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539: Preparing for the Future of Leadership with Jacob Morgan

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Jacob:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jacob Morgan Interview Transcript

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

Jacob Morgan
Thank you for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacob Morgan
He was.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacob Morgan
It is atrociously high. You are correct.

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

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

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

Jacob Morgan
Yeah, good disclaimer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

535: How to Conquer Doubt and Pursue New Career Opportunities with Nicolle Merrill

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Nicolle Merrill says: "We are swimming in opportunities to learn new skills."

Nicolle Merrill shares practical tips for changing careers–and beating the doubt that comes with it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s OK to not have it figured out
  2. Powerful, clarifying questions for charting a new career path
  3. Smart alternatives to a second degree

About Nicolle:

Four-time career-changer Nicolle Merrill excels in professional reinvention. A liberal arts graduate, she has written for Four Seasons and National Geographic private jet tours, taught digital communication skills to global executives, and sold adventure travel programs in New Zealand. As the former Associate Director of the Career Development Office At Yale School of Management, she coached hundreds of MBA students and professionals through all phases of their career transitions. Nicolle currently freelances as a conversation designer and analyst at an artificial intelligence startup. Her human-centered approach to career change, combined with a relentless curiosity about emerging career trends, has led to speaking engagements across the US, as well as in Canada and Ireland.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Nicolle Merrill Interview Transcript

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

Nicole Merrill
Well, hey, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to have you here and I want to dig into so much good stuff about punching doubt in the face. That’s a good title.

Nicole Merrill
Oh, thanks. It was actually harder to name my book than it was to name my child, so I’m always glad to hear that.

Pete Mockaitis
But, first, I want to hear about you and pinball. I understand you’re a pinball enthusiast, and that hasn’t come up much before. So, what’s the story here?

Nicole Merrill
Well, I grew up with my dad really taking the lead on that. He loves pinball and didn’t think much of it as kind of growing up that it was this weird thing that we were always trying to find pinball whatever arcade we went into or later, as I got older, at bars. And then come to find out not everyone is into pinball as I am it turns out, but I love the excitement of pinball. I grew up in Vegas and maybe it’s the flashing lights and noise, maybe that’s kind of the overlap there.

And it’s really funny too. I’m actually a huge extrovert so I love people and I love meeting people and being in social circles. And if I go to a bar and I see a pinball machine, I am just drawn in and cut off from everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
I see.

Nicole Merrill
So, my love for pinball is real.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, is there an all-time favorite pinball machine or what makes a pinball machine great versus fine?

Nicole Merrill
Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say Mars Attacks is my favorite one because I think I just like the way that the machine reacts. And I tend to pick machines that have good multi-ball experiences. I like to get multi-ball, it’s kind of my personal quest on every machine. Some people want to get high scores. I want to get multi-ball.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood.

Nicole Merrill
I’m really into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Somehow there’s a segue between multi-ball and career changing, multi-careers. It’s lost on me but we’re just going to run with it. And so, you’ve done a whole lot of work with career development at the Yale School of Management. And I’d love to hear, so that’s a really cool position being able to interact with many, many folks of top business talent, hundreds of MBAs. So, could you tell us, what are some themes and stories that you’re hearing from them over and over again about their career doubts and desires and how they’re navigating it?

Nicole Merrill
Sure. I should just clarify, that was actually…I had a career change into that role, so I’m a four-time career changer actually since moved on from being a career coach. I’m in a different role now. But what was really interesting about that role was that I was working with people from all over the world, so it wasn’t necessarily just Americans. I was working with people from South America, from Europe, from Asia. And it’s really interesting to be able to work across cultures because a lot of times you start to notice some of the differences between cultures and how we approach things. But what’s even more exciting is figuring out ways that we’re very, very much the same.

And one of the things that I was discovering in that role as a coach is that a lot of people across cultures have similar doubts when it comes to their ability to make change happen, right? MBA is a professional degree. It is a degree where over 70% of people are going to be a career changer, so they’ve already decided, “Hey, I want something different,” right? But even though decided that, they still kind of weren’t sure. I’ve met MBAs who would come in to their program, committing to two years and have no idea what they wanted to do. And on the flipside, I have people that came in knowing for sure exactly what they want to do, and then they go through the interview process for it, let’s say consulting, and come to find out that’s not at all what they wanted to do.

And so, it was really interesting to work with students and, also, I work with alumni, to hear kind of their doubt about what they were investing in. They’d already made the decision to choose this program and to make a change, but they weren’t quite sure. And I thought that was really interesting because you would think if you chose a program, most people think, “Oh, you know what you’re going to do,” when, in fact, an MBA is actually two years for you to figure out what you want to do next. And I qualify that with next because most of us were taught that we would pick that one thing and that’s what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives, but we’re no longer in that world of work. Our careers are not going to be lifetime careers, we’re going to make multiple changes.

And so, when you’re going to get an MBA as a career change path, it’s one of many, it’s often assumed that people know what they want to do, but, in fact, I learned a lot of people didn’t know what they want to do but this was the path to figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, they didn’t know what they wanted to do, and they’re on a path to figuring it out. And so, I want to hear about doubt in particular, so you’ve got a book titled Punch Doubt in the Face. Let’s hear about some of that emotional stuff when people are changing careers and they’re feeling the doubt. Like, what are the sorts of insecurities, or self-talk, or things that you hear in terms of how that’s showing up?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. Well, I think, starting off, career changers, and for most of us, like I said, we’ve been taught to kind of just pick this one thing, and you’re just going to do it for the rest of your life, and that’s what our parents did, but that’s not reality anymore. And, honestly, I’d argue, it’s not really the reality for some of our parents too, depending on how you grew up.

And so, the first thing that people go through when they’re thinking of changing careers is kind of this feeling of loneliness, like, “Oh, my God, I’ve failed.” They feel like they didn’t make it work, or they’re feeling like nobody else could possibly understand this because we’re bombarded by messages of success and everybody else doing it right. And I think we’re also in a culture that doesn’t share when we’re failing in a career. And I qualify that we’re not failing. You’re not failing when you’re not doing it right. It’s okay to change jobs.

And I think this doubt comes from that feeling that we should figure it out, we should be able to make it work, and so when it comes to change, people feel like they can’t quite do it. And on top of it, it’s not like we teach people how to change careers. I don’t have an MBA but when I go out to working, when I was at Yale and part of an MBA program that teaches people how to change careers, I was shocked by what they taught people. I had changed careers multiple times and nobody taught me how to do it. I kind of had to figure it out, right? Go against the grain almost.

And so, a lot of people have doubt about changing career because they haven’t really been taught how to do it. The other piece is that if you’ve been a career changer before or talked to career changers, a lot of times when you tell people you want to make a change, they want to know, “Well, what specifically will you do?” They want answers right away because it can make people feel uncomfortable when you don’t have an answer, right?

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’m telling you that I want to make a career change, and then you ask me what do I want to do.

Nicolle Merrill
What do you want to do?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’re saying, I, the career changer, am uncomfortable, or my conversational partner is uncomfortable, or both of us are uncomfortable.

Nicolle Merrill
Well, probably, at this point, it’ll be both of us. But a lot of times when a career changer says, “Oh, I want to make a change,” one or two things happens. The conversational partner will be like, “Oh, great. Well, what do you want to do?” It puts a lot of pressure on that career changer to have an answer, and a lot of career changers don’t actually have an answer in the beginning. They have an inkling. They have a feeling, like, “This is not right. This is not working for me.” And there’s a variety of reasons we could go into as to why it’s not working. But when they first start talking about it, and I actually had this conversation with a friend a couple of days ago who said her partner was like, “Well, just go do it. Just go do it.” And she’s like, “I mean, the problem isn’t that I can’t go do it. The problem is I don’t know what it is.”

And so, career changers really need to make space for themselves, to really hold space for ambiguity, and that space that says, “I know I want to make a change, I just don’t know what it is yet.” And they commit to kind of figuring that out. And I think doubt really starts to creep in when people say, “Well, what do you want to do?” And if you don’t have an answer, that can cause you to be like, “Oh, my God, I can’t do this. I don’t know what I want to do.” And then we start going inside of that negative feeling of being really stuck without a path forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I want to dig into sort of each of the stages here from, “I’m sensing a change may be necessary,” to, “I’m figuring out what that thing is,” to, “I’m landing the job.” So, maybe to tee up that arch, could you perhaps share with us a cool story associated with someone who made an awesome change and how that unfolded for them?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. Well, there’s been a couple of them. I’ll just tell you a story from my own only because I’m a four-time career changer. I recently went from being a career coach to I now work as a conversation designer for an AI startup, so I work for an artificial intelligence startup. And what that means is I spend a lot of my time using qualitative analysis skills to improve the product. And it’s an emerging job, and it’s a job that there’s no clear path for.

