Tag

Finding Fit

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Art

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

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Art Markman Interview Transcript

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

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

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

Art Markman
I-N-I.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Markman
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Markman
Shower is good, yeah.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, certainly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Markman
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

Art Markman
Yeah, that’s fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

449: Leaning Out with Marissa Orr

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Marissa

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Marissa Orr Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marissa Orr
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marissa Orr
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marissa Orr
It is interesting.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure thing.

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

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

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

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

Marissa Orr
That’s right.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please go. Please continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Power lovers get the power.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

[18:00]

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

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

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

Marissa Orr
Exactly.

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

Marissa Orr
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How dare you, Marissa.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That’s outrageous.

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

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

Marissa Orr
Hi girls.

Pete Mockaitis
Isn’t that interesting?

Marissa Orr
Hi ladies.

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

Marissa Orr
Hi men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Marissa Orr
There’s more in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
… for men. Do men have …?

Marissa Orr
Oh, oh, I mention-

Pete Mockaitis
Competitive, authoritative, dominance.

Marissa Orr
Yeah. Assertiveness, things like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
So your personal goals as an individual professional.

Marissa Orr
No, no, your work goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, the work goals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.

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

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

Marissa Orr
Nope, I think we covered it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marissa Orr
I am too.

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

Marissa Orr
Yeah, I’m actually-

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. How about a favorite book?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Marissa Orr
You’re welcome.

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

Marissa Orr
Does meditation count?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

401: Finding, Creating, and Maintaining a Great Work Culture with Brian Fielkow

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Brian Fielkow says: "Don't mold yourself to a culture that doesn't fit. You've got to understand what fits."

CEO Brian Fielkow walks through creating and maintaining a good work culture then reveals how prospective employees can find out if they fit a new workplace’s culture.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why customers pay for culture
  2. Brian’s definition of a healthy work culture
  3. How to discover if you are a cultural fit at the interview stage

About Brian

Brian Fielkow, J.D., is the CEO of Jetco Delivery, a multimillion-dollar Houston-based trucking and logistics company with 200+ employees that was named a “Top Workplace” by the Houston Chronicle, highlighted on the 2015 Inc. 5000 list, and given the Gold Safety Award by the DOW Chemical Company. Brian is also the author of “Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence by Creating a Vibrant Culture.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brian Fielkow Interview Transcript

Brian Fielkow
She’s well known in Hawaii and she’s starting to make a good name on the mainland. But the song, Island Inside Me, I wrote for my wife for our anniversary.

I just have these lyrics going around in my head, but I’m not a songwriter, I can’t sing, I’m not a musician. I connected with Anuhea. We put this song together sort of as an anniversary gift. It took off. It was a pretty cool experience. I don’t think I’ll have that experience again, but to have that song. Every once in a while I’ll hear it on Sirius-type stations. It’s kind of neat.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, could you sing perhaps the refrain or the chorus or a segment for us?

Brian Fielkow
Oh, you don’t want me to sing anything, but I know she’s got it posted. I know it’s available. It’s again, Island Inside Me, but if I sang it, I think we’d lose all of our listeners right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, fair enough. We’ll play it safe this time.

Brian Fielkow
Play it safe, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
You have a deep expertise when it comes to culture matters. You have some real hands-on experience instead of only doing research and writing books. Maybe could you orient us a little bit to where you’ve come from and why culture has become an issue that really matters to you so much?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I have kind of an interesting career. It’s not one that you could have ever planned coming out of school. I began my career practicing corporate law in Milwaukee. Maybe six or seven years in, I went to go work for my favorite client. They were in the recycling business. It was a wonderful opportunity.

We built that business while I was there for a good six – seven years. We sold it to Waste Management. I worked at Waste for a couple years. Then I bought my current company about 13 – 14 years ago, Trucking and Logistics. I’ve seen large Fortune 500 companies, I’ve seen entrepreneurial companies, everything in between.

It was interesting when I got into recycling coming out of the law business, I noticed that what we were selling were bales of cardboard. A bale of cardboard is a bale of cardboard, but we were commanding a premium. It took me a while to figure out why would anybody pay us more for what’s in the truest sense of the word a commodity.

It didn’t take me long to realize that other people would promise an order of a thousand tons and they’d ship 700. There was so much gamesmanship in the business, but we did what we said. People were paying us a premium for peace of mind. They weren’t really buying our cardboard; they were buying our peace of mind. That was a lesson I got very early on post law.

It kind of woke me up to the fact that every one of our businesses with rare exception to some degree is commoditized. I got really interested in de-commoditizing what we do, not having it to compete as much on price. Yes, the price is important, but if we can get to a situation where a customer appreciates our value proposition more than just the core product or service you’re offering, you can command a higher price.

Over the years I learned that what people are really paying for is your culture, kind of how you do things, what makes you different, that secret ingredient that nobody else can steal.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Your culture is what they’re paying for. It’s how you do things differently, your secret sauce. Is that how you define culture in those ways or do you have a particular definition that you run with?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, let me give you how I define it. There are books and books on culture and the theory behind it. I’m not a fan of the theory because we’re practitioners and we need to know now. I’m going to keep it real simple and say that in simplest terms, you’ve got the beginning of a healthy culture when you’ve got the right people and the right processes working in harmony.

In a healthy culture, you’ve got the convergence of people and process, that’s what yields consistent and hopefully excellent results for the customer. You could have the right people and no process and every day is a new day. You could have the right process and the wrong people and forget about that. I’ve learned over the years that it’s getting the right people, the right process working in harmony.

It’s also rooting your company in a well-defined set of values. We have so many arrows coming at us in the business world, so many different priorities that sometimes we forget that there’s this adhesive that binds us together.

I can’t tell any business what their values should be, but once you’ve established your values, you’ve got to live by them. You don’t compromise your values. That’s something that your team needs to understand, your customers understand. It’s the adhesive that binds your company together through good times and bad, where priorities, on the other hand, they change by the day. We have customer issues. We’ve got service issues.

But those priorities never, ever compromise our core values, who we are and what’s important to us and what’s important to our team. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got to walk the walk. You’ve got to live and breathe your values. Whether you’re in the C-suite, whether it’s your first day on the job, you’ve got to agree that these are the rules that we’re going to play by.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting you said you cannot tell another company what their values should be. I guess I’m imagining there are some that would generally be a recipe for good things and some that would be a recipe for bad things and a whole lot that it’s sort of – it’s a matter of finding the right fit in terms of the people and the processes and the industry and kind of what is your focus as a business.

Could you give us an example of some values that are unique because I think a lot of organizations will say, hey, integrity of course is a big value. I think sometimes they live it and walk the talk and sometimes they don’t, but it doesn’t really seem so distinctive when you hear that integrity is a value.

But it seems like in your practice, integrity is defined as doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it really was a differentiator there. Could you give us some examples of different values and how they come to life?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. Let’s talk about integrity for a minute because you’re right. That can sound over used. What company in the world doesn’t say integrity is a core value?

But now look around and if you watch football as much as I do, you’ve seen the Wells Fargo ads, established in 1860-something, reestablished in 2018. Why? Because they had integrity issues that really hurt their reputation, opening up fictitious accounts. It was a pretty big deal. Wells Fargo had to do work to repair its brand because of integrity.

It’s something you take for granted, but then you realize that if you let it slip and don’t focus on it, it could slip intentionally or unintentionally. Something even as simple and common place as integrity, if you as the leader aren’t living it and are kind of looking the other way, one lie will breed a thousand lies.

If I’ve got a problem with a customer, I’m not going to make something up. I’m going to tell the customer what happened and how we’re going to fix it. Even though the customer may be upset, hopefully over time, the customer will respect me more because people can smell a lie a mile away.

If my team sees me behaving in that manner, they’re going to follow my lead. On the other hand, if my team sees me acting with integrity, they’re going to follow my lead. Especially as we’re starting to work with younger and younger employees, people just don’t want to work in a company where the values are adrift. Integrity.

Another great example is respect. Again, people use respect too loosely, in my opinion. When I say respect, what I’m talking about is treating people like human beings first and employees second. That’s the ultimate respect. The ultimate form of disrespect is anonymity, “Hey, you’re number 100. Go do your job. Punch in, punch out,” not knowing a thing about that employee personally.

As my company is growing, I can’t know a thing about all my employees but my managers better. There needs to be something in the culture that makes sure that my managers know their employees like I know my direct reports so that everyone is accounted for and that the ultimate form of respect, like I said, is making sure that people’s overall human needs are met and that nobody, no matter if it’s their first day on the job, feels like all they’re doing is punching a clock and if they didn’t show up, it wouldn’t matter. That’s just a horrible situation to be in.

Respect is a value. Those are some of the things that we do that promote respect regardless of what it is you do because you’re an important member of the team regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, okay. I would love to dig in a little bit in terms of thinking about values when it comes to finding fit with regard to career planning. How do you think about that game—I’d say both in terms of zeroing in on what values matter to you and then assessing whether a company really has it? Because I think a number of cultural pieces in terms of how things are done in a given organization really can vary and vary fine and suit different people differently.

For example, I think that some folks would say, “Oh yeah, we’re all about collaboration and so we’ve got an open office floor plan and we’ve got bays with ten employees in each of them, so they’re always kind of seeing and interacting with folks. We’re always on Slack and doing that.” Then some folks would say, “That would drive me insane. I need my quiet time to really focus and go deep in creating stuff.”

That would be sort of a natural mismatch when it comes to sort of how you prefer to do your thing and how the organization is doing their thing. How do you think about navigating this whole fit and research game?

Brian Fielkow
Such a great question because whenever I see forced fun, I run away. I go in the opposite direction. For me, having a slide in the middle of the office and having all those amenities, that’s all well and good, but that’s not culture. People mistake that kind of stuff for culture. Culture is not campfire fun and games stuff. This is a hardcore business proposition.

If kind of the slide in the office fits your culture and it’s in the context of an overall healthy culture, it’s fine. But if you’re using those bells and whistles to get employees in and then once they come in, they realize you’re in a toxic environment, that doesn’t work.

To me, there’s some subjectivity to it. There’s definitely a component of individual taste. Maybe I prefer a company that’s more formal. Or maybe I prefer a company that’s more casual. Maybe having a social life with my coworkers is important. Maybe I don’t want it at all. Maybe the company is extremely hierarchical, has a well-defined org chart. Maybe the company is more loosely defined.

All that’s okay and none of that is indicative of whether the company has a healthy culture or a poor culture. It’s how the company chooses to operate. It’s its own personality. That’s where you’ve got to find the fit. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer there.

But when you want to talk about how do I find the right culture, regardless of whether it’s hierarchical or loose, whether we’re wearing suits or whether we’re wearing shorts, that’s the key is to dig beyond the surface, dig beyond the slide. It’s not one-size fits all.

I think the best advice I could give somebody is when you’re doing an interview, you definitely – you’re going to speak with the hiring manager. You might speak with human resources. But the real people you want to talk to are prospective peers, prospective coworkers.

We do that with pretty much all of our job interviews. Again, it doesn’t matter the level that we’re hiring for. We want to be sure that peers can talk unscripted and what it’s really like to work here. We want to make full disclosure. We want to make full disclosure about our company. We’re proud of it, but we know that just like any other company, we’re not a fit for everybody.  We’d rather know that before we make a hiring decision or before you would agree to join our company.

There’s nothing like a peer-to-peer interview where you can ask questions. “What’s it really like to work here?” The company’s recruiting brochure says X, Y, Z, but six months later is that really what’s happening? Do they have a good-looking recruiting brochure or are they really delivering the goods?

