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543: How to Build Skills Faster and Improve Mental Performance with Britt Andreatta

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Britt Andreatta says: "Our body is built for learning."

Britt Andreatta shares neuroscience insights for boosting your learning, memory, and creativity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make your learning stick
  2. The striking benefits of boredom
  3. How to deal with information overwhelm

About Britt:

Dr. Britt Andreatta is an internationally-recognized thought leader who creates brain science-based solutions for today’s challenges. As CEO of 7th Mind, Inc., Britt Andreatta draws on her unique background in leadership, neuroscience, psychology, and learning to unlock the best in people, helping organizations rise to their potential.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Britt Andreatta Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Britt, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Britt Andreatta
Hi, Pete. I’m super excited to talk to you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Me too. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom associated with learning and I understand you’ve been learning some things about fabric art lately. What’s the story here?

Britt Andreatta
You know, I’ve discovered a new hobby for myself, which kind of surprised me, but I am just really into it and it takes me to that place of flow where I can do it for hours and not feel like I’m working. And because I’m a researcher, I’m always in my head analyzing stuff and it gets me out of that. And I just get to play with color and textures and build these beautiful fabric murals that I just take great joy from it. But it’s a new hobby so I’m now in that place where you’re trying to feed the flames of a new hobby and investing way too much in it and then figuring out where I’m putting it in the house and have scraps of stuff everywhere, so it’s kind of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, a fabric mural, I don’t know if I have seen a fabric mural before. I probably have, I just don’t even realize it. Help me visualize that.

Britt Andreatta
Well, so you can draw something on a piece of fabric, and then instead of using paint to fill it in, you use pieces of fabric to be your paint, and so you’re sewing them on, or stitching them on, or quilting them on, whatever technique you want to use to build the image using fabric.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. I’ve heard that these kinds of activities, here’s a segue for you, like these sorts of things, kind of like knitting, is something that can sort of put you into a different brain groove. And I imagine you are one of the most qualified people to comment on this. What’s the story there?

Britt Andreatta
Well, whenever we have something that takes our attention but doesn’t require a whole lot of cognitive thought, you know, really concentrating on something or analyzing something, it can just take us to that zone, a little bit of a zone state where you can be really present.

I think we all have something like this. For some people, it’s running. For some people, it’s some kind of knitting or fabric art. For some people, it might be gardening. But there’s real pleasure in it because it acts as a mindfulness practice. It allows you to hit that place of presence and really just being in the here and now, which is, for me, it’s hugely relaxing. I find that I’m so much calmer and happier after I spend a little time doing this thing. The fact that I build things and then that I can give away as gifts is also cool. But even if I couldn’t, just the value of being in that state makes me a happier person to be around.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear that, yes. That’s excellent. Well, so we’re going to talk about brain science and learning and such, so maybe we can go meta for a moment before we do that. Do you have any quick tips for listeners right now because we’re about to learn something? What might they do in this very moment of listening to maximize the learning from the exchange we’re having right here?

Britt Andreatta
Great question. So, the big myth that we all believe but which is not true is that we can multitask while learning and we just cannot do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-oh. Everyone doing the dishes right now, like, stop. Put the wash down.

Britt Andreatta
Put them down. We can multitask in other parts of our life, like you can cook and listen to something. But when you truly want to learn, and learning requires that you take it in and it gets pushed to your short-term memory and then ultimately your long-term memory, our brain really needs to be able to focus on it and gather all that information so it has a complete set of data to push into memory.

And when we multitask, we kind of flip back and forth, it’s called switch tasking, so if you’re also trying to look at your email and listen to this podcast, what your brain would do is I’d become the Peanuts character in the background, “waah, waah, waah, waah,” as you read the email, or you’re listening to what I say and you’re not really glomming onto what the words in the email are saying.

So, if you really want to learn, just focus on learning. If you’re listening to this for entertainment, it’s okay that you’re doing the dishes at the same time. But if you really want to push it into memory, give it the focus it deserves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s the first thing is giving it the focus. But does anything else leap to mind?

Britt Andreatta
Yeah, with any kind of learning, learning is stickier, meaning you’ll be able to recall it better in the future if you try to find a way to attach it to something you know. So, as we’re talking today about brain tips and tricks, if you remember a time that works for you in the past, or you imagine a time doing it or it calls up a memory, and each time you can attach it, or it reminds you of something you learned in the class in college, hook it to something you already know and it makes it stickier than if you just let it be kind of a free-floating piece of information.

Now, good teachers will do the work and help you attach it to something you know, but that’s a trick you can also use for yourself, is find a way to connect it to something you’ve already experienced or heard or seen or lived through.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny, that really reminds me of when I was in high school in Economics class, I started thinking about the firm and profit maximizing and how, in a way, that’s kind of like life, there’s stuff you like doing, that’s like revenue, stuff you don’t like doing, that’s like cost, and you might try to maximize your profits, or you might say that’s a hedonistic way to live your life, and you shouldn’t. But, anyway, that’s how I was kind of like connecting with things and it makes a world of difference. And then, subsequently, I guess you might call these scaffolding or mental models, or there’s probably a number of terms neuroscientists use for these concepts we have to attach stuff to. What do we call those?

Britt Andreatta
It’s called a schema.

Pete Mockaitis
Schema, there it is.

Britt Andreatta
Yeah, so there’s schemas in your brain for all kinds of things, and they’re different for each of us, but the trick to good learning or to putting it to memory is to hook it to a schema you already have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, as I think about that, I’ve done this kind of naturally with a lot of things and maybe that’s why I got good grades. So, it’s interesting, like anything from a computer game I loved to play, it’s like, “You know what, this is a lot like a missile base, they’re defending a planet.” Tell me, what are some of your go-to schemas you find yourself naturally attaching new learning to frequently?

Britt Andreatta
So, I build learning for other people frequently, so when I’m trying to build an experience for my audience, I try to find something that I know is pretty common knowledge. So, for example, I have a change training and I’ve built it all around this idea of going hiking or mountain climbing, and even if you’ve never done it, you know what it is, right?

So, as I’m playing with the concepts and likening change to different kinds of terrain and journeys, your brain has a place in it because it’s heard of that before. So, if you’re designing learning for other people, this is what great science and math teachers did in high school and college, is they took something that’s fairly abstract and they found a way to attach it to something you already knew about, and how you did that with your own Economics class.

So, if you’re designing learning for others, think about that. And for yourself, whenever you can put yourself through that little pace of, “Huh, what does this sound like? What can I connect this to? Do I have an experience of this?” it just gives your brain something to physically adhere it to in a way that makes the difference in terms of how it is stored in the brain and the ways your brain can call it up in the future.

Because the way our brain calls up a memory is all of our senses are part of when we learn, so we’ve got the visual, the auditory, the taste, and the smell, all of those are like threads, and they get bundled up, these bundled up sensations get kind of packaged as part of the memory. And so, pulling any one of those threads can pull it back.

This is why if you’ve ever traveled in Paris, for example, and you were there and you were feeling the rain, and smelling the croissants or the stinky cheese, or whatever it is, if you ever smell a croissant in the future, it can pop you back to this picture of Paris, “Oh, my gosh, I remember I’ve been there.” So, memory is actually tied through all these senses, and if we’re intentional about that, then we can use those threads to help pull that thing back out of the brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that is interesting. And so, while we fast-forwarded right to some immediate tactics, but maybe we can zoom out a little bit in terms of so you’ve got this book Wired to Grow and now a version 2.0 even. Can you tell us, what’s the main thesis and what’s sort of like the hot new discoveries that warranted a second version?

Britt Andreatta
Great questions. So, I wrote the first book five years ago and it came out, honestly, for me, just doing research into neuroscience because I wanted to be better at my craft as a chief learning officer, so I literally did the learning for my own benefit. And then I ended up sharing it as a presentation, and people were like, “Oh, my God, you need to share this with more people.” So, I started doing it as a keynote, and then it turned into a book.

Neuroscience is still a relatively young field. It’s only recently that they’ve even had the technology, and new technologies coming online all the time, to even see inside of us and see what really is happening. So, neuroscience is relatively fresh on the scene in terms of giving us a new way of looking at any behavior. I happen to look at learning but you can apply it to anything.

And so, honestly, I had written two books since the first one. I’d done the one on change, which is Wired to Resist and I had done the one on teams Wired to Connect. And, like anything else, as I wrote books, I got better at it. So, then I kept looking at this first book, and it just looks so sad compared to the others. It wasn’t as well-researched. The graphics were terrible. I was just like, “You know what, it needs a refresh,” and I was really busy. And I thought, “Instead of writing a whole new book, why don’t I just refresh ‘Wired to Grow’? I can update some studies. I can clean up the graphics. It won’t take that much work.” So, I actually took it on as “doable” project.

Well, in five years, so much had change around what we know about learning that I literally had to rewrite the whole thing. I mean, it’s 90% new material and 10% some of the original concepts from the book. So, the reason I did, you know, the real reason I did a second version was to kind of get that up to speed with the other ones. But what was really exciting was seeing just how much more new information we’ve discovered about how we learn, what memories are, how we drive behavior change, what creativity is, like there’s just so many good things that the book ended up being twice as big as it was originally.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, can you share with us, like what is sort of a new discovery that is sort of mind-blowingly cool?

Britt Andreatta
All right. Well, there’s several of them, but let me give you a couple of them. One of the first is just really understanding what creativity is. They can now see when we have those aha moments, and a lot of our best ideas come from aha moments. Even if you’re trying to solve a problem, usually you don’t solve it in that minute that you’re concentrating on it. It’s usually when you step back and take a break, or you’re in the shower. Oddly enough, showers are one of the number one places people have moments of creativity.

That they can now see the aha moment, and they can see the brain waves change on the MRI machine a few milliseconds before the aha moment actually happens. And they can also see that right before the aha moment happens our visual cortex goes offline. Scientists call it brain blink. But, essentially, it’s all happening in that millisecond before we go, “Eureka!”

And what’s interesting now is, as they’re understanding what creativity is, we can now set ourselves up for having moments of creativity. So, some things to do are the resting neocortex, take a break, give your brain that chance to step back from what it’s concentrating on because that allows more regions of the brain to come online and those connections to happen, those synapses to fire.

The second thing you can do is prepare your brain to have connections. So, this is really about getting outside of your comfort zone, reading sources and topics that seem unrelated or that would not be your normal go-to. So, it’s kind of like walking into a library, and instead of going to your favorite section, you go explore a lot of different sections in the library and expose your brain, let it take in more stuff. You’re preparing it to draw connections that you might not normally see.

And then the third thing that you can do, it’s called sensory gating, which is stuff like taking a shower where we have the white noise and we’re warm and we can kind of setup this place for things. Sitting out in nature is another form of sensory gating. Being near water seems to be particularly effective. And so, you just allow these senses to kind of take a break, and it seems to setup that moment to create more aha moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, you got me wondering about hopping into a sensory deprivation chamber, a.k.a. float tank. Like, is there some science there? You’re gating all kinds of senses there.

Britt Andreatta
I haven’t personally sat in one, and I didn’t remember reading a study specifically about that, but it makes sense to me that that would work, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s like, “I need my pen and paper though. Can I get that in here?”

Britt Andreatta
Exactly. This is what’s funny, is that before, I’m sure you’re like this too, like when I’m trying to solve a problem, I just want to keep at it, and I used to get annoyed when I would feel tired, or I just need to have a break. I’d feel like I was slacking. But since I read this research, I’m now like, “Great. Take a break. I’m setting myself up for the aha moment.” So, it gets me more committed to the breaks. And, honestly, it’s made work go better now that I’m kind of working with how the brain creates moments of aha.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I really appreciate that explanation associated with sensory gating, like that’s what these things have in common, that’s why showers do that because you are in an environment where some things are shut off, they’re closed, and so there you go. I heard a fun story, I guess I think it might’ve been Aaron Sorkin, got great ideas in the shower, so he just built a shower in his office and took like eight showers a day, which I respect.

Britt Andreatta
When I’m teaching this group to crowds of people, I’ll ask, “Where do you get your best ideas?” and shower is one of the number one reasons. In fact, I encourage people to read a book that’s written, it’s called The Blue Mind and it’s all about the research of why water, being in it, on it, under it, around it, seems to lend itself to both us feeling calmer and having more creativity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s really cool. Well, so I want to talk about some calm for a moment. So, we’re talking about brains and working to process and learn information. It seems like quite an epidemic folks have these days is just information overwhelm, overload, too many emails, too many incoming things, competing priorities, like, “What even do I focus on? I just feel…” maybe like you’re drowning in all this stuff. So, can you tell us, what does that to our brain and what should we do about it?

Britt Andreatta
That’s a great question, and I definitely suffer from this as well. Well, it’s true. Technology has outstripped biology. We now have technology pushing things at us faster, bigger, better than we are biologically designed to consume so we are overwhelmed. And that’s why, I think, we’re seeing stress levels go up, people not taking vacations. Used to be that email was a convenient way to communicate, and now there’s just so much pressure. People want instant communications. There are so many different channels at which we can have information pushed at us, and we are living in the information economy, so everyone is trying to get our attention with, it’s about screen time now, “How long can we keep eyeballs on the screen?”

So, remember there is a capitalistic component of it where people are maximizing that because that’s where their dollars come from. That’s why when you’re on social media, it constantly is loading up more things to click on. You will never get to the bottom of the page or get to the last video because it’s designed to keep taking you down the rabbit hole.

So, with that, and I love technology, it’s beautiful and wonderful, and yet it can really stress us out so we all have to have some agency and some sense of self-control. I think this is why digital detox is really important. Like, giving yourself a day to just not be on any screens, coming home at the end of the day and just setting your devices down and not picking them up for a while, and definitely, so you don’t take your screens to bed. These are all important things to think about.

The other thing, too, is that, remember, we’re a tribal species. We are designed and built to live in tribes of about 150, and that’s what our brain was really built to keep track of, relationships we could manage. And so, now that we’re global, and trust me, I get the beauty of being a globally-connected world. I think it makes us more empathetic to our brothers and sisters of different cultures around the world. It also means, though, that we’re trying to track too many things. And, particularly, because news likes to send us all the negative stories, it can put us into that amygdala, a fight of flight response, of feeling stress all the time.

Because when we look at the news, what we’re hearing about is 10 people drowned in Bangladesh, and so many people this happened to them here, and a plane crash over there, and fires here. Not that we shouldn’t be informed, but if you’re not careful, your brain is literally feeling like you’re under attack all day every day, because your brain, these are all members of your tribe, and you should gear up to fight that foe.

So, I think it’s also a little bit about controlling access to yourself, not letting all these messages come to you. And then also, intentionally finding ways to find good stories and counterbalancing the negative spin that’s designed to sell things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I think that’s well-said, and I feel it in terms of sometimes I’ll hop into an Uber and then they’ll just have sort of some news going, it’s like, “This home was broken into, and this thing burned down.” I kind of go back and forth with this in terms of like, “Just how much do I really need to know this? Like, being informed sounds like a good thing that we want to be, but then, again, how crucial is it?” And sometimes I get a little bit snarky with the newspapers or media, it’s like, “Here’s the news you need to know.” Like, “Do I need to know it today? Really? Is that a need? To what extent do I need it?” And I get all philosophical about the matter.

So, I guess, what I’ve come away with this in terms of, hey, different professionals at different times have different needs for news consumption. So, if you’re running a political campaign, yeah, you’re going to need to know a lot of those things about what’s going there. And if you’re sort of just engineering innovative technological solutions over at XYZ company, you may not need to know what the headlines are all that often.

Britt Andreatta
Exactly. And then it’s just about realizing that your devices and the companies that feed those devices are going to be trying to get your attention. They’re going to use whatever strategy they can to get more of your time. So, at some point, you just have to say, “No, I’m turning it off. I’m having a no-technology window of my day.” And then just pay attention to your body. Our body is really an amazing thing and it will give you information. If you’re getting a knot in your stomach, turn it off. If you’re starting to feel anxious, give yourself a break. Your body is giving you information about how it’s receiving it.

This is why mindfulness is so great. It makes us pay attention to our bodies. And it’s also why fabric arts and knitting and running and all these stuffs is great too because it gets us out of that zone. It gets us more into the here and now where probably we’re okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned mindfulness, and I’m thinking about I was amused in our last interview, I asked you about a favorite book, and you told me, I’m thinking you said, “I haven’t read this book yet but it’s going to be my favorite. It’s Altered Traits,” because this is a topic you love and authors you love, so you know it’s going to be great sight unseen, which I thought was pretty awesome in terms of that’s how closely you’re following this stuff.

So, while we’re talking about mindfulness, maybe you can convince me and many listeners here, what were some of the striking research results coming from that book or elsewhere that you’ve seen to make say, “Pete, I am 100% certain you will see an amazing return on your time and energy invested in mindfulness practice”? Can you lay it on me?

Britt Andreatta
Okay. No tall task, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Britt Andreatta
Well, two things, boredom is a good emotion. Somehow, we’ve been convinced that being bored is bad. And yet, boredom is oftentimes where creativity comes from. Boredom is oftentimes when our brain makes those connections. Boredom is often calming for our system. So, let me just challenge the myth that boredom is a bad emotion. I think we want to cultivate a little bit of boredom in our lives. It’s not a bad thing.

Two, mindfulness looks a lot at different ways. So, for people like you and me, I can tell by just looking at the bookshelf that’s behind you right now that you and I both can, like, live in the world of the mind, and read stuff, and be into the study, and analyzing stat, like we live in the life of the mind. So, classical meditation is actually hard for me because my mind can really just chew on it. Physical mindfulness practices, like yoga, walking meditations, even doing the dishes can be mindful. This is why the fabric arts thing is really working for me because it gets me into my body and out of my head.

