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629: How to Find and Use Your Strengths with Lea Waters

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Lea Waters says: "When you feel good, you function well."

Psychologist Lea Waters talks about tools you need to tap into your strengths.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The best way to tap into your strengths
  2. Why our strengths are often hiding–and how to find them
  3. The hack that halts anxiety 

About Lea

Lea Waters AM, PhD is a psychologist, researcher, professor, published author, internationally-celebrated keynote speaker and one of the world’s leading experts on Positive Education, Positive Organizations and Strength-Based Parenting and Teaching. 

Professor Waters is the Founding Director and Inaugural Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology at the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne where she has held an academic position for more than 23 years. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Lea Waters Interview Transcript

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

Lea Waters
Hey, Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m so glad to dig into your goodness here. But, first, I need to hear about the time you won a rap dancing competition.

Lea Waters
Okay, that was a long time ago. Well, firstly, you can probably tell from my accent, I am Australian, and I grew up in a very small little country town in Australia. The town had 800 people, now has 8,000, which is still a very small town, but 40 years ago we’re talking now. So, when I was 14, I went along to the local townhall on a Friday night, it was a sort of disco back then in the early to mid ‘80s, and they had a tap dancing competition, which I won, because I did the worm and I did the robot rap dancing thing, and I had just learnt the Michael Jackson moonwalk, and it was only just Michael Jackson that just sort of perfected his moonwalking.

So, I was able to do the moonwalk and the worm and some little computer robot dancing, and, somehow, I won this little local rap dancing competition for teenagers. I think I won a can of Coke, I know, and I won a…because back then we’re talking records, we weren’t even at CDs, let alone what we’re at now, so I won a little like 6-inch record of a local band in Australia who had done a remake of “Oh, won’t you take me to funky town.” So, yes, that was my prized possession.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, congratulations.

Lea Waters
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember I won a karaoke contest when I was a teenager at a Relay for Life, a cancer fundraising event, and that were just good memories of just being ridiculous and cutting loose. So, hopefully, we’ll bring some of that fun and energy into this exchange.

Lea Waters
I hope so. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Even though we can’t see the dance moves.

Lea Waters
No, no, no. Well, you just got a little sort of you through the Zoom but, yeah, your listeners are probably better off not having seen me attempting to do that now as a 49-year old when I did it as a 14-year old.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, it seems like you’ve taken some of that positive goodness into your current career. You are an expert in positive psychology. Can you orient listeners who are not familiar with that term? What’s that all about?

Lea Waters
Hmm, sure. A great place to start too, Pete. Thanks. So, I’m a psychologist, been a psychologist for 27 years, and I’m also a university researcher in the field of positive psychology. And so, positive psychology is a subfield of psychology, and it distinguishes itself because it’s the science and practice of studying the positive end of the human experience.

So, we’re looking at, “How do we scientifically study and understand and, therefore, amplify joy, wonder, curiosity, or love, compassion, empathy, altruism?” It’s a strength-based science so it’s really focusing on, “Who are we at our best? What are the inherent strengths that we bring to work, bring to our life outside of work, bring into our teams? And then how do we use those strengths to sort of be at our best to be pro social and help other people, and to help ourselves and our team reach our full potential?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, amplifying some of those things sounds certainly pleasant. I would enjoy that and really the course of experience in life. Can you also share with us a bit of the case associated for how that helps folks be all the more awesome at their jobs?

Lea Waters
Okay. So, what the science tells us, and, look, honestly, even as I’m saying this, people just know this intuitively. When you feel good, you function well. When you are able to bring the best of yourself to work, when you’re in a position where you can utilize your unique strengths, the things that give you energy, the things that sort of come easily to you, the things that you are sort of self-motivated to do, that’s going to flip into higher levels of performance, productivity. And it’s really sort of challenging this assumption about, “How do we create improvement in ourselves or in our work team or in an organization?” because most of us, Pete, were sort of raised on this assumption that improvement is a process of fixing what is wrong with us.

So, let me give you a scenario. Let’s just say that you and I did work in the same workplace, and I happen to be your boss, and we’re passing each other in the hallway, and I stopped for a minute, and I say, “Hey, Pete, can you make an appointment with my assistant? I want to catch up on Friday afternoon because I’ve got some areas of improvement that I’d really love to talk to you about.” What do you think would be the first sort of response inside your head when your boss says, “Come and have a meeting with me to talk about some areas of improvement”?

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, I’m screwing some things up, and so I’m kind of on high alert now.”

Lea Waters
Exactly, yeah. So, we’ve all been conditioned to think that improvement is this process of fixing what is wrong with us. And so, we have that scenario and you immediately think, “Oh, goodness. What have I done wrong? What do I need to fix? What’s not going so well?” And yet improvement can also be a process of building up and amplifying what is right about us.

So, unbeknownst to you, I actually want to meet with you on Friday because your sales figures are through the roof, and I’m like, “All right, if he’s already at this level, and this is clearly a skillset of his, if we can figure out what and why he’s doing so well, and we can improve that, he’s going to sell even more. If we can then figure out his sort of secret sauce and get him to help his fellow teammates, then we’re doing better.”

And so, our natural inclination is to sort of engaging improvement by fixing what is wrong with us. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that. We still need to look at areas of weakness and faults and flaws, and try and sort of shore those up. But what does science shows us is that you can spend a lot of time working on a weakness, and you can improve it, but it’s never going to turn into a strength. A weakness is never going to turn into a strength. You can improve it up to a point of a level of proficiency, but beyond that you’re better off just spending your time actually working on what are the strengths, what are the things that come naturally to you, what are the things that you enjoy doing, you get energy from, you perform well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so understood. Well, then I’m curious, when it comes to these strengths, well, first, let’s zero in on how does one identify them?

Lea Waters
Yeah. There’s a number of different ways you can identify your strengths, and the most obvious way is surveys. There’s quite a lot of surveys out there that allow you to identify what your unique strengths are in a workplace but also outside of work. So, many of the listeners here are probably familiar and they may have done these kinds of surveys at work that help you to identify where are those areas of self-energy and self-motivation. And I do have a free survey on my website, if people want to go to that, and sort of get a start on using a survey to identify.

More deeply than a survey, it really is about tuning into yourself and looking at where are those moments where you get into flow, you have high levels of energy. There’s a quick learning curve, so it’s a skill or a process that you’re able to learn with relative ease and more quickly than someone else. Where are the areas where you seem to learn quickly, do it a little bit better than anyone else? And also, as I mentioned just, you’ll know a strength because this is energizing.

When we use our strengths, using your strengths gives you more energy. When you’re using a weakness, it’s exhausting, it’s depleting. Often, when I run my workshops, for example, I ask people or invite people, “Pick up your pen with your non-dominant hand, and for the next few minutes, when we do this exercise, use your non-dominant hand.” It’s always quite amusing, Pete, because you see people with their tongue out and their brows are really kind of furrowed, really concentrating on, “How do I write with my non-dominant hand?” And it’s a slower process, it’s frustrating, it’s messy, you don’t perform as well.

And then I say, “Okay, now swap back to your dominant hand.” And it’s a good example of the energy and effort that’s required to build up a weakness in contrast to leaning towards using our strengths more often. So, we can identify our strengths through surveys, we can identify our strengths just by tuning in and saying, “Where are the areas where I feel energy, where I have passion, where I perform well with relative ease, where I’ve got a fast learning curve?”

But another key way of identifying our strengths is through social mirror. And what I mean by that is other people are a mirror to us for our strengths. So, tuning into or deliberately asking, intentionally asking other people, “Where do you see my strengths?” having those conversations at work where you’re engaging in this technique called strengths spotting.

So, strengths spotting, as the name would suggest, is just a technique of looking at where you see the strengths in other people and acknowledging those, “You know, I really love your curiosity, Pete, and the way that you’ve come to this, and you thought about the questions beforehand, and you’ve done a little bit of research. So, that says to me that you’ve got these strengths of sort of curiosity, and love of learning, and being organized, and wanting to share things with other people.”

So, using, allowing other people to be that social mirror, because the research shows us that, for many of us, we have this phenomenon called strength blindness. And strength blindness, as the name would suggest, is that we can become a little bit blind to our own strengths, sort of an interesting and cruel irony because our strengths are partly nature and partly nurture. And what the developmental psychologists have shown us is that we’re all born with our own unique kind of inherent strengths potential.

Some of you were born with the gift of the gab. You’re really, really good communicators. Others of you were just born with the natural ability, for example, around math. Some people are really, really good at problem-solving. Some people just have those really natural kind of social intelligence skills. And so, because we’re born with our strengths, and then the environment helps us to cultivate them, we can end up having this experience of strength blindness.

Because if you were born as a person who could do math fairly easily, or have very good organization skills, or great people skills, when you’re utilizing those skills and utilizing those strengths, they’ve come so easily to you and they’ve been with you your whole life, so you don’t think of them as an asset. You don’t realize that, “This is actually a strength. This is something that I’ve got that other people don’t necessarily have.” So, we become blind to our own strengths. And that’s why using your work colleagues, your friends outside of work, as that social mirror is a sort of third key way of finding out what our strengths are.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And now when you talked about the surveys, I know about StrengthsFinder, which I think is great, and so you’ve got yours. You talked about the left hand, right hand assignment, I thought about Myers-Briggs. I’ve done the exercise in many workshops. I’ve facilitated as well. But what are some of your other just total favorite tools in the survey realm that really elucidate this for people?

Lea Waters
There’s a fantastic survey called the VIA survey, V-I-A, and it stands for values in action. And what I like about that survey is it’s based on our strength of character. So, strengths are kind of coming to broad back. So, we’ve got our strengths of talent and then we’ve got our strengths of character. So, strengths of talent are performance-based, they’re observable. You can see if someone is a fast runner, you can hear if they’re a gifted debater, you can see if they’re a gifted artist, you can taste if they’re a gifted chef.

The VIA strength survey identifies that second bucket which is our strength of character. So, where our strengths of talent are observable and performance-based, our strengths of character are personality-based rather than performance-based. And, in a way, they’re less observable because they sit inside us. So, strengths of character include things like courage, perspective, wisdom, kindness, humility. So, these are not necessarily observable. They’re positive strengths, positive aspects of our personality that sit inside of us, and come out through our choices, through our decisions, through the way we relate to other people.

And so, that VIA Character Strengths, that survey that I’m talking about focuses on those inner assets, the character strengths. And I also like because it’s free, and it’s been around for about two decades, and it’s been validated, and it’s got population norms, it’s been validated and translated into 20 plus different languages, so it’s a really, really useful survey for our listeners to go in and have a look at. And you can do it as a team within your workplace and sort of identify, “Well, what are the unique constellation of this team? Who’s got humor?” which we really kind of need right now during COVID times, “Who’s got perspective? Who’s got grit? Who’s got those fantastic sort of curiosity, love of learning, problem-solving type skills?”

And I also love it because, for any of the parents who are listening, there’s a youth version. So, if you have younger kids, they can also do the equivalent survey so you can have that conversation at home, of like, “Well, these are my strengths, as mom or dad, and these are my children’s strengths.” So, that’s a lovely family bonding thing to do.

And there’s another survey that I’ll mention, too, which comes from the UK called Cappify, C-A-P-P-I-F-Y. What I really like about that particular survey is that it also identifies your weaknesses. So, a lot of the strength surveys are really nice because we have this strength blindness where we’re not so good at identifying our own strengths, we’re all pretty articulate when it comes to identifying our weaknesses. When it comes to identifying our strengths, we don’t have that same level of knowledge. So, strengths surveys are really useful for that. But what I like about Cappify is that it gives you your strengths and your weaknesses so you sort of got that balanced profile. And it also identifies this third category called learned behaviors.

And, for me, that was something…that was a real sort of epiphany moment because our strengths, in order for something to be a true strength, so normally if you ask someone, “How would you define a strength?” And most people would say, “Strengths are the things I’m good at,” and, yes, that’s absolutely true, but it’s only part of the answer. So, psychology research tells us that a strength is something you are good at, but it’s also something that gives you energy and you’re self-motivated to do.

And why it’s important to have those sort of three elements of a true strength is because there’s lots of things that we grew up to be good at. We grew up to be good at them because it’s expected of us, because it’s part of our role at work, because we were praised by parents, teachers, our boss, so we have that performance element, and we mistake it as a strength. And in the Cappify research, what they would say is it’s not actually a strength. It’s a learned behavior. You’ve learned to be good at it. You’ve got the performance element of it but it’s not giving you energy, and it’s not something that you would choose to do. You’re not self-motivated to do it.

And, for me, that was a real eye-opener because, in my role at the university, I was being asked to chair a lot of projects and a lot of sort of committee meetings, and so, over time, I’ve learnt to become good at that. A quick meeting is always a good meeting as far as I’m concerned. We set an agenda, I’m a trained psychologist so I’m reasonably good at sort of group dynamics, and people would leave those meetings and say, “Oh, that’s such a strength of yours, Lea.” But I would leave those meetings feeling quite depleted, quite de-energized, and thinking, “Oh, God, all right. Well, I got through that. Now let’s get back to the things that actually give me energy at work.”

And so, I learnt through the Cappify that, yes, I was good at chairing meetings, I had the performance element of it, but I do not have the energy or the self-motivation piece behind it, so it wasn’t a true strength. It was perceived as a strength by others. But when I started, “That’s not actually a strength of mine,” it was helpful for me to say, “Okay, I need to know that when, if I can, when I’m structuring my week, if I’m chairing a meeting that the hour after that is time-tabled for something that is going to re-energize me, something that using my natural strengths. And, for me, that’ll be research and writing, or working with my students, or going out and doing some corporate work because that’s what gives me my energy back.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. All right. So, we’ve got some good views for strengths, what they are, how to find them, why we’re better off trying to improve those than work on a weakness forever. So, let’s shift gears a little bit over to some of the other tools in the positive psychology toolkit. If folks are feeling an extra dose of stress and anxiety and blah in the midst of pandemic, or even, hey, months, years after the pandemic, what are some positive psychology tools that are ideal for this challenge?

