launch point, whenever you actually do the thing that you set out to do, you can celebrate, “Good job. You did it.” When you’re in the sweet spot, you’re doing the thing that you set out to do, you’re pumping iron, you’re lifting weights, you can say, “Good job. I’m doing what I said I was going to do.” And then in mastery, you can say, “I did it. Good job.” And so, you can use celebration at all different parts or points along that curve in order to cement or make that habit that you’re trying to adopt concrete, or whatever it is you’re trying to learn that is new.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, celebration. Any pro tips on celebrating well?

Whitney Johnson
Huh, that’s a great question. I think, yeah, my pro tip is to write it in your journal, so write it down. Like I did this today. So, something that we do every week in our family is at the end of…well, actually, we do it every week but then I try to do it every day, is we go through the sweet, the sour, the spiritual, and the surprise for the week. And I think one of the things that happens is that our brains tend to focus on the things that did not work because that’s what makes us feel safer from an evolutionary perspective.

So, the pro tip is a very simple tip, which is focus on what worked, what went right. If you remembered to take out the trash because you have a goal to take out the trash every day, then say, “Hey, I did this thing that I said I was going to do today.” Acknowledge it, anchor it, be aware of it, because then you’re more likely to do it in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, there is celebration. Any other? Does that work for all three of those phases? Anything else you’d recommend, particularly for the early not-so-fun part?

Whitney Johnson
Yes, absolutely. So, I would say in the early not-so-fun part two things. Number one is sometimes we can get very impatient because it is so uncomfortable, we can just like, “I just want to get through this. I just want to figure this out. I just want to close this open loop. This is so uncomfortable.” And it’s really important that we’re patient in that stage because sometimes we make hasty decisions.

We start to do something new, like we take a job that really wasn’t the right job for us, or we take on a project that really wasn’t the right project for us, because we just wanted a job, any job will do, as opposed to spending that time to do the work, to figure out, and be uncomfortable with not having a job for a little while. And so, I would say, in that launch point, is recognize the importance of patience.

The other thing that I would say is, this goes to James Clear’s work of the idea of Atomic Habits, is when you’re at the launch point, if you think about what’s going on in your brain, you’re running these predictive models, as I said, and a lot of your predictions are going to be incorrect. But if you can make predictions that you know will be accurate, then you’re going to be able to speed yourself along that launch point faster. And the way you do that is you set small, ridiculously small goals.

And when I say ridiculously small, I mean I had set a goal, for example, that I wanted to start playing the piano again. I didn’t set a goal to play for 30 minutes a day, I didn’t set a goal to play for 15 minutes a day. I set a goal to make sure I sat down at the piano for at least 10 seconds a day for 30 days. And guess what? I did it, because 10 seconds is so ridiculously small you can’t not do it, and then you build in those neural pathways, and you start that cow path slowly, then quickly, can become a neural super highway.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that ridiculously small bit, and I think it took me a while to rightfully believe, it’s like, “Oh, well, 10 seconds sitting at the piano doesn’t mean anything.” But I guess, as I just think about, it’s like, “Hey, you know what, one is infinitely more than none.” And you could say, “Well, hey, you know what, that might be nothing. But you know what, it is more than what I did before, and it’s more than I’ve done for months even though I’ve been wanting and telling myself I should do this,” and that gets you going.

And I think BJ Fogg, again, we had him on the show, and he said some great things associated about, like celebrating an infant to toddler’s first steps, it’s like, “Oh, you barely moved anywhere and you fell down after less than two feet. That’s lame. You didn’t cover much ground.” But nobody says that about a kid learning how to walk. We celebrate, like, “Yay! Those are your first steps. It’s a big deal. It’s special.” And that really resonates in terms of so it is when we’re starting something new.

Give us some more examples of ridiculously small and worth celebrating in a variety of domains. I’m sure you’ve got boatloads of stories so maybe let’s hear a couple of those, from the launch point and the ridiculously small, through the sweet spot to mastery of folks learning, growing, tackling something new, that made an impact in their career.

Whitney Johnson
Yeah. So, one of them that I think is really relevant right now is health, taking care of yourself. And I was actually just on a call this morning with one of my coaching clients who is in this place where she is realizing, “Okay, I work very hard, I work lots and lots of hours. My steps on my Apple Watch are probably a thousand a day. I need more steps on my watch.” And she said, “But I don’t really want to. Like, I know that I should, but I don’t really want to. I don’t feel motivated to do it.”

And so, we had this conversation about, “All right. Let’s talk about ridiculously small goals. It might be that you literally look at your tennis shoes every day, like something that small. But I want you to come up with a goal that you can do every day no matter what for 30 days so that you can start to build that pathway.”

Now, why is that relevant to your career? Well, we all know that if we are exercising and our bodies are working, then we’re able to get rid of the cortisol and the stress that comes with work. And if we’re able to feel a greater sense of wellbeing, then we’re going to be able to think more clearly. And if we can think more clearly, then we’re going to be more productive. And if we’re more productive, we are much more likely to get that promotion and progress along the S Curve of our current role and of our career. So, that’s something very, very simple that I would say really illustrates that idea for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun, “Look at your shoes for 10 seconds.” I like that. If you really want to challenge yourself, you can touch the shoes for five seconds, or you can arrange those laces so they’re closer to getting your feet into them. That’s cool in the fitness zone. How about some more in the career zone?

Whitney Johnson
Yeah. So, in the career zone, I would say one simple thing could be is that, for example, maybe you need to give presentations. And if you want to be successful, not even maybe, if you want to be successful in your career, you will need to be able to give presentations and do that well. And so, one of the things that you can do is you can say, “All right. Well, I get kind of uncomfortable when I need to give presentations so I find myself avoiding those.”

And so, a very simple thing that you can do is you can say, “I’m going to practice sitting at my chair, standing up, as if I own the room. In my brain, I’m going to think there is three feet in front of me, three feet to the side, three feet to the back, and I own the room and I’m going to stand there for five seconds, and I’m going to do that every day for 30 days,” and that will start to change how you feel about yourself and your ability to have that presence that you need in order to give a presentation.

Another simple thing that you can do, and this is going to sound very Stewart Smalley and from Saturday Night Live, is you can say, “I am successful in my role, in my job. I am successful,” every day for 30 days, and that will allow your brain, your identity, to start to shift. And as your identity starts to shift, because your subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between a truth and a lie, if you tell yourself every day for 30 days, “I am successful in this role. I have completed everything that I needed to complete in this role,” or that presentation that you’re giving tomorrow, you’re acting as if it were two days ago, “I nailed that presentation,” and you say that every day for 30 days, “I nailed that presentation,” your brain will start to believe that it’s true and it will make it true.

Something you can say, takes you, what, two seconds, every day for 30 days, that is going to allow you to start to be successful in your career. You’ve got a presentation that you’ve got to do that you’ve been procrastinating, and it’s six weeks out. Well, for the first week, you don’t have to work on it at all, but what I want you to do is I want you to open up your PowerPoint and look at the main slide on it every day for the first seven days, just look at the main slide for the presentation. That’s all you need to do. So, you’re priming your brain to start to make progress.

So, small, ridiculously small goals that you can do every single day, and you have no excuse whatsoever. Anyway, those are a number of suggestions for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is fun. And it’s fun to do something ridiculously small and to celebrate it in terms of, “Hey, I looked at that slide for 10 seconds and I checked that off the box or the list, I win.” And it sort of feels good to have wins that are that quick and yet really are meaningful. I’d love to get your take on some of the affirmation-type stuff that you shared there, experientially and anecdotally. I’ve seen those are helpful. Can you share with us some of the coolest research you’re aware of when it comes to that kind of affirmation stuff?

Whitney Johnson
I would be delighted to. So, this is research I actually cite in “Smart Growth,” our next book, and it is research from psychologist Gregory Walton out of Stanford. And he describes these as psychologically precise interventions, and it’s, basically, using your words to change how you think or feel. And what found is that if you say something like, “I am a voter,” there is an 11-percentage point increase in voter turnout versus saying, ‘I vote,” which is so powerful.

So, for example, there is this one wonderful story that we tell in the book, a fellow by name of Marcus Whitney who, he had dropped out of college and had now two young children, he was living in an efficiency motel, he’s working as a waiter for 12 hours a day, and, basically, just scraping by, and he’s like, “I got to change. This is not working.” And so, he, fortunately, when he was about 10 years old, his uncle had given him a computer, he’d learned a little bit of programming, he said, “I’m going to figure out how to program again.”

And so, he would work for 11 hours or 12 hours, and he would spend four or five hours programming. He wants to get a job, he applies for hundreds of jobs, doesn’t get them, finally gets them. But what he says that I think is so important, he says, “It wasn’t just about hard work.” He said, “I had to believe that I was a programmer because there wasn’t a lot of evidence around me that this was, in fact, possible.” So, he did not say to himself, “I am becoming a programmer.” He said, “I am a programmer.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, the word you said, so identity, that’s huge and I’m totally going to look at that study. That’s so good. Thank you.

Whitney Johnson
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
The word evidence is resonating because, I don’t know, it might’ve been like Tony Robbins, when I was a teenager, he was my idol when I was a teenager. What a weird fellow I was. And he talked about we have beliefs, when you sort of list out reasons or evidence for them, that could be powerful and cement them. And I’ve actually done this exercise in different shapes and flavors over the years as I find, “Ooh, here’s a little zone of self-consciousness or lack of confidence. Let’s take a look at some beliefs here. And then what is my evidence?”

And then, sure enough, as I sort of assemble it with examples in terms of it’s like, “Oh, I accomplished this. I did that. And I got praised for this. Even if it was three years ago, I got a compliment about this thing from someone for that.” And then, all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh, okay. Okay, I’m not just deluding myself, like saying nonsense things, like, ‘I can fly.’” I’m thinking about Key & Peele sketch, “You can literally fly.” You can’t. But so you’ve collected that evidence, and as it grows, that gets pretty cool and exciting.

As I’m thinking about the programmer example, I don’t know if you did this, but right there is like, “Well, hey, I programmed this thing. Nobody asked for it, nobody paid for it. but, by golly, it works and it does what it’s supposed to go, ergo, I am a programmer.” And then that evidence just sort of mounts over time, it’s like, “I’ve programmed a dozen things.”

Whitney Johnson
Yeah. And you know what, as you’re saying that, I think it also makes a case for, I think, another important hack for us as we’re trying to move along that S Curve, is that when we’re starting something new, we tend to make this list of, “I’ve got to get these 50,000 things done on any given day,” and we start to get frustrated that we’re not getting those 50,000 things done to move along the S Curve. But if we’re willing to write down, “What have I…?” Make as I do it.

So, for example, I don’t write down that I’m going to do a podcast episode, I write down, once we’re finished, like, “We did this. We had this conversation. I prepared for it. It went well.” And so then, your brain starts to feel this sense of efficacy. So, again, this evidence of “I can make a list of what I’m going to get done today,” and I think this applies for anybody in their career, “I have this list of what I want to get done and/or I also did these things that I wasn’t expecting to do. I’m still going to check those off because those are evidence,” that, in fact, you are being effective in your work.

And oftentimes, as you’re moving along an S Curve, it’s not just about subject matter expertise. If you want to be successful in a role, it’s all those things that you do along the curve that seem like they’re interruptions – someone wants to talk about this, someone wants to collaborate on this, someone need your advice about that – all those things are what make you a leader and what make you successful in the role that you didn’t plan for.

But if you write them down, “Oh, I did this and then this and then this,” then you can put together the subject matter, that quantitative piece, if you will, the qualitative piece of that leadership, you put those together and you look at your list for the day, and you realize, “Oh, I actually really am making progress along this S Curve in this particular role.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Beautiful. Well, we talked a lot about the first part, just because it’s hard and difficult. Can you give us your top do’s and don’ts for making the most of the sweet spot and the mastery stages along the journey?

Whitney Johnson
Yeah. So, the sweet spot is that part where things are hard but not too hard anymore, and they’re definitely easy but not too easy. And you’ve got, again, all this exhilaration and so, now that you’ve started, so it was hard, but now you’ve got this momentum, and, in fact, it’s almost impossible to stop. You’ve reached that tipping point and things are moving along really well.

What’s happening for you when you’re in the sweet spot is that you’re feeling this sense of competence, so self-determination theory. You’re feeling this sense of autonomy, like, “I’ve got this. I’ve got control over my destiny.” And you’re also feeling related to the people around you and to what it is you’re trying to get done.

What I would advise people, when you’re in the sweet spot, for as an individual, is the importance of being focused. So, on the job, as you get very capable and get very competent, people are like, “Oh, I’ll have Pete do this, I’ll have Pete do that, I’ll have Pete do this other thing, etc.” And so, it’s important to learn to say no so that you can focus and still build that momentum along the curve.

