Tag

Career Management Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

612: How to Find the Perfect Career Fit–An Analytical Approach–with Lindsay Gordon

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Lindsay Gordon says: "You can make absolutely any decision for absolutely any reason as long as you know why it works for you."

Lindsay Gordon reveals how to build and select excellent options for your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get “unstuck” at work 
  2. How to define success on your terms 
  3. Why it’s okay to have a “boring” job

About Lindsay

Lindsay Gordon is a career coach for analytically minded people who want to stop doing what they think is “right” in their career and start doing what’s right for them. She helps people get clarity about what’s right for them in a job and why, confident about their skills and abilities, and able to communicate that to interviewers, managers, and colleagues through her program, A Life of Options. 

She used to work as a recycled water engineer in Melbourne, Australia before landing at Google, working as technical support for the Google Apps team. After which, she moved into career development at Google before starting her own business. She earned her Bioengineering degree from Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. She loves applying her engineering brain to helping people find careers that fit, baking complicated pastries and barbershop singing. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Pitney Bowes. Simplify your shipping while saving money. Get a free 30-day trial and 10-lb shipping scale at pb.com/AWESOME.
  • Rise.com. Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome

Lindsay Gordon Transcript

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

Lindsay Gordon
Thank you for having me. I’m super happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to have you here as well. And I understand that you also do some barbershop singing with your vocal skills here.

Lindsay Gordon
I absolutely do. It is one of my hobbies. I sing baritone in the quartet which is basically all of the leftover notes in the chord, so you never want to hear a baritone singing alone because it’s a really unpleasant situation, but I promise that in the quartet it sounds much better than me singing by myself.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now, what are some barbershop hits? I don’t know the genre that well. But amongst a barbershop aficionados, what are like the classics?

Lindsay Gordon
Oh, that is a question that I am not going to be great at answering. One of the funny things about the barbershop quartet that I sing in, or the barbershop group that I sing in, is that we actually sing parodies.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting.

Lindsay Gordon
So, we take those old songs, we write new lyrics, and then we dress up in costumes that go with the lyrics. So, we’re a little bit of a wildcard in the barbershop world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now when I think of parodies, I think of Weird Al.

Lindsay Gordon
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us a sample in terms of something you parodied and that clever lyric that’s going in there instead?

Lindsay Gordon
Yes. So, we took the song “Babyface” which maybe you know, and we turned it into outer space, so it was a whole song about an alien who had a one-night stand, and it’s discovering that they are pregnant throughout the course of the song.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love it when songs are just like totally unique in terms of it’s not like, “Oh, I’m falling in love,” or, “My heart is broken.” It’s like, “Okay, we’ve heard that before.” But I’ve never heard that before. When I was in college, I sang, well, sang might be a strong word, I performed an original rap number about how I wanted to be a management consultant.

Lindsay Gordon
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it was the only one, so that was actually a decent segue for what we’re doing here. Usually, they’re forced.

Lindsay Gordon
Somehow it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Usually, they’re pretty forced and awkward, Lindsay, but that works. We’re talking about career coaching, career decision-making, strategery, that good stuff. So, you have an interesting moniker. You call yourself a career coach for analytically-minded people. I have a feeling I’m one of them. How do we know if we’re analytically-minded person? What sets us apart?

Lindsay Gordon
Yes. So, it is all in the way that you like to process information and make decisions. So, the reason I say that I’m a career coach for analytically-minded people is because I have an engineering background, which is quite unusual for a career coach. So, when I think about the work that I do, I’m taking my engineering brain, applying it to this question of, “How do we even know what we’re looking for in a job that’s going to be a good fit for us? How do we make that decision that we’re going to feel really good about? And how do we do that in the most practical and structured way?”

So, if you love a good framework, if you love structured exercises to go through, if you like to process information in a very logical format, that’s the type of analytical-minded person that really connects with the work that I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. That’s just so clear in terms of some people say, “Yes, that’s so me,” and other people say, “Nuh-uh,” but then you know and then you can move, go on your merry way pretty quickly and know if you want to dig in deep. And so, your program is called A Life of Options. Options sound good. Tell us, what’s the ethos behind that name and vibe?

Lindsay Gordon
Everything that I do is about you having choice, feeling good about your choices, feeling like you have choices at any point in your career, and knowing that at any moment, you can proactively cultivate something that is going to be a good fit for you in your career. I think a lot of times people spend time being stuck, feeling like they’re unhappy, they don’t know what to do, it’s too late to make a change, they’ve spent too many years going down one direction. Whatever it is, I want you to feel like you always have options.

One of the things I always tell my clients is I want them to see themselves as an opportunity-creating machine by the time they get out of my program. So, if they are somewhere where they’re not happy, they have all the tools to be able to have conversations to know what they’re looking for and to cultivate those things so they feel like they always have options.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s hit this one right up front then, talk about always having options and being an option-generating machine. I think that, hey, economies go in cycles, and so as we record this in the latter half of 2020, COVID is a hot topic, and an inescapable one, so that has economic ramifications, good for some, bad for many. Why don’t you lay that on us, first of all, in terms of in this particular economy, and in recession-type economies, just how picky can we afford to be? How demanding can we be? How many options can we realistically think about generating before we’re kind of, I don’t know, in a fantasy land?

So, I think that’s kind of a tension between something too small, it’s like, “No, you’re really not stuck. There are many other opportunities,” and some people think unrealistically, like, “Hey, it’d be great to earn 300K by doing almost nothing at what you love,” like almost nobody does that, so maybe you’ll find something else. So, help us navigate that.

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah. And I am a very practical realistic person so I think that’s a great thing to point out of I am not just about, “Quit and do your passion. And you can do everything. There’s a dream job out there.” Right, there is some reality to it. I have been quite amazed actually at how many people are getting new jobs that I am working with. So, that is one datapoint that I have of, “Yes, absolutely. There are a lot of people struggling, a lot of industries that are not hiring, that have hiring freezes,” and, as you say, it’s interesting to look at what are the fields and places that are actually thriving despite the situation. So, I think that’s one thing to consider where you’re looking.

I also think options is broader than just getting a new job. So, I want you to feel like you have agency within your role, within your company, to be able to create things that may not look like a big change, because it might not be the right time to make a big change, and I acknowledge that, but to be able to say, “What agency do I have? Where do I have control over what I’m creating in my current role? Are there other opportunities for me to be even happier and thriving more in my current job? Are there options for me to look around the company? Are there options for me to create opportunities that have not yet existed within the company?” So, I think that’s important to talk about too when we talk about options, having the agency within your job to find ways to thrive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right, so let’s dig in then. So, you work with a lot of people who feel kind of stuck in their job and their careers. Can you tell us, what are kind of the big drivers of that, like the top reasons folks are not feeling happy and satisfied with their current career situation?

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah. The biggest thing that I see is that people do not know what they want.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lindsay Gordon
And what happens when you don’t know what you want is you start doing many things. You start defining your own success based on what success looks like to other people. You listen to the noise of what does society think we should want in a job, what does your family think you should want in a job. We start to look around and have the grass is greener situation. We start to get distracted by shiny objects. And then, all of that, creates tension because we do not know what we want.

Another piece of this is a common experience where people have fallen into jobs and they have not proactively chosen or put any intention into that. So, then you start to have this question of, “Is this even the right thing for me? I never really chose this. I kind of fell into marketing, and now I’m like 15 years in. How do I know if this is actually the right thing for me?” So, first, we’re missing clarity, and then we’re missing the way to answer that question of, “Is this the right fit for me?” and feel really good about that decision that you’re making.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, for folks who don’t know what you want, how do you start to know?

Lindsay Gordon
Yup. So, I do a couple of things. I think it’s really important to know what is important to you and how work fits into that. So, that can look like values, that can look like an exercise from “Designing Your Life” called the work manifesto, that can also look like strengths. I help people be incredibly clear about, “What comes easily to you? What do you enjoy doing? How is that engaged with your work?” I also look at things like, “What working conditions do you need?” It’s really important what environment we are in in order to thrive.

So, looking at, “What physical environment do I need? What type of people do I need to be around? What type of work do I need to be doing?” So, there are these different categories that I help people understand, “Oh, this is exactly what I need in this area,” and then you can start to compare it to, “Okay, how well is that being honored and prioritized in your job? And what adjustments do you need to make?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. And so then, in terms of assessing how well it’s being honored in your job, is there a particular framework you use to evaluate that? Or, are there sort of factors, drivers, criteria that we’re scoring, thinking analytically here? How do we do that?

Lindsay Gordon
So, I have created a spreadsheet that I like to call The Next Steps Tracker, and it basically allows you to look at every job you are considering, if you’re considering next moves, if you have often thought about going back and doing more school. Like, a lot of people who talk to me are like, “Should I go get an MBA? I’ve been considering that for five years, and I need to make a decision.”

So, in the columns, we can put the things that we’re considering, or our current job, and then we start to look at, “Okay, here are my top values. Here are my top strengths. Here are the working conditions I need in order to thrive.” And I basically have people go through and look at, “Okay, this top value. Is that being honored and prioritized? Yes. No. Unclear.”

And then we get this big framework of, “Okay, here are the things that might be out of alignment. They are two out of my top five strengths. One of these working conditions isn’t really fitting.” Great. So, then that gives us a place to start to look at adjusting, “How would I put more of these strengths in my role? What opportunities are there? How would I shift this particular environment to be able to be a better fit?” So, it really is just making a list of all the things that are important to you and applying it to your job to see where you want to make changes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then. So, then within that, it sounds pretty darn custom as oppose to, you know, I’ve created something before, it’s like, “Hey, there’s 15 career happiness drivers. Let’s look at them and let’s score them.” But it sounds like you’re taking a more personal approach in terms of, “No, there’s maybe not 15. There’s maybe a billion. And we’ve selected the six that are kind of resonating the most for you personally.” Can you maybe give us an example of a story of someone who they’re kind of stuck, and then they zeroed in on what they want, and then how they evaluated the next steps along those lines, and then made a call, and it worked out smashingly?

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah. So, I think that the important part that you’ve highlighted is that it is based on individual definitions of success, and that’s really a big part of my work of there are all these definitions of, “What does success look like? What does growth look like? What does recognition look like?” But, actually, if you don’t know what the definition is for you yourself, then you are going to be comparing yourself to these external definitions, and not getting the type of fulfillment that you want.

So, one example, I had a client come to me, convinced that she needed to leave her company, convinced that she needed to leave the field that she was in that happened to be aerospace engineering, and pretty much just done, “All right. Ready to get out. Need to figure out what the next thing is.” So, I took her through the process of, “What are the values, what are the strengths, what are the environments that are important to you?” And what she found, a huge part of what was missing for her is her strengths of teaching and facilitating, and she was not getting any of that in the type of engineering work that she was doing. And so, that was new to her. Because what I find is a lot of people are surprised that they have strengths or just don’t know what they are.

And so, once she figured that out, she’s like, “Oh, yeah, teaching and facilitating is huge to me. That’s really what’s been missing.” So, then we started looking around, “Okay, what is internal to the company that could be a better fit for that now that you’ve identified this piece that’s missing?” And so, what she was able to find is a three-year rotation program that is all about teaching and facilitating for the engineers of the company, so less doing the actual engineering but now doing the teaching and facilitating of the others. And she would have never thought to look around at other positions within the company, she would’ve never thought to look at staying in the field that she had already spent 15 years in, but she was able to find this different implementation of her strengths, and absolutely loves and is thriving in that role.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. And so then, that gets you situated in terms of zeroing in on what you dig in and then identifying the opportunities and how that can align to it. And I think that there’s a good gem there associated with the knee jerk reaction of, “I got to get out of here.” It’s telling you something, but getting out of there may very well not be the optimal pathway. Could you speak to that?

Lindsay Gordon
Yes. So, most people come to me thinking they needed to quit their job, they’re unhappy in some way, they can’t figure it out, easiest thing to do is quit. What I realized about a year or two ago is that I am accidentally running an employee retention program. So many people come to me needing to quit, so many people do not end up not quitting their job. I don’t have current numbers, but when I crunched the numbers of about two years ago at that point, for the people who came to me who are currently in a job, more than 50% of them ended up staying in their job. So, that’s where I got this hypothesis that when we think we need to quit, it is actually that we are not clear about what we want, what might be out of alignment in this current role, and there are so many people. I can give you one other example.

A client came to me, “I need to quit. I’m done with this field. I need to figure out what my next thing is.” Two session into working with me, she just starts laughing, and she’s like, “So, this job is actually a great fit for me. It’s a great fit for my strength. It’s a great fit for what’s important to me. And, actually, what I want to do is make these two small changes and continue to grow in this particular area.” And now she is thriving. She is getting promotions. She loves the work. From the outside, absolutely nothing changed, not a single thing in her circumstances. Everything was the mindset about, “What is this job to me? How does it align with what I want?” And that made all of the difference in the work world.

So, really interesting that once you get people really clear about what they want and confident about those decisions, a lot of people end up deciding that they don’t actually need to quit their job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Very nice. And you’ve got a particular take on boring jobs. Let’s hear it.

Lindsay Gordon
I love to tell people that it is okay to have a boring job if it works for you. And this is kind of a provocative idea…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m provoked.

Lindsay Gordon
…that gets some people really riled up, and I think that’s good. I think it goes to this point of we need to do what is right for us. And for some people, their passion and purpose and meaning and drive is going to come from work. Great. For others, that passion and purpose and meaning and drive is going to come from outside of work. And so, sometimes, a boring job can allow you to do things that are most important to you, about the contribution you want to make in this world outside of work.

So, let me give you one example of how a boring job has been very beneficial to one of my clients. So, she came to me in a self-described boring job, and she was underutilized, and there wasn’t a lot of challenge going on, and so we started looking at, “Okay, what might be interesting to you? What are your strengths? What are your interests?” And one thing that came out to her is that she might want to be a grief counselor. This is something she had not considered before but it really connected with her experience, and so she said, “Oh, interesting. I keep seeing these themes of the strengths that are aligned with that and the type of contribution that I want to make.”

So, what she used her boring job for was to test that out. So, I’m a very risk-averse person, I do not want anyone to just quit their jobs, burn it all down, go and do their passion because they think it’s the right thing without de-risking the process as much as possible with as much prototyping as we can do. So, for her, she started using her extra time and mental energy, which is usually what you get from a boring job, and she started volunteering with a crisis hotline and spent time doing that to test that out. And then she started testing out looking at different schooling options that she could take on.

So, she used her boring job to get more information about what was going to give her more purpose and passion in her next role, and use that in order to become a grief counselor. And she emailed me, I think, sometime last year, a couple of years after we had worked together, and she was like, “Lindsay, I am about to graduate, and I’m about to have my first client.” And the whole process had felt good to her because she had de-risked it, she had tested it out, she had stayed in that boring job that allowed her to still have financial stability while she moved to her next profession.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great point, that the boring jobs are to offer you that time and mental energy. Whereas, thrilling jobs tend to be intense, have some pressure, need you to be kind of…or pull you into thinking about them a lot because they’re interesting, and you might noodle on the unsolved mystery for while you’re commuting or maybe when you’d rather not be, when you’re at home with family, etc. So, that is a nice highlight there.

I’m thinking, boy, a couple examples come to mind. I remember Albert Einstein, when he was in the patent office, said it gave him a lot of time to think. That served him well, having that time to think. Or, a fictitious example is that Gerry or Garry or Larry Gergich from “Parks and Rec” just had this land government job but he likes being able to reliably return to his lovely family at a consistent time, and that really was what did it for him. And that’s a good example, specifically, of if we think about sort of societal or external expectations for what a good job is supposed to be, it’s like, “Oh, it’s got to be your passion, it’s got to be thrilling, and it needs to be so exciting and engaging.”

Lindsay Gordon
Everything to you. Have all your fulfillment, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And, yeah, I guess some people, it’s not applicable to all people, I think, and/or even at times of your life in terms of like, “Hey, this thrilling job was awesome until I had some babies, and then it’s like this thrilling job is taking me away from that, and I don’t care for it as much.” So, things can evolve over time as well.

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah, one of my earliest clients came to me. She was in a very high-paying lawyer job, and all of her friends and family were saying, “Oh, my gosh, you’re being underchallenged, like they’re not using you to your full extent. You’re bored. You really should make a change and go get a job that is more deserving of your talents.” And so, she came to me, and she was like, “Well, maybe I need to get a new job because this one, you know, everyone’s telling me that I need something new.” When we did the values exercise, she said, “Number one right now is financial stability and the ability to have time with my young son.” And that gave her ultimate confidence to say, “Actually, at this phase in life, for what I want in this moment, for what’s important to me, this job is perfect.”

And so, she was able to just let go of all of the external noise from friends, family, who always want the best for us but they don’t always know what that is, and she was able to say, “You know what, thank you, friends and family. Appreciate that. And I know why this job is actually the perfect fit for me at this phase in life.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really excellent, and it gets me thinking here. Yeah, I want to zero in on what you said with regard to the confidence because I think that’s sort of, emotionally speaking, a fundamental difference from the beginning to the end of this process. It’s like, “I have no idea. What am I doing? Is this the wrong thing? Aah,” to, “All right. This is what I’m going to do.” And, boy, there is just something so powerful about when you have that conviction that, “This is what it is.”

Because it’s sort of like all of the mental energy and time spent, like, “Oh, maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that. I don’t quite know. Oh, I don’t really feel like I could maybe take that risk or ask for help in this direction if I’m not really sure I’m going to utilize that advice or take advantage of what someone is helping me out with.” Like, all kinds of things fall away and power jet fuel is working for you when you’ve got that confidence. So, tell us, what are the fundamental ingredients in terms of what it takes to arrive at the place of totally confident versus, “Oh, that kind of seems like a good move”?

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah. One thing that I’d like to tell clients is that I promise them deeply unsexy results. There is nothing exciting about when they get through my program. There’s nothing flashy. They will most likely not have made a huge change in their job, but what happens is that deep, grounded, calming conviction of, “This is what I want. This is what is right for me.” And so, it’s so fun explaining it in that way because people are like, “What? Deeply unsexy results. Do I want that?” Like, yes, you absolutely want that.

So, when I think about what it takes to have confidence in your decisions, it comes back to clarity. One of the phrases that I like for clients to use a lot when they are in interviews, when they are having conversations about creating opportunities within their current role, is, “I know I thrive when X, Y, Z is happening, when I’m in this type of environment, when I’m doing this type of work. Can you tell me about how that might be connected to this role that you’re pitching to me, or to this company that I’m thinking about joining?” So, it’s all about, “I know when I thrive. This is very clear for me. And now all I’m doing is connecting that to the opportunity at hand.” So, that deep, deep clarity gives you the confidence to say, “I know that this thing is going to be the right thing for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely.

Lindsay Gordon
And I will give you a quick example of that. So, I had a client who was contacted by recruiters all the time, and the recruiter would be like, “Hey, hey, hey, want this shiny job at Facebook?” And then she would go into the, exactly what you were talking about, this energy-draining like, “Oh, my gosh, do I want the shiny thing? This company is so great. Everyone else thinks that I should work there,” and we’re just like giving all of our energy away, and just waffling and second-guessing and all of that. So, that had been her experience up until working with me.

And after she worked with me, she got a call from a recruiter, the recruiter said, “Hey, hey, hey, this shiny job, like do you want this thing?” And she said, “Thank you so much. That job is not a good fit for me for these three reasons. What I’m looking for, which will allow me to thrive, are these three things. If you find opportunities like that, I would love to hear about them.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Lindsay Gordon
End of story. There’s no waffling, there’s no, I like to call, the whirlwind of chaos, of, “Ugh, do I want the thing?” So, as you said, it’s just like the jet fuel of power in the direction you know is going to be impactful for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, when you talk about recruiters calling all the time and, “Ooh, do I want that thing?” that sparks…let’s talk about money. Sometimes it’s almost hardwired into us, like, “Of course, the right move is the one that is the most lucrative.” And so, that can be a stumbling block, and I know that that’s not true. Many people have chosen new opportunities that have less money but they are so glad they did. And that happened to me, I was in strategy consulting, I went to do my own thing, and there were several years which is like, “Hmm, I sure will have a lot more money if I were still strategy consulting.”

