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553: How to Change Minds and Organizations with Jonah Berger

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Wharton professor Jonah Berger discusses the biggest obstacles to successful persuasion—and how to overcome them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why persuasive arguments don’t work—and what does
  2. A simple technique to win over stubborn naysayers
  3. How to introduce big changes with minimal resistance

About Jonah:

Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and internationally bestselling author of Contagious, Invisible Influence, and The Catalyst.

Dr. Berger is a world-renowned expert on change, word of mouth, influence, consumer behavior, and how products, ideas, and behaviors catch on. He has published over 50 articles in top‐tier academic journals, teaches Wharton’s highest rated online course, and popular outlets like The New York Times and Harvard Business Review often cover his work. He’s keynoted hundred of events, and often consults for organizations like Google, Apple, Nike, and the Gates Foundation.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jonah Berger Interview Transcript

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

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. You’ve been on the list for a long time so it’s so good to have you here.

Jonah Berger
Oh, thanks. I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to just kick us off by so you’ve been doing a lot of research in influence and change. Can you maybe tell us what’s some of like the most common things that people want change that comes up again and again, it’s almost like trite for you by now?

Jonah Berger
I think everyone has something they want to change. Employees always seem to want to change their boss’ mind, leaders want to transform organizations, marketing and sales want to change the customer or the clients’ mind, startups want to change industries, nonprofits want to change the world. I think we all have something that we want to change. People talk about changing their spouse’s mind or their kids’ behavior, so I think these things come up again and again.

What I found most interesting is that we tend to take a particular approach that often doesn’t work. So, when we did some of our own research, for example, we asked people to write down, “What’s something you want to change? And what have you tried to do to change it?” Almost 100% of the time, 99% of the time, they write down some version of what I call pushing, and that is kind of adding more pressure, more reasons, more information.

If it’s the boss, “Oh, let me just send one more email.” If it’s the client, “Let me make one more phone call.” If it’s my spouse, “Let me just tell them one more time why I think what I’m suggesting is the right way to go.” And it’s clear why we think this is a good approach, right? In the physical world, if we want to move something, we push it, right? If you’re sitting in a room and there’s a chair, and you want the chair to go somewhere, you push the chair in the direction you want it to go.

But the problem with people is they aren’t physical objects. Unlike objects that move when we push them, when we push people, they push back. And so, the question, really, of this new book that I’ve been working on is, “Well, is there a different way? Is there a better way to change minds and organizations?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, do tell, what is the better way?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, so I think there’s a need analogy to be made with chemistry. And so, in chemistry there’s sort of this special set of substances that make change happen faster and easier, they’re called catalysts, but they work in a very particular way. They don’t add temperature, they don’t add pressure, which is usually what things in chemistry do to change things, they remove the barriers to change. They basically make the same amount of change happen with less work.

And so, that’s really what I find quite interesting about the social world as well. Too often, we say, “What could I do to get someone to change?” rather than taking a very subtle but important shift, and saying, “Why hasn’t that person changed already? What’s preventing them? What are the barriers that are mitigating or hindering change,” that friction as you said, “and how can I remove those barriers?” And so, that’s what the book is really all about. It’s about finding those barriers, those things that are getting in the way and how to get rid of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, let’s hear in terms of frequent examples of resistance, friction, barriers, obstacles. What’s the kind of stuff that gets in the way for professionals looking to make a change at work, either in themselves, or with their boss, or colleague? What are some of those repeated obstacles?

Jonah Berger
Yeah. And I love to think about these obstacles as parking brakes. The reason why, when we get in our car, we often have this problem. We get in our car, we’re sitting on an incline, or whatever, we want to get it to go, we turn the key ignition, put our foot on the gas. If it doesn’t go, we think we need more gas. We, rarely though, until we think about it, end up checking that parking brake. So, sometimes it’s the parking brake that’s along the way. So, what are those parking brakes or obstacles?

And so, in the book I talk about five. I talk about reactance, endowment, distance, uncertainty, and corroborating evidence. Those, I found across my research, are some of the five most common benefits and they have the nice side benefit of when you put them in order, they actually spell a word, which is REDUCE.

Pete Mockaitis
It was no accident, Jonah, I’m sure.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, it was no accident. And, honestly, actually, if I could I’d change the order around. I’d end up with like the EURDC framework which doesn’t spell anything. So, it would just be confusing if we did it that way but I think it’s a nice way to organize that information, and that’s what catalysts do, right? They don’t push harder; they reduce those barriers. They figure out what those obstacles are and how to mitigate them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s dig into each of them. Can you maybe define the five of them and then we’ll sort of dig into each one?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, let’s pick one to start. So, let’s say reactance, and I think this is something that everyone listening has experienced in one way, shape or form, whether it’s in their professional or personal life. And the idea here, very simply, is when we try to get people to do something, when we try to persuade, they push back.

A bunch of very nice research shows that people essentially have an ingrained anti-persuasion system, almost like an anti-missile defense system, or radar, that is going around, that says, “Hey, when I sense that someone is trying to convince me of something, someone’s trying to change my mind, my defense system goes up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Even if it’s for our good or it would be fun.