The absolutely best advice I can give is do your homework on the company. Understand what the company is all about. Understand its culture. But peer-to-peer man, that’s really where you’re going to learn what it’s like to work there.

By the way, if that peer-to-peer interview goes well, now you’re new coworkers, they know you before you start. They’ve got a vested interest in integration. They’ve got a vested interest in bringing you in and helping you succeed.

If they say to the hiring manager, “Wow, thumbs up. Let’s bring this person in,” that opens the door and creates a pathway for success in a way that just a traditional interview and “By the way everybody, here’s your new coworker who you’ve never met,” that doesn’t work quite as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious if that organization – if you’re interviewing an organization and they don’t have the wisdom to … process, do you have any pro tips in terms of how you’d go about proactively having those conversations and some of the key things you’d want to say when you’re in the midst of them to learn what you really need to learn?

Let’s say that I’m interviewing at an organization. They did not give me the benefit of engaging in these conversations peer-to-peer, so it’s a little bit more on me to be proactive in terms of finding these people, having these conversations. How shall I find them and engage them and what should we say when we’re talking?

Brian Fielkow
Well, a lot of companies may not offer the ability to interview a peer. First thing is you just ask. Say, “Hey, could I interview somebody in the department that I’m – can I meet with somebody in the department that I’m interviewing to work in?” A lot of times the companies may say yes, but if they say “No, that’s not our practice. We don’t do that,” okay, let’s respect that.

But I would still ask the hiring manager questions like “What are your company’s values? Give me a feeling for when those values were challenged. How did the company respond?” Just like they’re going to ask you those questions. They’re going to ask you, “Tell me a particularly difficult problem or difficult situation. How did you address it?” You better be prepared to answer that. Well, I think it’s a fair question for employers too is, “Tell me your story.”

If you look at an interview as a two-way street, not just the hiring manager interviewing you, look at it as a conversation. You’ll be able to develop the feel just almost organically in a conversation. If it’s that tight and that rigid and you don’t have that opportunity, the company is telling you something about its personality.

I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying that’s probably not a place I’d want to work. That’s not kind of how we bring employees in. I want an open door, full disclosure. But if companies don’t do that, with social media you can still network and find people who work there and talk to them informally or former employees, talk to them. But you can also have that same conversation with your hiring manager.

I love it when people come in, they’ve done their homework on the company and they challenge me with questions. That tells me that I’m dealing with somebody exceptional, who understands that the interview is a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that point on social media. LinkedIn is so cool with all the filters that you can dig in and search for folks that way.

Brian Fielkow
People used to call LinkedIn the boring version of Facebook or Instagram, but LinkedIn is the encyclopedia for how to network. I use it all the time. It’s such a valuable tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I really love that question you asked in terms of “Tell me about a time a value was challenged,” because I think a lot of times you’re probably going to get total blank stare response, like “Uh, these are just the words we repeat. I can’t think of any real experiences to share with you right now.” That tells you something right there.

But now you’ve got me curious, Brian can you tell me about a time in your company that you had a core value that got challenged and how did you live it out?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. In 2015 – ’16, we’re in trucking and logistics in Houston. That was a rough time. The energy markets collapsed and business was really challenged. We had to make some very difficult decisions.

In doing so, it wasn’t like memos from the C-suite; we brought our employees into the process. When we had to make the company smaller and downsize, we met with our employees. We treated them with respect. We made sure that everybody knew what we were doing, why we were doing.

What it did is it created sort of a foxhole mentality that we’re not working around our employees. We’ve not sugar coating like, “Oh, everything’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” We brought them in and we fought the war together because we were so transparent and open with them. You’ve got to be prepared to share good news and bad news.

In doing that, for example, safety in our company is a core value. We don’t compromise it. Well, no matter how rough business got, no maintenance got deferred. Every single vehicle was maintained regardless of the company’s financial performance.

I’ve seen other organizations where “Oh, business is bad. Let’s figure out where to cut. Well, we can cut maintenance.” No, if safety is a core value, you don’t cut, you don’t defer maintenance. You keep running your business.

I can use that time when this company was really challenged and really stressed by a rough economy. People in other businesses were losing their jobs left and right in Houston during that time and we just took a very contrarian approach that we’re taking our employees with us. Even though we couldn’t take everybody with us, and we did have to let people go. It was done, like I said, with dignity, with respect and then with complete transparency to the rest of the team.

That’s created kind of I think an unparalleled level of camaraderie as the company has rebounded, recovered, and grown so well in the past couple years.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, could you share some other perspectives when it comes to zeroing in on determining if a culture is a fit for you?

Do you have some extra perspectives and tips when it comes to determining if an opportunity has a good cultural fit for you?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I think that you’ve got to be careful not to conform yourself to become somebody that you’re not. Don’t mold yourself to a culture that doesn’t fit. You’ve got to understand what fits.

In our situation, in a healthy culture, you’ve got to have employees who are technically excellent and who are in line with the company’s values. You get yourself in a lot of trouble when you look the other way.

I’ve got a technically excellent employee that’s walking all over everybody else, just a horrible team player. Well, I have to either coach that employee back in to working within our values or they can’t be part of the team no matter how technically good they are.

A lot of times we look the other way when it comes to technically good people even if they’re destroying the morale of the company. As an employer, you’ve got to stand up to that and be sure that you’ve got people who are value aligned and who know what they’re doing.

Well, similarly, for the employees, you can’t really fake it. I’m assuming you got the job because technically you met the criteria, but in a healthy culture, I hope that you’re yourself, that you don’t force anything. In a healthy culture you’ll be challenged.

Hopefully that culture will make you a better employee and a better person and hopefully you’ll do the same. You’ll make the company a better company and you’ll improve your coworkers. But if it doesn’t fit, you’ve got to know it.

I’ve seen too many times where people jump at the money. They jump at the money. “Oh, somebody wants me, I’m going to accept the job,” without asking these questions of “Am I going to be happy?” You may make money and you’ll be miserable. Life is too short.

That’s why interviewing for culture and being aware of culture is just so critically important because we’ve all had maybe in our careers, the Sunday night blues, kind of that horrible feeling that Monday is coming and I’ve got to a place that I really don’t want to go. I’ve had that in my career.

Because I’ve had that in my career and I understand it so well, part of my job is to make sure that we don’t have the Sunday night blues, that people are excited to come to work because they’re treated right, because it’s a place that they know they fit in. But if you don’t fit in the place and it’s not right for you, you’ve got to know when to get off the bus too.

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

Brian Fielkow
I like to always say that at the foundation of the culture is what I call the three T’s: treatment, transparency, and trust. If you’ve got that and if you work at a company – look I’m in the trucking business. I’ve got a lot of people who told me, “Well, geez, I never thought in my life I would get into the trucking business. How did you as a corporate lawyer decide to do it?”

First of all, I love the industry, but it’s an industry that a lot of people might not necessarily just automatically gravitate to. But it almost doesn’t matter what you do as long as you love the job, you love the people. I think treatment, transparency and trust, whether you’re in a medical office, trucking business, law office, doesn’t matter.

Treatment, like I said before, you’re a human being first, an employee second. The ultimate form of poor treatment is anonymity.

Transparency, is just making sure your team is engaged. The best way to engage your team is to explain the why. If you give me a memo and you say, “Brian, just do it,” my personality is going to be to rebel. I’m not going to do it because you told me to do it. But if you say, “Brian, look here’s why we’re doing it. Here’s the why. It’s not a democracy. I’m not asking for your vote. But here’s the why,” I’ll be a lot more inclined to participate. I’ll be a lot more inclined to support. Just make sure you take time to explain the why.

As an employee, if you don’t know why, ask why. If somebody says, “Well, never mind. It’s none of your business, never mind,” that’s a little tip, isn’t it? But the key to an engaged workforce is for everybody to know their mission, know the company’s mission, know their role. Why?

Then finally trust. If there’s no trust, let’s forget about all this. In a company where trust is lacking, where people say one thing and do another, you’re operating on quicksand. You’re never going to have employee satisfaction where there’s a lack of trust among coworkers, lack of trust where leadership doesn’t trust the employees, employees don’t trust leadership.

Treatment, transparency, and trust are the three critical elements that I would look for in any business. I don’t care what the business does, as a sign of a healthy culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Brian Fielkow
The problem with my favorite quote is it’s too long, but I’m going to just read a little bit of it. It’s Teddy Roosevelt’s quote that we’re all here in the game and there’s people on the sidelines. They’re always going to be throwing stones at you.

It says, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I love that quote. I just love it because you’ve got people throwing stones at you your whole life. Just forget about those people and go out there and be your best.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Brian Fielkow
I’d like to if possible move to a couple books that I’d like to kind of recommend.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Brian Fielkow
My favorite book, if you took all my books away, would be The Advantage by Pat Lencioni. I think that’s the one book that everybody needs to read in college, coming out of college. I go back to that book all the time. It really lays out the basis for healthy organization and your role in the healthy organization. Really, I like anything that Lencioni writes, but The Advantage is my favorite.

Another book that just came out last year that I’m really into is called The Motivation Myth. Because I’m not terribly into – as you probably can guess by now – I’m not into a lot of the motivational, feel-good speakers and those kinds of books.

What The Motivation Myth does is it takes the concept and turns it on its head and says it’s not like you have to have the motivation then you do the job, then you’re successful. The motivation comes from the journey itself.

The book argues that it’s those small steps. It’s the victories. It’s getting knocked down, getting back up. The motivation comes from those incremental successes. The more you have, the harder you work, the more motivation you have. Motivation isn’t like a prerequisite. Instead, motivation is one of the things that comes from doing something you love.

The book also argues that quit trying to be like some of the celebrity CEOs. They did what worked for them. You’ve got to figure out what works for you. Spend less time emulating and spend more time figuring out what your own formula is. I just love that as opposed to just, “Hey, do what I say. Follow my advice and you’ll be successful.” I just don’t buy that. I buy, you figure out your own formula and that’s the key to success.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Brian Fielkow
Trying to maintain a semblance of work/life balance. I’m not by any stretch nine to five, but I listen to my body rhythm. I listen to how I work. I’m up at crazy hours of the morning because that’s when I work the best, but unless something is really important, you’re not going to find me here – later in the day, you’re not going to find me here necessarily on a Friday afternoon.

What I’ve learned over the years is that we’ve all kind of grew up in this eight to five world or seven to five or whatever it is, but hopefully as technology evolves and as employers become more and more progressive – this isn’t true for every job obviously. If you’re a doctor or a nurse, you’ve got to be with your patients. But for a lot of jobs, the more you can listen to your body clock and know when you’re productive and kind of know when you’ve got that momentum, the more effective you’ll be.

I could do something in a half hour that would take me five hours if I picked the wrong time and the rhythm isn’t there. Listening to your body, kind of knowing how you work. Some people, as you know, are night owls. Some people, again, like me, are up before the sun. But being able to know that and capture it, I think, is the secret to optimum production and success.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your employees and folks who are reading your stuff?

Brian Fielkow
When I’m talking to audiences, I do a lot of keynoting, there’s a couple things. First of all, take your frontlines with you. I use that all the time and it resonates. I don’t like doing keynotes and just kind of closing and leaving. I like to do keynotes and then saying, “All right, what are the takeaways? We’re not here to talk about theory. What are the things that you’ll implement the minute you get back to the office?”