And I knew I wanted to go into artificial intelligence because I’m relentlessly curious about new technology, and I spent the better part of a year after I left career coaching to start to understand some of these AI products in the market. I was reading about them, I started reading industry trends, I started listening to podcasts, and then I started writing about them, I started writing about what I was reading in the news about artificial intelligence in the workplace. I started to narrow down my interests because when we talk about artificial intelligence that’s like a huge topic, right?

And I started to narrow it down into something that was a little more tangible, something that aligned with my background, and that was in HR, so looking at how does HR use artificial intelligence in the workplace. And so, again, I started diving into these products, writing about them, I started taking online courses to learn about artificial intelligence, not necessarily as an engineer but from the business perspective. And then, finally made the jump into a startup because I saw a job that was written for what I could do. It wasn’t necessarily written exactly for my background but I knew I could do it based on all the studying and the writing I’d done and my previous skillset. And so, I applied and I got the job, and I have now shifted into a new path.

And that is almost textbook for how someone should go about making a career change. It starts with your curiosity. It starts with specifically, “What are you curious about?”

Pete Mockaitis
What I’m curious right now, Nicolle, I’ve got some curiosity associated with what a conversational designer is. So, just so we can get closure on that point before we dig into your wisdom elsewhere, what does that mean?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. So, conversation designer is someone who works on a chatbot, so the chatbot is to improve it. I tell people I make it sound more human, so I look for where the mistakes are at and report those mistakes back to the AI team. I also write scripts to make it sound better for different contexts. And then I review the conversations to ensure that the user experience is a positive one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Nicolle Merrill
So, it’s a hybrid job. It’s a mix-up of writing, user experience, and just having a technical understanding of how natural language processing works. So, again, I’m not an engineer but I know how to work with engineers in order to make recommendations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. that’s cool. Well, so let’s go through the arch then. So, when someone is in the midst of being in a career, not quite sure if they’re feeling it, they think it might be time for a change, what do we do now?

Nicolle Merrill
What do we do now? Well, one, like I said, make space, so claim that space and get comfortable with it, right? Get comfortable with the idea that you’re going to make a change, because depending on people’s level of risk, that could be a big deal, or it could just be like, “Yeah, I’m going to change things up. No big deal.” That’s going to be very personal depending on who the person is.

Then I want you to take time to figure out what you’re interested in because a lot of times when people are going into a career change, they’re doing it from a place of either being stuck, they might feel unmotivated. I’ve talked to people who were in toxic work environments and that can have a real detrimental effect on your confidence level. And so, really taking the space to reflect on the things that you’re interested in professionally. You can do some personal interests but, really, what excites you about work?

Self-reflection is pretty critical in this stage, and carving out space to do that self-reflection. And you’ll notice that’s a theme. I talk a lot about carving out space and that’s because we’re all very busy people, right? We’re managing a lot of different projects and people and our personal lives, and so taking out time for ourselves to step back and say, “Okay, wait a minute. What do I want in my job?” And there’s a series of reflection questions in the book, but really looking it through the lens of, “Who do I want to work with? What type of work do I like to do? How do I want my manager to treat me?” These are all things that you can reflect on without actually knowing what it is you want to go do, right?

So, really taking a step back and making that space for yourself to self-reflect. Then start looking at, “Okay, what are the opportunities?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, while we’re making space and self-reflecting, you listed a couple questions. What have you found to be some of the surprise super winning questions that tend to surprisingly surface insight frequently?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. I think one of my favorite ones is, “What kind of work would you like to do?” So, a lot of times we tend to think of our work as job titles, like, “I want to be a travel writer,” or, “I want to be a firefighter.” No, think about the work. What does the work look like? What does it feel like? And that gets into things like, “Do you want to be in front of a computer all day?” versus, “Would you like to be building trails out in the wilderness?”

I think getting in depth about how you’d like to work. And then also thinking about what would you like the company to be like. I think this is another powerful one because we tend to think of, again, our job titles. But I know so many people that are trying to get out of toxic work environments, and that can be a big catalyst for changing careers and changing jobs, but also changing careers. And we start to talk about, “Well, how would you like to be treated by a company? What would it look like? What are the values that you’re looking for in a place of work?”

And that leads to other questions, like, “How would you like your coworkers to be?” And for some people, they might say, “I don’t really care about my coworkers,” and that’s okay because that’s for you if that’s your preference of work, that’s fine. But we need to at least dig into it and figure out what it is, because most people are just like, “I need to find a job,” and we’re not thinking about the environment in which that job takes place. And, as you know, as we all know, culture has a huge effect on our workplace and our daily jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
I really like the point you brought up about the coworkers there. It’s like you might not care and maybe the main thing you want from your coworkers is for them to leave you alone so you can have long stretches of creative time, or problem-solving time, or whatever. Or maybe the main thing you want from your coworkers is lots of fun collaborative back-and-forth stuff. Or maybe you want your coworkers to give you tons of feedback and tell you all the things that you’re doing that can be improved upon, and maybe you don’t because that’s really stressful and anxiety-provoking for you.

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah, even that, all those things that you just said though, those were great examples because within that you’re getting insights. So, maybe you do want a bunch of coworkers because you want to be able to collaborate, and there it is right there, collaboration, that’s one of your values. You want to be able to collaborate with people, so you want to make sure that a job that you’re going into, that you’re going to be able to have that, right? And chances are you might actually be good at that so that’s something that’s a skill that you can work on in your job. Or maybe you like the deep work and so you realize that you need to have a job where you’re going to be able to, I find this, I work with engineers, so that deep work piece is really valuable there. They need to block out three to four hours to code.

And so, again, within this reflection, even by thinking about what your coworkers are like, you discover things about yourself and how you like to work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there we go. We’ve done some reflection, and then you said next up is opportunities.

Nicolle Merrill
Yes. So, this is where it starts to get interesting. One of the things that always surprises me is that we tend to look at our opportunities as only in the context of what’s in front of us. I was having a conversation with one of my friends who’s a firefighter, and she had said to me, “You know, what’s interesting about firefighting is that there’s a lot of customer service involved.” And I went, “Wait. What?” And she’s like, “Yeah.” She goes, “You have to go. You show up to a scene. Obviously, you’re triaging but you’re trying to understand what is happening. You’re trying to help the person who called you.” And she’s like, “A lot of it is frontline customer service.” And I had never thought about firefighting in that way.

And it really was an aha moment for me because a lot of us, we tend to make assumptions about jobs whether because we’re familiar with them or maybe it’s the hot job of the moment but without knowing what those jobs actually are. Another great example, I met tons of MBAs that wanted to do product management. Hot job, right? Consistently high-paying job, usually over six figures, very in-demand job. And then I’d ask them, I’d say, “Well, what about product management interests you or where do you think you do well in that role?” And they’d say, “Oh, I don’t know.” And I was like, “Well, okay, we got to get to know what these jobs are.”

And I think, as a career changer, going back to kind of that pressure to figure it out, you have to give yourself space to be able to figure out what these jobs are, so really diving into the opportunities. And there’s two really key ways to do that. I call this exploring the field of possibilities. One is simply reading job descriptions. This is a tool someone gave me years ago, like ten years ago, and I thought they were crazy, I was like, “Why would I spend my time reading job descriptions, they’re boring?” But come to find out they’re like mini-stories. They’re a company telling you a story about themselves, and some of them tell really bad stories, badly-written job descriptions, and some of them tell you really good ones.

And instead of looking at job descriptions as, “Can I do this or not?” most people talk themselves out of it, we should be looking at it as, “Does this interest me? Is this the type of work that interest me?” It’s a very different mindset from reading job descriptions looking for a job. And that’s where you start getting into like, “Oh, this is a job I’ve never heard of before. This is a type of work that I didn’t even know existed,” conversation design being one of them that I’m currently in. So, that’s one of the ways to do it. And I’m not talking like spending hours. I’m talking like build 10 minutes into your day to read some job descriptions based on keywords that you’re interested in.

So, let’s say you’re interested in pinball, right? I don’t know what jobs they would be because I haven’t looked but I would put pinball into a job search engine and see what comes up.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Nicolle, it’s hilarious that you mentioned job searching in pinball because that’s actually come up before on this show, Episode 167, with Nick Campbell. What are the odds?

Nicolle Merrill
Wow. Okay. I feel so connected now.

Pete Mockaitis
But, please, continue. Pinball exploring.

Nicolle Merrill
Right. So, you could go into any job search engine and just put in pinball. Or maybe you’re a writer and you want to get into pinball writing, put those keywords in there, and then read the job descriptions. What are they asking for? The key point of this is to not talk yourself out of it. You can’t be going, “Well, I’m not qualified. I’m not qualified.” Of course, you’re not qualified, right? You’re at the beginning of a career change, and one of the parts of a career change is once you figured it out you have to then go get the skills that qualify you. That’s a whole different stuff. But, right now, you’re just looking at what are the possibilities. And so, start making a list and familiarize yourself. That’s one way to do it.