For some people, getting into their head and doing the traditional meditation of just kind of watching your thoughts and letting them go, that’s really valuable. So, each of us needs a different type of mindfulness practice. There’s a lot of different ones out there so play with them. Please don’t just give one class a try and say, “That’s not for me.” Try different formats and try a couple of different teachers because you’re going to find the one that makes you go, “Oh, yeah, that feels good. That made me better having done that.”

In terms of mindfulness, why you want to explore it, the research is pretty damn convincing and pretty darn consistent. It really does amazing stuff to us. So, there’s some immediate benefits that you get in terms of lowering your blood pressure, but that’s only if you’re in a mindfulness practice you enjoy. If you’re in one that’s rubbing you the wrong way, your blood pressure is probably going to go up. But, generally, when we find the right one, blood pressure goes down, our body gets into a more relaxed state.

The more we practice mindfulness, the more we can stay at a calm state, and even if we have an upsetting event, we don’t escalate as high as we would have before having that mindfulness practice. So, our highs are not so high. And we come back to stasis faster, being able to achieve that calm state longer.

In addition, it’s doing all kinds of things physically. Like, people who have regular mindfulness practices have lower risks of heart disease, have lower risks of age-related decline, there are just some good stuff that happens. And here’s the kicker, they’re actually showing that you live longer with a mindfulness practice, that the chronological age of your body shifts.

And so, one of my favorite researchers on this, Richard Davidson, one of the co-authors of Altered Traits which did turn out to be my favorite book, I was right. It’s amazing. Anyway, he has put Tibetan monks on MRI machines, like, he’s taken the people who have thousands of hours of meditation under their belt, and then he’s compared them to people who have never meditated. And what was astounding was some of these monks who probably are like world-class champions at meditation, they are many decades physically younger than their actual chronological body.

Pete Mockaitis
Many decades, like three, or four, or five?

Britt Andreatta
Yes, like it helps you live longer. And I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but our DNA strands have these little things on the end, they’re kind of like the tips of the shoelace.

Pete Mockaitis
Telomeres?

Britt Andreatta
The telomeres, I can’t pronounce it correctly but there’s these telomeres things at the end. And as we live, those get shorter and shorter. And they say that, basically, that they predict how long we live. And when you kind of run out of the ends of those things, you’re ready to die. Well, people who have regular mindfulness practice, those telomeres tips, they slow down, they don’t shorten as fast for those people who don’t have mindfulness practices.

So, literally, the body, the brain was built for a mindfulness practice of some kind which is why you’ll find a form of it in every religion and every culture, it’s just that we’ve all kind of forgotten that, and so we’re kind of having to come back to something our body was built for. And I would just say, Pete, give it a try. Find the right channel. Find the right teacher, but don’t give up till you get one that makes you feel good.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. And I’ve gotten into some good grooves from time to time with, well, so, Simple Habit is a sponsor, and I think they’re great and I really enjoyed working through those. And I think it’s almost like any other positive habit like exercise or you name it, in terms of like, “Oh, I get on the wagon, I fall of the wagon,” so there’s that. Okay, cool. Well, go ahead.

Britt Andreatta
Well, I wanted to answer, I wanted to say one more thing when you asked me the question of, “What were like some big key findings?” So, I got into creativity, and there’s one more I wanted to highlight which I think is relevant here, which is our bodies can repair themselves in ways that are just astounding researchers.

And a couple of the things that have really developed just in the last decade is you can take people who are paralyzed and have been paralyzed for years, and using the right kind of neural stimulation, you can regrow the nerves that have been damaged. And so, they’re actually seeing people that have been paralyzed walk again. I have seen videos; the research is outstanding.

And so, there’s some things that we’re learning about our bodies and the ability of our bodies to regrow nerves, and it’s more that we just haven’t had the right knowledge to work with how the body can do it but now researchers are starting to get that ability. So, some of the things that I was seeing in the research was just neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, the ability for our nerves to be flexible and also to grow new ones is truly astounding. And so, yeah, if a paralyzed person can stand up and walk again, I can probably learn a new habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Britt Andreatta
There’s no excuse for any of us to say, “I can’t do it.” It’s really about, “Do you have the right teacher? Do you have the right motivation? And are you willing to put in the time?” But if you get enough habits under your belt, if you get enough repetitions under your belt, you really can rewire most parts of your body in significant ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s exciting. So, whew, boy, we’ve covered a lot of fun territory. Let’s see. Talk about learning again, so let’s hear, we’ve hit a few strategies associated with connecting things to an existing schema if you want to have some creative ideas, having some gating. I’d love to get your take on what are some of the most powerful learning strategies you’ve discovered that just make a world of difference in terms of what you absorb and remember and are able to, in fact, apply in life.

Britt Andreatta
Great question. So, one of the things that came out in my researching the second edition was our understanding of memory has actually changed a lot in the last five, six years. And scientists have actually identified that there’s nine different types of memory, okay? So, there are some memory we know of, like when we are trying to learn something academic and we’re studying facts and figures. That’s one kind of memory. It’s called semantic memory.

There’s a different kind of memory which is embodied memory. It’s called episodic. So, if I was studying about France and studying facts about Paris, that would be semantic. If I went to Paris and was standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, about to enter the Louvre, I would now have all these sensory pieces of data that would be part of that memory.

No surprise here. Episodic memory is the most enduring. It’s the one that is the stickiest because it’s tied in our memory banks to a whole bunch of experiences and sensations not just, “Did we memorize it?” right? And then there’s some memory that’s kind of unconscious to us, stuff like the Pavlov dogs thing, right? We can create cues and get somatic responses. Habits, you know, when we do something over and over again, our basal ganglia turns it into a habit. That just becomes something that we can cling to and we don’t really have to think about it.

So, part of when you’re thinking about learning is to think about, “What kind of memory am I working with here?” and then build the learning to align with the right kind of memory as opposed to sticking the same approach. So, with that said, this is really pointing to why virtual reality is a gamechanger, particularly for certain kinds of things to learn, that when we can take something and literally put on a headset and be in the physical space, our brain takes a VR experience and codes it as a lived memory.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome.

Britt Andreatta
And it responds to being in that setting as if we’re really there. So, it’s tricking the biology enough that your brain really feels like it’s in that setting, and so then it’s coding it as a lived memory. So, VR has the potential. You wouldn’t use this for everything but certain things, like when you have people who need to learn a dangerous task, having them build up experiences in a safe environment is really important. Or when people need to learn a physical space and it’s not easy or safe to get them into that physical space, they can build the memories of the space in a virtual environment.

And, certainly, things that are about people, like having empathy or having emotional intelligence. When we are in a headset dealing with another person, that is also lived memory, so we can gain some of those skillsets. So, I would say virtual reality, because of how it’s aligning with our biology, is really worth looking at and, realize, it’s evolving quickly.

So, if you tried a headset a year ago, it was a little wonky back then. It’s already better and it’s going to get better every six months, so just keep trying it. But I think a VR strategy should be part of every organization’s learning plan for the future.

Pete Mockaitis
So, VR, interesting, you know, new tool available. And then let’s say if we don’t have that and we have kind of the basics in terms of audio-visual stuff, PowerPoint, keynote, projector, laptop, videos, audio, flipcharts, whiteboards, talking in person, these things.

Britt Andreatta
You’re going to run through the whole list, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, a few more. So, if you’ve got the traditional tools, and based on how people learn, how might we choose to, say, deliver or structure a presentation or a training differently such that more is absorbed?

Britt Andreatta
Great question. One of the things that I like to say is our body is built for learning. Like, we’ve been learning for hundreds of years before we ever had any of these technologies. So, what’s cool is we’re designed to learn from each other. Mirror neurons are specifically designed for observational learning. So, we’ve been learning each other since we were chasing down the woolly mammoth on the plain, watching each other do it. The original PowerPoint was the cave drawing, where we, “Okay, we all gather over here and we’re going to go do this,” and sitting around the fire and telling stories.

So, learning is innately in our DNA. We learn from each other, we learn through story, narrative. I always say, whatever you’re teaching, build it into a story because the brain is built for story. Whenever you can, show and tell. And then, more importantly, let people do it. This is where people fall down a lot. I’m not kidding, I’ve gone into Silicon Valley and sat through a two full day manager training where they’re spending thousands of dollars to take people “off the job” for manager training. and great visuals, great content, and yet there was no practice. Not one minute of practice.

[39:25]

Pete Mockaitis
Anything.

Britt Andreatta
Yeah, I mean, practice is how we change our behaviors, it’s how we change our habits, so you got to make sure that whatever behavior you’re trying to drive, whatever that looks like, what kinds of words and actions do you want to see out there, have them do it in the room and make it safe to make some mistakes, and do the coaching and the improving in the room. Because once people get strong in the room, they’re much more likely to go do that back out in the fields or on the floor, or wherever they have to go do their jobs. So, make sure that your learning elements have those pieces to it.

Then in terms of what kind of technology you’re doing learning through, it just depends on what you can afford and where your audience is. If they’re working globally, you’re going to need to be leveraging video conferencing and some digital assets. If you’ve got people in the room, then you could be dealing with a whiteboard and some conversation. So, I hesitate to tell people, “Go out and invest in a bunch of stuff,” because good learning can happen anywhere. You can make great learning out of any tools that you have.

And then, because of observational learning, I would say, if you have the ability to use video, it’s great because you can show people stuff and make that scalable because you videotape it once and then a bunch of people can see that. And so, scalability comes down to if you invest in something, then that may be usable by a lot of different learners over time. But all those bells and whistles don’t get you away from building good learning with aha moments and driving behavior change.

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

Britt Andreatta
I would say people learn best when learning is chunked in 15- to 20-minute segments. What we have found is that human attention span really can’t focus for longer than 20 minutes. So, even if I’m running a half-day program, it’s all done in 15-minute content pieces broken up by processing of activities and practice sessions. So, string a bunch of bite-sized stuff together to make a longer learning event, but don’t talk to people for more than 20 minutes because they just can’t retain it, and then they’re not going to have the thing that you want to push into their memory.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say processing activities, I guess I’m thinking of all kinds of interactive exercises that can take a while, but I imagine you’ve got a couple processing activities in mind that might just take a minute or two. What are some of those?

Britt Andreatta
Yeah, absolutely. Literally, it can be as short as take one minute and jot down some notes about how this applies in your own life or memory you’ve had with this, right? So, you’re just asking them to attach it to something. You can give them some kind of reflective questions to answer or a conversation to have with a partner. They could take a quick assessment. I kind of always do like five-minute activities, one- to five-minute activities. They don’t have to be long. But it basically just says, “This thing that you just learned, play with it for a minute.” And when you play with it for a minute, you’re naturally pushing it and attaching it to your schemas, you’re naturally personalizing it a little bit. And then the brain can be ready to learn more.

But if we keep giving people more content, not only does their attention span wane, but then they have more and more and more to try to attach to something, and then they’re going to miss some pieces. So, chunk it. Chunk it into bite-sized experiences. It doesn’t have to be big and showy. Literally, a couple good reflective questions or a dyad conversation and you’re good to go.

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

Britt Andreatta
I love this quote from Robyn Benincasa, she’s a world champion, and she says, “You don’t inspire your teammates by showing them how amazing you are. You inspire them by showing them how amazing they are.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I like that. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Britt Andreatta
You know, I’m still into what’s happening with mindfulness. I think that continues to be a great place for us to explore. But I’m really interested right now in kind of sense of purpose and innovation. So, I’ve been doing a lot of research on what drives innovation and also the brain science behind having a sense of purpose or a meaningful life, so those are some things that I’ve been really digging on right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And we mentioned Altered Traits. Any other favorite books?

Britt Andreatta

I’m really enjoying Bill Bryson’s current book called The Body. It’s just really interesting research about our whole internal working, but he’s also a comedian so he makes it really funny, so I’m enjoying the science behind that.

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

Britt Andreatta
You know, PowerPoint is my go-to thing for everything but I also have been doing a lot of video editing with Camtasia, and so those are two tools I use frequently to do the work that I do.

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

Britt Andreatta
I recently heard from some folks who went through the change training and they just said that they found that they were able to apply it to everything, not only work changes but personal changes. Even just kind of our response to things that are difficult in our life, that that’s a type of change journey as well, and how we resist. So, I oftentimes get people who email me and say, “Hey, thanks for sharing that. I now really see all the ways that I’m resisting or people around me are resisting, and have some new ways to try to help people move through it.”

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

Britt Andreatta
My website is the best place to go BrittAndreatta.com. Everything I’m up to is there. And then I love it when people connect with me on LinkedIn. I really do enjoy my community of folks on LinkedIn, so please connect with me. I’d love to hear from you.

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

Britt Andreatta
I would say give yourself permission to have a break. We need more breaks than we need more to-do lists. So, put down the device, go find your knitting or fabric art or running, or whatever gives your brain a break, and just let all this stew around for a while so that you can have some aha moments tomorrow.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Britt, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and fun and all the ways that you’re growing and learning and connecting and doing your thing.

Britt Andreatta
Thank you so much, Pete. I love connecting with you. I love your podcast. I love your audience of learners. We’re all part of the same tribe. And I’m excited to stay in touch.

540: Making Recruitment Work for You with Atta Tarki

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Atta Tarki says: "Hire well, manage little."

Atta Tarki sheds light on the crucial practices that improve the hiring process on both sides of the recruiting table.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The strongest predictor of job performance
  2. What makes an interview answer excellent vs. terrible
  3. The most important factors that determine career fit

About Atta:

Atta Tarki and is the author of the book Evidence-Based Recruiting (McGraw Hill, February 2019) and the CEO of ECA, a data-driven executive search firm helping private equity firms with their talent needs.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Atta Tarki Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Atta, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Atta Tarki
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into a lot of your work, of evidence-based recruiting, and I want to talk about both kind of both sides of the recruiting table, as the candidate and the interviewer. But, first, tell us about painting murals. That sounds like a different part of your brain that you’re exercising in your off time.

Atta Tarki
Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m a father of three and a husband of one, and I feel like it’s fun for me to engage in my local community. So, when I have some spare time, I go and help out with painting murals.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, now, any particular murals that you’re especially proud of or fond of?

Atta Tarki
Well, I have to say there is one on Main Street in Santa Monica that has a particular meaning to me, and it was my younger brother who passed away when he was 16, sadly. And we did a mural to honor him on a location called the Bubble Beach Laundry on Main Street in Santa Monica, and it’s a silhouette of my younger brother flexing his muscles on the beach.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s a famous beach, right, for like bodybuilders and stuff, right?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. And he’s smiling there and I’ve seen countless people standing in front of him and also flexing their muscles and smiling and taking pictures, and posting it everywhere, so I feel it’s his way of passing on that smile to others. So, that makes me feel warm and fuzzy every time I think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really beautiful in terms of leaving a ripple that’s impacting a lot of folks and in a fun way. So, I imagine there’ll be some listeners who’s like, “You know what, I’ve been there,” or, “I’m about to go back there and make sure we get the photo,” so thank you for sharing that. That’s cool.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’re talking about evidence-based recruiting, and I want to cover it kind of on both sides of the recruiting table. Maybe can you share with us what’s perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made about how organizations do hiring, or should do hiring, as you’ve done your research and put this together?

Atta Tarki
Yeah, absolutely. And, Pete, like you, I started my career in management consulting and I started my own recruiting firm about 10 years ago. And the first thing I discovered when I came into consulting is that I wasn’t alone in having discovered that it’s really important to hire great people. Most companies talk about kind of like, “Hiring and retaining great people is our priority,” or, “Our employees are the true force behind our success.”

The second thing that I discovered, and maybe the most surprising piece then, was very few people actually mean those words.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Atta Tarki
These words were said by Frontier Communication and Sears, and based on their Glassdoor reviews left for these two companies, they were rated the two worst companies to work for.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we are naming names. This is going to be a juicy one. Keep going.

Atta Tarki
Yeah. Well, I guess what was surprising for me is that so many people talk a big game about wanting to have the best employees and their people being the true differentiator, but very few companies and hiring managers actually act that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that that rings true and that’s powerful and, yeah, I think it’s easy to say those words and in practice it’s pretty darn hard to systematize the practices and processes and, frankly, sacrifices necessary to make that a reality.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then let’s dig into it then. So, there’s a gap there, and if folks want to be doing the best possible recruiting that they can be doing, what have you discovered are some of the key practices they need to be following?

Atta Tarki
I’ve discovered that a lot of folks follow old-industry norms and practices that they think are just practices that have developed over time, and are tested, and tried and true, but in reality, very few of these practices have actually been tested or are true in terms of producing better results.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Could you mention a practice that’s not getting it done for folks?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, a lot of hiring managers when they start writing a job description, they start with, “I want X years of experience in doing exactly the same job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Atta Tarki
And there is recent research that shows that experience in a job is one of the very least predictive factors in terms of on-the-job success. It’s not negatively correlated on the job success. It’s positively correlated, but its correlation is much lower than most hiring managers believe it is. And having worked with a number of our clients as well as also looked at our internal data, we can see that most hiring managers over-index on past experience and how predictive it is going to be for on-the-job success.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. I mean, that is certainly a common practice and often, you’re right, the first bullet point you’ll see in a job description or a post for an open role. So, what, do tell, are some of the most predictive indicators?