Jonah Berger
You’re exactly right, yeah. And I find this most funny with exactly what you said. Even if it’s something I already want to do, this happens a lot in our personal lives, right? Our spouse, for example, might say, “Well, I think we should do this,” and even if it’s something we already wanted to do, we have to stop ourselves from saying no because we want to feel like we made the choice.

And that’s exactly what reactance is about. We want to feel like we’re in control, we’re in the driver seat, and so if we don’t feel like we’re in control, or we don’t feel like we’re in the driver seat, we push back against that message. That radar goes up and we either avoid, or ignore something, or, even worse, we counterargue. And I think counterarguing is the worst because you don’t know when someone is counterarguing. Often, they’re sitting there, they’re listening to you but they’re not actually listening. They’re sitting there thinking about all the reasons why they don’t want to do what you suggested.

And so, in terms of how to solve this challenge, there are a few different ways but one I often like to talk about is to do something called providing a menu. And the notion, the intuition here is very simple. When we give people one thing that we’re recommending, they, as we just talked about, often sit there thinking about all the reasons why it’s a bad idea. So, if our spouse, for example, says, “Hey, why do you want to do this weekend?” And you say, “Oh, let’s go watch a movie.” They go, “Oh, but it’s such a nice day outside,” or, “Oh, we went to the movies last week,” or, “Oh,” whatever it is. They think about all the reasons why it’s a bad idea.

And so, what good consultants often do is they provide what’s called a menu, essentially multiple options rather than just one. And what that really cleverly does is that shifts the job of the listener. Let’s say a consultant is presenting a solution and they’re presenting it to a client. If they just present one option, the client sits there going, thinking about all the reasons why it won’t work, “It’ll be too expensive.” “It’ll be hard to implement.” “My staff won’t like it, blah, blah, blah, blah.” All the reasons why it won’t work.

If, instead, you present two options, at least two or three, maybe even a couple more, it shifts the role of the listener, because rather than thinking about all the reasons they don’t like what you’re suggesting, they’re instead sitting there thinking which of them they like the best. Which of these two options do they like the best? Which is going to lead them, not surprisingly, to be much more likely to pick one at the end of the day.

And so, I like calling it providing a menu because you’re not giving infinite choices, you’re giving a limited set, and you’re guiding that decision.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s so funny because it takes so much work to go off the menu. I’m thinking, this is triggering all sorts of things. So, I’ve got a two-year old at home, and so sometimes he doesn’t want to put a shirt on after he wakes up, and so I was like, “Hey, do you want the blue one or the purple one.” And he says, “Purple.” Or I was at a hotel with a continental breakfast this weekend, and I just wasn’t thrilled with the options. So, I was hoping for those little egg things but they weren’t there. There’s about all carbs, no protein, but I had like six options. And so, I just sort of stood there displeased for like three minutes. The people are probably wondering what I was doing, I was like, “No, no, no,” and then I finally just said, “Okay, I guess I want to do this because I don’t want to truck it out in this snowy weather. I’ll eat what’s here.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, but talking about kids, I mean, it’s the same idea. I have a young one at home myself and it’s the same thing. When you ask kids to do something, they go, “No.” “Put this away.” “No.” “Do you want to wear this?” “No.” They’re like so used to saying no, but if you give them two options, suddenly they got a chance to choose. And notice you’re not giving them 15 options. If you gave them 15 options, they wouldn’t make a choice. They’d feel overwhelmed, they’d go something else.

When you walk into a restaurant, so you go to a Chinese restaurant, they don’t say, “Okay, which of the 60 options of world cuisines would you like?” They say, no, “Here’s the small set of options that are available but you get to pick.” And I think that same thing is used for whether you’re trying to convince a client or whether you’re trying to convince a boss. If you want that boss to do something, don’t say, “Hey, boss, I think we should do this.” Say, “Hey, boss, I think these are two really great options for us. Which do you like better?” Now, the boss may not pick either, but because they felt like they’re in control, they’re more likely to pick one than they would’ve been otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s particularly excellent when it’s sort of like the “Help me prioritize” conversation. Like, “You’ve made 40 requests of me and it’s, in fact, impossible for all of those things to happen within the timeline you’d like them to happen. So, what do you think of, on this list, is the most important?” And so, that goes across, I think, a lot better while on the receiving end of this than, “No, not going to do that,” or, “I can’t do that.” It’s like, “Well, what?” It’s like, “No, no, you pick which of these things?”

Jonah Berger
You pick, yeah. But, as you’re pointing out, and that’s actually another thing I talk about a little bit in this chapter, is what that does is it gets the boss to commit to the conclusion. When you make statements, if someone gets a sit, they’re going, “Okay, do I agree with that statement or not?” When you ask questions, suddenly, again, it shifts their role. They’re saying what they think is the most important. They’re saying which of the things you should prioritize. They’ve put a stake in the ground. And so, if you come back later and you do that thing, it’s hard for them to disagree.

