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453: Why Generalists Succeed and How to Learn Like One with David Epstein

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David Epstein says: "Breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer."

David Epstein explains why and how generalists tend to achieve more.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How focusing on short-term improvement can undermine long-term development
  2. Pro-tips for breaking through your learning plateaus
  3. The benefits of becoming a jack-of-all-trade

About David

David Epstein is the author of the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, and the top 10 New York Times bestseller The Sports Gene. He was previously a science and investigative reporter at ProPublica, and prior to that a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. His writing has been honored widely.

David has his master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism, and is reasonably sure he’s the only person to have co-authored a paper in the journal of Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research while a writer at Sports Illustrated.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

David Epstein Interview Transcript

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

David Epstein
Thank you very much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the stuff but, first, I want to hear about your work as an ecology researcher in the Arctic.

David Epstein
So, I studied geology and astronomy in college and, afterward, I worked in a plant physiology lab and that led me living in the Artic in the far north of Alaska, a place called Toolik Lake, where I was basically studying the radiation that plants give off in an effort to sort of help try to understand how the carbon cycle might change as that area warms and the permafrost melts a little because most of the ground is frozen there, so when there’s melt, a lot of nutrients are liberated and they can cause like major changes to the plant life which can cause changes to the carbon cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, how long were you there and what was life like up there?

David Epstein
Yeah, I was basically there for, well, you couldn’t be there a lot of the year because you couldn’t get supplies, so you can only really be there for like half the year basically. I loved it actually. So, it’s technically a desert and I love deserts because even though it’s lush on the ground and the air is cool enough year-round that there’s not much atmosphere and demand for water so you don’t get much rain even though there’s a lot of fog and slush on the ground.

And so, all the plant life is really low to the ground, and so in the middle of summer, when it’s basically light all day and you’re sort of seeing this, the sun go down and just come right back up and all the plant life is low, you can see really far and make for some great hiking. I thought it was beautiful. Some people felt it was desolate who were up there but I loved it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’m curious if that isolation can serve as just amazing, creative, energizing time, or like, “I am going insane.”

David Epstein
Yeah, I’m more on the creative, energizing side, and I think like when I asked, after my first book, people would often ask, “How did you write it?” and I really don’t know how to answer that question because I’m not really sure. Every project is kind of different. And I asked my wife once, I asked her, “How did I write it?” and she said, “You went upstairs and came back down two years later.” And so, I’m pretty good at spending time on my own for projects and being quiet out in the expanse of nature. It’s definitely more creative and invigorating for me than a feeling of isolation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And you’ve recently channeled your creative energies into another opus, a grand tome, I’m excited to talk to you about. So, maybe why don’t we start with some of the most fun tidbits in terms of what would you say is perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made while you’re putting together your book Range?

David Epstein
For me, it was this idea that there are things that you can do that cause really rapid short-term improvement that can systematically undermine your long-term development. So, to that point about surprising, I’ll mention the single study that was probably it’s certainly one of the most surprising in the book to me was this one that was done at the U.S. Airforce Academy where they had a setup that you would never be able to recreate in a lab because basically they would get in a freshman class of, whatever, a thousand students, or several hundreds of students, and those students all had to take a sequence of three math courses: Calculus 1, Calculus 2, and then a third course.

And they were randomized to Calculus 1 to a professor, and then re-randomized for the second course, and then re-randomized for the third course, and they all take the same tests. So, these researchers recognized that this was an excellent natural setup for studying the impact of teacher quality, or teaching. And so, the finding of this study was that the professors who were the best at promoting contemporaneous achievement, that is whose students overperformed on the Calculus 1 test the most compared to the baseline characteristics they came in with, those students, then, systematically underperformed in all the follow-up courses.

So, the professors whose students did the best in Calculus 1, they rated those professors the highest, then went on to underperform in future classes. And what the researchers concluded was that the way to get the best results on the Calculus 1 test was to teach a more narrow curriculum that involved a lot more what’s called using procedures knowledge where you learn how to execute certain procedures and algorithms and you don’t learn more of what’s called making connections knowledge where the curriculum is broadened and you’re forced to kind of connect types of concepts and learn how to match strategies to types of problems as opposed to just execute procedures.

And so, when they’ve moved on into these other courses, those students who had the more narrow curriculum were systematically undermined. And that’s sort of one of the themes that runs through Range are the things you can do that seem the best in the short term sometimes undermine long-term development, and I thought that was just an amazing display of that and an amazing study.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. It’s sort of like the items that were being covered on the final test is sort of like, “Yeah, he drilled on real good over and over and over again and thoroughly,” but sort of at the expense of getting some broader conceptual understanding of how the math number, calculus, stuff is working I guess more globally.

David Epstein
Right. And that’s what they, then, would need, that’s what then would help them kind of scaffold later knowledge, so they didn’t do as well in those other classes. First of all, that was just deeply counterintuitive finding to me, but also, so I remember, for example, the professor, out of a hundred, whose students I think did fifth best on the Calculus 1 exam, and he got the sixth best student ratings overall, was dead last in what the research called deep learning, that is how his students then did in the follow-on courses.

And so, that’s really kind of worrisome. The fact that a lot of these strategies, and that chapter four of Range is about these learning strategies, and a lot of those strategies cause the learner to be more frustrated, to not do as well in the short term, and to rate the person teaching them worst. So, that’s kind of worrisome because these professor ratings may not be a good indication of what someone is learning. Their own assessment of their own learning in the short term may not be a good indication either. So, that’s, I think, something that’s important to be aware of.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’d be intrigued then to correlate that, if you were to sort of draw some parallels into the professional working world, in terms of how might we be shooting ourselves in the foot if we’re trying to master a certain narrow domain of work.

David Epstein
Yes, so let me give another example that came out of the research that I think relates to this. So, in this one study, people who were playing the role of, basically, simulations of naval officers, essentially, and they were being trained to respond to types of threats based on cues. And one group would practice threats where they would see a certain type of threat again and again and again and again, and they would improve and learn how to respond to it. And then they would see the next type of threat again and again and again, and so on.

The other group would get all these different types of situations all mixed up, and that’s called interleaving, and that kind of training is often more frustrating, it slows down initial progress, the learner will say that they didn’t learn as much, and all those things. And then both groups were brought back later and tested on situations they hadn’t seen before. And in that scenario, the interleave group performs much better than the other group because, again, they’re being trained to sort of match strategies to problems as opposed to just how to execute procedures.

And I think that goes for anything we’re trying to learn. I think our inclination is usually to pick up a new skill and do it over and over and over, when, really, we want to vary the challenge a lot early on so that you’re building these broader conceptual skills. And not only do you want to vary the challenge, but I think when we think about, at least in my life, the sort of formal professional development that I’ve been exposed to as opposed to kind of the informal professional development that I do on my own, is always coming away where it’s like, “Okay, here’s the topic, you’re going to learn this topic, and then you move on from it forever.”

And, in fact, the best way, we should actually use what’s called the spacing effect where you learn a topic and then you come back to it later, and that sort of helps you solidify it. So, one of the famous studies here is two groups of Spanish vocabulary learners who one group was given eight hours of intensive study on one day, and the other group was given four hours on one day, and then four hours again a month later. So, they all had the same total study.
Eight years later, when they were brought back, the group that had the space practice remembered 250% more with no practice in the interim. And so, I think we should apply that to anything we want to learn instead of just doing a topic and moving on from it. You don’t have to do it as intensively but you should wait until actually you’ve kind of forgotten it and then come back to it and do it again. And that’s how you like move it into your long-term memory basically.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s really cool. And it seems like this is drawing some connections for me with regard to, we had the Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison on and we were talking about their top competency that maps to all sorts of career successes, what they’re calling learning agility which is sort of the notion of sort of knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.

David Epstein
That’s really important.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that would make great sense because as you sort of rise in the ranks and you encounter more and more ambiguous and puzzle-some and, “I have no idea what’s going on” types of issues, the more that you struggle those things the more you’re raring to say, “All right. Well, let’s see how we go about figuring this out.”

David Epstein
Yeah, and I think that gets at sort of a link between the two things we’re both talking about in this classic research finding that can be summarized as breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer. Transfer means taking your skills and knowledge and attempting to apply it into a totally new situation that you haven’t seen before. And breadth of training breeding breadth of transfer basically means the broader your early training was, the diversity of the situations you’re forced to face, the more likely that when you’re in a totally new situation, you’ll be able to will that knowledge and transfer that knowledge to that new situation.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. Okay. So, now, would you say that’s sort of the main idea or thesis behind Range or how would you articulate it?

David Epstein
No, I think that’s just part of this, the theme of Range that is, I mean, the overall theme is sort of that society may overvalue specialists and undervalue generalists. But the theme beneath that, to me, is again that these things that are the most efficient ways to get the quickest improvement, whether that’s telling someone to specialize right away, or practicing in this repetitive specialized way, is often not the way to get the best long-term improvement.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, there’s just so much, so many implications to that in terms of if you think about sort of what you’re measuring and if you think about training or learning or development things. It’s sort of like you often don’t have the luxury of checking in sort of months or years later to see how we did. And so, there’s all kinds of systematic forces that would point us to doing just the opposite of that.

David Epstein
Yeah, totally. This project, in some ways, started in the sports world for me and only the introduction of Range is in the sports world but one of the things that got me interested there is that there’s this incredible drive to early specialization in youth sports. And then I went and looked at what the research says about optimal development, and it says that athletes who want to become elite, typically, have what’s called the sampling period where they play a variety of sports to gain these broader physical skills, scaffold later learning. They learn about their interests, they learn about their abilities, and they delay specializing until later than their peers who plateau at lower levels.

And I was looking at that, and then you see what was actually going on, and sort of saying, “Gosh, all these forces are pushing the opposite direction of that in the United States.” In Norway, which is like is, for me, probably the best sports country in the world per capita right now. There’s an HBO real sports on that’s showing they have embraced this stuff and changed their sports development pipelines.

But when I was living in New York until recently, there was a U7 travel soccer team that met near me, and I don’t think that anybody thinks that six-year-olds can’t find good enough competition in a city of nine million people to travel, right? It’s just that there’s these other forces at work, like those kids are customers for whoever’s running that league. And so, all these other forces militate against what we know about optimal development.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then what do you think is to be done in terms of if you’re a professional in a workplace and you want to develop well and over the long haul such that you have a fruitful career and rise and achieve all of your career dreams? What are some of the key things you recommend folks do?

David Epstein
Yeah, so let’s say you want to be an executive, which I think a lot of people would like to be at some point. LinkedIn recently did some research at looking at what were the best predictors of who would become an executive, and they have these incredible sample silos so they did this in a half a million members. And one of the best predictors was the number of different job functions that an individual had worked across in an industry.

And so, I think our intuition is to say, “Pick a job function and stick with it and drill into it and carve your niche and get specialized.” But, in fact, these people who sort of probably developed a more holistic view of their industry and how to integrate different types of skills are the ones who go on to become executives. And so, they are getting that breadth of training. And so, when it comes to having to do these more complex problems, they’re probably better equipped.

So, LinkedIn’s chief economist’s main advice was, “If you want to be an executive, work across more job functions.” And I think that’s good advice but I think you can do things short of that in a lot of ways. Like, learn what your colleagues do, learn more functions at your own work, because our natural inclination is to settle into our competencies. And as we settle into a rut and we get competent enough, I was talking to the economist Russ Roberts, he said it’s a hammock because it’s comfortable that’s why we don’t get out of it. And I was thinking, I want to make a weird analogy here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please.

David Epstein
When I was getting into my last book, I didn’t write about this, but I was reading some scientific literature on speed typing, okay? How fast is speed typing?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’ve been looking into speed typing. Continue.

David Epstein
Really?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I had a recent guest talk about how that’s one of the top skills you can use to sort of accelerate your performance in all kinds of things because a lot of typing that’s going on. And I’m a fan of the website Keybr I think it is, which sort of helps you get fast at typing fast. So, anyhow, my interest is piqued. Please continue.

David Epstein
Okay. So, yeah, so the idea is we all, like at first when you’re learning typing you make a lot of improvement and you get to whatever you get to, 60, 70, 80 words a minute, whatever you get to. And then you plateau and we pretty much all stay there at very good but not great. And it turns out there’s all these strategies that you can use to get like twice as fast, and they’re not even that complicated. Things as simple as you’d use a metronome, you take it up a little bit, and keep up with it even if you make mistakes, whatever.

There’s a bunch of strategies to get like twice as fast. But what it suggested to me is that our natural inclination that just experience will get us to a certain point but then we stop naturally improving just with experience. We sort of settle into that level of performance. And I think that’s kind of true of everything.

And so, we’re in danger as we get more experience and get more comfortable of not developing new skills anymore. We have to try new things. And I think that’s good both because it can get you off a plateau. When I was on a plateau stuff at writing this book, I decided to take an online fiction-writing course and it worked beautifully to help with the problem I was stuck with.

And so, I think it works because it can help get you off a plateau, but also one of the other main ideas in Range is this idea of match quality, which is the degree of fit between an individual, their abilities, their interests, and the work that they do. And good match quality turns out to be very important for your motivation, your performance, and the only way to improve your match quality, it turns out, is to try some things and then reflect on those experiences and keep sort of pinballing, doing that, and with an eye toward improving that match quality.

So, like the Army, for example, has created a system called talent-based branching where they were kind of hemorrhaging their highest potential officers since basically the start of the knowledge economy where those young officers could learn skills that they could laterally transfer into other types of work. And, at first, they just threw money at those officers to try to keep them, and that didn’t work at all. The people who were going to stay took the money, and the people who were going to go left anyway. That has a half a million dollars.

And then they started this thing called talent-based branching where instead of saying, “Here’s your career track. Go upper out,” they say, “We’re pairing you with this coach-type figure and here’s a bunch of career tracks, and just start dabbling in them, and your coach will help you reflect on how did this fit with your talents and your interests. And we’ll do that so we can get you better match quality.” And that’s actually turned out to work better for retention because when people have high match quality, they want to stay. There’s a saying that I quote a research in the book, saying, “When you get fit it will look like grit because if you get a good fit, people will work harder.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad you brought up grit because that’s something I want to talk about. You say that there could be a problem with too much grit. What’s that about?

David Epstein
So, I think for listeners who maybe have probably heard the concept of grit, I’m guessing. But the psychological construct came out of this survey where it started as a 12-question survey where half the questions were points for resilience basically and the other half for consistency of interest. And so, you lose points if you sometimes abandon a project for another one or I think you change interest, and things like that.

And the most famous study, what was actually done on cadets going into West Point, so future Army officers. They were trying to get through what’s called east barracks, that’s the U.S. military Academy’s six-week orientation where it’s physically and emotionally rigorous. And grit, that survey turned out to be a better predictor of who would make it through these than more traditional measures that the Army used. And although most people make it through, which is great, but in the study. I feel like Angela Duckworth and her colleagues, I’d give them a ton of credit because some of the critique I write about in the book comes like directly out of their own papers and it’s kind of like lost in translation, I think, where those people in that study were highly pre-selected for a number of qualities.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Got to get that Senate recommendation, Congressional letter. That ain’t easy.

David Epstein
That is what statisticians call restriction of rank problem. So, if you’ve truncated a lot of variables by selecting a small group out of humanity, so it makes the other variables exacerbated. But they were also pre-selected for this very short-term six-week goal, right? And life isn’t a six-week goal. So, when we looked at the longer timeline, again, like half of these people basically leave the Army almost the day that they’re allowed.

And so, high-ranking Army officials said, “We should defund West Point because ‘it’s an institution that taught its cadets to get out of the Army.’” And that’s not the case, right? And those people didn’t just lose their grit. It’s that they learned some things about themselves, which tends to happen in that time period, the fastest time a personality change in your life is 18 to your late 20s, but it continues changing faster than people think over your life, and they decided they wanted to go do something else.

That’s why throwing money at them didn’t work where talent-based branching did because it’s giving them some control over their career path and their match quality, and trying things and then changing direction is basically essential to improving your match quality. And if you’re not willing to do that, then you’re just hoping for luck in your match quality. And I think if we thought of our careers the way we thought of dating, right, we would never tell people to settle down so quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
“Just stick with that gal. She’s great.”

David Epstein
For some people that might be a good idea.

Pete Mockaitis
“You have four dates. Don’t quit.”

David Epstein
I thought I was going to marry my high school girlfriend and at the time that seemed like a good idea. And then I had more experience in the world, in retrospect that wouldn’t have been a good idea. And I felt the same way in my approach to jobs. Some jobs I thought I was going to stick with, I thought I was going to be a scientist. In retrospect, that wasn’t a good idea for me, but I didn’t know that until I tried that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m intrigued then when it comes to sampling, I’d love it if you could share some of your favorite kind of tactical tips with regard to, “How can I get a lot of sampling going?” So, you talked about, “Hey, talk to work colleagues who are in a completely different functional area. Maybe check out an online course.” What are some other means of sampling?

David Epstein
Yeah, I kind of take this approach from someone’s work I love that resonated with me because I had career change, or changed directions several times, from a London business school professor named Herminia Ibarra. And she has this quote I love, “We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.” Basically, what she means is this psychological research shows that we’re not like so great at intuiting our own talents and interests before we have a chance to try stuff, we actually have to try the things, and then learn about ourselves. Act and then think, instead of think and then act, as she says.

And so, for me, I kind of started a book of experiments where just like when I was a science grad student, I’ll say, “Here are my skills now. Here’s some things I want to learn. Here are things, some weaknesses. Here’s my hypothesis about how I might be able to work on this.” And then I’ll go try something and see if that works.

So, again, I mentioned this online fiction-writing class I took, right? So, I got stuck in structuring my book, and I needed to do something different. And so, I go take this class, and among the things I was made to do was write with only dialogue, and write with no dialogue at all. And after doing the no dialogue at all, I went back to my manuscript and stripped a ton of quotes and replaced them with my description because I realized I was unconsciously coming from usually doing shorter-form types of things. I was leaning on quotes to convey information in a way that is not really good writing. And that’s not even the improvement I was looking for. But just getting out of my normal mode of doing things gave me this huge advantage.

And so, I try to do that regularly. Like, people might be familiar with this research “The Strength of Weak Ties” like your new job usually comes not from the people core in your network because they’re kind of doing this, you know those options already, and a lot of them are doing things similar to you. It comes from these people that you are several degrees away from but you can get connected to.

And that’s what Herminia Ibarra’s work shows, that when people find better career fits, it always comes from some key whole view, like they take some class, or they go to some event, or they meet someone at a dinner party and sort of ignites an interest, and then they start testing it little by little, getting in a little more and a little more until sometimes they make a full transition.

And so, I’m constantly doing those experiments with my book of experiments. So, I think everybody should constantly be doing this, “What do I want to work on? Here’s my hypothesis for how I could do that. I’m going to go try that thing.” Then reflect on it and put it in your notebook and keep going forward. And I think even keeping that, what I call that book of experiments, prompts me to constantly be doing that in a proactive way, whereas there was a period when I was at Sports Illustrated, for example, where I very much settled into something I felt come to that and just did over and over for a while, and took a while till I realized, “Gosh, I’m actually not adding to my skills here.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I really like that just sort of the fun exercise you mentioned with the writing, with regard to all dialogue and no dialogue, and then how that filters in forever. And that reminds me, boy, back in my AP, I guess, English composition or rhetoric course in high school, our dear teacher Judy Feddermier, that was sort of like each week that was the challenge. It was a different kind of a challenge associated with the writing, like, “Okay, this time you are not to allow to use any to be verbs. No is, no are, no was, no were.” I’m like, “This is crazy.” And I just used one, “This is crazy.”

And so, but sure enough, I was like, “Yeah, this writing is a little awkward,” but it’s what you sort of kind of back to being able to use some. You realize, “Oh, boy, having fewer of them sure sounds better in terms of more active and exciting and lively than a bunch of is’s and are’s.”

David Epstein
Yeah, and I think it sort of just gets you out of that. Because the interesting thing is and sort of almost like troubling thing to me when I did that with the no dialogue, and went and changed my manuscript, was that until then I didn’t realize that I had been kind of unconsciously doing something I’d gotten used to. And it took doing something different for me to think about that which is annoying. I wish I were just like perceptive enough to realize that without having to get kind of knocked out of my normal mode but, really, I wasn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess, I’m wondering then, in the whole universe of essential skills you might choose to start experimenting and dabbling in to add to your repertoire, is there a means by which you think about prioritizing them? Or is there just sort of, “Hey, there’s a glimmer of interest here. Let’s see what happens”?

David Epstein
Yeah, that’s a good question. Usually, I kind of always have some project or other that’s either in some stage of development, and my projects tend to be quite different. And so, there’s usually something related to my project that’s either like an area of knowledge maybe that where the project is kind of driving those in some way, where it’s I know I need to, that this book is going to be the biggest structural writing challenge I’ve ever had, therefore like I need to improve my skills. So, usually it comes out of something that I’m otherwise doing, and realizing what’s the new part of that challenge.