A lot of my keynotes, a lot of my presentation revolves around frontline engagement because I think that as a country, we’ve broken our contract with our frontlines. The more we engage our frontlines, the better. Take your frontlines with you. Bring them in.

In my company our drivers are – we have an elected driver committee that’s part of how we run the company. We’ve got our drivers in management and operational decisions. Take your frontlines with you is very – people use that a lot.

The three T’s. If imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, I’ve heard other speakers use the three T’s, but I think I may have invented that one.

Then there’s 20/60/20, which people quote a lot. This is a story when I was at Waste Management. I got to Waste Management at a time when there was a CEO, a brilliant CEO, Maury Myers, was brought in to turn the company around.

He brought his management team into the room. It was a large room. He had a large team. And was kind of rumored to say this, something like this, “20% of you know where we’re going and you’re with me. You know that we’ve got to make changes. I appreciate that. 60% of you, you’re scared. The ship is changing drastically its course. I’m going to work 24/7 to win you over.

The remaining 20% of you have made up your mind. You don’t like me and you don’t like the direction that we’re going. Here’s the commitment I’m going to make to you. This will be the smoothest transition you’ve ever had out of a company, but make no mistake, you’re out.”

20/60/20 means don’t find yourself in that bottom 20. Figure out how to continue to rise in your company. You’ve either got to align with the company’s direction and values or leave. From an employer’s standpoint, you’re not there to bat a thousand, simply not. Part of your job is to weed out the people who are kind of a drain on your culture, a drain on your performance.

I’ll tell you people in my company will use 20/60/20 a lot. We all know what they mean. The three T’s, 20/60/20, take your frontlines with you really are essential things that I talk about not just when I keynote, but when I run my own company.

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

Brian Fielkow
I would point them at my website, which is BrianFielkow, so B-R-I-A-N-F-I-E-L-K-O-W. com. They can also email me, just Brian—B-R-I-A-N @BrianFielkow.com. I’m easy to get in touch with and glad to kind of continue this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Brian, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best in making your culture all the more vibrant and excellent and business growth and all that you’re up to.

Brian Fielkow
Thank you so much for the time. I really enjoyed this conversation.

392: Getting Your Dream Job by Illustrating Your Value with Austin Belcak

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Austin Belcak says: "You should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want."

Austin Belcak explains how deep research, cold emailing, and solving one of your dream company’s problems upfront accelerates job hunting–while building your skills.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two common themes to successful job searches
  2. How to do cold outreach that gets responses
  3. Two ways to effectively illustrate your value

About Austin

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he teaches people how to land jobs they love without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online.

Austin’s created a community of over 30,000 job seekers who have leveraged his strategies to land jobs at places like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Austin Belcak Interview Transcript

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

Austin Belcak
Pete, I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. You talk a lot about the career hunt and how it’s done better, but you’ve got a pretty dramatic story yourself of coming from a pretty miserable place it sounds like in your career to a much better one. Could you tell us the tale?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, absolutely. Just to give some people context around where we’re at now before we rewind. I work full time at Microsoft. I work in sales there on the advertising side of our business in New York City.

But on the side of that full time job, I run a site called CultivatedCulture.com, where I basically teach people to leverage some unconventional strategies to land jobs they love without traditional experience, without prior connections, and without applying online.

I started that about three years ago and since then we’ve grown the community to – there’s about 12,000 people in it now. About 30,000 people have come through the doors total. Many of them have gone on to land jobs at places like Google and Microsoft and Facebook, Apple, Amazon and many, many other industries as well. That’s basically where I am now, but to your point, it has not always been that way.

If we rewind the clock back to high school for me, which is now more years ago than I’d like to admit, I was dead set on being a doctor. I had taken all these classes in high school and biology really resonated with me and chemistry did as well. I thought this would be cool and doctors make a lot of money. They’re well regarded in society. Mom and dad would be happy.

I set my sights on that and I kind of tailored my whole strategy around getting into a college with a good premed track. I sort of made that happen. I ended up at Wake Forest University, which given the grades that I had and their programs, that was a good fit for me.

But I had gone to boarding school for high school and boarding school was awesome. It was a great experience, but it was a bit sheltered in the fact that while we had some freedoms on campus, there wasn’t that same level of exposure that you may get at a regular day high school where you have to drive there and you can go to people’s houses on the weekends and things like that.

I got to Wake Forest and the social scene was I guess we could say much more robust than it was in boarding school.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk about a robust social scene makes me imagine you doing keg stands. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by that, but-

Austin Belcak
That’s exactly what I mean by that, Pete. That’s exactly what happened. The first night literally we moved into the dorms and the first night I remember walking out with my new roommate and a couple of guys we met that day.

This car pulls up in front of us and they’re like, “Hey, you want to go to a party?” Alarm bells going off in your head and your mom’s like, “Austin, don’t talk to strangers. Don’t get into weird cars.” We’re like, “No, that’s fine.” Then we look behind him and there’s just this whole line of cars.

The next guy pulls up and says, “You want to go to a party?” We’re like, “Is this a thing?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, this is what happens.” Basically these cars pull up, you hop in one and they take you to a party. That was kind of the beginning of the end of my medical career as far as being a doctor goes.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you were just partying so much, you weren’t focusing on the grades or what happened exactly at this party?

Austin Belcak
Pretty much. All these freedoms that you never had at home are suddenly available.

That was way more interesting to me than class was, so I immediately failed chemistry my first semester. Then I went ahead and failed French the next semester. I rounded out my freshman year with a 1.99 GPA, which is not great. I don’t know too many med schools these days that are accepting kids with that sort of GPA. My dreams were kind of shattered.

I wasn’t too upset about it, but I kind of had this choice, I could continue to explore and try and find a new passion or I could continue enjoying this new social scene that was exciting and fun. I decided to do that. Basically, that carried me through. I kept my biology major.

That carried me through to junior year when my roommate’s dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, he kind of plopped an internship in my lap with a medical device sales company. They were a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.

I worked there during the summer. They gave me a job offer at the end of the summer. They said, “It’s yours if you want it.” I thought that was awesome because that meant that I could totally slack off senior year and I had my job and I was good to go.

That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I didn’t interview anywhere else. Then I graduated from college and I kind of got slapped in the face.

I hadn’t taken into account anything like cost of living, racked up about 10,000 bucks for the credit card debt in the first three months out of college literally just trying to make ends meet.

Then my boss was just terrible.
Then finally the job itself, I was getting up some days at 2:30 – 3 in the morning to drive two and a half hours to get to the hospital by 6 AM. That really was not super fun.

One day my boss told me in a very condescending fashion, “Maybe you should think about another career.” I actually said, “That’s pretty good advice at this point.”

I assumed that going to a four-year undergraduate college and getting degree would at least get me my foot in the door somewhere. It would give me a chance. Why else did I pay all this money for this degree? I set my sights on technology.

I set my sights on one of these leading tech companies and I applied to them. I got rejected pretty quickly.

I figured I needed to go get some advice. I stopped by my career counselor’s office at Wake Forest. I talked to my parents. I talked to my friends, who had landed jobs. I kind of tried to consolidate all of their advice. The common theme was that I should basically find jobs online, Tweet my resume for them, personalize my resume and my cover letter, apply for them and then kind of cross my fingers and hope that somebody got back to me.

If nobody got back to me, then the next step was to basically rinse and repeat until somebody did. I was told pretty frequently that it was a numbers game, so the more stuff I threw up against the wall, the better chance I had of something sticking and landing that job offer. I continued down that path.

I took a step back and I started applying to companies in the mid-tier startup range and didn’t hear anything from them. I started with early stage startups and didn’t hear anything from them. Then I was applying to companies that just had the word tech somewhere on their site. I still didn’t hear anything from them.

At this point I was really frustrated because I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I just had gotten this quarter of a million dollar education that’s supposed to get me a job. That’s the whole point of it. Here I was with nothing. I was incredibly, incredibly angry, but I didn’t know what else to do.

About that same time I was reaching out to some alumni at Wake and somebody I had a conversation with basically gave me a light bulb moment. They told me that I was taking advice from the wrong people. I thought that was crazy because throughout our lives when we grow up, the people that we look to for advice are our parents and our friends and our teachers and the people that we look up to.

I was like, “I don’t understand. What exactly do you mean?” He said you should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want.” That really resonated with me because while my parents were successful in their own right and my friends had been successful out of college in their own right, none of them had come out with a terrible GPA and a biology degree and a job in medicine with three months of professional experience, and now I had aspirations to work at Microsoft or Google.

I realized that I needed to go out and find people who had done that and had done it successfully and quickly and who were around my age.

I immediately drove home and I wrote down criteria for my job search or my dream job, rather. Those were – there were four criteria. The first was to be working at a leading company like a Google or a Microsoft or Facebook; to be making over $100,000 a year; to be working in a major city like New York, San Francisco, and LA; and finally, to be doing that all before the age of 26 because I didn’t want to wait until I was 40 for all this to come to fruition.

I took my list of my criteria and I went out on LinkedIn and I found people who matched that criteria as best as I possibly could. I tried to find these young folks who are working at those amazing companies. I looked at their salaries on Glassdoor to make sure that they were in the range. Then I just started reaching out cold. I probably reached out to about 50 or 60 people. Roughly 10 to 15 got back to me. I started having-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a decent ratio.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. I was very, very surprised, especially for the first pass. I think it was more beginners’ luck than anything because when I started my full outreach for the job search later on, the ratio was not so good and I had to do a little bit of learning to improve that. But for whatever reason it seemed to work out.

I had conversations with these people. I tried to learn as much as I could about their stories and the strategies that they used and how they approached this job search. There were a couple of common themes.

The first was that all of them had gotten in via a referral of some kind, which is really interesting to me. The second was that they all found creative ways to illustrate their value. They stepped outside of the box, the traditional box, of a resume and a cover letter and some interview answers to illustrate their value. That was also really interesting to me.

I took what I learned and I did a bunch of research. I basically made it my mission to turn the hiring process into a game and try to figure out how I could create some shortcuts. A lot of my time was spent learning how to build relationships with people I’d never met before, finding ways to understand the challenges they were facing, the challenges their companies were facing, new initiatives and projects that they were releasing, basically any way that I could add value.

Then I would go back and I would research those problems and I would come up with creative ways to highlight what I brought to the table and the tangible value that I offered if they took a chance on me. I basically spun those up over the next couple of years to land offers at Microsoft and Google and Twitter and a whole bunch of other places. The rest is history, so here I am.

But after I started working at Microsoft, I had a bunch of people from Wake Forest reach out to me and they were like, “Aren’t you the kid who graduated with like a 2.5 GPA? How the heck are you working at Microsoft?” When the 20th person asked me that I thought I’m having the same conversation with all these people, maybe I could find a way to write this down in a scalable fashion.

I started up my site. I came up with my name pretty off the cuff. I really just wanted to get this blog post out there. I wrote it all up. I did some promotion. It got an incredibly positive response from friends and family but also from strangers on the internet. That’s really how this whole thing started. Now we’ve been going strong from about three years.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into the particulars on these tactics, so the creative ways of demonstrating your value and acquiring these referrals. How did you do it and how have you seen other people do it successfully?

Austin Belcak
Definitely. The overarching theme here is find people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision for the role that you want, number one. Number two is to build a relationship with them regardless of whether you’ve met them or not.

I was talking to somebody earlier on the phone today and she was like, “You mean reach out to total strangers?” I was like, “Yeah, we’ve got to reach out to total strangers.” It’s overcoming that barrier as well. Then finally, those creative ways to illustrate your values.