And I would say, for a manager who’s looking at this, is when you have people on the sweet spot who are very effective, it’s easy to say, “They’re doing great. I’ll leave them be,” and we don’t take the time to say, “Thank you. I acknowledge you. I see you. Thank you for the work that you’re doing.” So, those are some things that I would think about in that sweet spot is the importance of focusing so that you don’t get derailed, you can continue up that curve, as well as making sure you focus on the people who are being effective in that role.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about mastery?

Whitney Johnson
So, in mastery, what’s happening, again, in your brain, is your brain has figured out that predictive model and no longer getting a lot of dopamine. And so, there are two things that you want to do when you’re in mastery. Number one is you want to celebrate – we’ve got a theme going here, celebration – of saying, “I did it. I completed this,” and acknowledge the fact that you did it, and be at the top of that mountain, and observe all that you’ve been able to achieve, and appreciate what you’ve accomplished. It’s the end of the year and so I think this is a good time to do that.

The thing, though, about that place is it’s also this place of poignance because, on the one hand, mountain climbers know that you get to the top of a mountain but any altitude above 26,000 feet is known as the death zone so you’re so high up, your brain and body start to die, and it’s also true for an individual. When you get to the top of that S-curve, if you stay there too long, your brain and body will literally start to die. So, there’s this moment of celebration that you’re here but also realizing that you can’t stay here too long.

And so, the advice for people, when they are in mastery, is that you hit the top of that mountain, you have to keep climbing. And keep climbing may mean you jump to an entirely new S Curve, it may mean you find a new assignment or challenge that pushes you back down in the sweet spot, but that plateau can become a precipice if you aren’t willing to continue to find ways to grow and develop.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now I’m thinking about that a lot folks feel that in their career. It’s like, whatever you’re doing – sales, project management, product development – in some ways there are endless intricacies and nuances to these domains that you could work on and become ever greater forever. But other ways, there’s a point of diminishing returns, like, “Well, yeah, I pretty much nailed all the basics and now it’s really just like super finer points.”

So, it’s tricky to navigate in a career because, in some ways, when you’ve mastered something, you can become very well compensated for that thing. It’s like, “Oh, you’re really excellent at this, so please do more of that and we’ll pay you plenty because we need someone who’s great at that, and the value created economically is big as a result.” And that can put you in a top spot, it’s like, “Well, yeah, I know but this isn’t really fun for me.”

So, yeah, you sort of mentioned that our choices are to find something else to conquer. Or, what are some other options here?

Whitney Johnson
Yeah. Well, how about if I give you a couple of real-life examples that will help illustrate this?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please.

Whitney Johnson
So, one is a company called Chatbooks. You may have heard of them. They turn Instagram photos into picture books. And it’s a company where people like to work, it’s got a really strong culture, they work very hard to build that culture, but because people like to work there, a lot of them were approaching mastery on the curve and sort of saying, “What’s next?”

And so, what we did is we went into the company, we administered our S Curve Insight tool that allows you to see where you are in the curve, but what that does is not only show you where you are in the curve but it now opens up a conversation. It gives you that vocabulary, that framework to talk about growth and opportunities. So, three conversations took place as a consequence, and I think this gives people some script and some idea of what that can look like.

So, one conversation was the chief marketing officer now said, “Okay, I have this language.” She was able to talk to the CEO and say, “It’s not that I don’t love working at Chatbooks, it’s not that I don’t love working with you, it’s just that in terms of what I set out to accomplish here as chief marketing officer, I’m at the top of my curve.” And so, they were able to, because they have that framework, because they have that vocabulary, it wasn’t personal, and she made the decision, they collectively made the decision that she would go to a new curve as a chief marketing officer at another organization. So, that’s one potential outcome.

Another potential outcome was the president of the organization, his roles and responsibilities were bumping up against the CEO’s roles and responsibilities, kind of crowding him out on that curve, and so he felt like he was in mastery. This allowed them to have that conversation of, “Hey, if you could kind of move on, CEO, to other roles and responsibilities, that will clear the pathway for me so I feel like I’ve got more headroom on this current curve. I don’t want to change curves. I like being on this curve but I need more headroom. So, can we rescope roles and responsibilities?”

And then the third potential outcome is the chief technical officer, where he was at the top of the curve, likes it, wants to stay there, “But let’s give you some new projects that will effectively put you on the launch point of that curve so that, by putting together the portfolio of projects that you’re on, it pushes you back down into the sweet spot.” So, those are three different things that can happen as you figure out you’re in mastery, and you’re trying to figure out paths forward.

I’ll give you one other example because I think this will be very useful to your listeners. A few years ago, we interviewed Patrick Pichette, who was formerly the CFO of Google. And so, when he was interviewed, he’d already been in an operations role, he’d been the CFO at Bell Canada, and so was like, “I don’t really want to do this. When it comes to doing this, I’m at the top of my curve.”

So, what he agreed with Eric Schmidt, who was the CEO at the time, was, “All right, we’re going to take this job, you’re going to be the CFO, and you’ll do this for about 18 months, but, at any moment, when you feel like you’re at the top of your curve and you start to feel like you’re bored, you come talk to me and I’ll put something more on your plate.”

And so, that’s how he went from being just a CFO to managing real estate, to managing people, to managing Google Fiber, etc., is knowing, having that conversation, that vocabulary, to say, “I’m at the top of my curve. I need something new because I want to work here and I want to work for you but I need to stay challenged.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Whitney, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Whitney Johnson
No, I think that’s good.

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

Whitney Johnson
It’s a quote from Brandon Sanderson, who’s a fantasy author, who I love, and he said, “We each live thousands of lives; for each day, we become someone slightly different.” And I love that idea of how every single day, we become a new person. We live many, many lives. We’re on many different S Curves. So, I think that’s a very powerful idea that every day we can become someone slightly different.

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

Whitney Johnson
So, I shared with you already the favorite study, the Gregory Walton, psychologically precise interventions. But there’s another one that I think is really powerful, and I find myself recommending it a lot. Her name is Emma McAdam. We recently had her on the podcast. She’s a psychologist. And she did a YouTube video that talks about anxiety, and really does a great job of explaining how we can get into these anxiety loops, and how when we think, “Oh, I’ve got to do this thing, and I’m really scared about it and nervous about it,” we think, “Okay, I just got to not do it because then I know I’ll feel better.”

She talks about how that’s like basically a bear, and every time we avoid the bear, the bear is going to get bigger. So, the thing that we feel like we can’t do, we must do. And I think that’s a very powerful research. I’ve recommended it. Well, I’ve certainly ingested it but recommended it to family members, to clients, and it really is something that is resonating for people very powerfully because there’s a lot of anxiety. I think there always was but I think there’s even more as a consequence of the pandemic.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Whitney Johnson
So, obviously The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen because that has inspired all my work. Another book that’s really influenced me recently is Suneel Gupta’s Backable. So, we had them on the podcast, and maybe you have as well. It really influenced me, and I think from the standpoint of your listeners, is he talks about when you have an idea, you have to have conviction around your idea in order for you to be able to…like you have to believe it.

And I think that that is true for anybody who’s on a job, wants to be better on their job, whether it’s an idea, whether it’s a promotion, you have to believe in it. And I think that was really powerful for me to read, and I think it’s very useful for anybody who’s listening and wants to make progress. Like, you have to believe in you first if you want anybody else to believe in it – you and your ideas.

And then the fiction one is I just read a book called Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan. If you’re a Narnia fan, it’s basically fan-fiction for CS Lewis and it was just a delightful book.

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

Whitney Johnson
Oh, I’ve lots of favorite tools. Well, one is Zoom. I really love Zoom. I love Rent the Runway because I do a lot of stuff on camera, and it’s nice, and you can’t wear something that you’ve worn a million times, so I like Rent the Runway. Let’s see, I like WHOOP, which I’ve got on my armband right now. I love our S Curve Insight tool. Obviously, I’m going to talk about my own book. I love Enneagram, I love Google Docs, and I love drinking water.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a good listing. I’ve been intrigued by WHOOP. I’ve got the Fitbit Charge 5, which works pretty well. But whenever I keep Googling stuff, it lands me on WHOOP’s website, and it just seems like they really mean business over at WHOOP.

Whitney Johnson
They do. It’s good. I’ve had it for about, I don’t know, three or four months now and I really like it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Whitney Johnson
A favorite habit. So, I would say favorite is hard. Getting up early, I think that’s super important and very valuable in terms of being productive. Taking breaks is a habit that I most love, and having a standing desk, standing up. Taking breaks. Standing up.

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

Whitney Johnson
Yeah. So, I would say companies don’t disrupt, people do. The fundamental unit of growth is the individual. It’s not failure that limits disruption; it’s shame. And then the fourth, and this is the most recent, is it’s not really The Great Resignation, but rather The Great Aspiration.

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

Whitney Johnson
I would point them to two places. Number one is listen to the Disrupt Yourself podcast. And I was thinking about episodes that would be useful to your listeners – James Clear, habit formation, which we talked about; they could listen to BJ Fogg but they could listen to yours as well; Jennifer Moss on burnout; and Scott Miller on mentorship; and then Leena Nair on disrupting inside of an organization. And then people, of course, can go to my website SmartGrowthBook.com.

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

Whitney Johnson
Yeah. I would say get out your finger, or get out a piece of paper and a pen, and draw that S Curve of learning, plot out where you are right now, plot out where people on your team are, and then just know if you’re at the launch point, you need to encourage yourself or encourage people around you; if you’re on the sweet spot, stay focused; and if you’re in the mastery, remember that it’s not, if you’re feeling the sense of crankiness or ennui, it’s not the job, it’s not even the people you work for. It’s just that your brain needs a new challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Whitney, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in all of your growth adventures.

Whitney Johnson
Thank you very much, Pete.

722: How to Hire and Get Hired Masterfully with Lou Adler

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Lou Adler says: "Don't make excuses. Get it done."

Seasoned recruiter Lou Adler shares insights from his decades of professional experience to help you hire and/or get hired.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What’s wrong with most job descriptions
  2. The real 30% increase you should be seeking
  3. Why you shouldn’t apply for a job directly

About Lou

Lou is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a consulting and training firm helping companies implement “Win-Win Hiring” programs using his Performance-based Hiring℠ system for finding and hiring exceptional talent. More than 40 thousand recruiters and hiring managers have attended his ground-breaking workshops over the past 20 years. 

Lou is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head and The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. Lou has been featured on Fox News and his articles and posts can be found on Inc. Magazine, BusinessInsider, Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal

Prior to his executive search experience. Lou held senior operations and financial management positions at the Allen Group and at Rockwell International’s automotive and consumer electronics groups. He holds an MBA from UCLA and a BS Engineering from Clarkson University.

Resources Mentioned

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Lou Adler Interview Transcript

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

Lou Adler
Hey, happy to be here, Pete, and thank you for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to get your wisdom on both sides of the hiring table, the hiring and the getting hired. And I have a feeling that in your work over the years, you’ve probably encountered some interesting stories. Anything particularly memorable or fun or touching or hilarious that leaps to mind as you reflect on your career here?

Lou Adler
Well, I don’t know if it would be fun or hilarious, but important is probably a dozen, but since you’ve only asked me that question 15 seconds ago, I have to scramble pretty quickly. But I do remember one and it was 30 years ago or maybe even longer. I was talking to a candidate, and I was a recruiter at the time, my background has been diverse, but certainly when I was a recruiter in the early days, I thought I was going to place this one candidate who’s a remarkable person as a plant manager.

And at the time I was a contingency recruiter, and I would get full fee, and the compensation today would’ve been 100,000. So, if you multiply 30% by that, that was the fee I would’ve gotten, so not insignificant fee. So I just listened to him, and say, “John, I was devastated literally.” You lose that money, I didn’t have it, but I lost it anyway because I already, in my mind, spent it.

I said, “Why are you taking the other offer?” and he listed his whole list of five or six, seven reasons why. And then, this is the important part, as I listened to it and I regained my composure, I said, “John, you’ve just made a long-term career decision using short-term information.” He said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “John, everything you just said, the compensation, the title, the location, has to do with what you get on the start date. Not one thing did you say is what you’re going to be doing and becoming as a result of taking that job. We’re talking about a 15-minute drive each way, so we’re talking about a half hour.”

“You’re talking about a slightly better title, you’re talking about slightly more money but the big thing you’re missing is you’re working in a company that’s going downhill, that’s in an old state electronics versus new state-of-the-art making displays. So, what you do in the next two to three years will affect the rest of your life. And if you take that offer, admittedly it’s a little bit more money, slightly better title, VP manufacturing instead of plant manager, but you’re putting yourself on a career deathtrap.” I might not have used those specific terms.

Then I said, “John, did you already accept the offer?” And he said, “No, but I want to call you first because I told you I was going to do it and I feel badly that I’m not going to take the offer.” I said, “Well, why don’t you think about it before you call the other company up?” And I thought, at that time, that I might’ve convinced him to at least think about it, but I didn’t think I was going to get the offer so I was pretty devastated.