So, I will say, when I’ve taken on these bigger projects, like my first book was the hardest structurally to organize all the information writing challenge I ever had, and this book was much harder than that one. And so, I think the one thing I’ve done a pretty good job of is taking on these projects that are kind of in the optimal push zone where they’re not so over my head that I simply can’t do it, but they are definitely stretching me to the point where I have to think about learning new things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s fun. And I’m also wondering about sort of things that you hate. So, one approach is there’s a glimmer of interest or sort of what skill is necessary to develop there. And I’m wondering about because when you’re talking about in terms of sort of this inefficiency or doing a wide breadth of things such that it’s more frustrating and less fun sort of the in the early stages, but then you have some cool capabilities later on as a result of doing it.

I guess I’m wondering to what extent would a chasing after skills that I’m just currently very bad at, I’m thinking about sort of home improvement and being handy type skills right now, so kind of the opposite of intellectual, “Hey, we’re having rich conversations and thinking about the themes and summarizing them well, and marketing and reaching audiences,” like all that stuff is like very different than, “Okay, I got to drill and I’m trying to make this thing go there and not make a huge mess.” Is there a particular value in doing stuff you hate?

David Epstein
I don’t think you should necessarily do it over and over if you hate it unless it’s really essential to something you’re doing. So, when I first started doing some lab work en route to what I thought I was being a scientist, my expectation was that I would love it and this was what I would do for the rest of my life. And what I found out was that was not necessarily the case, and that was an important thing to learn.

And, conversely, I’m a fairly new homeowner, and the last thing I would’ve thought I would ever be interested in was plumbing, for goodness’ sake. And, it turns out, it’s kind of interesting actually. Like, we had some stuff we had to fix and I started to find this sort of interesting. So, I don’t think you should do anything with plumbing if you hate it, but I do think you might find things that you a priori would think you wouldn’t really like, then when you actually try them might be more interesting than you thought. And, vice versa, things that you expected to love that maybe not so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. So, it sounds like it’s worth at least an hour or two to see what happens.

David Epstein
One of the things I write about in Range is a so-called end of history illusion. This is psychology of finding that we all realize that we, based on our experiences and everything, we have changed a lot in the past, but then think we will change very little in the future. And we do this at every time point in life, if we say we change a lot in the past, and then proceed to underestimate how much we’ll change in the future. So, it leads to all these kinds of funny findings.

So, one just sort of humorous one is, because people underestimate how much their taste will change, if you ask people how much they would pay for a ticket to see their favorite band, their today favorite band to 10 years from now, the average answer is $129. And if you ask how much they would pay to see today their favorite band from 10 years ago, the average answer is $80, because we underestimate how much our taste will change.

And the thing is personality actually changes over the entire course of your life, and one of the predictable changes is as you become older, your openness to experience, which is one of the big five personality traits, declines. But doing new stuff that you’re not used to can actually stop that. So, there are these studies where older people are in that decline phase, and this is a trait that we know is very much correlated with creativity. And these old people were trained on things like certain types of puzzles, okay? And even if they didn’t get better at the puzzles, they became more open to experience. And so, I think there’s also these personality reasons that are associated with creativity to do stuff that is just outside of anything else you’re doing if you want to stem that decline of openness to experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think what’s interesting about that is it might be hard to even dream up or conceive like what is that thing because it’s so not in your current world. Do you have any tips on how to kind of spark that prompt or stimulus in the first place?

David Epstein
For me, and this has been a long-running thing is I go to libraries and bookstores because those are places where I find interests that I didn’t know I had. And that’s why I value those places so much because, nothing against Amazon, but, yet, the algorithm works in a way that it sends me things I’m interested in and that I think I’m interested in, and it doesn’t send me the things that I don’t know I’m interested in basically.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

David Epstein
And so, when I do this more natural browsing which, by the way, I consider the willingness to go to libraries now like a competitive advantage for me because I think people don’t do it anymore. But those are the places where I find these things that I did not know I was interested in, and that’s why I really value them. That’s why I make sure I go to those places instead of just only ordering my reading material, and I’m a big reader on Amazon.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m a huge fan of libraries and, boy, now, you’ve got me kind of excited just to see what would happen if you just went kind of blind into a stack, grabbed a book, and say, “I’m going to read six pages and see what happens.”

David Epstein
When I go into like a local bookstore or something like that, I don’t go, like if I really need a book right away and I know what it is, I will order on Amazon, and if I really need it quick, I’ll have it on my Kindle. But when I’m going into like bookstores, I’m not going for a particular thing. I’m going to look around and I always end up with something that I didn’t really expect.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, can you tell me, if folks are inspired, they’re thinking, “Yes, David’s Range that’s what’s up, I’m all about it. I want to get some more skills, be more interdisciplinary,” are there any kind of watch-outs or warnings or mistakes that are associated with this endeavor?

David Epstein
Well, I think people are probably pretty aware of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none sort of syndrome. Like, you don’t want to get cast as someone who doesn’t know anything. And I think it’s actually pretty culturally telling that the end of that phrase, that adage, jack of all trades master of none, is oftentimes better than master of one, but we’ve totally dropped that part and I don’t think we even know it. And I think that’s because there’s sort of this bias against breadth. And so, I do think there’s that danger of signaling to other people that you don’t really know anything about anything.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds dangerous.

David Epstein
Yeah, and I think that’s actually one reason why. So, I was just at…maybe a lot of people have heard of Motley Fool. You know Motley Fool? I was just at an event of theirs, and there was a survey on a video screen and the audience could vote with their phones. And the survey was, “What do you think is the average age of a founder of a breakout startup on the day of founding, not when it becomes a breakout?” The choices were 25, 35, 45, 55, and the overwhelming favorite was 25.

And the answer is actually based on research from MIT and the Census Bureau is 45 and a half. But we sort of think of this, you know, Mark Zuckerberg, when he was 22 and famous, he said, “Young people are just smarter.” Like we think of Tiger Woods, even though that’s not the normal typical model, and Mark Zuckerberg, it’s these very dramatic stories of youthful precocity that we think of as the norm, but actually the people who become these really successful entrepreneurs usually bounce around a fair bit first.

And I think what a lot of them end up doing, I describe people like this in Range, is they get this mix of skills that maybe other people sort of look down upon, but it leaves them with this intersection of skills that creates new ground where they’re not in direct competition with someone. They’re trying to do something new, and they have to create their own ground, and they often become entrepreneurs, sometimes because they have to. And that can be really good but it can also be really challenging because you can kind of end up, and I think especially so, in this year of LinkedIn, which I think is a great tool, but also allows HR people to make a much more narrowly-defined job and still have a ton of candidates.

And so, in Range I talk about the work of Abbie Griffin who studies so-called serial innovators who make these repeated major contributions to their companies. And her advice to HR people is basically, “Don’t define your job too narrowly because you’re going to accidentally screen these people out because their traits are like they’ve often worked across domains, they have a wide range of interests, they read more widely than other colleagues, they have a need to talk to more people in other disciplines, they like to use analogies from other disciplines, they often have hobbies that seem like they might be distracting,” but that those are the traits of those people, and her concern is that HR people will see them as scattered and not as focused on any particular area.

So, I think the real concern is of the signal that might be sent to people who are in a position of making personnel decisions.

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

David Epstein
I think specialization made a ton of sense when we were in more of an industrial economy, when people were facing similar challenges repeatedly and that was when those Army officers did not move outside of the Army with nearly as much frequency because other companies, specialists were facing the same challenge, and they were ahead, and you can’t catch up. But in the knowledge economy, some of the patent research I looked at in Range shows that it’s basically just since like the late ‘80s forward where the contributions of more generalists inventors.

So, in this research, the generalists are defined as people, their work is spread across a larger number of technology classes, as class is a patent office, whereas the specialists drill more into a small number or a single technology class. And both of these types of people make contributions, but the contributions of those people who are broader have been increasing with the knowledge economy.

And so, I don’t think this has always been true that generalists have these special, or broader people have these special contributions to make, but I think it’s sort of a function of the fact that with our communication technology, information is rapidly and thoroughly disseminated. And there are many more opportunities, for combining knowledge in new ways as opposed to just creating some totally new piece of knowledge.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes sense. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

David Epstein
I love that quote from Herminia Ibarra, “We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.” That’s one that’s like really stuck in my head because I don’t totally know what I’m going to do next, and I’m thinking about things. And so, that’s really affected the approach that I’m going to take.

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

David Epstein
Right now, I would say that my favorite book, gosh, I read a lot so this changes from time to time, but right now, I would say my favorite book is probably War and Peace, the Anthony Briggs translation, so I read multiple translations when I got really into it. And I didn’t realize, I was just reading it because like I was going through this website that aggregates all great book list, and I was trying to just like go down some of the greatest books.

And it is a novel, in the form of a novel, it’s actually Tolstoy’s refutation of the great man theory of history, and he uses Napoleon as the main character, and argues, and he does like some journalistic reporting on those events, and argues that, well, Napoleon was really an effect not a cause of these larger forces basically.

And so, he had these historical essays. And the story, his writing is amazing. But I also found that argument really interesting, and that led me to read this essay about a philosopher Isaiah Berlin based on War and Peace where Isaiah Berlin used these two types of characters he analyzes in War and Peace the foxes and the hedgehogs. The hedgehogs know one big thing, and the foxes know many little things.

And those hedgehog and fox constructs were then borrowed by Philip Tetlock, the psychologist, to do the work that’s featured in my chapter 10 of people who develop the best judgment about the world and about political and economic trends, who know many little things instead of one big thing. And so, it was really cool, you know, that research I was already interested in, to see in War and Peace sort of where those ideas of the fox and the hedgehog via Isaiah Berlin’s philosophy as it where it came from. So, not only did I enjoy the book for its own right, but it really made me think about some modern research in an interesting way.

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

David Epstein
Oh, my goodness. I would die if I didn’t have Searchlight on. That’s why I have to be a Mac user because I basically, the organization system I use is writing lots of words in various things that I think I would search if I wanted to find it. And so, I’d probably use Searchlight 500 times a day.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

David Epstein
Running, if you count that. I’m a very avid runner.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. And is there a key nugget that you share often that tends to get sort of quoted back to you frequently?

David Epstein
In my first book, The Sports Gene there’s like I did some data analysis of body types, and this one part that mentions that if you know an American man between the ages of 20 and 40, who’s at least 7 feet tall, then there’s a 17% chance he’s a current NBA player. And, yeah, people mention that to me a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
I just think it’s funny that a very specific numerical tidbit is what people are sticking with.

David Epstein
Yeah, I tell you, I’m really bad at predicting at things for my own books that people are going to latch onto versus the things that I latch onto the most. It’s kind of an interesting experience.

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

David Epstein
DavidEpstein.com is my website, and I’m davidepstein on Twitter.

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

David Epstein
Yeah, I think if I can really talk to someone it would be managers, and say, “Do your own form of talent-based branching where you allow people to explore some of their other interest and talents, and help them reflect on those experiences.” I was on the podcast for The Ringer, Bill Simmons. He runs probably the most popular sports podcast in the world, and he used to be ESPN’s most popular writer, then he did something on HBO and that kind of failed. And now he started his own company, and it’s one of the happiest workplaces I have ever been in.

And one of the interesting things was people who were hired to edit like online articles, some of them have become like seriously famous in the sports world podcast personalities with huge followings, and that’s because once they’re in that company, he’ll say like, “Okay, come try on a podcast for a little bit and see how it goes.” And it seems like people have an opportunity to basically try their hand at whatever the company has to offer. And a couple of the people who came in, in these more kind of quotidian jobs have become like famous, and it was a happy workplace. So, I think he’s really onto something with sort of letting people try their hand at things in a way that like doesn’t really damage anything too much if it doesn’t go well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, David, thanks for this. I wish you tons of luck with Range and all your adventures.

David Epstein
Thank you very much.

451: Deploying Your Mental Energy Brilliantly with Dr. Art Markman

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Art Markman says: "You have to generate a certain amount of dissatisfaction in order to do something different."

Professor Art Markman shares insights from cognitive science research for us to be smarter every day at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to making a great first impression
  2. The pros and cons of high energy
  3. The role of dissatisfaction in motivating yourself

About Art

Art Markman is a Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. He got his ScB from Brown University and his PhD from the University of Illinois.  Before coming to the University of Texas, Art taught at Northwestern University and Columbia University.

Art’s research explores thinking. Art is also the executive editor of the journal of Cognitive Science and is a former executive officer of the Cognitive Science Society. Art has always been interested in bringing insights from Cognitive Science to a broader audience. To that end, he writes blogs for many sites including Psychology Today and Fast Company. He consults for companies interested in using Cognitive Science in their businesses.  Art is also on the scientific advisory boards for the Dr. Phil Show and the Dr. Oz Show.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Art Markman Interview Transcript

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

Art Markman
Oh, it’s great to be talking to you today. Thanks so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’d have a ton of fun. And I think, first things first. I got to say I-L-L.

Art Markman
I-N-I.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. It’s great to have a fellow alum in the house. And I also understand that you play sax for a blues band. What’s the story here?

Art Markman
Yes, so, in my mid-30s I decided to take up the saxophone.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Art Markman
And I’d played the piano as a kid, and realized I’d never played another instrument, because when I was 5th grade, and they demonstrated band instruments, I asked my mom if I could play the French horn, and she said, “No, we have a piano. You play the piano.” And I realized in my mid-30s it was no longer her fault. So, I took up the sax and then started playing in bands after I’d been practicing for about 10 years. And it’s great fun. It gets me out of the house in a healthy way.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are the names of the bands? I love band names.

Art Markman
So, right now, I actually transitioned to playing with a ska band, and we’re called Phineas Gage who was a 19th century railroad worker who had a spike blown through his head and lived.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I don’t know why I know that.

Art Markman
Well, it’s just one of those random facts that once you hear it once, it tends to stick with you.

Pete Mockaitis
But didn’t he have some sort of a condition as a result of it that was studied by a lot of folks?

Art Markman
Yes. So, one of the things, so Antonio Damasio makes a lot out of this because if Phineas Gage seemed to have trouble actually connecting the emotional experience of his life with the cognitive experience. And so, it was easy to take advantage of him because that little spidey sense that goes off in most of us when we’re dealing with somebody who’s a little shady didn’t seem to affect him.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, cognitive science is your cup of tea, and you, indeed, like to talk about applying it, too, in your latest book, Career Advancement. Could you maybe orient us a little bit to what exactly does the term cognitive science mean, and what are some kind of key concepts that make a world of difference in career advancement?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, cognitive science, it goes beyond mere psychology to say that if we’re going to understand something as complex as a mind, we need to understand the science of behavior, that’s where psychology comes in, but also how brains work, so neuroscience. It’s useful to have some computation to think through how we might build an intelligent machine, and so robotics and computer science come in, as well as culture so you get some anthropology, and linguistics to understand how language functions.

And so, when you take that much broader-based perspective, you get all of these different insights into the way the mind works. And I’m sort of a native-born cognitive scientist. My undergraduate major was actually cognitive science. And one of the things that that does is it allows you to get more perspective on why you think the way you do.

I like to point out that almost everybody I know has a mind and almost nobody knows how that mind works. And, yet, if you learn about the way your mind works, it can help you to do the things that you do more effectively. For example, one of the things that I talk about in the new book is it has to do with the way that you present yourself in a resume, that you might think, “Well, I should jam every conceivable positive thing into my resume that I can find,” under the assumption that people are adding together the total amount of goodness about you. But it turns out that when people actually look at a resume, they are averaging.

And so, if you put on something that’s good but not great, you could actually lower your average a little bit. And so, if you’ve got that honorable mention for a prize, yeah, you might want to think twice about whether you want to include that because it might actually bring down people’s overall evaluation of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I think, in particular, when you’re trying to customize a resume to tell a story in terms of that’s really going to resonate for the recipient, as opposed to like, “This guy is all over the place,” versus, “Oh, this guy is a real pro and exactly the things I want him or her to be a pro at.”

Art Markman
Exactly right. So, you really want to understand the mind, not only your own mind, but the minds of the people who are going to be evaluating you so that you can be as effective as possible at impressing them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy, yes. So, we’re going to talk about a lot of stuff. But I’d love to kick it off by hearing what’s perhaps the most fascinating and surprising discovery you’ve made when it comes to deploying some of these cognitive science insights for career advancement?

Art Markman
So, I would say that one of the more surprising elements of this has to do, for me, with understanding values and value systems. That one of the things that you find, particularly when you start to talk to people who’ve been in the workplace for a little while, is they get dissatisfied with their careers because they realize that the things that they thought they wanted when they were 20 are not actually the things that they wanted.

And it becomes useful to begin to think about, “Well, what kinds of things do I value? Am I the sort of person who actually cares about prestige? Or do I really care about helping others and being part of my community? And am I on a track to be able to do that?” Because you may not be able to reach all of your goals and achieve all of the things that meet your values in your first job, but, at some point, you’ve got to feel like you’re making progress towards it.

And I think that a lot of people don’t take that into account until too late, and then you experience that mid-life crisis, or you think, “I’ve just wasted all of my time.” When, in fact, you can begin to do that much earlier in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Could you share what are some key values that folks think they want and realize that they don’t kind of often?

Art Markman
Well, so, I have a number of stories in the book because I was happy enough to be able to enlist the help of people on social media. So, as I was writing the book and had all these concepts, I would just ask people questions and they would tell me their stories. And I’ll tell you two that were kind of fun.

One is a guy named Brian. He finished college and, really, took a job that was going to pay well and give him some prestige, and he actually realized that was not what he wanted at all. He left his job, went to do the Peace Corps for a while, and came back, and really focused on jobs that were going to help others. That was actually something that he ended up being passionate about.

But there are other kinds of values. There’s another story in the book about a guy who went into a session to talk about State Department jobs, and walked out of a test that they took, and other folks were laughing at this one question about, “Who would enjoy being in a warzone?” And he realized, actually, he wanted that. He responded positively to that question. He realized that adventure was a very important value for him, and he ended up fashioning a career that put him in a lot of dangerous places, but it was utterly exhilarating to him.

So, some of us want enjoyment and adventure, and some people want stability and they want to know where their next paycheck is coming from. Some people want to be helpful, and some people really want to look out for themselves. And all of those things across the population are values that people hold. We get some of those from the culture around us, but, particularly in the United States, we’re given a lot of opportunity to really decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And so, you lay out Shalom Schwartz who crafted a set of values with 10 universal values there from power, and achievement, and hedonism, and stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, conformity, tradition, security. That was fast.

Art Markman
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
No need to dig into every one of them. But it’s intriguing, you say that there’s a couple of ways you can go about clarifying your own values and what’s most potent for you. And what are those?

Art Markman
Well, the very first thing you want to do is actually to be aware of them, to be aware that there are these values, and to begin to ask, to what degree do these resonate with you. And there are scales that you can take. I’m actually going to be putting one up online for people who read the book if they want to actually test themselves against these values.

But one of the things I think is important is periodically, throughout your career, not every week by any means, but maybe on that yearly basis, to ask yourself, “Well, how am I doing? Do I feel like I am doing the kinds of things in my work life often enough that I am making progress towards those kinds of goals? Or do I feel like my values are not being reflected at all in the work that I’m doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really resonating for me as I’m thinking about my first job that resembled a professional job. There was an internship at Eaton Corporation, which I’ve not heard of but is a Fortune 500 company, it’s a diversified industrial manufacturer. And I remember, as I wrapped up that internship, I thought, “You know what? This was pretty cool in terms of I learned some things, my brain got tickled and challenged a little bit, there were some great people I enjoyed sort of seeing regularly, and I got home at a decent hour. And, yeah, option was there to return.”

But I remember walking away, thinking, “You know, I think that this company could provide me a satisfying stable kind of a career,” but I really wanted a thrilling one. And so, I went with strategy consulting after graduation. And then after some years of that, I thought, “You know what? I want more autonomy. And I want maybe in-between 40 hours and 65 hours, somewhere in that zone would probably be better at that phase.”

And so, it definitely connects that both of those opportunities were great, and it’s just about seeing what’s the best fit for you and life, and what’s going on.

Art Markman
And it can change over time as well. Later in the book, I talk a little bit about another guy who, early on, was focused on developing that career and having that very stable career, but also one that had a certain amount of achievement in it. Then, in the middle of his career, his wife got sick, and he needed to really back off and put his value on his family and on taking care of his wife and his kids.