Lea Waters
I love that question, Pete. We’re all, I think, so many of us have got just this classic case of mental fatigue because we’re way too many months into a global pandemic, and we’re tired, and we’re working from home and we’re stressed, and it’s playing out in our body. So, I guess, one of the questions is, “To what degree do we engage in stress management? And then to what degree do we say, ‘Okay, I can only do so much to manage my levels of stress. I’m going to turn my attention more towards boosting my positive emotions.’”

And so, there’s lots of things that we can do in positive psychology. Savoring, ecotherapy, the use of laughter, capitalizing on these sorts of micro moments of positivity. These are all about amplifying the positive moments that are still in our day despite everything that’s going on. And I can go into the detail of some of those for us in a moment. But then, also, one of the things that positive psychology does is recognizes that we can gain from adversity, that positivity can come out of negativity. And, in fact, you can’t really appreciate the feeling of warmth until you understand the sting of the cold. The two things kind of go hand in hand.

So, we can definitely talk about amplifying those positive moments but I think one of the other things that positive psychology science really lends to us right now in the moment of this sort of global crisis is techniques on how to better handle those negative emotions. So, mindfulness, how to grow from adversity, this notion of post-traumatic growth, or adversarial growth, and how to practice self-compassion. So, take your pick, Pete, because we really got a whole list of things in the field of positive psychology that we can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve talked about savoring a couple of times in the show. So, ecotherapy, what is this?

Lea Waters
Yeah, lovely. Okay. So, ecotherapy is basically having an intentional relationship with nature. So, that can be things like using urban spaces, going for a walk around your neighborhood, going to the local park. It can be getting out into nature reserves if you have some that are close to you. It can be as simple as going out and looking at the skyline at the end of the evening. Plant therapy, so saying if I have a garden outside, I’m going to do a little bit more gardening at the moment, or I’m going to setup a little plant wall or an indoor area for plants. Even using wood, wooden materials.

And so, this kind of broad idea of, “Let’s connect back with nature,” is really, really helpful to us all right now during COVID. In fact, some of the research is now coming out to say that we must have this in-built wisdom because there’s a lot more people now who are going out, exploring their local neighborhood, connecting back with nature in various ways. And what’s important about that is that when we do connect with nature, whether it’s real nature, as in sort of a wildlife park or whether it’s using our urban spaces or plant therapy or just looking up at the sky and looking at the clouds, when we do that, it changes our physiology.

And what the research shows is that even within five minutes of intentionally connecting back with an outside space, intentionally taking your shoes off if you go to your local park, take your shoes off and feel what it’s like to have grass and earth on your feet, that when we do that, it triggers our relaxation response in our nervous system. Your heartrate decreases, your parasympathetic nervous system starts to kind of get activated. And so, the parasympathetic nervous system is the nervous system that helps to calm us down, have good digestion, clear our mind of cortisol. So, ecotherapy is such an important thing for us all to be doing during this time.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on, let’s say I’m in Chicago, winter, cold, a lot of parks, etc., shut down, what are some…I like the notion of using wooden things because it’s sort of like, “Okay, I can do that anywhere no matter what their restrictions are.” Any other goodies like that?

Lea Waters
Yeah, okay. So, using wood plant therapy, I can see a plant right behind you, Pete. So, bringing some plants into…getting some indoor plants, and saying, “Okay, over these really chilly winter months, my focus is going to be on taking care of this plant.” Skylines, like I said, anything to do with skylines. So, even though it’s very ridiculously cold where you are, sort of getting out onto your balcony, ragging yourself up so you pretty much just got your eyes that are showing, but spending that five minutes at the end of the day watching the sunset, feeling the…

Anything to do with water as well, even though it’s water inside. Water is a part of nature so connecting ourselves with water intentionally, doing that through showers, footbaths, hand baths. We have to wash our hands a lot at the moment because of biosafety and hygiene measures with COVID. So, instead of just washing your hands, do it intentionally, really experience the flow of water, use it as a kind of mindfulness hack in that moment. So, tuning into, “How am I feeling? What does it feel like to have water sprinkling on my hands? What does it feel like as I’m sort of patting my hands dry with a towel?” So, giving myself a little kind of emotional vacation for that minute as we’re washing our hands.

And then even short of that is nature apps. So, there are quite a lot of apps out there now where you can listen to the sound of water, you can listen to the sound of clouds, you can listen to the sound of rain, birds, etc. So, obviously, it’s not quite the same as being out in a nature reserve but it still has that physiological healing benefit for us.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Okay, thank you.

Lea Waters
A pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now let’s talk about dealing with stuff that isn’t so pleasant. What’s the post-traumatic growth concept and how can we do more of that?

Lea Waters
Post-traumatic growth is, I mean, we all know about PTSD and the fact that if we go through adversity or a trauma, it can compromise our ability to cope, and it can lead to sort of more permanent stress. So, post-traumatic growth is sort of the positive opposite of that, and it was borne initially out of psychology research that was looking at PTSD and how it is that we can help people who have experienced a trauma or adversity or grief or loss, how it is that we can help them to go from a weakened state and adapt back to their sort of level of happiness and functioning that was there prior to the trauma or the adversity.

And as psychology research was studying, “How do we help people diminish and manage PTSD?” what they identified was that there was a certain percentage of people who had been through that same experience, that same loss, that same trauma, and were not only…this is going to please…I’m going to apologize in advance for some bad grammar here, but they were not only not experiencing stress, they were actually saying, “Look, I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy, but I’ve actually grown. I’ve grown as a result of this experience. I have a different perspective on life. I’ve got different priorities now. I’ve learnt that I can handle more than I thought I could. I found out really who my true friendships were and what it is that I want to move forward, spending my time on.”

So, this was a curiosity for these psychologists because they hadn’t really considered their role about, “How do we help people deal with the negatives of trauma or adversity or stress?” And, it turns out, that there are some people who not only didn’t have the negatives but have this positive. And so, that was kind of the origins of post-traumatic growth. It’s been studied a lot since then, and it’s really relevant for us all right now because so many of us are going through trauma and stress and adversity.

And just to know that this doesn’t have to permanently affect us in a negative way, that if we approach this adversity by asking ourselves, “What can I learn from this? How can I grow from this? What strengths do I have to bring to this situation? How can I learn that, in the midst of a lot of darkness, there are still these small little pockets of light? How can I help myself develop those skills to look at those things?” then we come out of that with a different skill set.

And we also come out of this experience knowing, “Okay, that was not a great experience. There was a lot of adversity, there was a lot of distress but I learnt about myself, I learnt that I’m stronger than I thought I was. I learnt to let go of some of those small issues that I used to put a lot of energy into and stress about. It’s not important to me anymore. I’ve changed my priorities.” And we’re seeing that already, Pete.

There’s a psychology research that’s coming out now through the pandemic is showing that people are saying, “This is a distressing experience but I’m enjoying more downtime, I’m enjoying time with my family. I’ve made more of an effort to stay connected with my friends even though it’s a virtual connection. I’ve learnt something new about my colleagues that I didn’t know.” So, we’re coming out with some positives through this. And, individually, a big factor that influences whether you come out of adversity, having grown, is the questions you ask yourself, is the way you frame that adversity in the moment.
It’s not about denying the adversity by any means but it is about saying, “Okay, this is really hard. I’m tired today. I can’t understand why I’ve got brain fog. I can’t think clearly. I’m feeling overwhelmed. What am I going to do about this?” It’s not about ignoring it. It’s about acknowledging, and saying, “Oh, okay, what meaning can I make from this? How can I grow from this? And what can I learn about myself? Maybe what I can learn is my limits, and I need to know. So, pushing myself as hard as I used to,” for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it sounds like these are all productive questions, “What can I learn from this? How can I grow from this? What meaning can I make from this?” Maybe the hard part is just sort of shutting down the alternative voice that can crowd out those questions before they start, like, “Oh, I was stupid. What was I thinking? Aargh, this sucks. I hate this. I want it to end right now.” So, any pro tips for, right in the heat of battle, how do we kind of head that off with a pass and shift gears into the more helpful questions?

Lea Waters
I think there’s two ways to go with that one, Pete, and one is mindfulness and the other is self-compassion. So, let’s start with mindfulness, and I think mindfulness helps you to slow your brain down, have that moment of perspective and pause where you can hear what the inner voice is saying, and so you’re able to catch that inner voice more quickly, and then make a decision, “Do I head off that inner voice or do I just show compassion because it does suck?”

What we’re going through does suck, Pete, and we do have our own overlay on top of that of, “I’m not good enough. I’m not getting enough work done. I’m not managing my time well enough. I’m not being a good colleague. I’m not being a good parent. I’m tired all the time.” And so, sometimes it’s about heading off those thoughts and then going on to those more constructive questions, and other times it’s actually more about that moment of self-compassion, which is a big area of study in positive psychology. And it’s about sort of reversing the Golden Rule and turning it back onto yourself, “Do to yourself,” and be kind to yourself and have that moment of mindfulness where you’re recognizing, “I’m struggling right now. I’m not feeling so good right now.”

And giving yourself that same compassion you would give to your colleagues or your friends when you see that they are struggling. So, just witnessing that struggle, embracing the suffering, “I’m tired. I’m distressed. I’m fearful. I’m fat, ugly,” whatever comes to you in that moment, and just being with it, and saying, “I’m sorry that you feel that way. Like, I recognize that you feel that way right now.” So, being in that moment, having that mindfulness, showing that sort of self-kindness, that self-compassion. And a big part of compassion is embracing the suffering but not feeling lonely in the suffering.

And so, recognizing that we’re all…everyone struggles, everyone suffers in their own way. Right now, that’s easier to see because it’s a global pandemic, and so we’re having this kind of shared struggle. But recognizing that, “I’m not alone and there are other people who are going through this,” and engaging in self-soothing techniques. Those self-soothing techniques can be just as simple as, like I said, that inner voice that says, “Oh, you know what? Yeah, you’re really tired. Maybe we can go to bed early tonight.” Or, self-soothing through ecotherapy that we talked about before. Self-soothing by reaching out to a friend.

One of the really basic parts of self-soothing is actually holding yourself. You can emotionally hold yourself but physically holding yourself, it seems like a funny or silly or embarrassing thing to do, but, literally, like wrapping your arms around your shoulders and giving yourself a hug in that moment, or patting yourself on the back. Or, a big one, and people tend to do this quite naturally, and you’ll often watch, our little kids will do this too, they do it quite naturally. So, getting your hand and just gently rubbing from your ear down to your shoulder blades, so rubbing that kind of right side of your neck, because what’s sitting underneath that right side of your neck, if you rub from your ear sort of down the right side of your neck and across your shoulder, is the vagus nerve, and that’s a major nerve that helps communicates between our brain and our digestive system, but also helps to calm us down.

Pete Mockaitis
So, this would be the right side and not the left?

Lea Waters
Right side, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Our right. It’s like I’m looking forward, I got my right eyeball, and it’s…and I’m on it, all right.

Lea Waters
Yeah. So, just gentle self-touch that’s why going back to that hand massage, when you’re washing your hands and having that moment of mindfulness. And another key self-soothing technique is helping yourself to laugh. And laughter doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, or whatever it happens to be. I had the very sad loss of, I lost my sister a couple of years ago, and she has a son, and we had that sort of moment a couple of weeks after she had died, and we’re deep in grief and just missing her so, so, so desperately.

And my nephew, who was 20 at that time, said a joke, and, honestly, it was dark humor but it was this funny little moment of like “How mom would’ve felt about this particular thing,” and we both cracked up laughing. But then he looked at me, and I could see he had this like feeling of this flash of like guilt, like, “Oh, was I allowed to do that? Was I allowed to have this moment of laughter?” in his really intense deep grief, and I was able to sort of look at him, and say, “It’s okay, mate. You’re allowed to. We’re still allowed to laugh even in the dark times.”

And so, for me, at the moment, I’m very intentionally looking at funny YouTube clips, funny memes. I’m asking my friends, “Anything you see funny? Like, pass it my way,” because in that moment of laughter, that changes our brain chemistry. Laughter triggers endorphins and it triggers dopamine. Laughter also resets our nervous system and, particularly, if you’re having that big belly laugh. When we laugh, our ribcage expands so our diaphragm expands as we’re sort of engaging in that laughter. And the reason that it does that is because, when we laugh, we exhale more forcefully, so we, “Ha, ha, ha.”

Because we’re exhaling more forcefully, we’re actually releasing more air, and so our lungs take back in, they have to kind of counterbalance by taking back in more. And because we inhale more deeply, it expands our thoracic region and it expands our ribcage. And why that’s important is because when we’re expanding our ribcage through laughter, the body’s intuitive system means that the expansion of the ribcage and its thoracic system, we’ve got a whole lot of nerves that run through that area. And so, it’s like the ribcage talks to the nerves, and says, “Hey, we’re expanding and we’re laughing and we’re happy.” And what that does is it triggers a relaxation response in our nervous system.

So, laughter changes our brain chemistry and it gives us endorphins and dopamine. It helps our brain but it helps our body because it talks to our nervous system. That’s why when you have that laugh, you have that really big belly laugh, and then you kind of sigh and kind of sit back in your chair, and like your shoulders kind of drop. And so, I’ve listed a whole bunch of self-soothing techniques there, Pete. I don’t know if there’s anything you want to sort of go into in more depth or…?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, that’s lovely. Thank you. And I’m just sort of imagining in my own mind’s eye how to enhance that all the more, like, “And do it in a bathtub or do it with a great blanket and space heater,” kind of whatever, just make the most of it.