He calls me up the next morning, he says, “Lou, I’m going to take your offer.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Lou Adler
He said, “Everything you said is 100% true. Working in old line manufacturing means two to three years from now, I’ll never get any better than this.” He took the offer, and nine months later he called, and said, “Lou, I’ve just been promoted to VP operations for six plants both in the United States, and we’re now building in China,” which was when the big Chinese movement took place, “and everything was absolutely the right decision.” And I still remember those words today, this is nine months later when I said, “You’re making a long-term decision using short-term.”

And, to me, that’s an important lesson that I tell all candidates, it’s in all the books I write, is too many candidates hire for what they get on the start date, or accept jobs what they’re getting on the start date, not the work they’re going to be doing and what they could become if they’re successful. So, to me, that’s the epitome of everything I train, I advocate, and I listen for, and I actually ask candidates, “Why did you take job A and go to job B? Why did you go from job B to job C?” And they always say, “Well, they promised me this, they promised me that.”

I said, “No, they don’t promise you. You have to do the due diligence yourself to get that information. And if you don’t get it, you’re making a long-term decision using superficial information.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I love it and that’s very easy to overlook in terms of you see what’s right in front of you, and it feels pretty close, pretty visceral, pretty emotional, it’s like, “This is my livelihood, this is my experience of work, this is what’s going to happen when I get in the car on Monday morning. This is what I’m going to see on my business card. This is what I’m going to see in the cheques or direct deposits that appear in my bank.” So, yes, that makes a lot of sense that we can naturally fall into some short-term right-in-front-of-you myopic thinking and we need someone like Lou to point us into the long term. Very cool.

Lou Adler
As part of my most recent book, which is called Hire With Your Head, the theme of the book is called win-win hiring. And it’s the idea that hiring managers, recruiters, and candidates alike should think about success measured on the first-year anniversary date not the start date. Hiring success means, hey, the candidate on the anniversary date says, “Well, I’m glad I took this job and I’m still glad I have it.” And the hiring managers says, “I’m glad I hired that person.”

Achieving that win-win hiring outcome is hard to do but critical to do regardless of whether you’re a recruiter, a hiring manager, or the candidate accepting that offer or not. And very few people do it. But that’s the essence of what I’ve been advocating and what I’ve been teaching, that’s called win-win hiring, achieving those kinds of outcomes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s a great perspective, win-win hiring, one year. So, tell us, Lou, what are some of the core principles that make that the case, that one year later, folks say, “Yeah, I really am glad I hired that person and/or…”

Lou Adler
Now, I’ll give you another story. Now, my history is I didn’t start thinking I’m a recruiter but I became a recruiter before just about 99% of the people listening to your podcast were born. It was 1978.

And I remember my first search assignment was, again, a lot of the work I had done was in manufacturing. It was for a company in the automotive industry and I knew the president, and I knew that when I became a recruiter, this was going to be my first assignment, so I met him the second or third day as a recruiter. And Mike was the president of this company in southern California, and he said, “I’m looking for someone with ten years experience, has a degree in engineering, probably would be great if that person had an MBA, and results-oriented and good communicator,” and all the stuff that you always see on job descriptions.

And I looked at that job description, and I said, “Mike, this is not a job description. This is a person description. A job doesn’t have skills, experience, and competencies. A person has that. Let’s talk about the job before we’re about the person doing the job.” And I said, “Let’s put the job description or the person description in a parking lot. What do you want this person to do? What would this person need to do to be successful in the first year?” And he said, “Turn around the plant.” I said, “Fine. Let’s walk through the plant and figure out what that person needs to do.”

We spent an hour walking through the plant – labor performance issues, scrap issues, processing issues, layout issues, inventory, management. It was a crummy plant. I said, “We’ll find somebody who can turn this plant around.” I have never used a job description that defines skills, experience, and competencies. It always defines the work as a series of performance objectives – build a team to put together an international reporting process within six months; make quota; design a new circuit that can accomplish A, B, and C and would fit in this kind of parameters and meets these kinds of criteria. It’s always outcomes with the idea being if a person can accomplish that work, he or she is perfectly qualified.

What changes it is the mix of skills and experiences, and I tell my client, “They obviously have to do the work. That’s not compromising but give us some relief on the skills and experiences. Having the skills and experiences means the person can do the work or motivate to do it, but if you can find someone who’s competent and motivated to do that work, you’ve got the right person. You just opened a talent pool to everybody who can do the work. Black, white, old or young, green or yellow, physically-challenged or not, it doesn’t matter.” And I’ve talked to numbers of labor attorneys but the number one labor attorney in the world contends that’s the most accurate way to hire. That’s objective criteria.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I was thinking that if in the unfortunate world that it doesn’t work out a year later, that feels pretty bulletproof in a courtroom – I’m no lawyer – but in terms of, “Hey, this is what they were hired to do. It didn’t happen so we’re looking for someone else who can do it,” as opposed to, “If they were people…”

Lou Adler
Conversely, if you find that’s what you’re looking for, you just dig deep, and to, “Hey, Pete, we need someone who can turn around the plant. Tell me about the biggest turnaround operation you’ve ever been involved with,” and spend 20 minutes digging in and understanding that. Or, “Hey, we’re going to build a team of accountants to put an international reporting system,” “Hey, we’re going to develop a new interface that accomplishes A, B, C using this skill. Walk me through anything you’ve done that’s related to that.”

So, your question was, “How do you create a win-win opportunity?” Well, first, you got to define the work that person has to do over the course of the year that would result, at least from the hiring manager’s perspective, a win-win hire. Then you got to find candidates who are motivated and competent to do that work and find it the best career move up competing alternatives.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I love it. Lou, you just break it down, the step-by-step. So, let’s hear about that next step in terms of how does one go about finding those folks once we’ve clearly defined what a win-win situation looks like?

Lou Adler
Well, that’s a great question. You must read the book. No, seriously, the next step in, first, define the job, a series of key performance objectives. Then find candidates, or I call them semifinalists. You don’t need a lot of people to hire a great person. You just need the right people. So, our high-touch process is spend more time with fewer people as long as they’re prequalified.

And I was with a hiring manager last week, and he was looking for a software developer to do some backend stuff. It was pretty complicated. And I just said, “What do you want this person to do, Harry? What do you want accomplished?” And he told me, “Well, a couple of tasks that were big.” So, I said to him, “If I can find someone who’s done comparable work, it won’t compromise on that ability to be performance qualified,” that’s one step, “and the candidate has been recognized for doing that work and in that top half or top quartile or top third of a peer group, or top 10%, would you at least talk to the person on the phone?” He said, “Absolutely.”

So, part of sourcing is you look for, “Who would a hiring manager want to talk with if they could do that work and they were recognized for being exceptional at it?” I said, “Even if the person had a different mix of skills and experience.” Hiring manager said, “I don’t care. If they could only do the work and motivated to do it, I’d want to see him.” Then I said, “But, now, we’ve got the other side, is we’re going to look for a discriminating candidate who would see that job as a career move.”

So, then we look for, as we find candidates, we look for candidates who see that job as a move, maybe going from a big company to a small company, working at better projects, someone whose growth has slowed down, go to a place where the growth is accelerating. So, there’s a lot of things you can do and there’s a lot of technology to get you to find candidates but you have to be kind of clever at it, but we look for performance qualifying, meaning they can do the work, some super skills; achiever terms, meaning they’re in the top half, top third, top quartile in a peer group; and, from the candidate-facing-decision, hey, the job is a clear career move.

Then you engage in a conversation, “Hey, Pete, would you be open to talk about a situation superior to what you’re doing today?” I tell recruiters, “Don’t sell the job. Sell the conversation. But if you’re dealing with the right person, they’ll engage in the conversation. You take the time pressure off and you discuss this is a career move so the candidates get the…” And I tell candidates, “We’re going to have a conversation to see if we can achieve a win-win hiring outcome. It’s going to take a little more time but let’s just engage in a conversation.” And most candidates are, “Of course. It makes logical sense.”

But you have to know the job to have credibility with the candidate. So, that’s where, taking the intake meeting, and I say, “Here’s the job, Pete. We’re looking for someone who can do A, B, and C and here’s the situation. Here’s the resource.” You really know what you’re talking about. So, recruiters who don’t know the job and just source active candidates who they find either through a job posting or an email, it’s just pure transactional and pure blind luck if they hire a good person. And in pure blind luck, if the person is going to be there a year from now.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I get what you’re saying with regard to, “Hey, find those semifinalists. It is going to take a little bit of more work up front, but the good news is we don’t need to look at hundreds of resumes. We can look at a handful.” Are we thinking five, ten? Is that what we’re talking about here roughly?

Lou Adler
Absolutely. Maybe 12 to 15 but you got to be persistent to talk to everybody because most candidates don’t think you’re different so you got to kind of prove that through the process of pestering, engaging.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. That feels a lot better as a candidate in terms of, “Oh, cool. So, at worse, I’ve got 14 contenders clamoring for this opportunity as opposed to hundreds. Okay. Well, yeah, Lou, that’s worth 10 minutes for me to just see what you’re thinking but maybe a lot more.”

Lou Adler
Sure, maybe just 10 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And so then, can we hear about how do you, on the recruiting side, go about finding these people and confirming that they’ve got the performance qualification, that they can do it, and that they’re in the top half, third, or fourth?

Lou Adler
Well, first off, there’s a lot of ways to do it. A lot of my books and interviewing, we train hiring managers on the whole process – defining the work, finding candidates, interviewing candidates, and closing the deal, and even the onboarding process. But from an interviewing standpoint, so if I was going to call you up, and say, “Hey, Pete, let’s just have a conversation.”

And I said, “Pete, part of this assessment is to make sure this job represents a career move. And to be a career move, it has to give you at least a 30% increase.” “Thirty percent, did you say?” “Well, yeah, but it’s not money. Thirty percent is a combination of job stretch, meaning a bigger job; faster growth, a job with more impact; and more satisfying work. And that’s a complicated decision to make but that’s what I want to go through. So, let me just review your background in general, see if there’s a fit, and if so, we can get serious.”

So, during that process, I dig deep into the candidate’s accomplishments to see if they’re comparable and see if the 30% opportunity exists, and I say, “Pete, this looks like it could be there with bigger team, faster growth. This is the kind of work you like to do. Let me get the hiring manager engaged in this process and we’ll move forward.” But I also say this from a closing standpoint, I say, “Pete, if you’re really the candidate, and you’re going to get an offer two or three weeks from now, it’s high probability you’ll get one, 20%-30% possible, I’m going to ask you a question.”

“I’m going to say forget the money. Forget all the day-one stuff. Do you really want this job? And if you do, tell me why. And if you can’t describe that 30% in your own words, because that’s the information you have to get over the interviewing process, I’m going to suggest you don’t take the offer even if it pays the most because that will not drive your satisfaction growth and lead to a win-win hiring outcome.” So, it’s incumbent upon you, the candidate, to get that information, and is incumbent upon the hiring manager and the hiring company, to give you that information. And if there’s a clash there, fine. Don’t move forward. That kind of has the whole pieces tied together.

Pete Mockaitis
As we have this conversation, Lou, it’s just I keep myself in the candidate shoes, and thinking, “Yes, I like that. Okay, that’s distinctive.” And 30%, that just feels right in the gut in terms of, “Hey, if it’s an 8% bump, is it really worth all the time and effort and hassle and change and disruption to your life and routines to go chasing after it? I don’t know. But 30% is like, well, yeah, that is…”

Lou Adler
But, again, it’s not in monetary. Money won’t be on top of that. But the idea is that if you really get 30% of the compensation will increase at the same rate year after year. So, if you look at, “Hey, what’s your compensation a year or two from now?” it’s going to blow if you really get the non-monetary increase. Your compensation will be there a year or two from now just like this fellow John. He called me up and said his compensation was far greater, title was far greater because we put him on a better career path.

Pete Mockaitis
And then how do you go about confirming whether, in fact, a candidate is in that top half, third, or fourth?

Lou Adler
Well, there’s a lot of ways to do it, basically. And I’m doing a training session so I had to do some recording, doing some recording on some online training on a Friday, no, excuse me, Thursday. So, I said one thing that I look for is a dozen techniques. One of them is, “What kind of recognition did you get for that project?” Well, one thing from a technical standpoint, which is pretty interesting, I call it the Sherlock Holmes deductive technique, is good candidates are always assigned stretch projects early in their career, “Hey, Pete, when you took on that job, what kind of projects did you get assigned?”

Now, if you were assigned, after three months, menial work or average work, consistent with your peer group, then you’re probably an okay person. But if you’re probably starting to get stretch assignments, assigned to more important teams, those teams started recognizing you and asked you to be on other teams, there’s a lot of evidence that you can use to determine if someone is a high achiever. The point is too many interviewers, or hiring managers in particular, judge a person and that person’s raw technical insight, and using a lot of subjective material, “A smart person should do this.” But that’s not…

I’m not technically competent in any of the jobs but I’m a great technical interviewer because I look at what other people thought of that candidate. If you’re a good person, if you’re a sales rep, you get assigned tougher clients. If you’re an accountant at a big accounting firm, the partners in your job don’t give you menial accounts. They give you important accounts and they expose you to important people. If you’re a marketing person, you get assigned bigger projects.