Lindsay Gordon
Yes, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
And now, fortunately, I think this has gone well and I’ve got both, so happy ending. But other people are fine at the happiness without that. So, how do we think about money, happiness, and if that’s really in you deep, what do you do with it?

Lindsay Gordon
Two things I think to consider. So, the first is values. When I do my values exercise, what I have people do is make a list of all the decisions that they’ve made in their life, and then start to look at the motivations behind those decisions. So, it’s kind of looking at the data of how you have lived your life so far to come up with your list of values. For some people, financial security is a huge part of those values. For other people, financial security does not come up as a big part of their values. So, that’s one thing, is to think about how big is that in your set of values. So, that’s one input.

Another framework I really like, which is from the book Designing Your Work Life by Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, they think about it as three different sliders in your career. So, there are three ways to think about what it is that you do and how you get compensated for your work. So, one is obviously money, and that’s the one we think of most often. The next is impact, and the next is expression. And so, they think of it as sliders that you can move around at any point based on what your needs are at any phase of life based on what’s important to you at any phase in life.

So, let’s say when you are first starting out, you want to make sure that you are financially secure. This is the first time you’re needing to pay rent. You want to start to thinking about putting away for retirement. You need to pay off student loads, whatever it is. Maybe money is the highest one of those sliders.

Then a couple of years into your career, maybe you decide that impact is a place that you want to prioritize more in your career. So, you could think about dialing down the money dial a little bit and increasing the impact dial. Same with expression. So, I just liked the way that they think about the balance of those three things. And, again, thinking about you need in your life, what phase of life are you at, what’s important to you, and what is the balance that you want for those three sliders.

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

Lindsay Gordon
I think two things that are the easiest for somebody to do in order to think about making decisions that feel good to them with confidence where they can thrive. One is get clear about what your strengths are. If assessments are the way that you really enjoy doing that, StrengthsFinder has a fantastic one that I’ve been using for years. It’s 20 bucks. It will give you incredible vocabulary about what your top strengths are, how they interact, and how they might relate to your role. So, that’s something that people can do really easily to figure out how to thrive more in their job.

And then second is it’s really important to start to define some of the nebulous words that we use around career development. So, we talk a lot about growth, we talk a lot about recognition, we talk a lot about mentorship, and when we say those words, it can mean something totally different to every person that you talk to. So, for example, recognition is something that comes up all the time, “I don’t feel recognized in my job.” “Oh, okay. What’s happening?” They say, “Well, my manager is talking about me in our team meetings, and sharing her gratitude and appreciation there.” I’m like, “Okay, that sounds like recognition. But that doesn’t seem to be working for you.” And the client said, “Oh, yeah, recognition for me is getting paid more. That’s how I know what my value is.”

And so, when you are talking to your manager, and saying, “I don’t feel recognized,” and your manager is saying, “What are you talking about? I’m talking about you in team meetings. I’m putting you up for promotions, whatever it is.” I want you to have the definition that works for you so that you can have a much better conversation with people around you as to how to get the things that are important to you.

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

Lindsay Gordon
Yes. One of my favorite quotes is the one about, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. And the second-best time is now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Lindsay Gordon
I think we spend so much time beating ourselves up about past decisions, convincing ourselves it’s too late, waffling and all this energy draining. I want to help people redirect that energy and focus on, “What has happened has happened. What are we taking action on now to make things better in our career?”

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

Lindsay Gordon
I just read about this recently in the book Range.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had David on the show.

Lindsay Gordon
Oh, that’s amazing. Gosh, I love that book. So, I loved his mention of match quality, which is the term that economists use to describe the degree of fit between the work someone does and who they are. And they mentioned a study at Harvard called “The Dark Horse Project.” And, in a nutshell, basically, everybody who has found success in their role in the study has followed what they talked about as a really unusual path. And everyone was like, “Ugh, I don’t know that I would recommend this. But this is how I got to where I am.” So, it was incredible that, in the study, they all thought that they were the anomaly for having an unusual career path, and yet that was actually a dominant outcome of the study.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a study inside a book. But I want to ask about a favorite book too.

Lindsay Gordon
Favorite book, Essentialism.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Lindsay Gordon
Tagline: Disciplined Pursuit of Less. That book is filled with terrifying truth about how much we let everything else in the world dictate our energy, our time, and attention, and what we can do to actually achieve focus in our life and in our work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool?

Lindsay Gordon
I would say The Five Minute Journal. It is a book that I discovered recently that has a couple of questions at the start of the day, a couple of questions at the end of the day, “What are you grateful for? What would be great? What do you want to create today? And what’s an affirmation?” And then a check-in in the evening, “What went really well today? And what could you have done better?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Lindsay Gordon
I have recently started waking up at the same time every day, and it is incredible at how even just that small change to eliminate decision fatigue has been awesome. So, getting up at the same time, and reading for 30 minutes as soon as I get up.

Pete Mockaitis
And that includes your Saturdays and Sundays?

Lindsay Gordon
That does not. That’s probably an area of opportunity. I’m not quite there yet. I’m not normally a morning person, so this is like a change for me. But, yes, I know that it would actually be better for me if I do it every single day, so I appreciate that challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with your people again and again?

Lindsay Gordon
You can make absolutely any decision for absolutely any reason as long as you know why it works for you.

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

Lindsay Gordon
Website is a great place to get in touch, ALifeofOptions.com. And I would also love to have you connect with me on LinkedIn. Every Tuesday I share awesome reflections from my work with clients and help you think about action that you can take in your career, so I’d love to connect with you there as well.

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

Lindsay Gordon
We talk a lot about having it figured out, “I should have it figured out by now,” “I’m behind,” “Everybody else seems to have it figured out.” I would love to challenge you to shift your goal from having it all figured out to a quote from “Designing Your Life,” which talks about playing the infinite game of becoming more and more yourself with each day.

So, instead of this endpoint of having it figured out, I want you to ask yourself each day, “How can I become more of myself today and bring what makes me unique into the world, into the work, and into my contributions?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lindsay, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and all the best.

Lindsay Gordon
Thank you so much.

611: How to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead by Becoming a 10X Talent with Michael Solomon

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Michael Solomon says: "Look for the bigger, the harder, the hairier, the nuttier problem and... dive into it."

Michael Solomon discusses the fundamental skills that keep game-changers above the rest.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that leads to exponential career growth
  2. An overlooked skill that sets any professional apart
  3. The most dangerous thing you can do to your career

 

About Michael

Michael Solomon is the cofounder of 10x Management, the world’s first tech talent agency. 10x matches top contract technology experts, designers, and brand innovators with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 clients like American Express, HSBC, Google, Verizon, Yelp, and more. He has appeared on CNBC, BBC, Bloomberg TV and spoken at SXSW. 

He founded Brick Wall Management, a talent agency representing multi platinum and Grammy award-winning recording artists, songwriters, top record producers, and filmmakers. Michael also co-founded Musicians On Call, a nonprofit that brings live music to over 700,000 people in health care facilities across the U.S. and remains an active member of its Board of Directors. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Learn more, faster with book summaries you can read or listen to in 15 minutes at blinkist.com/awesome

Michael Solomon Transcript

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

Michael Solomon
Pete, it’s a pleasure. I’m thrilled to be here and excited to chat with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thrilled to be chatting too. And I’d love it if we could start with maybe a fun story. You’ve worked with a lot of famous musicians in your day. Do you have a fun story that you can possibly share with us from that career?

Michael Solomon
Oh, goodness. I’m trying to think if it’s going to be a fun one, an embarrassing one, or an inspiring one. I think I’m going to go with inspiring because it’ll actually lead more into the other topics we’re going to talk about. So, I had the distinct pleasure of starting my music industry career going on tour with Bruce Springsteen in the mid-90s.

Pete Mockaitis
Good start.

Michael Solomon
First of all, yeah, what an incredible experience. No one told me it’s all downhill from here. But the good news is they didn’t tell me that so I tried to emulate it which is going to come back into the story. But I got to see that man up close and personal, and I got to see him stand on stage in front of audiences of tens of thousands of people in stadiums and pour his heart out, both through the music and through the words he spoke, but then I also got to see, in rooms of six to eight people, when he got to thank people on his team, and in his band, for their work and their contributions to his life and how eloquently and beautifully he was able to do that, showing an emotional intelligence that you might not…I mean, you could tell it’s there from his lyrics, but you might not know it from reading your average article about him. And it was astounding. The closest I can get to sort of describing it is like watching Barack Obama string together a speech who just always has the exact right thing to say, and that was pretty amazing to get to see that one. I was in my early 20s.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love it, are there any particular, this isn’t our main focus, but any sort of takeaways you gleaned associated with how to support, edify, appreciate folks you collaborate with?

Michael Solomon
I definitely think that giving positive feedback and communicating gratitude are super important experiences for at work and in life. And some of it is about communicating those things and some of it is about feeling the gratitude and being able to show the gratitude.

And, just by way of example, I think that there have been moments in our company when I’ve returned from a vacation and I was able to thank people on our team for covering things that I wasn’t able to do when I was out of the office. And in those moments, they could really feel, much more than other moments, the gratitude because it was really something that allowed me to live my life in a different way. And sure, they’re helpful all the time, and I don’t want to take anything away from the normal part of gratitude, I feel for the people who work with us and for us, but that was a particular moment where I could really feel it, like I was not just expressing an idea because I have to check the box and gratitude is good but I was really able to share that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Well, I want to dig into a concept you talk a lot about being a 10X talent. That sounds like something I want to be. Can you define that for us? And I want to hear, is it really 10X? Is that an exaggeration? Where does it come from?

Michael Solomon
Well, I’ll tell you. I think that there are people who are really 10Xers and, its purest sense, the term originally came out of technology where it was used for coders. And the idea was these are people who write ten times the code or ten times better code than their peers, so this is literally sort of superhero level capabilities. And we expanded it to include people who are just so good at what they do, and being good at what you do isn’t enough. You have to be good at what you do and be a good communicator and be a good learner. And the only way you can really be exceptional at what you do is if you’re open to some of those things. And the emotional part goes with the skills part. And that’s really, if I broke down some of what we got to do in this new book, it’s really about understanding the marriage of these two things and that they can’t really be divorced very effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then…boy, so much to dig into there. So, 10X, it sounds like it’s not an exaggeration. In the tech field, it’s legitimately we can measure the lines of code, or the economic value of those innovations, and you see it in other industries too.

Michael Solomon
Yeah. I’ll give you a story if you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, let’s do it.

Michael Solomon
Our favorite example is a company. So, we were approached by a company that had been around for 20 years, they had built on their product over those years. Theirs was a successful company. Not huge but very successful in the field. Everyone on the field that they’re in knows them and uses them. And they had grown to a team of 33 development people, 33 on their tech team. And the founder came in and ultimately felt like the culture is wrong for the tech team. The tech team was in a different city than the rest of the group. It was time to rebuild the product from the ground up.

And he asked whether we had people who could do that, and I showed him some of the people who I thought would be great at leading that endeavor. And he said, “Okay, just sit tight for two weeks. And he came back, and he’s like, “All right. I let 30 of the 33 people go. I took very good care of them. They have no problem with new jobs and being displaced. And let’s go.” And we basically started with a team of three people that has since grown to about six that is replacing the work of that 33-person team and we built the product from the ground up.

So, that is literal 10X-ness including the guys who worked on it were particularly excited because by the time they finished building it out, it ran at the same speed in terms of processing transactions as Amazon does. So, they were super stoked about being able to create 10X value for this company.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s an exciting experience to be sure. Wow! Okay. So, there you have it, someone really walked that talk with gusto on the 10X talent quite literally. And so then, tell me.

Pete Mockaitis
If we zoom into the world of professionals, full-time salaried employees doing their thing, what sorts of benefits if you’ve got How to be Awesome at Your Job listeners who are thinking, “Ooh, I’d like to be like that,” is it worth the effort? How would you answer that?

Michael Solomon
Yeah, I feel like there’s a bunch of things I can dive into right here that are, hopefully, right on the money for the listeners. So, the book that we’re really seeing is really two parts. The first half of the book is how to be a 10X manager and 10X your company and your organization. And the second half of the book is geared around individuals and how do you yourself become more 10X. There’s a lot of commonality in both the first half and the latter half of the book.

But, given that you’re asking more about the individual contributors who are working at companies and are not necessarily managing a huge team, I think the very important thing that people need to understand about 10Xers is it’s not just their capabilities that makes them 10X. It’s their willingness to learn, their desire to learn, their desire to problem-solve, and this is a word we’re going to use a lot today, their desire for feedback.

They are people who are willing and open and interested and, most importantly, curious about what feedback they can get that helps them improve their performance. What we talk about this with, very specifically, is what we call super vision, which is two words. One is inner vision, which are the things about yourself that you can’t see for yourself. We all have blind spots. And the other is future vision, which is being able to see around the corner, what’s coming. And do you have somebody that you’re working with in your life that can help you understand what are your weaknesses? And can they also help you understand what’s coming down the line and what you need to be prepared for so you’re better-equipped to surmount the next challenge that’s around the corner?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s excellent in terms of a few themes there associated with the curiosity, and the real desire for the feedback, and seeing how you can learn and grow. For folks who feel a little bit spooked by that idea of getting feedback and such…oh, you all right?

…what do you recommend in terms of making the leap? There are those who would rather maybe play it safe and not ask the hard question to get the hard feedback.

Michael Solomon
That’s a choice, and everybody’s entitled to make those choices for themselves, but it really will limit your ability to grow. The more open one is to feedback, and you don’t have to, just because you get the feedback, it doesn’t mean you have to take it, implement it, believe it’s the Gospel. But the idea that you’re going to open yourself up and approach it with curiosity. So, you can approach it with defensiveness.

I am, just to sort of talk about my own example and my own relationship with this, because I’m a co-founder of our company, I sit at the top of the org chart, I don’t have somebody above me to give that feedback. But we want and sought an advisor for our company, and we only have one, and he plays that role for us. And the amount of insight that I gain from his feedback, and I approach it. There are times when he says, “Do you realize you’re doing this?” And my gut, my kneejerk reaction is, “No, I’m not. What are you talking about?”

But then if I take, if I go after it with curiosity, and just start out by saying, “Hmm, I didn’t realize I was doing that,” or, “I didn’t think I was doing that,” or, “I didn’t think I was being perceived that way,” I’ve, all of a sudden, created an environment where I can play with that idea and work on figuring out how, if it’s there and if it’s a problem, how I can change it. And if I don’t seek that feedback, I will go through my whole life, and I watched this, and I’m sure everybody who’s listening sees people who are making terrible mistakes for their own self-interest, and part of it is nobody’s telling them or they’re not willing to hear it.

And the idea of getting a…it can be your boss, it can be a mentor, it can be a coach, it can be a rabbi or a priest, in the proverbial or literal sense, you need somebody who’s got a third-party point of view, who’s invested in seeing you succeed, and who’s willing to say things that you’re not going to love hearing, and you have to be willing to create an environment where that feedback is well-received so they can keep giving it to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And so, when you say create an environment, I guess we kind of talk about your reaction in terms of, yeah, okay, either it’s a blowoff or it’s a defensiveness or it is that curiosity in terms of, “Tell me more about that. Can you give me an example? Who’s doing this really well? What would excellence look like?” What are some great follow-up questions to really get the good flowing if you’re starting to get a trickle of feedback?

Michael Solomon
Well, I think part of it is, even before you get the trickle of feedback, is ensuring that you will. There are some supervisors, leaders, managers, bosses who are very good at giving regular constructive feedback, and then there are many who hate that, find it confrontational, and are afraid or unwilling to do it. And you need to evaluate your own situation, and say, “Can I start up by saying to my boss…?” and one of the things that we actually lay out in the book are examples of these notes where you say, “Hey, I really appreciate our relationship, and I’ve enjoyed working here, and I’m really looking forward to the future, but I really want to grow and change and improve. And one of the best ways I can do that is learning from you and getting your perspective on things, and specifically getting your perspective on what I’m doing well and, more importantly, what I’m not doing well.”

And just by being able to open that dialogue, and say, “I want this,” you’ve now made it a little easier for the person to give it to you. And then, sort of, I think to get back to the question you were asking, when you start to get the feedback, you need to get granular, you want to ask for examples, you want to ask for, depending on the kinds of things, if it’s a mechanical thing, if it’s, in other words, when you enter in your 723 reports, you’re always missing the last period, that’s a different kind of thing than when it has to do with an interpersonal skill. And when it’s an interpersonal skill, those examples become really important, and so does understanding from your colleagues how it made them feel.

I’ll give you a great example of this, which is hard to talk about because it’s about me, and it’s not something I’m proud of. But I advised a company that has a very forward-thinking ethos. And the founder of the company is a woman, and the other, the co-founder of the company is a man, and I have sent emails to them that said, “Hi, guys,” and whatever the rest of the email was. And she is somebody who knows that I’m very interested in feedback and likes it, and she sent me a note saying, “I know you didn’t intend anything by it, but I would prefer not to be addressed with a male salutation.” And I took the feedback well, I thanked her for it, but I was a little embarrassed.

And you know what else I did? I did the same thing again a week later to the same person because it was a habit. And she told me again, and she did it with kindness, and she did it because she knew I did want to improve on it, and I apologized again and asked her to keep telling me if I happen to fail again. And the reason I bring up that example is that has something to do with making people uncomfortable. If you think that your behavior in a meeting that makes people uncomfortable isn’t going to impact your career, you got another thing coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s very true. I love that example because it’s something that anyone of us could do. It reminds of me someone who, at a trade show, she said, “I’m going to lady this booth.” I’m like, “What?” It’s like, “Well, I’m sure they’re not going to man this booth.” That just tickled me. I think of her every time I see a trade show booth.

Michael Solomon
I love that. And I didn’t mean anything by the “Hi, guys” thing and she knew that I didn’t mean anything by it, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t elicit a reaction.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Okay. So, there’s that one key set of themes there associated with the curiosity and the feedback and the desire to learn, and to seek that out and to ask for it. So, let’s talk about how one gets to have that super vision, the ability to see around the corners and more. I suppose if you’re getting regular feedback, that helps a lot. What else should we do to develop that skill?

Michael Solomon
I think the supervision for our self is a skill that, as a business owner, you sort of have to pick up on to a degree to be a successful business owner, and I think that it often alludes to other people, which is really taking a moment regularly to stop and look at what is coming or what you think is coming. You can’t know and you can’t prepare for every scenario, but just being disciplined to planning is going to get you so much farther ahead because you’re, so often, and I am this way because I don’t like surprises. I’m a control freak. I don’t really like being surprised by things.

So, I don’t know everything that’s coming, but if I don’t try and anticipate what’s going to happen, and move ahead of it, I’m always playing catchup. So, there are people in companies who are always putting out fires and never able to look ahead. And the irony, for me, about learning about planning is, even though we now have three for-profit businesses, I actually got my crash course in planning through some of the non-profits that we founded because non-profits are very disciplined, at least good ones, about doing strategic planning.

And taking the entire board, which is, in some ways, your most valuable and certainly your highest-priced assets, and taking time away from everything else to do nothing but try and anticipate “What is coming down the line? And how does it impact us? And what are we going to do to be ready for it?” And it seems so basic, I mean, I don’t need to publish a book or be a rocket scientist to say that planning is important, but so few people do it. And it’s also being disciplined about doing it in the near and the long term.

Pete Mockaitis
And you mentioned this in the context of business owners or non-profit executives. I imagine the same can be said of a professional anywhere in the hierarchy in terms of, “Okay, there are some changes with our big customers, or with the market, or with the leadership, or the management priorities. And so, given this, I may very well need to choose to put some proactive attention in a new area.”

Michael Solomon
Absolutely. Our version of this 10X management, which we founded about eight years ago, was a reaction to sitting in the middle of the demise of the music industry, which is our background of having managed musicians, and saying, “Wow, if we look at the tea leaves, technology is destroying this industry. Whether there’ll be a light at the end of the tunnel, unknown, but for a long time, this is a going to be a problem.” And we were actively looking at, “What do we do to supplement our lives and our livelihood in that period of time?”