And then, later in his career, after he went back to work, after she got healthy again, and had some success, and engaged those values again, and then decided he wanted to really help others, and actually left the practice of law and ended up running a non-profit for a while. And so, you get these shifts over time sometimes as a result of life circumstances, and sometimes just as a result of changes in perspective as you see more things in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, we’ve already kind of gotten into some of the meat of it, but maybe to zoom out for a moment, what would you say is kind of the main thesis or big idea behind this book you got here, “Bring Your Brain to Work”?

Art Markman
Yeah, so the idea is that if you think about your career, which is bigger than any individual job, it’s that collection of things that you truly contribute as a result of the work that you do, and has this cycle of looking for a job and getting it, then succeeding at it while you’ve got it, and then considering whether to move on or move up. That that cycle can be really informed, no matter where you are in your career, can be informed by understanding more about your mind and the minds of other people.

And that this is stuff that we don’t really ever learn in class. And most people, when they hit mid-career, realize that very little of what allowed them to succeed at work was something that they learned in a class in school. And so, part of what I’m trying to do in the book is to bring more of the research around cognitive science to help people to learn some of those things that are critical for career success that they probably didn’t get in a class.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, excellent. Well, thank you. We appreciate that effort in the world. And so, let’s dig into some of the stuff then. We talked a bit about zeroing in on what you value and figuring out how a job might align to that. But you’ve also got some pro tips in terms of acquiring the job using cognitive science insights. Like in the midst of an interview, how do you figure out kind of where the interviewer’s head is at, and what they might love?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, one of the things that fascinate me about interviews is a lot of people walk into that interview focused almost exclusively on, “I have to impress the interviewer. I need this job, and I want them to think great thoughts about me at the end.” And, of course, that’s not irrelevant. You want to go into the interview well-prepared so that you’re able to really talk authoritatively about yourself and about the way that you would fit with the company, which means you need to know something about the company.

But what a lot of people don’t do effectively is to realize how much they can learn about the organization that they’re interviewing with as a result of that interview process. So, if you get totally stumped on a question, you might think to yourself, “Well, that’s it. I’ve screwed this up completely.” But, actually, it gives you this opportunity to engage in a conversation with the interviewer and to get a real sense of, “Is this a company that actually wants to support me, that wants me to learn, that wants me to help, to think the way that they think?”

And to the extent that the interviewer actually digs in and works with you to walk your way through an interview question, they may be telling you something about their willingness to help to mentor you and to train you, and for you to understand that this is a company that doesn’t necessarily think you need to be fully formed on day one in order to succeed. On the other hand, if the company just brushes you off for not knowing the answer to a question, then, well, their communicating something completely different, right?

And so, you should be paying attention to that from the beginning to really understand, “What am I learning about this organization?” through the interview process, frankly, through the negotiation process as well, where they’re communicating a lot about what they value in the way that they treat you when you are trying to negotiate salary and benefits and things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, that’s a great point there, is to, first of all, to broaden my question a bit. It’s not just about impress, impress, impress. It’s a two-way street. You’re picking up intelligence on their side, like, “Is this a good fit? Do you like the way they work it?” But then back to the wowing side of things, when you are putting half of the attention on that side of the equation, what are some things that do some of the wowing or help you sense what they’re really feeling?

Art Markman
Yeah, so one of the fascinating things about the interview is, more than anything else, companies are trying to figure out whether they want to work with you, because they’ve already brought you in, which means they’ve looked at your materials, they feel like you have potential qualifications for the job. And so, now, they’re trying to envision how you fit in.

And so, part of what you want to do is to really engage. So, yes, you need to be prepared but, at some point, you need to really have a conversation. Give those interviewers a chance to have a sense of what it would be like to have you as a colleague. But to do it by putting that best foot forward, every once in a while, you think to yourself, “Well, do I really have to put on an act for them? Do I have to be really my best self?” And the answer is yes. You don’t want necessarily need to show every single quirk in the interview. Right, exactly. Those things that people will find charming eventually. Maybe get them to learn to love you first.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got plenty of quirks, Art, that’s why I’m laughing over here.

Art Markman
And so do I, right? And it’s fine. I think quirks are part of what makes us interesting in the long run. But in the short term, you want to put that best foot forward. And I think, really, believe in what’s called the halo effect. So, the better the first impression that someone gets of you, the more charitably that they interpret every other thing that you do, because every behavior that you exhibit in the world is ambiguous, right?

Are you brash and arrogant? Or are you confident and assertive, right? Well, those could manifest themselves with almost identical behaviors. But if I like you already, I’m going to think of you as confident. And if I don’t like you from the beginning, I’m going to think that you are kind of an arrogant jerk. And so, you really want to come out initially with creating the best possible impressions socially that you can in order to get people to feel like you’d be somebody that they really want to work with.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, in terms of some of the details for how that’s done, I imagine there are some basic fundamentals, like smile, make eye contact, engage, listen, shower.

Art Markman
Shower is good, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Put on some clothes that aren’t stained and wrinkled. But are there any sort of like cognitive science secrets that are some huge do’s or don’ts when it comes to making a great impression?

Art Markman
Yeah, one of them is it’s not just smile. It’s, bring the amount of energy and enthusiasm that you want that person to feel later. So, one of the things we know about conversation is that people tune to each other, even down to the level of the pitch of your voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Art Markman
Yeah, absolutely. Really, yes, they do. And if people are laughing, right, or smiling, then if one person is doing it, the other person is doing it. They will even mimic facial expressions, and if one person crosses their arms, eventually the other one is going to do it.

And so, if you’re trying to generate energy and enthusiasm, because that will ultimately be interpreted by the interviewer as enjoyment. The fact is that the higher your degree of energy, the more invested you are motivationally in something.

And so, if you come in really flat, then you’re going to get a flat evaluation later because the interviewer is going to mimic your flatness, and you’re going to end up just it’s going to be a mediocre evaluation at the end. But if you come in with energy and enthusiasm, you will create energy. And that energy actually now feeds back into the evaluation that you get.

So, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And so, you need to bring the energy that you want the interviewer to have, particularly because many times you’re working with somebody who may be a recruiter, or a hiring manager, who might be doing 15 interviews. And so, if you don’t bring it, well, they don’t need it, right? They’re doing a ton of these all day. So, you’ve got to make sure that you create the atmosphere that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, Art, I think that I am one of those people, I don’t know how if I’m in the majority or the minority here, that could overdo it with regard to the energy, like, “Whoa, that’s a little too much. Like, are you, I don’t know, a clown, or a motivational speaker?” Like, how do we think about when is it too much?

Art Markman
Well, honestly, I don’t think that the energy level can be too much. But I do think that you have to be careful when you’re energetic to still stay on topic. So, one of the things that a high level of energy can do is to allow you to overcome your filter, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, certainly.

Art Markman
One of the things that we know motivationally is that we have in our motivational system what you can think of as a go system that drives you to do things, and then a stop system that gets you to inhibit things that your go system says you should do that on sober reflection might not be such a good idea. And the more that you overload that go system, which is something you can do when you give yourself a tremendous amount of energy, the more you can override the breaks which can potentially cause you to say something that you probably shouldn’t have said in an interview.

And so, the danger with too much energy is not so much the impact that it’s likely to have on the interviewer, so much as the likelihood that it’s going to cause you to do or say something that probably was not a great idea.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good thought there, certainly. So, I imagine, so long as you’re keeping like your volume and gestures like within a normal reasonable human dimension, and you’re not just disclosing crazy things. I heard a story of a person who interviewed someone who said, “Hey, how are you doing?” He said, “Not well.” And then he went on to share quite the story of how his girlfriend threw him out of their apartment, and his clothes were thrown out of the window, and he was trying to figure out a place to, I don’t know, get a suit cleaned or something in the middle of the night. And he was like, “Okay, this is uncomfortable now.”

Art Markman
Right. I think the correct answer there would’ve been, “Fine.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Exactly. Okay. So, that’s handy. So, great energy but not so much that you      are doing unwise things and short-circuiting the stop system there. Well, now, let’s say you got the job, and you want to apply some of these cognitive science insights to, let’s say, communicate, collaborate, interact with your colleagues and clients better. What are some of your favorite do’s and don’ts there?

Art Markman
Yeah, so one of the things to watch out for in the modern environment is that we do so much discussion with our colleagues that is mediated by text, whether it’s email, or instant messages, or Slack, or any one of these ways of communicating just through the words alone being sent through the ether.

And the problem is, human communication is really optimized because of our evolutionary history for a small number of people interacting face to face in real time. And the further away that we get from that ideal, the harder it is for us to communicate effectively with our colleagues. And that means that if you’re going to do most of your communication with your colleagues via text, you need to go out of your way to create a certain amount of facetime with them in order to establish a relationship so that they can read the tone of what you say more effectively.

Because if I need your help with something, and I poked my head into your office, or over your cubicle wall, or whatever it is, and I say, “Listen, man, would it be all right, could you possibly make some copies for me right now? I’m running late, I’d really appreciate it.” You can make a request of someone that imposes on their time and still demonstrates to them through the words that you use and your tone of voice and the look on your face that you understand what a big imposition it is, and that you deeply appreciate what they’re doing.

When you say the same thing over text, it comes across as cold and as demanding. And so, unless they can hear your voice in their head, then you’re actually going to end up sabotaging some number of your relationships just because of the overuse of this kind of text. So, we have to find ways to create that kind of facetime.

And, as it turns out, that is often more efficient because things that can take you 10 minutes going back and forth by email or instant message, can actually often be resolved in about four seconds of real conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love what you had to say there with regard to give them lots of experiences of the facetime, and then they can imagine in their own mind’s eye and ear what your facial expressions are looking like and what your voice is sounding like. This reminds me when I was consulting. We had this client and we kept getting these emails back. We asked about, “Hey, we want some data like this.” And then the client sent back some things. And we’re like, “Oh, actually, hey, thank you. But we’d really kind of want it like this.”

And then she sent something back and had some red-letters in it, like, “Oh, man, she’s angry.” And then we thought, “Why don’t we just pay her a visit?” And it was like, “Hey, what’s going on? We really appreciate you taking the time to help us, think through it, share these things. We’re trying to accomplish this and it’d be really awesome if it’s possible to do that.” She’s like, “Oh, yes, absolutely. Certainly, I can get that to you this afternoon.” Just like the sweetest thing.

Art Markman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And like, “Oh, thank you.” And then it’s like it just sort of reinterpreted every email that we were like sweating over. It’s like, “Oh, I guess maybe red is just a clear means of delineating and separating that text from the original email text in black or blue, as opposed to, “I’m furious at you.” And it was quite the lesson. Yeah, eyes opened.

Art Markman
Yeah, and we’ve gotten out of the habit of doing that. We think, somehow, it’s easier to be doing everything mediated by text. So, I really think that making sure that you create that relationship, I think, is just critical for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And we had Dr. Nick Morgan, a famed communications consultant, on the show earlier. He said one great phrase used often in like a phone call or sort of less rich exchange is, “How do you feel about what I’ve just said?” You know, just to get real explicit, like it may not have been conveyed so let’s figure it out. It seemed pretty brilliant to me.

Art Markman
Oh, yeah. And if I could add to that, one of the places where it’s really brilliant in the modern environment is when you’re dealing with people who have a different cultural background than you do. So, we live in a world in which we may not just be working with people in another state, but they might be halfway around the world. And there are big cultural differences in what people will generally say to each other and what kinds of things they give voice to.

And sometimes you just need to be really explicit with people, including, “I need to know exactly what you think of this,” and to summarize your interpretation of a conversation just to make sure that you actually really are on the same page. Where, if you were talking to somebody you’d known for years or grew up in exactly the same culture, you might share more of the biases and the way you think about things that would allow you to communicate effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so good. Even just the words, phrases, idioms. I was working with someone in the Philippines, and she says, “Hey, can we meet up at this time?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, sure thing.” And she emailed back, “Thanks for giving me the time of day.” I was like, “Oh, dang, I know. I know I’ve been absent. I’ve got a new baby. I’m really sorry. I mean to be more there, and available, and guiding, and developing, and coaching.” I’m really stewing it. She’s like, “Oh, no, I just meant thank you for that time.” “Yeah, oh, okay.”

Art Markman
Oh, yeah, “I do not think this means what you think it means,” yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

Art Markman
Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, handy communication tips. And how about for just productivity, getting the job done, motivation, distraction avoidance, what are your cognitive science insights there?

Art Markman
Well, so one of the things that I think is really important is to recognize that the best way to motivate yourself is to create a gap between where you are right now and where you’d like to be in the future, that that gap is what creates energy. And I think it’s really important for people to recognize that there are days when they feel somewhat unmotivated. And part of that lack of motivation is that they’re just not dissatisfied enough with the way things are right now. And that you can actually, by focusing on how the world could be better, you can actually create that kind of energy and get yourself to stick with something.

But another piece to this that’s really important is you got to learn about what the Yearkes-Dodson curve. And I love the fact that these two guys, Yearkes and Dodson, wrote a paper in 1905 that is still relevant today. And the idea behind the Yearkes-Dodson curve is that the more energy you give to a particular goal, the better your performance up to a point. And you hit a sweet spot where you have the right level of energy, or what psychologists call arousal. And that when you’re in that sweet spot, you work really effectively.

But if you get hyper aroused, or you get more and more arousal, say, the deadline is creeping ever closer, then you may find yourself slipping over the edge of this Yearkes-Dodson curve, where now additional energy actually lowers your performance because you have so much energy you can’t think straight, you’re pacing, you’re panicking.

And so, what everyone needs to learn is, “Where is my sweet spot?” because that’s what helps us to figure out, “Will I get stuff done ahead of time? Do I need to have a small thermonuclear device detonated beneath my chair before I can get anything done?” And figure out where that sweet spot is and learn to live there with your project so that you find the right level of engagement and arousal to allow you to work consistently without getting so over-aroused that you find yourself unable to make progress on important things.

Pete Mockaitis
And you know that’s interesting as you talk about the curve, and I’m imagining, “Okay, X and Y axis here, and we got more and more energy, that’s good.” And then I guess you have two much energy, it’s bad in the sense you’re panicking and, I don’t know. I guess, we had Tony Schwartz on the show earlier. We talked about energy stuff, and it almost sounds like more energy there is equating to anxiety and panic, but I guess you just call that negative, high energy but a negative type of energy. Can you have too much what he might call high positive energy in terms of, “I’m really, really, really excited about this?” Can you be too much of that?

Art Markman
Yup, you absolutely can, because even with too much positive energy, you end up pacing, right? That energy creates actual energy for you that needs to dissipate. And if you’re sitting there trying to work at your desk, and you have much bubbling positive energy that you need to pace around, you’re not being particularly productive in that moment.

And so, you find sometimes people so excited about something that they need to get up, walk around, get it out of themselves so that they can calm down and actually get work done, even when that energy is really positive.

I know, over the course of my career, I’ve had times where I felt like I had just figured something out, and in that moment when I figured it out, I couldn’t write it. I had to like quickly say it into a recorder or something, and then walk around for a while, like calm down, and then I was in a place where I could actually write about it. So, yeah, it’s overall energy level, even if it’s positive.

So, panic, obviously, it can be negative energy, but just being hyper-aroused in general creates terrible performance. And you can even see this in athletes, right? When they’re so jazzed up about something that they actually can’t coordinate their motions.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then, with the Yearkes-Dodson curve then, is that kind of like different activities or tasks that have different curves where some things are better-suited to lower energy states and others high energy states?

Art Markman
You know, it seems to be that everyone has got a sweet spot, and that sweet spot seems to be pretty similar across tasks but different people will differ in their resting levels of arousal. So, some people are naturally very high arousal people, and so they are the ones who’d start a project six weeks before it’s due. And then there are the people who are very low arousal, who really need to have a cattle prod taken to them before they start getting anything done.

And what’s really tough is when you have a high-arousal person working with a low-arousal person, because a high-arousal person gets a whole bunch of stuff done ahead of time, and then they hand it off to the other person who does nothing with it till the last moment, sends that back to the other person 10 minutes before it needs to be submitted. And that person is a pool of jello on the floor at that point because they’re just so over-aroused by the deadline. So, you have to find ways for people to work effectively together when they have different resting levels of arousal.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any pro tips in terms of you would like to amp up or amp down your arousal in a given moment for a task at hand? How might you do that?

Art Markman
So, to amp it up, one of the things that’s useful is to create things like false deadlines for yourself, and to do things that really say, “There’s a reason why this has to get done right now,” or, really amp up your sense of how important this is to get right.

When you’re trying, though, to calm yourself down, it really is doing the kinds of things that help you to dissipate energy, which could be going out for a walk, or it could be deep breathing exercises, right, because those are the kinds of things that will actually calm you down. And, really, what you’re doing is trying to create some sense of distance between yourself and the goal that you’re engaged with so that it feels mentally further away.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I want to talk about that next is that point you made about creating a gap between where you are and where you want to be. How is that done in practice? I imagine it boils down to, you know, how you set a goal, and maybe some of this is visualization stuff, it really is worthwhile. How do you think about creating that gap and that energy?

Art Markman
Yeah, so there’s a lot of really nice work in psychology, some of it done by Gabriele Oettingen that talks about, essentially, the role of creating fantasies, and not in the kind of parlance that we often think about, “Oh, I’m fantasizing about this.” But, really, in the sense of creating that vision of the future, of, “Here’s what I could accomplish.” Or, frankly, sometimes, “Here’s what will go wrong if nobody does anything.”

And to really elaborate on that mentally, to think about how much better or worse the world could be, and then to explicitly contrast that with the present. So, you develop this vision of the future, and then you compare it to where you are right now. And it is that act of creating that contrast that actually generates that sense of the gap and that energy that comes along with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Could you maybe walk us through an example there?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, for example, think about supposed you’ve kind of stagnated in your job, but you can’t really motivate yourself to go look for another one, right? Now, so what could you do? Well, one of the things you could do is to begin to think about, “Well, let me imagine a little bit more about what my ideal job would be. What are some of the tasks that I would be doing in my day-to-day life that I’m not currently able to do?” and to really envision that clearly, and then contrast that with the job I have right now, and to really begin to compare that, say, “Whoa, here are all the ways in which my current job is not ideal.”

And what that does is it generates dissatisfaction. And that dissatisfaction is motivating. So, it turns out that when you’re utterly satisfied in life, what you tend to do is fall asleep. And so, you have to generate a certain amount of dissatisfaction in order to be motivated to do something different.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you overdo it in terms of like you’re suddenly zapped of gratitude and bitter and anxious about how crappy everything is right now?

Art Markman
Well, you can overdo it but mostly the way that you overdo it is by creating gaps that are not bridgeable. So, I’m a big believer in what I call the bridgeable gap which means not only do you need a sense of the gap between present and future. You need to believe that there is a plan, a set of actions that you’re capable of performing that will get you from here to there.

And as long as you feel like you’re on a path that will help you to narrow the gap, then focusing on that gap is not a bad thing because you have agency. You believe that you are the author of your future. But when you believe that there’s no path from the present to the future, well, then, creating that gap creates that sense of bitterness and resentment because now you feel like, “Well, I’m stuck here. I have no control over the circumstance.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Art, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Art Markman
You know what? Let’s take it where you want to go. Oh, I will say one thing, which is one of my favorite things that I got to do in the book, because I play the saxophone, I added a bunch of sections in the book that I called “The Jazz Brain,” which is basically focused on that ability you have to improvise. And I think it’s really important for people to understand that in order to improvise effectively, you need to know a lot.

I think a lot of times people feel like, “No, no, there’s the curse of knowledge. If I know too much I’m going to be constrained.” But the people I know in any field, whether it’s music or anything else, the people who are best able to adapt to a circumstance on the fly are actually the ones who know a ton of stuff, but are willing to apply lots of different knowledge to a situation.

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

Art Markman
I grew up in Edison, New Jersey, and that’s the place where he strung up lightbulbs. His lab was actually not in Edison or what became Edison. But Edison once said that, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” And while we could probably quibble about the percentages a little bit, I think there’s something important about this idea that a lot of our success is about the work we do.

Yeah, some people are more talented in something than somebody else is, but most of the difference in performance between people comes down to doing the right kind of work. And the reason that I’ve spent so much time in my life over the last 15 years, really trying to bring more cognitive science to other people is because I believe that the more you understand about minds, the more you can put in the right kind of work that can help you to be successful into things you want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite study or piece of research?

Art Markman
Let’s see, one of my favorite pieces of research that I talk about a lot comes from a buddy of mine named Frank Keil at Yale. He and one of his students, Leonid Rozebilt, did this set of studies on what’s called the illusion of explanatory depth, which is this idea that you believe you understand the world better than you actually understand the world. And so, they did this by having people describe various household devices that they thought they completely understood, and only to have people discover that there were significant gaps in their understanding about the way the world works.