Lea Waters
Yeah, absolutely. And the bathtub gets us back to the ecotherapy, and the blankets get us back to self-soothing and touch, particularly for those listeners who are experiencing heightened anxiety at the moment, and that’s really common for a lot of us. In fact, the sort of global research is coming back to show that, on average, people across the globe are experiencing sort of double the amount of anxiety than they were pre-pandemic. And I’m a person who struggles a lot with anxiety and always have all throughout my childhood and adult life, so my anxiety has really, really spiked at the moment. And touch is a really, really important part of helping to reduce our anxiety.

So, it can be that self-touch that we talked about before, washing our hands, massaging your vagal nerve, giving yourself a hug. But if you have a pet, hugging your pet as much as possible because that also releases oxytocin. And oxytocin is a neuropeptide. It’s a hormone that’s known as the love hormone or the bonding hormone. But when we have oxytocin, through touching ourselves, through touching another person, so hugging family, friend, obviously at the moment we’ve got physical distancing so you can only kind of hug those people that you live with or you know are safe, like pets. But you mentioned blankets.

So, blankets and pillows also create touch, and they calm our nervous system, and particularly weighted blankets. There’s some really interesting research now on weighted blankets. And weighted blankets, being helpful, if you are struggling with anxiety. Sleeping under a weighted blanket helps you feel safe, and it puts an extra level of just sort of weight onto you, which, again, sort of talks to your nervous system and helps to calm you down.

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

Lea Waters
No, I think we’ve covered a lot. I would probably just circle back to there’s lots of techniques to use. What has to underpin that, I think, are these sorts of three more enduring approaches. The first approach is the strength-based approach. So, identifying what our strengths are and how we can bring them into…how we can use our strengths to amplify our life when things are going well, and how we can bring them into times of challenge, in times of adversity. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” So, how can we come out of this, utilizing and knowing our strengths? So, that’s kind of the first approach.

Then the second one is just this idea that, “I can grow from this actually. That recent past that make me feel bad, I’ll have moments of distress, I’ll have days where I’m tired and I’m struggling, but I can come out of this with new priorities. I can come out of this with closer relationships. I can come out of this recognizing that I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

So, coming out with going in, and being in this experience, knowing that I can grow from it using our strengths, and then that third kind of underlying approach, which I think, at the moment, is just being compassionate to ourselves and others.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lea Waters
A quote?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Lea Waters
Yeah. I’ve really been living on quotes this last seven months during the pandemic. So, I started with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. The quote was, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” I was like, “Yeah.”

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

Lea Waters
Whoa, I’ve so many favorite books, I don’t know which one to say. What would be a favorite book of mine at the moment? I am re-reading Charles Dickens.

Lea Waters
I do have A Tale of Two Cities.

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

Lea Waters
I have a website which is LeaWaters.com. And remembering that my name is spelt L-E-A so LeaWaters.com. And please follow me on socials, Insta, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. I’m putting a lot out at the moment on just these basic little small micro-techniques that we can use to help ourselves cope with stress and amplify the best of us, our strengths and positive emotions, during this difficult time.

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

Lea Waters
I think our final challenge right now is know your strengths, use your strengths, and go to work tomorrow and be that strength mirror for someone else. If you see someone using a strength, call it out, acknowledge it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lea, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and positivity in your adventures.

Lea Waters
Thanks, Pete. It’s been a pleasure to be on the show.

628: How to Stay Challenged and Grow Your Career with Daniel Scrivner

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Daniel Scriver shares insights on how to develop your career from his experience as a college dropout turned designer turned CEO.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to develop new skills through self-teaching 
  2. Why Daniel left a dream job at Apple
  3. Why you should always seek discomfort 

About Daniel

Daniel Scrivner is the CEO of Flow. Previously he was the Head of Design at Digit and Square. He’s worked for some of the most respected brands in the world including Apple, Nike, Disney, and Target. 

Daniel advises world-class teams at companies like LendingHome, Empower, TrustToken, Designer Fund, and Notation Capital. He’s an early-stage investor in businesses like Superhuman, MixMax, Notion, Good Eggs, Burrow, Madison Reed, Stance, Almanac Brewing, and many more. And he’s been invited to speak at some of the world’s most prestigious organizations including Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z), General Assembly, Techstars, Designer Fund, and 500 Startups. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Daniel Scrivner Interview Transcript

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

Daniel Scrivner
Thank you so much for having me on, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into this conversation not the least reason of which because you have the fanciest microphone a guest has ever brought onto the show. Can you tell us the backstory of why you have such a piece of equipment?

Daniel Scrivner
Yeah, sure. So, I actually started recording my own podcast a few months ago and was debating in my mind kind of, as everybody does that cares about audio, what sort of a setup to get. The microphone that I use is the Neumann U 87. And I don’t have a great reason for that. I mean, just the only thing that I would say is, in my life, if there’s something that I enjoy, I never feel bad about buying, going for quality if I know that I’m going to use it for a really long period of time, and this seems fit to that vein.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. Okay. Well, I love it. So, I also love your story, so it’s pretty wild in terms of so you went from a dropout experience all the way to becoming a CEO with some exciting adventures in the middle. Can you please tell us the story of your climb and maybe the most compelling lessons along the way? And we’ll have a little back and forth as we do so.

Daniel Scrivner
Oh, sure. And I’ll try to keep it brief and feel free to jump in any time. But, yeah, as you alluded to, I definitely have an unconventional background. But what’s funny is it makes a ton of sense to me, obviously looking in hindsight, but when you said the words “the climb” I don’t know why but I don’t feel like it was really that. I guess that for just a little bit of context, a few things that maybe will help kind of makes sense of my journey is, one, I’ve always been a huge believer that if there’s anything in life you’re excited about, if you care enough about it, if you’re curious enough, you can teach yourself how to get good at almost anything.

So, what that’s I’ve done, and I sorted out my career, I focused on design. Specifically kind of web, digital design. This was back in the early 2000s, I’m a child of the 80s and 90s so I grew up with the internet being a really exciting, cool, new part of my life. And the quick backstory is, growing up, I was never attracted to anything design related. In fact, I hated art classes growing up. I never considered myself a very artistic person. So, how I kind of stumbled into design, as I think about it, is I was getting ready to graduate early from high school, this is going way, way back, I ended up taking a course one summer to get some extra credits, I just thought it would be a nice easy fun course about how to create HTML websites. And back in that point in time, creating websites now is a lot more complicated, back then all you needed to know was HTML.

So, I learned that class and I just got hooked on that I suddenly had the skill where I could take an idea in my mind, be able to use HTML to build it, and then I could tell my friends, “Hey, go and visit this URL,” or, “Hi, go and check this out,” and they could pull it up. And that just seemed like this magical thing to me.

And so, the way I stumbled into design was I started making these websites and thought I was going to be excited to share them with friends, but then nothing ended up looking like something I was proud of. So, it’s that moment where I was like, “I can make something but I want it to be cooler. Like, I care about this thing, I want it to be nice.” And so, that led me to this question of, “Well, what is that?” And, for me, it still is how I think about design as I think a lot shaped by that early experience. But my career now, I’ve been doing design at some level for 15 plus years, I’ve worked at companies like Apple and Square and with a bunch of other interesting cool brands.

But, for me, design is just the intersection of solving really hard technical or business problems and trying to pull it off in a way that you can create something that’s singular. So, ideally, it’s remarkable and that it’s unique and interesting and you’re contributing a new note to the melody but, at the same time, is beautiful and you’re kind of pulling off an artful twist.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, why don’t we get the broader view first and then we’ll dig into the details with one exception. Okay, so design, I’m not great at design and it always sort of kind of struck me as something – it’s funny, this show is about how to be awesome at your job and skills learning and growth and development, so I almost feel contradictory saying this. But it almost strikes me as something you’re born with, like you’ve got the designer’s eye, like you’ve got the touch, and I was like, “I don’t think I have it.” So, I always outsource my design and I think I know enough to say, “I don’t like that,” and “I love that.”

Daniel Scrivner
You’re a great client.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so funny, I love designers, I love working with them because I’ll tell them exactly, sometimes I feel crazy about my feedback, like, “As I behold that image, that part of it makes me feel like a little kid and you’re patronizing me,” and they say, “Oh, thank you. That’s great feedback.” I was like, “Really? Because I feel silly saying that out loud and like you’re going to bite my head off,” but the designer is like, “Oh, perfect. I know just where to go based on what you’ve said.” It’s like, “Great.”

Daniel Scrivner
No, I think that’s really all designers, I think, are looking for a lot of the times is just specific actionable feedback. As an example, one, probably the vaguest piece of feedback that I’ve ever received, and it was while I was at Square, and it was from the CEO Jack Dorsey who was looking at a design I did, and said something along the lines of, like, “It’s not whimsical enough.” And that definitely sent me down a like, “Oh, my God, what does that even mean? Like, what is that? Is it the color? Is it the structure? Is it the…?” I don’t even know. I didn’t even know where to go with that.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not whimsical. Well, because, oh, man, I think for like corporate design, it’s really easy to be too whimsical real fast, and it’s like, “I don’t trust this, what I’m looking, at all. This spinning helicopter hat.”

Daniel Scrivner
He wanted that dial cranked up and I was scratching my head for a long time.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s start there. So, learning design, that seems like a skill that’s hard for people to pick up if they don’t have some kind of aptitude for it but it sounds like you disagree. Lay it on me.

Daniel Scrivner
Yeah, I definitely disagree. So, I think, well, just to take a step back. I have definitely worked with a lot of engineers that have led me to believe that there are certainly some people that probably don’t get design, like don’t understand colors, just kind of don’t understand just aesthetics in general. So, I think you have to have some inclination or curiosity or a desire to do a lot of research to just develop a point of view about like what looks good and what doesn’t and what is that. And that’s something that’s very difficult to build up.

If someone were to ask me, “How do I figure that out?” I would say, “I don’t know. You need to watch a lot of movies, read a lot of books, look at magazines about architecture and car magazines,” because I think that’s one thing that’s always fascinated me about it is great design can work in any industry whether it’s an interior designer using color and shapes and symmetry and patterns and textures to create a beautiful inside of a house, whether it’s an architect using some of those same tools to create a beautiful structure.

What’s interesting about design is kind of, if you boil it down, it is extremely primitive in that it’s largely shapes, colors, tones, moods, so, I definitely believe that anybody can learn it. And I think that, for a little bit of the backstory there, so I’ve mentioned I’ve been doing design at some level for 15 plus years, and every single year I continue to get probably a handful of emails from somebody that saw my work or listened to an interview that I did, who writes in and says something along the lines of like, “I’m inspired by your story. This is something that I want to do. How do I figure this out? How do I start working as a designer?”

And the reply I always write back is probably not the reply they were expecting. In fact, rarely do I ever receive a reply back. But it’s just along the lines of, “Like, the way I was able to do that,” so if someone kind of understands my story and knows that I dropped out of college so I don’t have a college degree, I did that because I found in this thing that I loved and I didn’t want to put that off anymore.

But the way that I learned it was extremely basic and probably it’s just like hustle applied to trying to learn. But, for me, it was very much like, “I want to do this thing,” so my approach was just, “Okay. Well, I’m going to do free work to start,” so I literally got paid nothing when I first started, and I was going to, honestly, anybody I knew or anybody that knew somebody that I knew that wanted something designed, and typically that would be a business card or a logo or a website, and I would just do it for free because I knew that I wanted to be doing it, I needed to have a portfolio so I can get better work, land better clients, eventually start paying. And so, I really just worked my way up that way from literally the lowest level on the totem pole of doing free design work for people that I just knew, all the way to working for some of the largest companies and most respected brands in the world. But it very much was a, “I’m just going to take it one step at a time.”

And, for me, one thing that ties back to, which we can certainly explore, is something that’s played a big role in my life is what I refer to, what I call the growth curve. And, for me, it’s just the sense that I think the way I’ve been able to get to where I am today is by constantly trying to challenge myself. And I’ve done that multiple times in my career where I’ve left really comfortable jobs, not because I wasn’t excited about that work anymore, I was still very excited about the work I was doing at those companies, but because I felt like I needed a new challenge.

And I don’t really know, I sort of know where that comes from, but there’s something in me that once I’ve kind of figured something out, I get a little bit uncomfortable and restless. And so, I’m always trying to challenge myself and kind of climb this growth curve.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so there’s a lot in there right there in terms of going out and doing it and getting a lot of reps. It sounds like whether that’s doing your own work or observing other work. And I found, I think, it is interesting with design in that I think it’s taken me a while to get here and not that I’m a pro by any means but it really is, for me, it’s kind of uncomfortable for a while, it’s like, “I just need to kind of…” I feel it first and then I had to articulate it in terms of, “Being in this room feels awesome. I love it here.” It’s like, “Why?”

Pete Mockaitis
But then you start to get a few things. In, like, realtors, like they’re taking photographs of places, it’s like, “The top thing is it’s free of cluttered garbage.”

Daniel Scrivner
“It’s bright. It’s airy. It’s typically lots of light, lots of very clean white and stainless steel.”

Pete Mockaitis
“And there’s just not a lot of clutter.” And I think that’s huge right there in terms of…and that can apply to a space or to a layout or a website or whatever. Like, I think Oli Gardner, I heard on an Unbounce event, had a slide wherein someone was like begging like Oliver Twist, “Please, sir, one more link shoved into this website.” It is like, “No, you got to keep it focused.”

Okay, so by doing a large volume of work, and by pushing and challenging yourself, and by observing and reflecting, you got really good at this skill. So, the here we are in your story.

Daniel Scrivner
Over a long period of time.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now you’re great at design and you have made some stuff that looks good, and where does this story go next?