And it was only sitting down and being very intentional and sort of having that forethought that ultimately led us to the moment, and allowed us to be open enough to the moment of saying, “Oh, wait. Technologists, freelance technologists are the new rock stars. They need representation just the way the old rock stars do.” And, hence, the launch of the new business.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s a bit of a paradigm shift, and not to be all over the place, but it’s handy to think about yourself as any professional and how you can benefit from those sorts of services. And I know you’ve done a lot of thinking about this. So, can you lay it on the line for us, are there some parts about our professional lives that we should be outsourcing or we should be getting some help with in order to flourish maximally?

Michael Solomon
I certainly think so. And as a result of some of the learns of 10X management where we help freelancers navigate their freelance careers, we have a clause in our contract that says, “If you hire one of our 10Xers to a full-time job, and you steal them away from us after being on a freelance engagement, then you pay us a buyout.” Fairly standard in the freelance industry.

And what happened was, as the first few times that happened, our client would come to us and say, “They want to hire me, as you know. I know you’re going to get paid on this transaction. Would you be willing to help me negotiate my full-time job the same way you helped me negotiate my freelance job?” And we’ve now started a separate company called 10X Ascend where we’re helping people that aren’t our 10X clients, they’re anybody who wants help negotiating a full-time job offer because one of the things that happens, as we did that a few times for our existing clients was we saw absolutely broken hiring is, particularly in legacy companies.

So, we’ve now done this dozens of times. And what a company say to an employee, and this is really relevant for both the individual employee and for the company before they make an offer, they generally ask a question like, “What is your salary requirement? What are your comp requirements?” We created a tool called a Lifestyle Calculator which is, I can share a link with you, which allows people to weight 24 different attributes that go into a potential compensation package.

And this is the first we do when somebody comes to us to help with a compensation negotiation, before we talk to the company, before we even talk to the potential client, we’ve now caused them to weight and figure out, “What is most important to me in my life?” For some people, it’s just salary. Some people are really interested in equity for the company that they’re going to. Some people want to work from home on Fridays, which used to be a thing. Now everybody works from home every day. Some people want to budget for continuing education, some people want to know if there’s room for growth, and in varying degrees.

And companies ask you one question then make you a job offer. And it doesn’t assume that the 24-year old engineer who’s single and post-college, who’s applying for the same job as the 37-year old who’s got three kids, don’t want the same things in a package. And the closest I’ve ever seen a company to doing this right is one company made an offer, and they said, “Here’s one offer with more equity and less cash. And here’s one offer with more cash and less equity.” And that was a great step in the right direction, but if companies would start, or individuals would start, by communicating, and this is what we do with our clients, “These are the things that are most important to me in a job offer,” we could create a much better alignment on the way in. And that alignment is both about making sure there’s a good fit, which is going to make a better result if you hire the person, and it’s also going to create much better retention and much happier environment.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay, cool. So, moving it back to becoming 10X or persisting 10X-ness if you are there, we’ve covered a few key themes. And I’d love to get your view on are there some roadblocks, some bumps along the way when folks are really looking to enter that echelon, some common mistakes, or sort of watch-outs you’d put on a radar?

Michael Solomon
Yeah, it’s tricky. We have this quiz up at the book site. The book site is GameChangerTheBook.com. And the quiz sort of measures how you are at this stuff. But, really, the quiz was inspired by this concept of the management continuum. And on one end, you sort of got the 10Xer who has a very high level of what we call the success impulse. These are people, you know them, everybody here has met them, who is constantly making the right moves that move them toward their goals. They’re not tripping over their own feet, they’re not shooting themselves in their foot, they’re just not getting in their own way at all, and they’re moving in the direction they want to move in.

And then there’s the whole middle spectrum, which is people who are in the center of the scale. And on the other end of the spectrum is what we call the sabotage impulse. And this is really the biggest problem. Like, if you have the sabotage impulse, becoming 10X is virtually impossible. The sabotage impulse is choosing those things that get in the way between you and what you want. So, these are the people who shoot themselves in the foot, reload the gun and shoot themselves in the foot again. They stick their foot in their mouth. And most of all, the reason that we encourage people like this not be in your organization is they’re not interested in and don’t accept responsibility for things, so they are constantly ducking and covering and throwing other people in the way of their problems.

And just by the nature of not being willing to accept your shortcomings and own them and explore them with curiosity, you’re literally creating an environment or you’re creating a situation, a bubble, where you’re not capable of improving because you can’t acknowledge that there’s anything to improve. And that is the most dangerous thing.

So, if you’re feeling like that is you, and most people who have that quality don’t recognize it because if they did, they would’ve addressed it, but if you feel like that’s you, there’s no question that a coach or a therapist is what’s in order because you’re doing something every day that keeps you from getting what you want. So, if you feel like you’re always the victim, that’s something to look at.

For those of us who aren’t all the way on that end of the spectrum, it is an incremental progress. You don’t go overnight. The things that I can tell you that 10Xers really have in common is loving solving problems. They look for the bigger, the harder, the hairier, the nuttier problem and want to dive into it. They’re not afraid of it. They just view it as an opportunity, like a puzzle, like a challenge. And that’s one of my favorite things about these people. And they also approach it all with curiosity. They’re data-driven.

They don’t want to just like shut off the data pipeline when it doesn’t suit them. They want to take the data and say, “Huh, that wasn’t the outcome I was expecting, but that’s the outcome that I got. Now what do I do with that?” and that’s being reality-based. Whereas, if you’re in the sabotage end of the spectrum, you’re not being reality-based. The data is there. The data is saying, “You’re doing this thing. It’s getting in your way. It’s getting in your way.” And you’re like, “No, it’s not me. Not me at all. I’m just a victim.” And that’s the biggest thing of where you are in that continuum that can move you forward or keep you stuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think when you talk about that, this is bringing so many things for me. I recall I had a coaching client who was just awesome and he liked the stuff we are covering, and said, “I want my whole team. Let’s build a training program,” and then we did, and I still do that program with many other clients, so great initiative that we put together together. And he said something, like, “Man, I’m in this role in which, on the one hand, it just feels amazing in how I’m able to handle this level of complexity with so many policies and stakeholders and competing demands and tradeoffs. On the other hand, I’m kind of going insane.”

And so, I thought that was just a good articulation of, boy, this guy really is going for the biggest, hairiest problems, and his career has really taken off as a result. And then he also has some humility to know this, like, “This is kind of nuts. Maybe we need to simplify some things here.”

Michael Solomon
And one of the things that I would say about 10Xers, and this is a little bit what you’re getting at, is these are also people who have some respect for work-life balance, and they care about values. And this is another thing that companies need to factor in, it’s like, “Are you hiring somebody that shares the values and the vision and the mission of your company?” And it’s really interesting because Millennials and Gen Z’s who are not all 10Xers have very similar traits in that regard. They want to know that their work is valued, they want to know that their work is important, they want to know that the company has values and they’re stated, and there’s all this mission-driven stuff that gets pushed by the wayside that’s really important to these particular elements of the population being 10Xers, Gen Z, and Millennials. And the more we pretend or ignore that or say it’s entitlement, as the older generation is wanton to do, the less we can advance them and their productivity. And they are a huge part of the workforce at this point.

Pete Mockaitis
And the other thing that really struck, as we talk about that data, is I really have seen it go both ways in terms of, again, my world is training, some folks are all about collecting the data, and say, “Hey, does this make an impact? Was it effective? Let’s really learn from that and fine-tune and iterate, and make a case if, hey, this is really working, providing a great return, let’s really do some more of this.” And then there are those who, they’ve said to me, “Wow, the questions you put on your evaluation would absolutely terrify me. I never want to give that to a client.”

So, there it is, front and center in terms of “What’s your relationship to that data? Do you want it to never exist because you’re afraid of it, or are you hungry?” And it is, in some ways, the riskier path but, my goodness, the rewards are much greater.

Michael Solomon
But isn’t that risky because the other people already see and think these things? The only person, we talk about this concept in the book, it’s called Johari Window, Johari’s Window. It’s essentially the idea that there are four panes of perspective. Let’s say the top right is there’s what you know about yourself and everybody else knows about you. You and I both wear glasses. That would fall into that category.

There’s the window of what you know about yourself and nobody else knows about you. We won’t say what that is, but there’s your deep dark secrets. There are the things that nobody knows about you and you don’t know about yourself, which is not particularly relevant or useful but it exists. And the last one is the things that other people know about you and you don’t know about yourself. And that’s the one that we’re talking about with regard to this feedback we’re talking about.

And the fear mindset around this is that if you don’t ask about it, it won’t exist. But that’s not the reality. Other people are seeing this. You’re the only one who doesn’t know. This is like burying your head in the sand kind of thing. Like, it’s happening. You’ve got that spinach on your teeth. Would you rather know about it or would you rather not have someone tell you?

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. Well-said. Well, so about half of our listeners do have direct reports and they’ve got some management responsibilities. So, I’d love to get your take in terms of how do you shape an environment where you can identify and cultivate more 10X talent?

Michael Solomon
Yeah, absolutely. So, I think that the first thing for everybody to understand is the days of employees being cogs in the machine, with some notable exceptions, are over. Nobody wants to be thought of that way or treated that way. Certainly not 10Xers and certainly not Millennial and Gen Z. It’s just not how it works. The days of, “Have that on my desk at 3:30 or else,” it’s just not the way we’re working anymore in most places. And now, what we’re starting to see is places that do operate that way don’t last long, and it eventually blows up in their face, and you hear all kinds of complaints about management and hostile work environment and all that stuff.

So, let’s assume you’re already not being in a hostile work environment. The flipside of that, the other direction to go with that, is really being driven toward humanity. These are human beings that you work with, that you’re close to, that you spend every day with, they have lives, and their lives impact their work. And without trying and without being inappropriate in how far you reach, the more you can treat somebody as a human being and show them empathy and care, the better.

So, a tiny example might be I have one agent who works for us who’s on vacation or traveling in a given week, and just remembering and saying, “Hey, I was going to assign this project to you. Is that okay because you’re traveling? Or do you want me to give it to somebody else?” is a way of showing a consideration for a human thing, like as a work person, I don’t care, like, “Do this.” Like, if all I cared about was getting it done, I wouldn’t ask the question.

But if you want to have a relationship and a culture and an environment where people help each other, and one of our core values in our company is helping each other, then you have to live that. You have to really, really show that, and you have to let people know that you actually care about them as a human being. And, hopefully, that’s not hard for most people but it is different than what came before, at least as far as the workplace goes.

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

Michael Solomon
I think that the most important thing that we’re getting to in the sort of how to manage people is that it’s bespoke. It used to be you’re a boss, you treat your employees a certain way, and you need to recognize that each employee is a unique and different snowflake that needs to be treated in the right way that is best for them to be productive and useful, and that’s more onus on us as managers. And you know what? It’s a better workplace as a result of it.

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

Michael Solomon
My father, who’s also an author and a non-profit luminary, has always said, “When you want something done, go to the busiest person in the room,” which is so counterintuitive. And when he first started telling me that in my, probably, 20s, I thought he was nuts. And now I totally understand it. The busiest people I ever emailed are the ones who emailed me back within three seconds.

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

Michael Solomon
The two pieces of data that I’m going to bring up for this, and I’ll try and do it quickly, is the idea that helping other people is more beneficial to your happiness and your sense of joy in the world than doing something for yourself. And that’s a little counterintuitive, and most people don’t operate that way. And if we did, as a world, we’d have a much happier world with much happier people and much better cared-for people. And then the second one, which is sort of related and definitely related to feedback, is data says the appropriate amount of positive feedback to negative feedback is five to one. I find that to be hard to pull off but even if I aim for five and end up at three positives to negative feedback, I’m okay with that.

Pete Mockaitis
And not to dig too deep into that, but sometimes, I don’t know if this is cheating, I think about it in terms of like relationships and experiences and encounters. So, maybe the hard feedback is an unpleasant experience, but there were multiple pleasant experiences that were not necessarily feedback-related but were still cool, like, “Michael, I don’t know, gave me something, thanked me for something, made an accommodation, or asked, ‘Hey, you’re traveling, can you handle this?’” And so, that may not be feedback but it’s a positive encounter and so I think that can buffer some of the negative. I don’t know if it’s just my own spin on the research or if that’s actually the research, but that’s how I roll.

Michael Solomon
Yeah, I agree with that. There’s also the idea of sandwiching negative feedbacks where you say something positive, you say something negative, and then you end with something positive again. I know I have, earlier in my career, have been guilty of not practicing this. And I had one experience where I did a performance review, and I was very happy with the person I was reviewing but I focused on a critique, and she came back at the end and said, “Am I doing anything right?” And I was like, “Oh, my God, have I failed at conveying the big picture here.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s a handy question in terms of feedback getting the whole story.

Michael Solomon
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And how about a favorite book?

Michael Solomon
Currently reading a book called The Anatomy of Peace, which is really interesting, based on psychology and parenting.

Michael Solomon
The thesis is that you can treat people like people or you can treat them like objects, and have a different perspective when you see them in the different ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s huge. I think Arbinger Institute has a lot of good themes on that, and so true.

Michael Solomon
I think that’s actually who wrote that book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, then I’m just behind the eight ball, and I got to pick up their latest. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Michael Solomon
I love dictation for email, so the tools that I would cite for that are Siri, and then a plugin that actually somebody built for me when I was complaining, “You couldn’t dictate into Gmail other than on your phone,” so he built, a client of mine, he built a Chrome plugin that allows you to dictate into Gmail, which is called Dictation for Gmail.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, this is AI dictation? You’re speaking, it’s…

Michael Solomon
It’s me speaking and it’s transcribing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And that’s officially accurate to accelerate you.

Michael Solomon
Oh, yes. I would say 80% or 90% of my composing that way, I draft articles and books and emails. It’s my biggest timesaving hack. I can draft an email, like a serious email, walking down the street.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. All right. And how about a favorite habit?

Michael Solomon
I’m going to go with pushups. I do a hundred pushups. I’ve done that now consistently for eight years every day. I’ve missed five days in eight years. And it’s not so much that the pushups are my favorite habit. It’s the religiosity or the fervor with which I’ve committed to it and to myself that really is what I love. And I got that from an EQ training I did.

Pete Mockaitis
And is this 100 consecutive pushups?

Michael Solomon
No, it’s five sets in 20.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Solomon
But all within five minutes, so at least it’s…

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, there’s not much of a break. Okay.

Michael Solomon
No. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Michael Solomon
It’s going back to the idea I said when we talked about experiments or studies. I gave a speech a few years ago, it was for a non-profit, and I ended it by saying, “Be selfish. Help somebody else.” And I really love that concept and that nugget of the more you do for somebody else, the better you’re going to feel.

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

Michael Solomon
I’m happy to take emails directly at Michael@10XManagement.com.

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

Michael Solomon
I would say take the quiz at GameChangerTheBook.com. I think that the act of taking it will teach you something, the results will teach you something, and you can learn a lot more about us and the ideas that we were talking about today.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Michael, thanks so much for taking the time. And good luck in all the ways you’re 10xing it.

Michael Solomon
I’m trying. I got a ways to go but I got time still, I hope.

608: Finding Extreme Clarity for Better Career Fit with Tracy Timm

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Tracy Timm says: "He or she with the most clarity wins in times of major uncertainty."

Tracy Timm discusses how to define your professional value and find greater fulfillment in your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three types of fit that determine career satisfaction 
  2. Why an emphasis on job titles hurts our careers 
  3. How to get clear on your toughest decisions in one hour 

About Tracy

Tracy Timm is the founder of The Nth Degree® Career Academy, the proven career clarity system that helps high-potential professionals discover, define, and drive careers they love. She has a degree in behavioral psychology from Yale University and studied design thinking with the founder of the d.school at Stanford University. 

Tracy left a successful but unsatisfying career in finance, traveled once around the world on Semester at Sea, and discovered her ideal career. For more than five years, she has applied these lessons in her career advisory work with hundreds of individuals and over one hundred fast-growing companies. Tracy lives in Dallas, Texas. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Pitney Bowes. Simplify your shipping while saving money. Get a free 30-day trial and 10-lb shipping scale at pb.com/AWESOME.

Tracy Timm Transcript

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

Tracy Timm
I’m super pumped, man. It’s been a long time coming, some mutual friends between the two of us, and this is going to be a fun conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for your patience. It’s all my fault that it was a long time coming.

Tracy Timm
Oh, my gosh. Absolutely not. You’re a busy man.

Pete Mockaitis
We take our time when we investigate or stalk prospective guests, and, well, you came up tremendously. So, I want to hear, first of all, you have won three different national championships in two different sports. What’s the story here? What are the sports? And how did you do that?

Tracy Timm
I did not achieve that level of success again until I was a senior in college, and not in softball but, actually, I had finally got recruited at Yale to play softball, I played for two years, and then I quit the softball team to do other things and find something that I really enjoyed, and I started playing club volleyball for the team on campus but the club team not the varsity team, and we won a national championship my senior year. And, like, nobody saw it coming, it was the most random event of all time. Yeah, nobody saw the Yale volleyball team coming. But we had so much fun, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely. So, we’re talking about you’re being unstoppable in the world of careers. So, I’m curious, do you think there’s a parallel in terms of your sports championship unstoppability when it comes to being unstoppable in your career?

Tracy Timm
Oh, man. Yeah, when I was getting recruited out of college, and I was finding that a lot of companies, and you might know this already, are really interested in hiring athletes because of the background of dedication and hard work that they’ve shown in one particular area of pursuit. So, yeah, I think that there’s an element of relentlessness and grit and persistence.

And the thing that I always tell people now is, like, especially if you’re in a job where you’re doing something like sales, or you’ve got quotes, or you have to perform to a certain level, when you’re an athlete, especially, let’s say baseball or softball, success is hitting the ball three times out of ten. A 300-batting average is excellent, and anything above that we’re like, “Oh, my gosh. Can you believe it?”

But that means bad athletes go back to the dugout seven out of ten times, so you have to develop this just like skin on you that is, “You know what, three out of ten is a huge win, and if I can do a little bit more than that, I feel amazing about myself.” You get beat down a lot so, yeah, I think that there’s an element if you really want to feel unstoppable of building that muscle over time. And, certainly, being an athlete would help with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that three out of ten, I have a spreadsheet when I evaluate all these different business initiatives, and that’s just my assumption is that, “Yeah, there’s about a 30% chance this thing will work, and a 70% chance I will torch all that time and money and it will yield nothing.”

Tracy Timm
Oh, God. I’ve never thought about it like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, hey, hope your book takes off, Tracy, but…

Tracy Timm
Geez Louise, we’re going to be one of those three out of ten times this book. It’s a good book.

Pete Mockaitis
And if it isn’t, just write three more books.

Tracy Timm
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s all. That’s all, Tracy. Just do that. Well, let’s dig in a little bit in terms of so, Unstoppable: Discover Your True Value, Define Your Genius Zone, and Drive Your Dream Career. That sounds awesome. I want to hit, first of all, if anyone is feeling not so unstoppable because maybe they were laid off with COVID and they don’t know just how choosy or big dreamy they can be right now, what would you say to them?

Tracy Timm
My heart really, first and foremost, goes out to those people because we are in weird times and more than ever in, maybe, our lifetime, myself being only 32, about to turn 33, this is some of the most uncertain times that we’ve lived through at our age. But what I think we all could benefit from and take a step back and get some perspective on is that, yes, this is a kind of a weird crazy time, but, to me, the pandemic is just a reminder that life is crazy and uncertain.

And as much as we think we have control over anything going on, let alone our careers, it’s largely an illusion that we are dictating exactly where our future is going at any given time, which is not a reason to give up, but it’s a reason to maybe put where you’re going through right now into some perspective, and maybe take a little bit of the pressure off of yourself, and ask yourself, “Okay, if life is inherently uncertain, and, yes, we’ll get back to something that looks like a new normal, but I can never really depend on things the way that I used to, how am I going to respond? How am I going to react?”

And, in my business right now, what we’re seeing is that he or she with the most clarity wins in times of major uncertainty. So, when there are more people applying for the same amount of jobs and, of course, it’s going to mean more people with maybe better credentials than have ever applied for those jobs, I’m hearing crazy stories, like people with PhDs applying for jobs that don’t even require bachelor’s degrees type of thing, the question becomes, “How do I compete? Or, how do I find my way back to some semblance of clarity and confidence and certainty?”