Atta Tarki
It really comes down to what you’re recruiting for. So, I’ll give you an analogy which is 20 years ago, the old saying in marketing used to be, “Half of my spend is wasted. I just don’t know which half.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Atta Tarki
And today it’s almost unimaginable to deploy a large marketing budget without taking an analytical and data-driven approach to it, and recruiting is going down the same path. And when I talk to leading executives at companies like Amazon and Google, they’re telling me, “Atta, recruiting is going down the same path as marketing did 20 years ago.” Depending on what role you’re trying to recruit for and what problem you’re trying to solve for, you have to apply a data-driven approach to see what works and recruit for those skills that are most predictive of on-the-job success. So, unfortunately, there is no one silver bullet that works for all roles, but there are a few general rules. If you like, I can share some of those rules with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’d like to hear the generals that are available, and then maybe just an example of, “Hey, for this kind of a role, this is the skill that is the thing.”

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. The first general rule is don’t hire for quantity, hire for quality. It sounds a little bit cliché but I feel like when most hiring managers say this but then go back to saying, like, “Okay. Well, let’s get this hire done so I can focus on putting out a few fires right in front of me.” And maybe this can be best illustrated by the work that I was doing in consulting. So, I had worked in management consulting for six years, and working in consulting in Los Angeles, I worked with a lot of media and entertainment companies.

And a few years into my role, something a little bit remarkable happened. I was going over to the Blockbuster store where I would spend my Sunday afternoons and walked through the aisles to figure out what movie I was going to watch, when I noticed that it’s going out of business. And working in media and entertainment, it was pretty clear to me that one of the factors that led to this Blockbuster store going out of business was this tiny company at the time called Netflix.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Atta Tarki
But that was a little bit confusing for a management consultant, because from a strategies perspective, that shouldn’t happen and able to happen. Netflix was a tiny company.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, market share. Pricing power. Economies of scale.

Atta Tarki
All of those things. And Blockbuster was a $6 billion company and, in theory, they had set giant barriers to entry for all these smaller companies to come in and kind of like destroy their kind of like business model, right? And why was that so? What did this tiny company have that this giant in the industry lack? You could argue that it was a better business model, or it was more innovative techniques, or whatnot, right? But why did they have a better business model? Why do they have these better distribution models, etc.? What did Netflix have that this $6 billion giant lack? And I would argue that you can summarize it in one word, and that is talent.

So, if you want to build a very effective organization, it’s no longer sufficient to set up these barriers to entry and hide behind them, you need to lead the change in your industry. And in order to do so, you need to focus on finding the best talent possible.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that really resonates and one example that’s leaping to mind for me is Gary Keller, with the Keller Williams Realty franchise, his book The ONE Thing he wrote with Jay Papasan whom we had on the show, awesome book. I don’t remember how long he took off from being the CEO, it might’ve been a year, but he said it was so important for him to hire 12 people, or 13, in that ballpark, that he’s like, “All right. Well, this is what I’m going to do for the next year,” and just stop being the CEO, handed over the day-to-day operations to someone else to go hire, like, 13, 14 people. It was all he was doing in a year. Well, the results speak for themselves in terms of just how phenomenally successful that organization has been, and it really underscores that notion of quality versus quantity, and it’s not about checking the box and moving on to your next task.

Atta Tarki
Yeah, and I would say that that is a phenomenal example over someone actually putting it to action. And what’s more effective? Is it more effective to hire an average performer and spend a ton of time trying to mentor down and coach them and through the apprenticeship model, try to get them to be effective? Or is it more effective to obsess about finding the very best talent you can, and then let them run with things, and spending your time upfront and finding them and spending less time than training and coaching them?

And I’d say these few ideas have, kind of like, people have battled with it over the years. And these few ideas have been popularized by two different movies. One of them is Moneyball where Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Ace, one of the poorest team in baseball, obsessed about finding undervalued talent and building his team that way, and two years in a row made it to the finals. And the other movie is The Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi took on a subpar performer, and with kind of like magical coaching skill…

Pete Mockaitis
Subpar performer. He’s just a kid.

Atta Tarki
He was a kid who knew nothing about karate, and within a few months turned into a superstar.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Atta Tarki
So, the question is, “Which approach do you think works better? Is it the Moneyball approach or is it The Karate Kid approach?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I don’t see why we have to make it an either/or because, hey, we get the best people and then resource them well, I think, is ideal when possible.

Atta Tarki
Okay. So, let me tease you a little bit here. So, you said, “I don’t know why it’s an either/or.” I’ll tell you why it’s an either/or.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Atta Tarki
You only have 24 hours in a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. In terms of how you allocate your time.

Atta Tarki
Your time. And you could take a year off to go off and find 13 to 14 superstars, or you could say, “You know what, I’ll manage to hire these 13 to 14 superstars, but during that year, I’m also going to spend 60 hours a week in meetings and trying to coach people and mentor people.” You’re not going to achieve the same results if you try to spend those 60 hours a week trying to coach and mentor people and at the same time kind of like half-assing your recruiting efforts. If you want to really achieve exceptional results in recruiting, you have to allocate a proportionate amount of your time and resources to finding the best people from the get-go.

Pete Mockaitis
That fits. So, there’s no shortcuts, you take the time, you take the effort, you’re putting the resources in. And then what are you doing with that time, effort, and resource?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, first thing you’re doing is that you’re defining what good looks like, and what are we recruiting for, what are the skills we want, what are the traits we want. And then you have to create a feedback loop. You have to understand, “Okay, how are we trying to measure these traits?” And then you have to go back a few years later and check, and that’s how you create an evidence-based approach and see if it worked or not. And if you want to have an impact on the effectiveness of your recruiting methods, you have to just start measuring, and you have to start doing that today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, then it sounds like I don’t have any quick secret tips and tricks that I can employ right away, but rather it’s the long game of monitoring, measuring, and tweaking the system.

Atta Tarki
I do have a few secret…

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good.

Atta Tarki
…tricks that I can share with you from personal experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Please.

Atta Tarki
So, first of all, recruit more for skills and fit rather than just recruiting for experience, that’s the first thing I’ve learned. So, check what skills you need and also check for fit. The second trick I can teach you is to let employees interview you as much as you interview them, and be brutally honest with them about who you are and who you’re not, and why some of your happiest employees are happy at their role, but also why you might not be the right fit for some other folks.

A lot of employers are so overly-eager, especially in these times where we have a 50-year low in terms of unemployment rates, to sell the position and sell their firm, that they’re not quite forthcoming about the challenges in the role, and that leads to mis-hires. And people starting in the role who are not happy in the role end up leaving. So, that is the second thing.

The third thing is that I like to hire people who point fingers at themselves versus at others.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean like blame.

Atta Tarki
Blame others if things go wrong. They blame it on external factors as opposed to what they could’ve done to make the situation differently. I was recruiting for a CEO role, and I asked the candidate, “Tell me about a time when you failed.” And he said, “Well, I started at this company, it was a family-owned company, and I was recruited by the founder CEO. And after a year, I left the role because I was hired by the father, but then realized that the son was not on board with the initiatives that the father wanted to do. And since the son was not on board, I couldn’t make the change, and I decided to leave.”

Now, you could take that same answer, and someone else could’ve said, “Well, what I did wrong was that I didn’t really invest the time to understand this upfront of who is the real decision-maker.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s perfect.

Atta Tarki
“I didn’t invest the time to build a relationship with the son upfront. Once I discovered that, I could’ve taken these different actions to convince the father, or the son, to do these things.” But, instead, he just blamed it on the fact that the son didn’t want to do it, “And I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is excellent distinction because I think people will ask questions in the course of an interview, and it’s like, “How do I judge if that story is good or not? Like, was it entertained by it? Did it keep my attention? Did he seem likable while telling it?” It was like, “No, here’s something to look at sort of beneath the surface in terms of are we taking responsibility or sort of shifting blame elsewhere?”

And what I think is so powerful about that is, one, it’s just sort of a more pleasant, humble human being to interact and work with, and, two, that’s a learner. That is someone who is actively reflecting on their experiences and thinking about, “How can I get better?” and so they’re kind of naturally growing, and they are some folks who are going to really take some ownership and drive things, and you can feel better about that. So, I love that trick.

Atta Tarki
You’re touching upon a very important point. One of the best ways you can improve your hiring results is to follow more structured approach interviews. Most hiring managers follow unstructured interviews where they come in and they have a few questions in their mind, but they haven’t really written out all the questions, and then they haven’t really thought about what constitutes a good answer versus a bad answer.

And what happens in those scenarios is that you end up liking someone or you end up like connecting with someone on a personal level, and regardless of what they say, you feel like, “Oh, that was a pretty good answer.” And you’re not really checking for the content of the answer, you’re more checking for if you connected with the person or not. And that is not a great way of predicting on-the-job success. A much better way of predicting on-the-job success is where there is a right or wrong answer, and you can grade the answers on a scale of, call it, one to five, one to ten, or whatever scale you want to use.

And then at the end of it, you go back and try to kind of like give them a gut feeling on overall, I think, this is how I would rate the candidate. But having had those objective answers upfront and grading system upfront, keeps your emotions a little bit in check.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we’re talking about interview questions, and I would imagine you’ve got some approaches beyond taking a look at resume and a cover letter and conducting an interview to get some predictive insight and how a candidate might perform. Is that true? And what are those other ways?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. I’m a big fan of skills-based assessments, and a lot of the companies that use evidence-based hiring methods also use a skills-based assessment. So, Amazon, Google, and a number of other companies give you an assessment that is similar to a task that you would perform on the job, and ask you to perform that task.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That is exactly what I do and it works wonders. Go figure. “You are good at doing the thing that I need you to do, and I know that not by conjecture based on your experience, but, in fact, from having seen the fruit of your work, and saying, ‘Yes, that is good. I would like more like that, please.’”

Atta Tarki
It does work wonders. And it’s not only important for every senior-level roles, but one of the CEOs we worked with, he had gone through three executive assistants within a year, and he called me up and said, “Atta, I know you only hire senior-level people, but I’m desperate here. I keep hiring these executive assistants and they don’t work out for me. Can you help me hire them?” And I sat down with him, and I was like, “Okay, how do you assess them?” He’s like, “Well, I just have like a half an hour free-flow conversation with them, and then I make them an offer. It’s not that important. It’s not that complicated.”

I was like, “No, let them do something that you would do. Okay, so here’s an assessment you could use for them. Give them this task and say, ‘I’m going to fly to Hong Kong this weekend, I’m going to spend two days there, and then I’m going to fly to South Africa, and then I’m going to come back. You have 10 minutes with me. What are the questions you would ask me?’ And they would write up the questions.” And it was an enormous difference. He almost fell off his chair when he saw the difference of level of questions that he received from some folks.

Some people were like, “Okay, are you flying economy or business class?” He was like, “Of course, I’m flying business class. That’s not even a question. Or first class.” But someone else was like, “Okay, when was the last time you updated your passport? Have you checked how much time you have left on the passport? What would you like to do when you’re in Hong Kong? Do I need to send over your golf clubs? Do you need transportation to come pick you up? What are the hotel preferences you have?” and so forth.

And he was like just seeing that difference between the level of their answers, completely changed his mind about which of the candidates that he should hire.

Pete Mockaitis
That is perfect. Thank you. Well, let’s kind of switch the channel a little bit and sort of step into the candidate’s role. So, if we want to use some evidence-based recruiting to evaluate which workplaces are kind of great fits for us versus not so great fits, what do you recommend we do?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. I’d say start again with you asking yourself the right questions. So, if you’re a candidate, try to understand, “What makes me happy?” And I would say that most candidates, the mistake they do is that they start with, “What is the job I want to do? What do I want to become when I become an adult or when I grow old?” “I want to become a fireman.” “I want to be a police officer.” “I want to do this job.”

But in my experience, how you do the job is almost as important for your happiness as what you do as a profession. And what I mean by that is like, “Okay, where is the location of the job? What are the work hours? How are you interacting with your colleagues?” Ask yourself, “What are the jobs that I’ve been happy in before? How did I interact with my supervisors? Was there someone who stepped kind of like by my desk five times a day and made him or herself available to me, or kind of like tap me on the shoulders and said, ‘How are things going?’ or is this someone who kind of like left me alone and checked in with me once a month? Is this a very high-performing environment where I feel like I got pushed to kind of like do my very best or was it a little bit more low-key environment?” etc.

And asking yourself, “Who are the supervisors that I had a great relationship with versus not? And what are the day-to-day activities of those roles that actually made me happy?” helps you to kind of like figure out what questions you can ask about the role to see if you’re going to be happy in those roles or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I think that’s excellent. And so, you’ve sort of laid out a few, I guess you might call them continua in terms of low-key versus intense high performance, checking in frequently versus infrequently. Could you maybe rattle off a few more that we might think about where we fall to make sure we don’t overlook something?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, most people say when I ask them, “What made you happy in your last job or what you did?” They go to kind of like the mission of the organization, they’re like, “Okay, I really like the fact that this organization worked with topic X.” I was like, “Okay, but what made you happy about working with that supervisor? What in their style made them happy?” And they’re like, “Okay. Well, this person was fun.”

The question I would ask yourself as a candidate is, “How did that demonstrate itself in the day-to-day activities or my interactions with this person?” I’d say most people will not describe themselves as really boring people or mean people, but how you define fun or nice might be different than someone else. And most companies would say, “Oh, we have a very fun company culture.” “Great. How does that demonstrate itself? What is something fun you guys did in the last month?” And you might find out that what they think is fun is to go out and drink at 2:00 a.m. and you might not like that at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I always love it when…I never actually said this in college but I was so tempted when I heard all of these companies recruiting, and I said, “Oh, so tell me a little bit about your culture,” and they say, “Oh, it’s work hard, play hard.” And I was like, “What does that even mean? What does that even mean?” And so, I was always tempted to be like, “Oh, so play hard like we’re having a couple drinks after work, or play hard like we’re doing cocaine.”

Atta Tarki
Like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. Like, “They play hard. Is that what you mean? I don’t think it is.” But these terms are quite ambiguous and that it’s well worth it kind of digging in another layer to get after, “What do we mean by that?”

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. “What do you mean by that? How did that manifest itself in the job and the culture of the company? What are some of the activities that you could say are examples of that trait in the culture? What are some of the activities of the people that you enjoyed working with?” Kind of like try to think about that and try to distinguish between it.

Another jargon that I hear from candidates as I ask them, “Okay, who are some bosses you enjoyed working with? Who are some of the bosses you didn’t enjoy working with?” They say like, “Well, I don’t like it when my boss micromanages me.” And I’d say, “Ninety percent of candidates tell me that. Like, what do you mean by that? Because I know that some folks, they do enjoy it when their boss kind of like provides them supervision and checks in with them frequently, other people don’t. And would you say that everyone who checks in with their direct reports are micromanagers or are they just being helpful?”

So, understand the right cadence. How often? What types of task that they would provide you feedback on? How often you got opportunities to kind of like take a first stab at things versus not? And how do you define micromanage-y so that you can find the right fit for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s great stuff there in terms of getting really clear on, “What do you want? And what do you mean by that?” in terms of what do you want.

Atta Tarki
Yeah. And one other thing is I would ask folks in the role, or currently performing that role, is, “How do you split your time between various activities?” So, if you come in to work at my company, an excellent question to one of our project managers is like, “Okay, how much of your time do you spend speaking with candidates versus talking to clients versus thinking about what search strategies that are effective versus other activities, right?”

And that kind of like gives you a sense. If you’re someone who doesn’t get a lot of energy from talking to people, but our project managers say, “Well, I probably spend about a good four hours a day talking to candidates,” you’re like, “Oh, wow, that sounds draining. That’s like starting a search strategy sounds really fun but you’re only spending an hour a day doing that, but I have to spend four hours a day talking to candidates, and that’s going to drain me.” It’s not about kind of like a checklist of tasks and traits but also how much of your time is going to those different types of tasks and traits that kind of give you energy versus kind of drain you for energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I think that’s excellent. And so, let’s say, all right, so we got a really clear picture on what we want and we are looking at an opportunity that sure seems to be that. What are some of your top tips for just crushing it and looking fantastic during the course of the recruiting process from networking conversations to resumes to the interview to work samples? Like, how do you dazzle?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Try to anticipate what are the questions that are going to come up, or work sample tasks, or skills-based assessments, etc. that are going to come up in the interview. If it truly is a role that you definitely want, do your research, go online, there are all these resources like Glassdoor.com, etc. See if you know anyone who used to work there or works there now, and ask them, like, “Okay, what could I anticipate?”

I’d say 80% of the questions you can anticipate regardless if you know someone there or not. And don’t just kind of think about them but write it out, and then role-play ideally with someone else. You’d be surprised how much more refined you’re going to be if you actually kind of sound it out once or twice versus you just try to wing it. I’d say the biggest mistake we see from people who want their dream job is that they think they can wing it, and then they come in and they’re just babbling on,

Atta Tarki
And then they blow their opportunity. But, also, then research not just the company but also the role and the people you’re talking to, and understand a little about them, and try to connect with them on that personal level when you’re going in there, and say, like, “Okay. Well, Pete, I noticed that you used to work at Bain & Company. How do you feel like that prepared you for your current job?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I could tell you the things I do with my engagement at them but I don’t think they’re very common amongst podcasters. But that’s another conversation for another day. Okay, so I dig that. So, those are prepare, prepare, prepare, do those things. And then you’ve done some research on how star-performing employees deliver just a wildly big multiple of value greater than, say, average-performing employees. Can we hear a little bit about that research?