If we start with the first piece there, when we talk about locating or identifying people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision, it really comes down to somebody who would be your manager if you got hired or would be your colleague sitting at the desk next to you.

I think a lot of people feel like reaching out to recruiters is something that is really important and needs to be done, but I personally don’t recommend it. Recruiters – it’s no knock against recruiters because what they do is really important, but they are inundated with emails and it is so hard to stand out.

Even if you do get the opportunity to stand out and they reply to you, their influence ends when they refer you in for an interview. They’re not going to be able to advocate for you through the hiring process. They’re not going to be in the room where the hiring decision is made.

But if you get in touch with somebody who would be sitting at the desk next to you on your team or would be your manager, they can also refer you in, but then they can also kind of be your champion internally and coach you through the interview process. They can advocate for you in the room where the actual hiring decision is being made. That is so critical.

But on top of that, they’re not getting bombarded with emails from potential candidates. It’s also a lot easier to get in touch with them using the right outreach strategies. That’s the first step is kind of getting yourself in the mindset of who to reach out to, why, and then we have to go out and find them.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell me in terms of the who, I guess how do you know that the person from the outside looking in, that the person you’re reaching out to would in fact be your manager or your colleague in the desk next to you?

I suppose in some ways if they have pretty specific titles, you can be like, “Oh yes, that’s dead on,” but other times the title might be something – I thinking of Microsoft, thousands of people might have the same title in terms of what they’re doing. How do you get clear on these would be the nine people that would be the influencers on what I’m really after?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, Pete. You’re never going to be able to – that’s not true. Never say never. You may get a tip on who the hiring manager is and that’s great. But in the majority of cases, you’re not going to be able to pinpoint the exact hiring manager. The best thing that you can do is take an educated guess. That’s exactly what you mentioned.

Let’s say I want a job at Microsoft in New York as an account manager. I can go look up all the account managers that currently work at Microsoft in New York. That’s probably going to be my best target base. I do know that if I reach out to all of them that I will hit somebody who will be on the team I’m being hired for because I reach out to literally everybody. That’s one way to cover it.

I also recommend reaching out to as many people as you can. A lot of people ask me, “Is it weird if I reach out to multiple people at the same company? What if they start talking about me? What if my name gets out there? Is that going to hurt my chances?” At the end of the day, no. That’s not what I’ve seen.

My background is in sales and I’m in sales now. There’s a nice little anecdote that sales people like to throw around where a lot of the deals get done or big steps or breakthroughs happen on the seventh touch point. It’s really about that familiarity. You kind of have to get – the more that you get in front of somebody rather, the more familiar you become and the more likely they are to then take that action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking in a way I imagine if they do talk about you. Then it’s conceivably possible that they’d say, “Oh my gosh, why is this guy wasting our time? I already gave him the answers, so he’s talking to three other people who give him the same answers,” but I think it might be more likely that the response is, “Whoa, we almost never see candidates who are so committed as to go to this length to get in. That’s interesting. We should take a closer look at this guy.”

Austin Belcak
100%. That is – the majority of the times that I’ve gone through this and when I’ve coached people and gotten feedback, and even talked to the hiring managers themselves, that is the exact feedback we’ve gotten. People are typically – they typically see that as a sign of persistence and a sign of enthusiasm and motivation and a differentiator from all these other candidates who are just relying on the baseline or the minimum required to kind of get their foot in the door.

But on top of that, some of the other tactics we’re going to talk about in a second here are going to make it so that even if there was a doubt, even if they are kind of around the water cooler and they’re like, “Who’s this Pete person? His name’s come up. I don’t know. He’s kind of weird. He’s reaching out to all of us.”

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely weird.

Austin Belcak
The next step is going to wipe that off the table, which is once you’re able to – this is kind of two-fold. When we think about creating something valuable that illustrates our value and it is compelling to the person, there’s two ways to get it. We can either get it from the contacts themselves or we can get it through our own research.

One of the most important things you can do is put in as much time researching this company as you possibly can. If you do that ahead of time, if you do that before you reach out to people, you’re going to be that much more prepared when you are reaching out. You’re going to have better outreach, but also a lot of times somebody will – people will be surprised.

If you’ve never done cold outreach before, you never know when somebody is going to hit you back up and say, “Hey, I have time in two hours. Can we talk then?” Then the fear and the stress set in if you’re not prepared and you scramble to think of questions and you don’t know what to talk to them about.

But if you spent this time researching the company and you understand the challenges they’re facing, how they’re addressing them, the wins that they’ve had, what’s their current status on X, Y, and Z projects or X, Y, and Z brands, then you come to the table with that much more ammunition to start and drive the conversation. Doing some of this research ahead of time is really, really powerful, but it also allows you to come up with some value-add angles ahead of time.

Then you can either – basically the conversations that you have, you can flush those out. You can kind of validate them. You can tease them out with questions or posing different ideas or statements that relate to the thing you’ve come up with and you can gauge the response.

If the person on the other side says, “That’s actually something that we’re working on,” then great you kind of have something to work off of. But if they’re like, “Oh yeah, we tried that. It was terrible. Totally failed,” then you know that you kind of need to pivot. Getting that research in ahead of time is really, really critical.

When we’re talking about public companies, they tend to be a little bit easier to research than private companies. But just two of my favorite ways to kind of understand where things are going at a high level for those companies are one to listen to their earnings calls.

Every publicly traded company out there, every quarter they have an earnings call and they’ll share it publicly. If you just type in the company name and investor relations on Google, that page should pop up and they should have the most recent webcast.

Basically what they do is – the calls are typically about anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long. If you’re pressed for time you can kind of find the MP3, and download it and then speed it up in iTunes, 2x, and save yourself some minutes.

But basically what they talk about is – it’s their presentation to the shareholders as to why the company is in the current state that it is and what they’re doing to make it better. If there’s a challenge, they’re going to address it. If there’s a win, they’re going to call it out. Then they’re going to talk about the future, “What are we doing to capitalize on the momentum of the win? How are we thinking about addressing or fixing the challenge that we saw, which caused numbers to drop?”

That’s a great way to get a high level overview of what happened recently and what the company is driving towards in the future. Then I like to go to a site called SeekingAlpha.com, which is basically-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a financial blog, where all these analysts kind of come together and they write pieces on different companies. You can go in and you can punch in the stock ticker for a company. There’s two columns. There’s a news column, which is basically your objective stuff like the “Dow dropped 460 points today,” “This stock was impacted X amount,” very objective.

But on the other side there’s analysis, which is where those analysts come in and they basically give their opinion. It’s really helpful because you can pretty much find five different angles on the same topic.

Somebody will tell you why Facebook’s handling of private data is going to be the demise of their company. Then the next article is how some guy is talking about Facebook’s handing of private data is going to help them learn and help all of us learn and it’s going to cause their stock to skyrocket in the future.

Regardless of which position you agree with, you get a sense of all the different angles that you could potentially approach this subject from. That is going to give you a lot of ammunition to have these conversations, but also come up with unique ways to add value.

I was just talking to one of the people that I coach. He was looking for a job at Apple. He couldn’t think of a way to add value. We went on the site and the third article down was Here’s Six Things Apple Isn’t Doing Right Now That Could be Making Them Millions of Dollars. They literally listed out six things and they had specific arguments for their ideas. We grabbed a couple of them and we threw them in the deck and put his spin on them and leveraged that as our value-add project.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting when you say throw them in the deck and value add project, can we talk about when in the course of this relationship building do you trot that out? My hunch is it might be a little different. You say, “Hey, I’d love to chat with you about X, Y, Z.” They go, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ve got 15 minutes to chat in two hours.” You say, “Great.” Then you’re on the phone. It’s like, “Please open up to slide three.” How do you kind of time and sequence that?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, most definitely. It actually – the best answer that I can give is that it depends on the situation. If you’re reaching out and you can’t even get anybody on the phone and you can’t even get any replies, then you may need to trot it out at that point to add enough value to get a response, to trigger a response from somebody.

But let’s say that you are getting replies, things are working well, you’re getting people to set up meetings with you, typically what I like to do is have a few meetings first. I like to as soon as I start outreach, I want to have a general idea of the type of value that I could potentially add. My hope is that the conversation that I have with this person is going to one validate my idea in some fashion. Maybe give me some pieces of the greater picture or puzzle that I can then bake into the project itself.

Then I like to have a couple of these questions, so I get all these different perspectives or a couple of these conversations. Then once I’ve had a few of those, I’m sort of in this place where I’ve talked to the first round of people and I’m teed up for the second round of people. Then I like to approach it by following up. I like to use the value validation project as a means to follow up and drive the relationship with the people I’ve had conversations with.

Let’s say Pete, I reach out to you and we had a conversation, I’m going to go back and finish my project and then I’m going to send you an email. I’m going to say, “Pete, thank you so much for taking 30 minutes to chat with me last week. I really enjoyed our conversation, especially the piece around this challenge that you’re having about getting more new customers.

I’ve actually done some thinking about it and I’ve put together a few ideas around how I think you guys could leverage your existing audience to drive more customers through referrals. I’ve attached that here. Would love to get your thoughts. Email is fine, but if you time for another call, great.” Then I’ll email that off to them.

Basically what that does is one it allows me to follow up the first time. It provides value that showcases my skills, my experience, what I bring to the table, but it also opens up the door for a second follow up because if that person doesn’t reply, I can email them again and say, “Hey, did you get what I sent?”

But if they do reply then the conversation is going. Now maybe they give me feedback over email and now we’re going back and forth. They’re getting more invested in me with each email and with each suggestion or better yet we get on the phone and we build more of that personal rapport. We’re talking instead of typing. Maybe it’s even face-to-face in person. But we’re kind of building that relationship and I’m adding value that directly relates to that person’s team, that person’s company, a role that’s open.

That’s typically when I like to trot it out, usually about five business days or so after we had the call. Then when it comes time to interview, I usually like to bring it with me into the interview. Then we’ll have the interview as planned.

Then at the very end when the interviewer is like, “All right, thanks so much for stopping by. Is there anything else?”  I’ll usually say, “Yeah, there’s one more thing. I talked to a few people at the company here on your team and they told me that your biggest challenge is X,” or “You have this new initiative coming up called Y and I put together some thoughts around that.”

Then I’ll slide it across the table to them and I’ll just say, “No need to look at it right now. I know you’re really busy. I appreciate the time, but if you do have a minute to look at it over the next day or two, please do. Definitely let me know if you have feedback. Thanks so much.”

Again that opens the door for you to follow up with your interviewer and a lot of people struggle with that. Following up is key to making sure that you’re staying top of mind and that they are driving the interviewing process and the hiring process on their end. Those are kind of the two times that I like to bring it out and leverage it most. I think that’s a good segue into what exactly does that project look like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. This reminds me, I think Ramit Sethi calls this the briefcase technique in terms of there’s a very kind of a dramatic moment. It’s like, “What? Nobody else has ever extracted a document and handed it to me. What’s going on here? Oh,” ….

Austin Belcak
And they all use that voice too. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if they’re saying this out loud, but they’re thinking it to themselves hopefully because it’s just a huge differentiator. I guess a real key is that you in those conversations you’ve done a good job of zeroing in on, yes, this is their biggest challenge and yes, these are some ideas that might be workable.

You’re also kind of getting some useful feedback in terms of “Oh no, they really hate podcast advertising,” I don’t know. But nobody hates podcast advertising. It’s so effective and been proven many times.

Austin Belcak
Speaking of.