And it turns out that this kind of knowledge about the way the way the world works, what psychologists a causal knowledge, is the stuff that allows you to do new things in new ways. And so, when you lack that knowledge, then all you can do is execute procedures in your work. You can’t really try a new thing. And if you’re unaware of what you don’t know, then it means you can’t work to improve the quality of your knowledge. So, I really find that study to have a profound impact on the way people should treat their knowledge.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Art Markman
Gosh, I love books, and there’s so many. But, lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit about small towns of different kinds. I’m just fascinated by it. I grew up, I’m an urban kid, born and raised, and I’m living in Austin, Texas right now. It’s a beautiful city. But, lately, I’ve been reading books like Our Towns, and Hillbilly Elegy, and things like that, just trying to wrap my head around what it’s like to grow up in a place very different than the one that I grew up in.

And I think that’s important, right? I think so much of the way we understand the world is by filtering it through our own experience, that it’s really important to find people who’ve characterized the world that’s different from the one that you grew up in, and whether it’s different within the country you grew up, or outside of it, as a way of helping you to recognize that not everything that you do is a human universal.

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

Art Markman
Gosh, I love word processors. And it’s a funny thing, right? I think we don’t appreciate some of the simple tools that are in front of us. But if my 7th grade teacher knew that I wrote for a living, I think she’d be in hysterics because of how much I hated writing as a kid.

But just having that ability to put stuff down, and then edit it easily, is such an important thing. I think very few people value the editing process enough. And having just a tool, whatever your word processor is, to have that in front of you to be able to edit is such an amazing thing. Because most of us look at good writing, and we think, “Wow, I could never write like that.” And what we really mean is, “I could never write like that the first time that something comes out.”

And what we don’t realize is nobody writes well when something just pops out of them. What you’re seeing is the result of getting something out, crafting it, polishing it, re-arranging it, deleting, starting over, and then you only get to see the final product. So, yeah, to me, it’s just what we’re able to do with a simple word processor is just, to me, absolutely amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Art Markman
Favorite habit in the workplace. It would have to be that when I come into work, I triage my email. I answer the three emails that absolutely have to be answered, and then I shut my email off for a half hour and do something else that matters. Because I do believe that people take a tremendous amount of pride in their work, but I don’t think anyone looks back over the last year, and says, “The most important thing I did was to send these 18,471 emails.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and students?

Art Markman
Obviously, I think a lot of things are a matter of personal taste. But I think this recognition that we have a go system that drives us to act, and then a fallible stop system that prevents us from doing things effectively, because we are not good at stopping something that that go system has engaged. And that when you want to be productive, your job in life is to reprogram that go system towards habits whose accumulated impact will create the contribution you want.

To me, understanding that and living your life knowing that the best way to be effective is to reprogram that go system, is something that I think when people internalize, that changes the way that they go about their work.

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

Art Markman
So, you can find me pretty easily on social media. I love to have people finding the stuff that I write. I try to give away as much as I can. So, I write for Psychology Today, for Fast Company, for Harvard Business Review. I certainly would love for people to pick up my books. But you can find out all of the stuff that I’m writing on Twitter and LinkedIn. I have an author page on Facebook. I have a website smartthinkingbook.com that has information about all of my books, and I also post a few blog entries and things up there. So, all of those are places where people can find me.

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

Art Markman
Yeah, I think that the most important thing that you can do is to recognize that it is always about what you’re going to learn next, that no one is completely ready for the job that they have. And as I said to my oldest son when he was first going out on the job market, I said, “If you’re completely prepared for the job you applied for, you aimed too low.”

And so, we should think about our work lives as a constant opportunity for growth and challenge. And that when you do that, when you look for the next thing that you can learn, then it continues to open up new worlds and new possibilities. Because, as I say at the very end of the book, bumper sticker wisdom tells us that no one on their deathbed says that they wish that they’d spent another day at the office.

But, honestly, the people I know who look back on their careers with fondness are the ones who feel like they’ve really accomplished something over the course of their years, and they are justifiably proud of the work that they did.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for that. That’s nice. Nice thought. Nice final words. Art, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you and the book “Bring Your Brain to Work” lots of luck and keep on doing the good stuff.

Art Markman
Well, thanks, Pete. It’s a pleasure talking with you today.

449: Leaning Out with Marissa Orr

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Marissa Orr says: "What makes more sense: rewiring women and their personalities and what they want... OR rewiring a system to better meet the needs of a more diverse workforce?"

Marissa Orr shares fresh, actionable wisdom on the workplace gender gap and reframes how alleged weaknesses can actually be strengths.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The problem with the ‘lean in’ mentality
  2. How power and money trigger value judgments when it comes to gender differences
  3. Why strengths depend on context

About Marissa

Marissa Orr began her Google career over 15 years ago as a founding member of Google’s Sales Operations & Strategy team, after which she worked as Vertical Marketing Manager at Facebook. She has conducted talks and workshops for thousands of people at diverse organizations across the globe. Originally from Miami, she now lives in New Jersey, with her three children.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Marissa Orr Interview Transcript

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

Marissa Orr
Thanks, it’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your perspectives. I think it will be provocative in a fun thought-provoking kind of a way. But maybe before we go there, let’s hear about your love for reality TV.

Marissa Orr
It’s a great way to start out in terms of setting my credibility, but that’s okay. It’s my escape. I actually have – I don’t watch it as much as I used to. Years ago I lived on Bravo – a steady diet of Bravo TV, Real Housewives of New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, LA, wherever. I’ve always been a big fan of The Bachelor and things like that.

In the past few years, my time has been crunched and I haven’t gotten to watch nearly as much as I would like to, but I’m still a fan. I’m not going to lie. I’m not ashamed.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, my brother loves The Real Housewives as well. You articulate from your world view and preferences and values and such, what is it that you dig about the show? No judgment. I genuinely want to understand you.

Marissa Orr
Yeah, yeah. No offense taken. Like I said, no shame here about it. I think if I’m really kind of digging into why these shows appeal to me so much – and I don’t mean to turn it into something highbrow because it’s certainly not – but I have always just been fascinated by the drama of humanity. These women on the show are such caricatures of people that we all know in some way that I just find it fascinating in terms of even just like observing people and how they act.

For example, on The Bachelor, I also love to guess based on what I’m reading from The Bachelor and the contestants or whatever, their body language, what they’re saying, it’s fun for me to guess who’s going to make it on to the next round it sharpened my ability to sort of read people’s behavior. When you’re right, it feels great and when you’re wrong, you learn something. That’s really The Bachelor.

But Real Housewives is just an escape. It’s drama. It’s kind of like why do people like to watch sports. They’re not participating in the sport. It gives them a little kick to root for a team. I think it’s a similar thing. It gives me a little kick. It’s fun. I find these people crazy and hilarious. I work so much. I make so many decisions every day. It’s fun to just watch other people and kind of laugh at them or with them.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear that. Sometimes at the end of the day it’s like, “I want to do the opposite of thinking.”

Marissa Orr
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What is that?

Marissa Orr
Yes. There’s nothing wrong with it I think as long as it’s in moderation I suppose.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to hear about your book, Lean Out. What’s the big idea here?

Marissa Orr
Lean Out is really, quite obviously, a counterargument to lean in, but really a counterargument to most of modern-day feminism because we have been throwing the same solutions at the gender gap and at women at work for 20 years and virtually nothing has changed in terms of the numbers.

The first part of Lean Out really explains everything that modern feminism and conventional wisdom, frankly, has gotten wrong about women at work. One of those things, a broad theme, is that equality doesn’t mean we all have to be the same. We don’t have to like the same things, want the same things, get the same things. After all, diversity is about diverse set of interests, talents, strengths, perspectives and experience.

That’s one of the big themes. There’s a lot more underneath that, but I don’t know if you want me to go further or-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Well, we’re going to talk about all kinds of things.

Marissa Orr
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d say one of the themes in your book is you say that there is a systemic dysfunction in our workplaces. Can you kind of paint the picture there? What is it that is broken?

Marissa Orr
Well, let me set that answer up first with a little bit more detail around the difference in the premise lean in and lean out. The general premise of lean in really pins the blame on women for the gender gap.

The prescriptions for success hinge on women acting more like men, so being more ambitious and assertive, whereas lean out really pins the blame on our institutions, which have not changed since the Industrial Age, at a time when there were no women – virtually no women in the workforce. Since then, our entire economy has transformed and the composition of our workforce, but these structures, these competitive hierarchies have remained exactly the same.

One of the things that I ask in the book is what makes more sense, rewiring women and their personalities and what they want or rewiring a system to better meet the needs of a more diverse workforce?

Part of my problem with lean in and that whole school of thought is that it dismisses women’s wants and needs as a product of culture. I think instead of dismissing them as needs, we should embrace them because men and women a lot of times want different things at work. We should embrace those differences instead of sort of dismissing what women’s concerns are and attributing it to a product of cultural oppression.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right, there’s so much good stuff to dig into here. First, I just want to get really clear on terms here. When you say ‘the gender gap’ what are we talking about here?

Marissa Orr
I refer to the gender gap to explain the fact that there’s four percent of Fortune 500 CEOs for example are women or a highly disproportionate amount of the C-suite and executives in corporate America are men. It’s a great question because at the beginning of the book, I really define the scope, which is corporate America, which has very different dynamics than small businesses or-

Pete Mockaitis
Education.

Marissa Orr
Education or even things like being a doctor or lawyer. One way to look at that is through the lens of academia, which you mentioned. Women dominate academia. They have for many, many years. A big question is why doesn’t that dominance last after graduation.

The conventional wisdom, again, points to culturally reinforced behavior of women bodes well in school, but not in the corporate world, whereas, my argument is that that’s not the explanation. What’s really happening is in school, performance is graded objectively. You get 94 out of 100 questions right, it doesn’t matter what your personality is, it doesn’t matter how long you study, you still got a 94.

In the corporate world, especially in today’s knowledge economy, it’s really hard to tell who’s doing a good job. We don’t have grades, so we grade instead of on competence, we grade on visibility, who is talking about their work the loudest and the most and all these really visible behaviors that correlate more highly with men.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting how the grades go. When it’s subject to a human interpretation like, “Oh, I like that behavior,” “I don’t like that behavior,” then that can work against women in your worldview.

I guess, now I’m intrigued I guess when it comes to sales. That’s one of the grand sort of fair zones of performance. It’s like, “How many sales did you make?” We’ve got a number, so we can compare that there. Do women fair better in sales? I don’t actually know that answer.

Marissa Orr
I don’t actually know that either, but I think – it’s a good question – but I think there’s so many kinds of sales and so many industries. I think the context is really important, but it’s a really interesting question. I haven’t looked at it through the lens of just sales.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so I’m with you. That is intriguing. I remember when I was at my cousin, graduated from high school a couple of years ago. I was beholding all of the valedictorians – and I was a male valedictorian in high school – but they were outnumbered like four to one. It was like 80% of the valedictorians were women. It was like interesting.

Marissa Orr
It is interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Then the numbers in terms of colleges, in terms of getting into college and then not flunking out of college are also more so in favor to women. I guess I’m really intrigued. We talk about the systemic dysfunction. You had a great video in which you shared some statistics associated with how many men versus women want to be the CEO. Can you share that piece for us?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. One of the statistics that I cite in the book is the fact that only 18% of women aspire to sort of executive or C-level roles versus 35% of men. I think what you’re talking about – is it when I said that means that the majority of the population doesn’t want to be CEO.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Marissa Orr
Why don’t we look at what’s wrong with the job instead of all the people who don’t want it?

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. I think that’s a compelling point there. So what is wrong with the jobs and the systems and the hierarchies and the competitiveness? You say it’s old. It’s from the Industrial Revolution. What about that is suboptimal here now today?

Marissa Orr
There’s just so many things to talk about with respect to this, so if I go off on a tangent on any of them, just rein me back in.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure thing.

Marissa Orr
But I did want to dovetail off that earlier point quickly because it is obviously relevant. Of it is not just the systems, it’s how we’re measuring female progress because obviously one of the measurements that we use is positions like CEOs and corporate executives.

Only 18% of women desire to be a corporate CEO. That means the majority of women don’t want to be one. If we push them to do it anyway and they get the corner office, but they sit there sad and alone, can we really call that success? I think that goes back to what I mean about embracing women’s stated desires.

If we did a study on how many men want to run their household and do the majority of chores and domestic tasks, I wouldn’t think it would be much more than 18% either, but we don’t sort of make nationwide campaigns to push up those numbers. We judge sort of what women do in a way – or what women want in a way that we never really do with men.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. You talk about the campaigns and I’ve sort of wondered we’ve got sort of the gender wage gap with I don’t know the number of cents now – 72-ish cents on the dollar – but sometimes I wonder about the gender child time gap, like men only spend 41 minutes on the hour with their children as compared to women. But I don’t see that campaign being made.

Marissa Orr
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
So I think you’re really onto something. Discrimination and bad behavior totally happened, but you’re saying, “Hey, let’s take a look at what people actually want as a way of evaluating things.”

Marissa Orr
Yeah. What a revolutionary idea, right? Actually measure female progress based on what women say that would make them happy or make them sort of improve their wellbeing, which is a whole other chapter, which is in the book called Well-being Versus Winning, measuring female progress on wellbeing instead of winning, how we’re winning against men or in the corporate world. But should I go back to your question about what I mean with-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please go. Please continue.

Marissa Orr
Okay. I was going to go back to the original question, which is I think how the systems are broken. One of the ways is what I mentioned about grading on visibility versus competence because in a knowledge economy – and anyone who works in a big corporation knows that it’s really hard to tell these days who’s doing a good job.

When your job is to create marketing campaigns and strategies and even service customers, most people don’t even agree on what success looks like, let alone know who’s achieving such success or making an impact. We talk about creativity and imagination, but those things are really hard to see and measure.

One of the ways that it’s broken is that we really use these subjective and emotional measures, which are riddled with biases, to determine who’s doing a good job and we default to these proxies.

But another way is the reward system. Once you get past a certain level of management and make a certain salary, the only reward really that’s there to motivate people to climb higher and higher up the corporate ladder is power, more power over more people. But-

Pete Mockaitis
Right because you’re saying money – you’ve already got more money than you need, so it doesn’t do much for you to go from two million to two and a quarter million.

Marissa Orr
Exactly. When you look at what’s driving those people to keep going, it’s power. Research is fairly conclusive that that kind of power – power has a lot of definitions, but I’m talking about professional authority, power that’s based on your position in a hierarchy. It’s not universally motivating. A lot of women are less sort of unsatisfied.

It seems so obvious. We learn in kindergarten, everybody likes different things, but at work there’s only that one thing, so naturally the winners are going to be the ones who like that one thing more than anybody else. If you-

Pete Mockaitis
Power lovers get the power.

Marissa Orr
Well, I mean, yeah. What kind of – one of the things I joke about, but have you ever seen a corporate CEO that is kind of more like a hippy than a Gordon Gekko? No. The profile of winners are always going to be the same if you’re only motivating a very narrow subset of your workforce.

One of the things I talk about is increasing the variety of incentives. There’s other ones too, but I’ll pause here if you want to go in a different direction or have a-

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool, yeah. It’s a good point. Just while we’re there, what are some of the other incentives that should be on the menu?

Marissa Orr
Well, research also shows that women have less – their life goals are – fewer of them are focused on this kind of power. They have more life goals and they’re more varied. Some of that is balance. I would have traded 50,000 dollars’ worth of my salary for increased flexibility.

But those things in the corporate world are looked at as let’s say weakness. If you’re not in the office as much as somebody else, you’re not going to get the work assignments, the recognition and the respect if you’re only there part time. It’s not only just the incentives; it’s really how those incentives are viewed, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Marissa Orr
That’s one example. The truth is when I talk to women who’ve read the book, one of the things that really resonates with them is a part where I say that people say women lean out or don’t want to lean in once they have kids or childcare and all that stuff. That’s all very true, but I think there’s another reason.

[18:00]

I think when women start having kids and get into more of their middle to later 30s, with their time squeezed, they have dramatically lower tolerance for the office politics and BS frankly. So many women I know want to go to work and do a great job and they want work that’s meaningful, but there is just so much politics and bureaucracy and stuff that really doesn’t matter.

I think that’s another big reason that you don’t see women wanting to climb higher and higher. It’s just not – good, competent work is not rewarded, so what is left there for women at the office, but these power games that they have no interest in playing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. That makes sense, especially if you have less time, your opportunity cost is increased and you see that junk, you’re like, “Why am I spending my life in this way?”

Marissa Orr
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I can do something else.” That makes sense.

Marissa Orr
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Then let’s share a bit about strengths that are more often associated with women and more often associated with men.  I want to get your take first of all just because some folks aren’t even on board with that notion that men and women are different. In fact, I found an American Psychological Association brief entitled Men and Women: No Big Difference. What’s your take on this one?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. That’s interesting. I have so many things to say on this point, but with respect to that study, I have to look at it and see what that headline really captures because sometimes there are nuances, but I think what it’s probably referring to is the fact that men and women largely are the same when it comes to personality traits. I think it’s something like 60% overlap, so yeah, that makes sense.

However, at the extremes – and 40% is not insignificant – there are differences. After all, testosterone is proven to run – we all know that that – men have more and women have more estrogen and that those hormones influence our behavior, so I don’t think that we can sidestep that sort of biological fact.

But the other thing is we all – I don’t know – I have two boys and a girl and everybody talks about freely, “Oh, boys are like this. Girls are like this.” There’s certain elements of their behavior and personality that are different. We joke about it. If you say to your mom friend or whatever, “Oh, my boys are so wild. Your girls play so nicely. Girls are – they’re not as rambunctious, whatever,” nobody accuses you of being sexist for saying that. It’s kind of something we all intuitively see with our own eyes.

But the second you put an element of power into the equation, people go crazy and take a lot of issue with that. For example, when the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus came out all those years ago, I don’t recall that being a controversial thing. It was focused on the therapeutic and communication aspect to it. We accept that in a way.

But when it comes to power and money, I think people really take issue because they believe that if we say men and women are different, that it’s implying one’s better than the other or one’s weak and one’s strong. If you say, “More women like red and more men like green,” there’s nothing offensive about that.

Pete Mockaitis
How dare you, Marissa.

Marissa Orr
Right. People would accept that without an argument if that’s what a study said. People wouldn’t bat an eye. But it’s when you put in things like, “Women don’t want professional authority as much as men,” people start to see that as – they start making value judgments on it. I think that’s really people’s issue is the value judgment.

When you report on things like this, if they perceive that one is better than the other, it makes people defensive. But when I say women don’t want professional authority as much, I don’t mean women don’t want power. Power is a much broader concept and that’s just one kind of power.

I think women wield incredible amount of power in this world. They just – it’s not the power through a male-world view. Men have a very different relationship to power. The power men and women wield are different in a lot of ways. The only reason that would be offensive is if someone’s making a value judgment on one being better than the other.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an interesting perspective there. Folks tend to get really riled up when it has to do with power, but if it’s about boys and girls and what they do on the play yard or color preferences, then it’s no big deal.

Marissa Orr
Or if you say, “Men like sports – watching sports more than women. Women-”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s outrageous.

Marissa Orr
Right. Nobody cares when you say it on things that they don’t believe is superior.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s intriguing. When you talk about sports, now if we’re talking about consumer activity, now these are just facts that every marketer knows. Well, yeah, this product is interesting for women or for men, which is why we’re pursing advertising in particular channels because those are also consumed disproportionately more so by women, more so by men. Fun fact, the vast majority of my audience is women.

Marissa Orr
Hi girls.

Pete Mockaitis
Isn’t that interesting?

Marissa Orr
Hi ladies.

Pete Mockaitis
But we also have about a quarter of gentlemen, so hello to you as well.

Marissa Orr
Hi men.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so with that being established, then what are some of the research findings about the strengths that show up at work that are more so tend to be represented more frequently in women and then more so represented among men?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Something is a strength only in context because let’s take the corporate world, which is mostly competitive. At Google and Facebook it was a zero-sum game. It was very intensely competitive. We think of these companies as sort of progressive, new wave organizations, but their structures are exactly like any other corporation. These are very intense zero-sum games.

If my teammate gets a promotion, it means I didn’t. Even performance scores are graded on distributions, where you can’t be equally amazing as your peer. You have to be a little more amazing or a little less amazing, so it’s all very intensely completive. In that context, some of the strengths – some of the common behaviors and traits of men show up as strengths.

Men are more motivated by competition. Research shows that in competitive scenarios they perform better. In the corporate world you see that as a strength.

But research also shows that women are more collaborative and they are not as satisfied or motivated by these zero-sum games. They prefer win-win scenarios, but in the corporate world there’s not many – you don’t come by much of that. In that context, even though collaboration is a strength in many respects, in the corporate world it becomes not a strength.

Research shows that women perform worse in competitive environments. Their performance suffers. They become less creative. Then the opposite happens when it’s collaborative. That’s what I mean by strengths depend on the context.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an outstanding example. Could you lay it on us? What are some other strength representations that we see more so with men versus women and vice versa?