Somebody was talking about this in the context of a startup they were working at where the boss wanted everyone to work the weekend. No one wants to work the weekend, right? So, instead, in the meeting, the boss said, “Okay, what kind of company do you want to be? Do you want to be a good company or a great company?” Now, we all know how everyone answers that question, they don’t say, “Oh, we want to be a good company.” They say, “We want to be a great company.” And after everyone says that, they put that stake in the ground, they’ve committed to the conclusion. Then the boss says, “Okay. Well, to be a great company, we got to put in some long hours.” But because people have committed to it, because you asked them a question rather than telling them what to do, they’re much more likely to do the work to reach that conclusion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. So, then that covers the reactance, I guess, we automatically react to, “I don’t care to be persuaded but I do care to make some choices.” So, then how about the endowment?

Jonah Berger
Sure, yeah. I think endowment, the best way to talk about endowment is to share the common intuition we often have, which is we tend to become attached to things we’re already doing. So, unlike if you’re trying to get someone who’s never done something to do something, when you’re trying to get people to switch to go from one thing to something else, they’re not only about how much they value that new thing and how much they want to do it, but how reticent they are to give up the old one.

So, some research on home buying, for example, shows that the longer someone’s lived in a home, the more they value that place above market price. They’ve spent a long time in it, they have their memories attached to it, they’re unwilling to get rid of it. Same thing if you’re asking people to buy something. So, they do great research, for example, on what’s called the endowment effect, where the name of the chapter comes from, where they asked people, “Hey, imagine I give you this mug.” They’re checking out this mug, it can hold coffee or tea, “You like it, great. How much would you be willing to sell it for?”

And they asked another set of people, they say, “Hey, here’s this wonderful mug, it holds coffee and tea, etc. How much would you be willing to buy it from someone else for?” And those prices, those amounts should be exactly the same whether you’re buying that coffee mug or selling that coffee mug, the value of it should be the same. But people’s valuation of it changes based on whether they own it or not. If it’s your mug, if it’s yours, you’re less willing to let it go. You have two times, often, will have higher valuation than people that don’t have it already because it’s yours. Obviously, this is a problem because you’re not only asking people when you ask them to change to do something new, you’re asking them to give up something old that they probably value very highly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. This also reminds me of the cognitive bias, the IKEA effect in terms of, “I poured my time into assembling this piece of furniture therefore, if I were to sell it, it needs to fetch a hefty rate because I’m invested into that.” And to others, “No, it’s just kind of a cheap piece of furniture. You’re not going to get a hefty rate. It’s not world-class craftsmanship or anything.” Okay, so there we go. That’s endowment, it’s there. What do we do with it?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, and so I think the thing there, I found, is that we have to make people realize that doing nothing isn’t costless. So, I think we have this notion that, “What I’m doing already is free.” The cost of doing a new thing, the switching cost, which hopefully we’ll get to in a couple minutes, but we think the existing thing is, in some sense, free, “It’s not going to cost me anything to keep doing the same thing I’m doing.” But that often isn’t the case. There often are costs to doing something that we don’t realize.

So, there’s a nice study, for example, that talks about which hurts people more, which causes more pain, a minor injury or a major one. And everybody, when they think about it, will go, “Oh, of course, a major injury causes more pain.” So, if I break my elbow, it’s going to hurt me a lot more than a sprain. A headache is not going to hurt as much as a heart attack, for example. But what people don’t realize is when something really bad happens, we often take measures to fix that bad thing.

Something that’s terrible, when we break our arm, for example, we’re not just going to sit around. We’re going to go to the hospital, we’re going to get it set, we’re going to get it fixed. Whereas, for a minor sprain, we often don’t fix it. And so, we often don’t address those things and they end up causing more pain over the lifespan overall because they don’t go above our threshold.

And so, the challenge, that is for change agents, is make people realize it’s not costless, that doing what you’ve done before isn’t costless. There’s a great person from IT that I talk about, I talked to in the book, they did a version of what I call burning the ships. So, there’s this old famous story where an explorer wants to get his men to travel inland to do this dangerous thing in Mexico, they don’t want to go. So, what he does, he takes the old option off the table. He basically says, “Look, if the ships are still around, they can still go home so I’m going to burn the ships. Once the ships are gone, once the status quo has disappeared, they’ve got to go with me. They’ve got to change and do the new thing.”

And so, that may seem really drastic, burning the ships, but this IT guy did a version of it. He was trying to get everyone to upgrade, so upgrade to a new software version.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you’ve got to. Those hackers are after you.

Jonah Berger
Oh, they do, right?

Pete Mockaitis
They’re after you.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, you’re still using Windows 7, or whatever it is, it’s dangerous for the network.

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t have that.

Jonah Berger
Or someone’s on that old version of their PC they don’t want to get rid of because they’ve got that status quo bias, it’s theirs. And so, what he did was interesting. So, rather than saying, “Hey, let me tell you how great the new thing is,” he surfaced the costs of inaction. He made people realize more that doing nothing isn’t free. He sent out this note to people who weren’t upgrading to a new system, so he sent out this note, he said, “Look, you don’t have to upgrade. But just so you know, we can’t support the old system anymore. It’s dangerous to the network. It takes too much time. You can keep using it but, after a certain point, if you have a problem, we’re not going to fix it.”