Pete Mockaitis
For example if they’re trying to acquire new customers and you’ve got these ideas and you’re having conversations and they say, “Oh no, they are totally against this,” because, I don’t know, it’s not measurable, it’s very visual, whatever their excuse is. Okay, now you know, so you’ve something that is sort of new and distinctive and feels innovative, like you’re smart, but also not just sort of way crazy out there or disgusting to them for whatever reasons or bias they have against them.

You’ve sort of fine-tuned something that’s pretty excellent by the time you’re in the interview. That’s cool and it’s exciting. I imagine just about nobody does this because it’s too much effort and they don’t want to risk it when there’s no guarantee, but on the flip side if you think about the time you spend blasting applications to hundreds or thousands of opportunities, it’s probably more time effective than the alternative.

Austin Belcak
Most definitely. I’m actually going back a few minutes here. I’m really glad you brought up Ramit because that’s actually where this idea kind of came from. I watched that briefcase technique video.

One of the ways that I built the experience to be able to even be considered for some of these roles at Microsoft and Google was starting up my own freelance consulting firm for digital marketing. The briefcase technique was something that I used to land clients. When I started applying for some of these jobs, I thought why not do something similar for these companies. That’s exactly what it was born out of.

But I’m also really glad that you brought up the point of it taking a lot of effort. Two objections that I typically get are that it takes a lot of effort and what if a company just takes my work and runs with it. I totally understand where people are coming from with both of those. But first for the ‘it takes a lot of work’ piece, it definitely does. But to your point, how much work are you spending applying online every day and is that making you happy? Also is it bettering you?

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. You’re learning a ton as you do this. Maybe it’s not applicable for Microsoft, but hey, Adobe is doing similar stuff.

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. It even goes beyond that. There aren’t too many transferable skills from applying online, but if you train your brain to get into this mode of consuming information with a lens of identifying problems and coming up with solutions quickly, that’s a pretty valuable skill to have anywhere in your career, whether you’re job searching, whether you’re trying to increase revenue or drive against goals that your boss gave you or come up with ideas to make a case for a promotion or a raise or starting your own company or business in pitching people.

No matter what you’re doing business-wise having a mindset of knowing where to find the right information, knowing how to tease out problems, that’s really, really valuable. This is kind of the first step there.

It definitely does take work, but you’re going to be that much better for it as a professional and as a person. That’s something I’ve seen direct benefits from even starting the business here and within my career at Microsoft.

Then the second objection is always what if the company steals my work and runs with it. I get what people are saying. There’s something that I’ve heard from a lot of people who advocate for the traditional job search and traditional business practices, which is basically if you’re good at something you should never do it for free.

I think that that’s changed in our world today because it’s so competitive. Whether you’re starting a business or searching for a job, there’s so much competition out there. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, a lot of people are still abiding by that methodology of not giving anything away for free and they’re the ones who are going to lose out.

If you really think about it, sure, you’re putting in a lot of time, but how much is a new job worth? When I got my job at Microsoft, I got a $60,000 raise. That’s by no means the norm, but the job before that I got a $20,000 raise, so let’s call that closer to even.

I think I spent probably maybe 20 hours coming with a value validation project for them and doing some research and putting it all together and then presenting it. If I think about it from that lens, I basically got paid 1,000 bucks an hour to come up with that project. I’ll take that hourly rate any day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Austin Belcak
That’s awesome. When people are worried about putting in the work and also companies stealing their work, I think you need to think of it more as the long-term strategy, a long-term investment. if a company is going to steal your ideas and just run with it, that’s a great litmus test for whether or not that’s a company you want to work for.

Pete Mockaitis
And if they steal your idea and you learn about that in the future, that goes on your resume.

Austin Belcak
Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
….

Austin Belcak
You have the proof. You can show when they executed it and when you came up with it and sent it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
That goes on your resume. They did almost all the work.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
You did 20 hours’ worth. They did 3,000 hours’ worth.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome. That’s basically, it’s a short-sighted business strategy. All the great companies that I know, they want to invest in people who are going to bring great ideas to the table every day and they’re going to constantly be innovating and thinking of new ways to solve problems and be willing to roll up their sleeves.

On top of that, if I have an idea and I give you the framework, you’re probably not going to execute it the same way that I had in mind, whether or not it’s better or worse is up in the air. But if I’m a company I want to – I don’t want to just take this one idea.

I want to invest in the person who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard enough without even being employed at my company to come up with an idea like this because I know that once I bring them into the fold and give them all the inside information and the resources and all of that, they’re going to 10x those ideas and they’re going to be so, so impactful to the business.

If a company does steal your ideas, to me that’s a company that I don’t want to work for. Imagine what happens when they’re paying you and now that your manager is stealing all of your ideas the same way that they did when you applied for the job. That’s just a situation that you don’t want to be in. The great companies out there recognize that the person who is coming up with the ideas is far more valuable than the specific idea itself.

Then finally on that topic, how badly do you want the job? If you’re worried about a company stealing your project, just think about what you’re doing now. Is it working? Because if it’s not, if you’re applying online, if you’re trying to network and you’re doing this stuff and it’s just not working, you need to try something else.

If you’re so worried about a company stealing your project, but what you’re doing right now isn’t working, something has to give one way or the other. I’d much rather put in some time bettering myself, like honing my analytical thinking, my problem solving skills to come up with this idea that even if the company takes it and runs with it, like you said Pete, you can take the credit for it, you can put it on your resume, but you can also take that knowledge and the skills that you learned from going through that process and you can move on to the next company.

That’s how I typically handle both of those objections with people. But I’m happy to also give examples of specific projects that people have put together if you think that would be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, let’s hear examples of the projects and sort of the deliverable. It sounds like you’re working with PowerPoint slides and kind of what makes it great? Is there kind of a rough range of slides and what is the stuff that really makes you seem brilliant as opposed to like, “Yeah, okay. You Googled something. I’m not impressed.”

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. Right off the bat, I’d say that this is all about getting creative and focusing in on two things. One, what is valuable to the company, so what do they care about. Then also, what medium will help you best get that value across.

I mentioned PowerPoint decks because that’s what was easiest for me and that’s what was natural for me. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are into video or maybe they’re developers and they know how to code things and build things.

There’s so many different mediums that you can get the value across with that anything that you can do to stand out is great and anything you feel comfortable with is also great. A lot of people aren’t writers out there, but maybe they’re videographers. A video is great. But if you are more of a writer than a videographer, a blog post is great. Again, whatever you feel comfortable with.

Just to give a few examples. There are a couple that I really like. The first one is from a student named Cam. She was at Northeastern and she wanted a job at Airbnb. She had applied online and didn’t hear anything. She reached out to a bunch of the people who worked there. She also didn’t hear anything from her outreach.

We got to talking and I was like, “What do you want to do? Do you want to try and come up with something else? Do you want to move on?” She said, “I haven’t done everything I could possibly do to get my foot in the door here.”

She went out and she actually combed through social media to find pain points that real Airbnb customers had about the business. She screenshotted the pain points that people had. She consolidated them and she kind of analyzed them to find two that really stood out.

Those two were the lack of a keyword filter. Basically if I wanted to rent an apartment in Chicago for the night that had a hot tub and I could look right down into Wrigley, I don’t think that’s possible, but regardless, if I wanted that, I wouldn’t be able to search for that specifically. I would basically have to search for listings in Wrigleyville and then click on each individual one and see if it had a hot tub and a view.

That’s not a great user experience because it requires a lot of effort on the user’s end. Naturally people were upset about that. The second piece was getting in touch with their customer service. Apparently, Airbnb’s customer service is like notoriously bad. Cam came up with ideas for both of those.

For the first, she went out and she found people and she asked them to go through this task of finding listings with specific criteria and asked them for their feedback and how they would improve it. She took all of their feedback and the recommendations and she mocked it up into an actual flow of what it would like within Airbnb’s app. That was one solution.

Then the second was she went out and did a bunch of research on the benefits of live chat, so basically having a little widget on your site that would allow people to interact with the site immediately and get the help they need immediately without a huge cost or overhead to Airbnb itself.

Basically she went out and she found all these benefits that showed that having live chat increased customer retention and increased satisfaction, increased revenue, all these metrics that any company wants to continue to improve.

What she did was she put together a deck, where she basically teed up the – she had screenshots from all these people on social media complaining about the thing. Then she went through and talked about the methodology of how she got the results. Then she showcased the solution.

That was about an eight-slide deck. It wasn’t anything crazy. It wasn’t professionally designed or anything. Anybody listening to this could have put it together. But then she sent it out to the same contact that she had reached out to before and she got a reply the next day. She was in their office for an interview the next week. That’s a great, great example.

Pete Mockaitis
But did she get the job Austin? We’ve got to get closure.

Austin Belcak
She did. She did. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Hooray.

Austin Belcak
Yes, yes, yes. Of course, of course. I mean how could you not hire somebody who was doing that? Then that’s the whole point.

She went out and she found this tangible problem. She wasn’t like, “Hey, I think that your customers are having this issue.” She said, “Your customers are having this issue. Here’s how you fix it. I’m the person who has these kinds of ideas and will help you execute on that.”

Of course, they’re not – who’s going to hire somebody who’s just coming up with a resume and a cover letter, black and white ink, all of that, over somebody who went out and did marketplace research, customer research, and came up with actual tangible value for the company? That’s the type of thing that we’re talking about.

Just to give one more example that’s a very different end of the spectrum. There’s a guy named Tristan who he wanted job at Foursquare. This is about six – seven years ago when Foursquare was really booming. They were releasing an ad product. They had all these advertisers currently on the platform. They were looking to grow.

Tristan saw that they had an opening on their sales team and he really wanted it. Instead of just applying online, he went out and he basically mapped – he made a map of all the companies that were currently advertising on Foursquare. Then he went out and created a list of companies that were sort of lookalike, who matched the same criteria. Then he went and started reaching out to them. He generated about ten leads.

He got in touch with people, had conversations, positioned himself as a supporter of Foursquare. Then he sent an email to the CEO of Foursquare. He said, “Hey, you guys have an opening on your sales team. I’m really, really interested in it. I didn’t apply online. I didn’t do anything else, but I have ten people at companies who are ready to advertise with you today. I’m happy to give you their names and I’m happy to put you in touch with them. When can we meet?”

The CEO replied to him. They onboarded those ten companies. Tristan got hired not just as a regular salesperson, but actually as the director of sales.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. That’s another great example of thinking outside the box. He could have easily said – somebody who’s able to convince ten people to try a product for a company they don’t even work for has a good track record in sales ahead of time.

He could have easily said on his resume, “Over attainer, averaging 150% quota at my company,” but then he’d sound like exactly every other salesperson applying for the job. But by actually going out there and sourcing leads, which is exactly what they’re hiring this person to do and then bringing them to the CEO, again, same story as Cam from Airbnb. Why would they hire anybody else because they know that this person can do exactly what they’re asking for?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that because when we talk about value, which can be a nebulous word at times, it’s so precise in terms of okay, these are real companies, who are quite likely to give us real money real soon. That’s great.

Then that also gets you thinking in terms of the value you’re creating doesn’t just have to be thoughts, ideas, input from users or customers, but it could be real precise in terms of generating revenue like, “These are leads we might buy from you right now,” or slashing cost in terms of providing actual vendors.

It’s like, “I’ve spoken with three people who have experience in automating manufacturing packaging lines and can totally handle doing box-dried macaroni,” I’m just inventing a totally new example, “and are happy to chat.”