Marissa Orr
There’s a thing I talk about in the book, a story, there’s a book called The Confidence Code. I really sort of try and unravel its premise, but one of the stories from the book that I talk about that they have is there’s a women giving a presentation in a room. She sort of starts to hesitate before she moves on to the next point. She tries to get a temperature of the room so she knows which way to go next in her presentation.

And a man – it was I think her manager – was a man talked to her afterward because he saw that hesitation as lack of confidence. He said, “These things hurt women. They show up as less confident.”

When I read that story, my first thought was she’s demonstrating empathy. More women have a talent for taking the temperature of a room, building consensus. That was my interpretation of what she did there. If the goal was to really build a consensus as a team moving forward, she was doing great. If the goal is to act like you know everything and that you have this infallible certainty and are decisive, then she failed at that.

“What do we want from people at work?” is the question. But that consensus building is another strength that, again, can be interpreted as weakness depending on your perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Give us some more of typical men’s strengths, typical women’s strengths.

Marissa Orr
Let’s see, another example. Again, context. There’s times when you need a really authoritative voice, where certain situations call for a display of dominance in a room to align people towards something. Research shows that men communicate with the intent to establish sort of authority. In situations that call for it, that comes out as a strength for many men.

I want to make one thing clear too, when I say men are like this and women are like this, I’m obviously not talking about all men and all women. A good portion – could be upwards of maybe 30% of men have some strength that’s female dominant. These aren’t black and white things. I just talk about them that way because if I created all those nuances are conversation would be ten hours long.

It also doesn’t mean that men should behave one way and women should behave another. The goal is to behave authentic to who you are. These are just more reports of – observations on patterns of behavior. That’s an important distinction. Maybe it’s obvious. I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s handy. Sure. Thank you. What else have we got there?

Marissa Orr
Wow. Let’s see. Empathy, cooperative, consensus building, win-win for women, that’s a lot, no?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Marissa Orr
There’s more in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
… for men. Do men have …?

Marissa Orr
Oh, oh, I mention-

Pete Mockaitis
Competitive, authoritative, dominance.

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Assertiveness, things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then given that how do we go about leveraging these strengths optimally, both to get great results as well as to look good doing it, to get our props and advance?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, there’s a few things. One is just how we frame this conversation. First we need to stop measuring women against what men have. We need to stop thinking about female progress in terms of winning and really kind of reorient to wellbeing because then we’re serving the largest issues for women for people who need it most. It’s really about how we measure it.

I think also people are diverse by their very nature. The reason that diversity is not reflected at the top of the corporate world is because it rewards a subset of that behavior. I think first, we need to recognize that our institutions, as they are today, are limited. They’re not built to fulfill lots of people’s needs.

For women, I think the first step is always to turn inward and really kind of untether yourself from how your company defines success and how your peers define success and really better understand how you as a person define it. What is most important to your wellbeing?

If a promotion is going to get you a rung higher, but you’re playing more politics, which you hate, and you’re working longer hours, which you don’t want, that is not your definition of success and it’s okay to set the terms for what you need and what you want.

A lot of this is really on an individual to learn more about what their own strengths are, how they can put those to work in a corporate setting while understanding that that setting might not be designed to capitalize on those strengths. A lot of is about figuring out how your institution/organization can meet your needs, how they can’t, and then how you, yourself, can fill the gaps.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, I dig it. Well, then when it comes to some of the stuff that’s broken, do you have any kind of short-term tactics like, “Okay, you’ve got a broken system?” What are some maybe self-defense tactics or things that you’ve got to do just to make sure you don’t get an unfair shake?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, I go into a whole chapter about this in the book. There’s so many things to say to all these great questions. But I think ultimately we have to own our own path and our own success. For people suffering – can you be more specific so I can give you kind of maybe a personal story of how I handled something of that nature?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Well, so for example, if there’s tons of subjectivity going on and you’ve got the right stuff. You’re bringing it and delivering good things, but it doesn’t seem to be kind of noticed/appreciated/rewarded, what do you do?

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, I think people need to get really clear with their management team or their direct manager about how their success is being measured. It’s a conversation we rarely have with our manager at the beginning of performance season. We talk more about – or at least in my experience at Google and Facebook – we really talked much more about what our goals were more so than what success looked like.

Pete Mockaitis
So your personal goals as an individual professional.

Marissa Orr
No, no, your work goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, the work goals.

Marissa Orr
For example, if you talk with your manager at the beginning of every quarter about what your goals are for the quarter. Let’s say you have five of them. Let’s say we build this new order entry system and we get 50% there by the end of the quarter. That’s your goal.

One important question to ask is how are you measuring if we get to 50%. What does 50% look like? What does 100% look like? What does a bad job on this specific goal look like? It’s a question we rarely ask, but at the end of the quarter, if you get a bad grade, if you haven’t asked how you’re being measured, you don’t really have anything to stand on.

But if your manager at the beginning of the quarter says, “Well, if we get X, Y, and Z in place, then we’ve reached 50%,” then at the end of the quarter you can show whether or not you’ve reached X, Y, and Z. That’s a much more objective way of communicating how well you did that quarter. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, understood. So you want to get crystal clear on okay, these numbers, what’s the numerator? What’s the denominator?

Marissa Orr
Or what the expectations are. What does success look like? Paint me a picture. What are the five things that need to be sort of very clearly accomplished for me to exceed expectations this quarter? I think the more specific and objective things that you can get from your manager, the easier it is to make a case for your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. More tips like this please. Lay them on us.

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Well, it’s hard though because in most positions in corporate America, your manager has absolute power over you and your livelihood. Even when you get a bad grade and you don’t deserve it, there’s really no recourse. Sometimes all of this advice is meaningless because you are basically – your career is at the whim of this person with total power over you. It’s kind of like tyranny by another name.

I think until our corporations have better systems in place to – like checks and balances on some of that power so that if you did do those five things and you still got a bad grade, there’s something in the company that you can – a team – HR is really mostly there to serve the people in power. I would say HR, but they’re not set up with any real authority to help.

I think part of the onus is on the organizations to rebalance that power a little bit to the employees so that if you do a good job and you do get a bad grade, if you have these objective measures – I don’t want to say a court, a trial, but there needs to be some recourse. Showing these objective metrics helps that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.

Marissa Orr
I just want to be real about it because so much business advice that people give in theory is great, but when you’re in a power structure under somebody with total power over you, it kind of doesn’t matter.

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

Marissa Orr
Nope, I think we covered it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Marissa Orr
I hoard quotes. It’s a little like asking to pick favorite children, but one quote that I love because I think it has a lot to do with kind of the story of me and my work life and how I came to write this book, it’s a proverb, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”

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

Marissa Orr
One thing that’s in the book that I love is research showing that disagreeable people, so people that are not very likeable let’s say – and disagreeableness is one of the – or agreeableness one of the five big personality trait categories. So disagreeable people are more likely to get ahead in business than agreeable people, so people that are – agreeable people are more warm and likeable. It’s actually a detriment to getting ahead in the business world.

Being unlikeable, being disagreeable is a better predictor of who rises to the top. By the way, the authors of these studies always say it doesn’t mean they’re better in that job, it just means they’re more likely to get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, I can just think of so many examples in which folks who were less agreeable are just all the more comfortable demanding the thing they want or the goal is, whereas I’m pretty agreeable.

Marissa Orr
I am too.

Pete Mockaitis
Where sometimes I’m just like, “Well, okay, I guess we can do that your way.”

Marissa Orr
Yeah, I’m actually-

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to “No, this is not optimal per the objectives. Fix it now.”

Marissa Orr
Totally. Absolutely. By the way, in every person – I’m like the highest on the continuum of agreeable that you could possibly be, which says a lot about why I never made it to the top in that world, but it is what it is. I’m happier now.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. How about a favorite book?

Marissa Orr
Again, it’s hard. One book – can I say two books?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Marissa Orr
One book that gave me sort of some of my best foundational understanding of behavior is a book from the ‘80s from a psychologist called Nathaniel Branden. The title is terrible, clearly needed some marketing help, but it’s called The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. It really opened my eyes and was a paradigm changing book for me. I understood myself and people in a totally new way, so I love that book.

Then when I was going through a hard time at Facebook, I read this other book that really got me into sort of another paradigm shift and it got me into meditation and changed my life in other ways. That is called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Marissa Orr
You’re welcome.

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

Marissa Orr
Does meditation count?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Marissa Orr
I would say I wouldn’t have been able to write the book without meditation because it was a foundation for me to learn discipline and a host of other life skills that I wouldn’t have been able to write the book without.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite nugget, something that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they say, “Yes, that is so right and wise. Thank you, Marissa.”

Marissa Orr
Nothing I ever say to my kids that’s for sure because that’s never their reaction.

I would say that if you really get the fact that at the end of the day all people want is to be heard, I think a lot of problems in this world would be solved because we’re always trying to – we speak to other people, we listen with the intent to sort of control them or control the situation and everything is about control. Things work in the exact opposite way.

When you try and control people, they rebel in ways big and small, but if you really try and understand people, things have a way of working themselves out. When people feel heard, they are empowered. They’re empowered to fix their own problems and whatever. I think that’s a very underestimated concept when it comes to communication.

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

Marissa Orr
They can find me on Twitter at MarissaBeth. It’s M-A-R-I-S-S-A Beth B-E-T-H Orr O-R-R, @MarissaBethOrr, on Medium, it’s just @MarissaOrr and LeanOutTheBook.com, but also it’s on Amazon for preorder, but LeanOutTheBook.com is the book’s site.

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

Marissa Orr
Turn inward. Know who you are and hold on to that regardless of what those around you are doing or saying. Just be you. How’s that for a clichéd ending?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it was fun. Well, Marissa, I wish you all the best. Keep on doing the good work and have fun with it.

Marissa Orr
Thanks so much. This was a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

440: Accomplishing More in Less Time by Building Microskills with Stever Robbins

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Stever Robbins says: "The hammer that seems to work for almost everything is accountability."

Stever Robbins shares how to break down skills into microskills…and shares which ones are worth building.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A productivity power tool to help you accomplish almost everything
  2. Why to break down learning into microskills
  3. Essential microskills that will save you years of time

About Stever

Stever Robbins is a serial entrepreneur, top podcaster, and productivity expert. He co-founded the early internet success story FTP Software, served as COO of Building Blocks Interactive, CEO of JobTacToe.com, and has been an initial team member of ten start-ups, including four IPOs and three acquisitions. He currently runs Get-it-Done Groups™, which help people make extreme progress on important projects and habits.

He was project manager at Intuit. He serves as business plan judge for the Harvard Business School business plan competition, the MIT $100K competition, and several other competitions. His Get-It-Done-Guy podcast has been downloaded more than 36 million times.

He’s been interviewed in numerous publications and is the author of It Takes a Lot More than Attitude…to Build a Stellar Organization and Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More.

Stever holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stever Robbins Interview Transcript

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

Stever Robbins
Thank you very much for having me. I’m hoping to learn how to be awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking that we’re both going to do some great learning. I’ve learned a lot from you with your Get-It-Done Guy podcast. I remember listening to it in Brent’s car. Shout out to Brent.

Stever Robbins
Hey, Brent.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think it’s going to be a really fun one. And we were already talking about a lot of cool stuff. If we had to push record before we run out of time, but one fun tidbit about you I got to hear about is you grew up in a New Age commune. What’s this about?

Stever Robbins
I did. My parents were hippies, but they came to the scene late, and they didn’t have the hippie movement to join up to. So, my father got involved in some various New Age philosophies and we sold our worldly possessions, bought a 23-foot trailer, and went bouncing around the country starting psychic growth centers.

Pete Mockaitis
Psychic growth centers.

Stever Robbins
Yeah. Don’t get me started. Let me simply say that it turns out that most of America isn’t really very open to having you start psychic growth centers. Remember the kids on the other side of the tracks that your parents warned you not to play with?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right, it’s Stever and company.

Stever Robbins
That was us. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, just real quick. Psychic growth centers, does that help me grow in my psychic abilities, or what happens in a psychic growth center? Okay.

Stever Robbins
Yup. Also, the children of the people who start the psychic growth center become atheists. So, that’s the other thing that happens in a psychic growth center. It makes a real impression on you when you grow up. Actually, we switch religions every couple of years. My father was into lots of different things. And, as a result, by the time I was 18, I had been through four or five different belief systems, and once you’re through a certain number of belief systems you start to say, “You know, all of these are just belief systems.”

The more interesting part of your question, though, isn’t, “What’s it like growing up in a psychic growth center?” It’s, “What’s it like having grown up in a psychic growth center?” Because what it does when you’re the kid on the other side of the tracks is, you don’t take the same things for granted that everyone else does.

So, for me, the most interesting part about having a non-standard background is that I question things that everyone else simply take for granted. And, on one hand, this is very powerful. It means that there’s a lot of problems that I can solve that other people can’t because I ask different questions than they do, and sometimes the questions I ask are the ones that will lead to the solution. On the other hand, there are some real problems with this because there are plenty of places in life where you really need to understand how the standard people think, and you really need to understand what would be societally acceptable and what will not.

Let me give you a hint. You do not want to discover behaviorally that wearing a loincloth to school is a bad idea. Some people know that instinctively. Others of us had to learn it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s maybe the pulled quote that we’re going to feature from this interview, Stever, is that tidbit right there. Well, yeah, I think we’re two peas in a pod in that way. Not the loincloth specifically, but the asking questions that others don’t seem to ask because I do. And what I find to be the downside is folks are just not prepared or equipped for it, and so it just slows everything down. It’s like, “Wait a minute. What do you want? I don’t even know how to address that for you. Maybe talk to someone else.” Because it’s sort of like customer service systems, or businesses. They’re setup to do a few things well and efficiently and by the millions at scale. So, when you throw these little monkey wrenches in there, it just slows everything down, and it gets inconvenient for everybody it seems.

Stever Robbins
Oh, yeah. And, in fact, one of the things I was thinking about before this call, because I knew you were going to ask me that question, one of the things I was thinking about was, “What are the perspectives that I have despite the fact that I have a fairly mainstream life in many regards?” But I’m always amazed at the fact that we live in the most materially-rich society in all of human history, by wide, wide measure the most productive in terms of labor hours needed to produce a particular result. And, yet, we have such an extraordinarily narrow range of activities and things that we do, and lifestyles that we have.

And it boggles my mind that we have the resources to give ourselves as a race lots of leisure time, lots of ability to pursue meaning, the resources to try out and experiment with different governmental types, with different ways of being, with different work weeks. And, yet, we create very narrow boxes, live inside them, and then forget that we’re the ones who created the boxes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a big question.

Stever Robbins
Yes, they may be bigger than we’re supposed to be talking about today. I think we were talking about getting things done or something similar.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess my first thought in there is, I guess, it has to do with like the fear of the unknown, or risk, or uncertainty, and how maybe relatively few people want to go down that pathway. But, yeah, I’m going to be chewing on that one as well. Thank you, Stever. I want to hear, yes, I do want to hear about getting things done. And maybe, so, you’ve got an interesting sort of start in terms of that New Age commune and travelling. But then you did get some credentials that folks tend to kind of think are more normal and desirable, you know, MIT in Computer Science Bachelors, MBA from Harvard Business School, good stuff. So, how did you become branded and adopt the moniker of the “Get-It-Done Guy”?

Stever Robbins
Oh, that was never supposed to be the case. I started the Get-It-Done Guy in 2007 because I was working doing one-on-one executive coaching and strategy consulting, which is the main thing that I’ve done through most of my career. And I was really yearning for a creative outlet because, frankly, one of the fascinating things about the business world, is the business world is really very anti-creative. It uses the principles of uniformity to grow organizations, and the uniformity exists in terms of people and behavior.

Do you ever notice when someone says that you should dress professionally or act professionally? What they mean is you should restrict your behavior to the narrowest possible window of things, right? Those are not expansive. When someone says, “Act professional,” what they do not mean is “be creative, be wild, be innovative, think outside the box.” What they mean is, “Oh, my gosh, you’re wearing a three-button vest instead of a two-button vest? I can’t be seen in public with you.”

So, I wanted a creative outlet, and I had started a little podcast called Business Explained, and I had produced about 10 episodes for it. And then I experienced Grammar Girl. And Grammar Girl talked grammar, but it was fun and it was interesting to listen to, and she had an attitude. She had character. And, oh, my gosh, Grammar Girl was, and is, awesome.

So, I wrote her a fan letter, and I said, “If you would ever like a business podcaster, I would love to be your business podcaster,” because she had a little network called the Quick and Dirty Tips network. And just out of sheer coincidence, my letter got to her right after she had sold the network to Macmillan Publishing, and they were having a meeting to decide who should the next podcaster be.

And my letter came in at the right time. I auditioned for the part. I got it. And they let me choose the topic. I chose personal productivity mainly because I thought it would be fun. I thought I could do a lot more with that in terms of humor than with corporate strategy. And I was right, as it turns out. Became the Get-It-Done Guy, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, actually, not quite. What happened is for years I didn’t do anything with it professionally. And my branding in the marketplace was very much around strategy, and entrepreneurship, and high-growth companies, and how to be a good leader, and all that stuff. And then, about a year ago, I decided I had this podcast and I had a following, and why not start doing things that were more productivity-oriented, and just see if it flies?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, one thing I’m quite intrigued by are the Get-It-Done Groups. I’m a huge fan of accountability, and I’m intrigued as to what exactly is this.

Stever Robbins
Well, so Get-It-Done Groups are they’re accountability groups. And when I looked at the offerings out there, first of all, I’ve been an executive coach for about many, many years by the time I’ve developed this. And one of the things that I had noticed is that at the end of the day, coaches are trained to help people develop their innate capabilities, help people get that strength and motivation, that proactiveness. And, boy, is that a lot of work.

And, one day, I had a CEO client, because I mainly work with executives, I had a CEO client who had had a homework assignment, I don’t even remember what it was at this point. It was something simple, like write a letter firing someone. It was something. It was emotionally difficult but it was technically very easy. And three weeks in a row he hadn’t done it.

And so, this time we started our coaching session, and I said, “How’d the letter go?” And he said, “I haven’t sent it yet.” And instead of trying to get to the root of his blocks, and instead of trying to deeply trigger his motivation by connecting it to his highest values and his purpose and his why, I said, “Dude, I happen to know for a fact that you have one hour currently available on your calendar because that was the hour that we were supposed to be talking. So, guess what? We now have 57 minutes left. We’re going to hang up the phone. I will talk to you in 23 minutes, at half past the hour, and we will review the first draft of the letter. Bye.”

Hung up the phone. When we met at half past, he had the first draft done. And in that moment, I started to realize, “Wait a minute. Human beings are social creatures. We are hardwired to take our commitments to other people more seriously than we take our commitments to ourselves. And, if that’s the case, why are we bothering with all of this deep psychology bull pucky and all of this, “Oh, we must find your deep inner why”? Look, just, you need to get your taxes done. Great. Get them out. I’ll watch. Fabulous. Now, that you have them out, 10 more minutes, you start working and I’ll call back in 10 minutes to check up on how it’s going.

And then, real time, of course, if someone is getting stalled, you can, at that moment, diagnose why they’re getting stalled and work with it as opposed to checking back a week later, and saying, “Oh, why didn’t do your thing?” And having them try to remember what was going through their head at the time and so on.

So, what I recognize is that there are a couple of things. Number one, the hammer that seems to work for almost everything is accountability. Number two, people get lost in different ways. They get lost sometimes in their moment-to-moment ability to focus, which technology is making far, far worse. They get lost in their ability to concentrate on one project out of a portfolio of projects long enough to make progress.

And so, I said, there are three timeframes we can operate on. Let’s operate on the level of a quarter, 12 weeks, the level of the day, and the level of the hour. And what Get-It-Done Groups do is they provide accountability on all three levels. We have a couple days a week where we meet hourly, and every hour we actually commit to doing things. Those are the days when you do that stuff that otherwise would procrastinate the heck out of and that you just don’t want to do, and we all just get together and do it together. And it works really well.

The daily accountabilibuddies is what we call them. The daily accountabilibuddy is a thing where people divide up into groups of two or three and they meet every day. A very short meeting, like five to 10 minutes, and they go through, and make sure that they’re making progress on all of the things that they need to be accountable for, which will add up to where they want to go in the 12-week period. And then, over the course of 12 weeks, if we’ve designed the daily check-ins right, they will get most of the way, or all of the way, or well past their 12-week goal.

And people have used Get-It-Done Groups to write a book. In fact, she finished the last word of it this last Sunday, and several members of the group were on a Zoom call with her as she was writing those last two sentences. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about it until about 20 minutes later, but I would’ve been there too.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just imagining, like, one who has a violin, and it’s like a very orchestral celebratory moment.