He didn’t say, “Hey, look, you have to switch,” but he didn’t allow that costs of inaction to remain dormant. He really surfaced it. He allowed people to see it. And so, in some sense, he didn’t take the old option off the table, he didn’t throw their PC out the window, he didn’t truly burn the ships. He just made people realize that sticking with those old way of doing things might be more costly than they might think, which encouraged them to be more willing to do something new.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really dig that, and I’ve recently applied that in terms of there’s all these little tasks that, you know, I’m big on outsourcing and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But there are some like three-minute tasks that’s just like, “Ahh, it’s probably a lot of effort to train folks on how to do that so I’ll just keep doing that.” But then when I really hunker down, it’s like, “Okay, so what is this going to amount to over the next five years of doing these three minutes?” And I think about all those hours, and it’s like, “Okay, well, that’s a few vacation days, so maybe it’s worth taking an hour to share, ‘Hey, this is how you make invoices,’” or whatever the thing may be so that I can get that going, as you show that the cost of doing nothing is significant.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. And I love that example that you shared because the cost is significant over time but it’s not initially. Like, you’re sitting there, going, “But it’s only three minutes.” But, as you said, three minutes over time adds up to vacation days. But there’s always an initial cost of action. To train that person requires a couple hours, and if the cost seems bigger than the immediate benefit, we don’t do it. And so, really encouraging people to say, “Look, over time, that sprain, that elbow sprain is going to hurt a lot. You might want to go see a doctor and get it fixed.” Really adding it up over time forces people to realize that it’s not actually costless.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, let’s keep it going. Tell us about distance. Tell us about distance, Jonah.

Jonah Berger
Sure. So, distance is the notion that if we ask for too much, if we ask for something or even give people information, it’s too far from where they are at the moment, they tend to ignore us or they tend to sort of push back against what we’re suggesting. And so, this might sound a little bit like reactance, but in reactance we’re really trying to persuade someone, even if we just give people information, sometimes they don’t listen.

And so, a great domain to think about this is politics.

Jonah Berger
It’s the new reality show, it’s called America – What’s Happening in Politics. But people don’t get along with the other side, and many people have talked about filter bubbles, and you get access to biased information, and all these different things. But one solution is, “Hey, if we just learned about the other side, if we just connected with people on the other side, then we’d be more moderate, we’d come around.”

And so, sociologists from Duke actually tested this, they said, “Look, I’m going to take people on Twitter, I’m going to pay them a little bit of money to follow a bot for a month, and that bot is going to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum as them.” It’s exactly what all the commentators and pundits have said, “Look, if we just reach across the aisle, just talk to a couple Republicans, if you’re a Democrat, vice versa if you’re a Republican, that’ll make everybody more moderate.” They said, “Look, if we just give people information, we’re not trying to convince anyone, just give them information about what the other side thinks, hopefully, that’ll make them more moderate.”

And you can think about this in a variety of other contexts as well, right? If I just give that boss more information about what I want, if I give the client more information, they should listen. And the hope was simply that information about the other side would move people to the middle but that’s not, unfortunately, what he found. It wasn’t that it moved people to the middle, and it wasn’t even that it had no effect. Giving people information about what the other side thought actually pushed them in the opposite direction. It backfired.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Those jerks,” villainized them more for how wrong they are.

Jonah Berger
In some sense, right, they made Republicans become more conservative, and the Liberals move in the opposite direction as well. And, essentially, why? It was too far from where people are at the moment. Research shows that we have a sort of a latitude acceptance or zone of acceptance around our beliefs or our attitudes. Sure, we believe a certain thing, but we’re willing to move a few yards in another direction.

Think about a football field, right, we move five or ten yards in one direction, maybe five or ten in another, but we won’t go completely on the other side of the field because on the other side of the field is that region of rejection. It’s that set of opinions, or information, or beliefs that we are unwilling even to consider. We’re unwilling to pay attention to them, and this is sort of ideas of the confirmation bias. And even when we do pay attention to them, we discount it or we don’t believe it because it’s too far from where we are.

And so, the question really is, “How can we shrink that distance, make it not seem so far away from where people are at the moment?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, so let’s get an example here. Boy, what’s something that people can really…hey, how about abortion, right? There is some distance. So, one side could say, “Hey, this is a human life and you’re murdering it or him or her, that’s not cool.” And the other side would say, “No, you’re enslaving women. You’re trying to bring them back to the dark ages in which they’re subservient to men. This is unjust.” Okay, so we got a whole lot of distance. I’m throwing you in the deep end, Jonah.

Jonah Berger
You are.

Pete Mockaitis
If one side or the other is trying to gain some ground, how might we present things to have less distance?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, so I’m going to cheat here. I’m going to take an easy out at the beginning and then we’ll work our way back around abortion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Jonah Berger
So, I would say a first place to start is to do what I call asking for less. And so, I think an easy way to think about this is a doctor that I was talking to. So, often, when we want people to change, we ask for too much. The information is too far away. In the abortion case, for example, we want someone to go from pro-choice to pro-life right away. We want people to switch sides, one to the other right away. We want big change to happen right away.