If you’ve already validated that “Yes, sure enough they’re looking to slash manufacturing cost and there’s a lot of waste showing up in packaging. It’s very manual to figure out where the problems are coming from and how to address them,” then that could really resonate. Then it’s like, “Wow, we’ve never heard of these companies before and we should,” or, “Yeah, we’ve talked to one of them but haven’t heard of the other two. You’re bringing in new stuff that we hadn’t even considered.”

You can only be perceived positively unless you did a really shoddy job in terms of “This isn’t a real problem that we’re worried abbot. This thing that you’re proposing is completely farfetched and unworkable.” Assuming that you’ve got a reasonable quality, it’s huge in terms of showing what you can do.

Austin Belcak
Yup, absolutely. That’s basically the overarching strategy there. The best way that people can get started is to just start reaching out to people who are in a position to help them get hired. I know that that can be somewhat of a daunting task for people who have never reached out cold before. I have plenty of resources on my site to help people with that. I have templates of scripts and all that.

But the best thing that I can recommend is just start with one person per day. You can even do one person a weekday, so just five emails a week. Just find somebody on LinkedIn. You can look up their professional email using a tool like Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert, V-O-I-L-ANorbert.

You get their email, you just shoot them a note and you say, “Hey, I’m really impressed with your experience and I’d love to learn more about how you were able to achieve and accomplish all the things that you have in your career. Can we talk more about it?” Definitely probably go into a little more detail and personalization than that, but something along those lines.

Just start sending one email a day and I promise you, you will get responses. When you start getting responses and you start having these conversations, everything else is going to kind of fall into place. That’s the best next step that I can recommend. Yeah, Pete, I really, really appreciate the opportunity and you having me on here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, this was fun, definitely. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Austin Belcak
Yes. It’s not necessarily job search related, but it could be. But for me something that’s resonated and I’ve been trying to focus on is that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think that is a Teddy Roosevelt quote.

I don’t know if you’ve run into this building your business, but it’s very easy to go on LinkedIn or somebody else’s blog and be like, “Man, they have so many more visitors than I do,” or “so many more likes and they’re doing so much better. That’s something that I really struggle with personally. I have that quote written up on our chalkboard in our kitchen here. I’m trying my best to kind of abide by it every day and just focus on me.

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

Austin Belcak
Oh, I can relate this one to the job search. Interviews are very fascinating environments for me because I am a big psychology fan. One of the things that I always recommend to people – I have two. I don’t know if we have time.

But the first one I’d recommend is basically in a series of events, people are most likely to remember the first thing, the first event and the last event.

When we think about that in the context of interviews, interviews all sort of follow the same progression. There’s the intro and the small talk kind of before you sit down at the table. Then you dive into the questions. There’s some soft balls. Then maybe you get into behavioral, maybe technical, case study questions. Then towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asks you if you have any questions for them.

[51:00]

For the majority of interviewers out there, a lot of the answers are to the middle section are going to be the same. “Tell me about a time you failed. Tell me about your greatest weakness. Tell me about a time you succeeded,” all that stuff. The answers are all going to be sort of in the same ball park. But if we think about that principle where people remember the first and last event in the series, those happen to be the two events in the interview that we actually have the most control over.

You can drive the small talk at the beginning of an interview. If you do some research on your interviewer, you looked them up on Google, you looked them up on LinkedIn, maybe you find their Facebook profile, they have Twitter feed, and you try and find some piece of information that you can bring up at the beginning of the conversation that sort of sparks more personal talks so the formal barrier comes down.

That’s a great way to start the interview and that’s something that they’re going to be likely to remember.

Then at the very end if you can ask great questions. I also have an article on my site about – I just have a set of five questions. I know a lot of the articles I read give you like a million questions out there and tell you they’re all great, but I did a bunch of research using a lot of those questions and these are the five that I found to be the most effective.

But if you ask a great question that kind of incite a conversation and are a little bit on the unique side versus what everybody else might be asking, that’s also going to be very, very memorable. Doing both of these things will typically open up or give you some ammunition for a follow up.

Maybe that personal conversation – maybe this person tells you, “Hey, I’m getting married. I’m going on my honeymoon,” or “We had this vacation planned,” or “Hey, I just started brewing my own craft beer,” or “meditating,” or whatever. All of that is great ammunition for you to then go and follow up.

Ask them “What beers have you brewed? Where can I find a recipe?” “I love that book that you mentioned. Who’s the author again?” Then you can say – you can send them a follow up and say, “I read the book. My favorite point was X, Y, and Z. I totally understand why you said X about it.” It really opens the door to continue the conversation and continue building the relationship.

But that is a long-winded answer to your question, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Certainly. How about a favorite book?

Austin Belcak
That’s a good one. I think my favorite book is probably recently probably The Power of Habit. That’s one that my wife and I both love. I think habits are so critical to success in any capacity. They really drive – once you read that book you realize just how much habits drive most of your life. If you can build the right ones, you’re definitely going to set yourself up for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Austin Belcak
My favorite tool would probably have to be one of the ones I mentioned before, which would be Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really amazing ….

Austin Belcak
Yeah, they were a total game changer to me. But since I already mentioned them, for people wondering what they are, they basically allow you to look up anyone’s professional email address.

[54:00]

A related tool that should go hand-in-hand and I recommend to all my job seekers is it’s called Yesware, Y-E-S-W-A-R-E. It’s essentially an email tracker. This is a little bit creepy to be transparent, but it will allow you to basically see the activity on all the emails you sent.

You can when people open your email, how many times, how often, where, when, and if they engage with it. If there’s a link in it, it will tell you if they clicked on the link. It will tell you what device they opened it on. It’s pretty wild.

But the reason it’s so helpful is because when you’re reaching out cold to a lot of these people, you need to understand that a random email from a total stranger is probably low on their priority list no matter how badly they want to help you. Just because you don’t get a response, doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t want to help you or isn’t interested.

I gauge interest using email tracker. If somebody opens my email multiple times, then to me that is indicative that they’re thinking about it, they’re interested in it, they’re just very, very busy. I’m going to follow up five business days later. If they only open it once or they don’t open at all, then that means it’s time to move on to the next person.

Pairing using Hunter to find people’s emails and then using email tracker to gauge the engagement on their end, those are two of the most powerful tools you can use for finding strangers and reaching out to them and starting to build a relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Austin Belcak
I think my favorite habit, which I haven’t done enough of recently is getting up early and working out. It doesn’t have to be – one of the things that – I’m pretty much an all or nothing type of person. I’m either completely bought into something and probably investing too much time and energy into it or I’m not doing it at all.

Something that I realized recently was that even just going and running on the treadmill for ten minutes makes a huge difference in my ability to focus and manage my emotions for the rest of the day.

Then also getting up early. A lot of people ask me how I run my business while having a full time job and getting up at 5:00 in the morning, 5:30 in the morning, working out and then coming back, I still have two hours before work to write some blog posts or do some outreach or whatever it is that I need to do. I think both of those combined are probably the thing that’s had the biggest impact on my life recently.

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

Austin Belcak
Definitely. I always leave with anybody is welcome to reach out and email me. I can’t be the person to tell you to cold email strangers and then not be the guy replies. My email is Austin@CultivatedCulture.com.

[57:00]

Then if people want to take the next step kind of and dive into some deeper material, if people listening go to CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome, there are two resources there. First, I keep a lot of data on the strategies that I recommend to people. I don’t recommend anything that I haven’t tested out myself or with the audience. I consolidated the five most effective strategies that I found from coaching thousands of people for the last few years. Those are available there.

Then I also have a course that I call Resume Revamp. It’s my approach to writing an effective resume. Hundreds and hundreds of people have used it to transform their resume and land jobs at the places we mentioned before, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etcetera. Again, that’s CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome. Yes, please feel free to reach out to me if you guys have any questions at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Austin, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for doing what you’re doing and keep it up.

Austin Belcak
Thank you, Pete, likewise. I’m a huge fan of the podcast. For everybody listening, if you haven’t already, please go and leave a review for Pete because those are a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thanks.

Austin Belcak
No problem.

369: Avoiding The Perils of Workplace Technology with Dan Schawbel

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dan Schawbel says: "When you replace emotional connections with digital ones, you lose the sensation of being present and the feeling of being alive."

New York Times bestselling author Dan Schawbel discusses appropriate uses of technology and how to find fulfillment in your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to set career expectations
  2. Three tips for increasing productivity and improving work relationships
  3. How (and when!) to use technology to improve relationships

About Dan

Dan Schawbel is a New York Times bestselling author, Partner and Research Director at Future Workplace, and the Founder of both Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com. Through his companies, he’s conducted dozens of research studies and worked with major brands including American Express, GE, Microsoft, Virgin, IBM, Coca Cola and Oracle. Dan has interviewed over 2,000 of the world’s most successful people, including Warren Buffett, Anthony Bourdain, Jessica Alba, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and me! He is the host of “5 Questions with Dan Schawbel”, a podcast where he interviews a variety of world-class humans by asking them 5 questions in less than 15 minutes. In addition, he has written countless articles for Forbes, Fortune, TIME, The Economist, The Harvard Business Review, and others that have combined generated over 15 million views. Schawbel has been profiled or quoted in over 2,000 media outlets. He has been recognized on several lists including Inc. & Forbes Magazines “30 Under 30.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dan Schawbel Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dan, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Dan Schawbel
I’m very excited to be here, my friend.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear the story you recently conquered your fear of heights in Costa Rica. What’s the back story there?

Dan Schawbel
I was really anxious going to Costa Rica. I was watching all of these videos on YouTube of people canyoning and zip lining and I had so much fear. I’ve been afraid of heights my whole life.

My friends that I went with, they’ve done some crazy things in their life. My friend, Pete, he has zip lined in … places in the world. My other friend, we call him the crazy Russian, Slava, he’s bungee jumped, he’s jumped out of a helicopter, he’s done some crazy stuff.

And so, just going with them and knowing that I would be really pushed out of my comfort zone, gave me a lot of anxiety. And I have a lot of anxiety as is, so it just … up a notch.

I finally just gained the courage. I’m like, “Let’s do this. When am I going to go to Costa Rica again?” So we land, the next morning we go canyoning first. It was really intense because when you go in this canyon, you have to propel down these massive waterfalls. The first waterfall is like eight feet, but the second one is almost directly after that and that’s 150 feet. And I’ve never done this before.

And what I did was I went first because I knew the more I would wait, the higher my anxiety would be, more … I would be. I would always go first and that’s how I got around that fear is, “Hey, I’m just going to get this over with.” In many ways that’s how I’ve handled a lot of situations in life. I just replicated it in terms of to beat the fear.

A few days later we went zip lining and that was … the biggest and tallest zip lines in all of Costa Rica. I think one of the zip lines was a mile long. They would tell us that if you get stuck on the zip line, because you’re not going fast enough, then you have to crawl yourself back. maybe it happens a few times a year, but to me that builds up so much fear because what if I’m the person. What if I’m stuck and I’m looking down and you see the rainforest and the jungle and you’re like, “Oh my God, let me live through this.”

What really helped with the anxiety was going before my friends, but because it was a 75-year-old woman and five little kids who were zip lining with us. I was like, “Oh, if they can do it, I can do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that’s encouraging when the elderly pull it off. Great to hear. You did it. How do you feel?

Dan Schawbel
I feel good, but I’m also not ready to sign up for it again either.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it also sounds like you’ve got your hands kind of full. You’ve got multiple roles going on, founder of Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com and partner and research director at Future Workplace. Can you orient us a little bit, what is your job, your thing, what do you do?