Atta Tarki
Yeah, absolutely. So, this is also one of these things that you hear a lot about but then people don’t kind of know what to do with it. So, what I did is I looked at the lifetime prize money won in a few different sports. So, let’s talk about the prize money won by tennis players and poker players.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nice and public data.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, if you look at 24,000 ATP players, now, ATP players are phenomenal tennis players. They are the top-ranked players in the world. And you look at the lifetime prize money that is collected by these players, the top 10% of the players there collected 98% of the total prize money from these 24,000 players.

And poker, I found data on 450,000 poker players, and there, again, it’s a very large sample size so we’re not talking about a small sample bias with five poker players or 20 poker players in a small tournament, but 450,000 of them. And in this enormous dataset, the top 10% of the players took home 85% of the lifetime prize money.

So, what that means in reality and in practice for you and your organization is that if you hire a top engineer, this person might not write 100 times more code than an average engineer, but the value of the code that they write might result in billions of people using Google every day as opposed to AltaVista or some other search engine.

Pete Mockaitis
Lycos, HotBot, Ask Jeeves.

Atta Tarki
Yes, all of those. America Online. All those search engines that were so famous once upon a day but no one knows about them anymore. And when I was using this example in one of my seminars, someone raised their hand and says, “Excuse me, what is AltaVista?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man.

Atta Tarki
Putting this to practice, it’s not just Google who’s put this to practice. But let me give you one example of how this has applied in a team setting. Apple launched its operating system, iOS 10, using 600 engineers in two years, and it’s considered to be one of the better operating systems ever launched. Microsoft launched AltaVista using 10,000 engineers in six years, and then they later on had to retract AltaVista. Now, if you’re building a team, which staffing model would you prefer? Would you rather have the 600 Apple engineers or the 10,000 Microsoft engineers?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And what’s striking here is so the multiplier can be huge. And I think it really does vary by role in terms of if there’s something that’s sort of like, “No, you just sort of have to follow this process repeatedly to go from input to process to output.” “Okay.” But there are other things like, “Hey, if you are generating patents, or coming up with a killer marketing campaign, or something, then the multiples become huge.”

And so, there are many kind of situations where the way the market or the environment is setup, it’s kind of like a winner take most, maybe 80/20, or even more concentrated.

Atta Tarki
I would say 90/10.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. So, the Apple employees, you know, I’m sure they’re getting paid more than the AltaVista employees, but they’re not getting paid that 10, 20, 100X multiple more. So, I always find this interesting, like we got many of the listeners in our audience. Like, let’s say you are that star-performing employee who is just really delivering extraordinary amounts of value, and, by golly, if you ask for a raise, it seems like you’ll get a little something, but there’s like budgets and dah, dah, dah, and that just sort of drives me bonkers. If you’re delivering 10 times the value than the average employee, how can you get paid at least two, or three, or four times what the average employee is getting paid so that you receive the rewards of the value?

Atta Tarki
Sure. And I’m sure that there are multiple approaches to this but the approach that I have seen works best is to, first of all, define the value upfront and agree upon that value with your supervisor and set those expectations upfront before you go off and do all that work, say, like, “If I’m able to get 5 billion users start using our search engine as opposed to kind of like 50,000 users, can I get a raise then?”

And when you do that, it becomes much easier to tie it to value and the results that you’re driving for the business and getting folks to, upfront, agree to that, “Okay, if I do that and I really kick ass, can I get a commensurate pay-raise?” As opposed to kind of like saying you hire from a business perspective, you hire 100 people to go out there and go look for gold coins on the beach here in Santa Monica, one of these 100 people comes back and says, “Look, I found a gold coin. I should get 90% of that value.” And you’re like, “Well, I have to pay for all the 99 other people as well that I hired to do the job, and I can’t give you 99% of the value of that one gold coin that you found.”

But if you kind of set the expectations upfront and say, “Look, I’m much better than everyone else at finding gold coins, or whatever it is you do, if I find you X, will you share Y percent of that profit with me?” if they say, “Sure,” go ahead and do it, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I like that because I imagine many managers have just never been asked that question before. It’s like, it’s never occurred to me that it was possible to achieve that level but, now that you mentioned it, yes, and hopefully you can get that kind of locked-in. And I imagine many of the…well, hey, Netflix does this, right? The top-performing organizations just sort of go in expecting that you’re going to generate way more than an average employee, and they go in compensating you like they expect it from the get-go, and then that creates all kinds of nice virtuous cycles there.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, Netflix has a philosophy that they pay over market but then they also expect over market performance. Their role is that in procedural roles, a top performer is twice as effective as an average performer in creative jobs, like a programmer, or a marketing director, or whatnot. A top performer is 10 times more effective as an average performer. And, therefore, they might not pay 10 times as much for the top performers, but they definitely pay above market.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, that will do it. Boy, but there’s so many things I’d love to talk about.
Well, you tell me maybe in terms of just sort of burning issues in terms of absolutely candidates or employers need to start doing this or stop doing that, what’s something you really want to make sure you get out there before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Atta Tarki
Okay. So, I’m not going to repeat something I’m going to say there, but I would say that most consequential mistake people do when they are trying to hire superstars and they’ve kind of like already set their mind on the fact that, “Okay, it’s really important for me to hire a superstar,” is that then they overdo it a little bit. They say like, “Okay, who are all the superstars that I’ve ever worked with? Okay, Pete is a superstar, and Janice, etc., and all of these people were superstars.” And what made them superstars? “Well, Pete is a great strategic thinker, Janice is a great communicator, and this person has really good people skills.”

And then they say, “Okay. Well, I need someone who has all those things.” And they end up with kind of a job description with 17 different traits, and I call it that they end up recruiting for Frankenstein as opposed to kind of like superstar instead, and it’s the Frankenstein method of recruiting does not work. The Moneyball method of recruiting works. And the Moneyball method of recruiting is to reduce the number of factors that you deem are important to predict on-the-job success, not increase them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s great. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. My favorite quote is “Be the change.”

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

Atta Tarki
I find myself referring a lot to Jason Dana’s study. He works at Yale. And he did a study that is called the Dilution effect, and in this study, he essentially showed that if you give people more information about candidates, they make worse decisions about their on-the-job success rather than if you focus on just the most important decisions. So, keep that in mind, don’t replace quality with quantity when you’re trying to predict on-the-job success.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really like that and I think that’s part of the reason why your pitch resonated with me so much is because I am doing some of this. And, like, when I’m hiring now, I’m all about, “Show me what you can do with the evidence so that I will, in fact, not even look at resumes until pretty late in the process.” It’s like, “You’ve already demonstrated a lot of key things. Now I’m going to look at your resumes because I just found them heartbreaking.” It’s like, “Oh, my gosh, you got all these incredible writing bylines. You must be an amazing writer.”

But then when I kind of put them to the test, I was like, “Hmm, actually not so much. Maybe you had a lot of help from an editor at each of those places where you have cool bylines,” or maybe they spent, I don’t know, ten times the amount of hours in creating those pieces as compared to my assessments. But, anyway, yeah, I buy that because I might be deceived because I think, “Oh, well, it must be pretty good because of this,” then it’s like, “Well, that’s actually not predictive after all, so, hmm.”

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. And keep also in mind that it’s almost like a little bit like chemistry there where a person might’ve been very good and effective in another setting. And let’s say they worked at a magazine where they had like three different set of editors that gave them detailed feedback and revisions, and they had a language editor that helped them with the language, and this person was just really good at coming up with brilliant ideas and statistics, and gather people, like, “Okay, as a team, we can make this happen.”

But in your setting, you might need them to be a single contributor, and it might not work as well for you in your settings. So, given them the skills-based assessment will show you, “Okay, this is what I need for this job. And do I think that this person is going to be effective in our organization or not?”

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

Atta Tarki
Fiction book, 1984 George Orwell. Non-fiction book, I would say, Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Atta Tarki
So, in terms of favorite tools, favorite thing works that have been like very helpful for me is the concept of ABC tasks. The way I think about them is A tasks are the must-dos that I will definitely not miss doing. B tasks are things that are important but I’m not going to get to them today or this week, but I know and I promise myself that I’m going to get to them later. And C tasks are like if I get to do it, great. If not, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a habit?

Atta Tarki
Touch everything once. I try to drive tasks to completion when I start it. So, if I start an email, I try to kind of like just finish it. If I start writing on an article, or a chapter of the book, or a section of the book, I try to really drive it to completion so that I don’t have to start and stop multiple times.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your clients or audience?

Atta Tarki
Hire well, manage little.

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

Atta Tarki
Go to our website ECA-Partners.com and then click on my name.

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

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, if you do really believe that quality hires make a big difference for your business, quantify how much more valuable they are for your business, your division, on your role. Don’t just kind of like say it but quantify it, and see if you’re willing to act upon it. If the quality hire is that much more valuable to your organization, are you willing to invest in finding those hires or not? If not, it probably is an indicator that you don’t really believe in your numbers, and review your numbers until you’re willing to act upon them.

Pete Mockaitis
Atta, this has been a thrill. Thank you for sharing the good word. And good luck in all the ways you’re helping folks hire and get hired.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. Pete, thank you so much for having me.

539: Preparing for the Future of Leadership with Jacob Morgan

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Jacob Morgan discusses what professionals need to succeed in future workplaces.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How professionals must change in the future
  2. The five skills of future leaders
  3. The surprising weakness of present-day leaders

About Jacob:

Jacob Morgan is a 4x best-selling author, speaker, and futurist. His new book, The Future Leader, looks at the skills and mindsets people need to have if they wish to be successful leaders over the next decade and beyond. He is also the founder of The Future Of Work University and can be reached at TheFutureOrganization.com.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jacob Morgan Interview Transcript

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

Jacob Morgan
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so intrigued about much of your work. You studied the future of work a whole lot. And, maybe to kick it off, could you share what do you think is one of the wildest predictions you’ve encountered about the future of work that you think actually might come true?

Jacob Morgan
You know, it’s tough because there’s been a lot of predictions that have been made, and I’m sure some of your listeners have heard of these, right? One of the predictions is that we’re not going to have any jobs in the future, and it’s sort of going to be like an episode from The Walking Dead, we’re all going to walk around with pitchforks and shotguns. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I’m more of an optimist, so the prediction that I believe is that there will be some disruptions with technology and automation and all these things that we’re starting to see happen, but I think we’re also going to create a lot of new jobs, we’re going to focus more on the creative aspect of work. So, I’m an optimist, that’s kind of the prediction that I believe in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I want to hear a lot about your research. So, you went ahead and interviewed 140 CEOs trying to learn what’s the future leader look, sound, feel like. Can you share with us a bit about your research and some of the most striking discoveries you made there?

Jacob Morgan
Sure. One of the things that I wanted to understand, and why I even wrote this book, is because I started to get a lot of questions from people not on present-day leadership but on what’s coming in the future. To use a famous quote from Wayne Gretzky, he always used to say, “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.”

And so, I kept getting these questions, “Hey, Jacob, you know, we get it. We understand where we are now. What should we be prepared for in the future? What’s coming in the next 10 years? What should we be training our employees on? What kind of leaders should we be focusing on creating?” And I had my ideas, and I’m sure everyone has their ideas on this, but I wasn’t really able to find any concrete data and the research on this. And so, I decided to go out and create it myself.
And it was really cool because, basically, I got to grill all of these people for around 45 to 60 minutes, and I asked them about skills, and mindsets, and challenges, all sorts of different things. And so, that was the first aspect of the research.

The second part of this was I teamed up with LinkedIn, and they were very gracious enough to partner with me on this, and we surveyed almost 14,000 employees around the world to see how the perspectives of the workforce align with the insights that these world’s top CEOs are telling me. And that is, basically, the background about the research. So, let me stop there and see if you have any questions, then I can share some of the things that I learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yup. I hear it how you did it. So, what did you learn?

Jacob Morgan
So, there are a couple interesting things that I learned. So, the first is what are the most important skills and mindsets that we need to possess? And, by the way, the focus is all around the future leader, but we need to remember that anybody can be a leader. Even if you’re a leader of yourself, you’re still a leader in some capacity. So, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be managing people. These are just skills and mindsets that anybody needs to possess.

So, the number one mindset that the CEOs identified as being the most relevant in the future is, well, there were two of them that were very, very close, neck and neck. The first one was the mindset of the explorer. And the explorer includes things like curiosity, it includes things like being a perpetual or lifelong learner, things like being able to be agile and nimble in your thinking.

And the second mindset which was the most crucial was the mindset of the chef. And the mindset of the chef is about balancing ingredients. And the two ingredients that leaders of the future need to balance are being purpose-driven and caring and technology. So, how do you balance these two components of wanting to use technology, automation, artificial intelligence, to be productive and efficient, but at the same time balancing the ingredient of making sure that the organization stays human, that you are still focused on a greater purpose, that you actually care about your people?

So, those were the two biggest mindsets. Now, there were others in there. I talked about the mindset of the servant, the mindset of the global citizen are two others, and just to give one sentence about each one of those. The mindset of the servant is about believing that, as a leader, your job is to help make other people more successful than you. And the mindset of the global citizen is about embracing and actively seeking out diversity, and it is about thinking big picture, thinking globally, not just paying attention to what’s right in front of you.

So, those are some of the most crucial mindsets that future leaders, that we, as individuals, need to have if we want to be successful over the next 10 years and beyond. Then I also talked about skills which we can get into if you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s maybe hear about the opposite of those things because, I mean, that sounds like it’d be great to do some exploring, it’d be great to be mixing some important ingredients. And so, what’s the opposite of that that is destructive and will make us bad leaders in the future?

Jacob Morgan
So, the opposite of having the explorer mindset is consistently believing that what worked in the past will work in the future, it’s consistently just focusing on what’s right in front of you, on doing what  you know, on staying in your comfort zone, on picking a single path and going down that path. It’s what we see in a lot of organizations today. We don’t have that explorer mindset. So, the exact opposite is doing things the way you’ve always been doing them.

And for the mindset of the chef. The opposite of that would be, first of all, not understanding that these are the two main ingredients that you have to play with, being purpose-driven and caring and technology. And the opposite of this would also be just focusing purely on technology because we are all so obsessed with automation, and with technology, and with the pace of change, that we ultimately forget that organizations are still about people.

Business is still done when you go out to lunch with somebody, when you shake somebody’s hand, when you look at them in the eye. Your business exists because of how you treat people, the experiences that you create for your employees. So, as much as we like to think about technology, we need to ultimately remember that business is still about people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Thank you. Well, so then that sets up the mindset piece. And then let’s hear about some of the big skills.

Jacob Morgan
So, the skills I grouped into five categories, and I’ll just go over some of the most popular ones then I can give you a sentence about some of the others. So, interestingly enough, the number one skill that these 140 CEOs told me that’s going to be most relevant for future leaders is the skill of thinking like a futurist. And, basically, thinking like a futurist, so I play a lot of chess. I’m kind of obsessed with chess. And if anybody has ever played a game of chess, you know that what separates high-level players is their ability to think in terms of scenarios and possibilities. In other words, you don’t just make a move on the chessboard and only look at that move. You look at multiple moves. You look at multiple moves that your opponent might make. And you look at how all these things kind of play together.

Thinking like a futurist means that you’re not seeing around the corner but you are thinking in terms of possibilities and scenarios so that when one of these other things happen, you’re going to be prepared for it.

A lot of people think, for example, that the role of a futurist is help to predict the future but that’s not true. A futurist helps make sure that people in organizations are not surprised by what the future might bring. And the only way that you can keep from getting surprised is you constantly look at different options and scenarios and possibilities. And so, that’s the number one skill that CEOs told me is going to be most essential, and it’s because things are changing so quickly that you need to be able to constantly play around with these different scenarios and options in your head.

The second most important skill that came out of this was, well, there was quite a bit that were very close together on this. So, there was the skill of a coach, and the coach is about the motivating, engaging, and inspiring people, about helping create other people who are more successful than you, and those last two words there are very important, more successful than you. There was a skill of Yoda, and Yoda is all about emotional intelligence, specifically empathy and self-awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Now, Yoda was really pretty hard on Luke at times.

Jacob Morgan
He was.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear more about this empathy and Yoda.

Jacob Morgan
Yes, I mean, as you can probably tell, I’ve tried to create these unique personas for these different mindsets and skills. And so, I was really struggling trying to figure out what represents emotional intelligence, specifically empathy and self-awareness. Ultimately, I thought that Yoda was, I mean, many people consider him to be the most emotionally intelligent character who’s ever been created because he’s always giving advice to Luke about emotions and feelings and getting in touch with himself. And so, I thought that Yoda would be a very good representation of emotional intelligence. And, you know, I had a little bit of fun with it so that’s why I went with Yoda on that one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Go ahead.

Jacob Morgan
And then, so the last two are the skill of the technology teenager. And technology teenager just means you’re tech savvy, and that you are digitally fluent. It doesn’t mean you need to be a coder. It doesn’t mean you need to know how to build things. It just means to know, it just means that you, as a leader, need to understand what are these different technologies that are out there, and what are the potential implications they might have on your business and on your company.

And I’m amazed how many times from a lot of these leaders that I’m speaking with, when these technology questions came up, many of them would say, “Oh, you know, IT handles that. I got to talk to my CTO about that.” But in the future, that’s not going to be good enough. You, as a leader, need to be aware of what’s happening in the realm of technology and what these potential implications might have.

And the last skill was the skill of the translator which went down to listening and communication, which have been timeless but at the same time these are also the two skills that are changing more than ever because we have so many different channels at our disposal that allows us to listen and communicate in different ways. I mean, there’s just a lot happening in that space. So, those are some of the most important skills for future leaders.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’d love to get your view in terms of the translator, the listening and the communicating, so there’s a bunch of channels. What should we do to build those skills and, in specific, the translator skill, and be excellent at that listening and communicating?