Stever Robbins
Oh, goodness, yeah. We had been there with her for almost the whole thing. I mean, it was amazing. There was another person who qualified for professional degrees. He had been trying for many, many years, and just hadn’t sat down to do all the work. Sat down and did all the work. We had somebody else who had multiple businesses that she had developed over the years, and she wanted to merge them all, and create unified branding, and put them all under one website. She did that. We have just a whole variety of things.

So, Get-It-Done Groups are groups where you get it done. And one of the people that are especially good for is people who are self-employed because when you’re self-employed you don’t have any external person who can stop and say, “Now wait a minute. You said that doing your marketing was important to you but for the last four days you haven’t done any. What’s up? Do you want to give up on that? Or do you want to do it but now we have to make some tweaks to how you’re doing your day because empirically you need some sort of tweaks in order to be making the progress you want to be making.” And they work amazingly well.

I’ve actually been quite surprised. I wasn’t thinking that they were going to work. I mean, I thought they would be effective but, in fact, the effect that they’ve had, I think, is almost out of proportion with how simple, well, it’s way out of proportion how simple they are. But it’s way out of proportion with what I thought. I thought they’d be useful and they’ve been life-changing for some people. Like, seriously life-changing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. Now, how big is a group?

Stever Robbins
We do it as a cohort introduced every month or every couple of months, and then everyone who is currently an active member all works together.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it could be dozens.

Stever Robbins
It could be. At the moment, we’ve never had more than 15 people involved in any given moment, which is a whole another story, having to do with customer acquisition versus customer retention. Well, what we found is that, really, I’ve already figured out how to scale it to whatever point is needed. But for like the hourly do-it days, we usually have between four and seven or eight people show up for that. That’s when we check in every single hour. We have a community call once a week, and every week we’ll get anywhere from five to 12 people on that. So, it depends.

All of the elements of it are optional except for the daily check-ins because part of the whole idea is we’re all busy people, and any productivity system that takes enough time that it impacts the way that you work is not a productivity system. You need productivity systems that mesh with what you’re doing so you don’t have to feel like you must do every single thing. You do just enough and just the pieces that will give you the results that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Awesome. Well, I’m a huge fan of accountability. It’s come up before. I wrote a book about accountability groups back in the day, and it had a big impact on me, so that’s huge. Well, specifically for we’d be talking today about microskills for sharpening focus and working smarter, that’s one of your key areas of expertise, and something that we dig here. It sounds like, one, a key skill is just trusting others and sharing and having some accountability. Could you maybe define for us the term microskill, first of all?

Stever Robbins
Yes. Just as people think of different timeframes, as I mentioned a moment ago, people think at different levels when they think of skills. I’ll call it a chunk size. Sometimes someone will say things like, “You need to learn to focus,” as if focus is itself a single skill. Well, it’s not. Focus is comprised of a lot of little skills. Focus is the ability to identify what you’re working on. If you don’t identify what you’re working on, you won’t do it because you don’t know what to be focusing on.

It’s the ability to block out or eliminate, in advance, external distractions. It’s the ability to either eliminate or notice when you have an internal distraction and pull yourself back on task. It’s the ability to know when you’re done, etc. So, there are actually tiny chunks of skills that make up this word that we use as a larger level skill.

And, to me, a microskill is one of the component skills that makes up what we would normally call a skill but, which in fact, is really the accumulation of lots and lots of things. And I will give you a slight spoiler, this is going to relate to our conversation about neuro-linguistic programming later in this because this is my NLP in the form of the brain that has resulted in the paying a lot of attention to microskills.

For example, we have two people in the current Get-It-Done Group who really, really, really aren’t doing enough prospecting, and they were like, “Okay, I keep falling down on my prospecting progress so let’s do a day that’s just prospecting.” And I talked to the two of them individually, and I said, “So, tell me about your prospecting process.” Now, what I’m actually listening for here is, “Are they both getting screwed up the same way? Or is there a difference?” Because if I’m going to be designing a day to work with them, I want to make sure that whatever I do during that day actually hits the causes of where they’re getting stalled.

It turns out they were getting stalled in different places. With one person it was identifying where to find prospects. For the other person it was actually picking up the phone and writing an email to reach out to the prospect, and then there’s a bunch of other skills, too, like follow up, etc. We can get into it a different time.

But, essentially, there are microskills that make up the skill of prospecting, and one of them is identifying prospect sources. The next one is identifying prospects from those sources. It’s not enough to identify the source. You actually have to go to the source and get the prospects. Then you have to craft a message, then you have to get that message out to them, which may involve doing research as to how each prospect likes to receive information, or it may involve sending out an email blast, or it may involve doing a bunch of phone calls, but whatever. You actually have to then take the action to get the prospect deal.

And, generally, when people say, “Oh, you need to do more prospecting,” they largely just mean this big chunk thing. And, to me, a microskill is one of the smaller chunk things that people don’t pay as much attention to but which often are where people get really tripped up.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig that because these words, I’m right with you, prospecting, focusing really are huge. Like, I’m just thinking about my wife. We got stuck for a little while because she’s like, “We need to baby-proof this home.” I was like, “Well, I don’t know what all that means. I’m sure there are many steps, and components, and devices, and thingies that are built up when it comes to baby-proofing, and I don’t really quite know where to start.” So, we got stuck for a good while actually until I just Googled and I found a professional baby-proofer who made a lot of things happen for us. So, that was nice because it was a one-time thing as opposed to baby-proofing as a lifestyle.

Stever Robbins
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, installing new stuff every week is a skill I need.

Stever Robbins
And you know there are people who do that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure, yeah, you could find a new way a kid could hurt himself, a day without trouble. But I dig it because often that sort of, I don’t know, deflates the energy or makes it less actionable when it’s big and vague as opposed to, “Now, what I’m talking about is getting on the phone again and again and again,” or, “What I’m talking about is figuring out where the heck I can get a bunch of names.” Those are different problems that have different actions and solutions.

Stever Robbins
Correct. And so, that’s what a microskill is. A microskill is understanding the skills that make up the thing you’re trying to do and then, to some degree, even more importantly, is to identify which skills are missing, and then figure out how to intervene because it’s not the case that all interventions are created equal or that all problems are the same problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, then, when we’re talking about those goals of sharpening focus and working smarter, what are some of the most potent microskills that give you a good return on your investment, a big bang for the buck in investing to develop them?

Stever Robbins
Well, I’ll tell you my favorites because they’re not super popular – speed reading and touch typing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go. Now, touch typing, I’m right with you. I am sold and, okay, go ahead. You can sell a little bit more but I’m already with you. Now, the speed-reading though, yeah, I’ve heard folks who are like, “Oh, speed-reading, it’s a scam. You really can’t blah, blah, blah.” So, lay it on us with some evidence. What’s real and possible speed-reading versus what’s hype and fluff?

Stever Robbins
Okay, do you want me to address the touch typing or the speed-reading first?

Pete Mockaitis
Do speed-reading first.

Stever Robbins
All right, speed-reading. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. All that I know is that I push myself to read faster and faster but I never could go so fast that I don’t have comprehension. I know that some speed-reading systems say push yourself so fast that you can barely comprehend. And then when you slow down, you’ll be able to go much faster. And I’ve actually done that particular exercise a few times.

I’m not a fan of things like photo-reading where you supposedly can digest an entire book by flipping the pages quickly. Apparently, there are people who can do that. I’m not convinced that that is the level of useful skill because the context for most people do reading these days is on a screen. So, what you need to be able to do is scan a screen and really get the meat of the information. The problem is most people skim, and skimming is not the same as reading. With skimming you get a superficial understanding, maybe, if it’s a well-written article or well-written post. Of course, in this day of pay per clicks, not pay for quality content, there’s an awful lot of stuff out there that’s extremely poorly written.

[24:27]

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, don’t get me started on the sloppy junk out there, and the agencies that enable it, which I’ll leave right there.

Stever Robbins
What happens is, for a well-written piece of writing, for example, you can scan the headlines, the headers, and the subheads, you can scan the topic sentences and things, and you really will get an idea of what the article is about, what the argument is, and then you can go back to the pieces you want more information about and read up more deeply.

That just doesn’t apply to an awful lot of things on the web because most people don’t know how to write, or they don’t take the time, or they can’t afford to take the time because they’re being paid so little that they have to grind out 10 articles in the space you would have to do one.

Pete Mockaitis
I signed up for one of those just for funzies to take a look around, and it’s like, “Holy crap, I’d have to be cranking almost as fast as I can type for like a third of that hour to eke out minimum wage here. And you’re hiring US labor? What?” So, okay, that’s a whole rant we could go on.

Stever Robbins
We have an awful lot of rants that we can go on.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, we got to get our own, you and me, the Stever and Pete podcast we’re going to rant all day long. Okay, so speed-reading, you push yourself to read faster, and then that yield some results. So, how might we go about learning how to read faster? What’s sort of the practices of developing that microskill?

Stever Robbins
You know, the thing that I would do for that, and I literally just took a speed-reading course, but the exercise that I thought was the most useful with the speed-reading course was the one that I mentioned a minute ago. Take a book or something that you want to read, give yourself, first, read a paragraph, not read a paragraph, read a chapter at normal speed, time how long that takes you.

And then read the next chapter giving yourself half that time. And then the chapter after that, half that time, and just push yourself to get successively faster and faster and faster until you’re going so fast that it’s very clear you’re not absorbing very much. But, then, when you downshift, you will downshift to a much faster rate than you started with.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, now, I’ve heard the term, because I’m dabbling reading about speed-reading before, and I’ve heard the term subvocalize which I understand to mean inside my mind, inside my brain, I’m saying each word to myself. So, if I’m looking at your bio, I might say inside my brain, but not out loud with my lips, I’d say, “Stever holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School, and a BS in Computer Sciences.” So, are you pushing past the subvocalization speed or not?

Stever Robbins
I don’t think that I am personally. What I’ve heard is the maximum speed you could get to, while you still subvocalize, is about, I think, 1500 words a minute or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s still lovely. That’s 55X normal, right?

Stever Robbins
Right. And I can get up to that, I think, when I’m really going. I can get up, assuming that it’s not something that requires lots and lots that I have to stop every sentence to digest it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a ton. That’s reassuring.

Stever Robbins
But I don’t think I ever really quite break the subvocalization barrier. I think that for the most part, well, you know what, now that I’m saying that, that isn’t true. When I took the speed-reading course, I always subvocalized. Now that I think about it, this is a conversation I’ve had with friends before, I’m at the point where I see a sentence and I know what the sentence means. And there’s a sense that somewhere I might be subvocalizing a little bit, but it happens faster than I could possible talk it. So, if it’s subvocalizing, it’s subvocalizing it two or three or four times what my external talking speed is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, that’s reassuring then that I always thought of that as some kind of crazy transcendental, the Matrix, Neo-type experience. It’s like, “Whoa, I’ve entered a new plane of information processing which is unfelt ever before.” So, okay, cool. So, that’s just all you got to do is push yourself to read about twice as fast as before, and then twice as fast as that, and then maybe twice as fast again, and then once you’ve reached the “clearly I’m not absorbing anything” level, you back it off a little bit. And then, holy smokes, you find that you are able to maybe read two, three, four, five times as quickly with just as much retention. Is that accurate?

Stever Robbins
Yeah. I tell you, it works in both directions too. It also works in the direction of output. When you’re doing public speaking. I was just helping a friend of mine prepare for an important presentation he has to give. And I would love to say that invented this exercise, I did not. This was taught to me by my very first business mentor years and years ago, back right after I had graduated, you know, at least six or seven years ago.

And he had me give a presentation at my normal speed. The presentation took about 40 minutes, and said, “Great. Now you can do 20 minutes. Give me the presentation again. You’ll have to decide what to leave out. And then do it in 10 minutes. And then do it in 5 minutes. And then do it in 2 minutes. And then do it in one minute.”

And when you push it down to one minute, and especially when you do it in that order, because each time has to learn how to filter through and decide what’s important and what isn’t. When you get it down to one minute or 30 seconds, the only thing you can say is the main points. You can’t give examples. You can’t give supporting evidence. You can say…

Pete Mockaitis
Prop down. We’re scared.

Stever Robbins
Right. And that’s it. But then what happens is when you then expand that back out to 40 minutes, your brain has gone through the process of compacting everything down and putting into the chunks that makes sense with you. So, on the fly, you can dynamically expand and contract portions of it to be able to adjust to any length.

And if you make it too short then you say, “Now, we have room for Q&A.” And if anyone asks about the pieces that you left out because you misjudged the time, well, they’re in your brain because you’ve already been through this presentation this many times and packaged all the information up nicely for yourself. So, then, all of that preparation simply serves to make you look like a genius and uber-prepared during the Q&A portions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. We had a guest who wrote the book Brief and that was good stuff and he recommended a similar exercise which is so handy. So, okay, that’s how speed-reading can go down, also applies to presentations. His name is Joe McCormack, for the record, the author of “Brief.”

So, now, let’s talk a little bit about the touch typing. I understand that the average typing speed in the United States is 41 words per minute. I just research these dorky things of my own volition. So, you’re saying that we got a lot more room to grow in that front.

Stever Robbins
When I was in 7th grade, I took a touch-typing course, and I took it on a manual typewriter, not an electric, a manual. And at the age of – what’s 7th grade, 12 years old? At the age of 12 years old on a manual typewriter, I could consistently test out at 70 words per minute.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stever Robbins
If I can do 70 words per minute as a 12-year old on a manual typewriter, anyone can get at least that fast if not faster.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. How do we get those skills?

Stever Robbins
You take a touch-typing course or you go online and I’m sure there are websites because I learned to type the DVORAK layout I learned from a website and from some apps. And you know what? It’s not sexy. It really isn’t. If what you want is some magical thing that will teach you to, suddenly, boom, get the touch-typing skill overnight, that doesn’t happen.

What you have to do is you have to train all of the common letter combinations. You have to get your fingers used to moving in those combinations. You have to practice it over and over and over, punctuated with appropriate sleep periods so that your brain can consolidate the information. And it may take weeks or months. Actually, I don’t know if I’m as fast on DVORAK even now after I’ve been doing it for about 10 years as I was on QWERTY at the time.

I find the big advantage to DVORAK is far less finger strain and finger movement which is, and I’m still pretty darn fast typing DVORAK. But I practiced DVORAK for months before I got up to a reasonable typing speed but it was completely worth it because, in the 10 years, or actually it was more because I was already typing DVORAK when I started the Get-It-Done Guy. I have written roughly 750,000 words of paid content, which I guess makes me a professional writer now that I think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Bling. Bling.

Stever Robbins
But part of why I was able to do that is I could type fast enough because it doesn’t matter how great your ideas are, it doesn’t matter how great you are at composing sentences, if you can only type 20 words a minute, you’re not going to be able to write 700,000 words of text because you just don’t have the time to move your fingers that much.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s true and I played around with all kinds of speech-to-text and dictation tools and software, and it’s not there yet. Maybe in five years, maybe 10 years, but we’re not there yet. And so, when it comes to keyboarding and typing faster, one of my favorite resources, I’m going to drop this in the show notes, is keybr.com. They’ve got some cool case studies of folks doubling their typing speed in like five hours of practice over the course of a couple weeks. And part of their brilliance, I think, is that it starts you, it kind of drills each key in order based upon its frequency versus difficulty to type so that they’ve really kind of leveraged it for you as much as possible, and it’s free. So, keybr.com is a handy one, and I’m digging it.

So, okay. Well, let’s move. Time is flying here.

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Stever, I want to make sure we get a chance to touch base on, so you are a smart dude and you’ve got impressive credentials from impressive places, and you think clearly about stuff. And I’m so intrigued that you are also a certified master trainer elite of NLP, neuro-linguistic programming. Now, NLP has got an interesting reputation. Maybe, could you give us a feel for, first of all, what is it, for those who are less familiar? And then, can you kind of like with the speed-reading, tell us what’s real, what’s exaggerated, and what benefits can we really expect to glean from NLP?

Stever Robbins
Sure. So, NLP is a set of models for understanding how humans think and how the way they think can be inferred from their language, and ways to change the way you think, or someone else thinks once you know what that is. I learned about it first because I wanted to learn things, and NLP was originally introduced to me as a technology for being able to sit down and talk with someone who had expertise and understand at a cognitive level, which basically means, “How are they thinking about the task involved to be able to produce whatever results they produce that constitutes expertise? And how can that be expressed in such a way that I can learn it or you can learn or someone else can learn it?”

Because, for example, if you’re talking to Mozart, and you say to Mozart, “Gee, how do you compose that passage?” And Mozart says, “Well, the way you compose it is you just play it over and over, and you listen really carefully until it sounds right.” That’s not a useful description. If you don’t happen to be Mozart and have Mozart’s definition of “sounding right” then you’re not going to produce the kind of music that Mozart can produce.

However, if what Mozart says to you is, “Well, what I do is I make colored pictures in my mind, and every color corresponds to a note. And I notice that when the pictures have a particular type of symmetry when played as notes they sound good.” Every step of that is something you could teach someone. Again, maybe not easily. This phenomenon of matching visual things with sounds is called synesthesia. If you want to create a synesthesia such that your colored pictures can be translated into notes, I’m guessing that doing that itself is a skill, and if you don’t happen to develop it as a child, or you’re not born with it, that itself is going to take you a while.

But assuming that that really is the way Mozart creates music, then if you have those skills, and this is where the microskills come in. And, in this case, the microskills are being able to make these colored pictures, being able to judge if they’re symmetric, being able to make them symmetric if they’re not, and being able to translate it back and forth into sound. If you have those skills, then you can produce probably not the identical results to Mozart because he has his own personal history that he’s filtering all of this through, but you’ll be able to produce things that are in the realm of musical expertise.

Now, I made that example up, by the way. But the idea there is NLP helps you listen to how somebody does what they are talking about that they do, and figure out what are the mental steps they’re doing to get there. And, as I mentioned before, that’s really at the heart of so much of what I do, because NLP says, “Given a big chunk skill, like composing musical piece, what are the tiny chunks that make it up?” And the tiny chunks may well be different for different composes, in which case, there are many different ways you can learn to compose music.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, I like when you said that because I think sometimes as I’ve seen NLP, neuro-linguistic programming presented, it’s talking about, “This is some mind control hypnosis stunt that’s going to make you crazy persuasive if you anchor touching your tie when you say something really compelling.” You know, I was like, “I don’t know about that.” Or, “You can tell if anyone is lying based upon where their eyeballs move.” It’s like, “I don’t know if that is accurate or being validated by any of peer-reviewed research.” What do you think about these kinds of claims?

Stever Robbins
Depends on a specific claim. The NLP will make you an amazingly unbelievably persuasive. NLP does make a set of distinctions which teach you how to understand how someone is thinking and how to package information in such a way that it fits with the way they think about something.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a persuasive booster.

Stever Robbins
Right, it could be a persuasive boost. But the information, even if you packaged the information so somebody will use it the way that they want to receive it. So, let me give you an example. Let’s say that I’m someone who is a visual thinker, and I understand long-term trends by visualizing a graph and noting if the graph goes up or down. So, if someone says to me, “Oh, unemployment is falling,” I actually picture a graph that has a line that goes from the upper left down to the lower right, and that’s my mental representation of what the sentence means “unemployment is falling.”

If you know that that is how I represent things, and you want to communicate the information that consumer happiness is rising, or maybe that consumer happiness is all over the map, then if you simply show me a picture that has this line going up and down, and left and right, and all over the place, and say, “This is consumer confidence,” I don’t have to do any work to understand that because that matches with the way that I understand things.

However, if you show that exact same map to somebody who understands things by visualizing a column of numbers, not a graph, they’re going to look at that graph, and go, “I don’t know what the heck that is. I can’t make any sense out of it,” because their mental representation is not making graphs with lines in it.

So, what that means is for a given person, if you understand how they take in and process and understand information, you can package whatever case you’re trying to make so that it fits their type of information so they don’t have to work to understand it. However, just because they don’t have to work to understand it, it doesn’t mean they’ll immediately take it in. It just means that they won’t reject it because it doesn’t make sense to them. If they make sense to them, but then they may reject it because it doesn’t make good sense.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Fair enough. And how about these eyeball directions indicating if someone is lying?

Stever Robbins
So, that’s interesting. The actual NLP model does not say that eyeball directions indicate if someone is lying. In fact, if you read the book, they explicitly say that’s not what they do because that’s one of the common ways people misinterpret them.

What the eyeball directions are claimed to do, and this is something that drives me nuts because of the way this is phrased, it’s one of the easiest things to “test.” And I put that in quotes because, so far, I have yet to see any test that actually does a good job of genuinely testing the claim.