Dan Schawbel
For the past month, I’ve really come to the conclusion that I’m just a curious person who asks a lot of questions. I’d start there, because since 2012 I’ve conducted over 40 research studies, including this new one for Back to Human, the new book with Virgin Pulse.

I’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve surveyed over 90,000 people in over 20 countries, and I do all the questionnaires, so I’ve had to think of many, many, many, many questions through that.

Then I’ve also interviewed over 2,000 people one-on-one. These are anywhere from professors to authors, to astronauts, to Warren Buffett, Donald Trump, a wide variety of people and each of those interviews is five questions …. It’s really about learning as much as I can from people and through data and create and … those stories through the media, through books, and through everything else I do.

So that’s the core of what I do is ask questions. I’m also you could say an entrepreneur. I’m partner … Future Workplace. I do all the research through them, but we also put on four events every year, two on the east coast of America, two on the west coast. These events are for heads of HR companies that we serve. We also have an AI course and we do workshops as well.

Aside from that, I’m … Millennial Branding, so that’s where I do a lot of speaking, and books, and spokesperson, deals with working with companies to get their message across to people my age. I’ve done a lot of media. I’ve written over 2,000 articles.

I’m somebody who has worked since I was 13. My first business was sophomore year of college. I had eight internships between high school and when I graduated college.

I worked for three and a half years at a company called EMC Corporation, which is now EMC Dell. Dell purchased them. I created the first ever social media position there that’s because outside of work I was really early into blogging. I started my own …, everything around personal branding.

Fast Company profiled me and through that EMC hired me internally for the social media position. If you go Twitter.com/EMC and Facebook.com and all those, I did all the original social media accounts back in 2007, so it was really early on in all of this. I’ve watched the whole thing play out.

Then over time, I’ve continued to write. My really true love is I like to focus on organizational behavior, how robots and humans collide in the workplace. I’m very interested in work culture and the labor market at a high level.

I like to see from a macro level what’s … in the economy, what’s happening in the world, are more people being hired, are people losing jobs because of technology, what do retentions rates look like, what – who’s hiring what?

I love all of that because from a high level I know what the market is, so I can give better advice from an individual level … invest their time, what they should major in, what skills they need to develop. But also more corporate standpoint, I understand what skills people have and what they’re looking for in their employers.

For instance, people my age, 34, or younger, they’re looking for flexibility in the workplace. Through the research, through conversations I have I’m able to make those recommendations.

The goal really, my mission is to help my generation through their whole career path from student to CEO. The first book, Me 2.0, helped them get from college to first job. The second book, Promote Yourself, is first job to management.

Then Back to Human is a leadership book for the generation because over … percent of people my age have a management title and above and about 5% have a director title and above, so to me this is the best time to help engage the next generation of …. And you know, for me, myself, I consider myself a leader in this space. I’ve been supporting this generation since the early days, the early 20s.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right, that’s plenty. What’s your book, Back to Human, all about here?

Dan Schawbel
The thesis is that technology has created the illusion of connection when in reality, … using or misusing it, we are isolating ourselves to a more lonely, less engaged, and less committed to our teams and organizations.

People can all relate to this. The average person checks their phone every 15 minutes. We tap our devices over 2,600 times a day. We’re constantly using the technology. We’re not even thinking about using it. You see this everywhere we go.

Now, even though the book hits technology really bad, it does it to make bigger points about how we’re using it and when we’re using it.

For instance, you could use technology in order to discover people who might live in your neighborhood or your city so you can connect with them, but when you connect with them try and do it in a meaningful way on the phone or in person so you get to really know someone and form a stronger bond.

This happens in the workplace too. If we’re constantly using and abusing technology and thinking it’s going to solve all of our problems, it’s really not. It’s going to actually isolate us and bring us further apart.

You cannot solve an argument between two employers by texting. That’s just not going to cut it. It creates misunderstanding. One, face-to-face interaction is more successful … 34 emails back and forth. Instead of emailing someone constantly, hoping they understand you and know what to do next, all you have to do is walk four feet and actually talk to that person.

Because of the overuse and misuse of technology in our society and in the workplace, people are using it as a crutch and avoiding face-to-face conversations that are necessary in order to establish relationships that are required for long-term success and happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you point to I guess a little bit of the mechanism or the line of causality or the evidence that says, that hey, this technology is in fact causing isolation and disengagement?

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, it’s actually in the study I did with Virgin Pulse of over 2000 managers and employees in 10 countries. We found that almost 50% of an employee’s day is spent using technology to communicate over in person. What’s happening with those employees is that they feel lonely … very often as a result of overusing that technology.

This is a big issue, especially in a world where … is much more dispersed. You have more people working from home than ever before. A third of the workforce works from home, but two-thirds of those people are disengaged because if you’re always working from home the whole time – and I work from home, it’s been almost eight years working from home you can become isolated and lonely because you’re not … human contact.

What’s really fascinating is we focused on all the benefits of working from home and … tons of research around the benefits that you get, the freedom of flexibility, you save commuting cost, but not enough people are talking about the drawbacks. The big drawback is that you feel isolated, lonely, and potentially disengaged.

We have bigger conversations around the full picture of this because sometimes people lie to themselves. They’re not consciously thinking about how working from home isolates them and impacts their health and wellbeing, which impacts productivity.

It’s like everyone talks about the glory of loving what you do and being passionate about what you do for work, but if you’re really passionate about what you do, it could become an addiction and actually isolate you from others because all you’re doing is work.

There’s the good and bad for everything. Part of what I want to do with this book is to reveal and make people more conscious of how and where they’re using technology and to try and make better decisions about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I guess what I’m wondering is the extent to which the working remotely thing is causality versus correlation in so far as some people who want to work from home are already, aren’t super attached to their coworkers. They won’t miss like, “Oh, I’m so sad that I will not see these people on a regular basis,” as opposed to it’s causing it like, “Oh man, I’m out of the loop.”

Are you talking about people who are working entirely remotely or sort of the once or twice a week work from home crowd?

Dan Schawbel
I’m talking about entirely working remote.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Dan Schawbel
If you work remote, you’re much less likely to want to long-term career at your company because you don’t have emotional attachment to the people you work with. You’re never there. You’re out of sight, you’re out of mind, which actually limits your career prospects.

It’s like Jack Welch used to always say when he was the CEO of GE, “Face time matters.” If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. You’re less likely to get a promotion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you, so these are fully remote workers.

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, so I’m talking about a fully remote worker. A third of the population works remote always or very often. It’s happening. Look at a company like Aetna. Over half the workforce works remote full time.

Other companies fall into this as well. That’s why you see this big backlash too. You have Yahoo, BestBuy, Reddit and various other companies like Honeywell that have forced employees to come back into the office. Now, they’ve forced employees to come back to the office full time, whereas Aetna says, “Hey, you can work remote fulltime.”

What I’m saying is more or less what you’re … to get to is let’s … extremes here. Let’s kind of meet in the middle and let’s customize work based on your individual needs.

It’s crazy. I interviewed 100 young leaders for my book, at least … of them are having kids this year. There’s a million new Millennial moms per year. If you’re having kids, you need some degree of flexibility. As if someone’s single or someone’s older, the benefits they need and the work they want is going to be a little bit different.

You’re going to care much more about retirement benefits if you’re 60 than 23. You’re going to care about flexibility in some regard regardless of age, but if you’re younger maybe you want flexible hours or telecommunicating, where as if you’re older, you want some other degree of flexibility. Like if you have kids, you want parental/maternal leave. That’s becoming a really hot benefit for many. Netflix gives unlimited.

I think it depends where you are in your career lifecycle, what you’re looking for at that time, and what your needs are, and then having a company and a manger step up and really lead by exhibiting empathy and understanding your situation, trying to create a good situation for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then digging into some of the content of the book, you sort of suggest starting off by focusing in on fulfillment. What does that mean and look like in practice and what are some of the alternatives that people focus on instead?

Dan Schawbel
Great question. Life is too short and … work too many hours not to be fulfilled at work. The average work week is 47 hours for a fulltime salaried employee and 43 for an hourly worker. We’re spending so much time at work.

Anytime I stand in front of an audience of 50 to 6,000 recently, I always say, “How many of you respond to work emails on vacation?” It’s like 99% say they do. We’re always kind of working now. There’s an expectation, especially in the United States, that we’re working 24/7, which can be unhealthy and lead to burnout.

But the reality is if you do not like your work or you have a toxic work environment, where you don’t get along with your colleagues and manager, it’s going to affect your personal life.

This is why I put such an emphasis on improving the workplace, making people have healthier work environments because if you don’t have a good employee experience, it’s bad for the company, and it could be bad for your relationship with the people you’re closest with because you’re going to be complaining about work outside of work all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Dan Schawbel
I put a huge emphasis on this. What I said in the book is you really have to focus on your fulfillment first. It’s like if you’re on a plane, they always say take care of yourself before you – if there’s going to be a crash, take care of yourself before your fellow passengers.

Same thing with fulfillment, you’ve got to get your stuff right because then you’ll be optimistic, you’ll be happy, you’ll be able to inspire and support people at a higher level. You’ve got to get your stuff right first before you help others.

The best way to start doing this is defining what makes you fulfilled. Think about what you’ve enjoyed in the past, what you think you’re good at, your values, what your previous accomplishments and experiments tell you. Really zone in on what you’re supposed to be ….

By the way, this doesn’t happen in one day. It’s not like you wake up and magically you know what makes you fulfilled. It’s being thoughtful. Taking notes. A lot of people keep journals now. I think that’s really smart, to write down how you feel when you do certain activities. Really narrowing that down is so important.

Then I think what happens in our society is people get distracted by technology. They get derailed from their own fulfillment. They try and live up to the expectations of others when we really have to take a step back and focus on ourselves and then our team second.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, a couple things I want to dig into there. One, I’m a sucker for data. That 47-hour figure, so this is in the United States, those who are full-time salaried position.

Dan Schawbel
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
So that does not include the commute. That is just straight up work time.

Dan Schawbel
Straight up work time.

Pete Mockaitis
… further.

Dan Schawbel
That’s by Gallup. That’s a Gallup study from 2014.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. I’m wondering if it’s the mean or the median, but I’ll look it up on my own. Either way, it’s striking. 47 is a lot more than 40.

Dan Schawbel
Oh here’s another one for you. A third of people work on weekends.

I’m a data nerd, by the way. I’ve reviewed – I’m getting closer to over 8,000 research reports since I was a recent college graduate, so I’m really invested in this.

I have catalogued all the research over the years because I’ll tell you why I like research so much because when I was younger, there was so much ageism because I had a career blog. People were like, “What do you know about having a great career? You’re 22!” I stated early. I learned how to – internships, get a job, sell myself, build my personal brand. I knew that all early on.

It’s still a lot of ageism. I used data in order to combat ageism. “Hey, you don’t believe me? I’m going to point to data that you trust, so you now … be more seriously.” I always use data as a way to deflect ageism.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Dan Schawbel
And then … 2012 I had a great opportunity to analyze four million Millennial Facebook profiles. That campaign went well. Then I’ve just been addicted to data ever since because it’s … almost like you’re an archeologist and you’re digging up the next dinosaur bone. For me it’s I want to find something new, discover it, and bring it into the world, and distribute it to others so it benefits them.