The second way to do it, and this is actually my preferred way to do it, I want you to do both, but it’s through conversations. There’s an exercise in my book, my book has a ton of exercises in it, it’s called 50 Conversations, and in it, I assign you the task of interviewing 50 people about their jobs. And in the past, we’ve heard a lot about informational interviewing. This is that but dialed back. It’s more of an exploratory conversation, just to learn what people do.

I have a really good example of this. I used to be a travel writer for a private jet travel company, it was a job I fell into. And it was a really interesting job and I enjoyed it. I didn’t get to travel much despite the title. And at the time, I was interviewing someone from the staff, and that person told me that his job was a travel scout. I was like, “What’s a travel scout?” This guy’s job was to travel to different locations around the world and scout them out for our tour company. So, we were in luxury travel, he would travel to luxury locations, stay in their hotels, try out their activities, write a report, and send it back to the product team. And I went, “Oh, my gosh, that’s a job that exists?”

And it was like just this aha moment of like there are so many jobs out there that we don’t know exists and so you have to go out and investigate the opportunities. You can’t just sit there and say, “Well, I don’t know what fits me,” and then just stay with it. You have to discover and seek out different types of jobs. Because when you start talking to people and ask them what they do but, more importantly, how they got into it, it starts to become so much more interesting. And then you can start mapping yourself to some of those paths. You can start opening up possibilities and seeing yourself in those paths. And then, sometimes, someone might give you an answer, and you’re like, “That’s definitely not what I want to do,” and that’s just as valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re having these 50 conversations, again, I’m curious about what are some of the top questions that really surface a good view of what those jobs look, sound, feel like in practice?

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah. So, a lot of times people don’t want to engage in these conversations because it’s the, “Well, what do you do?” and that feels so superficial. And a lot of times people don’t add follow-up questions to that. So, it’s the ability to add a follow-up question, and say, for example, in your case, you did it really well. You were like, “Well, what is a conversation designer?” I have a lot of people who I’ll say, “Oh, I’m a conversation designer,” and they’re like, “Oh, cool.” I was like, “Okay, right.”

Pete Mockaitis
“You don’t really think it’s cool or you would’ve asked more.”

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah, right. I mean, we all do that, right? And I’m not faulting anyone for that because conversation is tough. But, really, if you want to get to the bottom of it, it’s the ability to ask good follow-up questions, and say, “Well, that’s really interesting. Tell me…” if you don’t know what it is, “…what does that look like in your everyday job?” “How did you get into that?” is an even better question for career changers because that’s where the path starts to unravel.

I have found people say things like, “You know what, I just fell into it.” Or, “You know what, I went back to school, and went to a bootcamp, and then that taught me these skills, and I was able to combine it with what I did before and get a job.” There are so many different paths into careers nowadays, and that’s what I love about our new world of work. It’s not like our parents’ generation where you were like stuck on kind of just one path and you had to go get an MBA or a law degree to change, right? Those are professional degree programs that were designed for career changers. We have so many more paths and so when you start to ask people, “How did you get into that work?” you start to see those paths, and you start to see what you can and cannot do. If someone says, “Well, I went back to school for four years to be a doctor,” that might not be your path, right? Or maybe it is.

I interviewed someone, I have a podcast for career changers, and I interviewed someone who went back to school to be a chiropractor and that took four years, and that’s after they’ve been in the workforce for a long time. And so, this is a very personal decision, and that’s why I think being able to talk to people about why they made their change, what their path was like to get there, and really ask those meaty follow-up questions not only is it valuable for you in the beginning but it’s also impactful. It gives you connection and it gives you motivation. Because going back to the beginning where I talked about some career changers and their doubt, they feel alone. And so, being able to talk to people, it can be so motivational to hear how they did it. And that’s where I think the value is in conversations.

And as I write in the book, I was like you might think I’m crazy for saying 50 conversations, and that you can’t do that, but I’ve met people when I was a coach before who did a hundred conversations. And the insights from them were just incredible, and you can see their eyes light up, and they talk about where they were before they had those conversations versus where they were after they had those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then let’s say you’ve had those conversations, and then you found an opportunity that sounds super cool, and you would want that job to become yours. What do you do next?

Nicolle Merrill
Okay. So, then it’s a process of figuring out, okay, where are we at in terms of qualifications. For most career changers, and again there’s variety so I’m generalizing here, but if you’re looking to make a big change, and let’s say you’re going into a new industry or a new role, it’s time to assess your skills. And this is really diving into what your skills, what you’re good at, what maybe you’re not so good at, and then knowing what the skills are for that next job on the new career path, right?

So, it’s really looking at both your skillset, the skillset required to get the next job, and then analyzing your skills gap. What skills are you missing? So, for example, I talk to a lot of career changers that are looking to get into tech. We look at, “Okay, is this going to be a tech position where you want to become a software engineer or a user experience designer? Or is this something where maybe you’re not working on the technical product, you want to be tech adjacent? Maybe you want to go into digital marketing, and you just need to learn some basics on digital marketing.” It’s really trying to figure out where your skillset is at and what skills you need in order to get the job, because that’s going to be the driver for how you choose a learning experience. And the learning experience is the program that’s going to give you the skills you need to make your career transition.

Pete Mockaitis
And program can take many different flavors.

Nicolle Merrill
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Whether it’s a particular educational credential degree or volunteering. Can you maybe show us some of the other angles and formats that can take?

Nicolle Merrill
Definitely. I think this is what gets me so excited because I dedicate a huge part of the book to it is walking through these examples because, again, people tend to think of kind of that old-school mindset, “Well, I got to go back to school for four years,” or, “I’ve got to get a master’s degree.” Those are possibilities but there’s also all these other ones. We’ve got online programs. And not only do we have online programs, we have short-term programs which are what I call the skill-building programs.

So, maybe you’re just going, let’s say it is digital marketing, and you need to know the basics. You could take a three-month course for $450 and, boom, you’ve got a learning community, you’ve got skills that you’re learning, and a portfolio that you’re coming out with. That’s a three-month program intensive. Or you could do something like Coursera. Coursera is a huge learning platform, or Udemy, or Udacity. Some of them have longer-term online programs, some you can take for free, some are a nominal investment. You learn on your time. You might get a credential out of them. Those are also paths.

And then you’ve got the wide world of bootcamps which can be on campus or online depending on, again, you want to get comfortable with understanding your learning style because, for some people, online is ideal, they’re like, “Yes, I can do it whenever I want,” and others are like, “No, I need that immersive on-campus, I need people around,” that kind of dictates what learning experience you choose. But those are also options as well. And those bootcamps really run a range from a year-long program to a three- to six-month stint. It really depends on your program. That’s an option for career changers as well. I think most bootcamps are made for career changers. They’re made for people that want to level up oftentimes in their digital skills or in their data fluency skills.

And then you have the entire world of DIY learning through YouTube and podcasts and newsletters. If you’re looking to get into an industry and you don’t know where to start, being able to watch videos from that industry, subscribe to industry newsletters, listen to podcasts, my God, the amount of podcasts, as you probably know, on subjects that you can just dive into and immerse yourself in these worlds. You don’t have to go back to school for that, right?

So, these are all your options for learning. And if that sounds overwhelming, that’s fair. It is overwhelming. We are swimming in opportunities to learn new skills, to learn new ways of work in new industries. And your goal as a career changer is to really sort through all of that and figure out what’s going to be the best learning experience that’s going to, A, get you where you want to be, your career goal, but, B, also work for your learning style.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, when we talk about learning, there are some very particular skills that you need to acquire for a given role that you’ve zeroed in on. I’d also love to get your take on what are some of the top skills that here, now, in the year 2020, every professional just really needs to be okay with or excellent at to stay nimble, agile, and adaptable – these are synonyms – able to capitalize on many opportunities?

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah, that’s a great question, and you hit it right on the head there, to stay agile because that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re heading into the age of agile worker, the people that collect skills and apply them in different contexts, right? It’s no longer kind of that siloed, “I do this one thing.” And so, there’s four skills that I’ll say consistently, I call them the power skills. It’s communication, digital fluency, data fluency, and creativity, and these are all very big buckets.

When I talk about communication, it’s this ability to meet audiences where they’re at. It’s an ability to write for diverse audiences on different channels. I use this example a lot. If you’ve ever had a manager, let’s say you have 500-word email that nobody read, that’s a really good example of someone that doesn’t know how to communicate. It’s the ability to synthesize your ideas and present them to people who are maybe outside of your department or team. The ability to speak publicly about your ideas. Persuade others to get on board. That becomes more relevant as you move up into leadership and so on. And, again, I talk about these skills. You don’t have to have them all right now. But they’re a set of skills that are going to allow you to work across both functions and careers as you move forward in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
And the digital fluency and data fluency, can you give us some of the sub-categories within those?