The observation is that people systematically move their eyes while they’re talking. Sometimes they move them up, sometimes they move them to the sides, sometimes they move them down. And in the NLP model, we pretend that what goes on inside people’s brains is they make pictures, they talk to themselves, they hear sounds, they basically have an inner sensory life in the five senses that corresponds to the same five senses that you use on the outside.

And, in fact, since NLP was developed in the 1970s, there’s been a lot of research that shows that’s probably even accurate in terms of what’s really going on because they found that if you have somebody visualize moving a muscle, all of the same neurons fire in their brain except for the very final neurons that actually activate your limb moving or whatever.

So, what the eye movement model in NLP says, it says when you’re constructing visual images, your eyes move one direction. When you’re remembering visual images, your eyes move another direction. When you are imagining sounds you’ve never heard before, your eyes move in a third direction. When you are remembering sounds you’ve heard before, your eyes move in a fourth direction. When you are talking to yourself and engaging in internal dialogue, your eyes move in a fifth direction. And when you are experiencing your feelings very strongly, your eyes move in a sixth direction. So, there’s three directions on each side, there’s three to your left, and three to the right.

And they may be different for different people. On some people, especially left-handed people, one or more of them might be swapped left to right. But the NLP model says that when somebody is retrieving information, when they’re really involved in information processing, their eyes will move in a particular direction that corresponds to the type of processing they’re doing.

You can then use that to help choose an intervention to decide what to do with them to help them change their thinking if what you’re doing is trying to help someone change their thinking, because NLP, the first place it was really used extensively, and the fact where it was developed, was in the realm of therapy. So, people would come in and they would say, “I have this horrible phobia.” And by watching their eyes, one of the things that you could find out is every time they talk about the thing that was a phobic trigger, they would always move their eyes to visual memory, or to the direction that corresponded to visual memory.

If that’s what happened, there is a particular technique that was developed in NLP that says, “When somebody is having a phobic reaction, and it is instantaneous, and it involves a remembered visual image, use this technique and it will help get rid of the phobia.” And you then could use that technique and it would help you rid of the phobia.

And, like all things, there’s plenty of margin for errors. Some things don’t work all the time. Some things sometimes you misdiagnose, etc. That’s the NLP eye movement I’m on. The way that people have misinterpreted this is to mean, “Gee, if you ask someone a question, and their eyes move to the creating a visual image area, that means they’re lying.” Well, maybe. It may mean that they’re remembering something and they’re creating an image that they’ve never made before that’s based upon the thing they’re remembering. It may mean they’re not paying any attention to your question. Instead, they’re making an image of…

Pete Mockaitis
Daydreaming. That sounds more interesting.

Stever Robbins
They’re making an image of the delicious casserole they plan on making just as soon as they can get out of the job interview or whatever. And this is the problem with a lot of NLP. Number one, the term is not copyrighted or trademarked so anyone can claim they’re teaching it, and anyone can claim they’re good at it. And, number two, an awful lot of people do, and they have no idea what it really is or how it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, if we want to read a book or two or three to get some useful understanding that is applicable, what would be your top recommendations on that?

Stever Robbins
Oh, that’s so difficult because I don’t think there are very many good NLP books out there. My favorite one is called Using Your Brain for a Change by a man named Richard Bandler who is one of the co-developers of NLP. The impression I get is he was really, really the principle key to the whole thing. And it is a book about how different changes in your mental imagery affect the reactions that you have to those mental images. And the reason this matter is that a lot of our behavior is driven off from mental imagery.

So, let’s say that somebody says, “Hey, we’re going to raise your tax rates,” and you’ll get super upset at that. Well, you’re not actually getting upset at the words, “We will raise your tax rates.” You’re getting upset of what that means to you. And it may be that what happens is you make a mental image of yourself lying in a gutter surrounded by really bad liquor with people stepping over your body because you think that if your tax rates get raised, that’s what’s going to end up happening to you. And what you’re going to reacting to is that image that you’re making.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s helpful.

Stever Robbins
So, Using Your Brain for a Change teaches you to identify the images that are actually driving your behavior and gives some specific techniques for how to manipulate those images and change them so that they drive your behavior differently. Because if you took that exact same image of yourself lying in the gutter with the cheap liquor, and you put circus music behind it, “toot, toot, root, toot, pop, para, pop” it wouldn’t produce the same emotional reaction. It may not make you want to be there, but it’s not going to be this horrible tragedy.

But, on the other hand, if you put these strings and violins, just doing the slow mournful thing, well, that makes it worse, you know, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Stever Robbins
Now, people go, “Ugh, that’s just a funny little mental trick.” And I’m like, “Yes, it’s a funny little mental trick that completely changes the way that you feel about something. Isn’t that useful? Like, if you can just do a funny little mental trick and, suddenly, this thing that has been causing you incredible stress and high blood pressure and anger, suddenly becomes funny, that sounds like a mental trick worth learning and doing more of.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said.

Stever Robbins
So, the thing about NLP, to me, number one, very few people who claim to understand it really understand it very well. Number two, they often misrepresent it as a thing that accomplishes a certain result, like being a lie detector, or persuading people of things. And it’s less about getting a specific result, and it’s more about when you’re dealing with people, how do you understand the way they communicate? How do you understand the way they think? And how can you communicate to them so that you could be most understood by them?

And if they want to change, and if they want you to tell them how to change their behavior so they get better results in their life, how can you package the communication about how they can change such that, number one, they can hear and understand it; number two, they can then turn that understanding into different behavior; and then, number three, how can you make sure that the behavior you’re telling them to do, like in this case the circus music, is actually the thing that will make a difference for them? Because, for some people, circus music may not make something silly. For some people, circus music may make it ominous because maybe they saw too many clown films as a kid or whatever.

But once you know for a given person how they think, which things are meaningful for them, what their language is, you can help them reach the results that they want by using NLP to understand all of those things. Has this been clear?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you.

Stever Robbins
Sure.

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

Stever Robbins
With me you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Stever Robbins
With me, I’m at SteverRobbins.com, GetItDoneGroups.com, and if you are interested in the podcast, which is the Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More, which is way too long. It should just be called the Get-It-Done Guy, or it should be called Work Less and Do More, go to itunes.com/getitdoneguy. Or, essentially, Get-It-Done Guy on any place that you listen to podcasts.

439: How to Find Opportunities Hiding in Crappy Situations with David Greene

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David Greene says: "Ask yourself how you can run towards a problem instead of away from it."

David Greene shares how you can identify valuable opportunities in any situation you find yourself in–even the crappy ones.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How difficulties often indicate valuable opportunities
  2. Why analyzing your anxiety often yields valuable insight
  3. David’s salad story which reveals how to 8X your efficiency on certain tasks

About David

David Greene is the co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast, author of “Long Distance Real Estate Investing: How To Buy, Rehab, and Manage Out Of State Rental Property,” online blog contributor, Keller Williams Rookie of the Year, and a top producing real estate agent in Northern CA.

As a former police officer who started investing in real estate in 2009, David has built a portfolio of over 30 single family homes, as well as shares in large apartment complexes, mortgage notes, and note funds.

David teaches free monthly seminars on real estate investing and has been featured on numerous real estate related podcasts. He runs GreeneIncome.com, a blog where he teaches others to build wealth through real estate, as well as “The David Greene Team”—and is one of the top Keller Williams agents in the East Bay.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

David Greene Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
David, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

David Greene
My pleasure. I’m excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat with you too ever since I’ve listened to the BiggerPockets podcast many times. So, I’ve heard your voice, but then when I got to hear your story on the BiggerPockets Money podcast, which I’m excited to appear on, in some weeks from now, I really got a kick out of how time after time after time, you saw some opportunities that others didn’t. So, I’d love it if we could start your tale with back in the day when you were a waiter.

David Greene
That’s actually really fun to talk about that, BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I think it was maybe Episode 12, was the first time that I had ever talked about my story on a podcast, for sure, but maybe even in like the last 10 years. So, I had a lot of fun going back to remembering how I used to think and the doubts and the fears and the worries I had. And now seeing how it worked out. It’s kind of incredible. So, this should be fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, well, let’s take it away.

David Greene
Okay, where should we start?

Pete Mockaitis
Well so, there you are, you’re a waiter and you are starting to wonder how can I make some more money here?

David Greene
Yeah, so I was always a very driven guy, like I wanted to make as much money as I could, I knew it. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily greed that was driving that but like ambition might be a better word. I knew that I didn’t want my time to not count for anything.

So, I was very, very, like, motivated by if I was going to show up somewhere. And if I was going to put six hours of time, eight hours of time into somewhere, I might as well work hard when I’m there. It didn’t benefit me to show up and not work.

And that was one thing that I noticed that was different in me than other people, we both had to be stuck there for eight hours not doing the stuff we’d rather do, right. You can’t go snowboarding— for me playing basketball was what I loved to do, I can’t play basketball when I’m here at this restaurant.

So, I might as well work hard. And I noticed that a lot of other people were content to be there but not work. And I always looked at it like well, if you’re stuck here, you might as well get something out of it.

So as a waiter, the more tables you had and the better job you did at those tables would determine your income because it was like you know, 90% tips. That’s how you were getting paid. So, I noticed if I could wait more tables, I could make more money. And I knew at the end of my shift when I clocked out and I was going home, all that matter was how much money I had in my pocket. It didn’t matter if I sat around and did nothing or I worked super hard, that was over. And the money that I had was only thing I was taking with me.

So, I became determined to get as good as I could at waiting tables as well as I could and learning the skills that I would need to be able to do that to be able to make more money.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, it starts with a different perspective like, “Okay more tables equals more money—”.

David Greene
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“I want to make the most of my time, so, giddy up, and let’s make that happen.” And so how did you do that?

David Greene
So, the first thing I did was I looked at who in the restaurant is already the best, who’s doing this at the highest level. So, there was two waitresses that were kind of like to go-tos when they got really busy. All the tables would go to them. When there was a big party coming in, they would get the big parties, right?

And, and I started so like ingratiate myself to those girls. It was “hey, what do you need? Can I fill up your tables’ waters? Can I get them some coffee? Can I help brush your tables? Can I bring your drinks from the bar to your tables?” I always be them a priority. When my tables were all done and there was nothing to do and everyone else was standing in the kitchen kind of BS-ing, I would then go help those girls.

And I noticed that they would start to say things to the owner like, “an, this David guy is incredible. We love him.” So, I kind of got a little, “Ooh, this is good. The owner likes me now she’s treating me a little better.” So, I would start doing what we call side work at the end of the night. This is like the cleaning up of the restaurant that they make the waitstaff do.

I would get mine done and then I would go to theirs two, right, because if I have to be here for this time, I might as well clean my stuff up fast and then go help them, more compliments my way. Now I noticed that the owner was kind of pulling me aside and giving me extra training or maybe testing that other waiters weren’t getting.

She’d pull me aside and say, “Hey, these are the eight different kinds of glasses that the bartender uses. We use this type for this cocktail, we use this type for this cocktail.” I being 19 years old or whatever I was, didn’t understand what this had to do with my job. But looking back now I realize she was looking to see, is he a flash in the pan or is this a kid who really wants to learn the industry?

And when I would memorize it, she was very happy and I would get more responsibility, right? And this was my first kind of like, foray into, “you can earn your way into a better position, you don’t have to just wait for someone to notice you and say let me give you a raise, let me give you a promotion.”

So, I went to the owner at a certain point and said, “Hey, I want to wait more tables, so, what do I need to do to be like Haley and Kelly?” Those were the top two waitresses. And she said, “I’m so glad you asked. This is what I look forward to see if you’re ready for the next level.” And she gave me a list of stuff. Now I had a literal blueprint for what I needed to do if I wanted to be successful at this job.

Pete Mockaitis
So much good stuff there, that’s applicable just about anywhere in terms of, alright, attitude and making the most of the time, zeroing in on role models, on who’s the best here. Helping out, proactive favors, ingratiating to the best, asking the questions, “How do I be like that person?”

All that’s great stuff and I guess what’s interesting is, most people did not do that and you shared it in your story that’s a part of that equation could be that the owner was kind of demanding, had some high standards that rub some people the wrong way?

David Greene
Yeah, I guess I should mention that, she was a terror. I mean, people were terrified of this woman, right? When she would show up, everybody went to like, scurry like cockroaches to find somewhere to hide because they didn’t want to be seen by her right?

You hit it on the head, she had extremely high standards. Now, I was used to that in my life before this, I had been playing sports and coaches had really high standards. My parents had really high standards. Now that you mentioned it, so yeah, I’m learning something about that myself. That might be one of the reasons why I do better in life is because I have higher standards. I didn’t really think about that till right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Happy to help.

David Greene
Thank you for that. So rather than me running away from the person with the high standards, I ran towards the person and said, “How can I help you hit these standards?” And because everybody else was running away, I made me stand out.

So, I realized the reason she was always cranky and grumpy was because the standards were not being met. And I would have been part of the problem by running away. That’s why the standards weren’t being met. And by her increasing her expectations of me, it was actually a compliment, right? When everyone else was complaining, why did she care if the cracker wrapper gets left on my table or who cares if their water was empty for a minute.

I was looking at it differently like, if she’s paying this much attention to what goes on at my table, she’s noticing me, this is my opportunity to show her that she can trust me, because I was so motivated by getting more.

And what I found, Pete, is that like, the difference between taking it easy and getting three or four tables and working hard and getting eight or nine tables was literally double your income, right? So, like, if your average waiter was making 40 grand a year, and you worked harder and got eight tables, you could make $80,000 a year as like 18 or 19-year-old kid in 2000/2001, whenever this was happening. It’s a big amount of money for somebody in that position, right?

And that was what motivated me to get good at the job. So, once I got to where she was trusting me with more responsibilities, which meant getting more tables, now I had to learn how to keep the same level of service even though my workload had increased. And that was my first like, foray into being more efficient.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. There’s so much good stuff here. And at first I want to key in on that notion of you ran toward the person with the highest standard rather than running away and you being noticed is a good thing even if it doesn’t feel like it like “oh my gosh, get off my back.” That reminds me of a previous guest Eddie Davila, who said that, “Pressure is really a gift, you give pressure to someone you trust and that you’re expecting great things of as opposed to giving pressure to someone who you think is everything in them out too much or be able to accomplish much for you.”

David Greene
Yeah, that’s absolutely true and you see it with everything, you see it with professional athletes, you see it with the best performers. You see, I think even to a degree with like teachers and their students, that principle runs through everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then how in practice did you execute, doing more tables?

David Greene
When it came down to at this specific restaurant, it was not run very efficiently, the waiters had to do an insane amount of the actual work. And the busboys and the helpers, if there was any, didn’t do very much at all.

So, what it meant was like every dinner would come with a salad or soup and the waiter had to make the salad. And the salad had to be tossed in the dressing. And there was like nine different things you had to put in it, right. And then we had like 12 different kinds of salads. And then there was no food runner, so you had to run your own food, there were no computers, you had to handwrite all this on a ticket, right.

So, I started to notice just from listening to my own emotions, what would cause me stress or anxiety. So when I would get like a table of eight and I would take all their orders on a piece of paper, I would then go in the kitchen and I’d have to pull up a menu and look at the menu and write down the price of every item that I was going to give to the kitchen staff.

So, if they wanted a T-bone steak, I would have to write a T-bone, medium rare. I’d have to put whatever starch they wanted, a baked potato, rice or pasta, right. And then I’d have to put the price of whatever that thing cost on the ticket because that was also going to be the receipt that we gave to the customer at the end.

And all these waiters would be all like huddled around the area where the menu was trying to fight and see over the top of each other to write down all the prices and I’m like, I would get anxiety when I knew I had to go do that. It was going to slow me down and what if my food comes up, I have to run out to the tables while I’m doing this.

What if my drinks are up at the bar? So, I would memorize that menu. I took one home and I just memorized the price of everything. I made flashcards, then when I would go running, I would go in my head and I would say porterhouse $28, T-bone $26, filet mignon, oh, I can’t remember.

Then I would make a note, I need to go look up the price of filet mignon, right. And I would just run them over in my head over and over and over until I had the entire menu memorized. And that would save me the time of having to go look at that menu and write the price in as well as fighting with the other servers to be able to see it.

Now, some people said, “David, that saves you 30 seconds, big deal.” But 30 seconds in the middle of a crunch is huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah and again and again and again repeatedly.

David Greene
Over and over and over, that’s exactly right. So, that was the first thing I did. Then the next thing I noticed was I would feel anxiety whenever I had to go like make all those salads, right. And there was a ton of steps that would have to go into each one.

So, one night when we closed, I went to the little salad station and I broke down every step I had to take to make a salad with my hands. So, we would—this may be a lot of detail but we had the salad kept above you at like eye level in this really big bin and we would take a scoop of it out and put it in a bowl, then we would scoop the dressing from the little container into the bowl, then we would grab a fork and we would toss it all around, then we would take us a chilled plate out of a fridge, pour the lettuce on to the plate.

So, we’re like four steps here, then I would take a handful of croutons and a handful of like cut up cabbage and stuff like that, put it on the top. So, we’re at six steps, then there was a tomato that you added that was step seven, then you would have to put that salad plate on a tray behind you and make the next one.

So, I went there and I would practice this like dance of my right hand goes to grab the lettuce, my left hand goes to grab the dressing. I’ve already put the bowl where I’m going to put them in place. How quickly can I get those two things done?

The minute that the left hand is pouring the dressing into the bowl, my right hand has nothing to do, it should already be going to grab the croutons, right. And I would practice how to grab the right amount of croutons fast, how to grab the right handful size of lettuce so that it almost became like second nature to me. And I got to where I could rip through these things in maybe 10 to 15% of the time that the other waitresses were taking because they just kind of went at a comfortable pace.

Pete Mockaitis
10 to 15%, in other words eight times as fast.

David Greene
Yes, I was like, I was a blur, right. And I made it a game like how quickly can I do this. And it almost became fun when you get into the zone and you’re concentrating that hard. So, I could make it eight times as fast. And again, maybe that saved me two and a half minutes. But that two and a half minutes was really big when you were in the middle of a crunch, two and a half minutes when a table wants to order food and you’re not there can be a big impact on your tip, right.

And so, what I would do is I would go through the process of all my responsibilities of a waiter. And I would notice at what point do I get all the anxiety? At what point are we like, “Oh, I hate this part?”—because we all have those thoughts. And then how can I be better or more efficient? How can I solve that problem? Because that was the same problem my competition was having, and they probably weren’t being as purposeful at solving it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, that’s really cool how the anxiety serves as an emotional indicator for what’s happening in sort of a business process flow logistics context as a bottleneck. It’s just like, this thing is slowing it down and you’re feeling the anxiety when you’re in the midst of the slow down.

And so, by really focusing with great, I guess precision on, alright, memorize the price, alright, salad dance, let’s just flash this in half and half again and again. That’s really cool and has applications to all kinds of jobs, like this process seems to be taking a stupid amount of time, let me really go after how I can accelerate it.

David Greene
That’s exactly right and I’ve used that same strategy or technique or whatever you want to call it in every job I’ve had. Like right now I’m a real estate agent. And there are steps to every single transaction that happen and some of those I do really well and some of those I don’t do well or I feel that same level of “oh, I hate this part.”

This is always where I mess it up, right. I’m gonna have to call the client and tell them this and they’re going to give me attitude and my natural response is to be cold and apathetic because I don’t like when I get attitude, right. I’m not going to do well here.

Most of us ignore that feeling of anxiety and we just say like, we either ignore the tasks that would require it or we have half-butt it to get through there because we don’t like it. What I did as a real estate agent was I said, “Okay, this is not my favorite part. How do I get somebody else and train them to do that for me, that does love doing it?”, right.

Now the anxiety is gone and I’m focusing on the parts I like and I’m doing better. I ended up working at a different restaurant after this when I had reconstructive ankle surgery from a basketball injury. And when I came back, I said, what could I do to make more money, I can only take so many tables at a certain point, there’s diminishing returns, you can’t take more.

And I realized I better go work in a more expensive restaurant. So, I found a more expensive restaurant that was much further away. But it was like twice or three times as expensive as the steakhouse I had been working at. And that was my first foray into seeing like, different businesses are structured and use different models. And you have to take these skills I’m talking about and apply them in new ways in different places that you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, and that’s good stuff. Well, maybe when we get a couple more examples of you and noticing opportunities and how you’re making it happen. You pulled off a pretty neat stunt in terms of getting way, way, way cheaper rent in California. How did this come about?

David Greene
As far as where I was living?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

David Greene
Yeah, so what I did was I was— man, how did this start? I moved to the Bay Area in California to become a deputy sheriff and go to the police academy. And I was paying a fee to live in a house with a bunch of strangers from Craigslist. So, it was only like $650 a month, which is pretty good rent but I hated it. I mean I absolutely hated living with these mutants that I was having to spend my time with—

Pete Mockaitis
One of them is listening, these mutants.