Jacob Morgan
So, there had been a lot of really good studies that have been done on this. So, Zenger Folkman is a research firm, and they put together a list of a series of six steps. And I don’t remember all of them off the top of my head in order, but these included things like, first, just paying attention to somebody if you’re listening to them. It looked at things like creating psychological safety, how to create a collaborative conversation with somebody instead of just letting somebody else talk, focusing on your body language, putting away any distractions. So, this is some of the in-person stuff.

But if you think about it, there’s a very big difference between listening and hearing. And I think a lot of us are very used to this very act of hearing. You go into a meeting, you go into a performance review, in fact, somebody very close to me, a couple of years ago, she went to a performance review, and the lady was simultaneously running a meeting while she was trying to give this person a performance review.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Jacob Morgan
Because we’re very focused on this hearing aspect. And hearing, by the way, is just the unconscious act of letting sound enter your ear. Listening is about really putting the conscious time and effort and attention into something.

And you can imagine, as a leader, if somebody comes to you wanting to have a conversation with you, and the person who comes to you perceives that you are not truly listening to them, the repercussions of that are going to be damaging. So, as a leader, it is essential for you to understand the difference between listening and hearing, and to make sure that when you are having dialogue, when you are engaging with your people, with your coworkers, with your peers, that they genuinely feel like you are putting in the time and effort and attention in trying to understand what it is that they’re telling you.

And same thing for communication. One CEO that I interviewed, he’s the CEO of a company called Tokio Marine. I think he has around 32,000 employees. His name is Nick Nagano. And he was telling me that, on average, an employee might only see or him live 20 minutes a year, okay, because he has a massive workforce. So, during that 20 minutes when he gets to be face to face with a particular employee, he said, “I’d better make sure that whatever I’m trying to get across comes across.” And whether you are texting somebody, emailing somebody, having an in-person conversation, presenting in a meeting, using something like Slack internally, whatever it is, as a leader, and just as an employee, as anybody, you need to make sure that your message gets across regardless of the channel that you’re using.

And we’ve also experienced this, right? I mean, how many times, people listening to this, and you got an email from somebody that looked like a letter that should be written to a therapist? How many times has somebody on your team sent you a text that’s like five-paragraphs long and were asking you for a project update? And then you got to sit there and respond and write a white paper with your thumbs.

You need to understand the channels that you have at your disposal and how to best get your message across during those channels, or on those channels, which means if you’re going to have a serious conversation with somebody about promoting them or firing them, don’t send them like a frowny emoji or a happy face. You need to understand how these different platforms out there can be used to make sure that your message gets across.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, I also want to get a sense of with your LinkedIn study with those 14,000 professionals. What did you discover there?

Jacob Morgan
So, there were a lot of really interesting insights from this. So, from these 14,000 employees, we actually broke things up by seniority level. And so, in the survey, we looked at individual contributors on mid-level leaders and on senior-level leaders.

And what’s really crazy is that when we compared these responses, we found massive, massive gaps.

So, so imagine you’re a mid-level or senior-level leader in your company, and I would ask you, “How well are you practicing these skills and mindsets today?” A lot of leaders would say, “We’re doing pretty good. We’re not amazing but, you know, we’re doing pretty good.” Like, 60%, 70% of them were in the reasonably well or very well category. And so, I thought that, yeah, it’s pretty good, they’re self-assessing themselves on being pretty adept at these things.

And then I would ask the people who work for these leaders. I would say, “How well do you think your leaders are practicing these skills and mindsets?” And they had the exact opposite story. So, if 70% of leaders say that they are doing reasonably well or very well, 70% of people who work for these leaders would say that they’re not doing well or they’re doing just somewhat well. So, it was almost a complete 180 in responses between the leaders versus people who work for these leaders. And this is a bit scary because it speaks to a lot of the common things that we keep hearing about, right?

And, by the way, the more senior you become, I found that the more disconnected you become. In other words, the bigger this gap becomes between you and everybody else.

And perception is reality. So, if you’re a leader, and you’re listening to this, and you’re thinking, “Oh, you know what, I’m practicing the explorer, the futurist, the tech teenager, like I’m good.” If the people who work for you say you’re not, then you’re not. This is one of those things where like, as a leader, it doesn’t necessarily matter how you evaluate yourself, it’s how the people who work for you evaluate you, it’s how your peers evaluate for you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then I guess from all of this, I’d love it if you could share sort of what are some kind of basic, like absolutely critical prescriptions you’d write for us in terms of everyday actions, behaviors that professionals should be taking, and maybe some things that we need to start doing, some things we need to stop doing, some things we need to make sure we continue doing so that we’re in great shape?

Jacob Morgan
Sure. So, for starters, let me ask you this. I’m very curious to hear what you think. What do you think the average age is for somebody who enters a leadership development program in a company?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I think I know that it’s atrociously high because companies under-invest in them.

Jacob Morgan
It is atrociously high. You are correct.

Pete Mockaitis
So, well let’s just say 46.

Jacob Morgan
You’re actually very close. It is in the mid-40s in a lot of organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
For 46 years old, I’m not saying you’re atrociously old. I’m just saying that, you know…

Jacob Morgan
Yeah, good disclaimer.

Pete Mockaitis
We should start developing leaders earlier than halfway into their career.

Jacob Morgan
Yup. And so, if you think about that, that number is just mindbogglingly insane, because most people inside of organizations actually become leaders in their 20s in some form, in some capacity. And so, what this means is that a lot of people inside of organizations go almost 20 years, right, two decades without having any formal leadership training or development, yet they are responsible for others.

And the reason why we don’t do this is because we all subscribe to the traditional climbing the corporate ladder mentality. In other words, “We will teach you how to become a leader after you’re at the company for 10 years, 15 years, after you’ve ascended the ranks.” And that is a completely outdated way of thinking about leadership inside of an organization. I mean, everybody needs to know these skills and mindsets whether you’ve been at the company for three days or 30 years. So, that’s the first thing we need to do is start these things early.

The second thing that we need to do, and I was also very surprised to learn this, the hardest question for CEOs to answer, was, “How do you define leader and leadership?” And if you think about it, and for those of you listening, think about how you would define that. Imagine somebody comes from another planet and they have no idea about the concept of leader or leadership. How would you explain it to them?

And what I realized, it’s sort of like trying to explain and define water to somebody who’s never seen it. I mean, you can’t say it’s a clear tasteless liquid because lots of liquids fall into that category. We don’t define water because, well, we all know what water is, we all know what air is, so we don’t actually really have to explain it. And so, what I realized is that we are surrounded by leadership in some capacity every day many times a day, you see and experience leadership in some form everywhere you go.

And because of that, we all assume that we know what good leadership is and what bad leadership is. But the problem is that because we, as leaders, don’t actually define this, it means our organizations don’t define this. and if our organizations don’t define this, then we don’t have the right filters in place that we use to promote leaders.

So, this is why it’s so crucial for leaders to really take a step back and to, first, define and explain what is leadership and who is a leader at your company. Because once you do that, then you’re going to have the filters in place so that only people who match those filters and those criteria will get into those leadership positions. So, that’s another thing that I think we need to do is to really take a step back and just define those things.

Another important aspect, and something that we don’t do enough of, is we need to look at ourselves today. And I was trying to figure out how to actually do this, and so I created an assessment, and it’s in the book, and it’s online. People can go to Future Leaders Survey if you’re interested in taking it, and it basically looks at, “How well are you practicing these skills and mindsets today?” And as bonus points, send this to your team members and ask them to evaluate you. So, really take a step back and ask yourself, “How well are you practicing these skills and mindsets today?”

Another crucial aspect of this is we actually need to practice these things. And unless we practice these things, if you do, if you improve 1% a day, by the end of the year, you will be 37 times better. So, 1% a day, these are small things. This means next time somebody comes into your office and they’re panicking and freaking out, and they want to have a conversation with you, instead of just responding, take a deep breath for 10 seconds, try to put yourself in their perspective, in their shoes, practice empathy, that emotional intelligence component, and then respond.

These aren’t complicated insane things that I’m asking people to do. I just want everybody to improve 1% a day, and by the end of the year, you will be 37 times more effective, 37 times better. And maybe one more piece of advice I’ll give, the visual, the image that I give in the book, and this is what’s on the cover of The Future Leader is an image of a lighthouse.

And the whole purpose of a lighthouse is to guide mariners and explorers to help them find their way home, and to help make sure that they can reach their destination safely. A lighthouse is useless if there are no ships in the water. So, as a leader, you need to build yourself up to become this lighthouse but you also need to remember that you have to shine your light onto others and onto this sea of uncertainty that we’re all a part of, because if you just do this for yourself and you’re not guiding the ships then, ultimately, a lot of the work that you’re doing has no meaning, so you have to remember to guide others. So, I’d say those are some of the best of pieces of advices I can give.

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

Jacob Morgan
Oh, man. I think that there is tremendous opportunity. And from the research, from all of the work that was done for this, it’s very clear that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. And I don’t want to make it sound like there are no good leaders out there. There are a lot. There are a lot of wonderful leaders out there. The problem is we don’t have enough of them.

And so, I don’t want this to sound like it’s doom and gloom, “We don’t have any good leaders out there. Everything is terrible.” That’s not the case. I want to paint this as a picture of opportunity. I think there is so much potential for us as individuals, for leaders out there to do better. And I want people to just visualize and understand the impact that it would have if leaders around the world practiced these skills and mindsets.

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

Jacob Morgan
When I was younger, my dad always used to say, “Be a leader, not a follower.”

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

Jacob Morgan
I’m probably going to be selfish on this and I’m going to go with the one that I did for this book just because I’m very proud of it and it was probably the hardest piece of research that I’ve ever done.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jacob Morgan
A favorite book. I’m a big fan of science fiction, so one of my favorite books is actually a series of books by Isaac Asimov, it’s the Foundation Series and also I, Robot.” I also really like Ender’s Game, and Ready, Player One was a good book but a terrible movie.

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

Jacob Morgan
It’s not a tool in the sense of like a piece of software or an actual tool, but one of the things that I always try to do with my team, is I always ask them what I could do better. I always ask them to be very transparent and open with me. And so, I think that’s a very, very useful tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jacob Morgan
I play a lot of chess. So, I’m always doing chess puzzles and watching chess games and stuff like that. That’s something a favorite of mine.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote it back to you often?

Jacob Morgan
I always say that, “If you don’t think about and plan for the future of work, then you and your organization are not going to have a future.” So, really, what that means is you have to take things into your own hands, don’t wait for the future to happen to you, the future is something that you build and shape and create and design, and you got to be a more active participant in it.

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

Jacob Morgan
So, I’m pretty easy to find. My website is TheFutureOrganization.com. and for anybody interested in the book, you can just go to GetFutureLeaderBook.com.

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

Jacob Morgan
Yeah, it’s to be 1% better a day. Ask yourself, “What can you do to be just 1% better a day? What small improvement and tweak can you make?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jacob, thank you and I wish you lots of luck as you become a future leader.

Jacob Morgan
Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

511: Tiny Leaps for Your Development with Gregg Clunis (Host of the Tiny Leaps, Big Changes Podcast)

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Gregg Clunis says: "All big changes come from the tiny leaps you take every day."

Gregg Clunis discusses the small leaps you can take to make massive changes in career and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why self-help is often inadequate
  2. Just what you can achieve with one tiny leap
  3. What to do when motivation fails you

About Gregg

Gregg Clunis is the host, author, and creator of Tiny Leaps, Big Changes, a podcast turned book and community whose goal is to help people become better versions of themselves in practical ways. A maker and entrepreneur, Gregg explores the reality behind personal development—that all big changes come from the small decisions we make every day. Using scientific and psychological research, he shows the hidden factors that drive our behavior and shares habit-forming and goal-oriented tools.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Gregg Clunis Interview Transcript

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

Gregg Clunis

Thank you so much for having me, Pete. It is a pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I also want to thank you. You were the one who gave me the idea to have five-minute calls with my listeners which I’ve been doing in celebration of 500 episodes.

Gregg Clunis

Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, everyone, you can thank Gregg for that.

Gregg Clunis
Well, first of all, congrats on 500. That’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Gregg Clunis
How have those calls been playing out?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it’s been really fun. I mean, it’s just fun to connect with people and I find that, hey, five minutes really goes fast.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
And sometimes people, they have all these bullet points and they’re rushing to cover them. So, I think we’re going to do some more actually. So, I also want to get your take, so you mentioned that you play a lot of Fortnite and, hey, I mean no disrespect, but when I hear Fortnite, what comes to my mind is 13-year old boys playing it nonstop.

Gregg Clunis
Pretty much, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
But I think you can translate it for the rest of us, why is this game taking off like crazy?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah. So, here’s the thing, because I think that that is true of gaming in general, but we have to look at why that’s the case, right? So, 13-year old, 14-year old boys and girls are the ones in a position where they can grind away the game to get good, and for the rest of us, because we don’t have that luxury, we never really get good and, therefore, we never really get to enjoy it.

But the reason that, and I have this conversation all the time with my girlfriend, one of the biggest reasons that Fortnite is as massive as it is and blew up the way that it did is because we all have some connection to gaming, right?

And Fortnite comes out, it’s filling this space, but then they do really, really smart things around content marketing, around utilizing their technology, reinvesting in their company to make sure the game is free, to make sure it’s available on literally every single platform.

So, it creates this hype around it, and because we all sort of have this connection to gaming already, and most people like games, we just don’t have the time for games, it just makes it super easy for us to jump back in.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yeah. And I think that’s one of the keys there. I think Minecraft has that going on as well. It’s like there’s this creative element, like, “Oh, that’s kind of a nifty novel thing I hadn’t thought of. Let me give that a shot, see how it goes.”

Gregg Clunis
Absolutely. It’s a really cool feeling to be so connected to it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you for unpacking that and I want to hear more. Well, you actually already dropped a life lesson on us in terms of 13-year-olds spend a lot of time playing the game so they get good, and because they get good, they’re able to enjoy it. It reminds me, in high school, shout out to Fran Kick, I think he’s still rocking as a motivational speaker. Fran Kick gave a speech to our marching band, which I still remember. He drew a diagram, it was like a loop of like a virtuous cycle of, “You do some work at something, like your instrument, and then you get good at that something, and then it becomes more fun to do that something, so then you’d actually want to do some more work at it so you even get better at it.” So, it’s a nice loop there.

And I was like, “That makes a lot of sense to me, Fran.” And so, there’s one tiny leap you all can make right there.” So, Gregg, drop an intro.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, absolutely. That’s a critical element if anyone out there hasn’t read the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, highly, highly recommend it. The core thesis of it is that pursuing your passion is the wrong way to go about it. The right way is to get good at something and, therefore, develop passion for it.

So, he went to all these different careers and people working in different fields, things that you and I would hear and think, “How can somebody possibly be passionate about that?” Right? And they found that these people, they’re doing work that most of us would not find glamorous in any way or exciting in any way, they are super passionate about it because they have a sense of agency over it, because they have a sense of independence and a feeling that they’re accomplishing something, because they have a sense of community. Like, all these different factors, and none of it had anything to do with passion. In fact, passion gets developed from having those things rather than the other way around.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wise. Well, so let’s talk a little bit about your world, Tiny Leaps, Big Changes. What’s kind of the big idea here?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah. So, the whole thing with the Tiny Leaps model, so it started as a podcast about four years ago now. And, honestly, Pete, it was kind of accidental. It was one of those things like all good things in life where I was really angry about something, and so I just decided I had to do something in response to it. And that thing that I was really angry about was what I call sort of the corruption of self-help.

So, self-help is this thing that it can be massively valuable. It can help so many people in their day-to-day lives as they move towards the things they want. But in an Instagram-driven world, it also can be very fluffy, and it also can be very removed from practicality, where certain people who are in certain situations, which I’m fortunate to be in, I can have an eight-hour morning routine, and guess what, it’ll be fine.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not morning anymore when you’re done.

Gregg Clunis
Exactly, right? But I can have this super complicated morning routine and wake up at 5:00 a.m., like I can control every single detail of my life. That’s not practical for the single mother of three in rural Arkansas who is struggling to make ends meet. Like, that’s not something she can do. That’s not something that her neighbor can do.

So, how can we take these principles of self-help that are valuable, like the ideas of setting goals, of making lists, of reading more, of educating yourself? How can we take those things and make them as practical as possible? And so, the underlying philosophy became, “All big changes come from the tiny leaps you take every day.”

And the goal of the podcast and the media company and the book that I published this year, and all of the things that we’re building out, is 100% to just remind somebody of that every single day. It doesn’t actually matter about any individual episode or a blogpost or anything like that. It’s, at the end of this, you’re going to remember all big changes come from the tiny leaps you take every day so that you can use that as a guiding principle in your day-to-day life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love it if you could share with us maybe an inspiring transformation or story associated with someone who took on some tiny leaps and, sure enough, saw some big changes.

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, there’s no better story for me with this than my dad. So, to give listeners some context, I’m an immigrant here, so I’m 27 now. I moved to the United States when I was 7, so 20 years ago. And my family moved us over here because we had hit hard times in Jamaica. The economy had crashed recently. My dad was running three different businesses, all of which went to zero. And he was an educated man, my mom was an educated woman, they had all the trappings of what should be successful, but they were in an environment that didn’t necessarily allow that to happen.