Nicolle Merrill
Absolutely. So, there’s been a big push obviously to learn to code and, depending on your age, you may have been involved in learning to code, you may not have. I certainly advocate for learning the basics of code and picking a language and just learning the basic syntax and how you think through it and the logic. But if that’s not as accessible to you right now, because I know some people are like, “You know what, that just doesn’t have a use case in my job.” That’s fine. At least learn what the languages are and how they’re applied in the context of projects.

So, for example, online, Harvard offers an intro to computer science, wherein across, I think, all nine weeks they go through all the programming languages. And it’s really insightful because it shows you just all the different use cases that programming languages are applied in the context of your organization. And for people, as we look at the future of work, our work is becoming interdisciplinary. It’s no longer siloed. In fact, Harvard Business Review just had a big article in September on “Cross-Silo Leadership,” and about how leaders need to ensure that their employees are working on projects that cross functions across teams so they can build up collaboration skills, problem-solving skills, and so on.

And so, if you think about you, I’m speaking not in a leadership term right now but you as the employee, your ability to work with engineers to understand how software works in your organization. I talk a lot about automation tools in my book to understand how automation tools are being implemented in your place of work, that’s critical. And I know there have been people in organizations that I have obviously come across in my work that have said things like, “Oh, technology,” and they kind of like make a face, like, “I don’t want to deal with it.” And that’s funny, but in the course of your career, you need to lean into the technology and understand it. You don’t have to know how to code it, but you need to understand how it works and understand how it affects your work and the organization as a whole. So that’s briefly on digital fluency.

Data fluency, very brief. Understanding how data is used in the context of your organization. Managers being able to make decisions based on data, like quantitative data. Being able to understand where data comes from in your organization and how it’s being used to make decisions about your job. How are you measuring things? Are you collecting data from users? What is the data and so on? That’s kind of a broader topic that always gets a lot of questions. I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but just to summarize, the role of data in the workplace cannot be overestimated right now. I think we all have heard that from our personalized lives. We hear a lot about data that’s being collected about us. The same thing is happening in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, those are the skills, and go forth and learn them. Well, now, let’s hit the final step here. You know what you want, you’ve got the skills to get it, and then you are kind of actually job hunting, resumes, cover letters, networking, interviews. Can we hear some of your top tips here?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. One thing I’ll note too on this job-searching piece, this is where a lot of the doubts starts to come in because you’re like, “Oh, I don’t have the experience. I don’t have the experience.” And this is where you really want to lean on the fact that you’ve already done the hard work. You’ve done the work to learn new skills, figure it out, so this is just completing the process, and I say that because the job search is pretty terrible. It can be really terrible especially to career changers because our doubts start to creep in. So, I want to acknowledge that that happens.

The second thing I want to talk about is the job searching itself is changing. There are new tools that are being used that use artificial intelligence and automation that are shifting how we search for jobs. So, now we’re seeing tools that come into the hiring process, that I was just learning about one the other day that is taking social data and scraping it and making predictions about you as a new hire.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, geez.

Nicolle Merrill
And that’s all really ethically a problem. I actually write about it in the book. But this demonstrates just kind of the experiments that are happening right now with AI in regards to hiring. We see it with HireVue, they are a company that does video interviews where you interview with a video, and an algorithm analyzes your 25,000-data points to see if you are fit for the job. Now, this isn’t going to be all jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Based on the video interview.

Nicolle Merrill
Exactly. So, you’re essentially just interviewing with a video, like with your camera, with pre-written questions, you give your answer, and then an algorithm will evaluate you. The Wall Street Journal, wrote about this a couple of months back. And, again, I highlight these to really show these are some of the extremes but they are being used. And so, the world of work, as I talk about the future of work, it’s already here, these same tools with automation and AI are starting to affect your job search. So, yes, a resume is important. It will always, for the near future, be very important, so will cover letters. But that’s where your networking really comes in. It’s the ability to build relationships with people inside of organizations.

All that work, if you do the 50 conversations exercise, the other benefit of doing that is that you get comfortable having conversations with strangers. You build your conversational skills. You get comfortable asking strangers for advice, and you get comfortable talking about yourself. And, really, networking is that exchange of information, right, “Tell me about your organization. Tell me about your work. And then, also, let me tell you about me.” And it’s not something huge. Just a brief sentence. It’s your story. Who are you? What are you interested in? Why did you make this change? And what motivates you? Having that story.

And so, all of these pieces fit together but they’re all even more important now because of automation in the hiring process, because mostly bigger companies right now, not so much smaller businesses, but mostly bigger companies and corporations are using new technology that changes the nature of the job search so your resume might not be enough.

And so, I would encourage any career changer to get comfortable building a one-pager website that defines you how you want to be defined. If you’ve ever had a resume and thought, “This is not who I am,” a website is a chance to kind of show off a little more of you and really frame your career background and your story the way you want. And the other thing that it does is it shows employers, A, communication skills, B, it shows you can write for the web, and it’s a beautiful thing to add into your email signature when you’re conversing with people. Say, “Hey, take a look at my website.”

And I was just on Wix the free platform, the other day for my sister who was curious about how to build a website for herself. And they have some great portfolios on there specifically for job seekers, and it’s free.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you.

Nicolle Merrill
So, that would be my advice.

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

Nicolle Merrill
I just want to say to all the career changers out there, I always hear from people on the other side who are super thrilled that they did it, and I want to say that if you’re thinking about doing it, it’s completely worth it. Go for it. Don’t let doubt stand in the way. You have a ton of resources out there to help you, so start taking the baby steps right now.

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

Nicolle Merrill
It was actually when I wrote my book, And I spent a lot of time on Twitter, and I saw this quote by Ava DuVernay, and someone had asked, “Any tips to stop thinking your writing is terrible?” going back to this kind of doubt. And she says, “Just know that everyone’s writing is terrible. Until it’s not. No one’s stuff is right immediately. You gotta work it. Refine it. Shape it. Spend time with it. It’s a relationship. Between you and what comes from you. Not easy. Gonna be terrible before it’s not. And that’s okay.”

And what I love about that is that it mirrors so much of what it’s like to learn to do something, right? this ability to really sit with kind of that discomfort and know that, “Oh, it’s not quite right. I’m learning. I’ve got to figure it out,” and stay with it and build. That’s what I took from that quote. And it’s so relevant both for writers and also for those that are changing careers and having to learn something new.

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

Nicolle Merrill
Oh, yeah, I want to do just a book because it’s all of her research, it’s called Reclaiming Conversation by Dr. Sherry Turkle. And it’s about ethnographic studies on how digital communications is reshaping our conversational skills. And she does it by family, by individual, and in the workplace. So, it’s all of her research together in a book, and it’s probably one of the most impactful books that I have read to this day on communication skills.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you share with us one sort of mind-blowing discovery about how, indeed, digital stuff is reshaping our brains?

Nicolle Merrill
One of the things that she had shared was just the mere presence of a phone on the table, even face down, disrupts the ability to get into deeper conversation. And, again, this wasn’t a book that shames for using phones by any means. It was like, “Let’s talk about what’s actually happening in our conversation.” And one of the things that she points out in that book is that conversation is a skill. And because we spend in our time in digital environments, Slack, email, texts, social, all of those phases, we’re losing the ability to have open-ended conversations with each other.
And it resonated because one of the top things I heard as a career coach was, “But what should I say? What should I say?” And hearing that from her kind of gave me validation to say, “Okay, this isn’t just me that experiences this. We’re all kind of experiencing this.” And it was incredibly impactful. And now I work very hard on practicing my conversation skills and having those kinds of ambiguous open-ended conversations to make sure I can build relationships and engage with people.

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

Nicolle Merrill
Things that I use to be awesome at my job? Is it funny if I say LinkedIn?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, LinkedIn is fantastic. And how about a favorite habit?

Nicolle Merrill
Oh, a favorite habit? Oh, I love walking. I walk. I walk because I need to get away from the screen and it’s so hard to do that, but walking is probably my absolute favorite thing to do. The clarity you get being outside, and I live in the rainy Pacific Northwest. I do rain walks, so, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, you hear them quote it back to you frequently?

Nicolle Merrill
I will say, “Say yes to the conversation” would be the top one.

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

Nicolle Merrill
I would point them to either on Twitter. I’m @pdxnicolle, or you can reach me through my blog which is FutureSkills.blog.

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

Nicolle Merrill
Yes, engage in conversations. I would challenge you to have 50 conversations with people even if you’re not looking for a new job. Transform it into something you’re curious about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nicolle, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck and enjoy designing conversations and all you’re up to.

Nicolle Merrill
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. This has been a lot of fun.

531: How to Differentiate Yourself to Get Promoted with Stan Silverman

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"That's really the only way to be successful long term, you have to take risks... and try something new and different."