And as a result of being successful, you get assigned even bigger projects, more important product lines that are involved in the company. So, you look for those kinds of things that, “What would likely happen if this person was really good doing that work in that company?” And you start picking up the evidence. They got a president’s award, they got a nice letter, they got a bonus, they got a promotion more rapidly.

So, it’s those kinds of obvious things when you think about it, say, “Of course, that’s what would happen.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do that. You just got to think logically of, Pete, you make a personal judgment. Other people have made a judgment about that person, and that person has made a judgment about him or herself. So, look for that kind of evidence that would be indicative of what a high achiever does.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Lou, I’m just going to put you on the spot and make it a little challenging. I think that it’s funny that what you say that sounds like, “But, of course, we should all do that,” and yet we don’t. And what’s common sense is often not common practice. I’m curious about if you’re hiring someone from an organization whose kind of processes and meritocracy is just kind of broken, and these deductive clues we’d like to lean on as Sherlock Holmes are not giving us the indicators we’d like, what are some other sources you’d use?

Lou Adler
Well, it depends. Maybe the candidate is not any good.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s one possibility. I guess I was just looking for what are some extra indicators or clever approaches that we can get that validation, that check mark.

Lou Adler
Yeah, I don’t know that there’s a clever approach. I think I’m pretty deductive. And I don’t want to say deductive in any kind of intellectual sense. I just look for evidence. If I don’t find the evidence, I pass. I can’t afford the risk.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fair enough.

Lou Adler
When I ask a person, “Why do you change jobs?” and if they always change jobs for short-term reasons, that, to me, is the indicator the person is not really focused on career-oriented, a career-oriented focused person. So, there are things you can look at that would get you some insight and validate that the person is really an okay person but not a high achiever. High achievers want to progress. They self-develop. They work hard and they do get assigned projects. And even if once or twice, it was a screwup, so be it. That’s fine. So, there is evidence that you can look for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure thing. Well, so let’s say we got our semifinalists, and then here we are in the interview phase, can you help us think through on both sides, what are some do’s and don’ts?

Lou Adler
Well, the thing to me, over the years I developed what I call the hiring formula for success. And the hiring formula for success says, so it’s how you actually evaluate candidates. It’s ability to do the work in relationship to fit, drives motivation, and because motivation is so important, it’s squared. So, the do’s and don’t are, “Hey, if you want to achieve a win-win hiring outcome and hire someone in the top half, they better be motivated to do the work you want in the context of your job, the fit factors.”

Of that formula, ability to do the work, which is a combination of hard skills and soft skills, but most people only measure the technical skills, they ignore the soft skills – organization, planning, team collaboration, understanding. They just focus on the hard skills. But if you get at the hard and soft skills, the next one is the fit factors. Fit with the job. Does the candidate really want to do that work? Fit with the hiring manager style. In my mind, I was pretty independent and I had a hiring manager, the group president whom I worked for, was a micromanager, I said, “Fire me if I don’t do the work. Just leave me alone.”

There are other people who want a manager and subordinate who align better on what they need. So, one fit factor is the managerial fit. Another fit factor is the culture of the company. Another one is the pace of the organization. Another one is the sophistication of the organization. But those context issues are critical. There are a lot of confident people but if they don’t fit the fit factors and they’re not motivated to do the work, they’ll underperform.

So, that’s getting pretty complicated but the way we do that, we break the interview down in different pieces, we dig into the candidate’s accomplishments, and then we group around a formula around that hiring formula to make sure that we have all the components measured accurately. So, that’s the secret sauce of how you find candidates who are going to excel in that circumstance. Ignoring the fit factors, it’s, again, problematic if you want to achieve a win-win hiring outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
And you said motivation was squared?

Lou Adler
Yeah, ability to do the work in relation to fit times motivation squared. If you just kind of go through the basics of it, you’ll get some done. But if you’re motivated to do the work, you’ll get a lot more done.

Pete Mockaitis
And in the course of the interview, how do we assess whether one is, in fact, motivated, or, on the flipside, as a candidate, to reveal that you are motivated?

Lou Adler
Motivation to do the work, not get to work, and that’s a critical step here in this process.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, how do I assess whether, one, a candidate has motivation, or convey that I am a motivated as a candidate? You know, it’s funny, I remember I had a friend who was really into a consulting opportunity, and then he got some feedback from his interviewer, he’s like, “You know, you just didn’t really seem into it.” He’s like, “I’m very into it. This is my number one company that I really want to work for.” But, somehow, it didn’t get conveyed. So, how do we convey it? And how do we check for it?

Lou Adler
Well, see, that’s the issue. The fact that someone is quiet and low key has nothing to do with motivation to do the work. Unfortunately, candidates, or hiring managers and interviewers judge you by how motivated you are there during the interview and how extroverted you are. Totally inappropriate. The way I do it is I dig deep in the candidate’s accomplishments and ask many questions, “Hey, what did you do in this accomplishment? Where did you take the initiative? Where did you go the extra mile?”

And I ask that constantly as part of different accomplishments so I start seeing a pattern on the types of work that naturally motivates the person to excel. That’s how I get at it. And I see the pattern of, “Hey, this person always goes out of his or her way to build the team, always takes these architectural design issues, always does this without prompting.” Very few people do everything without prompting all the time. But I start seeing this pattern of activity.

Now, how does a candidate do that? And I don’t want candidates, and I tell candidates, me as a recruiter, unfortunately, my technique is not universal, I tell candidates, “I don’t care if you’re a good interview. I care if you’re a good performer. I’ll try to clean you up to make you the best interview possible. But I’m going to represent you if I think you’re good.” Then we have a course, and you can look on WinWinHiring.com. It’s how to prep for an interview where I tell candidates how to do the best job they can of presenting themselves for a specific job.

And the way to do that is if you feel you’re being superficially assessed, I say to candidates, time out very quickly, and say, “Would you mind telling me some of the major accomplishments related to this job because I’d like to give you examples of work that I’ve done that are most comparable?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Let me do your job for you, interviewer.” That’s funny and I’m laughing because it’s kind of sad but sometimes necessary. Like, as candidates, it’s like, “Let me do your job for you, interviewer. I think what you want to know is the following.”

Lou Adler
Yeah, but most of the time it is. But at least the fact that you just asked that question, indicates that you’re proactive, even if you ask in a low-key way, “Oh, that’s a pretty good question. What are the resources for that job? What’s the timeframe for that job?” And you start asking these questions that say, “Wow, this person…” Even the quality of your questions and proactively asking them, brand you as, “Hey, this person is pretty aggressive.” Your answers the other part, “No, I did some work that’s comparable. And what did you say the biggest problem was in that? You said that design issue to build the tool to do A, B, and C? Let me give you some examples of work that I’ve done related to that.”

So, the idea is, find out what the work is and proactively ask about it. Even if you ask in a low-key manner, it’ll, “Wow, this person is really competent. He really knows what he or she is talking about.” So, I think those are the issues. If you just wait, assume that you’re going to be assessed accurately, the chance of that is five-to-one against you’ll be judged on personality traits and your depth of hard skills.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like that question for getting after motivation. It’s like, “Where have you gone the extra mile here? Where have you gone the extra mile there?” because you’ll surface, I imagine, some patterns. And, hopefully, the answer is not, “Oh, uh, no, I don’t know.” And that can really get you thinking. As I reflect, as I’ve asked myself that question in different endeavors, it’s like, “Where have I gone the extra mile?” it really does reveal, “Oh, yeah, that’s where I was motivated.” And where have I not gone the extra mile is like, “Oh, that’s where I didn’t care and I did the minimum I had to do to comply with the law,” or whatever needs compliance rather than my proactive vigor.

Lou Adler
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, tell us, Lou, any other top tips you would suggest? I think let’s give the candidates a little bit more love in terms of if we want to stand out to become found, to dazzle our prospective employers, what are your top tips on that side?

Lou Adler
Well, first off, my big tip is do not, do not, do not apply for a job directly. Chances are 3% you’ll get interviewed; 1% you’ll get hired, so it’s just a waste of time. On the other hand, if you see a job that you like, I would find out, “Hey, is there any way I can get a referral into that specific job?” That would be great. And it could be a second- or third-degree connection, but you try to see if you can do it, “Okay, what’s this company doing? Do I know anybody? Do I know anybody in my school?” You start looking on LinkedIn.

And the beauty of LinkedIn, it’s a network of 700 million people, not a database of 700 million people. And I don’t think recruiters or candidates take advantage of that. So, now, let’s assume that’s probably going to happen that you’ll know somebody for that job 10%-20%. It’s not going to be high, but you never know. If you get a professional background with an accounting firm, or bigger company, you might be able to get some connection.

On the other hand, 50%-70% of the time, you’ll be able to find out who the vice president is for that department, or director for that department, even if it’s not over that specific job. And I remember talking to this fellow, this has to be five or six years ago now, or maybe ten years, but he was Italian, he had his MBA from some school in Milan, he wanted to work for a telecommunications company in Europe, and he named the top three or four, “I want to work a job here. How would I get it?”

And I said, “Well, it’s easy enough to find a VP of marketing in any of those jobs. Why don’t you do a little MBA-like case study, putting each of their telecommunication systems, if that’s the area you want, and some kind of little competitive matrix, company A, company B, company C, company D, and some of the key features by product line?” So, this person wants to be a product marketing person.

I said, “Then just do a little summary with one or two pages, and then send that off to the VP, and say, ‘I’d like to work in product marketing, and this is what I’ve done. And I’ve found some key weaknesses in some of your products. I’d like to have a chance to chat with you about them.’” He said, “That’s a good idea.” And he called me up once or twice over the next two weeks, and said, “I’m just starting to send out emails, and I think I’ve got one interview already.” I hadn’t heard from him again for like six months, said, “Lou, I got that job with that one company.”

So, there are ways you can find the names of people, do a mini-consulting project, and just arrange to have a conversation, and say, “Hey, I’d like to do this.” And on LinkedIn. There’s an article I call 15 Ways to Hack a Job. So, if you look up Lou Adler, Hack a Job on LinkedIn, you’ll see an article, and it talks about using the backdoor to get the interview, to get to the top of the resume heap. And if you want to apply, unless you’re a world-class person with exactly the skills, it’s a low probability event. I would rather spend more time with fewer postings rather than applying to hundreds of postings.

Same thing with candidates. Don’t spend a lot of times with hundreds of candidates. Get to the right candidates and spend more time with them per candidate. Spend time on jobs you want. And if you put some effort into it, you will get a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you think that most people spend too much time fine tuning their resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and they can spend that time better elsewhere? Or, what’s your take there?

Lou Adler
That’s a good question. I would say the thing is, and I do look at resumes, so I guess here would be the advice. And this was like 30 years ago, I had a training for candidates. I don’t know how I did it, I figured I just wanted to train candidates on how to get a job, so this was pre-internet, pre-job boards too, so it had to be 1990-ish.

And I said, “Take your resume,” I had everyone bring a resume, and I said, “Give it somebody whom you don’t know.” And I said, “Turn it over and give it somebody whom you don’t know.” Then I said, “I’m going to give everybody 30 seconds to look at that resume.” Maybe it was 15 or 20 seconds. I said, “When I turn the clock on, I want to say turn the resume over and just circle the things that stand out,” maybe it was 10 or 15 seconds. “And then turn it back over and give it back to the person you got it from.”

So, I then said, look at the candidates, and said, “Now, look at what’s circled. Is that enough to get someone to read your resume because you only got five or 10 seconds or 15 seconds where somebody sees your resume and decides to read it?” So, now, I take that same advice, and a lot of people had their name in big bold letters, their address in big bold letters, the title of summary in big bold letters. I said, “Is that going to get someone to read your resume?”

So, now, you take that same advice, so, “Hey, you’ve got 10 or 15 seconds,” recruiters only get 10 or 15 seconds per name, maybe five or six, they got a whole list. Some machine is going to score it in priority order, but assume you get to the top of the list. Well, what’s going to stand out? It’s that first line, which is usually that description. So, if that description turns out, so that’s what I do. I don’t even look at the person’s name.

I just look at the title they give themselves, “Expert in a job of developing something or other.” If it’s kind of cool and interesting, “Oh, that’s kind of interesting, pretty clever.” I highlight something. “Coaching thousands of people on how to do A, B, and C.” “Oh, that’s pretty cool. I got to look at that.” So, I would say that’s probably the most important thing is the first line below your name on LinkedIn. I don’t exactly know how it turns out to look at but I just don’t remember how it does.

But I guess I don’t know if anybody can just look at LinkedIn and look what it looks like, but, to me, that would be the thing. And then I highlight one or two major accomplishments and probably the academics or the track record that somehow show the promotions very quickly, say, “Hey, this is an achiever.” So, some of those achiever terms quickly and some of the projects the person has worked on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, how about a favorite quote?