So, we packed up, we moved to the United States. And my dad’s first job here, before we even got here, there was a period of about a year where he was here sort of setting the foundation and then we moved. His first job here was picking apples on an apple orchard. This is a man who was a college professor, who worked in the police, I’m not sure what position, but relatively high up. He’s still pretty well-respected when you say his name down there. And his first job here was picking apples on an apple orchard as a migrant worker.

And he lived in this trailer, that I never visited while he was there but I visited when we first came here, didn’t have heat in the winter, didn’t have proper air circulation, the water wasn’t drinkable. Like, it was a bad situation. So, that’s where he started here. By the time he passed away, which was two years ago now, he was the head of quality control at a distribution plant, a bottling plant that handles major contracts, brands that you’ve heard of.

But he moved up in life pretty dramatically. We lived a super comfortable life and we’re always sort of happy and comfortable because he started from this place and he was willing to look at that and say, “Okay, this is the opportunity in front of me right now and that’s going to lead me to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.” And, over time, you create that change.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Very cool. Very cool witness there.

Gregg Clunis
And I’ll be honest in saying that the entire Tiny Leaps concept, like I didn’t realize it when I was first developing it, but it’s what I learned watching him and my mom do that, because that is what they did. And I was fortunate to be young as an immigrant here so I didn’t have the immigrant experience but I saw it firsthand. And they couldn’t have done it any different.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, so I’m thinking now in particular about working professionals and some tiny leaps that you’ve seen to be very impactful. What are some of the biggest in terms of those little things you can do that make a world of difference?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah. So, for me, it’s always been it’s so funny. I always find, and maybe your experience has been the same, Pete, but I always find that my life changes because of one individual moment, and I always have that sort of gut feeling of like, “This is the decision that changes things.” But I don’t get to that moment without trying a thousand things before it.

So, same thing happened with this podcast. This wasn’t the only thing I was doing. This wasn’t the first thing I had done. By the time I launched this four years ago, I’d already been creating stuff online for six years, none of which did anything. So, that wasn’t, by any means, the first thing. But when I started it, there was this gut feeling of like, “This is going to work.”

Same thing with decisions I’ve made recently that completely transformed my business. With that said, to get specific, and I only share that because I really want to drive home it’s not about the specific tactics. It’s about how you approach it. It’s this philosophy that if you employ it in your life, whatever your life looks like, will drive results. But to get very specific, one actual thing, that one tiny decision I made in college that I thought was going to be completely inconsequential at the time, I remember I was working on a tech startup. So, I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Finally, I’m away from home, I’m in an environment where I can build something. So, I start working on an idea, and I didn’t know how to build tech.

So, I sat in my room one weekend and taught myself the very basics of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, just enough because I thought if I could at least understand what’s required, then I could find somebody to do it, right? So, I sat for this weekend, used all the free resources, wrote ridiculous amounts of code, a lot of which did not do anything right, and finally emerged with this better understanding of how the Web worked.

That then led to hiring the developer, which is now a really good friend of mine. The long story short, that platform didn’t work, that startup ended up failing horribly, but that skillset of learning how to build websites, learning how the underlying technology of the Web works, that is the reason I got my first full-time job after I graduated. That first full-time job is what introduced me to podcasting and got me interested in podcasts in the first place. And then fast forward to here where podcasting now literally runs my entire life. And that all came because I gained a skillset that I didn’t have before for a completely unrelated thing that does not exists right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, you’re drawing a distinction there. It’s not about a particular prescriptive tactic, “Learn how to code,” but rather the mindset. How would you articulate that mindset?

Gregg Clunis
So there’s a really good quote that I think is actually really good for this. So, Steve Jobs, there’s a famous quote by him that I’m going to butcher, I apologize, but it’s something like, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. It’s only when you look backwards.” So, there’s all these different actions that you take in your life and it feels random and it feels rambled, but ten years down the line, you look back, and you see how it all fit to where you are right now. And that’s true whether the outcome is good or bad.

So, the actions you took ten years ago led to where you are now. And there are other things, there are circumstances you’re facing, there’s the very real situation of sexism and racism, like there are things that you don’t control, right? But the actions you took ten years ago led to the outcome you have now, whether that’s positive or negative. And the only way you see that is by looking back at it and being willing to be honest with yourself, and say, “Okay, this is how it connects.”

In the same way, if you can look at the actions you take right now, the things you choose to learn, how you spend your time, who you spend it with, and you believe that the actions you took ten years ago led to this, then you also have to believe that these actions will lead to the next ten years. And that’s what the underlying philosophy is, the choices I make right now, no matter how small, they matter. And they matter because they’re the things that connect the dots to the next ten years.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so there’s a lot in there. So, you’re doing some reflections on the past, zeroing in on identifying the patterns and the behaviors and the decisions that led to your current place, and then recognizing that your current decisions lead to the future place. And, thusly, not to just go on autopilot, you don’t really need to be thoughtful about what you’re doing and how you’re approaching things. So, all right, that is great. So, with that application of that mindset, what are some of the behaviors with your clients that you’ve seen frequently have ended up compounding in some great ways?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, and let me be clear in that. I purposefully choose not to do any kind of coaching or anything like that in the self-help space because I think that’s a part of what led to the industry becoming an issue, a problem in the way that it is. With that said, speaking of listeners, people that have contacted me, the people in the audience, in the community, the big things that I see really driving change always rely around awareness.

So, things like journaling, things like tracking your calories, things like doing the…I know Seinfeld didn’t actually do this, but that whole like checkmark on the calendar every single day thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Seinfeld didn’t do that?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, he came out saying that he’s not sure where that came from.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no.

Gregg Clunis
It’s a cool story though.

Pete Mockaitis
That really is write jokes every day.

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, exactly. But I will say I’ve done that though and it actually works really well because at some point you do feel like the calendar looks so pretty with all the Xs, you don’t want to like ruin it. But, anyway, so what I’ve found is that people tend to engage in our day-to-day lives pretty unconsciously. Like, even if you think about the last time you got into the car and drove to your job or a place that you visit pretty frequently. there’s a good chance you got out of the car at that location without remembering the one single right turn that you took, or what street name that was, or like you don’t consciously take in that information.

And there’s a reason for that. We’re pretty well-adapted to filter all of that stuff out. But we do that throughout our entire days, because if we’re doing a lot of the same stuff, which most of us are, we have our routines, we have our things that allow us to make it through life. If we’re doing a lot of the same stuff, we filter it because there’s nothing new happening. What that means is all of the bad habits that we build up, all of the things that we just unconsciously do that are holding us back, we become unaware that we’re actually doing it.

Like, we might know, “Okay, yeah, I went to Starbucks” or whatever it is, but we’re not actually internalizing that in any way. And by taking it out of our heads and writing down everything, starting to get very, very deliberate about our tracking, whatever the goal might be, it could be, “I want to save more money,” or, “I want to get this promotion,” or whatever it is, like if we start becoming deliberate about the actions we take towards those things, and the actions we don’t take towards those things, at the end of the week, we have something we can look at that tells us exactly what we did and didn’t do and how much time we spent on it.

And there’s no debating that. Like, it’s on paper. And that awareness is what eventually leads to a change in behavior because now you’re looking and you’re saying, “Oh, crap, I really didn’t do as much as I thought I did.”

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. And so, with the journaling or the tracking, are there any kind of particular questions or themes you explore? Because I think one way of journaling is to just sort of the chronology of what went down, “I woke up. I ate this food. I took a shower.” And so, I’m imagining you have something else in mind when you say the word journaling.

Gregg Clunis
No, I found that it’s like what works for you is going to be different than what works for me. I can’t remember the word for that right now. But it is very unique to the person. Like, I have a list of questions that I ask myself but that changes literally every single week. What I found, like the bare minimum, and this is mostly what I do when I journal, to be honest with you, Pete, it’s literally just making a list. And I won’t log my entire day because there’s parts of it that I don’t need to track. If my goal right now is fitness related, I don’t need to track necessarily my financial stuff. Like, that’s not where my focus is.

So, I’ll make a list of everything related to the actual goal throughout the day and I won’t look back at that list with any kind of judgment or with any kind of, like, “Oh, I need to hold myself accountable,” or anything like that because that only leads you feeling bad, and that doesn’t drive change. What I will do though is make that list, and at the end of the week, I will schedule time with myself to review the list and purely come at it from, “This is what reality is. How do we change that?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Yeah, “This is what reality is. And how do we change that?” That’s resonating. I’ve been thinking a lot just randomly about the word should and I guess use should for all kinds of things. And I’m thinking about behavior change, “I should not eat out so much,” “I should get to work earlier and do some things,” “I should get to inbox zero.” And what I find intriguing about that is that the word should is sometimes used in sort of like a moral, ethical obligation sense, like, “You should pay your taxes.”

Gregg Clunis
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And other times it’s used in the sense of behaving differently. And I think that there’s some power in just exploring what we mean by should in terms of are we just saying that, “Well, sure, if I were to eat out less, I would derive some benefit in terms of saving money or eating more healthfully.” But in the grand scheme of all the pulls and competing demands of life is that a prudent worthy priority and what will be the downsides and what’s going to be sacrificed as a result of that, and is that indeed optimal? So, it’s like, “Should you really?” Is the should valid?

I guess I’m going a little bit in circles here, but I think what’s powerful about getting clear on tracking the actions associated with the goal is that you can sort of feel better about what you’re doing and what you’re not doing, and seeing if, in fact, a real change is worthy of being made.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think, to that last point, I think we often also, and I’m still exploring this, I’m not sure if it’s going to be the topic of my second book yet, but it is something I’m very interested in so it’ll be something. But I think we have gotten to a point where a lot of us are chasing productivity or accomplishment or whatever it is purely for the sake of productivity or accomplishment or whatever it is, and not so much because that thing actually needs to happen for us.

And I’ve started to, one of the issues I have with the self-help space is that you can find there are entire communities. I don’t know if you know this, Pete, there are entire communities out there of people trying to hack every single second of every single day to squeeze out maximum productivity, and it sort of started as a weird corruption of Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek concept but it’s gotten really weird.

And a big thing that I’m noticing is that productivity, in a lot of ways right now, is the disciplined pursuit of bullshit. “Let me get this thing done because my life needs it or because people around me need it, or whatever it is.” It’s more so like, “Let me just check this off because it’s what I should be doing,” to use that term.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And that sounds like it could lead you into some dark places as I kind of play that out in my mind with regard to that.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, absolutely. There’s an entire industry around like brain-enhancing supplements to maximize productivity. It’s a weird world out there.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose with prudence and a goal-oriented approach, that might be just the thing in terms of, “Oh, it would be helpful if I were able to focus longer based upon my objectives and this thing seems to have some good science behind it, therefore, we’re taking it.” As opposed to any opportunity to do anything we’re reaching after.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think that that is the distinction, right? There is, and it goes back to the idea of conscious versus unconscious. Like, you can fall into the trap of becoming productive unconsciously and that’s not a good thing ultimately. Like, you were just chasing tasks because you feel like you should, and chasing the supplements because you feel like it’ll help you chase those tasks which is fundamentally built on something that didn’t matter.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess some thought-provoking stuff here, Gregg. I’m chewing on this. Well, I’d love to get your take then, when you are zeroing in on going after some tiny leaps and you’re experiencing fear, resistance, “Ugh, I don’t feel like it, low motivation.” What do you recommend in terms of summoning the force to get it done?

Gregg Clunis
Yeah. Well, so the first thing, and this isn’t going to help you in that moment but it is something to acknowledge when you are more level-headed, is that motivation isn’t enough. And I think we all unconsciously know this because motivation fails us the moment we actually need it but it’s just not enough to do anything in life.

There’s so much pain and sacrifice involved in changing any small thing in your life because that change is viewed as loss. It’s a loss of that thing that you had, even if that thing was bad, even if it was negative, you started to, in some ways, some small way, identify with that thing as a part of you, and to change it means losing that part of you.

So, there’s a lot of pain and sacrifice required to make any change in your life, and motivation is not enough to get over pain. One of my favorite quotes, and I’ve been meaning to look up where this came from originally, but it’s that, “People do far more to avoid pain than they will to gain pleasure.” Being motivated to gain something is not enough to push through the pain of losing something.

So, with that said, if you do find yourself in that moment where motivation fails you, one thing I’ve found to help me really, really dramatically is to get up and do something else. And that’s one of my biggest issues with the “productivity” industry because humans are not machines and we can’t just endlessly plug away at something. By getting up and doing something else, you’re allowing your subconscious mind to deal with that problem. You’re allowing your body to get the rest it needs. You’re allowing your mind, your eyes rather, to get the rest it needs.

By doing something else, you’re giving yourself the refresher you might need to be able to come back and use willpower or whatever it is to push through the rest of that task. So, don’t be afraid just because something has a due date on it. You’ll probably get it done faster by getting up and doing something else for a short period of time rather than struggling through it for the next hour and only getting five minutes worth of work done.

And just to add to that, there’s a really good book that I highly recommend. It’s called Two Awesome Hours and I’m going to look for the name of the author right now, but it’s written by an NYU neurologist that changed the way that I look at productivity and like what we should be aiming for in our day-to-day lives.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what is the premise of Two Awesome Hours?

Gregg Clunis
So, as you can probably imagine, Two Awesome Hours is built around this idea that you should be aiming on a day-to-day basis. And this is much more like career-focused, but on a day-to-day basis, you should be aiming to, like, your target is two hours of focused uninterrupted work. That’s it. Now, it might take you eight hours in a day to get those two hours, but they’ve done the research on this. Most of us working in eight-hour day do not work for eight hours.

So, by getting hyper-focused around the idea of, “Okay, I’m just going to get two done, that’s it, just two hours,” that allows you to cut out all the distractions, that allows you to give yourself the space to drift as you might need to. So, if you’re getting distracted, let yourself get distracted for a shorter period of time rather than fighting it for a long period of time. And just playing with this idea of, “What would it need to look like for us to focus for a two-hour window rather than going into it with, ‘I need to focus for the next eight hours,’?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig it. Well, tell me, Gregg, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Gregg Clunis
No, I mean, ultimately, listen, when you’re trying to do something in your life, that change, it is big, it is painful, it is a representative of loss, and you shouldn’t downplay it. Like, I think the biggest problem that people have with personal development, and this is certainly true for me, I’m not speaking as a guru here, I’m speaking as someone who struggles with it. The biggest issue that we all have is that we start to beat ourselves up when we don’t hit the goal or when we aren’t as productive as we need to, and then we look for alternatives to fix it, and how are we going to optimize this thing, and whatever it is.

And the truth is, like, this stuff is hard. Like, it is legitimately difficult to do. Approach it with that understanding and give yourself the room to work through that difficult thing. You wouldn’t wake up tomorrow and expect to be able to hit a grand slam in the World Series. But, for some reason, we wake up tomorrow and expect to change our entire lives. That’s ridiculous.

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

Gregg Clunis
The one that really comes to mind for me is not really a quote that I think everyone is going to be able to relate to, but for those of you who do, I think it’ll help a lot, and it’s from my dad. So, for most of my life I’ve been like that ambitious person. Like, I had the big dreams when I was a kid and worked hard and all of that stuff, right? But my biggest flaw was always that I jumped from thing to thing and I would fall massively in love with something, and a week later I’d be done with it and onto the next thing.

And I remember my dad sat me down, maybe four or five years ago, and looked at me and just said, “You have all the potential in the world but you’re going to sabotage yourself.” And it didn’t click for me. Like, when he told me, I actually remembered being very upset. Like, I felt personally attacked, and like all of the defensive stuff, right? It was after he passed away that it finally settled in for me what he was trying to tell me.

And so, for those of you listening that struggle with that, jumping from thing to thing, I want to just pass that to you. You have all the potential in the world, but unless you are able to rein yourself in and spend enough time on something to be able to actually give it a chance of succeeding, you’re going to sabotage yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, we had Jay Papasan on the show in one of the earlier episodes talking about The ONE Thing, just an amazing book, I think.

Gregg Clunis
Oh, phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis
And he said that, “I learned, as a writer, that there’s a massive difference between being creative, like staying up and having ideas, and actually producing publishable work.” And the latter kind of required him to wake up and consistently put down words at a particular time in his calendar to get the job done.

Gregg Clunis
Yeah, there is a distinction between the two, and both are required, both are good, but at the end of the day, creativity just lives in your head. The thing that puts it out is showing up every day and actually carving that creativity into something. And just real quick, so the book I mentioned before, Two Awesome Hours, it’s written by Josh Davis. And, again, highly, highly recommend it.

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

Gregg Clunis
Ooh, that’s a good one. So, years ago when I first started the show, I think it was Episode 4, I was looking into what happens in the brain when you meditate. Now, I cannot remember, for the life of me, who the study was from or any of those details, but the thing that I learned from it is that when you meditate, it increases, over time obviously, it increases the amount of gray matter, I believe, in the brain. And gray matter is responsible for memory recall, it’s responsible for keeping yourself like calm, and all of those management type things.

And so, there is an actual scientific link, and this I think was the biggest takeaway to me, was meditation isn’t just fluffy. Like, there’s an actual scientific link between you meditating and taking that time, and over time, that increasing your ability in the moment to stay calm and relax and handle complex situations.

Pete Mockaitis
And you mentioned a couple, but how about another favorite book?

[36:01]

Gregg Clunis
There is a book that I’ve finished four days ago, it’s called The Power. And the concept of the book, so it explores what would happen in a world where women suddenly had all the power. So, this isn’t spoiling anything, but something happens and women, for whatever reason, are able to use electric powers essentially. And it’s not magical in any way, like it feels very normal, the way she writes it.

And so, phenomenal book for those of you who like fiction and also love politics and sort of power dynamics and exploring those things.