Stan Silverman discusses how being different and taking risks pays off for your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why failing is the first step to achieving more at work
  2. How to take calculated risks that win at work
  3. Why and how to break policy

About Stan:

Stan Silverman is the founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is also a speaker, advisor, and the author of Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success. He is a nationally syndicated writer on the topics of leadership, entrepreneurship, and corporate governance, writing for several publications such as the Philadelphia Business Journal.  

Silverman has served on several public, private, private equity and nonprofit boards and currently sits as the vice-chairman of the board of trustees at Drexel University. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University.  He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.

Items mentioned in the show

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Stan Silverman Interview Transcript

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

Stan Silverman
Well, Pete, thanks for inviting me. I look forward to our discussion.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m looking forward to it as well. And you’ve got a pretty unique story, well, maybe for nowadays. But I want to hear the scoop. First of all, so you had 11 separate roles at PQ Corporation and ended at the top, so that’s pretty cool. We’ll dig into some of that. But, I guess, I want to know first, what led you to stick with one organization for such a long duration in your career?

Stan Silverman
Well, I never intended to stay with PQ for so long but I kept on getting promoted. And the hierarchy above me was very, very supportive of what I was doing and it was just a great company to work for. And so, I stayed through 11 jobs, including a stint in Canada as president of National Silicates Ltd, PQ’s Canadian subsidiary, came back as president of PQ’s worldwide industrial chemicals group, became the COO of the company and then, eventually, the CEO.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’d love to dig into some particular moments in which you did some things that were differentiated and noteworthy such that you were the one they picked for the promotion. So, maybe we can go back in time and let’s start semi-chronologically in terms of towards can you maybe orient us to sort of what was your role, what was your set of responsibilities, and how did you win promotion again and again?

Stan Silverman
Well, thanks for allowing me to go through some history here. So, as I look back on my career at PQ, I did a lot of firsts. I was the first one at the company to use a computer to solve an engineering problem and a finance problem versus just pushing numbers around through the accounting system. And so, way back then, and a lot of our listeners are much too young to remember this but we did a lot of work with time sharing, so we access a mainframe computer that was remote through a teletype machine that did 15 characters per second that we ran at the time on the outside computer. And I was the first one at the company to build a model for doing this kind of cashflow calculations, looking at the financial attractiveness of various projects. And I did this while I was an engineer.

And so, I gravitated from process engineering to looking into the financial attractiveness of the projects I was working on and so that was a first at the company. And from that point, I moved onto production planning, to financial analysis where I was evaluating the various alternatives for placing a plan in this city versus that city, for doing this versus that, and at the time I was getting my MBA at Drexel University at night. And so, I tied in what I was doing at work with my work at the university. I wrote a thesis for my masters’ program which was a Monte Carlo simulation, which looked at various alternatives using probabilistic estimates for inputs into a cashflow analysis. And I was able to test this at PQ on the various projects that we were working on.

And so, gradually, slowly but surely, I moved from an engineering position to a financial analyst position, to my first product manager position at the company where I moved over to the marketing side of the company. I was responsible for three product lines.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Boy, there’s a lot in there I’d love to unpack. And so, well, let’s start with some of these firsts with regard to, so you’re the first to use a computer to solve some of these financial questions using the discounted cashflow analysis. Well, what got into you that made you say, “You know what, this is what I’m going to go do because I think it would probably be more normative for engineers to continue doing their engineering.” But you popped your head up and said, “No, I’m going to check out something different.” How did that come about?

Stan Silverman
Well, I’ve always been curious about things which would allow me to grow and develop my skills in other areas other than engineering. And when I got my chemical engineering degree, I decided that I did not want to rise up through the engineering route because I thought that was too limited. I wanted to follow the business route, and that’s why I got my MBA so that I would be in positions where I would make strategic decisions with respect to the future of my businesses and, eventually, the company rather than building plants for the products that we made.

And it was just an interest in doing that, in making decisions on the strategic side of the business versus the engineering side of the business that pushed me and led me to get my MBA degree. And I’ve always been very curious. I’ve been testing new things, looking at new things, trying out things, and, really, that’s what drove me my entire career is that curiosity. And it really goes way, way back to when I was a teenager. At the age of 12, my dad got me my first chemistry set and I exhausted all the experiments probably within three months, and I got a little bored and I decided that I would try something new. So, I thought it would be really cool if I made gunpowder to pack into a firecracker and set off the firecracker, so I started up on it and learned how to do that with my chemistry set.

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds like fun to me.

Stan Silverman
Yeah, it was really a lot of fun but the creative part wasn’t actually formulating the gunpowder. You can look that up anywhere and at the time we didn’t have the internet so, of course, I had to go to a library to do this. But it was actually designing the fuse to set it off so that I wouldn’t blow my hand apart, I decided that I would run wires from my Lionel train transformer to the firecracker that I built and bury these wires with a matchhead inside the powder and then set it off 30 feet away. And, sure enough, it worked.

And so, this is a future engineer at the age of 13 now, basically, in his backyard fooling around with this stuff. And, of course, in today’s world, you can’t possibly do that because you’d have Homeland Security and the local police department all over you for doing this. And so, we’ve really taken some innocence away from kids that just like to play in the basement or in the backyard or in the garage and just kind of tinker with things. And so, that’s kind of a negative to the world that we’re in. We’ve taken some innocence away from our children in terms of allowing them to just roam and develop.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I hear that theme. So, the curiosity, the testing, the exploring, trying out new things. I guess, I’m intrigued because I think that this is common, I’d say, part of the human experience, we’re curious, we want to explore and seek new things. And, yet, I think a lot of folks, in the professional setting, experience some fear or a resistance, internal and/or external, so that they sort of shut those instincts down. How do you observe the ways in which professionals kind of shoot themselves in the foot or prevent themselves from exploring and rising as a result?

Stan Silverman
Well, I think it gets down to a feeling of self-confidence in yourself. I coach and counsel a lot of students right now in my career and, of course, with the launching of my book, sort of my fourth career, which we’ll get into in a little later on in the interview. But one of the things I do is I talk to a lot of students today and I talk to a lot of professionals who are stuck, who don’t like what they’re doing, who want to know what the path is to leave what they’re doing and do something more interesting. And, of course, it’s completely up to them. They have to find their own path.

They have a safety blanket in their current position and in their current role, and for 45 years they just never do anything.

And you go to the other extreme, you have people that are constantly developing themselves, constantly pushing forward, trying things, failing sometimes, and, of course, failure is a normal part of life and we should all get used to that. And as I tell the folks that I counsel“You can feel bad that night but the next morning you get up and get back at it because it’s a new day and a new world, and you have to move forward.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with Seth Godin who is a futurist.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Stan Silverman
He wrote a book called “The Icarus Dilemma,” and he writes about Icarus who, of course, is a character in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and fell off his back, and he crashed into the sea. And what Godin says is, “Should’ve Icarus flown lower and safer so he wouldn’t crash into the sea?” And he says, “No, of course not, because it’s actually more dangerous to fly too low than it is to fly too high, because if you fly too low, you’ll never know what you’re made of, and you’ll never deliver the kind of results or contributions to society that society needs.”

And so, I added actually something in my book about that. I also said that if you fly too low and, all of a sudden, your job disappears and technology moves on, and you have to get a new job. If you fly too low, you’ll never know what you’re made of, and it’s harder to get a new job, so fly high, and if you fly too close to the sun and you fail and you crash into the sea, the next morning you get up and fly again.

And that’s what entrepreneurs are taught.  And so, that’s what drives a lot of the comments I make to folks that I coach and counsel.

Pete Mockaitis
But, you know, as you talked about that Icarus metaphor, and we’ve also been talking about finance, my mind is bringing them together as I think about sort of risk-taking and financial investments. Like, if you take no risk and just sort of do what your savings account will do for you, well, then you’re going to kind of crash in the sense of inflation is just sort of taking away your wealth. And so, in essence, in both instances, Icarus, financial investing, and career risk-taking, you have to take some level of risk because none is more dangerous than some.

Stan Silverman
Exactly. And what everybody has to do is learn how to mitigate their risks, so you try to control the risks. And the way you do an investment, of course, investing is that you diversity your portfolio, and so you don’t go after the homeruns every day. You go after the slow and steady. And the slow and steady, by all accounts, and by all the data and all the studies, wins over the long term. So, it’s slow and steady, slow and steady, so you mitigate your risks.

And in business, of course, a lot of people ask me, “Well, what do you mean by mitigating your risks? How do you mitigate risks?” And I always use the example, let’s assume that you’re a manager in your company and you need to make a decision which you have all the authority in the world to make. You don’t have to ask anybody else, you can either make it or not make it. You can go direction A or direction B, it’s up to you. But you feel that it’s risky and you want to mitigate the risk, well, what do you do? Well, you talk to people. You get other people’s opinions. You don’t have to do what they say but you get other people’s opinion so it expands your view of what you may do, or may not do, and you move forward.