And I think the answer has to be you have got to go back to the basics and figure out what is truly valuable about you as a professional and an individual and be able to articulate that value incredibly clearly to someone who is in the position to hire you or to employ you in some way. So, I get it, and it’s hard. It’s not easy to stare down the barrel especially if you’ve had a pretty stable existence so far, or maybe you’ve lived a very reactionary career so far, but I don’t think that those are your people. I think your people are the proactive ones who are looking for, “Okay, how do I make the most of this time? How do I bounce back better? How do I take advantage of this white space?” And it’s all about clarity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that so much because that’s been my own experience with, boy, when I get really clear, results are happening. That’s just like, boom. And I think my problem is, I’m thinking about the StrengthsFinder, Ideation and Activator are two of my top strengths, and so I just get a lot of ideas and I want to do a lot of ideas, like, “Waah!” And then, in so doing, well, not a lot of things get all the way to the done finish line. And then when I’m really clear, it’s like, “No, no, Pete, I am completely certain that this is the critical thing that needs my attention right now, and, thusly, I’m going to do it,” then some cool things start happening.

And so, that’s my experience kind of in the entrepreneurial realm. And I love what you’re saying is when you’re in job-seeking, job-hunting professional career mode, it’s powerful, well, not only because I think you can dig deep and be super impressive and dazzle people with the research you’ve done because you had a narrower field of stuff you’re going after, but, also, that you’re articulating your stuff so well, it’s just impressive, like, “Okay. Well, that’s amazing. That’s exactly what we need,” or, “You know what, that’s not what we need, but you were so clear, this other thing over here is exactly what you want. Go talk to them instead of us.” Boom!

Tracy Timm
You’re so right. You’re absolutely right.

Tracy Timm
The cool thing, too, is that leaders want that amount of clarity. Like, we’ve had multiple times where graduates of our program have gone to their bosses and said, “I did this work and I know exactly what I want to do. And here’s why I’m the best at it,” and they’re like, “I wish everyone of my people could tell me that,” because they’re playing a guessing game, “We’ve got this sort of team full of athletes, if you will, and we’re trying to figure out what positions to put them in to get the best results of the business.” And if you don’t know your value, they’re definitely not going to have absolute clarity into your value either, so it’s only mutually beneficial.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you break that into three components, they each start with D: discover, define, and drive. Can you give us a quick overview of what does that mean and how do we do some of that? And then we’ll go on in a little more depth.

Tracy Timm
Yeah, let’s do it. So, I find that what happens is a lot of people, if you were to say, like, ‘Discover comes first, define comes second, and drive comes third,” a lot of people in the midst of uncertainty, and, especially career uncertainty, jump to the third piece, which is drive. So, they start networking, and they’re all over LinkedIn, and they’re all over job boards, and they’re contacting recruiters, and they’re applying to jobs. And what they’ve done is put the cart before the horse.

So, I like to go all the way back to the beginning. When I deal with somebody who’s in any way uncertain, unclear, and unconfident in who they are as a professional, then we have to go all the way back to the beginning, we have to go all the way back to the foundation of what makes you you. So, in order to do that, we have to go through a really solid discovery process of what those individual, I’ll call them puzzle pieces, of your professional value are.

And then, once we’ve done that deep dive, that discovery part, that’s when we can transition into the define phase. So, once we’ve done all the discovery, we’ve got all your puzzle pieces, then we can set them all out on the table, create the framework for success for you, and put those puzzle pieces together properly, aka define your genius zone as a professional.

And it’s only when we’ve defined what your niche is in the world, your ideal best and highest value, what’s called your Olympic gold medal level ideal profession where you have the best chance of succeeding at the highest level, adding the most value, and getting the most in return, only then do you want to go in the drive component, which is, “Okay, now I’m going to actually take action on this. I’m going to network my tail off. I’m going to navigate with more certainty. So, I’m going to actually test drive my ideas and really explore with interest and adventure what it is that I can do, and really nourish myself along the way.”

So, yeah, I think you have to go back to the foundational components before you can really jump into the doing and the tasks, which is hard for people like me, frankly, who are like high sense of urgency, go, go, go. I have Activator and Maximizer in my top five, so I’m all about getting on the road and getting going, and 75% done is usually completely done for me, and I’m onto the next thing. So, yeah, I really encourage people to go back to the drawing board. And it may sound like starting over, but what it’s really doing is honoring all of the value that both comes naturally and easily, and from a values perspective to you, as well as that that you’ve learned and earned over time, and making sure you don’t waste any of that energy or experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. I think it makes sense in terms of, especially if it’s like, “Uh-oh, income has disappeared. I need that stat. So, that path through that is get a job. So, where are the jobs? I want to go after the jobs.” So, it’s natural as sort of an apparent knee-jerk reaction but I’m right with you that for it to be the most enjoyable, lucrative, complementary job, you’re going to have to do some of that discover and define stuff. So, how do we go about doing this discovering of our true value?

Tracy Timm
Yeah. So, I find that, you know, when I first started my business, my story goes all the way back to the fact that I graduated with a degree in psychology that I loved, but then I had no idea how to apply that professionally. I didn’t know how to translate that desire and interest and learning something into a role that I would do day in and day out, that I wouldn’t get bored with, and so I did it all wrong.

My first job out of college was on Wall Street, and I ended up being miserable and quitting that job, and traveling around the world, and spent every last time I had, and all that stuff. And so, one day, I just remember sitting down, the truth of it is I got fired from a job that was a horrible fit for me, and I was like, “Okay, self, like if this thing doesn’t work, like, what do you really want? Like, who do you have a heart to serve? And what problem do you want to solve for them? And who do you think about when you’re falling asleep? What is the thing that’s just on your heart?”

And, for me, it was that person that I was years before that who had all this potential that was just like bundled up inside and looking for a route out, looking for the thing in the world that you could go just slay at, right?

So, it took me three years to develop this methodology, and I was coaching people on the side, I was working as a human capital advisor.

And so, over that three years, I was discovering what elevates a person from an employee. So, let’s just say you’re an asset, you’re a line item on a spreadsheet, you’re having to justify your paycheck every two weeks, to, “What takes that person and elevates them from that to an asset?” Because once you’re an asset, you are irreplaceable. We’ve worked with all those people, where you’re like, “Oh, my God. How could we do business without Kim? Like, does someone else in the world have Kim’s job?” Probably. “Does someone else in the world have Kim’s sort of pedigree or whatever?” Definitely. But there’s something about Kim in that role, in that company, with that team that makes her unstoppable.

So, the magic combination I’ve found is three things. There are three specific ways you can fit into a company and three specific ways that a role can really be a deep fit for you, and if you have all three, then you become that asset in that area.

So, the first three steps are now, nature, and nurture, and this is exactly the formula that you need to discover what your niche is in the world, or your true value as a professional. The now component is made up of your core values and your commitments to yourself and your lifestyle, and that equates to what type of culture fit you’re going to be in a company. So, now is kind of your culture fit.

The second puzzle piece, or handful of puzzle pieces if you might say, is I call it nature. And so, nature is your personality, your gifts, your behaviors, your talents, and even your aptitudes, things that just come naturally and easily to you. And that’s how you become a strong behavioral fit in an environment, or a company, or a role.

And the last set of puzzle pieces I call nurture, and nurture is everything else. It’s what your cumulative life experiences have taught you. So, it’s education, it’s work experience, it’s even things in our 30-day program we call your ninja skills. So, that’s, “What did you learn from travel? And what did you learn from your hobbies? And what did you learn from your extracurriculars and volunteering?” All of that adds value as a professional person, and so you’ve got to write those things down and articulate what those values are. It’s skills, it’s knowledge, it’s expertise.

And if you stack those three items on top of one another, so the foundation is now, it’s your core values, and then you layer on how you’re naturally good in that area, and you layer on top of that what you’ve learned or studied or practiced or experienced, then, and only then, do you become this sort of Olympic-level athlete at your job. And then we can say, “Okay, if you’re Usain Bolt, then we know exactly the one event on the track that’s perfect for you. If you’re Michael Phelps, we know exactly the one event in the pool that’s perfect for you to win the most gold medals,” in this case, to achieve at the highest level, to have success, to have it sustainably, and to become an asset in a business, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, as opposed to a liability or just an employee.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if the now leads to a cultural fit in the organization, and the nature of the nature leads to behavioral fit in the organization, what does the nurture kind of fit lead to?

Tracy Timm
Job fit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, job fit.

Tracy Timm
That’s like, “Do you have the skills or the knowledge or the expertise to do the thing that you’re required to do?” And if you have all three, the cool thing is that you know how to do it, it comes to you also without having to work as hard as someone else, and you deeply value it so you’re likely to work harder at it than anyone else, and that’s the magic. It’s sort of amplifies or, what’s the word, exponentiates, makes exponential, your value because it’s layered so deeply into who you really are in all of those different areas.

Pete Mockaitis
What I think is intriguing here is that, I mean, you can be in roles that have zero out of three, or one out of three, two out of three, or three out of three. They kind of go all the way up and down. And so, I’d imagine that the flavor of discontentment you’re experiencing, if you will, would be kind of distinct in terms of, like, “I’m in over my head and have no idea how to do the things that they’re asking me to do,” would be we don’t have that nurture job fit in play.

Tracy Timm
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “You know, hey, man, I dig the way we work it but, I mean, who cares?” So, in terms of like, “I don’t think that the world really needs us to exist in it, and it wouldn’t be any worse off if it didn’t, but, you know, I like my coworkers and I could do the job, I can fly all over those spreadsheets like nobody’s business.”

Tracy Timm
And you know how insidious that is, right? It’s how people get stuck in these jobs that really aren’t serving them or allowing them to serve, it’s that there’s just enough. There’s just enough good about it, or, “I’m just good enough,” or, “I just got another promotion,” or, “I just got another raise, which is telling me that I’m good at this thing, and telling me that the world needs it,” but at the end of the day, you’re like, “Really? Is this what I do, the widgets? Is that what I’m going to be all about?” And that’s what keeps people up at night, but it’s really hard to break away from that without clear evidence that that’s what you’re supposed to do. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And could you maybe give us an example of, “Hey, here’s a person, maybe it’s a client, and how, hey, here are some things about their now, about their nature, about their nurture, that landed perfectly in a role, and it’s just as resonant and harmoniously beautiful”?

Tracy Timm
Yes. Okay. So, I’ll give you the first one that came to mind because I ended up hiring her. This is how perfect this was, and it just goes to show you that you may not think that your dream job exists, but I guarantee you, if you’re specific enough and you’re talking to the right people, it does. Just because you don’t know about it, doesn’t mean it’s not out there. It’s one of those cases if you don’t know until you know, or you can’t know what you don’t know, right?

So, about a year ago, I had a woman come through our program who told me, it’s one of my favorite stories to tell because we saved her so much money, she was like, “Okay, Tracy, I’m 99% sure I have this 10-year plan where I’m going to go back to school and I’m going to finish my bachelor’s degree,” because she had a degree in Fine Arts, she didn’t have a proper sort of bachelor’s, “And then I’m going to go work in a school environment for a few years so I can get some experience under my belt. And then I’m going to go get my guidance counselling degree, so that eventually, 10 years from now,” after what they had decided as a family and they’ve calculated was $70,000 of college tuition and 10 years of work and/or college experience, she could finally be, ta-dah, a high school guidance counselor.

She’s 99% sure and I was like, “What’s the 1%?” She’s like, “I don’t know if I’m going to like it perfectly. Like, I know that I have a heart to serve people in transition, in transformation, and the underserved, and I think it’s this cohort of people, but I’m not 100% sure.” So, the more I pushed her, the more it’s like, “I’m like 50% sure this is right, not 99% sure.” I think she just convinced herself. So, I said, “Listen, make one percentage point of an investment with me to see if this is 100% what you want to pursue. And then if you are going to eliminate your husband’s 401K and go back to school, and yadda, yadda, yadda, and spend the next 10 years, you know that it’s right for you, you know that you’re not sort of putting good money after bad.”

So, she goes through the program. Within three weeks, so we’d only gotten through now and nature basically, we realized that her nature, she has an extremely low amount of formality naturally, like she’s really great at dealing with ambiguity, which is great, but if there’s a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of red tape, a lot of unnecessary structure in the way of how things get done, she gets really frustrated, really overwhelmed, and it doesn’t really work well for her, which may sound, on the face of it, like, “Oh, this person is unemployable,” if you’re out there thinking, “You can’t do my job like that.”

That may be true but there are definitely environments where that type of personality is really useful when you’re having to work with somebody through an ambiguous situation where you’re going to have to show confidence when they don’t see the end goal or results, and you have to handhold them through that process. It’s a really valuable thing to have if you’re working in an environment of uncertainty. That’s not a valuable thing to have if you work in a high school.

So, within three weeks, we knew exactly that this was a horrible decision that she and her family had made, so we saved them $70,000. She unenrolled, from school, because she had already started like potentially taking classes. And by the end of what was then an eight-week program, which is now a 30-day program, we realized that actually what she wanted to be was a career coach, which is kind of funny. The answer is not necessarily in the title. It just so happened that when we combined her now and her nature and her nurture, her niche was all about serving people through ambiguity, who are going through some type of transition or transformation, with deep emotionality and empathy.

And what was great is that I hired her almost on the spot. It was really funny. We’re in the middle of a workshop, and I was like, “Oh, I think I have an idea. We should talk about it later because there are other people around.” And she was my very first coach that I ever hired and trained to facilitate our programs. And the reason that I felt so confident hiring her without her ever having coached, ever, she doesn’t have a certification, she doesn’t have any of it, she consistently gets tens our tens from our clients because she’s naturally empathetic, so that goes under the nature column, and communicative, and thoughtful, and emotional.

She deals really well in ambiguity, so when our clients are like, “I don’t know if this is going to work,” she’s like, “Borrow my confidence. You got this,” and handholds them through the process. She has a theater arts background so she can actually mirror emotionality, and she knows how to show up for people in a way where they feel like they’re the only person in the room, and it’s not fake. It’s her training. She’s learned how to do that. And then her value set is all around serving people and allowing them to reach their fullest potential.

And so, there were all these really cool puzzle pieces that I would say the average maybe leader or manager wouldn’t necessarily put together, but because we put her niche together, together, I was able to see how these seemingly disparate qualities, from now to nature to nurture, actually complemented one another in such a way that it set her up to be successful in that role without her actually ever having physically done that role before. So, all I needed to do was teach her the program, and that was the last puzzle piece we needed from a nurture perspective. But her facilitating the program came easily because of the theater arts background, because she had actually led and managed people previously, again, all in different scenarios, but it was 100% transferable to working for me.

She tells me at least once a week, “I’m doing like my soul’s work. This is my dream job.” And it’s just so cool that I get to see that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’ve zeroed in. So, that’s the discover phase there that we’ve done, those three Ns?

Tracy Timm
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do we define the genius zone?

Tracy Timm
There are a couple ways to go about this. It’s kind of like personality and background and core values math in a sense.

When you go into define, the goal is to figure out how all those things come together and complement one another. So, one of the ways I like to do this is think about like a triple Venn diagram in your mind’s eye, so you’ve got now at the top, nature on the bottom left, and nurture on the bottom right. And what we’re looking for is the nexus in the middle. Where do those three things overlap? I find that the easiest way to do that is to just pick a value, so like pick one datapoint in your now piece, and ask yourself, “Where does this value show up for me in my nature? Is it a part of my personality? Is it a part of my natural behavior set? Is it a part of my gifting? Is it a part of my talents?”

And then ask yourself, “Now, what have I added from nurture to make myself even more dangerous in that area?” So, if I have a personal core value of caring for people, caring for others is like one of my top five core values, and then in my nature, I’m naturally an empathetic person who’s thoughtful, who’s socially-oriented, who’s outgoing, who’s really good at persuading, or whatever. And then, also, in my nurture, I have been in Toastmasters and practiced speaking and the power of persuasion. And in my nurture, I have gone through a transition and a transformation myself. And, let’s say, maybe that transition is I’m recovering from an addiction of some sort. And I can talk from my own experience, and I can be really incredibly powerful and articulate in helping people through that process themselves.

Well, hot damn, now we’re cooking with grease because we naturally care about it, it comes more easily than it does for most people, and you’ve put in some time to really gain skills and knowledge and expertise in that area. And then the goal is just to do that over and over and over again for each core value. And if you’ve got, let’s say, seven to 10 core values, which is what most of us have at any given time, then you’ve got seven to 10 core components of your ideal profession. And so, we just need to weave that into a narrative, it gets really powerful. That’s where you can start to really powerfully articulate your value and define your niche in the world.

Sans job title. I was just on a panel earlier today, and this woman was like, “Listen, the answer is not a job title.” Just like the answer to ‘who your life partner is’ is not their name. They have a name, your dream job has a title, but the reason that they’re your dream person is all the qualities that make up that job. And I think we need to reframe looking for careers like that. If we can describe the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our dream job, that’s so much more powerful than account manager or sales representatives. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, it’s like, “I want to be a business analyst.” Like, maybe you do. Because even the title, I think that’s a great distinction because that title can mean wildly different things to different organizations.

Tracy Timm
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And, like, one organization’s business analyst is your nirvana, and the other organization’s business analyst is your hell, even though you might still be fiddling with Excel in both of them.

Tracy Timm
You’re absolutely right, Pete. I think you’re spot on. That’s the difference, and that puts you back in the driver’s seat, because if you can articulate your value that way, then you’re never beholden to someone else defining you, or someone else saying, “Oh, this is what you’re talking about.” Well, no, because you know, “Actually, it’s not this. It’s that.” And you know why and you’ve done the hard work to back up that answer.

We just graduated a girl a month ago who, two weeks, after she graduated, had competing offers for a job that she had been reticent to apply for because she didn’t think she had the experience or the accreditation to actually be chosen. Not only did she, she just needed to build the confidence that she did via the experience she already had, and she had competing offers within two weeks of graduating. And now she said she’s making $14,000 more a year, she’s working at a dream company, she’s able to leverage those offers against one another for better benefits and more flexibility, and their family is on like a whole new trajectory all because of confidence.

It’s just crazy to me. It’s not easy. It’s hard work. But I think it’s simple. I think the math is simple when you break it down.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve called it math, and I was intrigued when you zeroed in precisely. It’s like, “Well, we have seven to 10 core values at any given time.” It’s like, “That’s okay. Let’s dig into that,” because there’s a number of ways we could define that. You tell me, what do you mean by a core value and how do we figure out those seven to 10?

Tracy Timm
Yeah, okay. So, I have sort of my favorite process for figuring out my core values every year, and this is how we teach it in our 30-day breakthrough program. So, what I like to do is I call it the 10, 20, 30 core values brain storm. So, for 10 minutes, what you want to do is just think of all the things in your life that really move the needle for you. And some good questions to stir the brainstorming process for that are, “Where do I find joy? What lights me up? What makes me feel good? What gets me excited? What do I need to live a good life? Who do I need to be to be a good person in my own eyes?” It’s all about your core values, not anybody else’s. And if you’re going to take the time to do this, please rid yourself of the expectations of other people, at least for these 10 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was going to say, to that point, so feel good, hey, I love positivity, but I think we might also say feel bad, like, “Hey, where do you feel guilty because you know you have failed to live up to something that matters to you?” With that asterisk that matters to you, as opposed to, “Oh, I feel bad because I didn’t call my mom enough,” and I kind of do that, but it’s not because of her expectations, because I really respect and appreciate all she’s done for me, and I love her, and I want to be the person who is a great friend and son, and grateful and giving to her. Hi, mom. She listens.

Tracy Timm
Oh, hi, mom.

Pete Mockaitis
So, yeah, I guess it’s not so much because of my mom is disappointed or upset with me, but it’s because it’s, no, that’s who I want to be, and I’m often not being that.

Tracy Timm
Yup, I think that’s really powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I feel some guilt associated with that.

Tracy Timm
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we dig in a happy place, and then also, in the guilty place, so long as it’s purely your guilt and not inflicted from another party.

Tracy Timm
Yeah. Well, you can go to another level which is what pisses you off.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, yeah.