Daniel Scrivner
Yeah, so maybe that was the kind of first formative part of my career, and I think for me there was a moment in time that I still remember very vividly but at the time didn’t feel…honestly felt scary and I don’t know if I was optimistic but I was excited about it but, basically, to share a little bit of the story. So, I’m in high school, I take this class, I start doing work for free, literally, when I’m in high school, end up graduating six months early. A big reason why I did that was I just wanted to do more time doing design work and I felt like, “Why spend all my day in school if I can kind do more of this work that I really enjoy?”

So, I graduated six months early. Fast forward a couple of years, and I’m suddenly at the point in my early 20s at this point in time, probably 21, something like that, say, and I suddenly have this kind of fork-in-the-road experience where I’m in college at the time, I’m about to finish my undergraduate degree, getting ready to kind of pick and transfer to the university that I want to go to which, in my mind, is kind of my parents’ voices. They were always very much, “You have to kind of go through this order,” and one of those things that was non-negotiable was going to college, so I was like, “Okay.” And I know that’s what I should do or that’s what felt like what I should do.

But the other thing I had in the other hand was, at this point, I had done enough design work that I actually was getting paid to do it, and was really enjoying it, and had enough work that I actually had to turn down projects. And so, the fork-in-the-road moment was, “Do I continue with college, kind of go to a university, really focus on that experience for the next two years or do I decide to take a bet on myself?” And at that point in time, the way I was framing it, which was probably a little bit nice, is kind of pause school for six months. I ended up quitting the job that I had at the time so I kind of severed all of those things so I could go all in. And my only goal was, “Let me see if I can survive basically doing everything by myself.”

So, I would pitch clients, I would quote clients, I would give them estimates, I would do the design work obviously, hand off the designs, do all the kind of the clerical stuff and accounting stuff. I just did everything. In those six months, I ended up doing that. Initially, my goal was just to make it six months. I ended up making it six months and it wasn’t pretty. A lot of that was extremely challenging, it was extremely difficult, it wasn’t all stuff I was super excited about. Balancing books or collecting invoices or following up on payments is not the most exciting thing in the world compared to design, but I ended up doing that.

And what that ultimately led to was, fast forward another year past that, I ended up getting offered a job to go and work for an advertising agency in L.A. called DDB. That led, about a year and a half after that, to getting offered a job at Apple to join their marketing communications team which was when I moved to San Francisco, and I ended up being at Apple for three and a half years. And I credit that a lot with being my…if there was any real-world bootcamp-like education experience in my career, it was absolutely being a designer at Apple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s zero in on these particular bridges, leaps, transitions to DDB and to Apple. How did they find you and interview you, etc.? Was it just like, “Your stuff looks good, come on down”?

Daniel Scrivner
It’s effectively that’s the gist but the DDB, to be super honest, I have no clue. I cannot remember if they found me, if I found them, I’d never really heard of the firm before so it’s made me think.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, they’re huge.

Daniel Scrivner
They’re a big advertising agency but they’re not Ogilvy. They don’t have that kind of brand name recognition necessarily so that one I’m not sure.

The Apple one is, I think, a little bit more interesting. So, the Apple one was, at this point, I was, I don’t know, mid-20s, probably 25, something like that, 26, and I, for sure, obviously, Apple was an incredibly exciting company, and I think for a lot of designers, it’s the place you hope you can get to at some point in your career. And so, the way that kind of transpired for me is I have this job at DDB at the time in L.A. so I’m commuting to L.A. and I’m doing all that and I’m enjoying my work. It’s not the most exciting. I’m not doing the most challenging interesting modern stuff but I’m doing it. I’m an actual designer getting paid to do design work which is crazy.

And I end up getting an email from a recruiter at Apple. And for those that don’t know, Apple is definitely one of the companies that they have a large recruiting team, and their recruiting team, they really are looking for the best of the best or people that they feel like can succeed as designers in some department at Apple. And for people that don’t know as well, Apple is massive. Even in the marketing communications team, I joined as a marketing designer, I worked on a lot of Apple.com projects, I ended up getting to do a lot more interesting stuff kind of in my time there.

But Apple also has motion graphics designers which just do things like animations and transitions and videos. They have graphic designers which do the packaging and the identities for some of their products. If you look at like AirPods Pro, like that name on the box, that’s something that a graphic designer put together letter by letter, playing with the kerning, playing with the weight, trying to get that just right, so it’s a huge department.

So, to kind of get back to the story, my first thought, honestly, was this is spam. Like, “Let me see where this email is from. Let’s me see if it’s actually from Apple.com.” So, I end up looking at it a little bit, kind of looked up the name of the person who sent it, and it all checks out. And the way that worked initially was I was offered an opportunity to come to Apple and cover for a woman who was going on maternity leave for six months, so it wasn’t like, “Here you go, here’s a full-time offer.” It was, “We really like your work. We would like to have you on the team to start,” and this is also very common at Apple about, I would say, probably 50% of the creative team is all contractors so it’s not full-time employees, so that’s not uncommon.

But I came in on contract and kind of my approach was, “I’m going to soak up everything I can, learn everything I can in these six months, and I’m also going to try to prove that I have a place on this team, that I can contribute and I can be a good designer and a good kind of member on the team,” that’s a little bit of that story.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, recruiter. I’m curious, in both of these instances, did they just not care, like it doesn’t matter in the design world, or for you in particular, “Oh, you don’t have a degree? No problem”?

Daniel Scrivner
So, it’s really interesting. I would say, for both designers and engineers, number one, I think there are a lot of technology companies, it’s definitely not a deal-breaker. Like, I think Google, they’ve relaxed this policy, but Google is definitely out of the norm in their requirement, which I’m not sure if they have anymore, but they have had for a very long time, is a requirement that you can’t get hired unless you have some sort of a college degree. But, typically, at technology companies and at startups, it doesn’t matter.

And the way that I’ve always thought about it is the majority of designers I’ve worked with do not have a design degree, and I think that’s part of the problem is if you were to try to go get a design degree, you can get one but it’s what is typically called a Masters in Fine Arts. You’re going to be doing it for six years, you’re going to learn all these kinds of fundamental skills, which I would argue you could learn just as well on your own by teaching yourself because it’s just literally going in kind of design history, looking up work of famous designers, doing these mock projects.

And part of that was, the way that I thought about it was, because if we go back to the part of my story where I was deciding whether to go to college or whether to take this kind of six-month bet on myself, definitely in the back of my mind was, like, “I can go and study design,” but the sense that I had was I was going to be learning fake design. So, part of what you do if you go to a Masters of Fine Arts program is kind of like going to business school, and you do a bunch of case studies, which are perfectly fine. They definitely help exercise some of your mental muscles of like, “Here’s a problem. How do you figure it out?” But does it map to the real-world job of being a designer? Absolutely not.

The most difficult things involved in kind of being a designer at any level is stuff like, “How do you gracefully take feedback that you agree with or don’t agree with? How do you ask really great questions of another person’s work where you don’t want to offend them, you want to know and respect that they put a lot of work and energy and love into what they’re creating?” But you want to try to ask great questions to kind of spur and make sure that it’s as good as it can be. And so, there are all these skills in design that are largely very powerful but very soft skills. And the only way you can really learn them is by doing it.

And so, that was kind of my perspective at the time. And what’s been interesting is I’ve had the opportunity to work with quite a few people that have a Masters in Fine Arts degree, and I don’t say this out of disrespect for any of those people, it takes, obviously, a huge amount of hard work to go and get a Masters in Fine Arts degree. But did I think they were necessarily better day in, day out designers? No. And I think, typically, they would have kind of a chip on their shoulder a little bit of, “Well, this project is too good for me.” And I think part of what helped me was there was no project that was too good or not good enough for me. Like, I was excited to work on it and take it on if it was a design challenge. And I also just loved it and I think that there’s this kind of sense of enthusiasm and love that, I don’t know, maybe I didn’t get it beat out of me in college but I was lucky that way.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s a great perspective when you’re at Apple, it’s like, “I’m going to learn as much as possible in this place,” and in so doing your skills are sharpened. And so, what happens next?

Daniel Scrivner
So, I ended up at the end of those six months, I got offered a full-time position and I joined the Apple marketing they called it. I don’t know what’s called anymore but they called it MarCom internally which was short for marketing communications. But, basically, at the end of the day it’s like everything that’s not an ad on TV, that team did it.

So, I ended up getting offered a full-time position. Fast forward a little bit, about three years later, I found myself in a position I found myself in a few times now where when I first got offered the opportunity to join Apple, I thought, “Oh, my God, this is it. This is the place I’ve wanted to be. I can’t wait to be on this team.” And three and a half years later, again, really, like for me, I think a word that sums up a lot of how I approach the things that I love, which is both good and bad, but I think largely good is obsessive. And so, for me, with design, I just obsess over it. I would think about it all the time, I would constantly be working on little projects to try to improve my skills.

So, one of the things that I would always do when I was at Apple, and I think this is great advice for anybody that has a job, where it’s like you’re going to get better the more you do it. And if you challenge yourself with things that are slightly out of your comfort zone, you’re going to show up to work just a better all-around employee. But I would do things like, when I first joined…I knew how to put together a layout. In a layout, you can sometimes describe that as like if you go to, I don’t know, Apple.com, a layout is “What generally does this page look like? How do you chunk it out? What’s the typography there? Where are kind of the images?” It’s very similar to doing product design if you’re doing a layout for a screen.

So, I could do that but I suck at doing icons, and icons are this thing that they are like if you go and you open up your iPhone, if you have one, or Android phone, if you don’t, you look at kind of the app icons or the little graphics or symbols that you click on to get around an app, that’s icon design, and it’s both a very ancient form of communication. It’s based on hieroglyphs and cave paintings, and there’s a lot of those things that map almost literally one-to-one for kind of icons that we have today. So, it’s a very old form of kind of communications but I was really bad at it.

And so, one of the things I would do is just challenge myself, like, “I’m going to make an icon set of 30 icons I’m excited about.” And the way these projects always go is they’re absolutely brutal in that for 80% of the time I’m just like, “Oh, God, I’m not getting any better. What’s going on here?” And I just keep chugging through and trying to put one foot in front of the other again and again and again. And, inevitably, what happens is if I can just persist long enough, I’ll finally get to a place where it all snaps into place. So, I would do stuff like that.

But about three and a half years in, I just had this moment where I felt like I knew how to be successful at Apple. And what I mean by that, and hopefully it doesn’t sound egotistical, but in my mind, if you kind of take a step back and think of a place like Apple, they have a very recognizable aesthetic. Well, what does that mean? That means that there are rules that inform it and that there’s kind of like a construct and a framework for how they think about it. And so, if you can understand those things and get good at those, you can take on almost any project and figure out end time how to execute it in an Apple way.

And so, I’ve kind of gotten to that point and I had this moment where, again, I did this kind of flash forward, saw myself at Apple 10 years in the future, and thought that that would’ve been perfectly fine. And there are still times when I think back and wished that maybe I’d stayed a little bit longer just because there were such incredible people there and I learned so much and just enjoyed working with them, but I felt like that probably wasn’t the best thing for me. And part of what inspired me in that was, what I alluded to earlier, Apple has a lot of contract designers, and typically those contract designers, they don’t work at one company for longer than six months.

And one thing I observed that I thought was really interesting and different about the best of these contract designers were that when they were teed up a problem, they could look at it from ten different angles. And so, they could say, “Okay, I know,” as an example, say, something like take an example that came out today. So, Apple announced these AirPod Max, like headsets that you put on your head that literally are like headphones. And so, you would get teed up a project, like, “Hey, here’s this thing we’re going to launch soon. Figure out how to tell this story on a marketing website.” And you need to think that through.

But what I found fascinating about the people who had kind of a broad body of experience was they could look at it from a bunch of different angles. They could do a dark version of that layout, a light version of that layout. They could do something that felt super pop culture-y. They could do something that felt really minimal and restrained, and I thought that there was something really special there. And so, the kind of story I put together in my mind was, “Okay. Well, I think part of that is they just get to flex different muscles. They’re constantly taking on different challenges.”

And so, what that led me to think about was rather than stay at Apple, which would’ve been perfectly fine and would’ve been a great outcome, but rather than doing that, I think it’s time for me to challenge myself. And so, what I ended up doing, which was not at all common at the time, was leaving Apple, which when I was there no one left Apple. You didn’t leave Apple to go work somewhere else especially as a designer, and you definitely didn’t go to a startup, but I decided that I wanted to go and join Square. And Square, at that time, was about 50 people in size, it was in San Francisco, it was right in the city, I didn’t have commute, so that’s why I made that leap.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, I want to push fast forward a little bit. So, you went to Square, you did some great things, and now you’re the CEO of Flow. How did that come to be? And what is Flow?

Daniel Scrivner
Great question. So, yeah, I guess I’m trying to figure out how to back it into this question. So, if we go back a little bit in my story when I was really young, one of the things I talk about was just this belief that if you are interested in something that you could figure out how to do that. And I give a tremendous amount of credit to my parents. So, growing up, we would do things like it was very common, probably happened once a month where we would all get in the car, drive down to the biggest library nearby, spend hours and hours in a library.

And so, one of the things that I got, I have two younger brothers, we would all, literally all five of us, we’re a five-person family, we would split out, all go to different levels, find the books that we were interested in, and we would spend hours there. And at that point in time, we were kind of young, say, 10, 11, 12 kind of age. And so, one thing I got fascinated, just hooked on, that I can’t really still put my finger on it, and say, “Why?” was business and investing.

And so, in high school, I was reading books like The Millionaire Next Door, or, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, or, I can’t think of other ones, but like largely business and investing books that typically people aren’t interested in let alone in high school. I’ve just always been fascinated by that, and that’s something that still, today, I’m always…it’s another obsession I have, is I just love learning from investors. Why? Because I think they’re experts at kind of thinking through industries and companies and which company has the best odds to success and why. And I’m also really fascinated with entrepreneurs, and this is the idea of creating something of value that you end up charging more for than it takes to create, which still, to me, feels like kind of pulling off a magic trick that someone is willing to pay for that even though it costs less to make it. It generates profit and you can invest that in other things, so I have these interests.