A lot of people think that by asking other people their opinion, it’s a weakness. Wrong. It’s a huge strength and you should always be asking people, getting their opinions, getting their input, and you’re going to make the final decision on your own, but at least you have that input. A lot of people don’t realize that when they feel that something is very risky, or even a modicum of risk, and they want to get an opinion, it’s okay to get it. It’s okay to get an opinion before you move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I was just about to ask about some strategies and approaches if you do have some of that fear of failure, you don’t want to let go of your safety blanket, well, I guess one point is just you have to.

Stan Silverman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But, emotionally, there’s still a bridge to cross. How do you suggest folks do it? One is to seek the wisdom of other counsel. What else?

Stan Silverman
Well, you have to fall back on your experience and your critical judgment and common sense. And so, a lot of the decisions we make, we don’t always have all the information we would like to have, we don’t have that information, and you can’t get it or you don’t have time to get it. So, what do we all do? We fall back on our common sense, a good critical judgment. And when we do that, and when we do have good common sense and critical judgment developed over the years through our experiences, because that’s how you get that, we make a lot more right decisions than we make wrong decisions.

And so, that’s just part of life. You’re going to be making decisions without having all the knowledge and all the information you would like. So, let’s flip it around for a moment and let’s assume that you’re the leader of a group, and you have one of your employees, or many of your employees, actually, making decisions, and sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. You have to allow your employees to make mistakes. It’s the only way they’re going to grow and develop.

And one of the prime responsibilities of every leader is to develop future leaders below them. The only way to do that is to tell them what your expectations are and make sure they have the right resources, and cut them loose to do their thing, and sometimes it’s not going to work out, and sometimes it will work out. But if you have good people reporting to you, and you’ve hired people with good common sense and critical judgment, and allow people to develop that common sense and good critical judgment, you’re going to win in the long term. You’ve going to have a lot more wins than you’re going to have losses, and you just have to tolerate that.

So, there are many bosses that won’t allow their people to make mistakes. Those kinds of people you don’t want in your organization if you’re the board or you’re the CEO. You’ve got to get rid of them because you’re not going to go anywhere. You’re just not going to get anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you said common sense and critical judgment, I was just chatting with some folks about how that seems to be not so common. And I would love to get your take on are there any particular decision-making frameworks, tools, key questions, you ask yourself to bring forth more common sense and judgment to situations?

Stan Silverman
Well, let’s take a real-life example. Let’s take Starbucks, for example. They’ve been blasted, they’re really blasted a couple times a year for what the baristas or not do in their cafes, and, of course, the most important one, and the one that had huge ramifications around the world, is the one that occurred in Philadelphia about a year or so ago when the barista, at the Starbucks in Center City, Philadelphia near Rittenhouse Square, ordered two gentlemen to leave because they claim they were waiting for their friend to arrive before they ordered something, and they were just sitting there, and she said, “Well, if you don’t order something, I have to ask you to leave.”

And they didn’t leave, so she called the police, the police came and arrested these two guys, they were two African-American gentlemen. And as they were leaving, their friend shows up, and their friend says, “What’s going on?” and they tell him. And, of course, this got blasted all over the world. And, in fact, Starbucks had to shut down their cafes to do sensitivity training in this area. And had the barista exercised good critical judgment and common sense, she would’ve said, “Okay, when you’re ready, you can come up and order something when your friend gets here.” That’s how you diffuse. See, you should always diffuse a situation. These guys weren’t harming anything, they weren’t creating a ruckus, they were sitting at tables that weren’t needed by other people. So, you always diffuse, you always diffuse the situation. And so, she got blasted.

In three or four other instances around the country, baristas have refused, I can’t remember the city, it might have been Arizona where a pregnant woman came in and wanted to use the bathroom, and the barista said, “You can’t use it unless you buy something.” And then the news report claims that even after her husband offered to buy something, she wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom. Well, what were they thinking?

So, therefore, one of my prime tenets whenever I coach and counsel future leaders and current leaders, is don’t hire anybody if they don’t have common sense and good critical judgment. Do not hire them especially if they’re customer-facing. Do not hire them even internally, even if they’re not customer-facing. You don’t hire these people. And there are tests to test for this which, of course, aren’t 100% but you don’t want to hire people who don’t exercise common sense and good critical judgment because why would you want to get blasted for a mistake they make on social media which, of course, happens within minutes around the world, and it kills your reputation. It kills your reputation. And then, of course, you have to rebuild that reputation but you never really regain it back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, when you say test for this, are you talking about commercially-available assessments?

Stan Silverman
Oh, yes. There are tests for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a fave that you lean on or have historically?

Stan Silverman
No, actually, I don’t. When I hire people, I interview them at length and I talk about I want them to explain their experiences when they’ve had to handle certain situations which were sensitive. I do it through interview but there are tests, there are commercially-available tests which can test for that. Among other things, they can test for new employees.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s interesting, and I wonder, maybe it’s just too expansive and complex to boil down and to a couple of rules of thumb because it’s sort of like you would hope that you wouldn’t have to tell somebody, “Don’t make people leave. Allow folks to use the bathroom.” And I guess, hey, some operational manuals will spell it out, and that could be helpful, certainly, if folks don’t have that critical reasoning or judgment. So, it seems like you shared one principle there in terms of when possible try to diffuse situations as opposed to inflame them. Good rule of thumb. I think that would serve 99% of us well just about all the time. Any other key principles that you come back to again and again?

Stan Silverman
Well, I have a key principle which a lot of CEOs don’t agree with me when I give speeches in front of meetings of leaders. I get a lot of pushback on this.

And I’ll give you my aha. So, I’m a 26-year old business manager for my company and we’re making a product on the West Coast which goes into pharmaceuticals, and I get a call from the plant that the plant manager just discovered that there’s some iron filings in the product that weren’t picked out by the magnet, and he gave me the lot numbers. And so, this product had to come back. It will have to come back anyway but especially for going to a pharmaceutical, it has to come back.

The problem is I don’t have the authority to order a recall. My boss and the CEO were traveling in Europe, and this is the years before cellphones and before email and before text messaging, and every moment, almost every hour, every day that we wait to recall the product it goes further and further into distribution and, eventually, perhaps, gets into one of our customers’ final products, so the costs of recalling this product goes up exponentially every day.

And so, I made the decision at my young age to recall the product, and my people are saying, “Stan, you don’t have the authority to recall the product.” I said, “It’s got to come back. It’s got to come back.” And so, I said to them, “Either I’m going to be celebrated or terminated.” So, I recalled the product. And when the two guys got back, my boss who was vice president and general manager of the industrial group and the CEO came back, I told them what I did and they celebrated me, they said, “You did the right thing.”

So, here I am, a 26-year old, just starting out my career, a couple years into my career, thinking, “Boy, I’ve just learned something.”

And so, that has governed my management leadership philosophy that I give my people permission to do so.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, I think that’s dead-on and I can understand why senior executives, that makes them uncomfortable. It’s sort of like, “I’m not fully confident that I have the people in my organization I can trust with that.”

Stan Silverman
Well, let me give you the perfect example. So, I’m not going to name the company, okay? I won’t name the company. But I’m waiting for this to happen so I can write an article about it. And so, here you have a person who greets customers at the door when they come in, and that’s the person’s job, that’s the employee’s job. And the employee sees an elderly individual pushing a cart full of product that they just bought in the store out to their car, and they’re having trouble pushing the cart. So, I’ll use the masculine, he leaves his post to help unload the cart into the customer’s trunk and returns back two minutes later, or three minutes later. And because he left his post, and that broke policy, the store manager fires that individual.

Pete Mockaitis
This happened or you’re waiting for this to happen?

Stan Silverman
No, I’m just waiting for it to happen so I can write about it, right?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s probably happened somewhere, we just don’t know it.

Stan Silverman
I’m waiting so I can write about it, right? And so, this is all hypothetical and, of course, I’m not naming any store. And so, the store manager fires this individual, and so if I was the regional manager of all the bunch of stores in the region and I found that that’s what happened, I would probably fire the store manager because you didn’t allow your employee to break policy for the good of the company. It didn’t hurt for him to be away for two or three minutes. In fact, he created a lot of goodwill by helping this elderly individual load the car. So, he broke policy, so what? Again, you diffuse the situation. There’s no harm and it was in the best interest of the company to do so.

And you wouldn’t believe how many people disagree with me. I have a lot of CEOs and a lot of senior leadership, when I speak about this, I do a lot of speaking on various topics, and when I describe this, they push back and say, “No, no, no, no , no, that person should never break policy.” Well, of course, they should.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I’m in your camp and I think it all just depends on who did you hire and how much do you trust them.

Stan Silverman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And really what’s at stake. Is the greeter also a loss-prevention person, and if they left their post, $50,000 worth of high-electronics are going to go out the door? I mean, maybe that’s a different scenario, but most likely there’s very little downside and very much upside to helping a customer out.