Tracy Timm
Like, what’s the thing where you’re like, “Why don’t more people signal when they’re turning right? What does that mean to me?”

Pete Mockaitis
And that gives you so much insight too in terms of, boy, like if it’s a movie or a book or just something you heard someone do, or a news article, it’s like, “This is filling me with such joy and delight. Why?” or, “This is making me super angry. Why?” And that can point you to a value. But continue. So, we have 10, 20, 30. So, we’re starting with some questions for 10 minutes. We ponder.

Tracy Timm
Correct. And just get it all out and don’t judge it. So, it doesn’t need to be one-word values, and they don’t need to be like life-affirming. The last time I did it, one of the first two things that I wrote were warm kitten cuddles because I have two cats that I absolutely adore. And then the second one that I wrote was a bar where the bartenders know my name. Like, I like the idea of having a home bar, of having like people know you, of being part of a neighborhood. And so, those are what I wrote. I didn’t over-analyze them. I didn’t ask, like, “What’s the deeper value here?” I just wrote the thing, the thing that brings me joy, or the thing that makes me feel good, right? So, that’s the first 10 minutes. Don’t judge it. It’s brain dump. Get it all out.

The second part, for 20 minutes, is this is when you go and actually find a list of core values, and you either print them out on a piece of paper, or you look at them on a spreadsheet, and you’re circling every single one that resonates with you. All of them. And this is your opportunity to fill in the gaps. So often, the first 10 minutes, maybe you forgot something, or you had a mental block on some area of your life that actually really is important. This is where we’re actually going to find inspiration from the words themselves as opposed to try to pull the inspiration out of ourselves, if that makes sense. So, 10 minutes of brain dump, 20 minutes of reading words and circling them.

Pete Mockaitis
And these are the words that you dumped.

Tracy Timm
No, this is a whole additional set of words, so it’ll probably be complementary. So, the things that came naturally to you that you just dumped out of your brain might not be in these perfect value words.

Pete Mockaitis
And where do I find this value word list?

Tracy Timm
I use CoreValuesList.com. yeah, it’s not my own. It’s just 500 words.

Pete Mockaitis
CoreValuesList.com. Thank you.

Tracy Timm
You know what, it’s really funny. Enough people have asked me that that I should make my own page TracyTimm.com/CoreValues. But, heaven, I’m so lazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you might be able to put some flavor on it. Like, if they’ve got 500 pieces of raw material, you can do some categorizing and, you know, I don’t know.

Tracy Timm
I like that. I like it a lot. Well, so, now you jumped the gun on me because step number three is categorizing. At this point, you’re probably going to have 50, 100, 150 words or phrases, either written down, I like to do mine in a spreadsheet because then I can just move them easily. But the goal now is to look at your words and start grouping them in groups that are similar. So, if you looked through all your words, and you’re like, “Okay. Well, I have a lot that are on sort of health and wellness. It’s all different words, like, vitality and strength and everything else having to do with health and wellbeing, and it sort of falls into that category, and that’s what it is. That’s the value. That’s the underlying value of these words or phrases.”

The 30 minutes that you’re spending is getting your massive chunk of words down to 10 or less groups,
10 or less. Because if you have more than 10, it’s way too many cooks in the kitchen. If you have less than seven, I would argue that you’re not specific enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Tracy Timm
Yeah. And that’s how you figure out your core values. And what I like to do is, at the end of the hour, 10, 20, 30, at the end of the hour, look at your groups and give them names that resonate with you. If that’s just words then it’s just words for you. If it’s phrases, then give them like a really strong powerful phrase. I’ve had clients do mythical characters or historical figures, so they picked like George Washington was their whole category is, let’s say, honesty or whatever, and that’s really what resonates for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Self-sacrifice. George Washington. What a guy.

Tracy Timm
Right. Hardworking and whatever, yeah. But how powerful is George Washington as a value for that person because of the image that it conjures, and how much more powerful is it then hardworking or honest or self-sacrifice?

Pete Mockaitis
Like, generous. You’re right, it stirs something in you because you’re like, “Man, when I was listening to 1776, like, this dude was wow, you know.”

Tracy Timm
Yeah. And core values are only as powerful as you make them, right? So, it’s these platitudes that you put on the wall and you don’t ever use, and the words don’t even resonate with you. Why are you laughing so hard?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now you got me thinking. It’s fun. You’re right. Like, you get to be you and expressive, and so now I’m thinking of myself. Like, as a child, one of my…well, I guess I still play it today a couple times a year. There’s this strategy game called Master of Orion, super dorky, on a computer.

Tracy Timm
All right.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it launched me into strategy consulting and strategic thinking stuff.

Tracy Timm
I love this, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if I were to sort of play this game, but that’s also important to me, it’s like using resources well, like, being a good steward of them. I also just enjoy it, like strategically optimizing, like, “Hmm.”

Tracy Timm
Oh, totally. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you could put that as one of my values is that I am the Master of Orion.

Tracy Timm
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Which is so dorky, which is why I’m laughing. It’s so dorky but, to me, it is very meaningful.

Tracy Timm
It’s so accurate.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, I know what that means and I want to be that.

Tracy Timm
And I want to be that. Exactly. I got to tell you. The best ones are the people who are creative that’s because I’m a creative person. I find the ones that resonates really powerfully for people, they actually go that extra mile, and it’s this uber specific thing that only they understand but it fully encompasses the value, if that makes sense.

One of my absolute favorites was this girl, she was one of our workshop participants a while back, and she was like, “One of my core values is ‘Welcome to my party.’” And she said it just like that, “Welcome to my party,” and I was like, “I’m sorry. What?” And she’s like, “It’s this one specific memory I have where I hosted this incredible party, and so many people came and I was so engaged as the host that I lost my voice. And so, by the end of the night, I was like, ‘Welcome to my party.’” And she said people made fun of her forever, but what it encapsulated for her was this sense of like providing a space for people to have a great time, and how much energy she got from that, and how much joy she got from that, and she loved being in charge. So, it’s actually a more complex value but it was so perfect for her that it’s Master of Orion for you. It’s fabulous. I love that. So, I think that’s how you do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if I may, can I put you on the spot, drop it on us, your seven to 10 core values in all of their unique flavors?

Tracy Timm
You want to know them?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Tracy Timm
All right. You know what, you’re so lucky, Pete, I actually have these up on a spreadsheet all the time because I like to refer back to them whenever I’m making decisions. This is the cheat code for life. If you have your core values figured out ahead of time, and someone says, “Hey, do you want so-and-so to potentially be your business partner and make an investment and take 50% of your business?” or somebody is like, “Hey, would you consider even coming to this event that I have to go to later tonight or do you need to go take care of your mom?” or, “Hey, do you want to spend your money on this vacation or do you want to spend your money over here?”

If you already have your values figured out ahead of time, it is the equivalent of a life-easy button because you can look at your core values, and you can go, “Ugh, that doesn’t even fit number one. Out.” You don’t have to lose sleep. You don’t have to be overly-emotional about it. It’s amazing. So, literally, I pull these out all the time. Like, I was entertaining a potential business partner earlier this year, and my gut was telling me, like, “Uh-oh, I don’t know. Don’t you want to be Sara Blakely and own 100% of SPANX? And do you really want to give this away?” And it was all ego-driven, right? It was all sort of in-the-moment, emotional, reaction and response.

And then when I actually wrote, I literally did this, Pete, I wrote my core values in the middle of a piece of paper, and then on the left, I put a pro column, and then on the right, I put a con column, and then anything that this…if saying yes to this partnership produced a pro that had to do with core value number one, I had to write it on the left, but if it produced a con, I’d write it on the right. And by the time I was done, I had five to seven pros for every con on the other side, and I was like, “Oh, the better version of me who deeply thought about what mattered ahead of time is telling this current ego-driven emotional version of me, ‘Hey, dummy, you already did the hard work. Why are you thinking about this so hard? It makes sense. Let’s move forward.’” And it made me feel so much better about my decision.

Okay. So, my top 10 core values. Number one is “deeply in tune” which is feeling divine, grateful, faithful, and hopeful, so it’s kind of how I live my faith. I’m Catholic so I’m pretty into that. But even beyond that, it’s like, “Am I listening? Am I grateful? Am I thoughtful about my career decisions? Am I hopeful about the future? Do I feel aligned?” Number two is “it takes a village.” This is a new one this year because Tracy Timm was rowing the business canoe alone for about five years, and my arms got real tired, so “it takes a village” is feeling supported, loved, comforted, and connected. If I’m living those two values, then I also get to live my third value, they’re all in a row, which I highly advise people do, my third value is “in my element” which is feeling confident, capable, masterful, and impactful. So, if I’m deeply in tune, and I have the right people on my team, I get to be in my element more often than not.

Which then, if I’m in my element, I get to be number four, which is “fully alive,” so that’s feeling excited, eager, adventurous, and awake. Being awake is such an important word to me because I feel like I lived a good portion of my life as a zombie, and I don’t want that for myself or anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
I can’t help but tie together Catholic and fully alive with Saint Irenaeus. Oh, my God, was this man fully alive. That’s one of my faves.

Tracy Timm
Thank you for that. Oh, my gosh. I feel so affirmed. Yes, love it. So, if I’m fully alive then I get to be number five which is “in the moment.” And, for me, in the moment means engrossed, and aware, and connected, and kind of full of wonder. Like, I tend to be the kind of anxious fearful person more than I am the full of awe and wonder person, but I really aspire to that value so that’s why that’s my fifth value.

Number six was a personal sort of plea for myself at the beginning of the year. Number six is “less is more,” and that was feeling uncluttered and organized, synergistic and prosperous. So, how could I eliminate to create more? And I told myself, by the end of the year, that meant that I was going to commit to like Marie Kondo-ing/home-editing my world, and I’ve made like baby steps in that direction but it’s only September, so we’re going to get there.

Seven is “serenity pool.” Have you ever floated in one of those float chambers?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve wanted to but I haven’t done it yet.

Tracy Timm
It’s worth it. I wouldn’t do it for longer than 45 minutes. I got a little antsy and bored by the end of it, but the first 30 is just like, “This is heaven.” So, serenity pool for me is feeling light, and peaceful, and balanced, and harmonious, and putting enough in my life to create that on purpose. Number eight is “vitality or bust,” which speaks a lot to me because I need to give myself good strong boundaries. So, vitality or bust is way better than feeling fit, or whatever. It’s like, “No, you’re going to do this.” And so, that’s feeling strong, fit, energy-rich, and energy-giving.

And then the last two are “keep going,” which is something I have to tell myself basically every day, which is feeling determined, dedicated, resilient, and resourceful. And then the last one is called “living inside out,” which, to me, means being authentic, being heard, being understood, and being genuine in that exchange with people. So, wow, I’ve just laid it all out there. It is bare.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. I appreciate it. And it shows, I mean, the vulnerability and the realness, and like straight up, that’s what really matters to you. There it is.

Tracy Timm
It is, and I put in the work to figure that out. And it took about an hour or two hours to do. I do it once a year in January, my whole team does it in January. We get together and we sort of go over and what’s everyone’s values for the year. It’s part of our annual meeting so that I know what my people care about, and they know what I care about. And so, if we’re showing up to work, we’re there to do our jobs but it also serves our own values.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I love it. We’ve talked about values a few times on the show but I don’t know if we ever quite got this raw and precise.

Tracy Timm
Nice. I’m glad.

Pete Mockaitis
So, kudos and thank you. Glad we went there.

Tracy Timm
Thanks for asking the question. That’s all you.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for getting there. All right. Well, let’s see, wow so much good stuff. I asked, hey, drive, I mean, there’s plenty of tips on that but go ahead and lay it on us, one or two tips, tactics, that just rock when it comes when you’re actually the job hunting?

Tracy Timm
I have two for you. Once you know your niche, well, now you just got to put your vision into action. And there are two things that I think we don’t do enough of that everyone should be doing if you’re in the process of discovering your ideal career or making any type of professional transition or transformation whatsoever.

Number one is, our maxim in the business is 10 minutes in front of a human being is worth 10 hours of online research. So, if you aren’t actively speaking to other human beings about your niche, about what you’re pursuing, about what it looks like, the who, what, when, where, why, describing it to them, talking to them about your transition, anything, if you are going back to the fear of living behind the computer screen, which I know it’s easy for us to do, especially us millennials, shame on us, right, we forgot how to talk to humans, you are wasting time. Categorically wasting time. Ten minutes in front of a human being is so much more of a dynamic engagement and interaction that could not be replaced with 10 hours of Googling and job boards and LinkedIn updates and things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And when you spend that time, you suddenly have so much richer stuff to Google, it’s like, “I’ve never heard of that company. It sounds amazing.

Tracy Timm
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
And then that time you spend, it just has a whole different energy to it, like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t wait to learn about this thing. It sounds amazing,” as opposed to, “So, what are some business analyst opportunities in the Chicago area?”

Tracy Timm
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe that is the appropriate thing to look for but it’d be great if you had that gusto and that certainty from having tapped into someone else’s brilliance.

Tracy Timm
Well, yeah, because, remember, this is How to be Awesome at Your Job, not How to be Mediocre at Life. So, if you want to be awesome, talk to other people who can show you, “Okay, yeah, you’re almost there. But if you want all the things you want in a job, you should be looking here. This is what you’re really describing. And it lives here and it exists here, and it’s called this,” which is not something that Google is ever going to autocorrect you for, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Tracy Timm
So, that’s number one, we call that network. That’s step one in sort of this drive part of the process, and it’s everybody’s least favorite part, like nobody wants to “network” because they think it’s awkward and they’re going to talk to people they don’t know, and 99 times out of 100, you have a preexisting amazing network that you’re just not tapping. They want to help but they don’t know how to help you, they don’t know what you want, and all they need you to do is go to them and tell them what you want. It’s brilliant. But you have to ask.

And so then, the second piece of advice in drive I call “navigate,” which is really just a fancy way to say test drive your options, like have an informational interview, go shadow someone, do not be the person that accepts a job, or applies for a job without knowing what you’re getting yourself into. Like, investigate what you’re pursuing. Inspect what you expect. And the easiest way to do that is to test drive your assumptions.

And the only thing that keeps us from doing that is we’re afraid to be wrong 100% of the time. It’s like, “Oh, well. But if I just accept this then my job search is done, and I can wash my hands of this and I’ll be happy. I’m sure of it.” And every time I’ve done that, I’ve been ignoring a blaring siren red flag going, “This thing is not in alignment with your core values,” or, “This thing is going to make you turn your nature inside out,” or, “This thing is going to make you feel like you’re in over your head all the time. And even though you’re a fast learner, it’s not going to be fun for you.”

So, test drive your options and assumptions. And I listened to another woman today talk about this, and she was like, “Be curious. Have fun with it. It’s not a right or wrong, live or die, type of thing. It’s be curious. Ask the follow-up question. Follow somebody around. Ask about their day-to-day.” And the things that you learn from that navigation component of the job search they will either affirm to you that this is going to be life-giving and wonderful, or they will allow you to dodge the unnecessary bullet more often than not.

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

Tracy Timm
My call to action is whenever I’m uncertain about things, especially life and career things, I like to go back to logic and reason and what I know to be true. Like, what ultimate truth is there? And my favorite anecdote about this that really spurs me to action anytime I’m afraid to try something, or anytime I’m afraid to really go for something, is that I met this guy on Semester at Sea, who’s a professor of psychology, and he taught me. I was just in the pits of despair.

And I was so deeply unhappy with my career at that point, and I asked him, like, “Listen, is this just how it has to be? Do I just have to suck it up? Is this what work is? It pays well, so I guess I get to have a lifestyle that’s nice, that’s fun. But 12 hours a day, five days a week, I’m pretty unhappy. Is that just how it has to be? Or, should I go for it? Should I actually try to find…?” because even then I didn’t know what it was, but I was like, “Should I go try to figure it out?” And he was like, “Tracy, it is always worth it to take your meaningful shot for the stars because the way that our brain processes regrets is that you will regret infinitely more something that you didn’t do than something that you did and failed at.”

Those are the only things you can regret, one is called regrets, or sins of omission, that’s the thing you didn’t do, and the other one is a sense of commission, that’s the things you did wrong. And the reason that you regret things you didn’t do infinitely more is because there’s no answer, and your brain is looking for the end of the story. It’s looking for what happened as a result of that action. But because you didn’t do anything, there is no result. There are, in fact, though, an infinite number of potential results, the what-ifs, and the would’ve-beens, and things like that, that literally haunt us, and have the opportunity to haunt us our whole lives not because we regret it inherently more but because our brain is looking for that solution.

So, if you’re out there on the fence, and you’re like, “How do I be awesome?” live a regret-free life, and go for the things you want. And if nothing else convinces you to do it, let the logic of the fact that you’re never going to regret failing at something more than you’re going to regret wondering what would’ve happened. That’s one my favorite pieces of advice.

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

Tracy Timm
The first is the one that I discovered most recently which is Einstein, which is, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life feeling stupid.” That was my very first job out of college. I was a really hardworking fish, climbing a really big tree, and feeling like, “Why isn’t this working?” And I think a lot of people feel that way. And if that’s you, get yourself out of that. The other is, “Don’t ask what the world needs? Ask yourself what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is people who’ve come back to life,” and that’s Howard Thurman. And that’s really what is one of the cornerstones of our business core values, it’s like, “Let’s bring people back to life.”

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

Tracy Timm
I think my favorite psychological phenomenon that’s been studied a lot is cognitive dissonance. So, it’s the idea that your body and your mind cannot exist for very long at odds with one another, which means if you believe something but you behave in a different way, then something has to give. Either you have to change your behavior or you have to change your beliefs.

And I’m of the belief that a lot of people are suffering for longer than they have to, because instead of changing their behavior, whether it’s in their life or their career or anywhere else in their life really, they haven’t changed their behavior, they’ve convinced themselves of a different set of beliefs, and so they’re suffering longer because, really, deep down, they don’t believe that. They’ve only made it logical or reasonable to explain away their behavior. So, cognitive dissonance, I think, is huge, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m about to ask you for a favorite book. I’m currently reading Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) about cognitive dissonance, which is amazing. I recommend it. What’s a favorite book that you’d recommend?

Tracy Timm
Well, Unstoppable, the career book for you, and please go check that out UnstoppableCareerBook.com. I’d appreciate it. But if you’re not going to read my book, I would highly recommend that you read, maybe in addition, this book, it’s a total throwaway coffee table book but it was a game changer for me, it’s called If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules, and it’s by Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott.

And she wrote it originally as a list of like eight rules for living that was published in the very first Chicken Soup for the Soul, and then Jack Canfield tracked her down and said, “I know you wrote this. Can I attribute this to you?” because in the original printing, it was anonymous. And because of that conversation, she was inspired to write the book where she explains each of the rules in detail. So, each of the rules for living comes with like four or five different virtues that when you sort of master those virtues, you’ve mastered that rule for living. It’s powerful. It’s really powerful.

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

Tracy Timm
TracyTimm.com. In fact, I’m going to go ahead, for your audience, create a little landing page, TracyTimm.com/awesome is where you can go, and you can get all kinds of freebies there specifically if this is resonating with you. You can book time with somebody on our team to just talk about what’s not working in your career, and we can help you get on the right path, and that’s absolutely free. So, TracyTimm.com/awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tracy, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your unstoppable adventures.

Tracy Timm
Thank you so much, Pete. I just appreciate what you’re doing for the world, and I know everybody out there, I don’t know how they don’t adore you. You’re an absolute treat. So, thank you so much for having me.

600: Scientific Strategies to Make Learning Stick with Sanjay Sarma and Luke Yoquinto

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Sanjay Sarma and Luke Yoquinto say: "Be an extreme learner. Treat learning like it's a mountain to climb."

Sanjay Sarma and Luke Yoquinto share practical insights on how to optimize your learning.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three simple tactics that drastically improve how we learn
  2. Why you want the learning process to be difficult
  3. How to get into the optimal mental state for learning

About Sanjay and Luke

Sanjay Sarma is the head of Open Learning at MIT. A professor of mechanical engineering by training, he has worked in the fields of energy and transportation; computational geometry; computer assisted design; and has been a pioneer in RFID technology. He has an undergraduate degree from IIT Kanpur as well as advanced degrees from Carnegie Mellon and UC Berkeley.