Lou Adler
Stephen Covey who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is my favorite author of all time. He came up, and this was 30 years ago, seven habits that a team, like exceptional people, all have. One of them was “Begin with the end in mind,” “Think win-win.” And “Seek first to understand before you’re understood.” So, I’d say those three are critical, “Think win-win,” “Seek first to understand to be understood,” and then “Begin with the end in mind.”

But if you think about the comment I made, Pete, about, “How do you control the interview if you’re a candidate?” it’s to start asking questions, “Begin with the end in mind,” “Hey, Pete, what do you want done in this job? What will success look like? And I’d like to give you some examples of work that I’ve done.” That is proactive enough to force the interviewer to tell you, and they’ll be impressed by the fact you asked that kind of question. You have to give a decent answer, too, but, nonetheless, you’re in the game if you ask the question.

So, you’re beginning with the end. Why answer questions that aren’t relevant? Why not answer questions that are related to the real job. So, force the person to do it. But I use those quotes a lot and refer to Stephen Covey a lot, so maybe that is my favorite quote.

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

Lou Adler
I went to a number of companies that process resumes, they’re called applicant-tracking systems, and I validated the number. And one company had all their users there, and they said, “Over the last five years, since we’ve been in business, we’ve processed 75 million resumes. And of that, 750,000 people got jobs.” And everybody clapped.

And I said to myself, “That’s 1%.” So, they’re spending 99% of all the people applied did not get a job. I then ultimately asked, and that’s what I got. The likelihood of applying is random chance. And then I validated that with two other applicant-tracking system companies. They weren’t as big as that one. But in 30 or 40 resumes, it was about 1% of people who applied get a job. Three to four percent get interviewed.

Then you say, “Where do these other 96% of the jobs get filled?” And most of it is referrals, or internal promotions, or through a trusted recruiter, or from a second-degree connection. So, then that’s a lot of that stuff evolves on, you just look at the statistics, it says, “Hey, the way to get a job is to do your own due diligence. Don’t assume that a posting on Indeed or a posting on ZipRecruiter is going to get it, get you that great opportunity, and applying to hundreds and hundreds of jobs a week. That’s not work. That’s a waste of time.”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Lou Adler
Oh, that would be Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

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

Lou Adler
For me, a tool is LinkedIn. When I was a recruiter, I could find anybody on LinkedIn in 24 hours. It was easy. No, it’s another tool that I would actually say. I don’t know if you know this. It’s called a phone. You have to talk to people. And I think too many people try to make it impersonal, whether you’re on the company side or the candidate side.

Hiring is a serious personal business. It’s an important decision. And if you try to make it a technical role, you’re going to be unsuccessful. You try and make it a personal relationship; you’ll be very successful. That’s why I say spend, combine high tech with high touch. Don’t just rely exclusively on high tech to make important hiring decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that people quote back to you often, or that you’re known for?

Lou Adler
Define the job. Or, “It’s what people do with what they have, not what they have that makes them successful.” It’s what people with what they have, not what they have that makes them successful. So, during the course of the interview, I understand, “What do you have in terms of skills and experiences and opportunities, and what have you accomplished with those?” And I’m looking for people who have accomplished more with less.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lou Adler
And that really reveals a lot about that person’s capability.

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

Lou Adler
I would go to WinWinHiring.com. WinWinHiring.com is a training course, an online training course. But I’d also go to Amazon and search “Hire With Your Head.” The book just came out, fourth edition from Wiley. Whether you’re a candidate or a hiring manager or a recruiter, you’ll find it invaluable in terms of planning your life and your career.

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

Lou Adler
Well, to be awesome, yeah, I say don’t make excuses. Get it done. It doesn’t matter if you’re committed to do it. Don’t blame others. Just do it. And I see that all the time. And one thing I hate is people who make excuses. I like people who get the job done. And getting it done on time, even if it’s not perfect, is more important than saying or making excuses on why you didn’t make it perfect. Get it done in some level so people can use it. Meet your deadlines. Don’t make excuses. Get it done. That would be my motto for being awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lou, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and fun in all the ways you’re getting it done.

Lou Adler
Great. Thank you, Pete. Nice chatting with you.

720: Navigating the Great Resignation with Dr. David Rock

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Dr. David Rock shares strategies to help both employees and employers come out of the Great Resignation feeling more satisfied.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why so many professionals are now quitting 
  2. The small shifts that drastically improve satisfaction and productivity
  3. The telltale signs it’s time to quit your job 

About David

Dr. David Rock coined the term neuroleadership, and is the Co-founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI). The Institute is a 23-year-old cognitive science consultancy that has advised over 50% of the Fortune 100. With operations in 24 countries, the institute brings neuroscientists and leadership experts together to make organizations better for humans through science.

Dr. Rock has authored four successful books including Your Brain at Work, a business best-seller, and has written for and been quoted in hundreds of articles about leadership, organizational effectiveness, and the brain which can be found in Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, CNBC, Forbes, Fortune, Inc., USA Today, BBC, The Boston Globe and more.

Dr Rock is originally Australian, though based in the US since 2010. He holds a professional doctorate in the Neuroscience of Leadership from Middlesex University in the UK.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome
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Dr. David Rock Interview Transcript

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

David Rock
It’s a pleasure. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’m excited to be with you and I’m hoping you can give us some insight beyond the headlines. We’re hearing this term Great Resignation a lot. First, can you define it for us? And tell us, is this a really a big deal or is this overhyped?

David Rock
It’s a bit of both. Statistically, when you really look at the data, and I’m a scientist, I like data, it’s definitely bigger than other times but it’s also part of an ongoing trend where we’ve seen increasing numbers of people changing jobs every year. So, it’s definitely a bump but it’s really hard to say whether it’s a function of sort of no one quit last year, because we were so uncertain, and then kind of, suddenly, there was this big bump now making up for that. Statistically, it looks a little bit more than just that big bump but it feels bigger. And certainly, it is bigger, and you may notice it around you in certain industries, but it’s not kind of enormous thing necessarily from a statistic point of view.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, but is there something noteworthy and bigger there that’s worth exploring and digging into?

David Rock
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a really very specific experience that millions, if not billions, of people have had. It’s very unusual. The Great Depression, a hundred years ago, is probably the only thing in all and parallel that really left a mark on people. People who grew up through the Great Depression had certain habits, the horrors of their life till the end of their life. And I think, in a similar way, the folks who’ve lived through this pandemic are going to be affected by it for a long, long time.

And there’s a number of things that happened. Huge parts of the economy are built on devices to distract us from ourselves, whether it’s movies, books, television, apps, everything else. And for a lot of people, Netflix kind of ran out, and there was nothing left to distract them.

Pete Mockaitis
They finished it.

David Rock
They finished it, right? And so, they’re left having all this time with themselves, and sometimes what they saw they didn’t really like. So, there’s a percentage of the population who’s interested in self-reflection and kind of thinking about life, but there’s a lot of people who go through life, probably a majority, without much time really thinking about themselves. We don’t have 90% of people in therapy.

And so, a lot of people were kind of forced to take a good honest look at their life because there wasn’t much else to focus on, and they saw that they didn’t really love their job, that maybe they didn’t love their partner, maybe didn’t love where they lived, and those three things changed a lot when the pandemic finished. And the job is the easier one to change than a house or a partner. You’re probably more likely to trade up in the job, but the other two, it depends. So, a lot of people kind of coming out of this say, “I want to make big changes.”

And, also, there’s this really big lack of control that we all have experienced and are still experiencing. There’s a really big lack of control, so think of autonomy. And so, by kind of changing jobs, in particular, you’re reasserting your feeling of control in your life, in a way that’s probably the least disruptive as well. So, I think that’s another reason. In summary, people kind of had time to think and got to see a lot of their life wasn’t great. And then they found a way to regain control, which is the easiest way is changing jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, autonomy, status, control, things that folks want or maybe not getting as much as they’d like in their jobs, and so a switch is one way to accomplish that. Do you have any interesting research insights on can we get more of that while staying where we are?

David Rock
Yeah, absolutely. So, autonomy is this really interesting construct in the brain. It’s a feeling of being in control or having choices. The two are quite similar. When you press a button to cross the street, you expect it to change in a certain amount of time. If nothing happens after a few minutes, you get frustrated. You thought you had control over crossing the road and you discover it’s broken and now you feel better. You’ve regained control and you cross another way. But our feeling of kind of being in control is something that goes up and down through the day but, generally, within a certain limit. And the pandemic really drops that sense. We felt completely out of control. We just didn’t know what to do in a huge way. And it’s such an interesting phenomenon – control.

In animal studies, it’s the difference between life and death. So, in animal studies, essentially, you can give animals a certain stress, and some will have this perception of being in control of it and some will feel out of control, and it literally is the difference between life and death. There are studies with humans, in retirement homes, in aged homes, where they give a control group no change, and another group, they give them three choices. This was done in about the ‘70s. But they give them three choices of like a plant, or an art, or where to put the bed. It actually halved the death rate for people who were given control.

And then a third study that always blows my head off, people given the control over how they laid out their cubicle. So, same job, same company, same cubicle, still had the same computer, but they were allowed to bring in like personal things in their cubicle versus not. And the people allowed to bring in personal things, who felt in control of their cubicle, are 25% more productive. It’s like a day a week more productive. It’s crazy.

So, autonomy has this outsized effect on many, many functions in the brain. And, essentially, it puts us in more of an approach state or towards state when we have a sense of control. And when we reduce that sense of control, it activates more of a threat state or avoidance state. And, generally, we’re far more creative in an approach state. We literally have greater cognitive resources for holding big ideas in mind. We collaborate better. Just about everything is better in more of an approach state, what happens when we feel like we’re in control.

A little bit of an avoidance or threat state is okay for focusing for short bursts but you won’t be very creative but you’ll be able to execute well. So, there’s a whole lot of science to this but, essentially, the pandemic kind of reduced our feeling of control but a lot of clever people worked out hacks to that, and said, “Actually, you know what, I can control my diet now better than any other time in my life,” and decided to really monitor their diet and track it, do experiments, and people said, “You know what, I can control my sleep properly for the first time ever. I can even control the people I meet.” And the introvert, germophobes, had a field day. But we could suddenly control a lot more things because we were in a home environment.

And so, while you can sort of focus on being out of control, there were other ways that you could focus on. Actually, your control had increased in a local way. And we even had more control over when we worked versus when we had breaks and all of this stuff. And that was one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we had this increased sense of control about kind of workflow because our manager wasn’t standing over us. So, it gives you a clue to sort of what we can do. But the science of this is really fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. And what a powerful impact there by having even minor amounts of control. You’re allowed to decorate your cubicle as you see fit. And so, boy, that just gets me thinking, there’s probably so much autonomy that, we guess, we just sort of leave on the table, if you will. It’s like we don’t even consider that we have that control in order to exercise it and enjoy the benefits of controlling our work, break time, or our food choices, or our sleep. Any other categories you think are just sort of like overlooked, like, “Hey, this is in your control. Seize it and reap the benefits”?

David Rock
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re at home a lot of the time, you’re in control of who you socialize with. And now you don’t have to socialize with people who are in a 20-mile radius. You can socialize with people anywhere in the world. And I’ve been part of a poker school, or poker club, for over a decade, and most of my buddies I played with are in Australia where I’m originally from, and I kind of miss them.

And what I found is that there was a great app where we could literally play poker online and see each other and hear each other perfectly. It was just like being there. And we started playing monthly and enjoyed it so much, we started playing weekly. And now I’m getting together with some of my favorite humans literally every week for a couple of hours and just hanging out. It’s a wonderful thing.

So, you gain this control over who you interact with, and whether it’s family or friends or people you really want to learn from, that’s another upside to this time. And I think the people’s willingness to sort of try things on platforms is always going to be with us. We’ve all learned that there are things we can do on platforms, like Zoom, that we never imagined were possible, and actually they can work. And so, I think that’s going to stay with us for some time.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, so then what are some other ways you recommend folks can upgrade their satisfaction with where they are? They can look for opportunities to exercise their autonomy. What else?

David Rock
Another thing that you want to play with is your sense of certainty.

So, we have this drive for our feeling of control that’s always relative, so you have a little more, a little less than where you were. But we also have this drive for a sense of certainty, and they’re similar but quite different things. And a sense of certainty is literally, “How much do you feel you’re able to predict what’s about to happen?”

Let me give you an example. Normal times, you’re at work, you’re at the office, and you live a little far away, and your partner borrows your car. And during the day, they say, “Hey, I think I’m going to be back in time but I’m not sure, and if not, you’ll need to get public transport.” You know that’s like an extra hour and a hassle. The whole afternoon, your brain is going to go back and forward, back and forward between, “Do I have to leave at 5:00? Do I need to leave at 4:00? Am I going to have to deal with that?”