From a corporate standpoint, from an individual standpoint, I think data is extremely valuable in today’s society when everyone’s thinking about the ROI of everything and also just to really identify what’s really happening in the pulse of the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. I’m right with you there. I don’t remember who said it. I think it was when I was learning to become a consultant at Bain. They said, “The only thing you can really rely on to be heard and credible and persuasive when you look so young and don’t know diddly yet about the industry is a fact.”

It was like, “Yup,” sure enough, a fact is a fact. They go, “Huh, okay. Well then that’s something that we’re going to work with a little bit.” As opposed to your opinion and you’re pontificating on how things should be when you’re not yet trusted for your pontifications. So I’m right with you there on the data.

Tell me when it comes to focusing on fulfillment, could you maybe set a little bit of an expectation on the grand scheme of fulfillment, I think it’s fair to say that no job will fulfill your every wish, want, desire, and need for that to bring about fulfillment and happiness in your life.

At the same time, I think there’s plenty of room to keep the bar higher than, “Well, you know, it’s a job. It’s a job and they pay me.” What do you think is sort of acceptable and to expect from a career versus asking for too much or too little?

Dan Schawbel
What I would say is it’s trial and error. What’s really interesting that I’ve been thinking about over the past year is no one has this all figured out. We’re all tweaking our careers. We’re pivoting. We’re learning more about ourselves as we experience new jobs and new projects.

For me, it took me a while to figure out what my mission was. I started young, of course, that helped, but I didn’t really put all the pieces together in my head until maybe three years ago when I came up with my mission statement that I put on my website. I now say I love research more than anything else. That’s why I’m like the chief question officer in a way because that’s a really key part of research in many ways.

I think you identify what makes you fulfilled based on self-reflection, based on feedback from others, and just being around people who give candid feedback, not ones who are yes men or yes women, people who are going to be real honest with you.

When I interact with pretty successful people in my network, a lot of them don’t get the best advice and get the best feedback because they’re getting complimented all the time because they have leverage in their careers. I stand out because I’m willing to give them criticism in the most genuine way possible and because of my track record, they take it seriously. Then they’ll take some of that advice to heart ….

I think you just need the right people around you who are going to be honest and if they see you doing something wrong or they see you unhappy, to just have them be honest and be like, “Oh, I see that you’re unhappy. This is not exactly what you should be doing or how you’re doing it.” Sometimes you might be in the right position, but doing the work in the wrong way, which will turn you off from doing the work and make you feel unfulfilled.

A lot of people give up quick, especially in today’s society. Everyone wants instant gratification. They build up all of it in their head that this job is going to be perfect and they’re going to be so happy. They’re unwilling to work to ensure that they have maximized their day … fulfills their personal and professional needs and are fulfilled overall.

I think that you can’t just rely on the company to … fulfilled. You need to be responsible for doing that and working within your company to make that happen. That could mean doing projects outside of what you’re hired to do. It could mean that you change the nature of your work and working in a lounge versus a cubicle because maybe that gives you more inspiration.

It could be you changing how you get work done or who you work with. Maybe your group is not the right team for you at work as a leader. Maybe you need to manage a different team.

And things change too. What if your employee quits? Then you’ve got to hire someone else. Or what if you get laid off? Then you’re looking for another job and you’ve got to maybe reinvent yourself because people aren’t hiring those with your skillset that was valuable three years ago, but it’s not now.

It’s a constant work in progress. I think people should do their best. I think people should reflect often and surround themselves with people who will be candid with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, lovely. Thank you. I want to talk a little bit about some of your perspectives on how you’re doing the work. Let’s talk about the work/life balance. You say it’s a myth and we should look at work/life integration instead. What’s the full story here?

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, just based on how work is being done these days. It’s happening in the office. It’s happening remote. It’s happening in co-working spaces, at coffee shops. It’s all over the place. It’s very decentralized. It’s hard to know when to cut off work and when to do personal things. It’s becoming ever more blurred. But our personal and professional lives are very blurred because of technology.

Again, what I was saying before. It’s like you’re kind of always working even if you’re not at a physical office. Because of that we have to – we need a new solution because … is no longer effective like it was for our parents and our grandparents.

What we need to think of is work/life integration. Jeff Bezos calls this work/life harmony. The now former CEO of … when I interviewed her, she called this work/life integration as well and so has several other people in my network that I talked to because it’s all about taking the responsibility and accountability to say, “Okay, these are the five personal and professional things I need to do this day.”

Then carve out your schedule so you’re able to do those two, three, four, five things. It’s on you to figure out how to integrate the things that you need to do … fulfill you personally and professionally, not anyone else because only you know this. I think that’s really important.

Like for me, I’ll be doing this podcast and then in two hours I’m going to an event. I’m meeting friends there. Even though I’m going there for professional reasons, it’s also to be with my friends. Almost like as an excuse to see them. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to parley my personal and professional life together.

Like I’m going to LA and when I’m there I going to be doing some media for the book, but at the same time, I’ve already contacted some of my close friends who live there … dinners and lunches and get-togethers. So, it’s constantly figuring out how to make it work on a regular basis and blocking off times so that you’re fulfilled in both areas.

Pete Mockaitis
Any pro tips on any sort of powerful requests to make bosses or boundaries to set that for many people can make a world of difference?

Dan Schawbel
This needs to almost happen when you’re being interviewed. Just asking questions about from the employer’s standpoint, what are they looking for in work/life balance.

Then from the individual standpoint, just talking about the type of environment you work best in. If you really work well remote and then the hiring manager is like, “Well, we don’t let anyone work remote even for an hour here,” it’s probably not the company you want to work for.

It’s really having the conversations before you can start work so that once you know what you’re able to do and you accept that job, the expectations will hopefully be met. Rather than hoping it all works out when you already have a job, try and do it as early as possible in the hiring conversation.

If you already have a job and you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got to have this conversation,” it’s really about blocking off time with your manager and just seeing what the possibilities are and what the comfort level is. Because at Aetna for instance, they let employees work remote full-time, but they have to be at the office for the first six months to prove themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Dan Schawbel
You’ve got to earn the right to work remote full-time by showing that you can take the responsibility and do the work and deliver results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. I also want to get some of your takes on productivity, shared learning, optimal collaboration. Can you give us some of your favorite tips and do’s and don’ts in this world?

Dan Schawbel
Oh boy, this is a big one. The shared learning chapter is become very popular because I think there’s so much learning that needs to happen now. You look at the way skills are now, the average relevancy of a skill is only five years. In order to keep up with the fast-paced business world we live in, we have to rely and support each other by sharing what we know openly.

Being a hog of information is going to lead to a shorter-term career that’s not going to be as fulfilling. If you’re more open to share, and you’re more open to accept the knowledge that other people have and train them, but also ask for help, you’re more likely to succeed because everything is in real time right now.

Information is moving fast. Things are changing. Companies are being acquired, merged. There’s layoffs. There’s new skills that are entering the arena, like artificial intelligence skills. If you’re able to work as a team collectively and lead a team where people are just helping each other, that team is going to hold strong. They’ll have stronger relationships, which will lead to higher performance.

The other thing I’ll say is for optimizing your productivity, again, technology can be good or bad, but when it comes to optimization, you can do a lot of things that save time, like use conference room booking systems or even your own calendar to block off time on people’s schedules so that you have time to meet people, be prepared for meetings so that you can facilitate or catch up with your colleagues. I think that’s really important.

Like I was saying before with work/life integration, use your calendar to block off time for meals, time for breaks. For every 45 minutes or so of work, you should take a 10- to 15-minute break. That’s what the research shows. I think that you need to do what’s right for you, but there are certain best practices that can help you, like having … environment that’s optimized so that you avoid distractions and you can concentrate on the work at hand.

But then also getting out. A lot of people have lunch at their desk and they should be having lunch with their colleagues so they can form stronger relationships.

Again, this really has to do with the pressure that employees are being put on right now because people are working harder than ever before for no additional money, so there’s this constant anxiety that people have that they have to always be working. But that leads to burnout and lower productivity. So I would avoid that.

Instead, I would really think about how you can at least one or two times a week have lunch with your colleagues, just so they’re seeing you, they’re hearing you. You can bounce ideas off them. The best ideas that I always get are when I’m talking with other people. I literally get my best ideas in conversations.

If you’re staring at your computer all day, you’re probably not going to be as creative. But if you are in new surroundings with new, diverse people, it’s going to inspire you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Dan Schawbel
I would say training people is really important. Sharing articles among your teammates. Anytime I see an article that would benefit my team with the artificial intelligence, I see it and I share it. I don’t even think twice because I know what my … want and I just keep delivering because then they’re going to be more prepared for their meetings.

Every morning I’ve had the same habit, which I think is extremely effective in what some of your listeners could take advantage of is I review all the latest research and trends in my own space every day. Then when I have meetings during the day or I’m speaking or I’m doing something, I’m or I’m … at things that I learned about four hours before.

I become extremely relevant because I’m always looking at these trends regularly. Things are changing so fast, so I almost can’t avoid doing that now. But by learning a lot, by sharing that knowledge and keeping up to the pace with things that are changing, you’re able to offer more, be more relevant, and smarter in your field.

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

Dan Schawbel
Yeah. I think what I’m trying to really do is make people more conscious of how they’re using technology, not disregard human interactions.

The biggest thing that gets in the way of person-to-person human interactions is email. We’re sending way too many emails. Many times it just doesn’t make sense. You see a lot of my friends, they have hundreds of emails they haven’t even answered, which many could have been avoided by just one phone call to be honest.

We’ve dropped phone calls. We’ve dropped voice mails all for texting. We’re sending so many texts every day and it’s not getting us anywhere. Not all progress is true progress in my opinion.

That’s not to say technology can’t be good. Early in my career, I used technology to forge an incredibly big, vast great network, but it wasn’t until I started to meet those individuals in person where the real relationships prospered and became something more noteworthy.

For this book, when I was interviewing … leaders, it started off as me interviewing them, then us having a Facebook group to just share updates, but then what I did was I used the Facebook group to meet them in person all across the country. They came on a book tour with me.

I think that is a good case of going back to human, where the technology was used in the right way. It’s used for initial contact and used in order to get everyone on the same page with … and same vision, and then using in-person conversations and phone calls to really get to know people … and go with them.

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

Dan Schawbel
I think the best quote in the book is “When you replace emotional connections with digital ones, you lose the sensation of being present and the feeling of being alive.” Other quotes that I really love that I said over the years are, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, and build your own future,” and “Invest in yourself before expecting others to invest in you.”

In terms of books, I’d recommend books that my friends … Dream Teams by Shane Snow, The Creative Curve by Alan Gannett, Superconnector by Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh. These are all people I know personally, so it’s easy to recommend books because you trust them and what they’ve written.

I would say for the biggest challenge is the next time you’re in a meeting, have you and your teammates all put their phone in the middle of the table for the entire session and see what happens when you do that. You’re going to see what conversations take place, see what ideas are brought to the – brought up. Take notes. Then compare that to a meeting where phones were accessible and people were using them.

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

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, you could go take the self-assessment that’s in the book. It’s called WorkConnectivityIndex.com. It measures the strength of your team relationships. You can also listen to my podcast, Five Questions with Dan Schawbel, where I interview all sorts of people from Condoleezza Rice to Ann Jones, Richard Branson and five questions in under ten minutes, so quick, but you learn a lot by listening.

For everything else you can buy Back to Human on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, your local bookstore. Go to DanScawbel.com to follow all my research and articles.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, Dan, thanks so much for taking this time and good luck with Back to Human and all that you’re up to here.

Dan Schawbel
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.