Stan Silverman
So, let’s look at the extreme. I always like to test the outside of the envelope. So, let’s look at the extreme, okay? So, that’s at one end of the extreme. The other end of the extreme is that you’re running a nuclear power plant making electricity. You never, ever, ever want the operators of that plant to break policy by themselves, ever, because the downside is catastrophic. And so, therefore, if something has to be done, and it could be different than policy, you want to get that checked up, up and down the line, and have a lot of people involved in that discussion before anything ever gets done.

And so, it depends on the situation that you’re in. Look at Boeing today, Boeing was announced that the CEO was terminated by the board because of the 737 max issues of the past year. And, of course, if you go all the way back, the FAA allowed Boeing to do a lot of the quality checks and balances that were really the job of the FAA. They delegated that down to the company and to the engineers within the company.

Well, I got to tell you that is closer to the nuclear power plant example that I just gave. If I was the FAA, I would never ever delegate that down. And if I was Boeing, I would never permit us to do that. That’s the job of the FAA. So, the best friend of the CEO at Boeing is to have the FAA do their independent checks and certification of a plane and not have my people do it. I would never allow my people to do it because the consequence of a mistake is catastrophic. They had two airline crashes.

And let’s go to the other end. So, I’m the CEO of my company, and in our chemical plants, we allow the chemical operators of the plant to do quality assurance on the product they ship out and so, therefore, they have ownership in the production because they have ownership in the quality. And so, the worst that can happen is the place don’t go down, but a product is out that’s off spec, and the customer tests it, and they send it back, so it costs us some money.

And so, you have to look along the continuum where that decision gets made. For nuclear power plants and for aircraft certification, you don’t want anybody making unilateral decisions that break policy. On the other end of the extreme, when you see a customer carrying out packages to the car and they need help, or when you’re testing a chemical product where the only downside is it’s off spec, maybe that’s way over to the end, so you got to figure out where you are in the continuum.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that really makes sense and adds up, yes. I’d like to get your view, then, when it comes to kind of zooming out and thinking across these promotions, you’ve said part of it was, first, curiosity and pursuing new things, and you’re finding the self-confidence, and managing your risks and delivering value. Any other kind of core things that you tend to see over and over again that makes the difference between those who get the promotion and those who are passed over for the promotion?

Stan Silverman
Yes. In fact, I’d like to tell you a story which is my favorite story which really was most impactful to me. And I think to answer your question, people that get promoted learn lessons from everybody within the organization. So, I’m president of our Canadian company and a subsidiary of PQ Corporation, and we had a small production unit which produced a product for high-temperature refractory cements…

Stan Silverman
Okay. And so, when I was president of our Canadian company, we had a production unit which made a product for high temperature, an acid-resistant refractory cements. The unit was sold out. It was at capacity. It was a very high-margin product. The product was growing, and we were basically out of capacity. So, the one gentleman who operated this unit was working all kinds of overtime so we needed to expand the unit.

And our marketing department came over with projections that we really needed a 50% increase in capacity to handle the demand over the next five, to six, to seven years. And so, rather than give the project to one of the corporate engineers, we decided that that would not be the best thing to do. This was a very small unit. I estimated that, to expand the unit by 50%, it’s probably half a million-dollar job, and the engineers, of course, want to work on millions and 10 million-dollar projects because that’s how they get promoted because they’re very complex projects. This is a very simple project.

So, the plant manager and I decided to give the assignment to the operator who runs the unit and ask him, “Well, how would you expand this unit?” So, we called Luigi Pail, the operator of the plant, of this production unit into my office, and he looks around and says, “Am I being fired?” I said, “Well, Luigi, why do think that?” He said, “I’ve never been to your office.” I say, “No, no, no, we’re not going to fire you. In fact, we want to ask you how to expand your unit because we know that you’re working all kinds of overtime hours, it’s hard work. We want to expand the unit. So, how do you think we should do it?” He says, “Oh, I know exactly how to do it but nobody’s ever asked me.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stan Silverman
“You’re the first person to ever ask me how I can expand. You know, I’ve been working over the last 10 years.” I said, “Well, would you work on it?” He said, “Yes, but I need the help of a mechanic.” And very quickly we said, “Pick your man.” He says, “I pick Don McNeil,” who probably was the best mechanic in the planet at the time. Excellent mechanic but he was terrible with respect to labor, management relationships, always filing grievances, always wanted to go on strike, bad mouthing, he was a negative-opinion leader in the plant, and I’m thinking, “This will be a huge disaster,” right?

So, we tell Luigi, “Well, you ask Don tomorrow morning and then we’ll ask him in the afternoon and see if he’ll do this.” So, we go out and see Don the next afternoon, and he says, “Oh, I spoke with Luigi this morning. I’ll do this but I’m not doing it for you. I’m going to help him expand his unit because Luigi is my friend and I’m not doing it for you. I just want you to understand that.” I said, “Okay, Don, we understand. Go to work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Noted.

Stan Silverman
Well, four weeks later, they come into my office and they present the scope of the expansion to get a 50% increase in capacity, and this is, of course, before PowerPoint. This is when you had these overhead projectors, and you had these slides that you put on the overhead projectors. So, they explained the scope, and I’m thinking, “My God, this is so creative. I never would’ve thought of this.” Don McNeil did something that we never asked him to do, he cost-estimated the project out. Well, of course, Don works with contractors all the time so he knows what it costs to do things. He comes out with an estimate of $260,000 to do the project, I’m guessing 500, right?

So, we say to them, “Okay, guys, we’re going to do it. You’re in charge of doing it. You’re in charge of managing the project.” “Well, that’s not our job. That’s a project manager’s job.” I said, “Hold up. The unit is going to be down for a period of time so you have to work in the construction along with the production. You’re the perfect people to do this.” “Well, okay, we’ll do it.”

Two months later, the plant is done, the unit comes back up on stream, withing seven days we’re at 50% increase in capacity, exactly what we asked him to do. Within two weeks they’re at 64% increase in capacity. The product is coming out much tighter within specification, perfect quality, much easier for Luigi to operate the plant and were often running, and Don brings the project in at $250,000, 10,000 less than what he told us it would be. I think he did that on purpose.

And so, all four of us changed fundamentally. Don McNeil is now walking through the plant telling his fellow union brethren, the blue-collar workers that operate the plant that, “You know, these guys in management, they’re not so bad. They trusted me for what I can do with my mind in addition to what I can do with my hands.” You know how powerful that statement is? And he’s now a positive-opinion leader in the plant. Luigi changed in this way.

And so, about two weeks after startup of his unit, I’m taking a visitor through the entire plant, we stopped at his production unit, and Luigi says, “I’ll take the visitor on tour of my production unit.” I said, “Okay.” So, he does so, and after the tour, we head off to the other six production units within the plant. The next day, Luigi talks to me and says, “You know why I did what I did yesterday?” I said, “What did you do?” He says, “I took the visitor for the tour.” I said, “Yeah, I know.” He said, “I did it because this is my plant not…” I’m sorry, “This is my unit, not your unit. This is my unit.”

We created a sense of ownership in Luigi for his production unit, and I’m thinking, “Oh, my God. How come I didn’t learn this right out of school?” You have to create sense of ownerships in everybody for what they do within the company, and then great things will happen. And that has stuck with me for the decades after that incident occurred. And, sure enough, it’s proven true every single time you create a sense of ownership in people in terms of what they do, and great things will happen.

And so, therefore, I learned something from an hourly guy, probably one, two, three, four levels below me in a production plant, and everybody realizes they can learn from everybody including the people at the bottom of the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Stan, I love it. Good stuff. Thank you. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stan Silverman
Well, I do. But I think let’s move on and I’ll kind of weave it in as we go along if the opportunity arises.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Stan Silverman
My favorite quote is “Never lie to yourself,” So, I have a chapter in my book, Chapter 1-5 which is about the Challenger explosion and disaster which all of us are very familiar with. And it turns out that the Thiokol engineers who designed the O-rings for the solid rocket boosters, basically, advised NASA not to launch the shuttle on the day they wanted to launch because the temperature outside, the ambient temperature, was 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and they designed the O-rings for 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

And they felt the O-rings were going to be too brittle and there was a huge risk of leakage of fuel around the O-rings because they were brittle which would, of course, cause a disaster. And the Thiokol engineers lost the battle because they faced a huge, huge pressure by NASA. And I’m just going to quote two comments, I’m looking it up now, by a NASA manager. I say one NASA manager is quoted as saying, “I’m appalled by your recommendation, Thiokol.” Another NASA manager said, “My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?”

So, they didn’t listen to their experts. They didn’t listen to their experts. They went ahead and launched, and, of course, we know what the result was. We lost the shuttle plus five astronauts. And that taught me a huge lesson. The lesson is you always have to listen to your experts. Always listen to your experts. Don’t discount them. That’s why you have them around you.