And the doctor was actually dealing with something similar. She had this truck driver she was working with that was morbidly obese, so he was like 100 pounds or more overweight, part of the reason why, he was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man.

Jonah Berger
He was drinking in that truck hub all day long. He’d buy Mountain Dew.

Pete Mockaitis
Got to stay awake.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, got to stay awake, got to have something to drink, so he was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew. And so, what’s our knee-jerk reaction in that situation?

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s disgusting. You have to stop that now.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, “Don’t drink anymore Mountain Dew,” right? If we want someone to exercise, “You exercise every day.” We want someone to switch from one side of the field to the other, which is great for us but it’s probably not going to work for them. If you’re talking to a guy that’s drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day, telling him to quit cold turkey is probably going to fail.

And so, she tried something else instead. Rather than asking him to quit cold turkey, she said, “Hey, you’re drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day. You can keep drinking some Mountain Dew, but drink two instead of three, and take one of those empty bottles and fill it up with water.” He grumbled, he didn’t want to do it obviously, he wasn’t interested in moving at all, but he was willing to try. He lost a little weight. He came back next time. She said, “Okay, great. Now you’re at two, move to one.” Came back a few months later, had made it to one, then she said, “Great.” Eventually moved to zero.

And by using this sort of step-wise function, not asking for all at once, but asking for less and then asking for more, she was able to get him to change. And so, asking for less isn’t about saying, “Hey, I’m only going to ask for less,” it’s about starting with less and then asking for more. Moving people five yards down the field, and then moving them another five yards.

If you talk to product designers, they often call this something like stepping stones. If you’re introducing a new version of a product or a new version of a service, I, a few years ago, was working with Facebook to introduce a new hardware project, and they were dealing with exactly this. They’re saying, “Okay, we’re going to introduce something. It’s very different from what people are used to. How can we introduce this new thing? If it’s too different, they’re going to say no, they don’t want to do it.”

And so, what we ended up doing instead is rather than going for the full thing right away, asking people to move to a completely new thing, let’s pick something that’s just a little bit from where they are currently, introduce that version. Then, once people have gotten used to it, move to the next version, and move to the next one. And so, in some sense, it’s almost like called stepping stones because it’s like a river. When you ask someone to change, it’s like a big river, they don’t want to cross from one side to the other, “It’s to far. I’m going to get wet. I don’t want to do it.”

So, instead, you say, “Okay, well, just jump to this little stone, and then jump to this next stone, then jump to this next stone. And you jump a few times and you’re across to the other side.” And so, rather than asking for too much right away, start by asking for less, chunk that change and then ask for more.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy. And so then, in the challenging example I threw your way with abortion, it might be just a matter of a stepping stone might be not so much changing your view but just accepting that the other side is not evil and trying to commit these atrocities against women or tiny babies, but rather that they are mistaken or they have a different perspective, and that’s some distance that you’ve reduced. You’re still quite a distance away but it’s something.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. There’s a great Heineken ad that does something exactly like what you’re suggesting where they take the people that completely disagree and they have them have a conversation. So, they take, for example, a feminist and someone who hates feminism. They take someone who hates transgender people and someone who is a transgender, and so on, people that really disagree. And what they do is they have them essentially build a bar. They get together, they go through a variety of activities, they build a bar, and at the end, they showed them a video of the other person, and the other person saying all the things that they believe.

So, the feminist says, “Oh, women are important,” and the feminist hater says, “Oh, women’s job is at the home,” and they see what the other person is, and then they say, “Okay, now that you know who this person is, do you still want to be friends with them?” And I think what that does, it’s slightly different than asking for less. What it does is it switches the field. Rather than starting with something like abortion where two sides are dug in on opposite sides of the field and they’re unlikely to agree and move, it switches the field to a dimension where they’re more similar in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
We both like drinking beer.

Jonah Berger
We both like drinking beer, right? We both hang out. We both care about our families. We both care about America being a great country. Or in an organizational context, right? Sure, you might not want to do what I want but we both want the company to succeed. I think a good way to think about it, imagine you’re sitting in front of graph paper. You can draw that field on the X-axis, there’s one end zone, there’s another end zone, you can make the tick marks along the way. But at the 50-yard line, you draw a vertical line, there’s a Y-axis which is another dimension where you might actually have a lot in common, that even if you’re on different ends of the X-axis, you’re actually at the same point on the Y-axis, you’re exactly in the middle.

And so, by switching that field by starting with common ground, starting with something we have in common, a place where we don’t disagree, and using that to then eventually build around to that place where there’s more disagreement, we’re going to be more successful because now you humanized the person. You’re not just, “Oh, this faceless person who believes something I don’t believe. We have a little bit in common. We both care about our families. We realize we have emotional connections to the things we love. I’m going to see you more as a human. You’re going to see me more as a human. And then we’re more likely to be persuaded at the end of the day.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m digging it. So, Jonah, let’s just keep it going. Uncertainty, lay it on.