While that ambiguity is there, a big piece of your brain is trying to solve for two different realities, and it’s trying to do all the sort of what-if questions about if you have to take the subway and the bus, or if you’re going to have the car, and it’s debilitating. You’re actually using some of your limited working memory. So, that’s a small bit of uncertainty where you just got, “Do I take transport or am I having a car?”

And so, your brain is constantly mapping out into the future trying to kind of plan ahead unconsciously. When the world is really certain, as it sort of was before the pandemic, things were kind of in a flow and you knew how you’re getting home, and what you’re doing next week, and where you’re going for vacation, and when you would next see your parents, and all of these kinds of things. Then certainty plummeted during the pandemic. And one of the interesting phenomena was our temporal focus, or how far out we could think, really shrank.

Normally, we think like, it’s not uncommon to think a year out and plan a vacation in a year, or some education in a year, or two years, you’re working towards, or be saving for something a few years out. We went from a year to not a quarter or even a month, and not even a week. Many of us, during the pandemic, could barely think a few days ahead. We were very much in the now. And it was because of the amount of uncertainty, there were so many variables that were uncertain that it just hurt to think even a week out at some points. There was just so much that was changing all the time.

And so, we became much more focused kind of in the moment. And part of it is that uncertainty, like a lack of control, increases the threat response in the brain, which literally reduces resources for prefrontal or working memory. And so, you had this issue where lack of control actually made it harder to just hold things in your mind, and so you just focus on the now. Then there was this whole kind of complexity of just trying to calculate further out and how exhausting that was, and we just kind of gave up.

And so, that issue happened. And interestingly, again, this is one of those situations where you can kind of hack your perception of control just like you can autonomy. And the interesting thing about the brain is things that are local are valued more highly than things that are farther away. So, feeling certain about your office where you spend a lot of time will actually give you a whole lot of benefits because it’s right in front of you all the time.

And so, you can hack your brain’s need for certainty by…and a lot of people did this, like organizing your office like crazy, organizing your bookshelf, organizing your filing, re-setting up your systems, getting your computer better than ever, getting the stand you’ve always wanted, and the camera and eyesight. Just getting super organized, so literally you didn’t have to use working memory for lots of little things anymore.

Steve Jobs was famous for this, always wearing the same things where he didn’t have to make decisions in the morning, and could focus on other things. It’s a bit like that. You just create this huge amount of certainty, and your brain has to make fewer decisions, and it’s less taxed overall. So, there’s a local effect with things that are physically close to you and also things that are close in time, and that’s one of the ways of hacking this.

So, you end up organizing your calendar, your schedule. You end up just kind of getting really disciplined and structured, and that hacks your sense of certainty even if the outside world is completely crazy. And so, there’s always kind of hacks like this, particularly around autonomy and certainty you can do even when the world is really crazy, to locally feel a lot better and be able to think well.

Pete Mockaitis
That really resonates and what’s coming to mind for me is I’ve got a buddy, Ronnie, and he said to me, boy, decades ago, he said, “Laundry is power.” I said, “What are you even saying?” And then, sure enough, this was before I was doing my laundry regularly, we’re like teenagers. And then when I got in the groove and I understood, it’s like, “Ah, yes, when you have a drawer of perfectly folded and organized and clean and ready-to-go laundry, that is power.” Because whatever tiny bit of your RAM was spent wondering, “Do I have clean underwear or shirt or dress, socks?” whatever item you might need or want. It’s like the answer is, “Yes. Why, I’m certain my clothing is handled.”

Likewise, I’ve got a bunch of high-protein snacks on my shelf, and that feels great in terms of like, “I don’t need to worry. If a schedule gets all choppy or weird, I’m not going to go hungry. there’s reassurance there that feels good.” So, organizing in terms of, “I know I’ve got my pens or my stand or whatever, my apps,” lay it on us, what are some other ways we can remove uncertainty from our lives and reap those psychological benefits?

David Rock
I have to tell you a funny relevant story before we go into some other ones. I just had a birthday recently, and my partner said, “What do you really want?” And I said, “I want to never think about socks again.” Like, I work out every single day. I’m just spending like five minutes pointlessly searching for socks and pairing them and stuff. I said, “I want you to really care about the perfect socks, and go test them, find out and see if you can work out. I like XYZ, and then that’s the thing I most want for my birthday.”

And they did it, they went out and she like worked out the exact one and threw out all my other socks, and gave me just dozens and dozens and dozens of the exact same socks, so I just never have to think about matching socks ever again. And it’s kind of something I’ve always wanted. I always felt too indulgent. But it’s like that stuff adds up because it’s attention you can’t put elsewhere in all those little places.

Pete Mockaitis
David, I love that so much. And the problem with socks is that they have all these different styles. Like, if you get pack of five, it might be five different designs, like, “That doesn’t help me because if I lose one, then the pair ends, whereas I’ve got redundancies, they could replace each other.” And so, it’s harder to match and pair. So, I’ve actually had the same fantasy but I, too, have not taken the time to realize it.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. All right. So, socks, that’s one thing you cannot think about ever again.

David Rock
Well, it’s a good metaphor. And then if you take that and say, “Look, what else do you regularly, like at least once a week, find you waste attention on?” Because attention is actually a limited resource. If you’re having to pair socks, that’s attention you can’t put onto something else. So, what else do you regularly, like at least weekly, maybe daily, put attention on so that you really don’t need to, you really shouldn’t have to? And how can you replace those things so that you really don’t have to actually give that any focus anymore?

You’ll start to see a lot of things where you could create a lot more certainty in these areas, whether it’s bulk buying food so that you know you’ve always got three months’ worth of things that you never have to worry, or shop four times a year, or it could be around planning your exercise routine a month out at a time, or planning your diet a whole way out. So, there’s different ways to think about it. It’s kind of whatever you’re interested in but, essentially, the fewer decisions you have to make that are kind of pointless, the better off you’ll be. That’s the tip overall.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And so, it’s not so much, “Oh, I’m at the gym. What am I going to do here now?” but rather, “I’ve taken some time, I’ve done some research in advance based on my goals and the equipment that’s available and the time I have, this is what I’m doing.” And so, you’ve made one decision to rule dozens or hundreds of subsequent things.

David Rock
Right. One of the things I did is I realized I was terrible at going to the gym, and it just was the time sucked till I get there and deal with things, and get back, and I didn’t like the environment at the gym, and I needed to work out fairly regularly. I felt there were benefits. The research was really saying there were benefits.

And as I looked into the research, it became clear that actually a small amount of exercise, if you do it every day, is fantastic. And by small amount, I mean like five minutes, even five to ten minutes. And I realized I’m overcomplicating this thing. What if I could do something that I could do absolutely anywhere, it doesn’t matter what hotel I’m in, what part of the world I’m in, what mental state I’m in, I can just, anywhere, do some exercises and do them absolutely daily?

When I simplified it down to that, I had all this certainty, and now I could just weave in exercise into part of my day. And so, pushups and sit-ups go a long way plus some stretching. If you could do that regularly, daily, you’ve got an amazing set of health benefits and strength and confidence. And add some cardio from most days from a walking meeting so that you’re getting that cardio in as well while you’re in a meeting, and you’ve got a fantastic exercise routine without ever going to the gym. So, again, you’re kind of creating, I guess, it’s not just certainty. Also, you’re just creating more ease with your attention and with having to achieve your goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like, “Oh, when and where and how am I going to get this workout in?” It’s like, “Oh, that’s just five minutes. It can be anywhere. And for the time being, I’ve chosen to schedule it at this time recurring, and now there it is.” Cool. All right. Well, so then let’s talk about if we do want to make a change in the job, how do we know it’s time and how do you go about thinking through and deciding that?

David Rock
Companies are really good at trying to keep people, and I think that it’s really good, and I speak as an employer as well, I guess, in this, but it’s really good to explore the options because sometimes we just think that the job we’re in is the only opportunity, but a lot of companies are good at being flexible, and you might find there’s a completely different career path in the same company.

I remember we did a lot of work with Intel for quite some years, the chip maker, and I remember a dinner a few years ago with maybe a dozen of the Intel executives, and they were introducing themselves, and I said, “How long have you been here? And what do you do?” to a person. Everyone had been there 20 plus years. And they weren’t necessarily that senior, they were mid-career, I was like, “How does the company keep you so long?”

And everyone just laughed and said, “Well, every two or three years, I get a knock on my door, and someone offers me a ridiculously big job that I could never imagine I would ever be chosen for and throws me in the deep end in this incredibly challenging opportunity that I get to really sink my teeth into. And they just keep doing that every few years. I’ve never gone more than five years without that happening.” And everyone to a person agreed.

So, Intel, in the background, who worked that out, and kept really, really good people by stretching them a lot. And so, a lot of clever organizations want to give you different kinds of roles, and I think the first step is to explore, “Is it the company or is it the role?” If you’re an extrovert and you’re stuck in accounting filling in forms, you may find that joining the sales team might make you intrinsically happier. That’s an obvious one.

So, I think the first thing is, “Is it the company, or is it the role, or is it the team?” Maybe you’re in a team where the chemistry isn’t right. And I’ve got a team of 200 plus people, and magic happens sometimes when you move someone to a different team. Someone can be an underperformer and not happy. You put them in a whole different team, they do incredible work. So, there’s a definite chemistry thing. So, I think it depends. Is it the company? Is it the team? Is it the work? It’s good to think about those things and explore ideas.

If it’s all three, you might want to consider your options. And sometimes people just want to really shake things up. They want to really, really shake up their kind of whole world and kind of challenge themselves to learn new things, especially if they’re maybe mid-career, they’ve done a few years kind of in their first five to ten years of working. They’ve kind of really learned a lot of skills in one environment, they’re like, “I want to challenge myself and learn something completely different.”

I was talking to a colleague who’s been in pharma for a long, long time, and she’s like, “You know what, I want to go and be in media now. Pharma has been great but I want an entirely different ecosystem. I want to learn entirely different things about the world, and that’s something I’m passionate about.” So, that’s a person that probably will leave because it’s the entire industry they want to shift, so getting a new job in there won’t be helpful.

So, I think you got to think about also the industry, the company, the team, and the job itself. What really is it? And if it is time to leave, it’s always really great, and I guess I say this as an employer, but it’s always really great to let people know really early and minimize the surprise elements so your colleagues, not just your managers, but your colleagues also have time to set things up so they’re not drowning.

I know in many organizations right at the moment, everyone is struggling for talent. I don’t know how the math of that works but I think just a lot of people are not working. And it’s not just restaurants and bars. Like, everyone, everywhere is really short staffed somehow. Just about every industry I talk to, people are saying, “We just don’t have enough people for the work.” So, I’m a fan of giving folks lots of warnings so you’re not throwing anyone in the deep end.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we’ve talked about some tiny interventions in terms of just like your own mindset and what’s in your sphere of control, what you can do there. We talked about some big changes in terms of, “I’m out of here.” And so, maybe about some in-between size changes, do you have any pro tips on how we go about communicating with managers, leaders, others in terms of, “Hey, you know what, this job isn’t working for me,” or, “Hey, I really appreciate if we can make this shift or accommodation”? Any magical scripts or words or phrases or approaches that really work well here?

David Rock
Yeah, there’s no magic in that stuff. It creates a lot of anxiety for people, so I think being clear is really helpful, being really clear about whether you’ve made a decision or not, whether you’re talking to other organizations already or not, where you are in your process. If you’re really early in your thinking, let people know you’re early in your thinking and you’re not planning to do anything for a few months. If you’ve kind of already decided to leave and you’ve already done interviews, you got to be kind of upfront about that.

So, I think there’s a lack of transparency in both directions, employer and employee in these things, and I think everyone wins when there’s more transparency around this stuff. So, I think just be really clear about where you are in your process and it’s just really nice to give people a little bit of a time to find that replacement as well, especially in this environment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Flipping the perspective a little bit, when you are the employer and you are looking to retain the talent, you mentioned some of the best practices of Intel, what are some of the other things that you find are really great things to do to help get people to stick around?

David Rock
One of the biggest motivators is feeling you’re making progress. There’s a whole book on that called The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile. But it’s this feeling like you’re actually able to really do your best work, not just make progress but you’re able to really be proud of the work that you do, and know it really is your best work. There’s sort of nothing worse than getting home and saying, “I tried my best but, really, there are all these roadblocks in the way, and I did half the job I could’ve done,” or, “If only my colleagues had my back,” or, “If only I had this technology,” or, “I just didn’t get to look as good or hit it out of the park.” It’s frustrating.

So, I think helping people do their best work is really important. And the challenge with that is it’s very individual so managers will have to learn to ask questions about it. So, some really interesting data out recently, like there’s a whole conundrum about, “Where do you let people work now that the offices are opening up a bit?” But it turns out, there’s no one answer to that. About a third of people are saying there are productive places at home full time. It’s not just that they want to goof off. It’s actually where they work hardest to get the most done.