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

Gregg Clunis
Notion. I recently discovered Notion.so. And when I tell you, I’ve never been able to use any project management tool for my business. They just never felt right. Notion, every single thing that I sit here and I’m like, “Oh, I wish it could…” I immediately try it and it can do it. Now, I don’t know what the team behind it is doing to make that possible, but please don’t stop if you’re listening to this.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Gregg Clunis
I would say journaling before bed. And it’s something that I’ve been able to maintain as a habit. I definitely slip, I would say, every other night or so, but whenever I do it, it feels like I’m able to actually clear my head and get better quality sleep. And the only nights that I don’t do it are when I end up staying up late for other reasons, and because it’s now late, I just essentially crash. But the sleep quality is never as good if I don’t journal.

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

Gregg Clunis
All big changes come from the tiny leaps you take every day. It’s such a simple concept but I think that most people know it. So, speaking of my book, one of the number one reviews for it on Amazon is, “Oh, there’s nothing new here.” And I find it funny when I read that, like it’s positioned as a negative thing. But I find it funny reading that because there is nothing new in self-help. You already know what works. The only reason you listen to me or you listen to this show is because you’re searching for some kind of edge to make it work better. But guess what? You know what works. Just do that.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Gregg Clunis
I would tell them, if you like podcasts, which clearly you do, head over to Tiny Leaps, Big Changes. Just do a search wherever you’re listening to this, or on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Pandora, pretty much every platform. And then if you are interested in connecting further, November 1st, which I’m pretty sure this is publishing after that, but November 1st, we are launching the new Tiny Leaps website at TinyLeaps.fm and so you’ll find articles from our contributors, you’ll find podcast episodes, you’ll find videos in the near future, and it’s just sort of the next expansion of the podcast to a larger media platform.

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

Gregg Clunis
I would say look at today, I don’t care what time you’re listening to this, it could be midnight, but right after you’re done listening to us, I would challenge you to really sit down with pen and paper, and just ask yourself, “What is it that I actually want?” Especially with career, it’s so easy to get caught up in just the ladder of it and the cycle of it, but it’s really important to make sure you retain actual control over the direction of things are going and where you want to push it specifically, because otherwise you’ll wake up 50 years from now.

And a good friend of mine, Dominick Quartuccio, explained this to me. The definition of hell is waking up at the end of your life and seeing what your life could’ve been had you done the things you said you wanted to do. So, start asking yourself, “What is it that I actually want to do?” and then start taking those actions tomorrow.

Pete Mockaitis
Gregg, this has been fun. Keep on rocking.

Gregg Clunis
Thank you so much for having me.

507: How to Get Exceptional Mentors and Opportunities with Alex Banayan

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Alex Banayan shares unconventional approaches to creating new opportunities.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The ultimate cold email template to recruit mentors
  2. Creative “third door” approaches that nobody takes
  3. Communication secrets from Maya Angelou and Larry King

About Alex:

Alex Banayan  is the author of The Third Door, the result of an unprecedented seven-year journey interviewing the most innovative leaders of the past half-century, including Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Larry King, Maya Angelou, Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, Quincy Jones, and more. He has presented the Third Door framework to business conferences and corporate leadership teams around the world, including Apple, Google, Nike, IBM, Snapchat, Salesforce, and Disney. When he was 18, Alex hacked The Price is Right, won a sailboat, and sold it to fund his adventure. He was then named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Banayan Interview Transcript

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

Alex Banayan
Thank you very much for having me. I’m very excited.

Pete Mockaitis
I think the first thing we got to cover is how did you hack The Price is Right.

Alex Banayan
Going right to the meat. Wow, that was nine years ago. I was 18 years old at the time, a freshman in college. And the context is sort of important because I was sort of going through this what I want to do with my life crisis.


And not only did I not know what I wanted to do, I didn’t know how other people who I looked up to how they did it. How did Bill Gates sell his first piece of software out of his dorm room? Or how did Spielberg become the youngest director of Hollywood history.


So I … The short version of the story is I sort of set off to go find the book I was dreaming of reading. I went to the library and looked through dozens of biographies and business books. But eventually I was left empty-handed.


So, that’s when my naïve 18 year old thinking kicked in, and I thought well, if no one is reading the book I was dreaming of reading, why not do it myself? 


I thought it would be very simple. I thought I would just call up Bill Gates and interview him, and interview everybody else, and I would be done in a few months.

Pete Mockaitis
Alex, so good to hear from you. He picks it up and you’re just chatting away.

Alex Banayan
Yeah. I really thought that that’s how it would go. What I thought would be the hard part would be getting the money to fund the journey. I was buried in student loan debt. I was all out of Bar mitzvah cash so there had to be a way to make some quick money.

Pete Mockaitis
And actually game shows is your first instinct.

Alex Banayan
Well, do you know what’s funny? It wasn’t even my first instinct. I didn’t have any instincts. But I just kept ruminating on this problem until two nights before final exams I’m in the library and I’m doing what everyone is doing in the library right before finals, I’m on Facebook.

Pete Mockaitis
Sing.

Alex Banayan
And I’m on Facebook and I see someone offering free tickets to The Price is Right. It’s the longest running game show in US history. And my first thought was what if I go on this show and win some money to fund this book? Not my brightest moment. 


Plus, I had a problem, I’d never seen a full episode of the show before. I’ve of course seen bits and pieces when I was home sick from school in fourth grade.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s exactly what I was thinking, home sick is what I associate The Price is Right with.

Alex Banayan
Yeah. You know I didn’t have cable growing up. Everyone knows the price is right but I’ve never seen a full episode before. So, I told myself this was a dumb idea and to not think about it.


But, I sort of felt this, you know, almost like someone was tying a rope around my stomach and was pulling me in a direction. So, that night I decided to do the logical thing and pull an all-nighter to study.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Banayan
But I didn’t study for finals, I instead had to hack The Price is Right. I went on the show the next day and did this ridiculous strategy and I ended up winning the whole showcase showdown winning a sail boat, selling that sail boat and that’s how I funded the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well that’s excellent. So, what’s the strategy? I mean, I guess there is some strategies for winning once you’re selected. But how do you get selected?

Alex Banayan
Well that was my whole question because when I decided to pull that all-nighter, I decided I’m not going to ditch finals and just hope that luck goes my way. I was like I have to figure out this strategy.


So, I just started Googling how to get on The Price is Right, because I figured that must be the hard part. There’s 300 people on the audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, statistically, right.

Alex Banayan
Right, statistically there’s 300 in the audience, eight get called down, one out of those eight win. So, the big statistical challenge is being the 300 down to the eight.


So, what I found out is The Price is Right, and I found this out at three o’clock in the morning by the 23rd o of Google. I found this blog post from back in the ’90s that said The Price is Right is not what it seems. They make it look very random. Pete, come on down.

Pete Mockaitis
Me? Wow, all my college friends are excited for me.

Alex Banayan
Right, right. Like all … Like as if they pulled your name out of a hat. But what I learned is like everything in life and business, although it looks like luck, there is a system to it. And there’s a producer who interviews every single person in the audience before the show begins.


And in addition to the producer, there is an undercover producer planted in the audience who then confirms or denies the original producer’s selection. So, it doesn’t matter how much you love the show, how bubbly your personality is, if that producer doesn’t put you on his list, and if the undercover producer doesn’t then confirm or deny you, it doesn’t matter how much you want to be on the show, you’re not on.


So, that’s where I poured all of my focus. The long version of the story is like this, like 20 minute preposterous story and it was much less Einstein and much more Forest Camp when I say hack.


But it ended up being the event that really launched this seven year journey of the third door. 

Pete Mockaitis
So, then how do you identify who the producer is and get the meeting or the impression such that you get lucky?

Alex Banayan
Well, during my all-nighter research once I found out how it worked, I then poured all of my focus into studying who the producer is. And I figured out his name is Stan. I pretty much knew where he grew up, where he went to school, I essentially knew where he had for breakfast that morning. I learned everything I could about him.

Pete Mockaitis
Just like LinkedIn and googling around this Stan guy?

Alex Banayan
Yeah. He’s the head casting producer for The Price is Right. There’s stuff about him on the internet and when I finally, that next morning, drove on to the CDS lot in Los Angeles.


First of all, even before I got online, I realized I don’t know who the undercover producers are, so I just have to assume everyone is the undercover producer. So, I’m dancing with old ladies. I’m flirting with custodians. I’m break dancing and I don’t know how to break dance.


And eventually I get in line and about an hour in I see my guy. I see Stan standing 50 feet away from me. The way it works is Stan takes 20 people at once in line, sort of like herding cattle, puts them all in a row and walks down the line one by one ask them questions.


What’s your name, where are you from, what do you do? What’s your name, where are you from, what do you do? And before you know it, Stan is standing right in front of me and he’s like what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do?


I’m like, “Hey, I’m Alex. I’m 18 years old. I’m a pre-med.” And he goes, “Pre-med, you must spend all your time studying. How do you have time to watch The Price is Right?” And I’m like, “Oh, is that where I am?” No laughter. The joke just falls flat.


So, I notice his eyes darting as if he’s ready to move on, and I had read in a business book during my life crisis that said human contact speeds up a relationship. So, I had an idea. I had to touch Stan. Now, he’s like 20 feet away from me so I’m like, “Stan come over here, I want to make a handshake with you.” He’s like, “Oh, no, no, it’s okay.” I’m like, “Come on.”


And very reluctantly he comes over and I teach him how to pound it and blow it up and he laughs a bit, and he says, “All right, good luck,” and he starts walking away.


Now, what you need to know about Stan is he has a clipboard, but it’s never in his hands, it’s in his assistants hands who sits about 20 feet away from him, and that’s the list that gets passed on to the undercover producer.


As Stan starts walking away from me I notice he doesn’t turn around to his assistant, she doesn’t write anything on the clipboard, and just like that it’s over. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those moments where you can literally see your dream walking right away from you, almost like it’s sand slipping through your fingers.


And the worst part is you didn’t even have a chance to really prove yourself. So, I don’t know what got into me, but I started yelling at the top of my lungs, “Stan, Stan.” The whole audience shoots their head around and Stan runs over thinking I’m having a seizure and he was like, “Are you okay? Are you okay? What’s going on?”


I have no idea what I’m going to say. And Stan’s looking at me, I’m looking at him, the audience is dead silent. This random 18 year old kid was shouting at the top of his lungs and again, what you have to know about Stan, he’s very typical Hollywood, turtle neck, red scarf, goatee.


And I just look at Stan with all the seriousness I can and I’m just like, “Your scarf.” And now I really don’t know what I’m going to say next. And I just look at him, I just try to be as serious as possible and I just look at him dead in the eyes and I’m like, “Stan, I’m an avid scarf collector. I have 362 pairs in my dorm room and I’m missing that one. Where did you get it?” And he starts cracking up because I think he finally realized what I was actually trying to do, and he just smiled and took his scarf and put it around my neck, and he was like, “Look, you need this more than I do.” He turned around, winked to his assistant and she put my name on the clipboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Hot dog. Well you know, Alex, we usually don’t spend this much time on the kind of fan fact background ice breaker. But I think that this is important because there’s really some lessons here.

Alex Banayan
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of one, you were so persistent that you went to the 23rd page of Google, and that’s the ancient, I don’t know if it’s ancient. Google is not that ancient.

Alex Banayan
The ancient Greeks talk about the 23rd o of Google where all wisdom is. 

Pete Mockaitis
Well I guess the marketing joke is where is the best place to hide a body, the second page of Google because no one ever looks there.

Alex Banayan
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
But so you exhibited exceptional persistence in going deep into getting that as well as some courage. You didn’t know what you were going to do, but you knew that your window of opportunity was slipping and so you just did something and then you adapted real time.


So, I think that there is some excellent lessons there. So, then you won The Price is Right, you got the sail boat, you sold the sail boat, you had some funding now for your project. And your dream book then was to interview hyper achievers and figure out what they got going on.


So, tell us how did you in fact manage to get these folks to speak with you because you soon learned that it wasn’t as easy as calling up Bill and he says oh, hey Alex. So, what did you do to get them to talk?

Alex Banayan
Yes. To my surprise Bill Gates does not do interviews with random 18 year olds. 

Pete Mockaitis
Lessons learned.

Alex Banayan
Yes, very important lessons learned. And that’s really when it took off. So, it took two years to track down Bill Gates, it took three years to track down Lady Gaga and when I had started, like I said, I thought it would be this very simple straight forward process.


But every single interview was completely different. So, on my list were people from all industries. So, for science, Jane Goodall, for poetry Maya Angelou. Computer science, Steve Wozniak, Larry King, Quincy Jones, Jessica Alba, Pitbull, Warren Buffet.


It really went across all industries and each interview was its own adventure. So, with Larry King I chased him through a grocery store. With Tim Ferriss I had to hide in a bathroom for 30 minutes. So, each one was … With Steven Spielberg I almost died in the south of France. It was … With Mark Zuckerberg I almost got the police called on me.


So, every interview was its own mini quest and what I did learn across the board though, what I learned not only in the process of getting the interviews but even more importantly in the interviews themselves is while every story was different, every adventure to get the interview was different and every person who I interviewed on that surface were more different than you can say.


Maya Angelou grew up in Stamps, Arkansas. Bill Gates grew up in Seattle. At their core, and I don’t know if you’re a big music fan, but it was almost like there was a common melody to every conversation I was having. 


And the analogy that came to me, because I was 21 at the time, is that life and business and success is just like a night club, there’s always three ways in. 


So, there’s the first store, the main entrance where the line curves around the block where 99% of people wait around hoping to get in, that’s the first store. People are just standing, holding their resumes out in the cold hoping the bouncer lets them in. That’s the first store.


Then there’s the second door, the VIP entrance where the billionaires and celebrities go through. And for some reason school and society have this way of making us feel like those are the only two ways in. You either wait your turn or you’re born into it.


But what I learned is that there’s always, always the third door, and it’s the entrance where you jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door 100 times, crack open the window, go through the kitchen. There’s always a way in, and it doesn’t matter if that’s how Bill Gates sold his first piece of software or how Lady Gaga got her first record deal, they all took the third door.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that is so meta there. So, you are going through exceptional, unique efforts to access these people and then they’re telling you stories about their own accessible unique ways that they access their successes and opportunities.

Alex Banayan
Not by design.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty wild. So, I want to dig into a couple of these luminaries insights. But so can we hear some of the particular? So, I guess you had different adventures each time. So, I’m putting together some themes already for The Price is Right.


There is persistence. I don’t know if I want to call it shamelessness, but it seems like you’re not easily embarrassed or you are, you don’t let that stop you.

Alex Banayan
I think it’s … So, the latter I think is super important. Not only just reflecting on my own journey but I also think anyone with their own careers because if you, Pete, if you ask my sisters what it’s like growing up with me, they would tell you I was the most scared kid you would ever meet.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Alex Banayan
And I can still remember to this day standing outside The Price is Right, right before I was going to get interviewed just completely terrified and embarrassed and I remember literally closing my eyes and telling myself you can either just succumb to this fear and lose this entire opportunity or you can push through it.


What I realized when I started interviewing people for the third door, when I sat down with all these leaders, is that my big question for them was how did they become so fearless because I definitely was consumed by fear every step of the way.


And my biggest realization after doing every single interview was that not only were people like Bill Gates scared in the beginning, they were terrified the whole way through. And that didn’t make any sense to me.


And what I learned is that it wasn’t fearlessness they achieved, it was courage. And while the word sounds very similar, the difference is critical. And this is super important whether it’s in your personal life or in your career or in the workplace, fearlessness is jumping off of a cliff and not thinking about it. That’s idiotic.


Courage on the other hand is acknowledging your fear, analyzing the consequences and then deciding you care so much about it you’re still going to take one thoughtful step forward anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there you have it. So, you sort of take a look at the real, I guess, consequences and probabilities like okay, here are the options, I can do nothing and get nowhere, or I can do this and which might get me in jail or embarrassed or a sail boat. So, that’s worthwhile. I’m going to go ahead and do that because that’s more important to me.

Alex Banayan
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. 

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well so then … And I guess you say you have wild tales and adventure for each of these people that you interviewed. So, can you share any sort of general themes? It seems like one of them is you’re persistent over time. 


Another is that you sort of just figure out where they’re going to be and be there. Anything else with regard to your messaging or invitation of winning over assistant publicist gatekeepers?

Alex Banayan
Well, yes, there are a lot of themes that to my surprise the themes that helped me get these interviews I’ve also learned through my research are also the same themes of the most high performing sales teams and the most high performing business development teams.


And what I’ve … And you know there is macro themes and also micro tactics. Even starting on the micro which are very useful for anyone no matter what their job is there is a right and a wrong way to send cold emails.


And in the year 2019 we’re almost into 2020, cold emailing is one of the most effective ways if you can actually do it correctly. So, I learned this during my interview with Tim Ferriss. He gave me a cold email template which he hadn’t shared anywhere else that not only changed my entire life and helped me get interviews for the book and get mentors for my journey, but it also my favorite thing is since the third door has come out, thousands of readers have written in saying that it’s changed their lives.


They’ve gotten in contact with people like Sheryl Sandberg or Malcolm Gladwell, all through this cold email template.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve got my attention Alex.

Alex Banayan
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
What does this consist of?

Alex Banayan
All right, so this is how it works. It’s super simple but again, you really have to follow it to a T. So, it starts like this, Dear so and so. I know you’re incredibly busy, and you get a lot of emails. So, this will only take 60 seconds to read. Boom, that’s the first paragraph.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Banayan
Then you move on to the next paragraph. The second paragraph is where you put one to two sentences max of context of who you are and why that’s relevant to the person who’s reading this.