Jonah Berger
So, we talked a little bit about switching costs before, but just to make that really concrete, if I’m asking an organization to change company culture, there’s some costs to doing that. There’s an incentive structure that was, and now there’s a new one. When I ask a customer to buy a new project, they have to spend money or time or energy to install that new thing or get that new thing. And those are costs that often prevent change from happening. The old thing seems cheap, the new thing seems costly.

But the other problem with new things is that they have more uncertainty associated with them. Think about a new phone, for example. Not only do you have to pay more money to get that new phone. But when do you have to pay the cost and when do you get the benefit? The costs are up front, pay the money for that phone. Now, I have to go to AT&T and Verizon and switch my thing, and do this, and do that, and get all my information switched over. So, the costs are now and the benefits are later. Yes, it might be faster and lighter and have a better camera but I’m not going to get those until later, and those benefits are also uncertain.

Sure, this new way of doing company culture might be better, sure, this new project you’re suggesting might make us more money, but I don’t know if it’s going to. And if I don’t know, why am I going to be willing to switch? And that’s what I call the cost-benefit timing gap. Costs are certain and they’re upfront. Benefits are uncertain and they’re later, and people don’t like uncertainty. Think about the last time you were wondering if you’re going to be late for a meeting, for example. So, your flight is late or you’re stuck in a car in traffic, and you’re worried about missing this meeting. You’re so anxious you don’t know what you’re going to do. You feel terrible. You hate this concern about missing the meeting.

What’s interesting is the worst thing that can happen is missing the meeting. And so, if you know that you’re going to miss that meeting, you should feel what? You should feel worse because that’s the worst thing that can happen. But often, notice what happens, we figure out we’re going to miss that meeting, and then what ends up happening?

Pete Mockaitis
You’re relieved.

Jonah Berger
You actually feel good. Relief. You feel better.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Okay, what am I going to do now? I’ll communicate something to somebody and make it up somehow.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, now that I know, I’m going to solve it. And so, in some sense, it’s not just missing the meeting that’s bad, it’s that uncertainly. And so, in a product context, in a sales context, in organizational context, uncertainty often leads us to hit the pause button. We don’t know whether the new thing is going to be better or worse. And given we don’t know, it’s safest to do nothing, which is great for the status quo, which is great for what we’re doing already, but it’s terrible for new things. And so, to really then get people to overcome that uncertainty, that anxiety, we have to make it easier for them to experience the value of that new thing.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you. And I think this connects so much in terms of I’m thinking about how people try to sell me something, and it’s just like, “All I really need to know is that it’s really going to do the thing that you say it’s going to do. And so, maybe you can alleviate that with a demo or…” usually I want hard data that they can never give me in terms of, “Oh, you have a marketing service. Well, can you tell me the cost per acquired customer for a population of people who are selling something very similar to what I’m selling?” Like, “No, we can’t.”

So, anyways, maybe I’m jumping the gun. I think, “Hey, demos, data,” but you tell me, what are the best ways to address and reduce uncertainty?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, demos and data are close. And so, I think I love to start with an idea that many of us may have heard of before, and that is the notion of freemium. So, take a company like Dropbox, which many of your listeners are probably familiar with, a storage place for files and so on. When Dropbox came out, they had a great technology, but the challenge is people were scared of it. They didn’t know whether it would be better than what they’d done already. They were used to doing things a particular way. “Where is that cloud? Where are my files going to be? If I’ve worked hours on this Word document, I don’t want to lose it.” And so, they were unwilling to make the change.

And so, Dropbox could’ve done advertising, they could’ve bought Google search words, but what they did instead is they gave it away for free. And you might be sitting there going, “What do you mean? Give it away for free?” Any kid who’s ever run a lemonade stand, to the most seasoned business executive, knows that giving away something for free is not a way to build a business, yet Dropbox has built a billion-dollar business giving away things for free. How did they do that?

And so, what they did is they didn’t give away everything for free. They gave away a version for free and then created a premium version and encouraged people to upgrade to it. So, in Dropbox’s case, for example, they gave away 2GB, or something like that, of storage for free. They said, “Look, sure there’s switching costs, you have your files on your computer, it’s going to take time and effort to upload them, but let’s at least try to mitigate that monetary costs by making the upfront costs free.” So, you can put files on Dropbox until you get to 2GB. Once you get to 2GB though, you’re faced with a choice, “Do I upgrade to premium version or not? Do I want more space, more features or not?”

And what’s really nice about something like freemium is rather than Dropbox telling you how great it is, just like that marketing service that you were talking to, of course they’re going to say it’s great. No marketing service is going to say, “Oh, yeah, you know, well, we’re not so great.” So, you can’t really believe them. But in Dropbox’s case, you have to believe because you’re the one who’s been using it. You’re the one that’s uploaded all your files to it. And so, when they come around and they say, “Hey, can you throw us a couple bucks to get more space,” you say, “Well, I know it’s good. I’ve resolved that uncertainty myself. I’ve convinced myself.”