So, fast forward, I end up leaving Square after five and a half years. At that point, the company had IPO’s, we were 1,500, probably 2,000 plus people at that time, had an incredible experience. But for anyone that doesn’t know, being at a company that goes from 50 people to 1,500 or 2,000, and from having a little bit of venture capital money all the way to IPO in five years, it is a brutal experience. It’s wonderful in so many ways but it is also an incredibly trying and difficult experience.

So, I got to the end of that, was super proud of what I had done when I was at Square, and the team that I was able to work with and helped build, but I knew, again, that I wanted to flex some different muscles. And so, what I did leaving Square was I started kind of exploring things that was entrepreneurial-like and investor-like, so I did. I started doing some venture capital investing, some seed investing in companies. I now have a portfolio of over a hundred that I’ve built up and I’ve learned a lot from that. I also started advising companies. One thing in San Francisco that, this is maybe changing today, you know, San Francisco is changing quite a bit at the moment with the coronavirus and just all the effects that that city is feeling.

But at the time I was there, it’s just packed with people that are really good at what they do, they have really interesting ideas. And so, what that means is there are a lot of startups that don’t get design but need design to be successful. And so, I started working with some of those to help them think about how to think about design on their side.

Fast forward a few more years, and I ended up…so Flow is owned by a company in Canada called Tiny. And Tiny is like a mini conglomerate. You can kind of think of it like a mini-Berkshire Hathaway. And I knew one of those founders, Andrew Wilkinson, for about 10 years, and this was going back, it’s like very serendipitous, but going back to being a designer early on. It’s a really small community. So, we kept in touch and kind of he was a designer, I was a designer, we would both kind of check out each other’s work and loosely stay in touch. Long story short, fast forward a bunch of years in the future, and he now has this company that has many sub-companies, Flow is one of them.

And so, for a little context about what Flow is. Flow, at this point in time, it’s a 10-year-old company. We focus on task and project management, software, largely for teams. And the way we excel, the way we kind of compete is by offering people a beautifully made product that is powerful but it doesn’t feel bloated and it feels like something you’re excited to work in. And the metaphor I use there a lot of the times is like WeWork office versus a cubicle. And if you think about productivity software, a lot of productivity software is the cubicle land, and we try to create this beautifully crafted piece of software that teams need.

So, we went to grab coffee. Flow, at that point in time, was not doing super well and they felt like they wanted somebody to come in and take over and someone ideally with design background that could kind of invest a ton in the product, create a vision for the product of where it was going to go from there. And so, I joined Flow two years ago, and over the last two years, I’ve been working on turning around the company.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, what a beautiful tale from making websites to you are heading up a company and are investing in businesses that are really cool. By the way, I use Superhuman for my email and I love it.

Daniel Scrivner
I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
So, wow, so what a journey. I’m drawing my own little lessons about really digging deep and then challenging yourself and learning from the people around you and keeping those relationships alive. But since we’re actually towards our final minutes here, why don’t you boil it down for us in terms of what do you think are the top do’s and don’ts for professionals looking to grow a career and advance in, hey, more fun wins, meaning in money, as we say here? If you want more of that over the long arc of your career from age 20 to age 60, 70, top do’s and don’ts, lay it on us.

Daniel Scrivner
I could probably talk about this for an hour so I’ll try to be as concise as possible just because I think there’s so many…like, one thing I think you’ll learn over time by working in a lot of different companies, by being at different stages of your life at different companies, it’s a very nuanced thing. So, I will share, I think, what’s helped me and people can decide whether that’s useful. But I think the big things for me is, ideally, you’re doing something that meets that bar of obsession. Like, in my mind, I’ve got a two-year old now, we’ve got another one coming on the way this right around Christmas, and with my kids, I think, the focus there is very much I just want them to find something that is energy-giving and life-sustaining. And I think if you can do that, then you have this…it’s almost like a nuclear fusion reactor where you have something that is just never going to run out of juice.

The goal, in my mind, initially was I wanted to find a couple of things, and at this point in time, that’s design, business, and investing, that I can think about, obsess about, read about, and try to get better at over the long course of my life. And so, find those things and then pour yourself into them. And what I mean by that is I highly encourage people, and again life is a single-player game, you have to decide if this is applicable for you. But, for me, something that’s always been really helpful is you find that thing that you love, then pour yourself into it. And what that means is not only giving 100% at work but, ideally, also doing stuff outside of work that challenges yourself and develops muscles that are probably related to what you at work but might help you prepare you for your next job, might help you prepare for the job you want five years or ten years, or what you want to be doing.

And I think back to my time at Apple, and I would work a full 10-, 12-hour day, get on the bus, do this fun little icon project. I didn’t do it every day. There were definitely days I was burnout or I just needed to shut off my brain but I’ve always had stuff like that going on the side. And I think people have different opinions about that. In my mind, I do the things that I love, and so what that means is there’s very little distinction between work and play, or work and real life. And so, I think that blurriness is really helpful.

And then I think another thing that I would suggest is to challenge yourself. Like, something that I have distinctly found is that the majority of people I’ve worked with are kind of limit their own trajectory by the belief they’re willing to have in themselves, the confidence they’re willing to have that they can overcome any hurdle, and just this deep sense that if they’re interested enough in something, if they want something bad enough, they can figure it out and they can do it.

And this isn’t a anything-in-the-world-you-can-have-go-for-it type kind of pep rally or speech. It’s just I think the way to kind of think about it is this very soft, just in the background confidence of if there’s a challenge that you see in front of you, believe in yourself, bet on yourself, and know that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you can find a way to push through discomfort, that there are really good things on the other side of that.

And then the other thing I would say is really throw yourself into that growth curve. I almost try to visualize it in my mind of I always want to be in a place where I’m pretty uncomfortable. Ideally, if I’m in a job or doing something and I’m committed to it, I’m really excited about it, I want it to be slightly out of my comfort zone. And I think this role that I’ve taken on with Flow is certainly that. The role I took on early on at Square was certainly that. When I was at Apple, it was certainly that. And I think if you string together kind of subsequent experiences that step, by step, by step, challenge you a little bit more, get you a little bit out of your comfort zone, make you do things that you don’t feel like you’re qualified for or you don’t think you can really do yet, I think the trick there is like a lot of people have this idea that, “I’ll do that once I can do it.”

And if that’s the way you think about it, you’re never going to do it. You just have to start doing, be willing to be bad at it, be willing to be uncomfortable, be willing to kind of cringe even at the quality of your work initially because that’s the price you have to pay in order to get better.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite book, something that you really dig?

Daniel Scrivner
Yeah. The book I was thinking about kind of before this interview that I think might be really applicable, maybe people haven’t heard of, that I really enjoy is a book called Principles by Ray Dalio.

And for a little bit of background there, Ray is the founder of a hedge fund called Bridgewater, it’s the largest in the world, they have a very different culture where they really try to go all in on this idea of meritocracy which is that there’s not really any hierarchy; it’s just kind of a group of peers, and anybody is as good as anybody else and it’s all about kind of the arguments you can make and the work that you’re able to do.

And so, that book is the output of the last 30 plus years of trying to build this company, and it really is what’s in the title. It’s a handful of principles that apply to working in groups and working as an individual. And I’ll stop there, I won’t spoil it, but it’s a thick book. I highly recommend you get the hardcover just so you can open it up and flip through it. You do not need to read it from cover to cover but it is an incredible work.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Daniel Scrivner
So, something I’ve been thinking a lot about, and this falls into the vein of like, “I’m not good at this yet, but I see the value in it and I want to double down on it,” is taking time to reflect each week. And this is something that I think, if I were to go back in time, this idea of reflection and what does that even mean, where you’re kind of pausing, you’re not doing any work, you’re going to stop sprinting, you’re going to stop focusing on your to-do list, you’re going to stop caring about your email, you’re just going to stop. Ideally, go somewhere where you can kind of think by yourself and sit down, and just really reflect on how things are going at the moment.

And, for me, I try to do that once a week for at least an hour. I have somewhat of a structure, I’ve a few questions I ask myself every single time. Some of those are really simply things but these are, at the end of the day, really profound questions, like, “Are there opportunities that are around me, or I have access to, or I see that maybe I just haven’t recognized?” And, especially in my role now, that’s true all the time.

Another one is, “Are there risks I haven’t recognized? How are things going? What’s going well and what’s not?” But I think taking time to reflect, the kind of metaphor I would have with that is, I think, reflection is something that almost none of us do often enough. The reason it’s important is because anytime in your life that you have a goal, you need to be able to know how you’re tracking and course-correct. And what I found in my own life is I would reflect once a year, maybe by doing New Year’s resolutions, or once a month, or once every six months, and that’s okay. But I think if you can get that down to where you’re spending a little bit of time, it can even be 20 minutes or 15 minutes once a week, what it allows you to do is it just tighten up and kind of keep you on track with where you’re headed. So, I would say reflection is big.

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

Daniel Scrivner
They can visit my website to see the podcast episodes I record, to see the stuff that I write at DanielScrivner.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanielScrivner and they can learn a little bit more about my podcast if they’re interested at Outliers.fm, and about Flow at Getflow.com.

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

Daniel Scrivner
I call it kind of the alpha challenge but one thing that I have written on a Post-It that’s a little bit trite but I find it really helpful is just, “If you weren’t afraid of the consequences, what’s something that you would try that you likely wouldn’t try otherwise?” And so, I think asking yourself that question, really thinking about that and being open with what that answer is, bring that whatever answer you write down, you have to give yourself permission, you have to believe in yourself that you can go and figure that out, and you can go and do it.

And so, I would challenge people to ask themselves that question, “What’s something that you would want to do that if you didn’t care about the consequences and weren’t looking at feeling or any of that stuff?” and take that answer and bet on yourself and figure out where to take that.

Pete Mockaitis
Daniel, this has been such a treat. I wish you lots of luck with Flow and your challenges and all you’re up to.

Daniel Scrivner
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been awesome.

626: Mastering the 2-Hour Job Search That Generates Dream Interviews with Steve Dalton

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Steve Dalton says: "You got to get comfortable with turning strangers into advocates."

Steve Dalton details his systematic process for securing dream interviews.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to generate 40 target employers in 40 minutes 
  2. Three effective ways to reach out to potential advocates 
  3. The 6 crucial elements of the 75-word networking email 

About Steve

Steve Dalton is a senior career consultant and program director for Duke University’s full-time MBA program. He holds his own MBA from the same institution and a chemical engineering degree from Case Western Reserve. 

Steve is also the founder of Contact2Colleague, a corporate training firm that helps organizations increase retention, drive sales, and develop internal expertise by teaching their employees to proactively and systematically build better professional relationships. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Dalton Interview Transcript

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

Steve Dalton
It’s my pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear you consumed zero carbs for a six-year period of time. Why and how and what happened here?

Steve Dalton
Desperate times, desperate measures. This was just right around when I’d finished writing The 2-Hour Job Search, I pulled my hamstring, I’m an avid soccer player, and was still eating like I was playing soccer all the time and packed on some pounds pretty quickly. So, drastic measures had to be put in place. I had just finished reading The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferris, who walks through kind of kind his slow carb plan, and took off a bunch of weight right away but I loved how binary his diet was. There was stuff you could eat, and stuff you could not eat, and stuff you could eat, you could eat in any quantity. So, it’s very simple. There was no food anxiety. And then he had a cheat day every week waiting for you on Saturdays, which was the most glorious day ever every week. Christmas every week basically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, then with zero carbs, I mean, don’t you just feel miserable? Tell me.

Steve Dalton
Initially, yes, but then you get used to not having sugar rushes and crashes. Your whole affect mellows out. I liked it so much that even after I lost the weight in the first three months, I decided to stay on it for six years just because I liked how much simpler it made living and food decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well. So, you liked simplicity and you talked about The 4-Hour Body, but we’re talking about your book “The 2-Hour Job Search.” Now, that also seems so good to be true. What is it exactly that we’re able to accomplish in two hours of job searching?

Steve Dalton
Great question. And this is something that people get wrong. Sometimes they think the 2-hour job search, “I’ll have a job in two hours,” or the 2-hour job search, “I need to do two hours of job searching every night,” and that’s neither of those things. It’s the amount of time that it would take you, starting from scratch, if your boss tells you, “Steve, you’re fired. Start looking for a job right now.” If it is 5:00 p.m., by 7:00 p.m. you will be done for the day. Any additional effort would be extraneous, any less effort would be insufficient.

But in that two hours, you can structure a strategic job search from scratch, come up with an adequate list of targets, put them in a logical order of attack, and initiate your first batch of outreach. After that first two hours, you simply need the help of others to make any further progress.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there you have it. So, let’s dig into all of that. So, we are figuring out what we’re after, the targets, we’re doing the outreach, and then after that we have to start talking to other humans to get some insights and input and to see where the path unfolds, huh?

Steve Dalton
Yes. Nothing is arbitrary. But after that first two hours, the amount of work you do in a given day is truly driven by your response rate back from the people that you reach out to. And there’s if-and-then statements for every step of the process from that point forward. I can give exact instructions after that first two hours. And even for the first two hours, the majority of that two hours will be implementing and structured rather than creatively curating a bunch of tips. It’s more like a recipe than a list of ingredients.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure thing. All right. Well, could you maybe start us off by telling us an inspiring story of someone who followed this process and saw good things happen?