Luke Yoquinto is a science writer who covers learning and education, as well as aging and demographic change in his role as a researcher at the MIT AgeLab. His work can be found in publications such as The Washington Post, Slate, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. He is a graduate of Boston University’s science journalism program.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Sanjay Sarma and Luke Yoquinto Interview Transcript

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

Sanjay Sarma
Thanks very much.

Luke Yoquinto
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. So, maybe we’ll just go right off the bat. What’s the big idea behind the book Grasp?

Sanjay Sarma
Well, the big idea is that we, today, in learning, need to focus more on access and more on making content cognitively friendly, and we sort of have it backwards. We make stuff cognitively unfriendly, perhaps not intentionally, and then we struggle with access and inclusion, and we end up sort of weeding people out of the system.

Luke Yoquinto
And, in fact, we could go so far as to say all the things we do to “identify talent” sometimes can step on the cognitive process instead of make learning happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. So, can you share an example in terms of some cognitively unfriendly practices that we may be better off without?

Sanjay Sarma
Well, there’s a myriad. I mean, one very simple one is every lecture is 45 minutes, half an hour, an hour, and we bag our finger at a student who seems to lose interest. But, in fact, the way the brain works, you’re really taught to absorb material for more than 10 minutes or so, right there, right off the bat. And then we, for example, keep forgetting as something this learner, it’s their fault. Whereas, forgetting is very central to all of learning.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I’m intrigued. So, 10 minutes, already so much I want to dig into. And so, what’s sort of the best practice then? After 10 minutes, is there sort of a break or refresher or a mental pallet cleanser you’d recommend? Or what’s sort of the best practice?

Sanjay Sarma
Well, after 10 minutes, there are so many things you can do, but the first thing is, take a break. But then the other thing you want to do is actually do something called a testing effect. It turns out that if you’ve learned in the last 10 minutes, and if you personalize it a little bit, and say, “Well, now, what did you learn Pete? What is that? What does that promote?” It promotes learning. And then you can start the next chunk. Well, then there’s other stuff. Maybe, Luke, you can talk about that.

Luke Yoquinto
Yeah. The testing effect is sort of a big theme that comes up in the book. There’s something called the effortful retrieval, which is a major boon to long-term remembering. One of the key researchers we talked to for the book are Robert and Elizabeth Bjork, and they have really intriguing set of practices around retrieval and metacognition. And, basically, one of the big ideas is that when you forget an item to be remembered, it’s not just being lost to you. What’s happening is all the competing misconceptions and confusing little ideas around that item are also being forgotten. And then when you re-remember that item, the true memory, without those competing, conflicting, interfering associations comes back, and there’s a much stronger memory.

And so, one thing you can do with the pre-test before your big final exam, for instance, is you can force yourself to have what’s called an effortful retrieval that sort of strips away all these competing memory associations and you get left with a strong long-lasting memory.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then is that the value in the forgetting there, is that that provides us that opportunity?

Sanjay Sarma
There’s a lot of value in forgetting. There’s value all the way down to the neurons, and all the way up to the things that Luke was talking about. So, the neuron level, what happens is that when you’re about to forget, you get reminded of something, essentially the brain establishes more physical neuronal pathways, which makes the memory firmer. So, that’s one thing. But then if you go up to the higher levels, you get rid of interfering memories, which was what Luke was talking about. So, the integrating memories go away, and you sort of re-establish your memory in a much cleaner way. So, there’s a whole variety of spectrum of benefits to just being able to forget something, and then to re-learn it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’d love to zoom in a little bit in terms of, so you’re playing a big game on a global stage, and when talking about sort of access and all kinds of cool impact there. I think about our listeners, specifically professionals, could you lay out what’s really at stake here for them in terms of if they’re learning optimally or sub-optimally? How significant is that impact?

Sanjay Sarma
Look, 21st century and I like to joke that the 21st century begins in 2021, right? I mean, COVID is this big reset. So, we are going to enter an economy in which learning is central. The half-life of skills is shorter, etc., future work, there’s enough stuff written about it. We are learning animals and we’re going to have to learn for the rest of our lives just to stay abreast. It’s just the way it is.

And so, the ability to learn and to apply these tricks is central. It’s sort of like imagine the way our education system is structured today, it’s sort of like telling someone you can exercise for the first four years of your life and then you’re ready for the rest of your life, as opposed to, you know, going to the gym three times a week. So, learning has got to become that, right? And Luke and I talk about it at some level in the book about how learning is very important.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, I really want to hear, you’ve got a story in the book about a law school in Florida that incorporated some cutting-edge learning strategies, and they saw a dramatic improvement in their bar exam passage rate. Can you share the story?

Luke Yoquinto
So, Pete, talk about the pre-testing effect that we were talking about earlier, that’s sort one-half of these wonderful researchers, the Bjorks, call desirable difficulties and the effortful retrieval that strips away these competing memory associations that lets you form a really long-term memory. The other half is called metacognition which is basically how we think about our own state of knowledge. So, let me just rewind and then we’ll catch it right back up to the law school, FIU Law School in Miami.

Metacognition. So, back in the ‘60s, for instance, researchers thought that what we know about our own thought was sort of a static measure, sort of like an engine oil dip stick, where you just kind of reach and you say, “I’m trying to get a sense of what I know about subject X. Here’s what it is.” But as the Bjorks, especially Robert, showed in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, it’s more like an active measure, it’s more like a speedometer, and how we gauge and how we know, in part, comes from how easy it is to summon that information in the moment.

And that introduces a number of biases. If you have some new fact open in a textbook right in front of you, that can lead you to believe that you’re going to remember that fact come test time. If you are seeing a fact in a true-or-false question, “Is hemoglobin the molecule in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells?” you might be able to answer that in a true or false, but then you might not be able to answer a point blank, “What is the molecule?”

And that false sense of knowing, the false sense that your knowledge of a given subject is not going to change, we know that’s not true, right? We know that forgetting happens over a certain curve, it’s called the forgetting curve. It’s one of the most well-known studies or effects in psychology.

And so, when you combine this metacognition stuff with effortful retrieval, you get what’s called desirable difficulties where you have these techniques you can apply while you’re studying that will sort of steel-plate memories for the long term. And one of the things that Louis Schulze, who was the head of sort of reinvigorating this FIU Law School program, did was he just went all in on these, and other really important study techniques, and just instituted a mandatory class for all first year law students at the school to start studying how to study using these techniques.

And so, prior to the beginning of this program, this program started in 2015, it was a respectable middling law school in Florida in terms of bar exam passage rates, kind of bounced around in the middle of the rankings. And they instituted this program where every student is taking this course on how to study as a fresh year law student. And then if you’re sort of in the bottom of your class, it’s mandatory that you continue in these studies in your second year. And then I think there’s another mandatory semester, or effectively mandatory, since everyone takes it because it works so well, in the third year.

But the effect was this program rocketed to the top of its rankings for the state in Florida. Now, it’s always number one and number two in terms of bar passage rates in Florida. And in terms of ultimate bar passage rates, which is the percentage of people who pass the bar within two years of graduation, it’s top 15 in the country. It’s remarkable.

And one of the big takeaways that we found from this story is you have all these students, these law students who, frankly, would’ve flunked out before this. And now with these techniques that are focused on making learning cognitively user-friendly, we’re retaining that talent that would’ve been wasted before.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very encouraging and quite a testament. So, lay it on us, what are some of the most hard-hitting effective techniques that you think professionals should be using when they’re trying to learn new skills or get that flowing from them?

Sanjay Sarma
Well, here are a few. Do it in short sprints. And, actually, if you go to YouTube, go out to something on YouTube, you’ll find that, naturally, without perhaps understanding the sites, just because of our instincts, people have made their videos very short for a few minutes, 5-10 minutes. The second thing is, at the end of the video, apply the testing effect. So, ask yourself questions about the stuff you learned, right?

So, the third is space it out a little bit, wait some time, ask yourself the next day, do you remember it. Ask yourself a month later. I do this all the time. I’ll watch something, and then like a month later, I’ll try and recall. And rather than blame myself if I forget, I go, “Well, that’s an opportunity because now my brain is going to lit up, cleans the whistles a little bit.”

Here’s another one, very strange. Interleave, that’s part of the effort for learning, the desirable difficulties. What that means is switch. So, let’s say you’re learning two similar things and you’re solving problems or something, if you’re trying to answer questions, just answer questions. Answer questions about the first topic, then the second topic, then the first topic, and second topic, because it forces you to reload.

If you continuously answer questions about the first topic, you’re not reloading that information. You’ve got to sort of reload that program. So, do that. Bottom line is this, at some level, there’s an illusion of learning. We think we’re learning. There’s a lot of biases that Luke talked about, you know, stability, foresight, all that stuff. We won’t bore you with the details, but there’s an illusion of learning.

For example, if you read, read material and with a highlighter you just highlight everything, you feel like you learned because you became familiar with it but it’s an illusion. But when you’re actually learning, it feels effortful, and you go, “Oh, my God, I’m not learning because I’m struggling.” But, actually, you might be learning better. That’s a strange sort of optical illusion related to learning.

Luke, why don’t you add to that?

Luke Yoquinto
Yeah, that’s right. This applies not only to egghead kind of stuff. You could use this as an athlete. There’s a classic, classic study of, I think, it’s third graders doing the bean bag toss. The goal is to hit a target with a bean bag from three feet away. You have that experimental group throwing two feet away and four feet away but never three feet away. You have a control group throwing from three feet away.

And the experimental group who have never practiced the three-foot throw, on exam day everybody outperformed the kids who have been practicing at three feet. And you can take that to the driving range. This is a classic example that Bob [14:24] talks about. He’s a passionate golfer. If you’re just hitting the same club over and over again at the driving range, you’re not reloading the cognitive program for how to swing a golf club. You’re just kind of re-running the same program.

So, he recommends pull out the driver, hit a few, then switch, aim at a different distance with a different club, switch to a different club, keep switching, keep switching. And that applies whether you’re studying hard facts, whether you’re practicing the piano. The thing that makes it a difficulty is that, initially, you might be discouraged by the progress you make. And, in fact, you might actually make less progress initially than you otherwise would’ve. But in the long term, you’ll see the benefits.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we’ve had David Epstein on the show talking about range and sharing some similar takeaways there. And so, what’s interesting is any topic or skill naturally has many sorts of subskills or subtopics under it. So, if I wanted to learn direct response copywriting, that’s of interest to me, there’s many subskills associated with it. Well, there’s the consumer research, and then there’s the intriguing headlines, and then there is trying to pull people in deeper over sort of a longer period of time with paragraphs.

And so, following these best practices, the best move would be to do short spurts of maybe 10 minutes of learning, and then do some effortful retrieval, and then maybe shift gears from one subskill or subtopic to another, and then back and forth.

Sanjay Sarma
That’s exactly right. That’s right you put it well, it’s the reloading. Can you reload that and can you reload this, and can reload that? Not load that and then keep doing the same thing, because it’s a reloading that’s the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sanjay Sarma
And, yeah, you’re describing it right. By the way, the business of breaking down a complex task into subtasks, that’s something good teachers do, that’s what great coaches do. If you’ve noticed, like in tennis, the great coaches are not necessarily great players. Brad Gilbert coached Andre Agassi sometime but he wasn’t a great player, he was a good player. But because he appreciated what a great player was, he was able to sort of break it down, and there’s techniques for that as well, and then you want to do exactly what you described.

Luke Yoquinto
It’s funny how great players don’t always turn out to be great coaches. It’s often a pretty good player that turns out to be a great coach, which is really interesting.

Sanjay Sarma
In fact, it’s called the expert blind spot because you’ve got to be really, really sympathetic to the learner. But the expert has a blind spot, they go, “Why can’t you get that?” “Geez, because you’re an expert and I don’t, and you need to sort of understand what I don’t get.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And as a learner, that just sort of compounds the frustration in terms of it’s like, “I already know I’m not doing this well, and the fact that I’m apparently displeasing you is just making it worse for me.”

Sanjay Sarma
That’s right. That’s why professors exist, by the way, because parents fall into that trap all the time. I can tell you as a parent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then I’m curious. I know you’ve done some research on learning styles. But I want to know a bit about to what extent is that off base? And how should we think about sort of different modalities in terms of I’m watching a video, or I’m reading something, or I’m listening to something, or I’m trying it out on myself? How do we think about the styles and the best approach?

Sanjay Sarma
So, the problem with a lot of this learning stuff is that there are very subtle findings, and then sometimes people sort of run with them and turn them into something they’re not. So, the whole learning style things, there’s no basis, there’s no proof. It’s never been proven. If anything, it’s discredited as an approach. It’s not like some people learn better by hearing and some people learn better by video or something like that.

There is research into how to mix modalities. Various research. Myer is a professor who did a lot of work on that, so there is research on that. But the deeper concept, the deeper thought here is that this field that Luke and I talk about in this book has been explored in the past but it’s also led to a lot of faddishness which then falls into convenient buckets. And wouldn’t it be great if some people were just visual and we can just bucket them into visual and put them into visual classroom, and just sort of goes and runs amok a little bit?

So, that’s the whole problem with the learning styles argument. But, really, creating an excellent learning environment takes effort, takes thought, and it’s not that simple that you can just say that a person is a visual learner. And that’s sort of what we talk about in the book. It’s pretty nuanced, it’s pretty subtle, and you’ve got to understand it, and understand as much as possible. And also it’s changing fast. Right, Luke?

Luke Yoquinto
That’s right. Yeah, I would say that people take a lot of comfort in the learning style things sometimes, and that comfort that you think is not misplaced. The origin of that came from some of Howard Gardner’s work where he saw people who had different types of strokes, and a few differences have your language skills impacted but not your numbers skills at all. That helped him formulate his idea of multiple intelligences, which is still a really interesting idea, and it suggests that what might be measured in a standard sit-down IQ test or an SAT in no way encompasses your total powers as a learner.

And when we say learning styles isn’t something that we put much stock in, it’s not to say that you should take your SAT score as your sum total value as a learner. SAT scores and IQ tests capture a very narrow window probably of what people are capable of.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then this is helpful in terms of figuring out some best practices and some sort of mistaken ideas that may not have as robust research base behind. I just want to make sure, we talked about the phrase effortful retrieval a couple times. I’d love it if we could hit a few examples of that. I’ve heard of the Feynman blank page technique in terms of you’re saying, “Okay, I’m going to teach this to someone new,” or, “I’ve got a blank page. I’m just going to write down how this process works, or my true understanding of it.” What are some of the other approaches to do an effortful retrieval?

Luke Yoquinto
The simple answer, honestly, is if you’re in mid-career and you’re thinking about ways to improve, to be really blunt, there are programs online. MITx is the home team program, and we’re a little biased, will build in little quizzes and games and so forth to sort of force that in between video lectures and things like that. So, there are ways you can force that to happen just by choosing a program or choosing approach for your continuing education.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sanjay Sarma
Yeah. For example, you learn something, a book, you read a chapter, there are questions at the end. No one wants to take on these questions because they involve effort. You just skip over them. Answer the questions. Try it. I know it’s effortful but you learn better. So, that’s the testing effect, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Sanjay Sarma
So, it’s strange. The more tests you take, actually, the better you learn. And these are formative tests as opposed to summative. In other words, you’re taking a friendly test. It’s not like someone is grading you on that. So, that’s one very simple example. The other one we talked about is switch topic, switch topic, etc. So, these are examples. But a lot of the systems out there, sort of do it automatically as Luke was talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
And if you don’t have the advantage of some of those systems, or the games built in, or thoughtful questions at the end of the chapter, are there some self-prompts you might recommend for folks to engage with?

Sanjay Sarma
Yeah, make up a question, for example. Look for ways to break what you just learned, right? Actually, now I’m thinking of this as an academic professor and someone who teaches, and I learn a lot because of my research. There’s always some nagging doubt, and it takes a little bit of introspection to identify that doubt, and you’d rather bury it. But you identify it, you surface it, and you sort of psychoanalyze your doubt. That’s effortful. That actually helps a lot, and that’s something that’s become instinctive for me.

Pete Mockaitis
So, analyze the doubt.

Sanjay Sarma
Don’t bury it. Don’t just whitewash it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great in terms of where might this not work or not apply, or what about this counterexample that doesn’t seem to fit or follow the theory or the principle.

Sanjay Sarma
Yeah, try and apply it, that’s the other one. Try and apply. If you learned something, apply it. Let’s say it’s a management thing. You learned something in management, well, apply it.

Pete Mockaitis
Porter’s five forces. Okay. Sure.

Sanjay Sarma
Yeah, exactly. Porter’s five forces.

Pete Mockaitis
Take a look at the mobile phone industry and put those five forces on there. Okay. That’s good. Well, there’s a lot of conversation right now about, hey, in-person versus remote learning. I’m sure we can talk for hours about that alone and how it impacts children and folks in college. What are some key perspectives that we should bear in mind as professionals in this game?

Sanjay Sarma
Look, the elephant in the room is engagement in remote learning, okay? So, let’s leave that elephant out for the time being, let’s kick it out of the room, and come back to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sanjay Sarma
It turns out that, if you look at the learning process, what makes learning work? Curiosity. What you talk about. Curiosity is incredible because if you’re curious, the brain releases dopamine, it’s called the dopaminergic circuit, you learn better. Then there’s the actual content presentation. Then there’s all the fun but effortful parts, like Q&A, discussion, arguments, applying it, doing something with it. All that stuff. Projects. Forgetting and relearning it in a different context. You learned it in a different context but you recall it because, in a project, you need to pull out the stuff you learned.

So, just if you look in a classroom right now, what we do in the classroom is we do lectures. And the lecture is the one thing actually you can do online. And even online you can do it asynchronously, which is what these YouTube videos do, like Khan Academy, etc. And the things that actually we couldn’t do online, we sort of don’t do as much of in the classroom, we ignore it. It’s a tragedy actually. The things we should be doing online, we do in the classroom. And the things we could do in the classroom, we sort of don’t do very much of.

Luke Yoquinto
And we’re talking about discussions, we’re talking about hands-on, contextualization of what you learned, right?

Sanjay Sarma
Yeah.

Luke Yoquinto
So, it’s almost as though you have learning as a delivery mechanism where you have lectures that’s introducing knowledge to you for the first time, right? Then you have learning as a steeping mechanism, to steep in the information that you learned after it’s been delivered. And that’s where you’re talking about lab activities, that’s when you’re talking about discussion sessions where the knowledge ping-pongs around the room.

And I think what Sanjay is saying is a really good way to do that initial burst of knowledge is a video lecture. But you really have to do that second part, the ping pong knowledge around the room, and that’s what’s real ideal for in-person learning. And you’ll hear sort of buzzwords like flipped classrooms where you would, for instance, watch your lecture content at home, and then you’re taking part in the discussions, and you’re doing your homework with your teacher at hand to answer questions in the classroom. That’s some of what we’re talking about there.

Sanjay Sarma
And then, so today, during COVID, students are taking stuff remotely. And the problem is what we’ve done is we’ve done something that we shouldn’t be doing which is these lectures where the professors are groaning on, and we put it online. So, of course, students are going to disengage. So, we would say that the right thing to do is use these Zoom to do instructor stuff, get students excited about something, and then use an asynchronous video where they consume the material. Then come back to Zoom and, as best as you can, make up the in-person stuff, discussions, etc. Obviously, you can’t do a chemistry lab over Zoom. You sort of can actually but I wouldn’t recommend it.

So, we sort of have it backwards right now. And, in some ways, the Zoom lecture is exposing the problem and, in fact, when COVID ends, we’re going to go back to the classroom. And what are we going to do? Recreate the Zoom lecture except it runs in the same room. Unfortunately, that’s where we’ll end up, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I want to hit that curiosity point because that is really important. And I guess if you’re not feeling curious, but you got to learn something, how do we stir up some curiosity?

Luke Yoquinto
Yeah, there’s some really interesting work there about that. It’s important, first of all, to think of curiosity, it is a drive state in the brain. The sensation of hunger and the sensation of curiosity are not actually that different. They’re both something that the brain experiences as something you really want. In one case, it’s food. The other case it’s information.