Now, some of them might also appreciate having more time with their kids and less pointless time driving and all sorts of things. But, literally, a third of people say they’re more productive working at home than anything else. About a third of people say they’re actually more productive working in the office, and that’s where they get the most done. Now, they might be extroverts, or they might not have conditions at home that are good, or they just might not have the discipline that they just end up distracted too much at home. So, you’ve got really different polarities there.

And so, as a manager, you want to help people work out where they do their best work but even when they do their best work. Some people, like their routine is such whether they have kids maybe, but they just do amazing work if they can start at 5:00 a.m., work through 8:00, take four hours off, and then do three hours in the afternoon. And they’ll do stellar work if they do that, and be healthy, and a good parent, and all these other things.

Other people, they’ll do stellar work if they start at lunchtime and go straight through till 8:00 p.m., That’s just how they work. They’re night owls. So, there’s the where you work, there’s the when you work, there’s, our research show, that who you work with and what you work on is even more important, even more motivating. Like, you can give people, this is back to autonomy, give people a little more control than they thought they might have over what they work on and who they work with, you actually get an even greater sense of engagement.

So, we’re coming back to autonomy a lot, but giving people more control over where they work, and when they work, and what they work on, and who they work with, these things are very intrinsically motivating. And, at the same time, how can you, as a manager, kind of remove roadblocks and give people the tools they need to really feel like they can do their best work? Those are a couple of the really big things we think.

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

David Rock
I think this is an incredible time to make big changes in how we work individually and for organizations. I think it’s a really interesting time because all our systems kind of that were very frozen forever are being kind of unfrozen, everything is sort of bit in flux. And as we start to open offices again and go back, before we fall on bad habits again, I think it’s a great time for companies and individuals to think about the habits they want to have, think about the kind of culture they want to have, think about the kind of team they want to be part of, all of this.

So, I think it’s a great time to be really intentional as we kind of transition into 2022. Let’s be really intentional about the kind of life we want to live as individuals, or the kind of culture we want to have as a company. And, for me, it’s really important to say this. Follow the science because the science is often different to our gut instinct. Follow the science and then experiment, and then follow the data. Follow the science, experiment, and follow the data, are three really important things as we move forward. Don’t just follow gut instinct.

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

David Rock
Theodore Zeldin, a philosopher at Oxford, one of my favorite authors, he often said, “When will we make the same breakthroughs in the way we relate to each other as we’ve made in technology?” So, that’s something that inspires me really often.

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

David Rock
I really like the study by Dan Gilbert. Dan is a professor at Harvard. He wrote the book Stumbling on Happiness, which is about the way we mis-predict what will make us happy in the future. We think that a big car, an hour in the suburbs will make us happy than a small apartment in the city. And it turns out, the ten hours a week of driving makes us miserable much more so than the space makes us happy.

So, anyway, he wrote this great book Stumbling on Happiness and he did this study a few years back, looking at kind of, “What are the different activities that make people happy?” And what he discovered was really surprising, was that about half the time people are literally not there mentally. The lights are on but no one’s home. They’re like in a meeting but they’re mentally in lunch tomorrow. Or, they’re supposedly working on a document but their mind is off on something else altogether.

So, about half, it’s about 48% of our waking hours, we are literally not present in what we’re doing. It’s such a fascinating finding and tells you why we need to kind of be reminded to have more of a growth mindset and kind of experiment a lot more because we’re just not present a lot of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

David Rock
A book that kind of changed my life a lot and sort of set me down the neuroscience path a lot was John Ratey’s book. It’s an old book now but it’s called A User’s Guide to the Brain. And I read that and read that and read that, and thumbed through that, for years and years and years. And it gave me like the first kind of really good dose of language about what was happening inside my head. And at some point, I said, “You know what, I really wish there was a version of this for doing work.” And there wasn’t, and I kind of ended up writing that book. That’s my book Your Brain at Work.

And, as self-serving as this is, I just re-read it and re-edited it, and ten years later, after I kind of originally read it, I actually got a lot out of it. So, that’s my second most favorite book, it’s my own book. It really helped me understand my brain, writing it. And even ten years later, even if it’s very late, I had to do it to kind of improve it. So, anything that sort of gives you language for what’s going on moment to moment in your brain, gives you an ability to be more mindful in a way because you’re paying attention to internal experiences and states so you’re literally more full of your mind. Your attention is on your mental process.

And these kinds of things end up having a similar effect as actual mindfulness training in that it reduces stress and gives you greater cognitive control and all these other things. So, I’m a big fan of learning about your brain as a way of being more adaptive in life and more effective in your career or as a manager.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

David Rock
I think my favorite tool is the hot tub, the jacuzzi. It’s a communication tool, and I’ve probably had one consistently for the last 20 years in everywhere that I’ve lived. I’ve made sure of it. And what I find is you get this unusual window of time where you’re super comfortable, super relaxed, where you can really have long deeper conversations, usually with my partner or with a close friend. It’s this kind of non-obvious conversation tool for having really good quality downtime. And I find, when I don’t have a hot tub around, we just don’t spend that kind of time really going deeper on things, whereas with the hot tub, you do. So, there you go, an unexpected tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that people seem to quote back to you often?

David Rock
“We tend to think about what’s easiest to think about rather than what’s right to think about.” Something I said in Your Brain at Work, and a lot of people quote that. We tend to think about whatever is easy to think about rather than what we actually should be focused on. And so, a lot of the intangible things don’t get enough attention over things that are just more tangible by kind of accident.

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

David Rock
A couple of places of work that I do with organizations, NeuroLeadership.com. Personally, DavidRock.net. My book, my most recent book is Your Brain at Work. You just look that up. You’ll find it everywhere. And easy to find me through DavidRock.net if you’re interested in all the different things I’m involved with.

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

David Rock
I think this is a great time to think about the next decade or so for yourself. The decisions you make right now about your career will last you five to ten years. So, I think this is a good time to think deeply about what inspires you, what motivates you, what you want to really spend your time and your attention on. A bit like the socks. Do you want to spend your attention on something that annoys you or do you want to spend your attention on something that really inspires you? So, I think it’s a great time to be thoughtful about how you want to spend the next decade or so.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. David, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you much luck and fun in your adventures.

David Rock
Thank you so much. Appreciate the opportunity.

716: How to Save Your Career without Leaving Your Job with Darcy Eikenberg

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Darcy Eikenberg says: "Have we actually used all of our control to try to get more of what we want?"

Darcy Eikenberg offers solutions for turning your job around when you feel like quitting.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three shifts you can always make to improve any job 
  2. How to to ask for and get what you want
  3. How to reset your relationships and boundaries at work 

About Darcy

Darcy Eikenberg is on a mission to help us change our lives at work without changing everything in our lives. She’s the author of Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job which shows how to get more of what you want without changing careers or finding a new job—and without sacrificing yourself. She’s coached leaders at companies such as The Coca-Cola Company, State Farm, and Deloitte, and offers encouraging ways to change work for the better, for good.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors

  • University of California Irvine. Chart your course to career success at ce.uci.edu/learnnow

Darcy Eikenberg Interview Transcript

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

Darcy Eikenberg
Thanks, Pete. I’m so glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your latest work, let’s hear it, Red Cape Rescue. What’s the story here?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, the tagline is “Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job.” And the story really came out of working with a lot of my clients where I would hear these conversations going on where they’d say, “You know, I’m smart and I should be able to figure out what I want next, but something is not quite right at work. Something is just bugging me or something is just changed for me but I can’t put my finger on it.”

And recognizing so often that the conventional wisdom was telling them, “Well, if something is not right at work, you better go find another job.” And then maybe they’d try that, and it didn’t really work well, or maybe they found another job, and in six months, they’re asking the same question again. And I realized that the conventional wisdom is just wrong, that often there are so many things we can do right where we are to change our life at work without having to change everything in our life.

And so, that’s really the core of the book, the kind of strategies that you can use right now, wherever you are, to take back control.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, so maybe could you start us off with a cool story of someone who did see a nifty transformation while staying right there?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah. So, I have a client who was a leader in an advertising agency, but thought she was up for the next promotion and didn’t get it. How many times has that happened to folks, right? And the reason she didn’t get it, she didn’t get a good explanation, and she really just got angry and frustrated, and then she got really down on herself.

And someone introduced her to me, and we started really teasing apart what did she want and what was going on with this rejection for this promotion. And she realized that she was feeling like she had to go find another job, kind of out of just out frustration. But, in truth, she loved a lot of the things about the company, about the people, and about the work.

And so, we found ways for her to have better conversations, to get clear about what she wanted, to be able to be more direct with the folks who were making decisions, about what was getting in her way, and also to reshape her own story so that the things they weren’t seeing in her for this particular promotion, that she could tell different stories to bring that out.

And so, that person who could’ve just left, she could’ve found another job, but she didn’t. And now, a couple years later, she’s actually second in line to the next president of the whole agency. So, I think there’s a lot of us who might like to not throw away everything that we have in our lives at work and be able to make more of it, but we need some different skills. We need some different strategies.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay. So, then in this particular instance, it was more about sort of sharing, “Hey, this is what it did,” kinds of things.

Darcy Eikenberg
So, two things in this particular instance. One was getting clear on what she really wanted at that phase. So, did the promotion represent something? But what did she really want? And, really, what she wanted in many ways was the opportunity to make a bigger impact but she hadn’t been able to express that. No one had pulled that out of her, and she hadn’t even recognized that. So, that clarity first is often a step when something is happening.

You’ve hit a road bump at work, it’s like, “What is it that I really care about here? What does this really mean?” So, that was one of the first steps that she took to get really, really clear about what she wanted.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, first step was getting clarity. And after the clarity came, what was the second step?

Darcy Eikenberg
After the clarity, really comes the confidence to be able to have better conversations. So, being able to ask for what you need, to be able to not feel like this illusion of transparency, that, “Well, they should know, right? People should know that if I didn’t get the promotion, then I’m upset or I’m getting a negative message.”

We make so many assumptions in our life at work because we’re so close to it. But she had to learn how to have a different conversation and be able to talk to the decision-makers, in this case, the CEO of her company, and be able to say, “So, this is what I observed that happened. Here’s the decision you made. Here’s how it made me feel and here’s what I’m interpreting from that. But is that accurate?”

And without having that conversation, she had made up a story in her head about what not getting the promotion meant. And it actually meant something very different, something that the CEO hadn’t even really articulated yet.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, so then tell us, what are perhaps the key insights that folks need to be aware of if they want to have a rescue of their career without leaving their jobs?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, a rescue, a reboot, a reset. So many of us are in this reflection mode right now, and I think the key learning is to recognize that we only control three things. We control what we think, we control what we say, and we control what we do. No matter how hard we try, we can’t control anything else. So, recognizing that that’s all is in our control, then being able to go through and say, “So, in this situation, when I’ve hit this road bump, this speed bump, this thing that’s happening at work that is not making me love my work anymore, can I change something that I think? Is there an assumption I’m making? Can I change something that I’m going to say? Like, can I speak up more, or speak out, or have a different conversation than the one I’ve been having? Or, is there actually something to do differently?”

Or, in some cases, it may be something to not do. One of the chapters in the book that’s getting a lot of attention is the chapter called Drop Some Balls. It’s like, “Are there things I’m doing that’s too much, that’s actually distracting people from understanding what I do and how I create value in this organization?”

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. Well, can we talk about some key things that we might wish to drop and under what circumstances?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, we often accumulate, especially smart people, people who want to be awesome at their job, we accumulate things on our to-do list. We have good ideas and we might propose a good idea, and then the good idea becomes our responsibility. But we also have things that add up, like meetings, reports, different check-ins with stakeholders, and we don’t often take a step back, and say, “Are these things still valuable and important for what I care about…” back to that clarity point, “…for what I really want to do?”

And being able to take a hard look at that list, and recognize that, “You know, we may have needed that team meeting a year ago, but do we still need it in its same format now?” or, “The report that takes me half a day every month, maybe we don’t need that anymore because now we have the system where anybody can get the data anytime.”

So, when I do this exercise with my clients, we’ll often find 20% to 30% of things that they are doing, that they are spending time on, and most of the time it’s things that are not in their superpower space, they’re not the places where they are at their best and high issues. But that 20% to 30% that if they just stopped doing it, nobody would notice. It’s amazing exercise to go through to really say, “What could I drop and nobody might care?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty wild, 20% to 30% is not just suboptimal but rather totally inconsequential. It’s wild.

Darcy Eikenberg
It’s a huge chunk for somebody. And I don’t think we intentionally make up more things to do. But I think in our effort to want to be good, to think through things at a bigger level, those are excellent behaviors, and those are behaviors that continue to get you moving forward and help you learn. And, at the same time, if you’re somebody who has been saying, “I’m overwhelmed. My workload has grown. I’m not spending time in the place where I am the best in high issues, in the place where my company really needs me and values me,” taking a hard look at what balls we can drop is a way to take back control.