Steve Dalton
I think my favorite story of this, of someone implementing this process, this attendee at one of my sessions, had applied for a job online and didn’t hear back right away. So, he heard about this book, picked it up, and started following The 2-Hour Job Search process. So, he reached out to a contact at the company, did an informational meeting. That led to a referral to another meeting who did screening interviews which he passed. Got to the second-round interview, got to the final interview, got the offer and got the phone call from the company, and he was delighted. And the whole process took him about a month or a month and a half.

The day after he got his phone call offer, he got the automated email response from the company’s website, saying, “I’m sorry. There’s no match for you right now. We’ll keep your resume on our database for future reference.” He was two entirely different candidates just by being the same exact person. When you go through online job postings, you are a different candidate fundamentally than when you take an advocacy-based job search approach.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s quite the distinction. Please unpack that. So, advocacy-based versus online, how do each of them look, sound, feel in practice?

Steve Dalton
I equate the modern online job posting job searches fishing for fish in a poorly stocked pond where if you spend eight hours fishing today, and you don’t catch anything, you are no closer to catching a fish tomorrow when you go back out towards that lake and start fishing over again. You start over again, it’s a raffle ticket that didn’t pay off so you have to buy more raffle tickets.

I equate the two-hour job search or, more generally, an advocacy-based job search to fishing for lobster. Lobster don’t swim up to the hooks, so you buy cages that you bait and you check the cages every day or two to see if you caught anything. That we never know with certainty that any particular lobster cage will ever catch you a lobster but you do know with certainty the more cages that you have baited in the water, the better your odds are of catching a lobster eventually, so your odds improve over time. Eight hours spent procuring or creating cages and checking on them in the water, your odds of catching that lobster go up over time as opposed to being just eight hours spent furiously marching in place, like that same amount of time spent applying online to job postings.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, walk us through here. So, two hours, we’re buckling down, we’re making it happen, we’re going to make some cages and bait them and set them. What are we doing?

Steve Dalton
First thing is we got to come up with an adequate consideration set. I’m a big TV nut, I’m also very sensitive to awkwardness, but I do like to start off my talks and use this analogy in the book, of “The Bachelor,” the TV show, the TV phenomenon. It’s much better to be the bachelor on “The Bachelor” than one of 25 contestants vying for the bachelor.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely.

Steve Dalton
Like, the bachelor got on the show called “The Bachelor,” hats off to you, sir. That’s well-played. I don’t understand why a woman would go on that show or why a guy would go on “The Bachelorette” though because supply is restricted, demand is stimulated, there’s an opportunity costs, you got to give up several months of normal dating, so there’s so much bad about that.

So, step one is taking yourself out of that one-of-25-contestants over and over mindset. And the way that you do that is you come up with an adequate consideration set. We brainstorm many employers. When people don’t have a systematic way to brainstorm target employers, they tend to just come up with the first few that come to mind and that becomes the entirety of their list but that doesn’t take away what I call artificial desperation.

Artificial desperation is where you have an artificially small consideration set. Where you need every conversation or every employer to work out because you don’t have enough backups to give you that confidence, that laissez-faire attitude that the bachelor can take into being exactly on the show called “The Bachelor.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, exactly. “Hey, this day doesn’t work out. It’s all good. There’s 24 more.”

Steve Dalton
Exactly right. Exactly right. Yet I see very smart people go into their job searches under that “I’m one of 25” assumption over and over and over again. After you do that enough times, you’ll get used to people treating you poorly and ignoring you. That takes a toll on your confidence. And once you start admitting that desperation, your prospects for success diminish greatly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then we need a larger set, not just, “Hey, a four or five.” Like, “Hey, I know four or five consulting firms or insurance agencies, so that’s it,” but rather many more. And so, you say there’s a structured brainstorming approach to build that list way out. What is it?

Steve Dalton
The technique is called the LAMP list. So, LAMP, I’m a former strategy consultant so there’s acronyms for lots of steps here. The L is for the list of employers itself, the first step of the LAMP list-making process, which in total takes 70 minutes, is to come up with a list of 40 employers in 40 minutes. That’s a little bit overwhelming so we split that into four different 10-minute chunks, four different brainstorming methods, 10 minutes each.

Once we have that consideration set then we find three pieces of data, the A, M, and P in LAMP, for advocacy, motivation, and postings, that are easy to find and predictive of success. And that takes the balance of the remaining 30 minutes of the 70-minute process. Once we have that raw data in there, we can sort the list so that we can identify our top six based on data. We’ll tweak that top list for our own intuition.

Once we have that top six identified, we initiate outreach to that top six simultaneously so that we are the bachelor in our own job search where we’re juggling multiple employers off of each other and we don’t become overly invested in any single one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Steve, you have boiled this down to a mechanized science. This is impressive. So, let’s dig into a bit of detail here. So, yeah, let’s say we’re brainstorming here. I want to get 40 employers listed in 40 minutes. How do I go do that?

Steve Dalton
I recommend four different brainstorming methods. So, the first is the brain dump, the dream employer method, I call it. So, all those employers you thought, “I need to do a job search. Here are the ones I want to obsess over. I want to voluntarily become fixated on them like one of 25 contestants obsesses over the bachelor.” Write those down. Get them out of your head onto paper because they’re going to probably be in your top six but we need to brainstorm beyond them now. So, dream employer method.

If you can come up with a name for what those employers have in common, you can Google it. A list of strategy consulting firms, a list of companies headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, whatever kind of drove you to come up with that handful. A lot of people, I’ll give them 30 seconds to a minute to do this live in my talks. They’ll come up with anywhere between two or three on the low end and 10 to 15 on the high end. So, some people are already a quarter of the way there in that first minute, but then we can use Google to extrapolate beyond that.

The second method is the alumni method or the advocacy method. So, find a database of people who share a background with you, whether it’s a school you most recently attended or maybe the transitioning veteran community if you’re coming out of the military, and see where people like you are now currently employed, to brainstorm these employers a different way.

Pete Mockaitis
So, database like your school alumni database or LinkedIn grouping of sorts.

Steve Dalton
Absolutely, both of those.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Steve Dalton
The third is kind of the intuitive, the Indeed.com method, the posting method. So, let’s look up postings where they’re looking for people just like you. The catch is we’re not going to apply to these postings because those are blackholes. We’re going to use those to identify employers that are expecting to hear from you, people like you right now. It’s just a different way to brainstorm employers that you may not have come up with using the other two methods.

And the fourth and final one is the trend method. So, read for fun for 10 minutes. Whatever kind of professional adjacent reading that you do, do that. But anytime you come across an organization doing interesting work, recognize that that’s a potential employer and you found it doing something you do organically. Warning for free, in your spare time, I want to find a way to get you paid for that. So, those are the four different methods to come up with 40 employers or more in 40 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I guess what’s interesting is, as you dig in, I could see them multiplying a few ways. Like, sometimes I like to play with NAICS Codes, the North American Industry Classification System. If you have access to a database like, well, back in the day it was OneSource Business Browser but I think, maybe, Hoovers is where it’s at these days, perhaps. So, you can sort of enter in the code and then see others. Or, you go to LinkedIn and see one person who’s in a role at a firm, and go figure the people also looked at also tend to be people who are on other firms.

So, can you tell us, what are some of your other favorite ways that just multiply, “Hey, I have five and I Googled, I looked at a database”? Are there any particular tactics that are just like “This is stupid easy to get a big list fast”?

Steve Dalton
My favorite is a tool called Crunchbase. It’s actually an investor’s website but it’s brilliant at helping job seekers brainstorm employers quickly all for free. So, you have to accept that they’ll only show you the first five results of whatever search you do, but the first five results, you can just find an industry and pick that one company that you know you really want to work for, look it up, and Crunchbase, it’ll give you a handful of industry names for it. Are you interested in Betterment because it’s impact-investing or is it because it’s a fintech company, for example? Click on whichever industry level you find most compelling and then narrow it down to just “fintech companies based in California” if you know you need to stay in the West Coast.

So, you can use three filters for free and it will keep showing you the first five results for free over and over and over again if you slightly change your search terms. But what I love about this approach is it gives you a very Tinder-like interface. It keeps suggesting employers to you as many of which you’ve never heard of but it gives you this nice one-sentence description where they’re based. And if you see something you like, you swipe right, you put it in your Add Column. If you see something you don’t like, you swipe left and you never think about it again. But I love how free and elegant and practical and applied that Crunchbase can make the act of brainstorming employers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Crunchbase is good. And that also gets me thinking about just like the Fortune or Global 500 or 1000 list for kind of the biggies, or the Inc. 5000 list for high growth, and, yeah, so I hear you. What previously sounded like maybe too good to be true, 40 employers in 40 minutes, now sounds kind of easy. So, thank you.

Steve Dalton
A pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’ve got our list. What next?

Steve Dalton
Okay. So, we found our three pieces of data. Once we found our three pieces of data, a key tenet of the LAMP list is the assembly line approach, “Let’s do the same task over and over and over again in rapid succession to get some efficiency on it.” So, let’s figure out which of these employers do you have alumni from your most recent organization, be it the military or be it your most recent school? It’s just a simple yes or no.

The next column is your own motivation. How motivated are you to reach out to these employers knowing that the majority of people you reach out to are going to ignore you? Do you have the desire to keep trying though? And then the posting column, let’s see how relevant their current job postings are to see how urgent each individual employer, out of your 40 or more, is. Now we can put them into a logical order of attack. Motivation, we sort by first, then by postings, then by alumni, and we see these are what the data our top six should be.

Now, we use our intuition, “Do we want to switch that top six around?” so, we can fudge the results a little bit. I want people to be anchored by data not intuition. Once they’re anchored by data, then they can override with intuition to their hearts’ content. Then, once we’ve got that top six, then it’s time to identify promising-looking contacts and initiate our outreach.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how do I do that?

Steve Dalton
A great question. So, for each of these top six employers, now we can drill down a little bit. I have a hierarchy for how to choose promising-looking contacts. First and foremost, you’ve got target people who are functionally relevant, people who have the job you want right now or want one day, ideally one to two levels above you. But when I wrote the book, initially, back in 2012, I recommended kind of that alumni connection over functional relevance but now reach out to people who have the job you want. This process is built around doing informational meetings efficiently and it’s really hard to do a good informational meeting with someone whose job you don’t really care about and you don’t really want to learn more about. So, you’ve got to start with that functional relevance piece.

Then, if you have lots of options, choose an alum. If you still lots of options, choose someone one, two levels above where you would start. If you still have lots of options, choose somebody who’s been promoted while at that company because they’ve got more social capital to spend on behalf of a job seeker.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say lots of options, am I just going into LinkedIn to see the lineup of human faces and names? Is that where I’m going?

Steve Dalton
Yes, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Steve Dalton
LinkedIn is a great tool for this if you are savvy enough to access their all filter search. The best way to get to it is just click on that top box in LinkedIn, don’t type anything in, just hit Enter. That’ll bring up a ribbon at the top that will ask you to fill in some filters. If you go all the way to the right of the screen, it says All Filters. Hit that, that will bring up the Advance Search or the custom search where you can just plug in, “Okay, I want people at this company currently. Okay, let me add my school in next. Let me add a functional keyword into the job title section,” and you can narrow down your results that way iteratively.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, if we’ve got some folks and we prioritize by a role function similar to what we’re after, and they become promising if we have some kind of a connection, like, or commonality, alumni or something going on, and so what happens now? I’ve got the companies, I’ve got people out those companies, and what do I do?

Steve Dalton
It’s time to unleash the fury. So, we are going to figure out how to get in touch with these people. So, I have a hierarchy for finding the most effective way for getting in touch with each of these people. LinkedIn Groups, to me, are the best-kept secrets in a job search. If you share a LinkedIn Group with someone, which people often do with their schools that they’ve attended, you can message them directly, you don’t have to pay for in-mail, you don’t have to even check your alumni database in a lot of cases. So, LinkedIn Groups is the best option if you have it available to you. And there’s tools out there that will help you find email addresses directly for certain companies as well.

Pete Mockaitis
So, like Hunter.io or what are those things?

Steve Dalton
I love Hunter. Yeah, I’m a big fan of Hunter. It’s the best combination of power and replicability. You can use it 50 times free for a month, and I’m a big fan of free in the job search. I think it’s kind of cruel to ask job seekers to pay money in order to make money. So, once we’ve got our contacts identified, the contact information found, it’s time to unleash the fury, send one email to our favorite contact to each of our top six employers.

Pete Mockaitis
And just before we get into the content of the email, you say a hierarchy of ways to contact them. So, are you saying LinkedIn message versus email versus…? What’s the alternative and how do we choose?

Steve Dalton
LinkedIn Groups are my favorite because you lead with your affinity group. You don’t even have to provide a subject line for that LinkedIn message; LinkedIn provides it for you. This is different than a LinkedIn invitation to connect. While that is easy because all you have to do is just invite to connect, even if you customize it, what I find happens to you frequently is your desired contact will accept your connection request but never reply to you. So, I like that better as a backup.

Pete Mockaitis
Darn it, people. Sorry, guys.

Steve Dalton
So, LinkedIn Group connections, I like that it’s a little bit more thoughtful than a generic LinkedIn invitation to connect, and, plus, I think you just proportionately hear back from the helpful kind of contact when you contact them through LinkedIn Groups, and that’s a very important distinction that we’ll talk about a little bit later. It’s not about getting anybody to respond but it’s getting the right kind of person to respond because only a subset of the population at large are actually going to be helpful in your search.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we might do an email via that we discovered via Hunter.io or another tool. We might do a LinkedIn message which we can pull off via knowing about them or having a mutual group connection. And I guess, by the way, go ahead and join some groups to get more of those. That’s easy and click, click, boom. Done. And so then, what goes into the content of this message?