Now, how does the brain determine what information is worth wanting? That’s a really interesting and constantly unfolding question. But there are some very fascinating work being done around this where you have a study, for instance, where people are being presented with trivia questions as a means to trigger curiosity. And then they’ll be presented with a completely unrelated set of information to remember.

And if they are in a curious state due to the trivia questions, they’ll remember that unrelated information better. It’s as though curiosity creates this global state of stickiness for information in the brain, and it’s really, really fascinating. So, one thing we have to really take on actively is how to promote that sense in the classroom, or whether you learn it on your own, you try to promote it for yourself. And there’s a lot of interesting discussion about what actually promotes that feeling. Is it just the impression that something new to know is available? No, that’s probably not it. It’s called neophilia, and if that were true, we would always be curious about what’s down in a scary dark basement. And we’re often not curious at all to find out what that is.

But one really interesting theory that comes up in the book is this idea that we have the sense that the information at hand is something that will modify what we know in a meaningful way. That might be something that would trigger curiosity. And teachers have been doing this for a really long time, like that’s what this Socratic method is kind of about. It’s about framing things as questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Sanjay Sarma
Yeah, I mean, I think the thing about curiosity, I’ll give you some tricks to power curiosity. So, because I have to elicit curiosity in students when I teach, I’ll figure out how to do it to myself. And one technique is, one, wonder about the history. I mean, pick a topic, five forces. How did it happen? Who is Porter? What did he arrive at? What problems did he look at? What are other…? What is a three forces approach that failed because two forces are missing? That’s one technique.

So, you have to sort of figure out what gets you going. Why is it right? Critique it, that’s another one. Why does it work? Let me see if I can break it. So, it’s sort of related to the effortful, but you’ve got to sort of get the juices flowing. And this is equal in saliva for hunger is dopamine.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing how with the Socratic method and these questions about the history or why does it work or where it might not work, it’s like the questions alone are getting some drive going. And I found that…and Bob Cialdini has this in his book Pre-Suasion which I think is excellent, is that if we could start with some mystery, like, “How the heck did this come to be?” or, “That doesn’t seem to make sense. What’s really going on here?” is handy.

But even if you can’t summon it for the thing that you need to learn, it sounds like I can just go ahead and get it from somewhere else, and then shift gears quickly into the thing I need to learn, and that’s helpful too right there.

Sanjay Sarma
That’s what Luke just described, the trigger question. If you’re curious about something else, you’ll quickly learn the thing you, well, one particularly, curious about, you learn better. Preferably not the right approach but…

Luke Yoquinto
It’ll be a longer-lasting memory that’s not going to give the context you need but the memory will last longer so, yeah, it’s really interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Luke Yoquinto
Just another thing is if you’re encountering a new body of information for the first time, something that can be really helpful is just to look it over, examine it, and it’s really confusing and it’s bothersome. Build in enough time to get a night’s sleep and then come back to it. There’s a lot of reorganization of long-term memory that happens overnight, and you’d be surprised what made sense in the morning. And sleep on it, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, I know that, we’re talking about learning and technology, we can sort of go overboard when it comes to tools and platforms and software, but I’ve got to ask the pros here. Are there some really cool tools that you think your typical professional can utilize to give their learning a jolt, maybe it’s an app or software, or even just sort of a low-tech technique?

Sanjay Sarma
Yeah, a lot of tools use this stuff. Obviously, the MOOC platforms because they have Q&A built in and most MOOCs have short videos. I’m going to shout out here Quizlet. Quizlet is Andrew Sutherland. He’s an MIT guy. And it’s used by more than 50% of high school students, I believe, in the country now, and it’s flashcards basically. But he’s got built in other things.

But a flashcard works because it forces you to reload. Boom! Reload. Mix it up. Reload. In fact, there’s a version of the flashcard called a Leitner box which is sort of almost like a card game. It forces you to remember the things you’re about to forget. So, there are tools that apply that. And then there are tools that make things more vivid. I mean, for example, it doesn’t happen all the time, but AR/VR, things like that. They make things more vivid, more realistic. If it’s cognitive and motor, then AR/VR is very interesting, very useful.

By the way, very interesting. There’s an entire industry. I’m going to put you on the spot here, Pete, and ask you. Entire industry that is, for almost a hundred years, has been driven by augmented reality, can you guess which one it is? Luke, do you know the answer?

Luke Yoquinto
When was the first flight simulated?

Sanjay Sarma
Exactly. It’s a hundred years. You got it, Luke. Hundred years, right? Because The Link Company, which is an American company, made flight simulators, like the 1930 timeframe. In fact, during World War II, and that’s basically, a simulator is essentially, a flight simulator is actually augmented reality. And during World War II, America was able to produce more pilots. Japan had the planes as well but they couldn’t produce the pilots. Anyway, there’s a range of tools that work on everything from memory, interleaving. Duolingo does it, Rosetta Stone. Rosetta does it. Quizlet does it. It forces you to go through these tricks.

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

Sanjay Sarma
Well, I think the other thing we need to understand is like gaming software. Gaming software sort of uses another part of your brain, sort of joy center, the limbic system, etc. And we haven’t quite figured out how to work that into games, but there’s, in fact, a nice field called Educational Games. It’s not gamification. It’s more where they try and work it into simulation, doing something and learning along the way. That’s another field that’s emerging, and there are some experts at MIT that know this very well, but I think that’ll become important in the years ahead.

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

Luke Yoquinto
Okay. I chose a nerdy one. it’s, “Fear is the mind-killer.” It’s from Dune.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, yeah.

Luke Yoquinto
Any Dune fans in the house? In terms of this book, I joke, but fear is the mind-killer. Anger is another mind-killer. It can really just take away your ability to process information. And, especially, in the current moment, I like to hold onto that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sanjay Sarma
Mine is the Eisenhower Principle which is “Sometimes it’s easier to solve the bigger problem than the smaller problem,” because when you’re trying to solve a smaller problem, you get caught in the weeds. So, generalize, I’m trying to solve a bigger problem. And if you look at all the blitz scaling, the Dropboxes and Googles of the world, Google didn’t say, “We’ll search academic documents or we’ll just search the whole web,” because in doing that, they get the experiential benefit upside but they can actually take on a problem and just solve it, indexing site NDC’s, etc. and build several farms.

So, I actually truly believe that sometimes it’s easier to solve the bigger problem than the smaller problem. I believe in generalizing.

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

Luke Yoquinto
So, I chose one that’s apropos of our book, which is Consciousness in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene. We don’t know what makes us tick in our heads and what makes consciousness work exactly, but researchers are picking away at the edges, and there’s some really fascinating research being done about just the edges of what’s perceptible and the pathways that takes in the brain, so I would recommend this book, Consciousness in the Brain.

Sanjay Sarma
For me, I was actually going to go for a consciousness book, but now that Luke stole my thunder, I’m going to have to go in a different direction. I’m going to say Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. And why Is that? Because I believe that some of his absurdist humor, just sort of mind-bending lateral thinking stuff is very essential to creativity.

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

Luke Yoquinto
Yeah, they can shoot me an email or get in touch with me on Twitter. My name is Luke Yoquinto, and so my Twitter handle is just that, it’s @lukeyoquinto, and you can shoot me an email too. My Gmail is lyoquinto@gmail.com.

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

Sanjay Sarma
Yeah, my call to action is spend three hours a week learning something new. Learn to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Luke Yoquinto
That’s a good one. And just to pile onto Sanjay, Be an extreme learner. Treat learning like it’s a mountain to climb. It’s a habit of the mind to start doing the ones you do. It can be hard stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Sanjay Sarma
Maybe I’ll leave you with a Dos Equis. You know what a Dos Equis said?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right. Yeah.

Sanjay Sarma
I’m not recommending the actual beer although it’s pretty good, “Be curious, my friend.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Sanjay, Luke, this has been fun. I wish you all the best.

Luke Yoquinto
Thanks.

Sanjay Sarma
Thank you very much.

Luke Yoquinto
Yeah, thank you.

598: How to Remember Names, Faces, and Facts like a Memory Champion with Chester Santos

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Chester Santos says: "Anyone is capable of developing a powerful memory with just the right techniques, a little bit of training and practice."

U.S. Memory Champion Chester Santos shares his expert tricks and techniques for improving your memory.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why good memory still matters in the digital age
  2. The three principles to remembering anything
  3. How to remember anyone’s name in four steps 

About Chester

U.S. Memory Champion, Chester Santos – “The International Man of Memory” is the world’s leading memory skills expert and founder of MemorySchool.NET.  His memory building tips have been featured on CNNABCPBSNBCCBSBBC, and the Science Channel. He has been quoted in the NY TimesWall Street JournalSF ChronicleWashington Post, and TIME Magazine. Chester has presented in over 30 countries with speaking credits that include TEDx, Talks at Google, and the International Festival of Brilliant Minds.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • EveryPlate. Get 3 weeks of meals for only $2.99 per meal with code 3awesome

Chester Santos Interview Transcript

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

Chester Santos
Thank you so much for having me, Pete. I’m really looking forward to talking with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m looking forward to talking to you too. And I’ve been so curious to ask you, first of all, you’re sporting one fedora right now. I understand you have a collection of 25. How did this come to be?

Chester Santos
Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. I just, at one point, went through a rebranding as the International Man of Memory because I give speeches all over the world. And part of that involved hiring a stylist to come up with a look for the International Man of Memory, and the stylist came up with this fedora hat idea that I incorporate into the outfits. And I just started to really love it and I’ve been collecting hats for six plus years at this point.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it looks great. Imagine your vest, listeners can’t tell but I’ll let them know you look great.

Chester Santos
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
I have one fedora and, you know what, it was a lot of fun. It drew attention to me which sometimes I like and sometimes I didn’t like. So, I just took it off if I didn’t want it. So, International Man of Memory, that is a good branding, not mystery but memory. So, maybe, can you orient us, first of all, what is a memory grand master? Like, maybe people have heard of a chess grandmaster, but what are these competitions like? How is this life?

Chester Santos
Sure, I’ll get into that. So, what I won was the United States National Memory Championship. It’s an annual competition which has been held in various locations each year. Most recently, it’s now held at MIT, the university, the finals.

Pete Mockaitis
It seems fitting.

Chester Santos
Yeah, the finals is held at MIT. It’s one day of just really hardcore memorization. So, some of the events, one is memorizing a deck of cards, a shuffled deck of 52 playing cards, in the fastest time possible with 100% accuracy. I used to be able to do it back when I was competing in a little under 90 seconds, a minute and a half. Nowadays, some people can do it in even less than 30 seconds. I memorized a 132-digit sequence of computer-generated random digits, forwards and backwards, in 5 minutes. We memorized hundreds of names and faces in just minutes. So, those are some of the events in the United States Memory Championship.

I won it way back in 2008, and since then, I’ve gone into training other people around the world in the subset of techniques that I used to win the US Memory Championship that I feel can also benefit people right away in their career, their personal life, and also they can really help out their kids or grandkids that they might have in school.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you can stop if this is too personal, but I’m always fascinated by, like, competitions where people are like the best in the world, like bodybuilding, Mr. Olympia, or if it’s tennis or football or basketball. So, if I may, just sort of is there an associated prize purse, or what is the size of the prize for the top memory grand master?

Chester Santos
Yeah, good question. So, it varies depending on who they have as the sponsors for that particular year. When I won, unfortunately, there wasn’t a cash prize.

Pete Mockaitis
Aww.

Chester Santos
British Airways was the sponsor so I got business class tickets to represent the United States in the World Memory Championship. And even when there is a cash prize, it hasn’t ever been very high, but what you get more is in terms of, you know, after I won, I was on CNN. Over the years, I’ve been asked to appear on a lot of different TV shows, I get interviewed by newspapers, magazines, and things like that. So, it helps in what I’m doing now as far as it helps me to build my brand, build my name recognition in terms of a memory skills expert. So, it helps out there but in terms of a cash prize, not so much, upfront anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
On the backends. And now you’re here with us in How to be Awesome at Your Job, so we’re delighted. And I want to dig into some of these techniques, which I’m excited about. I understand we’re going to do some demos as well, which is always fun. But maybe, first, if you could sort of contextualize for us, could you paint a picture for why, in this age of Google and computers and smartphones and all this info available kind of outside of our brains, why is it beneficial for professionals to have a great memory?

Chester Santos
Yes. So, you hit on something important. We are in an age of, I sometimes call it, dangerous digital dependency, but definitely digital dependency in which we are outsourcing not only our memory but other mental functions to electronic devices. In terms of memory, specifically I’ll give a couple of quick examples. Phone numbers, we all used to be able to remember the phone numbers of so many friends and family members, easily dial those.

I remember growing up, my parents would give me some emergency numbers that they thought were important for me to know. We all used to be able to do that, but nowadays you give someone even one phone number, and they feel paralyzed. They don’t even think that they can remember.

Pete Mockaitis
“Uh, let me…uh.”

Chester Santos
Yeah, exactly. And it’s getting so bad that some people out there can’t even remember their own phone number. So, it’s a really good example.

Pete Mockaitis
Or their wife, or husband, or mom. Like, if something happened, and your phone got stolen, you could be in a tight spot.

Chester Santos
Exactly. So, it’s really a good example of the “use it or lose it” principle as it applies to memory. Another quick example, navigation. So, you might have an Uber of Lyft driver that’s been driving in a city for five plus years, but if something is wrong with the network connection in that particular area, or something is wrong with the app at that time, it’s happened to me many times over the years, they’ll just need to pull over, they’ll restart their phone maybe ten times until whatever issue is happening will resolve itself. They, a lot of times, haven’t even learned a few basic locations or common landmarks in the city. It’s just a very good example of what happens when you completely turn off your brain and you become 100% dependent on technology. So, that’s a little bit of the negatives, and I think that illustrates a little bit of what I mean by digital dependency.

But what this creates on the job and in the business world is actually a business opportunity to, if you will work on developing your memory skills, even to a small degree, there really is an opportunity now to set yourself apart from others, become much more impressive, and much more memorable to people in business when you do have a really good memory. It’s very noticeable and impressive to people nowadays.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I think that’s true. It’s funny, I was just chatting with my buddy about a previous podcast guest, Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income, who’s just an authentic, genuine, friendly guy everyone just loves. He walked the talk. And one thing that’s impressed me is I have bumped into him in person, I don’t know, four times at different events, and I don’t expect him to remember me because he’s a celebrity in his niche, but he does. And I always sort of like, “Hey, Pat, I’m Pete. I was at your event six years, blah, blah, blah.” He’s like, “Oh, yeah, of course, yeah, yeah.” And so that just makes me like, respect, appreciate him all the more.

And I think I’ve seen the converse in terms of friends talking about other friends, and they say, “I don’t really like him.” I was like, “Why?” It’s like, “Well, I’ve had to introduce myself to him four times,” and so they feel kind of insulted in terms of, “You don’t remember my face, my name, who I am at all, and this is kind of ridiculous at this point.”

Chester Santos
Yes, absolutely. So, remembering names is huge in the business world. I like to quote a lot of times How to Win Friends and Influence People. To this date, it’s still one of the most popular business and personal success-related books ever written. And in that book, it was written that the sweetest sound to a person in any language is the sound of their own name, and also that everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. So, in fact, by remembering people’s names, other things about them, it helps you to build better business, personal relationships.

When you think about the most popular people on the job and in various organizations that you might be involved with, when you think about those people, you’re going to notice that they tend to know everyone and also their names and other things about them. Remembering people’s names and things about them really increases your likability factor in business, and that is going to be a factor in advancement of your career. Unfortunately, in the business world, it isn’t always 100% based on the numbers and on only the job performance. It would be nice if that’s how it actually worked, but, in fact, your likability in the department is a factor.

I won’t say where I used to work, but I had a career in Silicon Valley, and I had seen this happen on the job. It’s not always necessarily the most brilliant engineer that gets the promotion. Maybe that brilliant engineer, for whatever reason, didn’t get along as well in the department with someone else that just had that likability factor, they might get the promotion. So, it is something to keep in mind as far as how things actually work in the real world. And, definitely, if you know everybody, you know their name, you know things about them, you’re going to be more popular, more likable.

Politicians are some of my clients, have been my clients over the years. They’re very clear on how this helps make you more popular and more likable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into a lot of the specific tactics, and I think names is going to be big. If we’re going to get it, I’d love to hear how we should think about memorizing parts of a presentation, maybe remembering more of what we read, and, hey, whatever else we have time to cover. But, maybe, could you start by sharing sort of what’s the most, I don’t know, surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive thing that we should just know about our memories before we dig into the tactics?

Chester Santos
Yes. So, I’m really looking forward to getting into some specific, first, general strategies and then techniques with you today, Pete. Surprising thing about memory that I think people don’t realize is it isn’t the case that you’re just born with a good memory or a bad memory. That’s a very common belief. People think that if they have a bad memory, that they’re just stuck with that, there’s nothing that they can do about it. Really, anyone is capable of developing a very powerful memory. It’s just about learning the right techniques and putting in a little bit of fun, training, and practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m intrigued, I’m game. So, yeah, well, you have some demos in mind, let’s do one. And if it happens to be in the realm of remembering what we read, or names and faces, or presentations, I’d love to steer there if possible.

Chester Santos
Okay. Awesome. So, first, what I’d like to cover, Pete, are three main principles to a powerful memory that will apply no matter what specific memory technique you end up using, and then we’ll start to get into a specific technique and a couple of demos.

So, the three main principles are, one, visualization. So, turn whatever it is that you’re trying to remember somehow into something that you can picture or see in your mind. So, in the case of names, if the name was Mike, sometimes I visualize a microphone to remind me of the name Mike.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m seeing one of those right now.

Chester Santos
Yeah. If the name were, for instance, Alice, sometimes I visualize a white rabbit because that reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, right? Now, I realize that sounds maybe a bit silly or unusual, but, in fact, this can be very powerful and effective. I’d like to get into names in much more detail toward the end after we cover some basics, but what I just wanted to introduce there was this concept of creating a picture in your mind to represent the information.

Pete Mockaitis
And to that point about the picture, so Alice and that rabbit, so that’s kind of personal to you, and that’s probably better, I imagine, because it’s more meaningful, I would speculate. Is there any risk? Like, I guess nobody’s really named Rabbit that I’ve ever met. But do you ever kind get your wires crossed or is that pretty safe, “Hey, Alice is rabbit, and rabbit is Alice, and we’re all good”?

Chester Santos
Knock on wood, I haven’t had any issues yet even at a conference that might have a cocktail hour at the end or something like that. I haven’t slipped up. That really isn’t anything to worry about really. These visuals really are just going to help you to better remember the names. The reason why you want to come up with a visual is because we all tend to be very good at remembering things that we see. I’ll give a quick example here.

Let’s say you go to a party, Pete, and you’re meeting a lot of new people, right? Two weeks after that party is over, you’re talking with one of your friends that was there with you, and your friend describes someone to you from the party, your friend says, “Hey, Pete, you remember that attorney that we met at the party a couple of weeks ago? He’s also a member of the tennis club.” As your friend is going through that description, a lot of times you can picture who they are describing. And, of course, your friend can picture who they’re describing. But a lot of times, neither one of you can manage to remember what the person’s name was, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Or even like a setting, like, “Oh, yeah, we were in the hallway, near the door,” but you don’t remember their name.

Chester Santos
Yeah, really good, there, clarification. It’s true. Sometimes you get even more details, like where they were standing in the party, what they were wearing, but that name you can’t get it. And that is because you didn’t see the name, the name is something much more abstract to your brain. And it is very common for people to be good at remembering faces but not names. And it makes sense because when you are interacting with people in various ways, you do see the face, the face is recorded into your visual memory but not the name. So, that’s why one thing you can do is come up with a visual representation of the name. But the principle, in general, is to come up with something that you can picture in your mind to represent the information.

Now, the second principle that will apply, no matter what information type, is, after you come up with a visual, try to involve as many additional senses as you can, because when you do this, you will be activating more and more areas of your brain, and you will be building more and more connections in your mind to the information, making it easier to retrieve it later on.