And so, there are dozens, if not hundreds of other businesses that have leveraged this notion of freemium, creating a free version of a product or service, and then encouraging people to upgrade to the premium. If you think about Pandora, there’s an ad-free version. If you think about Skype, there’s a premium version. Think about LinkedIn, there’s a premium version. And so, what all these things have done is they’ve lowered that upfront costs to allow people to experience whether something is good or not, and then if they like it, they encourage you to upgrade to the premium. So, you have to figure out the right way to leverage freemium, I think that’s at least one idea to lower that barrier of trial and reduce uncertainty.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that does make a lot of sense to me. And anyway, I guess, you can give people a taste of things, like whether you make a good sketch, or a model, or a prototype, or a 3D world so they can put on the headset and see, “Oh, that’s what you mean,” so that uncertainty diminishes as it becomes more real and a part of something that they’ve experienced.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. I mean, think about test drives, for example. So, I often talk about freemium with clients of mine, and I’ll talk to somebody who’s an online software as a service company, they say, “Great. Freemium. I got it. Let’s do it.” But then I’ll talk to somebody that sells offline goods. So, maybe they’re a fleet management company, or maybe they’re a doctor, or maybe they’re a hospital and they say, “Freemium is great, but if I’m selling a physical thing, I can’t do freemium.” The idea of freemium though is a lot larger than freemium. The idea is, just as you said, “How can I make it easier for people to experience the offering?”

So, think about something like test drives for cars. There’s a not a free in a freemium. You get to test drive a car. It doesn’t make the price of the car any cheaper. The amount of money that’s going to cost to buy that Acura is still the same. All the test drive does, it allows you to figure out whether the value of it is actually worth paying the money. It allows you to experience some sense of what it’s like even though it’s not freemium.

And so, what that chapter talks all about is, “How can we lower the upfront costs by using things like test drives, or freemium, or other ways? How can we lower the backend costs, making things reversible?” Free returns, in the case of online buying. Lawyers often say, “Hey, we only get paid if you win,” so, again, reducing that uncertainty that it’s going to work, or even things like drive and discovery where you bring the trial to people so they experience it themselves even if they don’t think they’re interested, bringing it to them and allowing them to see how good it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

So, Jonah, if you could maybe give us an example that brings this all together, or maybe just even a few of the elements together in terms of there’s a professional, they’re looking to make a change, and they astutely utilized multiple levers in their appeal and made magic happen. Can you lay one on us?

Jonah Berger
There are many examples in the book that touch on individual aspects of this. I think, since we’re talking about uncertainty, I’ll just give one more about uncertainty specifically that I think is a fun one, and this is what I put under the sort of drive discovery bucket.

And that is sometimes people don’t know that they like what you’re offering. So, sometimes you’re trying to get them to do something but they don’t know you exist or they don’t think they like you, they’re going to be unwilling to change. So, if your boss, for example, has never heard of a certain thing, or you’re a challenger brand in the space, a client doesn’t know you exist, they’re going to be unlikely to change their mind, and so, I think this can be a great way to solve the problem.

There was this guy, his name was Jacek, he’s Polish, he works for Santander Bank, and, essentially, he wants to get his boss to buy into customer service or the customer experience. So, in the United States, we know all about surprise and delight. We have our best customers, we surprise them, we greet them by name. You check into our hotel; we give you your own pillow. You call customer service; we know it’s you. But it hasn’t been applied in banking as much and hadn’t made its way to Europe.

And so, Jacek would sit there going, “Look, this could be great in banking. Customers like us but they don’t love us. I’m sure we’re smiling at them when they walk in the door but we need to build that deeper connection. And so, he tells his boss, “Look, we got to do this,” and his boss says, “Ahh, no, thanks.” He says, “Look, boss, all these people are doing it.” And the boss says, “No, look, we’re banking. We’re not hotels, we’re not online retailers. People in banking care only about the rates.” So, Jacek brings a consultant, they make presentations after presentations, his boss still isn’t convinced.

So, he’s sitting there, going, “Okay, I can’t push my boss. If I tell my boss what to do, he’s not going to listen.” And so, he’s like, “Well, how can I help my boss experience the value of what I’m offering? How can I put him in the situation and the management team in the situation of what I’m trying to get them to do?” And so, he ends up doing slightly different. Rather than having another meeting where he talks about the value of customer experience, he instead collects a bunch of information from his boss and the management team. So, he finds out their birthday, their anniversary, how many days they’ve been with the company, when they’re going on trips, and so on.

And then what he does over the next couple months is he celebrates these things. So, if someone’s anniversary, he sends them a nice note. If it’s their two years of working with the company, they get a wonderful card signed by everyone saying how great it is that they’ve been with the organization. Someone goes hiking, somebody knits them a hat. Someone’s child gets in a car accident, they raise them money. And so, all these things are basically putting the management team in the shoes of what it’s like to be part of a customer experience initiative.

Then the next time they have a meeting, Jacek is sort of tentative to bring it up, but he says, “Hey, what do you guys think?” And nobody says, “Hey, I don’t think it’ll work,” because they’ve all experienced it. They all know what it’s like to be cared about as a customer because they’ve been sitting through it. And that’s an example of what I put under uncertainty of drive and discovery. Rather than forcing people to come to you and take that test drive, how can you bring the test drive to them? How can you put them in a situation of what you want them to do so they experience the value themselves and they can’t help but say yes because they’ve seen it for themselves and they’re the best ones to judge whether they’re going to like something or not?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that a lot. Thank you. So, I assume that they accepted his proposal after all of that.