And maybe if you don’t think that you can just stop doing them without permission, which I would whisper in someone’s ear that there’s a lot of things you don’t need permission for in today’s workplace, that you could just do or stop doing, but you could also have a better conversation with people around the costs and the impact of that time that you’re spending. And today, at such a time of change, there is so much more opportunity for creativity than the chaos. And for people to make suggestions about how we can do less but create more value.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, so could you give us a few examples then of, “Hey, here are some things that people stopped doing and nobody noticed and it was all good”?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah. So, reports or big PowerPoint presentations, those are things that, tactically, for a lot of people that I work with, a lot of people that I talk to when I’m out speaking, that there’s just something. And the strategy I’ll offer listeners and anybody wanting to experiment with this is to find that thing on your list that you dread. Like, that thing that just keeps moving maybe from day to day on your list that you procrastinate, that just is not the thing that really lights you up. Because that stuff that lights us up, that feels easy. But it’s the stuff that drags you down.

So, I have a client who, at one point, was responsible for putting together what turned out to be like a 50-page PowerPoint presentation every month. Now, there’s maybe half of it was the same month to month but she had to go through it to check. But what she realized is that there was only two pieces of data that anybody cared about in that entire deck, she ended up doing a one-minute video that was put on their share space and be able to be distributed to everybody, that said, “Hey, here’s the change from one month to the last month. If you have any questions, let me know.” And that took her maybe 20 minutes compared to the hours that she would put in trying to develop the PowerPoint.

So, there are ways that we can think differently about what we’re doing so that we’re not spending so much time on the things that don’t matter. And that’s what I mean by taking back control of what you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really interesting, those reports, because I can see how there may well have been a time in which is like, “Hey, we really need a broad overview picture of all that’s going on with this thing.” It’s like, “Okay, sure. Okay, we made the PowerPoint and there it is.” “Okay, cool. Well, hey, now, we need the up-to-date information.” “So, I guess I have to update the whole thing.” And then it’s just sort of like lands that way as opposed to, like, “Oh, wait. Well, actually, now that we already know the broad strokes of everything, just tell us the new stuff that’s going on right now.”

Darcy Eikenberg
And we don’t often revisit it. It’s like the old story of the fish in the fishbowl. Like, the fish goes around and around and around in the fishbowl and learns the edges. But then you go to clean the fishbowl and you put the fishbowl in a tub full of water, but the fish now has all of this space to swim but still swims in that little tight circle that they’re used to.

I think we get into those habits in our workplaces where we think, “Oh, well, we have to do the XYZ report,” but we don’t stop and say, “Who says?” or, “Is this still relevant now?” I have a client who has probably had three to four different managers in the past year and a half. This is a theme I’m hearing quite a bit as we restructure and people move on and lots of things happen, and she caught herself doing something that manager number one had as a priority. But managers two and three never understood it but they weren’t going to question it because it was just what she did. So, when she really did that analysis to say, “Okay, what can I drop? What’s draining me? What are the things that are making my job not as awesome as I would like it to be?” she realized, “Hey, this boss doesn’t have those same needs, so I don’t need to do it in the same way.”

We just don’t stop and realize everything we do is very organic, and it’s all made up, so why don’t we take control to make up what we want?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s some pieces on the do’s side of things. Now, when it comes to the thinking, you got a chapter called Conquer the Battle of the Brain, which sounds very helpful. What do you mean by this?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, so there is the part of the brain, and you’ve had some awesome guests on who are much more into the neuroscience than I will ever be able to be, but the brain is programmed to protect us in many ways. It’s that little lizard brain, as Seth Godin says, that is that voice that’s holding us back, that’s saying, “No, don’t speak up. No, don’t go there,” or, “Be careful if you’re going to ask for that because there could be this consequence.”

We’ve got to learn to talk back to that part of our brain. We’ve got to learn to be able to not realize that part of our brain is not ourselves. It’s not our heroic self. It is just trying to keep us small. And it triggers the same biological feelings that it did in our ancestors when they would hear a tiger roar. The same part of our brain triggers our hormones when we hear our project manager roar. It’s the same kind of feeling today.

But we can learn to separate that from ourselves and be able to talk back to that. And one of the strategies that I’ll always use is to give it a name. I have a client who calls her little negative voice by her second-grade teacher’s name. This teacher was always on her for talking too much, now she makes her living talking. So, being able to say, “Be quiet, Mrs. Washington. I’m in charge here.” So, we can find these strategies to not let the negative brain that’s trying to hold us back keep us back.

And negative emotions pull us back but positive emotions pull us forward. We need to be magnifying the positive emotions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then in practice, what are some of the key things we can do to magnify the positive emotions and prevent the negative pieces from hijacking us?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah. So, giving it the name, personifying that voice is one thing. Also, giving the other voice, that heroic voice, I call this listening to the whispers, giving that voice more space, giving that voice more volume, trusting it even more, but we can actually change how we listen to that voice in an instant. The beauty of realizing that you control what you think is that we can choose our thoughts in the same way that we choose what we’re putting on each day.

So, if you’re faced with two different thoughts, they both could be true. It could be true that my job is on the rocks, and it could be true that there’s more possibility here. But why not choose the thought that’s going to move you forward? Why not choose the thought that’s going to be helpful to you? Because staying in that place of, “My job is on the rocks. Everything is hard. Everything is awful,” only triggers all the hormones and emotions that make you feel bad. Why not choose that thought that make you feel good? And that’s not fooling yourself. That’s actually really understanding that your brain is going to send these different signals to hold you back, but you get to override that. You get to choose your thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, talking about some things to do or not do, and some ways to think better. How about what are some key things we should say, some critical conversations that you think need to be had that make a world of difference for a rescue?

Darcy Eikenberg
One of the things to say, I think, it’s sort of a combination of how you think and say, is to assume positive intent, that very often when we’re listening to that little lizard brain, when we’re listening to that negative brain, we’re going to assume the worst. We go right to the worst-case scenario, “Oh, I can’t possibly have that conversation with my boss or my leader or my team to tell them that we need to realign the workload because they’ll get mad at me, they’ll fire me, they’ll put me on the layoff list,” whatever the things we make up in our heads.

But when we assume positive intent, when we assume that the other person we’re talking to wants what’s best for the group, wants maybe even what’s best for us, we get to go into these conversations with a lot more relaxed, also with more of a posture of like arms open and having an open conversation as opposed to like being all tight and in fight mode.

So, assuming positive intent, and being able to even say that, say, “I know you and I want to make sure that the work gets done on time and on budget. So, to be able to do that, here’s the thing that I’m going to ask of you. Here’s the thing I need from you.” So, we can use those skills to be able to say things differently in a way that keep people listening to us, and also make sure that we’re not coming at it solely from a position of fear, of, “I’m not sure what I need so I’m hoping you do it all for me.” We can assume positive intent first.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, I’m curious, that’s a really great frame to put around any number of requests up front in terms of as opposed to just sort of like being whiny, like, “Give me, give me, give me,” so that’s great. And then tell me, what are some key requests that you’ve seen people make that have been transformational in terms of high leverage, all the difference, when a couple smaller shifts or accommodations have been made?

Darcy Eikenberg
This goes back to getting clear about what you want. One of the things I worry about in this great reshuffle, great resignation, they know something is not right where they are, but they’re not clear about what they would want to change, and so there’s a question I always ask, is, “If you had a magic wand and could change one thing, what would it be?”

And, often, that can get you centered in on the conversation. And even on the not only just what the ask is, but who is the ask of. Because, sometimes, you need to reset the relationship. You need to say, “Hey, Pete, we’ve been working together for a while now, and our relationship isn’t as smooth as I’d like it to be. So, could we do something to fix that? What would be helpful from your point of view?”

And being able to approach those kinds of conversations so you can reset a relationship, you can reset a process, similar to what we’re talking about before about changing from doing a long PowerPoint or a detailed report to maybe something that’s just a quick update. We can reset our boundaries. This is a conversation I’m having with a lot of people right now where they’ve recognized they’ve let their boundaries slip.

We went in the beginning of COVID from being like a sprint, all-hands on deck, everybody, we’re all on this together, to now we’re in a marathon. And things that people have gotten accustomed to doing need to be revisited and recreated. So, asking for a different boundary, saying, “Hey, I know you’ve been calling me after 8:00 at night because I know that works better for your family, but here’s my ask. I’m going to ask you that we stop any phone calls by 6:00 o’clock, or leave me a voicemail. I’m turning my phone off. I’ll get back to you at 8:00 in the morning.”

Whatever the thing is for you, you have to be able to get clear about what it is, but to know that you can ask for the reset, you can ask for the reboot. And, often, people aren’t even aware of some of the things that they may be doing, or that the process could be fixed. We take so much for granted that the things are the way they are for a reason. Often, they’re not. They’re all made up.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that is, boy, a master key to life and career right there. We assume things are the way they are for a reason, and the answer may be 50/50, on whether or not there is but don’t just assume it is.

Darcy Eikenberg
Right. There was always a reason at one point, right? There’s another parable that I love about a monk who had a young cat, a kitten, and they would go into meditation with his followers. And the cat would come in and annoy everybody and distract from the meditation. So, they started to chain the cat to a tree during meditation. And over the years, that got to be an ingrained habit, “Well, we’d chain the cat to the tree before we meditate.” Then the cat died and the followers were distraught, “How can we meditate now that there’s no cat?” but the two were never linked.

And we confine these kinds of examples in our workplace all the time of were. We make these assumptions based on what has been or what we might assume is important. We see these with leaders all the time, “Well, the CEO says everybody is going back to the office.” Let me tell you a secret. Even in the companies where the CEO has said that, those decisions are changing every day, and the exceptions, the individual negotiations, the accommodations that are being made are so much more than ever that blanket statement. So, it’s all made up, so why not make up, or at least be clear about what you need to be at your best and high issues in the organization that you want to work with and doing the work you know is making the biggest difference?

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

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, I think the biggest thing is that when you’re feeling like, “Oh, I need to quit,” and all the noise around you is, “I have to leave.” But if there’s some hesitation, “But there’s some good here.” Certainly, there are plenty of opportunities where we should get out of bad situations. But so often, have we actually used all of our control to try to get more of what we want? And that’s just the little be, just that little moment between reaction and response that I invite people to do to say, “If you are on that fence and you think there’s something good there, try some of these strategies and take back control and see if it doesn’t change things for you, and at least help you make the most of where you are right now without having to change everything in your life.”

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

Darcy Eikenberg
So, for me, from a quote, I think the Gandhi quote of “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” always is a good quote to be aligned to, because if we’re not willing to take the effort to make the change, then who’s going to?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a key study or experiment or a piece of research you like?

Darcy Eikenberg
I am a huge fan, i.e., groupie of Amy Edmondson and a lot of the work that she’s done on psychological safety. And so, the idea of psychological safety, I think, is one that still isn’t talked about enough, and it is so critical today to make our workplaces work. So, that would be any of her work on psychological safety, I’m all over it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Darcy Eikenberg
A favorite book is probably The Art of Possibility by the Zanders. It’s an oldie but a goodie. But there’s a chapter in there that talks about starting with an A, so always giving people an A right off the bat. And it’s so powerful, and I’d encourage anybody to pick it up, The Art of Possibility.

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

Darcy Eikenberg
Probably, from a tool perspective, it’s just cheap pens. That’s not very sexy but I write a lot, I take a lot of different notes, and I’m always looking for a pen. And so, just having a stash of cheap pens around keeps me able to just record whatever is going on in my head when my thumbs get all thumbs and I can’t put it into my phone, so.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Darcy Eikenberg
Favorite habit, I don’t have any TVs in my house, no. So, when I moved to the house that I’m in now, I didn’t install any TVs, I don’t have cable hook up, and it was sort of a macho experiment because I loved TV. I used to have six in the house I was in before but it makes me read more, it makes me go to sleep earlier, and I think I have a little more peace of mind because if it’s there, I’m going to turn it on. So, when it’s not there, I just don’t turn it on.

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

Darcy Eikenberg
They key nugget is probably what I consider my mantra, which is, “Somebody out there needs you.” I think, so often, we get stuck because when we’re making changes in our life at work, we think it’s about us, we think, “Well, I want more. I want different.” But I think that one of the things that can keep us going, and I know it does for me personally, is to recognize that I might not know who is going to be the person that I’m going to impact today, but somebody out there needs me. And I think that’s true for every single one of us.

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

Darcy Eikenberg
Go to RedCapeRescue.com. That has all the information on the new book as well as ways to contact me, and also get a companion toolkit that goes with the book that’s free and allows people to follow along in different ways.

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

Darcy Eikenberg
I guess I’ll go back to that remember that somebody out there needs you. You matter. And no matter what you’re feeling in your life at work, you will be awesome. You are awesome. And you need to show up that way so that those people who need you can get what you have to bring.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Darcy, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and keep up the great work.

Darcy Eikenberg
Thank you, Pete, so much. Appreciate it.

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

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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.