Steve Dalton
Oh, this is such…this took a long time, like creating this process, it was a recipe that I had to cook myself. This whole process, “The 2-Hour Job Search” was developed during the 2008 financial crisis when I had a particularly devastated student who lost her offer, who had the ability to follow instructions but not the ability to curate tips. And so, that set me off, like, “How do I create this recipe for exact steps for sourcing your own interviews?” because that’s where people seem to struggle the most.

So, we get to the LAMP list which is great. People love that, they love having a top six, they know how to find contacts. But what do we write them? And that was where I got stuck for a good long while. The aha moment I had was when I read Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. He’s my colleague at Fuqua, wrote a wonderful book, he’s a behavioral economist. Read all of his books; they’re great. But he had a particular study where he found that you were just as likely to get a stranger’s help helping you move a couch when you offer them nothing as when you offer them $50. But if you offer them $5, you’re far less likely to get their help.

So, he calls this switching from social norms to market norms, when you offer nothing, you have this ambient success rate. When you offer a token, any sort of compensation, immediately your success rate drops off until you offer like a market rate for that work. It’s not about altruism plus $5. It stops being about altruism altogether.

So, what clicked for me is that my whole life I’ve been told to sell myself but, in reality, the people who will help you get jobs, especially in down markets like the 2008 financial crisis and the one we’re experiencing right now, I’m never really going to get anything out of it, they’re not going to get $50 for it, so it’s better just to stick to asking for favors. And that’s a very different email than what people are traditionally told to write when job searching.

So, instead of selling yourself, ask for favors. It’s a much simpler email to write. And once you kind of coalesce around that concept, you can really optimize this email to get in touch with the right segment of the market in terms of people who are going to help you find you jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think it’s more appealing as a recipient in terms of like, “Oh, you think you’re really something special. Okay.”

Steve Dalton
“Hey, stranger, let me tell you about why I’m so awesome.” Like, that’s really weird. Nobody does that. Why is that okay in the job search?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s the positioning, it’s like we’re asking for a favor as opposed to saying, “Here’s how amazing I am.” And so, you say there is a six-point email.

Steve Dalton
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Lay it on us. What are we doing with here?

Steve Dalton
The six-point email, so first, there are six points that make it what it is. I’m terrible at naming things, as I mentioned. But each of these points is designed to remove a reason why a helpful contact, a particular type of contact that I call a booster, the one who is predisposed to respond to requests for favors from job seekers. Each point is designed to remove a reason why they might not respond.

So, the six points are: keep your email short, so under 75 words in the body; put your connection to them early in the email; ask a question rather than making your ask in the form of a statement; define your interest specifically.

Pete Mockaitis
With a question mark.

Steve Dalton
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m with you.

Steve Dalton
Rather than a period. Define your interests both specifically and more broadly, so give them a genre of the type of company you’re trying to learn more about or the type of role you’re trying to learn more about. Make at least half of the word kind of about them rather than you. And I think that is…oh, ask for advice and insight, don’t ask for job leads.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when you say make half of it, okay, so 75 words or less. We’ve got to cover how we know them, and then half is about them. So, give us an example. I mean, every word really counts in here. Let’s hear it.

Steve Dalton
So, I might reach out to a product manager at Waymo, so my subject line will be something like “Your product management experience at Waymo.” What I like about this is them-focused rather than me seeker-focused and they also don’t know if it’s a job seeker email or it’s from an executive recruiter.

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say it could be from a head letter, yeah.

Steve Dalton
It could go both ways so it increases our open rate. “I’m a fellow Duke MBA. I was wondering do you have some time to tell me about your product management experience at Waymo? Your insights would be greatly appreciated because I’m trying to learn more about product management in the autonomous vehicle space.” That’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re not asking for a time, a conversation, a 15-minute. We’re just like, “Do you have some time?”

Steve Dalton
Yep. Keep it open-ended. Most people will offer you a half an hour but it’s really up to their discretion how much time they want to give to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, what’s kind of comfortable, what I kind of like about that is sometimes I really do have like 10 minutes that it’s like, “Hey, you know what, between this thing and that thing, a 10-minute call would actually probably be perfect. And maybe I could go for a little walk on my treadmill or outside, and I could feel good about myself because I’m being helpful, and I’m getting some mix and some variety in my day.” Versus if you pitch a specific time or amount of time, then it’s more binary. It’s like I’m saying, “No, I cannot do what you’ve asked for,” and I feel like a cheap stingy jerkface if I say, “I can give you eight minutes at 1:42.” It’s like, “Why do you ask for 30?” But you’d rather have those eight minutes than zero minutes if I’ve got them for you.

Steve Dalton
Correct. I think it’s even more practical than that. I define, I think there are three segments of contact that people will encounter in their job search. There are boosters, who are our target audience, but there’s also a kind of person who never responds under any circumstance. I call them curmudgeons, they’re awful people, they hate babies, or they’re delightful people who just don’t want to help you job search or can’t right now. They’re not the worst segment.

The worst segment is a group I call obligates. Obligates want to appear to be helpful but they don’t actually want to be helpful so they make reasons why they can’t or they’ll respond slowly. And sometimes they won’t respond at all, they’ll make you follow up or they’ll set up a meeting with you but then cancel at the last minute. They’re dangerous because they give you a negative return on effort. Whereas, curmudgeons give you a zero-return effort. They ignore you. They don’t lead you on. I call them obligates because they are motivated by a sense of obligation. They’ve gotten help in the past. They want to do just enough to save face and simulate paying it forward without incurring the inconvenience of doing so.

But boosters are really our target audience. I would put them in about 10 to 20 percent of the population. And, remember, I said we’re going to reach out to six people at once, or one person at each of six companies once. If we do that, do we offer them each different times, because that’s a lot of calendar searching we got to do?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, yeah.

Steve Dalton
Or do we offer them all the same times and then occasionally we’ll get double-booked and we have to flake on somebody, yeah. So, with a 10 to 20 percent response rate to the six-point email, I want to see who’s a booster, who’s going to engage with me, and I define boosters as being people who respond to six-point emails within three business days. I think any longer, they know they’re probably not being that helpful. Three business days is kind of that sweet spot.

Once they respond within three business days, then we’ll offer them a bunch of time but we know they’re probably boosters so they’re worth that calendar search. Before that point though, we’re doing a lot of intense calendar work for people who are most likely going to ignore us or lead us on.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Understood. And then how do we go about tracking and/or following up and/or is it okay to reach out to, I don’t know, 50 project managers at Microsoft? Or how do we think about these games of the numbers and the tracking and the follow-up?

Steve Dalton
That’s the million-dollar question. When are you done with these firms? I recommend going until you find one true booster, a booster who you say, “If you were me, is there anything else you’d be doing to maximize my chance of getting an interview with your company?” If they say no, you’re good. You’re probably good. If they say, “Ah, just keep talking to people. I don’t know, maybe.” That means they’re probably an obligate who didn’t find a nice way out of this relationship with you, so we need to start back over to find a true booster.

But once you have a true booster who can act as your eyes and ears, your triage agent within that employer to help plug you in to the right spots to get interviews, we’re done. If they say, “We can move on,” then okay. Number one in our list is checked off. Let’s move down to number seven from our original LAMP list because we have time for a new company to promote into our top six. And we kind of go into our management mode for the companies that we’ve already successfully found boosters at.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, let’s say we send a note to a booster, you say three business days is about what you expect. If we get no response, do we follow up or not so much?

Steve Dalton
Yes. So, I recommend a process called the 3B7 routine for your actual outreach within a company. So, basically, it’s called temporal construal theory. We do high-order thinking in advance of a decision than we do in the heat of the moment of making that decision. So, when we send the email, we’re thinking very clearly. After we’ve been ignored by someone for a week or two, we’re not thinking as clearly about when to follow up or whether to follow up, “Oh, this will be awkward. I’ll just be annoying them.”

When we send the email, we can be ice cold. Set a reminder for three business days later. That reminder will tell us, “Are they a booster or not? Have we heard from them yet or not? If not, let’s try a second person in parallel. Let’s hedge our bets.” If we don’t hear within three business days, it’s unlikely we’re going to hear at all so let’s hedge our bets because they’re probably not a booster. Let’s try a second person so that we don’t wait another week to get ignored by somebody before taking further action. At seven-day business day reminder, that’s the signal to follow up with unresponsive contacts just to protect your own brand to show that you care enough about this opportunity to follow up once and only once with each person that you reached out to if they’re unresponsive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the three days is, “Okay, talking to someone else.” And then the seven is going back to that first person and saying, “Hey, okay.” And then any special verbiage you put in that follow-up email?

Steve Dalton
I used to recommend kind of forwarding the original email and saying, “I’m just following up on my email from last week. I want to know if now is a better time to talk.” Now, I’ve just changed my tune on this. I recommend sending the exact same email but through a different channel. So, same email, just assume they missed it. But if the first attempt went to them through a LinkedIn Group, my second attempt would go through finding their direct email address on Hunter. If my first attempt went to them through their work address on Hunter, my backup would be through a customized LinkedIn invitation to connect. So, same email, different channel. Next one down on that hierarchy that I teach.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I like that because even if they saw both of them, it’s totally reasonable. It’s just sort of like, “Oh, he probably thought he got the wrong one. So, okay, so he’s trying something else. That’s cool.”

Steve Dalton
A chance for them to save face.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. And so then, let’s say they say, “Yes, Steve, happy to chat next Thursday at 10:00 a.m.,” you say, “Cool. Thanks so much.” What are some of the critical things you want to cover in that conversation?

Steve Dalton
Again, I’m very anti-sales. Most people are. It’s just an outdated way of thinking of this kind of constant sell-yourself mode. What we need to do is take the stranger on a journey. Our goal for this conversation is to turn this complete stranger to an ally over the course of a half an hour conversation. So, the journey that I recommend, first, we need to establish likability. So, that’s where small talk will always kick these things off. Doing effective small talk is more about listening well than speaking well. So, interested is interesting. It’s just a wonderful phrase. The easiest way to get someone to be interested in you is to take a genuine interest in them.

So, I have a three-question algorithm that I recommend for people doing informationals for small talk to get off to the right start because I’m not a naturally charming person. But small talk at the beginning of informationals is largely pretty predictable so you can manage it kind of very methodically. So, once we’ve established some likability with good small talk, letting them talk about themselves, like demonstrating that we’re listening to what they’re saying, then we need to prime creativity.

So, they’re kind of liking us, we’re listening to them, if we ask them for advice right away, they’re not really primed to think creatively yet. They’re going to give us pretty obvious stuff so we want to prime creativity first by asking them why they’re so good at their job. Portray them as an expert in their field. This gets us into what I call the tiara framework. So, that kind of automates this journey.

So, the first half of tiara is trends and insights, T and I. These are questions like, “What trends are most impacting your industry right now? How has business changed most since you started?” Insights are a little more personal and sort of macro in scope, so, “What surprises you most about this job?” Nobody wants to give you a bad answer to, “Why are you so good at your job?” so this is the point of primed them to think creatively.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m actually average to mediocre, Steve.”

Steve Dalton
Exactly. Exactly. Nobody wants to do that. They’re actually going to engage. They’re going to think like, “Yeah, that’s a great question. Why am I so awesome at my job?” To be on brand here. But then, once we primed them to think creatively, then we can move them towards treating them more as a mentor with advice questions is the first A in tiara, “So, if you were me, what would you be doing right now to best prepare for a career in this field?” Make them the hero in your story.

That’s what brings us to the pivot question of the tiara framework, R is for resources, “What resources do you recommend I look into next?” Ideally, we’re looking for a person here, but to ask them who you should speak to next is very threatening. It’s very likely that you’re going to lose, you’re going to make your contact lose face. Most people would not give you a person’s name without asking that person if it was okay to do so first, share their name, I mean. So, we’ll keep it vague, “What resources do you recommend I look into next?” If they give us a name, great. The internal referral is our goal for doing this informational meeting process.

Pete Mockaitis
Or they could give you a non-name resource, like, “Oh, go to CaseInterview.com for your strategy consulting needs.” It’s like, “Okay, I will. Thanks.”

Steve Dalton
Most often they’ll say, “What sort of resources are you looking for?” That’s their way of signaling that they’re not ready to give you a person’s name yet. “So, what’s the most important 10 minutes of research that you do in this field to stay current? What industry newsletter do you find most helpful?” Things that will actually make you smarter at this job that you want. And then we’ll wrap up with any time remaining with assignment questions, “Basically, what projects do you do if you have this job so that you can represent yourself more knowledgably when people ask you, ‘Why do you want this job?’”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Steve Dalton
So, that’s the journey we’ll take people on, to turn strangers into advocates over the course of a single half an hour conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
So, okay, in that conversation we’ve learned some things and they’ve gotten creative and provided resources and maybe names. And so, we’re not selling ourselves and we’re learning good stuff. I guess what’s sort of the dream outcome from these conversations? Like, if they say, “Wow, you sound amazing, Steve, and I’m going to make sure to put your resume to my boss right away.” What do we really want to happen most at this stage?

Steve Dalton
We want this person to tell us what to do next. We want them to literally be our mentor because it’s different at every company what the correct process is. For some, it will be, “You’ve got to talk to this person next,” or for others, it’ll be, “You have to apply online but use my name, put this into your cover letter to let them know that we had an interaction.” You are merely guessing from the outside of what the right process is of each individual company. What you want is eyes and ears within that organization telling you what to do.

And when they tell you what to do, that’s an easy way to build likability with them. Like, it’s great when people follow the advice that you give them and report back the results, which makes you more willing to advocate for this person further in the future. So, our dream outcome is to find out who we need to speak to next. But that isn’t always the right next step. We just want somebody inside that company to tell us what to do to maximize our chances. We want them to see our progress as a reflection of their ability to give good advice.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, then I guess that sounds like there’s a follow up then in terms of, “Hey, thanks so much for chatting with me. I did exactly what you told me to do. Fingers crossed,” or whatever.