So, I was, at one point, on an episode of PBS’ Nova Science, I performed what, at first, seemed like some pretty crazy memory feats. They had me train David Pogue on the show as well. And then after that, they had these brain scientists, neuroscientists, come on and explain to everyone at home, watching at home, “Okay. How in the world did Chester do that? How in the world did David Pogue pull that off with just a little bit of training?” And these brain scientists confirmed that it’s because, with these memory techniques that I’ve mastered over the years, and that we’re going to learn a little bit about during the interview today, what’s happening is we are recruiting extra areas of the brain.

So, areas of the brain that most people would never involve when trying to commit things to memory. With these techniques, we are activating more of the brain to help us, and part of this is learning to utilize additional senses. So, the more senses you involve, the easier it becomes to remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, I’m thinking about with the Alice and the rabbit, I mean, maybe you have the scent of the rabbit as opposed to just, “Oh, there’s a white rabbit.”

Chester Santos
You got it. You are exactly right. So, step one, to come up…

Pete Mockaitis
Or maybe it’s like you can feel the nibbles of the rabbit’s teeth on your finger.

Chester Santos
You got it. So, first, the visual, then involve additional senses, exactly as you just described, and then you are activating more of the brain. You’re more powerfully encoding that into your memory.

Third and final principle, while you are seeing and experiencing this with additional senses, try to make the whole scenario crazy, unusual, extraordinary in some way so that you can take advantage of the psychological aspect to human memory, and that is, all of us, we’re putting forth little to no effort at all, we tend to remember things that catch us by surprise, that are strange, unusual, extraordinary in some way.

Pete, if this actually happened at this moment, if an elephant suddenly crashed into the room that you’re in, and people that are listening to the interview, if an elephant suddenly crashed into the room that they’re in and started spraying water all over the place, if that actually happened right now, you would probably remember it for the rest of your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Chester Santos
And always tell that story, “You’re never going to believe this, okay? I was interviewing this memory guy, out of nowhere, an elephant just crashed into the room.” That might be stuck in your mind even 30 plus years later without you putting forth any effort at all to remember it. Whereas, other times, we might spend weeks, months, trying to get really important information into our long-term memory. We find it to be very difficult, right?

Although this isn’t fully understood exactly how this works in the brain, we do realize that there is this psychological aspect to human memory. Realizing it, we can harness that and apply it to things that would be useful to remember. Names and faces, presentations, foreign languages, training material, and so on. There are really practical applications for this. Memory is a fundamental part of learning and the acquisition of knowledge. So, when you improve your ability to remember, it’s going to have a really huge positive impact on many different areas of your career and also in your personal life in terms of your lifelong learning.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. So, okay, it’s visualizable, we bring in the senses, and if you make it somehow extraordinary, unique, kind of wild, or larger than life, those are the principles at work.

Chester Santos
You’ve got it down. So, those are the three main principles. They will apply no matter what specific memory technique you end up using.

I’d like to, now, go into an interactive exercise that you’ll go through, Pete. I’m sorry to put you on the spot here.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it. But if I look dumb, we’ll edit it out. That’s how I roll.

Chester Santos
Just do your best, and I think people listening to the interview today will enjoy just giving this a try and see how they do with it.

So, we’re going to apply those three main principles to try to memorize a really long random list of words. The list will be monkey, iron, rope…

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I shouldn’t write this down, right?

Chester Santos
No, don’t write this down. And people following along with the interview, please don’t write this down. Don’t use any electronic device. So, use nothing but your brain and your memory. I know people aren’t used to doing this nowadays, but we’ll just give it our best shot.

So, the word list is going to be monkey, iron, rope, kite, house, paper, shoe, worm, envelope, pencil, river, rock, tree, cheese and dollar. Now…

Pete Mockaitis
That’s long.

Chester Santos
Yeah, it’s a really long list of random words. And when I recite that at my live presentations around the world, people in the audition often look at me as if, “Come on, Chester. There’s no way I’m going to be able to remember that, not unless you give me a lot of time to do it.” But, in fact, Pete, you’ll have this down, your listeners will have this down, perfectly forwards and backwards in just about three minutes. That’s all. Three minutes.

And without any further review, after today, even weeks from now, people will still know this, forwards and backwards. I get people even writing me emails months later telling me they’re wanting to demonstrate to me that they still remember this. How you pull it off, just listen to what I describe to you, see and experience it in your mind as best you can, and just really relax, have fun with it.

So, if people ever went to my website, I guess they’ll find it in the show notes later, they’ll see me on CNN. On CNN, I had to memorize a half deck of cards during the commercial break. I only had about two minutes to do it, and then when they came back live on the air, I had to do that perfectly from memory. There was a lot of pressure on me. If people look at that clip, they’re going to notice that I’m smiling, I’m giggling. I think they maybe thought I was a little bit crazy or nutty when I was on the show, but, really, that’s an important key to this. If everyone is smiling and giggling as they’re going through this exercise, it’s a really good sign that they’re going to remember the words. So, just relax, have fun. You’ll have it down.

The first word was monkey. So, just imagine that you see a monkey in your mind. The monkey is dancing around, making monkey noises, “Hoo, hoo, hoo,” whatever a monkey would sound like. I’m working on my monkey impression, but the point here is to see and hear the monkey, right? The monkey, now, picks up a gigantic iron. So, the monkey is dancing around with this giant iron now. Picture that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, for like steaming clothes.

Chester Santos
You got it. Yeah, something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chester Santos
Picture that iron like for your clothes. The iron now starts to fall but a rope attaches itself to the iron. Maybe even feel the rope, really interact with it, right? Maybe it feels rough. You look up the rope and you see the other end of the rope is attached to a kite. Maybe it’s flying around, and it’s just out your reach, that kite. The kite you see now crashes into the side of a house, really see it smash into the house. Picture that.

The house is completely covered in paper. It’s completely covered in paper. Out of nowhere, a shoe appears and it starts to walk all over the paper. Maybe it’s messing it up as it’s walking on it, that shoe. It smells pretty badly, so you decide to investigate and see why. You look inside of the shoe and you find a little worm crawling around inside of that shoe. Really see the smelly worm.

The worm now jumps out of the show and into an envelope. Maybe it’s going to mail itself or something. I don’t know, but envelope was next. A pencil appears out of thin air and it starts to write all over that envelope. Maybe it’s addressing it, that pencil. The pencil now jumps into a river, and there’s a huge splash, for some reason, when it hits the river.

The river, you notice, is crashing up against a giant rock. That rock flies out of the river, it crashes into a tree. The tree is growing cheese. You probably haven’t seen a tree like that before. This one is growing cheese. And out of nowhere, a dollar starts to shoot out of the cheese, right? Really see that dollar. That was the entire list. I’m going to run through this again very quickly in about 30 seconds, and your job is to simply replay through the story that you’ve created in your mind.

So, we started off with a monkey. The monkey was dancing around, with what? It was an iron. What attached itself? It was a rope. The other end of the rope was attached to what? It was a kite. The kite crashed into what? It was a house. What was the house covered in? It was…

Pete Mockaitis
Paper.

Chester Santos
Paper. What walked on it? It was a shoe. What was crawling in the shoe? It was a worm. The worm jumped into what? An envelope. What wrote on it? A pencil. The pencil jumped into the river. The river was crashing up against the rock, that flew into a tree. It was growing what? Cheese. And what came out? It was a dollar.

So, now, Pete, I’ll have you give it a try. Take your time. And people that are listening can follow along and see how well they do. Try to recite all of those random words for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. We’ve got monkey, iron, rope, kite, house, paper, shoe, worm…oh, no, no. Yeah, yeah, shoe, worm, envelope, pencil, river, rock, tree, dollar.

Chester Santos
Tree? After tree?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, tree. Cheese, dollar, yeah.

Chester Santos
You got it, man. Great job there. Excellent job there. Pete, you did so well, in fact, though that I’m going to have you attempt to do that now backwards. Take your time, and people can also see how they do.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’ve got the dollar, cheese, tree, is it a rock?

Chester Santos
You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
River, pencil, envelope, worm, shoe, paper, house, kite, rope, iron, monkey.

Chester Santos
Perfect. A hundred percent, man. Great job. Really nice. Nice work there.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sweating a little bit, Chester.

Chester Santos
Yeah, I put you under a bit of pressure there, but great job under pressure. You got 100%, and I’m sure that people listening to the interview today probably got, if not 100%, close to it. That technique that we’ve just covered is called the story method. And the story method is just one of many techniques that memory champions, like myself, use to pull off what, at first, might seem like extraordinary memory feats. But, again, there’s nothing different about my brain compared to everyone else’s. It’s just about using the right technique and putting in a little bit of training and practice.

This doesn’t just apply to random words. It can apply to even very much more complex types of information. And later on, in the interview, I had in mind, we’d take it a step further but if you have any other questions, just let me know before we move onto maybe a little bit, I guess, a level two in terms of memory skill exercise.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. That was fun. And I’ve heard, this probably isn’t the place for this, that with numbers, it’s kind of a matter of each one is assigned a letter, which can, thus, become words, which can, thus, become memorize-able. And, it’s funny, I used this, I don’t know, it might’ve been in my honeymoon or maybe it was earlier, with my wife in terms of, she’s like, “Tell me what my phone number is.” Like, okay, and so I really took my time to break it down using that. And sometimes, to this day, I’m still summoning the ridiculous picture story phrase that gets those numbers there, but it works.

So, yeah, okay. Well, yeah, let’s do another one. And if it happens to help us with reading or presentations or names, I would love it.

Chester Santos
Okay. Cool, yeah. So, you hit on numbers there. And, again, no matter the information type, the three main principles will remain the same that we covered earlier – visualization, additional senses, make it all crazy, unusual, extraordinary. But for something more abstract like numbers, there’s a system you need to learn. It only takes about one hour to learn it, that’s it. That allows you to take something abstract like numbers and turn it into a concrete image.

Once you have an image for the abstract piece of information, you could then build a story, and there are many other techniques that you could use from there. That system has been known by many different names. One is Phonetic Alphabet system. Another is major system, that’s covered. Because it’s going to take a minimum of an hour to learn that by itself, it’s covered in my online memory school, and I think you’ll have the link in the show note, but it’s MemorySchool.net.

So, again, the techniques don’t apply to just random words. We’re going to move onto level two in terms of difficulty. We’re going to learn now how to create mental notecards or mental cue cards. This is a concept that I covered in my talks. Over at Harvard University, I gave seminars for their graduate students. I also covered this in my talk for SAG-AFTRA, the actors foundation, to help actors remember their lines. We’re going to build mental cue cards here.

I want for you to just visualize what I describe to you, that’s all. See and experience it happening, as we did earlier, and then I will explain what we ended up, actually what we built mental notecards for. So, Pete, just try to visualize some giant machines, as best you can, some gigantic machines. These gigantic machines are smashing up a huge pile of gold and silver. A huge pile of gold and silver. Rising up out of the gold and silver – vehicles. Okay? Whatever that looks like to you.

Shooting out of the vehicles – medicine. And exploding out of the medicine – oil. Maybe black petroleum oil would be easiest to visualize, okay? That’s it. I’m going to run through that again, just replay through this little story. So, we had the giant machines were smashing up the gold and silver. What rose up? Vehicles. What shot out of the windows? Medicine. And what exploded out of the medicine? It was oil.

So, first, go ahead and try to give those main items back to me from memory.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure thing. So, we started with giant machines that were smashing gold and silver, from which emerged vehicles that had medicine spilling out, and then in the medicine was oil.

Chester Santos
Perfect. So, you got that 100% correct. What you’ve done there, Pete, without realizing it, or maybe you did realize it, I’m not sure, I actually had you there just memorize the top five exports of the UK. So, if you were to look that up right now and see what the top five exports of the UK are, you’ll see listed machinery, precious metals, vehicles, pharmaceuticals, and oil. So, you start to see how the image doesn’t need to perfectly match what you’re trying to remember, you’re simply building a mental notecard.

So, can you try to give me now the exports using that little story to guide you?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. So, it’s machinery, precious metals, vehicles, pharmaceuticals, and oil.

Chester Santos
You got it. Perfect. So, Pete, it might not seem like much at first but, again, in today’s world where no one is using their memory very much, when you get into a meeting with maybe it’s clients for your company or potential clients, or it’s a meeting with colleagues or your boss, when you get in there and you’ve prepared for that meeting, you have 5, 10, 15 key things committed to memory, what this does is really better demonstrate your knowledge, right? You’re showing that you actually know something, that you actually know your stuff. You’re better demonstrating your expertise. You’re going to be perceived as more of an expert in your field. People are more impressed with you. People will have more confidence in you and your abilities. And, also, when you have a really good memory, again, you become so much more memorable to people in the business world, on the job.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that. So, I’m eager to get into the names here now and so I went ahead and grabbed the Social Security Administration’s top names over the last hundred years. So, we talked about it being visualizable, and with Alice, you saw a rabbit because that was resonating for you with the story. I’m seeing the top names here. We got James, Mary, John, Patricia. How would I turn some of those into things I can see?

Chester Santos
Well, so my example for…I’d rather actually have people come up with their own image, but my example for John, you can watch that CNN clip, I gave…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m here. Let’s do it.

Chester Santos
Yeah, somehow, I didn’t get in trouble for that. The host, one of the hosts of that show was named John, and, luckily, he wasn’t too upset with me, but I might imagine, you know, a toilet bowl as in going to the John, right? Mary, I might imagine a little lamb because Mary had a little lamb.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Or the Madonna, you know, for a religious perspective.

Chester Santos
James, I might imagine just a famous James. It could be a character from a TV show or movie. It could be simply a friend or a family member that has the same name like your uncle.

Pete Mockaitis
Or Darth Vader.

Chester Santos
It could be that you visualize even just your Uncle James. Patricia, I might think of Patricia Arquette. So, I want to clarify this point a little bit. So, I said come up with a visual. Now, how you come up with that visual can vary. So, it can be a famous person that has the same name, a friend or family member that you’re seeing in your mind that has the same name, or it could be something like a sound alike. So, for the name Jane, I might picture a chain, okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chester Santos
I gave you something more symbolic like a white rabbit for Alice. So, there are various ways as to how the image can remind you of that name, but the best way to describe the concept, in general, is to come up with an image, or series of images, that will some way, anyway, remind you personally of the name, right? And there actually is another step to this.

The next step is to connect that image to something unique about the person’s look. So, if, to you, Jane has really cool-looking hair, you might imagine that chains are going through her hair, clacking together, making a really loud noise. So, how this works in practice is the next time you see her, all you have to do is ask yourself, “Okay, what is noticeable to me about her look?” What you notice, personally, what was noticeable to you before, is very likely will be noticeable to you again. And then the image that you stored there will come right back to you.

So, in this case, the chains might remind you of, again, chain might remind you of Jane. So, that is kind of an overview for how it works. It sounds weird, again, I realize but anyone can become really good at this with a little bit of training and practice, and that’s how I open presentations around the world with naming even hundreds of people in the audience after hearing each name just one time before the presentation starts.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think you said something there, kind of quickly, but it’s important. You hear the name, like you make sure that you get it in the first place, and don’t be shy to ask them to repeat themselves if you need to. Like, if you didn’t hear Jane said Jane, you’re dead in the water.

Chester Santos
Absolutely. Absolutely, Pete. So, let me give you four quick steps that will help you with that because that’s absolutely necessary for this. So, I recommend that you combine that visual-based technique with the following four steps when you’re meeting someone.

Step number one, immediately repeat the name. So, if you’re introduced to someone named Jane, “Nice to meet you, Jane,” or, “Please to meet you, Jane.” That’s it. It seems totally obvious but, as you mentioned, a lot of times we’re not paying that much attention to the name. Our mind might be all over the place. We’re thinking about all sorts of other things.

Pete Mockaitis
“No, I said…” Or you might have gotten it wrong. Like, “No, I said Tane.” “Is it Tane? Oh, okay. I’m glad I clarified with you.”

Chester Santos
Yes. So, repeating the name really gives you the opportunity to clarify the name, as you mentioned, and also make sure that you pay attention for at least one second. That’s the only way you could attempt to repeat the person’s name back to them, right? So, that first step, if you start doing that today, eventually it’s going to become a habit and second nature to you.

Step number two, I recommend that you use the name early on in your interaction with the person. So, simply, “Jane, how do you know Chester?” or, “Jane, how long have you been involved with this organization?” And I want to clarify, I don’t mean use the name over and over again in the conversation to where it starts to seem a little weird. Really, just using it once early on in the interaction will be enough to reinforce the name in your mind.

Step number three, take a few seconds, or less, to think of a connection between the name and, literally, anything at all that you already know. So, Jane, I don’t know, maybe think of Jane Goodall. And, again, as I mentioned, it could be like a character from a TV show or movie. It could be something as simple as you have a friend of family member with that name. Maybe you have an Aunt Jane. And when you’re going through that step, that might also help you come up with your visual, right?

Fourth and final step is to make sure, whenever you leave the meeting, the party, whatever type of function it might be, the conference maybe, make it a point to try and say goodbye to people actually using their name, “I hope to see you again sometime, Jane.” Using the name that last time is going to go a long way toward helping you remember more of those names the next time you see those people. And if at that point you’ve already forgotten the name, I highly recommend that you ask them their name again right then and there because, at that point, they’re less likely, I think, to be offended. At that point, I think they’re more likely to appreciate the fact that you care enough to remember their name for the next time you see them. You’re expressing interest in that person, and they’re really going to appreciate that fact.

So, those four steps, combined with the visuals that I talked about earlier, I think are really going to help you out. You might not be 100%, even I’m not 100%, but if you can remember 80% plus of the people that you’re meeting, this is going to pay huge dividends for you in your career and in your personal life. And in my online school, I actually simulate introducing you to people so that you really develop that skill.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, Chester, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Chester Santos
I think I’ve covered really everything that I had in mind in terms of the main concepts that are always going to be involved when you want to develop a powerful memory no matter what specific technique. We got into a couple of interactive exercises that I think people will enjoy playing around with, and we got into some specific tips on names. Those are some of the most important things that I really wanted to cover that I think people will be able to put to use right away on the job and in their personal lives in terms of lifelong learning. And you can also share what you learned from this interview with your kids or grandkids that might be in school as well.

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

Chester Santos
“You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.” I like that. I like that quote a lot. And that applies to my area because some people, you know, they’re scared off because maybe they’re not…they don’t currently believe that they have a very good memory. But, really, all you have to do is get started in learning these types of techniques and, before you know it, you will have a very powerful memory. But you do just have to get started.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Chester Santos
How to Win Friends and Influence People that I often quote in my presentations. There’s a lot in that book, not just about names and how important memory is in the business world, but really just a lot of business and personal success-related tips in general. So, that’s one of my favorite books, and I do recommend that people check that one out if they haven’t already, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, it resonates, and folks quote it back to you a lot?

Chester Santos
I think what I’d like people most to note about my message, in general, is that anyone is capable of developing a powerful memory with just the right techniques, a little bit of training and practice, this can be fun to do, and it’s going to benefit you in so many ways because, again, memory is a fundamental part to learning and the acquisition of knowledge. So, I guess that’s the main nugget that I want people to keep I mind.

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

Chester Santos
Yeah, if people are interested into diving into memory skills training deeper and really put this to use in their career, personal life, help their kids in school, MemorySchool.net is my main training website. I would visualize a giant net so you remember that it’s .net. And I setup coupon code AWESOME in honor of being on your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Chester Santos
So, the first 50 people to use couple code AWESOME at MemorySchool.net will be able to get started with no enrollment fee whatsoever. So, I hope people will be encouraged to check that out.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s going to be a mad dash to put that in there. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Chester Santos
I want to encourage people to just take action. If this is something that…and not only my area, not just memory skills, but, really, anything that they’re hearing about on your podcast, any particular topic that they find very interesting, I really encourage people to take action on it as soon as possible because, once you do take that action, whether it’s signing up for the Memory School, whatever it might be, once you take the action, you are ten times more likely to actually develop that skill.

Whereas, if you don’t take action right away, it could be that I’m on your show again in a year or two, and people will not have developed the new skills. Again, you really just, as I mentioned in my quote, you really just have to get started in order to eventually become great.

Pete Mockaitis
Chester, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in your memory adventures.

Chester Santos
Thank you so much again, Pete, for having me.