David Greene
Yeah, I doubt they even know what a podcast is, Pete. These were people, who were very negative, very problematic, complained about everything. It was really rough. And I knew if I wanted to go get like an apartment, rent was around $2000/$2500 a month, and I could have paid it but I just didn’t want to.

So, I heard all the guys at work talking about one deputy who said that he had just bought a house. And they said, “Yeah, he got this big old huge house, it’s just him, his wife doesn’t even live with them right now, she’s overseas working. Why did he buy it?” And they were all kind of laughing at him. And they brought me into the conversation to mock him also because they knew I was like a real estate guy.

And I didn’t think I should mock him, I was like, “What’s he gonna do with all that space? Why did he buy it?” Right. So, I went to talk to Vaughn and I asked Vaughn like, why he did it. He’s like, “You know what, I just always wanted a big house man. I grew up in a small poor area.” He grew up in East LA, was very rough.

He said, “I’ve always wanted a big house. I knew it was bigger than I needed but I didn’t care. I feel great having it.” And I was like, “Well, do you want to make another $300 a month?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Let me move in.” He goes, “Okay”.

Pete Mockaitis
Here we go.

David Greene
We’ve got like five bedrooms, I’m not using.
And that’s what the number I threw out, right. Like, I could have said $200, he probably would have went with that. So, I didn’t say, “Hey, can I rent a room?” And he said, “Sure.” And then how much and now we’re negotiating the price. I structured that differently, right.

So, now I move in with this guy, I’m paying $300 a month, no utilities, no electricity, like nothing at all other than this $300 a month, and I have an entire like upstairs mansion completely to myself and a house that was about five years old.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that there. And I think there’s a cool lesson when it comes to wherever there is stupidity, there is often a mismatch of resources and thusly, an opportunity. They say, “Hey David, can you believe this guy?” and like, interesting.

David Greene
That’s exactly right, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s so much more productive and uplifting, I would say just for people being kind to each other, approach to go there as well as great way to phrase the question. In terms of free money you weren’t planning on having as opposed to “Oh, I have a resource called a room that’s empty. What should that go for?”

David Greene
Yes, and so he obviously wasn’t good with money. We knew that before we started the conversation, right. So, he didn’t value money, what he valued was like, “I want to feel like I’m a somebody.” So, he also got a little jolt out of knowing he was helping me, that made him feel like a good friend, a good person, he was providing for somebody.

So, I think a lot of us make the mistake of assuming everybody values money as much as we do when for him it meant nothing. I mean, I probably could have lived there for free if I could have sold him on how much it would have helped me or what it would have meant to me or if I did chores or something like that. But yeah, you’re right, like, he was very stupid when it came to money. And so there was opportunity that was within that kind of environment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s real nice. So well, nowadays, much of your opportunity identification comes about in real estate investing, and you’ve got a hot new book, The BRRRR Rental Property Investment Strategy Made Simple, which I’ve enjoyed reading. So, there’s a few things I’ll point to, but maybe you could just give us your quick take on what is this strategy? And how do you go about identifying opportunities in this particular context?

David Greene
So, the BRRRR strategy itself is, it’s a cool name first off, but is that really, the idea itself is still pretty simple. The problem with buying rental properties that you spend a lot of money on a down payment, then you spend a lot of money to fix the house up to get it ready.

Now you’ve got a property you can rent out to somebody else, but all your capital is sunk into the house. Okay, so you can’t use that capital to buy another house, that’s the inefficiency in buying rental properties, it takes you a long time to save up all the money that you’re going to dump into the property, right.

The BRRRR strategy involves buying it and fixing it up and once it’s been fixed up and it’s worth more, at that point you refinance it and take your money out as opposed to financing it in the very beginning when you buy it.

So, you can use your own money, borrow from your 401K, borrow from a retirement account, take a HELOC on your house, partner with a friend, however you find the money to buy the house, you go by the most undervalued asset that you can, and you’re looking for opportunity in homes other people don’t want.

You’re literally looking for the stinky, smelly, nasty house that most people look and say, “no, why would I ever want it”, right. Because you’re not going to be renting out that stinky, smelly thing, you’re going to be fixing it up to make it worth more.

It’s very similar to if you want to go buy a business, you don’t want to go buy a business that’s already be running incredibly efficient and would sell for top dollar. You want to step into a business that’s being mismanaged, their sales team is terrible, their operations team is off the hook, they’re spending way too much money, their profits are very thin.

So, you can buy it at a low margin, then use your skills to make that business run more efficiently and better. And then either enjoy the profit or go sell it at a margin, right. It’s the very same principle applied to real estate investing, but it’s so much easier to do it because all you got to look for is a crummy looking house.

So, you buy it, you fix it up, I often add square footage to it if it’s extra small house, I look to add square footage. If it only has two bedrooms, I look to take maybe the dining room and turn that into a bedroom to make it at least three because that’s what makes it worth more. Once that’s done, I pull the money out and I have all my capital back that I can then go use to buy the next house and I can increase the scale.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that and that’s a great lesson right there when it comes to the opportunity, when something seems gross or crummy, there is an opportunity there, whether you’re buying a real estate property or a business. I’ve got a buddy who’s done this with websites.

He says, “Hmm, this is a website that has some decent traffic but could have way more if they just did a few things like A, B, C, D, I’m gonna go ahead and buy that website and crank up the traffic with these smart strategies”, and lo and behold, he’s got a really valuable source over there.

So, that’s cool and of itself is not to be disgusted by the grossness but to say, “ah, there’s something here.” And I think my favorite part of the book that I read was about— so you’ve got your five stages, your buy, your rehab, your refinance, your rent, and you repeat, so BRRRR, that’s four RRRRs, the BRRRR is where that it comes from.

And so when it comes to the rehabbing, I’ve got my property here. And it’s been a heck of a time with contractors and renovation professionals. But you had a really clever tactic when it comes to paying for bids, can you tell us about that?

David Greene
Paying a contract to do a bid for you?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

David Greene
Yeah, so if you’re getting a contractor that’s going to go out to the house, take his time, give you a bid of what it’s going to cost to fix it up, and then you’re not using them, you’re not going to get a very good contractor. At a certain point, they’re not going to want to give you anything for free.

So, you can get free bids from guys when you’ve worked with them in the past. But if you haven’t worked in the past or you don’t have a very strong, like future potential to give them a lot of business, they’re going to want you to pay. If you really don’t want to pay, you want to look for ways around that, like “how can I bring this person value, so he’s not going to have to necessarily charge me all the time for whatever this bid that I’m looking for is,” right.

One of the ways that you do that is you send them other people who need the same work, you send them referrals, right. What business doesn’t want referrals, any sales person whose job is to find business, if you send them referrals, you’re helping them do their job, they’re going to like you, they’re going to give you something back, right.

Another one would be I would say, “Hey, if you get this job, I’ll put you on my social media, I’ll let everyone know you’re the one that did this, will take the best pictures, the best angles, it’s free promotion for your business.”

Contractors are usually not business minded people. They don’t understand bookkeeping, let alone marketing, sales and a CRM, right. So, when you’re providing this stuff, it’s immensely valuable to them because it’s like magic. Like “I’d never even thought of doing something like that,” right.

And I like to take that approach with all the people that I’m using is, “what can I bring?” Or what do I know that’s easy for me that I can use to help them that’s very difficult, much like doing the side work for like a woman who’s worked really hard and maybe has two kids, and she’s trying to raise them alone is the end of the day. She’s been up since six o’clock in the morning. She’s exhausted, she does not want to clean that coffee station. I probably slept until 10:30 that morning. I’m a 19-year-old dude, I’m in great shape. That is not a very big deal for me to go clean the coffee station, but it meant a lot to her.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Yeah, that’s excellent. And so, what I think is fun about your mindset that differs from any others would be like, “I’m not going to pay someone to come by and not do anything.” But you’re thinking, “No, no, no, I am paying someone for the bid in order to (1) get more bids and explore more people to see what they can do. And hey, maybe you’ll end up saving coming out ahead of a deal, and (2) to build up a relationship with the folks you find to ultimately be the rock stars.

David Greene
Yeah, when you think about the value that a good contractor can bring you versus the price of a bid, it’s not even worth comparing, right. A good contractor can make me tens of thousands of dollars just in the work that they’re doing. For me to give them 100 bucks for their time to go make a bid means a world to them but it’s nothing to me with what they’re going to bring me, right.

And that’s assuming that they’re not actually bringing you deals. I get deals from my contractors, like someone will say, “Hey, can you come look at my buddy’s house, it’s in bad shape,” and he has no one to do? And they’ll go look at it, and they’ll say, “Yeah, it’s gonna cost you $50,000 to fix it,” and those people say, “We don’t have $50,000, what are we going to do? I guess we give it back to the bank.”

I want him coming to me and saying, “Hey David, there’s this opportunity over here, they’re going to give the house up to the bank,” where I can step in and buy it and then he gets his job, he gets his $50,000 job that he wanted and I get an incredibly good deal that’s worth a whole lot more to me. I mean, some of these deals, you’ll make $50,000 in equity on an average mediocre one, right. That’s not a bad return for the hundred dollars I was willing to pay that guy to give me a bid.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. I do the exact same thing with a lot of hiring for I guess, they’re contractors in terms of they are sort of contract workers in sort of the digital or information knowledge working space in terms of it’s like, “Hmm I want someone to write something or to design something, or to do transcripts,” or whatever it may be.

I will like to take a peek in terms of “Okay, well, what can you do? Let me pay you for a sample,” even though if I have no need to use that sample, just so I could see “Oh, wow, that looks way better than the other.” So, I’ve done this before is where I’ll pay 30 people for a sample piece of work, and then say, “Ah, these are the two who are really rocking it. I want to use you now hundreds of times over.”

David Greene
Yeah, and it’s a model that a lot of industries use often, like imagine a music producer trying to find the next big boy band or something, right.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m imagining that right now, with all the guys, high five again, “Hey, girl—”

David Greene
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right there with you, David.

David Greene
Exactly. Is there a better ROI than a boy band that blows up, makes billions of dollars to sing and dance, and you sell throw pillows and all kinds of other crazy stuff. They have to go through a whole lot of people that are underwhelming, right. And they’re going to have to spend a little bit of time and money taking people lots of dinner, flying around to get to know them. But when you find that one rock star, you don’t care how much money you spent, you’re earning so much more back in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t think we end up at boy bands but I’m glad we did.

David Greene
I don’t think that’s ever come up in one interview I’ve ever done. Good job Pete, you pulled something out of me no one else has.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, thank you. Well, tell you before we shift gears to hear about a few of your favorite things, do you have any kind of final tips that you’d share with others who were trying to notice hidden opportunities, in their own careers, in in real estate or send the course of living life?

David Greene
Yes, I’m a huge proponent of Warren Buffett’s advice that you should be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful. Now he gives that advice in the context of when you’re buying stocks or when you’re investing.

So, when everyone else is saying buy, buy, buy, you should be a little worried, pull back. When everyone else is saying you’re an idiot, don’t buy, the sky is falling and they’re running around like a bunch of chicken littles, that’s when you should actually have the courage to jump in and buy.

I’ve taken that reasoning or that principle, and I’ve applied it to almost everything else. So, when everyone at my job was like, “oh, she’s coming again, I don’t want to deal with her” and they ran away, I ran towards her, right.

When their emotions were saying, “oh, this anxiety, I hate it, I should quit” or “I don’t want to take more than three tables because I don’t like the feeling I get when I do,” I would say I don’t like that feeling either but what does that feeling signaling to me that I could be improving, right. And that’s what drove me to be better to memorize the menu to get faster and making salads and bunch of other things I did that made me much more efficient, right.

Like one thing I didn’t even mention is most waiters would go to the kitchen, get ketchup come back, drop it off, the person would say, “can I have some pepper”, go to the kitchen, get the pepper come back, drop it off, I would make around to my tables and talk to all six of them and have all of them see what they needed, go to the kitchen, get all six tables’ stuff and in one trip, come back and drop it all off.

You do that seven or eight times a night and you’re saving yourself like 30 minutes of time, right. Just that one thing. But that was because I noticed every time I was going back and forth between the kitchen, the table and anxiety, “oh, I’m falling behind”, right. Everybody else was, their answer was to quit, to pull back, to try less hard, to give less. And I went the other way and I busted through.

That’s the advice that I would give people. When you have that boss that just drives you crazy and you can’t stand them, right. There’s a reason they’re acting that way. Understand what’s in their head. Are they getting it from their boss? Are they getting this pressure coming downhill? Are they insecure and they don’t really know how to do their job very well. As a cop, I got that all the time by supervisors that knew the least about law enforcement were the hardest to work for, because they were constantly afraid that a mistake was going to be made and they didn’t know how to predict it.

Well, I knowing what should be done was their favorite because I would say I would do things for them basically. So, they didn’t have to have anxiety when they were just all over me about stupid details, rather than pushing back. I was like, “oh, this guy’s terrified that something’s gonna go wrong,” right.

So, I would step in and do a lot of this stuff for them to make sure nothing did go wrong. You become their favorite. They stop ragging on you. And if and if anything, they look for opportunities to help you, right.

That’s the advice I would give your listeners. If you have a problem with the boss and you don’t like the way it feels, ask yourself how you can run towards that problem instead of away from it. If they’re constantly hounding you about deadlines, do whatever it takes to be better at your job to get it done before the deadline, then go to your boss and say, “Hey, I’m done, what other problems you have stacking up I can help you with?”, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that is so perfect and it’s so funny when you mentioned the Warren Buffett advice. I thought “Oh yeah, I read a really great article about that simplifies from Warren Buffett, guides me to deals no one else’s findings, like, “Oh, David wrote that—!” I read that years ago and it’s so good.

David Greene
That’s so funny.

Pete Mockaitis
So, if I may I’m going to embarrass you to read an excerpt, it says, “I have to target the people that others are overlooking. I want a lender able to actually return my calls. I want a property manager who doesn’t have a portfolio so large that they can’t even tell me when I have a vacancy because they’re too busy. And I want a handyman who can go immediately when something significant breaks as opposed to chasing the folks who have a ton of amazing reviews and are booked up for weeks and months to come.”

David Greene
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. Well, David, let’s shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things now, can you share a favorite quote something you find inspiring?

David Greene
Well, the Warren Buffett one is pretty good. But I got another one, I got another one. It’s a Bruce Lee quote, which makes it cool right off the bat ‘cause Bruce Lee said it, right. He said, “I do not fear the man who knows 10,000 kicks, I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

That’s what I did with making salads or memorizing the menu. And I got way better at that one thing and that one thing was super important for whatever my goal was, which at the time was having more tables, right.

The reason I love the BRRRR strategy with rental property investing is that it allows me to spend a dollar, get a house, get that dollar back and buy another house with the same dollar. I can scale way, way, way faster than someone who has to earn $50,000 and put that into a house and then wait till they can earn another $50,000. By buying more houses, I’m practicing that kick more than other people. And I become better and more efficient at doing it than the people who buy maybe one house a year.

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

David Greene
I love the Stanford one. I’m sure a lot of your people probably talk about that, one where they brought little kids in and they said, “Hey, I’m going to leave this room, and here’s a marshmallow. If you eat this marshmallow, that’s okay. But if I come back and the marshmallow still here, I’ll give you another marshmallow.”

And the little kids that were able to wait for the second marshmallow before they ate the first, they tracked them all. And they found that they were much more successful in work. They had much higher happiness scores, they had much less like, problems like with law enforcement and mental disorders and alcoholism and substance abuse. And the implication from the study was that the better you are at delaying gratification, the happier and more successful you’ll be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

David Greene
Man, I got a couple but I really, really, really like the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. It’s funny, we just interviewed him on our podcast yesterday. So, in a couple weeks, that one will be coming out. That’s an incredible book at just basically—a lot of the points I’m making right now, he was making similar ones, but he’s just sounds a lot smarter than me because he’s a Georgetown professor, of course. But I read it and I was like, “Yes, that’s it, that’s what I’ve been doing!” And now there’s a person with a PhD who’s saying the same thing. So, people will actually believe me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d say different voices, different credentials, a PhD or a fat portfolio of properties, I think both adds credibility to it, yeah. How about a favorite tool that helps you be awesome at your job.

David Greene
Google Drive, believe it or not, is a huge, huge help for me. Part of part of the problem with me is I’m involved in a ton of different things all the time and it’s very hard to keep my thoughts organized. Google Drive works really good for taking a thought that I have, getting it out of my head, putting it on, I would say paper but it’s actually a computer screen that looks like a piece of paper.

And from there, I can kind of flesh out whatever that idea was, and assign it to someone else and say, “I need you to take this and I need you to make it a reality.” So, Google Drive is one of the tools that I really, really, really like and it’s simple but before I had it, I was immensely frustrated with just I don’t know how to turn this process into something someone else can do. And making checklist on Google Drive and giving it to people, making a video showing how I’m doing this like a screenshot and putting the link in Google Drive that I gave to someone really brought all that stuff to life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is so huge. And for your video making, I don’t know if you’re already on to Loom as in www.useloom.com but it is so good.

David Greene
Yeah, shout out to my best friend and buyer’s agent Kyle Rankie, he told me about Loom and it’s been incredible. We were using Screencast-O-Matic before that. But it like limits you at 15 minutes, which I had to learn the hard way after making like an hour of video and then realizing it stopped recording at 15 minutes.

But Loom doesn’t do that. So yeah, we use that. Like as a real estate agent, I’m constantly training other agents on my team and I find myself saying the same thing a hundred times a week. So, now I use Loom to make these videos and say, “Just watch that.” And that should answer your question.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s so good. I like to have Loom with, I’ve got my text instructions on the left-hand side, I’ve gotten the website or whatever I’m working with on the right, and so you can reference them both. And then you can read the text and so it’s like unmistakable, what I meant by any step along the way. So, so good stuff—

David Greene
Beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a key nugget, something you share often with your team or readers or listeners that really resonates with them and they repeat back to you often?

David Greene
I think “rock stars know rock stars” is a phrase I say a lot that sounds simple but it’s actually really deep. It’s just this concept that the best people at what they do hang out with other people that are the best at what they do. And that just this is a principle we see throughout life.

I’ve heard people say “eagles don’t fly with ducks”, “birds of a feather flock together”, like all these little sayings but when people ask me, “I need someone to do X, how would I find them?” The answer is always going to be “who do you already know that’s doing Y that would know somebody in the world of X?” That’s where I find my referrals from.

So, if you were to say, “David, I need to figure out how to solve this problem,” my mind would immediately go to who do I know that’s doing that at a high level? And if no one, who do I know this doing something similar to that at a high level? And who would they recommend?

I think most of us take way too much responsibility on ourselves to figure things out, like I’m going to go through Yelp and read 100 reviews. And I’m going to Google this for seven hours and then call all 20 people and interview each of them as if we actually have the credentials for like reading someone’s mind and knowing from an interview if they’ll be good, as opposed to talking to someone who’s already really good at it and saying who would you use?

“Oh, you know what, actually that guy, he’s great. My buddy uses him and he’s doing a high level. And that’s where I start”.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s so good. And David, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

David Greene
I have a personal blog, www.greeneincome.com where they can follow me there and read some of the articles that I write. I’m very involved at www.biggerpockets.com. This is the website where we teach people how to invest in real estate for free and the podcasts that I run, the books I publisher are through there.

And then I’m DavidGreen24 on all social media, Instagram is the when I check the most but I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, like all those sites, Greene is spelled with an E. So it’s DavidGreene24.

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

David Greene
Yeah, what I would say is most of the things that cause us to be frustrated with our lack of success can be identified as a barrier to entry in some way. There’s something making it hard for you to get from where you are to where you’re going, right. Learn to look at that like an incredibly good thing. Because that’s keeping all of your competition from raising up to go anymore. When you figure out what you need to do to get through that barrier to entry, there’s very little competition on the other side of it, and you rise very quickly.

So, for me in this example I gave the barrier to entry was memorizing menu prices. That was all that I had to do. Make some flashcards and memorize a frequent video. And the next thing that I know or memorize the menu, my boss was like, “Hey, David can handle tables, give them all to him.” And when they would get three, I would get eight or nine and then I would stay late to close and they were all going home, and when they were getting other four or five and I can triple or quadruple my income.

So, it’s the same way like being a real estate agent, it’s very hard to get started it because there’s no one that gives you business. It’s on yourself to get it and for most of us, we don’t know how to go find business on our own. That’s a big barrier to entry, keeps a lot of agents from doing well.

But if you can solve it, like all the business is yours because nobody else could figure it out. So, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually looked for only opportunities where it’s difficult to do because I know there’s not going to be as many people competing with me, and it will be easier to succeed once I figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, once again, you’re reframing for opportunity. David, this has been a huge pleasure. Thank you and good luck with your real estate investing and book writing and all you’re up to.

David Greene
Thanks Peter. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.