After I wrote my article, one of the engineers, one of the Thiokol engineers’ daughter, this is Robert Ebeling who was the Thiokol engineer, his daughter reached out to me because my email is at the end of all my articles. Now I talked with her half an hour about what her dad went through that day, and she was actually with him during that launch day, and she said, “He’s held himself responsible, personally responsible for 30 years, for the crash and the disaster of the shuttle when, in fact, he tried to stop it but the managers at NASA decided to launch anyway.”

So, I said to her, “Leslie, would you mind if I called your dad and speak with him on the phone?” She says, “He would love to hear from you.” So, I got his number, he was in an assisted-living facility, really dying of cancer, so I got him, he was very, very sick. I called on the next day and I spoke with him for a good 20 minutes, and I said, “Mr. Ebeling, you and your fellow engineers at Thiokol are true American heroes because you tried to stop the catastrophe but you couldn’t. But don’t feel that that’s your burden. You did your best.” He died five days later.

And so, that was a very, very compelling moment for me when I spoke with Robert Ebeling. And the quote that I wanted, or the author of the quote, “If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule, never lie to yourself.” It was by Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian novelist, a very renowned individual. And that’s my favorite quote because had NASA not lied to themselves, they would’ve listened to their engineers and not launched the shuttle. So, that’s a lesson for all of us. Never lie to yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stan Silverman
Oh, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, absolutely. It’s a book that a lot of people have written. I probably read it three times, I listened to a tape on it. And what Jim Collins says is that when you decide where to take your company, you need to pick the right people, put them on a bus, put them on the right seats, and they will decide where to take the bus. And so, you, unilaterally, aren’t going to be very successful, at least most of the time, if you decide where your company should go without your people got buy-in into it, and they have ownership in it.

And so, every time I’ve made strategic decisions and change in the strategic direction, I’ve had input from the people who work for me, who report to me. I trust them. I’ve hired them with good critical judgment and common sense, and we argue our points, we argue all the time. And I have a story to tell you about that in a moment.

And so, you have to staff your company with people reporting to you who aren’t afraid to talk to you, who aren’t afraid to say you’re wrong, and you need to listen to that. If you’re the CEO that can’t take being told you’re wrong, you’re not going to be very successful.

So, this is the story. So, when I was chief operating officer of the company, I would come up with an idea or a proposal and I would talk to the CEO about implementing it. And, more often than not, before I could finish talking about it, I would hear from him, “Well, it’s not going to work.” And I’d say, “Well, don’t tell me it’s not going to work. First, let me explain the whole thing, and then tell me it won’t work.”

And so, I started writing him memos which, of course, he would read without me in the room, and you’d have to read the whole memo, a page, a page and a half memo. He’d come in and say, “Boy, this is a great idea. Let’s get it done.” And so, that’s how we got stuff done. So, when he left the company and I became the CEO, I swore that we would change that cultural norm because he did that with everybody.

And the cultural; norm would be this. So, I would not often kind of give my opinion on how we should go somewhere and the direction, I would kind of tease it out of my folks. But, every once in a while, I would say, “You know, I think we should go direction A with a certain issue.” Well, if my CFO or the head of our chemicals group didn’t agree with me, I would expect him to say, “No, Stan, I don’t think that’s right. I think rather than go direction A, which is your direction, I think we should go direction B.”

Well, how I react to that comment will forevermore, in the future, govern the dynamic between that individual and myself. Rather than say, “I don’t want to hear it. Just go direction A,” which is bad, I would say, “Well, Bill, why do you think we should go direction B?” or, “Why, Mike, do you think we should go direction C?” And we would debate A versus B. we would bring in experts, we would bring people very knowledgeable, we debate for a day, for a week, for a month. And at the end of that discussion, one of three things would happen.

I would say, “Bill, thank you very much for suggesting B, but we beat A up against B, and B up against A, and I really think Ai is the way to go so that’s the way we’re going to go,” and we would go that direction. Or, I would say, “Bill, you know, thank you for suggesting B. After beating one up against the other, I think B is the better alternative,” and Bill would feel really good that I picked his alternative.

But more than not, and this is real live data, real live experience, more often than not, because we debated A versus B, we would find direction C better than A and B, and we would go direction C. Well, when we did that, we really made a mistake. And it’s one of the reasons why we drove earnings from $14 million to $43 million over a five-year period which included the year of 9/11 2001 plus the horrible recession of 2002. We never had a down quarter during that recession because we debated things as equals. As equals we debated things.

And that, I think, is just a huge, huge cultural norm within any company to really get great results, you debate, and then you pick the right one. Pick the right direction.

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

Stan Silverman
Well, they can read my book. My book is called “Be Different: The Key to Business and Career Success,” and it talks a lot about leadership, it talks a lot about tone at the top and culture, but the focus in the book is it teaches every business how to be better than their competition so that they become the preferred provider of product or service to the marketplace so that your customers, your clients, want to buy from them preferentially above any of the competition.

And it doesn’t matter whether or not you make widgets, whether or not you’re an accounting firm, whether you’re an attorney, you’re a doctor, you’re a surgeon, you’re a hospital, or whether you put roofs on houses, or you sell bicycles in a bike shop. You want to be the preferred provider so that anybody that needs a roof on their house, or medical treatment, or surgery, or wants to buy a bicycle, they want to buy from you versus the competition. And I teach how to do that.

The other part of the book is that all of us, as we all rise up through our careers, become better than our peers so that we get the next promotion or the next job on the outside the company. And so, that’s what the book is about. It’s about how to do that. And I have a lot of examples of great leaders, and leaders that aren’t so great, great companies and companies that aren’t so great, a lot of boards which are great boards and boards that aren’t so great.

And it’s really a handbook for success, future success, for your company or for yourself. And you can buy it at Barnes & Noble, or if you want to buy the Kindle version, you can buy the Kindle version on Amazon.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely.

Stan Silverman
Or BarnesandNoble.com for the hardcopy.

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

Stan Silverman
Well, yeah, I think you have to decide. We all have legacies. We all have to think about what our legacies are going to be. What do we want to leave this world? What do we want to leave this world when we check out? And my legacy is I want to be able to say that I created a bunch of great leaders and helped them develop and be successful. I want to help companies develop and be successful.

I start a lot of talks off, I say, “What is the holy grail of any business, of any individual? What’s the one thing everybody, every business, or what’s the one thing everybody wants? What is the holy grail?” And three or four people will raise their hand, and one of those responses is, “To make money.” I said, “Well, that’s certainly something everybody wants to do, but that’s a measurement of how well you do with something else. Money is a measurement of how well you do. It’s not the objective. Because if it’s the objective, there are other ways to make a lot more money.”

And so, I tell them that, “If you’re running your company, you want to be the preferred provider of product and service to your marketplace and give a great customer experience. Give a great customer experience, that’s what you want to do. And as you rise through your career, you want to be better than your peers, and that should be your holy grail as you develop your career. And, of course, at my point in life, my holy grail is to help other people be successful. And that’s what I do every single day by coaching and counselling and writing about this.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stan, this has been a pleasure. Thanks so much and keep up the good work.

Stan Silverman
Well, thank you, Pete. It was really great being a guest on your show and I really appreciate having the opportunity to talk with you today.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Gregg

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Gregg Clunis Interview Transcript

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

Gregg Clunis

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

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

Gregg Clunis

Oh, yeah.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Gregg Clunis
How have those calls been playing out?

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

Gregg Clunis
Oh, definitely.

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

Gregg Clunis
Pretty much, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Seinfeld didn’t do that?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no.

Gregg Clunis
It’s a cool story though.

Pete Mockaitis
That really is write jokes every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregg Clunis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregg Clunis
Oh, phenomenal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[36:01]

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregg Clunis
Thank you so much for having me.

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

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Alex Banayan shares unconventional approaches to creating new opportunities.

You’ll Learn:

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

About Alex:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Banayan Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And actually game shows is your first instinct.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Sing.

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


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

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

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


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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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


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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, statistically, right.

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Alex Banayan
Thank you.

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

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

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

Alex Banayan
Right, right.

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


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


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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Lessons learned.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Alex Banayan
Not by design.

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


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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

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


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


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


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


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

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

Alex Banayan
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. 

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

Alex Banayan
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
What does this consist of?

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s perfect.

Alex Banayan
Yeah.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Alex Banayan
Right, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, lay it on me Alex.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Alex Banayan
Exactly, exactly. 

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

Alex Banayan
Right, right. 

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

Alex Banayan
Very important, very important.

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

Alex Banayan
Cool leather jackets.

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


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

Alex Banayan
Right.

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

Alex Banayan
Yeah, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Alex Banayan
I really like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

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


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


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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Alex Banayan
Meditating twice a day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next: Ron Price talks about becoming an influential leader.