So, again, this is not where you put your bio, your life story, but you pick a couple sentences that’s relevant to that person. Boom, next paragraph.


Again, one to two sentences max of a hyper specific question that they can respond without thinking too hard about. So, what should I do with my life is a bad example of a question. But what is one book you recommend to an aspiring writer is a great question.


Then the final paragraph is the contour. You go I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply. Even a one or two line response will completely make my day. All the best, Alex.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So then they gave you a book, which is nice. But you were interested in a little more. So, what then?

Alex Banayan
Bingo. So, I got the follow up advice during my interview with Bill Gates. Bill shared a lot of incredible advice about sale secrets and negotiating secrets. But one of the things he really emphasized is if you get someone to like you and to be invested in you, you don’t really have to negotiate that hard.


One of the things he did very early on in his career, which was very surprising to me is he would do exactly that. He would … Let’s say he was in the beginning of Microsoft doing a deal with IBM and wanted to create a relationship with the executives there.


When he would meet them he would ask them for book recommendations and then he said the key is he said busy people don’t have a lot of time to think, so what they do is they create frameworks whether they’re conscious of it or not.


And let’s say someone reaches out to you and says do you recommend a book? And you give let’s say three book recommendations. If that person gets back to you in a few months you might think, oh, that was a pretty smart person, they took my advice, that’s nice.


If they obviously don’t get back to you, you probably don’t even think about them again. But if someone gets back to you in one week saying I read all three books and the second one you recommended has completely changed my life and in these ways, I just wanted to say thank you.


All of a sudden that person creates a mental framework that you are a very good investment of their time. They just spent 30 seconds giving you advice and it’s already made a giant transformation in your life. And they also think that’s an incredibly hard working person who I want to get to know better.


Slowly it starts with an email, then maybe you next time you’re in town, “Hey, I’m in town. I would love to see you for 15 minutes if you’re available and if not totally understand.”


Then maybe you’re going through a challenge in a few months. “Hi, I’m sure you’re incredibly busy. I’m going through this crisis. Do you have a little time to talk on the phone?” It slowly builds and grows.


A mentorship isn’t something that you just sign on the dotted line. It’s a relationship that slowly grows with time and investment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. So, then with these folks is that, well I guess 15 minutes is all you need for your interview in your book and what you’re trying to accomplish there or have you stayed in touch with some of these folks over longer periods?

Alex Banayan
Yeah, absolutely. You know it spans the spectrum. So, with some people they … With Quincy Jones it was three hours, a three-hour long interview. With some people it was a little shorter. For some people like Bill Gates the only time I’ve ever spent time with him was during that interview in his office.


With some people who I interviewed they’re some of my best friends now. There’s this great quote that I really love that always come to mind. It says … I can’t even remember who said it. It said something along the lines of respect the people who make time for you out of their busy schedules when you need them. But love the people who never check their schedule when you need them most.


I think what’s beautiful about this journey for the third door is it started as my journey to get advice to figure out how did the most high achieving people launch their careers. But what ended up happening is it also became this very personal journey where I was finding myself and growing up along the way and some of the people who I interviewed sort of transcended not only as an interview subject to a mentor, but to being like family members.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s beautiful. And so there was a lot there. Let’s just get a couple tidbits just to get a taste of the wisdom of some of these amazing folks. So, a couple that you mentioned to me that I’d love to get maybe just one minute. All right, Maya Angelou, how do you write good?

Alex Banayan
Oh my good. A part of me literally wants to open up the book and read directly, but I’ll paraphrase. But she, I would say also just to give her credit which she doesn’t need extra credit because everyone knows already how incredible she is. But she was the only interview subject where her words, I literally could just sit back and she wrote the chapter herself. 


Just you asked her a question and she literally gives the most gorgeous and beautifully written response out of her mouth. It was definitely a very, very big honor to speak to her.


When it comes to writing she said the biggest thing she recommends a new writer to do no matter your age, is to take the writing that you just wrote, find a quiet room, close the door, and read your writing out loud.


She said it sounds obvious and simple but almost no one does it. People don’t like to hear the sound of their voice, they don’t like to read things out loud. But she said the best form of editing is reading it out loud because only then can you hear the melody of the words. And writing, good writing, is much more than logically putting words in the right order. It’s about creating a melody that is easy for the reader to take in.


She shared a quote with me that I’ll never forget. She said, and I think the quote is by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the quote goes, easy reading is damn hard writing.

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed.

Alex Banayan
Right? Easy reading is damn hard writing. And Maya Angelou insisted that the inverse is true too, easy writing is damn hard reading.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s perfect.

Alex Banayan
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about Larry King and interviewing?

Alex Banayan
Oh my God. Larry I’ll give a tidbit but he taught me so much. He looked at me the first time we met or the second time we met and he said, he was like, “The problem with all young interviewers when they’re just starting out …” And again, this is interviewing whether it’s for a TV show or radio show or even interviewing in a hiring process.


He said, “They look at the interviewers they admire and they try to copy that.” They look at maybe Oprah who uses all this emotion or Barbara Walters who’s very strategic or even Larry himself, which is very straight forward and they try to copy that style. Larry said that is the biggest mistake you can make because you’re focusing on what our style is not why we have that style.


The truth is those are the styles that makes them the most comfortable in their chairs. When you’re comfortable in your chair, the person you’re interviewing becomes comfortable in their chair, and that’s what makes for the best interview.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well Alex let’s go meta here. How do I make you more comfortable in your chair? I’m in pajama bottoms right now, if that helps, but you can’t see them.

Alex Banayan
The fact that you are just asking things that you are genuinely curious about and it sounds like you’re having fun is making me have fun. So, I’m very grateful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well thank you. Well that’s true. I really do want to know these things and I’m curious, so thank you. So, very cool. Then this third door mindset here, which is there’s more than just the two options associated with the masses and the VIPs. There is a third door. 


So, what are some general questions or means by which you began to discover what those third doors can look like in any given situation?

Alex Banayan
You know what’s interesting about the third door is it’s not a recipe for success, it’s a framework for success. The difference is this is really a lens to view your challenges, a lens to view the obstacles that no matter what’s in front of you, no matter what challenges are in front of you, at the end of the day there’s always a way.


And again, it doesn’t matter if we’re looking at how Warren Buffet got funding for his first investments or how Steven Spielberg became the youngest director of Hollywood history, what the third door framework tells you is that you don’t have to sit back and wait for a boss or a parent or even a mentor to give you permission to go after your goals.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Banayan
You have the power to make it happen yourself. And what I’ve noticed with readers of the book is it gives you a sense of possibility. What I’ve learned is you can give someone all the best tools and tactics in the world, and their life can still feel stuck. But if you change what someone believes is possible, they’ll never be the same.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That really resonates in terms of what you believe is possible. You know what, I even see this in small ways. I’m thinking about boy it goes big, it goes small. It’s like what could be possible in terms of could it be possible to earn a quarter million dollars a year by working less than 20 hours a week? Yes. In fact, I know people who do that and I find that inspiring and I’m kind of building my business to accommodate that so I have more time for just docking out and reading long whole books and studies and being with my kids and exercising and what not.


But along the way I’m having so much fun that I just keep working. So, that’s cool too. But I think even in the micro sense, this has happened to me a couple of times with I’m thinking about home renovation. I know it’s so mundane, since we’re talking about huge dreams and life visions.


But I think that’s let’s say I get a quote from one vendor, and I go man, to rebuild those kind of loose bricks around the perapet walls they’re called, that extend above the roof and to get a new roof that’s going to cost $40,000 says one person. And I go, dang, I sure don’t want to spend $40,000.


But if I, even if I get just a little bit of benchmark research data from Homeadvisor.com or from another quote or for some people that I’m talking to, then I begin to learn what is in fact possible and then I say no, I don’t like that answer that I got, so therefore, I will persist until I get another answer I like.


And spoiler alert, I just hired someone who’s going to take care of our roof matters for less than half that price. So, yay. And if I had no idea of what was possible, I might be like well shocks, I guess that’s what it costs. Man, that’s expensive.


So, I think that your sense of possibility can be expanded with even a quick Google search like in your case.

Alex Banayan
Right, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Not a quick Google search 23 pages down, but you say oh, it is in fact possible to take an action that gets me selected for Price is Right.

Alex Banayan
Yes, yes, 100%. 100% yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, what are some additional means by which you recommend that you become aware of possibilities? So, one is huge, is finding mentors.

Alex Banayan
What a great question, that’s a great question. I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, lay it on me Alex.

Alex Banayan
Because what I’ve learned is you should do what you can with what you have. You should do what you can with what you have. Now, for most people, look, if you’re listening to this right now, at the very least you have internet access. That’s how you’re listening to this podcast, right?


So, you already have access to YouTube, every podcast out there, and books whether you buy them yourself or you sign up for a library account and rent it on your phone. And when I was first starting out, and I think it’s really important to remember that I didn’t know anyone, I was an 18 year old college student. And my mentors at the time were books. I read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, CEO of Zappos and that became my mentor.


I read Pour your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks and that became a mentor to me. And in the beginning it was just books. And slowly with time I began to meet the authors of the books by going to author events and then I started cold emailing authors and started meeting them in person.


And of course the dream is for the people you look up to, to be able to help you in real time and real life but you have to start somewhere. And starting with YouTube videos if you’re interested in social media marketing. Type in Gary Vee on YouTube and just go down that rabbit hole if you’re interested in entrepreneurship. There is so much out there.


What happens when you start absorbing yourself very … And I love really going down that rabbit hole when you really absorb people stories is it shows you what’s possible, going back to your question how to do that.


And I think you have to be very proactive in the process because if you’re sitting back at your job or in your classroom, no matter where you are in life, and you’re just taking in the information that’s been given to you, your sense of possibility is very slim and very narrow.


But if you actively push yourself to read things that you normally wouldn’t read, talk to people you normally wouldn’t talk to, your life will never be the same.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we have to address an issue that can just short circuit the magic of that possibility becoming present to you, which is a tendency to, I don’t know what the word is.

Alex Banayan
I’m curious what you’re saying because I have an idea too.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it other, I don’t want to say otherize, but to form a wall or distinction it’s like okay sure, Howard Schultz could do that but he is Howard Schultz, you know? Larry King could do that but he is Larry King and I am not Larry King. 


So, that notion that that person is completely different from me and therefore that possibility is not real, I think that can just kill the magic. So, how do you inoculate yourself from that influence?

Alex Banayan
So, a book I would recommend is called The Magic of Thinking Big. It’s an older book, I think it’s maybe 50, 60 years old. The Magic of Thinking Big, and it’s very good at addressing that issue. 


And something I learned from one of the people who I interviewed is that you want to create a mental bank almost an internal bias of possibility. When I meet people who have that problem in a very severe way, what I recommend them do is do a 30 day challenge of every day for 30 minutes for 30 days in a row, they need to journal for 30 minutes every day on a moment in their life whether at home, at school, at work, where they had a giant obstacle that they overcame.


If you spend 30 minutes, you know even if nothing comes to you for five minutes, something will come to you at some point, and they could be something small. Like literally I was really thirsty and didn’t have any money for a vending machine and I ended up finding, searching the couch cushion, whatever.


It could be silly stuff, it could be big stuff like a health challenge or a relationship challenge. What you’re doing is reprogramming your mind, because I’ll tell you, no one is born thinking they can’t do it. Whether you are aware of it or not, there have been implicit messages and events that have created that outlook within you.


And you have to become proactive in reprogramming your mind. And even going to therapy is a good solution. I’ve been going to therapy once a week for five years now, and it’s really helped me reprogram old stories. 


At the end of the day our life is only as valuable and only as productive as the value and the productivity of the stories we tell ourselves. And it’s up to us to choose which stories we want to live with.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig that. So, the journaling about times you’ve overcome obstacles, then reprograms your brain such that when obstacles no longer seem permanent or immovable, it’s like oh, that’s just like those 30 other things that I overcame. All right, well, let’s figure it out.

Alex Banayan
Exactly, exactly. 

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well also, I guess I’m thinking now about … Let’s use some examples of obstacles and overcoming just because if … I think that’s probably the hardest part of the 30 day challenge is your very first day or two it’s like oh, I don’t really know, nothing will come to mind.


Because sometimes I think that conjures up an image of really dramatic stories of I’m thinking of motivational speakers here. I was broke and on drugs and on the streets and all.

Alex Banayan
Right, it doesn’t have to be that dramatic.

Pete Mockaitis
Addicted to everything. But then I pulled myself up and blah, blah, blah. So, it’s like okay. But give some more examples of hey, challenge overcoming. There might be even mundane just to get a start at it.

Alex Banayan
I think what’s really easy is when I tell people when they do have problems finding examples, I always tell them think back to high school because of high school every day we had a different silly challenge that we found and created a solution for whether you didn’t study for a test and you had to cram by creating a last minute study group where you all exchanged resources.


Or for me I remember not, this is a really preposterous situation, but there was a teacher that was the meanest teacher in the school and I got assigned to that teacher on the first day of school. And I realized that I didn’t want my whole year ruined because that teacher is very notorious.


And I ended up just sitting outside of the guidance counselor’s office for six hours doing a sit in until the guidance counselor would meet with me. Literally preposterous silly things even because the point of this exercise is to show you that in all aspects of your life, whether it’s with a romantic partner or with a parent, when you had obstacles you had the skillsets within you to figure it out. 


And what you’re really doing is you’re helping yourself trust yourself more. That’s the difference between confidence and self-confidence. Confidence is external and self-confidence is internal.


What you’re doing is you’re building your internal self-confidence, your trust in yourself of what you’re capable of.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s just so fun. When you were talking about high school, you were bringing back memories to … I thought it would be fun to participate in the musical we did for Grease. 


But I, at the time and still to this day, I’m not really that great in singing. So, then it became clear … I can read the lines. I talk pretty well. And then it was like then we had to singing. So, I remember this guy Jordan who just has an amazing voice, he was like bring him home. Everybody was like wow. It was like all this.


But what I did know is that I had a lot of enthusiasm and there was one tune I thought was deeply embedded within me, I kind of sang to myself at times. So, it was from a commercial and so I just went for it and said it doesn’t matter what comes, fresh goes better in life. With Mentos Fresh and full of life nothing gets to you. Staying fresh, staying cool. So, I’m singing the Mentos commercial.

Alex Banayan
Right, right. 

Pete Mockaitis
And because there was emotion and it’s not that complex of a tune in terms of number of notes and range, I made a decent impression and I got the part, which was modest. I was in Danny Zuko’s crew.

Alex Banayan
Very important, very important.

Pete Mockaitis
And Sunny I believe, yeah, Sunny was his name.

Alex Banayan
Cool leather jackets.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, yeah. I had one line like tell me more, tell me more, could you get me a friend. Which is tricky because it’s a high note, and I didn’t do super well. But I got the part and had some fun, and it really set things up in some cool ways in terms of making some great friends and being engaged with activities and I stuck with it.


So, while I haven’t thought about that in a long, long time, but you brought it up and it was fun to remember. And I do have a greater sense of possibility not so much from a source of oh, I’m getting pumped up because let’s do a motivational program or I have the tiger or whatever.

Alex Banayan
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But rather it was like oh, that was a real thing that happened. And there was a good result and there can be more of that in my life. It’s powerful.

Alex Banayan
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well Alex, good stuff, tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Alex Banayan
I think you’ve really nailed it because when I think of everything we’ve talked about so far has this common theme of really looking within yourself and the answers are in there. And the whole point of the third door is not only to equip people with tools not only to change what they believe is possible but really at the end of the day it’s to liberate yourself because whether it’s at work, whether it’s at home, our real goal is to try to be most us version of us, right? The most you version of you. And the third door is really a mindset to liberate yourself.

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

Alex Banayan
I was reading a book and there was a Warren Buffet quote that I just really loved yesterday that I said we don’t have to be smarter than the competition, we just have to be more disciplined.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Alex Banayan
I really like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Alex Banayan
Oh my God, so many. I would say something that comes to mind right now is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. 

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

Alex Banayan
This is a great tool and it’s not a tool. It’s the airplane mode function on a phone. If I want to be productive, there is only one way to do it, by putting my phone on airplane mode. Silence doesn’t work. 


When I’m writing, I will literally not only turn of my phone, I’ll hide it in a drawer on the other side of the room to use my laziness against me.


But if I just want to do something very thoughtfully for even 30 minutes, I have to go on to airplane mode.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Alex Banayan
Meditating twice a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you use an app or just breath or what’s your approach?

Alex Banayan
I went to … I use a thing called transcendental meditation, which there’s a lot of teachers all over the world who’ll do these three days workshops. But I really believe any kind of meditation is good as long as it feels good for you.

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

Alex Banayan
Yeah. There’s one quote from the book that I see quoted often, which is when you change what someone believes is possible, you change what becomes possible.

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

Alex Banayan
The book is everywhere. Books are available whether it’s Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Audible. And if you end up getting it, let me know so I can say thank you. Instagram and Twitter are all the same, it’s just @AlexBanayan.

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

Alex Banayan
Great question to end with, yes let me think about that. Let me make that thoughtful. Ask yourself the second, actually no, not the second this is done. Ask yourself some time today where you actually have some time to yourself, what are you the most afraid of at this point in your life right now? Because I think in that answer lies some of your destiny. 

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alex this has been a treat. Keep on living big possibilities and good luck to you.

Alex Banayan
I am so grateful. This was a ton of fun, thank you.

 

Next: Ron Price talks about becoming an influential leader.