Steve Dalton
Yes. So, if they don’t offer a referral, I wouldn’t expect it in most any more than 10% of cases, I would send them a thank you note the next night with no ask. To me, the thank you note closes the transaction on our initial request for insight and advice. But then I’d set myself a reminder for a week later, and when that reminder pops up, I would want to make sure I close my informationals by saying, “Wow, you’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m going to take the weekend to reflect. Is it okay if I reach back out to you with any further questions?” they’ll say, “Yes.” You send your thank you note that night or the next day.

And then a week, you set a reminder for a week later. When that reminder pops up, then I would send an email like this, “Thank you so much for your time last week. Upon further reflection, this is definitely something I’d like to pursue further. How would you go about doing that if you were me? For example, can you recommend someone I should speak to next?” So, that’s when you can make that ask explicitly over email where it’s less threatening. A person has time to check with their contacts to see who’s open to talking to a job seeker. But if you don’t get a referral at this point, you’re probably not going to get a referral. It’s time to start over and try somebody else. So, everything is systemized.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Somebody else in the organization or new organization or both?

Steve Dalton
Same organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Same organization. All right. Well, I like the analogy of the lobster traps or cages there because, sure enough, there’s activity in motion that doesn’t require you, which is cool, as you have these exchanges and conversations. So, let’s say that, ultimately, you do the things they tell you to do, whether that’s the online application or talking to so and so, and then you have an interview. Any pro tips there?

Steve Dalton
Once you get to the interview, that’s great. There are other books that help you. So, for me, The 2-Hour Job Search really zooms in on that squishy middle of the job search, that valley between “I know what I want to do” and “I know what to do once I get in that interview.” The 2-Hour Job Search helps you get into that first interview. But I think the same rules apply when you’ve got that interview, recognize that companies don’t hire people. People hire people, so it’s really about giving them a compelling story.

Don’t get in there selling yourself right away. Instead, they’ll probably start with, “Tell me about yourself.” Give them a story that is authentic to you that demonstrates, like, “What is the rationale for me being in this room here today? Here’s why I want to work for your company. Here are some personal anecdotes. Let me give you some appropriate personal disclosures about things that genuinely motivate me,” and tell them about why it’s a win-win for you as well.

And then once they start asking you, for example, of times where you led the team, then you can start getting into sales mode. But I think a common mistake is people just can’t get that sell-yourself mantra out of their heads that they had drilled into them from a very, very young age even though its applicability has long been outlived by modern changes. We’re all such skeptical consumers now. When we sense a sales pitch, our guards go up. But success in this process means systematically bringing people’s guards down.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so then, tell me, any other steps or key things that we should have covered? I mean, maybe, talk about the middle, is there something after cultivating boosters, and before getting the interview that we should be doing?

Steve Dalton
Yes. So, after you’ve done this informational, you’ve sent your thank you note, you checked back in, maybe they give you a referral, maybe they don’t, then we switch to the harvest cycle. So, the harvest cycle is a big process flow diagram for my fellow engineers out there. Basically, it’s a big if-then map. It’s a big diagram.

So, based on where you are in that diagram, that will tell you what step you need to take. So, in most cases, it will be, okay, they don’t have a referral for you, let’s check back in next month. And there’s a very systemized way of, like, here’s what that first update will look like. Recap the best piece of advice they gave you during your original call. Give them a specific example of how you benefitted from that advice and ask for additional advice. If they have additional advice, you repeat this in your email update next month. If they don’t have additional advice, your subsequently monthly check-ins would just be more personal in nature.

But the idea is that I call it the harvest cycle because you’re planting a lot of seeds initially to get these initial phone calls, and then people start shopping you out to their friends, and you have more people that you need to check back in with after some time has passed. It’s really hard to walk away from contacts you’ve done informationals with unless you got other conversations on the books. So, we need these seeds to have some time to take root and grow. it’s not immediately time to harvest all of them. So, that’s part of the reason why I want to systemize the follow-up process for these informationals. It’s not just about getting the informational; it’s about reaping the rewards from that informational systematically over time.

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

Steve Dalton
I think the one thing I really want to get across is that there’s a lot of bad information out there about job searching. I think people underestimate the importance of retraining your support network because your support network, I see people who are often asked, “How is your job search going?” and they’ll quantify it in ways that don’t correlate with success. Mainly, in how many hours they spent looking for jobs and how many resumes they dropped online to online job postings.

Neither of those things correlate with success. The one thing that does is the number of informational meetings you’ve done, how many people are out there that know of you and like you, but it takes time. You need to retrain your support network to get them to stop seeing it in terms of “How many resumes did you throw online into the black hole?” to “How many conversations did you set up? How many new people did you meet that have the job you want one day?” I think that’s just a critical piece that is often goes unnoticed.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, talking about numbers and correlations, I mean, you’ve been tracking this very well with your, hey, 10 to 20 percent. You can expect your boosters into reply, dah, dah, dah. Do you have any sense for, I imagine there’s quite a range, but ballpark figure in terms of number of boosting conversations per interview or offer?

Steve Dalton
I would say when people follow the 2-hour job search exactly as it’s designed, it’s a recipe, so when the recipe is followed exactly, people do not get past number 10 on their LAMP list. So, while we brainstorm 40 employers, realistically you’re only ever going to be doing outreach to about 25% of that list. So, three-quarters of that list is canon fodder just to get you up to 40 and get you out of that artificial desperation mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re saying that folks, generally, land a job at their top 10, like, most of the time?

Steve Dalton
No. That is a great question. They will land a job by the time they get to number 10, but life is strange. Contacts that your boosters have connections in different companies that weren’t even on your radar initially because you don’t have the same visibility into that profession as the people you’re talking to do. You also don’t have the same network as the people you’re talking to do. So, while I say you’ll be done when you hit number 10, it won’t always be with one of those 10 organizations. It could be with an organization that one of the people you spoke to, at one of those top 10, referred you to that you, otherwise, hadn’t heard of before. Maybe they had a friend at a different company who was looking to fill a role. Maybe they heard of a startup that you hadn’t heard of yet that was doing similar work.

But the idea is by the time you get to number 10, you’ve got at least 10 boosters out there looking on your behalf, in your job search, giving you suggestions, pointing you to new people to speak to, new companies to have on your radar, that there’s just enough eyes and ears out there that something tends to happen and come through for you by the time you get to number 10.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, okay, well, if it’s by the time we get to the 10th company, do you also have a sense for by the time we have X number of contacts or boosting conversations?

Steve Dalton
I wish it were that simple. No, because there will be obligates who agree to do informational meetings with you. That’s part of the challenge here. Not everybody who agrees to speak with you is a booster automatically, and that’s the common error I’ll see people do or make when they’re doing the 2-hour job search.

Before you get your first booster, you can often confuse obligates for boosters. They seem like they’re sympathetic but they don’t really want to be there. They’re saying goodbye and pulling away at a certain point. Once you get your first booster and you see how fiercely they advocate for you and how they see your progress as their own success, you know how to tell a booster from the obligate, and you don’t make that mistake anymore. But getting people to hang in there long enough and not fall for a fake booster in the form of an obligate, I think that’s an intricacy that people will learn after they get a little bit into it.

I find, once people do three tiara framework informationals using the 2-hour job search, they get the rhythms of the whole informational meeting process. They become comfortably bored by it. It’s fun to talk to smart people and learn from them but there’s no real set number of how many informationals it’ll take at a particular company to find your booster. Sometimes people get lucky and find it in the first one. Sometimes they find people I call super boosters who will help you not just at their company but at multiple other companies. But other times, it’ll take you five or six conversations before you find that person is really willing to stick their neck out for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I guess what’s interesting is this is the most structured, methodical, get-a-job program I have ever encountered, so well done.

Steve Dalton
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And it strikes me as massively efficient. You told a success story of a month and a half is what one person saw, and it sounds like, well, you tell me. What’s the time range that you’re encountering?

Steve Dalton
I’ve had people who have started the 2-hour job search on a Monday and landed an offer by Friday of the same week.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Four days. There you go.

Steve Dalton
That is not normal. That is not normal however so don’t expect that. What I see during non COVID times, the most typical, it would be about a month or two months. During COVID times, it’s a little bit longer, there’s just fewer. And as you get more experienced in your career, this process is the same exact one I would recommend to someone with 30 years of experience as someone with zero years of experience. But if you have 30 years of experience and you’re looking for that C-suite job, there aren’t that many of those out there. It’s going to be a longer search. So, during COVID, I would expect it to be more into the two- to three- to four-month range even. But during better economies, it’s usually over by one to two months.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And so, I suppose this could be a fun critique, your system seems potentially so efficient. I wonder if there’s a higher risk of folks landing a job that they don’t love. How do we prevent that from happening?

Steve Dalton
Great question. If people don’t follow the recipe, what I see people do sometimes is they’ll start networking with backup companies to get practice, but that’s the problem. These backup companies are so flattered to hear from a job seeker who’s organized, who’s like asking good questions and building relationships, that they’ll fast track you and they’ll give you an offer very quickly even before you start to reach out to your dream employer, and now you’re forked. Like, do you have the guts to turn down this good offer without even knowing where you stand with your dream employers?

So, that’s why when we sort the LAMP list, motivation absolutely has to go first. How fired up are you to reach out to people at this company even if the first few people ignore you? That absolutely has to be your first criteria when sorting your LAMP list, which ensures that people go after their favorite companies first. I’d rather they fumble over an awkward informational with their dream employer and then re-dedicate themselves to doing better the next time than start with backups, because too often I see people start with backups and, unfortunately, achieve success too quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I guess this just boils down to your motivation needs to be well-thought out and well-informed and then you’re going to land somewhere good.

Steve Dalton
Mm-hmm.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha. Well, now, can we hear about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Steve Dalton
I open The 2-Hour Job Search with this wonderful quote by Aldous Huxley, “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” I think people hear technology and they think forward. They see online job postings, they think better. And, in reality, it’s just made the search harder. And it’s important to take a step back and realize that online job postings feel like the most efficient way to be successful, but they cause a lot of pain. Building relationships, it’s not a skill that people have been trained for but it leads to a much more nourishing and better-quality experience for your job search.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And now can you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Steve Dalton
I already told you about Dan Ariely’s couch experiment. That’s my all-time favorite. But Brown, Setren, and Topa did this great study at the New York Fed a few years ago where they found that for each one person who was hired through an online job posting application, 12 were hired through internal referrals because every time you apply online, not only are you hoping you’re one of the hundreds that apply that they choose to interview, you’re also hoping it’s the one out of 13 jobs that goes to the random online applicant instead of somebody that somebody already knows.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Steve Dalton
So, I’m a chemical engineer by training, like I’m bred for awkwardness, but when faced with those odds, you’ve got to own up to the fact that you can’t outrun that phenomenon, you can’t out-apply that phenomenon. You got to get comfortable with turning strangers into advocates. It’s a skillset you’ve never been trained for before so don’t feel embarrassed. I hope this does become standard training at the high school level, let alone the college level in the near future, but we’re not there yet so it is up to everybody to really embrace that skillset proactively.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Steve Dalton
I’d mentioned a few times I’m kind of an awkward dude. Chemical engineer, again that’s my wheelhouse, but it makes me think about these things a lot more than other people to whom it would come naturally. So, my favorite book, there’s a book called Awkward by Ty Tashiro. Have you heard of the book Quiet by Susan Cain?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Steve Dalton
Quiet is for introverts, Ty’s book Awkward is for awkward people, which I’m a proud member of the awkward nation. So, if you’ve ever felt like, “I don’t get how people work,” or, “This is really weird for me to interact with strangers,” give that book a read. I wish I had had it when I was 12. It would’ve saved me from a lot of pain.

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

Steve Dalton
I’m a big believer in time blocking. So, if something is important to you, block time in your calendar for it. This also ties in with The 2-Hour Job Search. Calendar reminders are a lot harder to miss than email reminders are because there’s time blocks for them. You have an alert that you have to clear or postpone. So, if something is important to you, block a period of time in your calendar day for it. That saved me so many times. I’m a huge fan.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Steve Dalton
Oh, gosh. 80/20 Rule, just not trying to be perfect slowly. Be good enough quickly over and over and over again. Iterate towards your results. But the quest for perfection, it’s not a realistic expectation in the modern world. You got to figure out where you can be good enough instead of perfect. It’s a lot faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, people quote it back to you again and again?

Steve Dalton
Oh, the bachelor. The bachelor analogy comes back to me over and over and over again so that would be the one that I would refer to. Better to be the bachelor in your own job search than one of 25 bachelorettes over and over again.

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

Steve Dalton
I would point them to the 2HourJobSearch.com. That’s my website for my book, The 2-Hour Job Search, and my upcoming book called The Job Closer, which comes out April 2021. I’m also on Twitter @Dalton_Steve, and I’ve got a very active LinkedIn Group called “The 2-Hour Job Search Q&A Forum” where I answer questions from readers and coaches alike. So, if you find The 2-Hour Job Search approach compelling, please join us there. It’s free to belong, and I’m on there every few nights or so.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Steve, this has been a treat. Thank you and keep on doing the good work.

Steve Dalton
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Lindsay

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Lindsay Gordon Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting.

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

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

Lindsay Gordon
Yes.

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

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

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

Lindsay Gordon
Yes.

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

Lindsay Gordon
Somehow it works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I’m provoked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

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

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

Lindsay Gordon
Yes, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had David on the show.

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

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

Lindsay Gordon
Favorite book, Essentialism.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

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

Pete Mockaitis
And that includes your Saturdays and Sundays?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay Gordon
Thank you so much.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

 

About Michael

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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

Michael Solomon Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Good start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, let’s do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Solomon
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And is this 100 consecutive pushups?

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

Michael Solomon
No. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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