Jonah Berger
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jonah Berger
You know, it’s funny they not only accepted his proposal, they’ve promoted him to be director of customer experience for a large number of banks, and it has lived on not only in that location but a number of others. He’s really helped bring that approach to a whole industry that hadn’t seen it before.

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

Jonah Berger
I think that’s it. We covered many of the barriers in the book. I think, to me, the main takeaway in the book is really start to notice those roadblocks, those obstacles, figure out how to mitigate them, and then those five are at least a place to start for some of them.

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

Jonah Berger
“Do what you love and love what you do.” And I found it quite motivating to remember both that you want to love what you’re doing, but also sometimes it takes a little bit of work, and you’ve got to be willing to put that work in to love whatever it is that you’re doing.

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

Jonah Berger
I’ll tell you an example of a recent favorite. They looked at the visual similarity between paintings to figure out how novel and how influential certain paintings are, and to figure out how correlated those are with the value of painting.

So, they do things like looking at what someone paints, what style they paint, and how similar or different it is from prior folks, to look at what drives value. And so, a lot of the research I’m doing at the moment is really natural language, or image processing, pulling behavioral insight from textual image-based data. And I thought this study was just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh. And so, they found something, I imagine, or otherwise it wouldn’t be…

Jonah Berger
They did, yeah. They’re looking at sort of how novelty or similarity is related to value. We actually did something similar in songs. We looked at how similar songs are to their genres, to how similar a given song is to other songs. In that genre, we found that songs that are more atypical that sing about things that are more differentiated from their genre are more successful. So, country songs, not surprisingly, sing a lot about girls and cars, but country songs that sing about different themes than usual end up being higher on the Billboard Charts.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonah Berger
Oh, it would be a copout to say The Catalyst which is my new one, so I’ll say a different favorite book, which is a book called A Matter of Taste. It’s all about baby names and how we can use baby names to understand culture. It’s an amazing, not only a fun read, but just an interesting lens on the world itself.

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

Jonah Berger
I would just say research. It’s a broad Swiss Army knife of a tool. But I would say no particular technology, just research in general, being curious about the world and trying to quantify it.

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

Jonah Berger
God, I think, scheduling is so important. You talked to this a little bit earlier about sort of outsourcing things. To me, it’s really about finding time for the big stuff, making sure that you know when something is a pebble and a boulder, not only doing the pebbles first because they’re easy, but making sure you make time for the big things, otherwise they’ll never get done.

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

Jonah Berger
I can’t say that that’s true. I would hope that something from one of the books, whether it’s word of mouth, only 7% of it is online, or hopefully some day soon, one thing from the book The Catalyst.

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

Jonah Berger
So, a great place to find me online is my website, just JonahBerger.com. I’m also on LinkedIn and on Twitter @j1berger.

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

Jonah Berger
Yeah, I think if I’ve learned anything from this new book, it’s that we are almost oblivious to these barriers. We’re blind to these obstacles. And so, I think my challenge would be to figure out why something hasn’t changed. Whatever it is you want to change, whether it’s a person, whether it’s an organization, whatever it might be, start looking for those obstacles. Don’t be blind to the barriers. Start to see them. And if not, ask about them, and use that to drive change. If you don’t understand why change is happening or not, if you can’t find the root, it’s going to be really hard to change minds in action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jonah, this has been lots of fun. I wish you a bunch of luck with The Catalyst and all your adventures.

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much.

552: The Foundational Principle that Separates Good Leaders from Bad Ones with Pat Lencioni

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Patrick Lencioni explores why so many leaders fall short–and how to resolve it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mentality that separates great leaders from the rest
  2. Why you shouldn’t be afraid of micromanaging
  3. How leaders can have more joyful difficult conversations

About Patrick:

Pat is the founder of The Table Group and the author of 11 books which have sold over 5 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. The Wall Street Journal called him “one of the most in demand speakers in America.” He has addressed millions of people at conferences and events around the world over the past 15 years. Pat has written for or been featured in numerous publications including Harvard Business ReviewInc.FortuneFast CompanyUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek.

As CEO, Pat spends his time writing books and articles related to leadership and organizational health, speaking to audiences interested in those topics and consulting to CEOs and their teams.

Prior to founding The Table Group, Pat worked at Bain & Company, Oracle Corporation and Sybase. Pat lives in the Bay Area with his wife and four boys.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Patrick Lencioni Interview Transcript

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

Patrick Lencioni
It’s great to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve been so excited to chat with you here, and I’ve read several of your books over many years, so I think we’re going to have a good one. I’d love to start by hearing, so you spent a lot of years working with leaders and teams. If there’s a particularly surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discovery you’ve made across your career in terms of what makes teams successful or unsuccessful, what is that thing?

Patrick Lencioni
Wow, there’s a lot there.

Pete Mockaitis
Just breaking the ice.

Patrick Lencioni
I think the thing I would say is it’s messier than people realize, and the very best teams, the very best organizations, the very best marriages, the very best things in the world are far messier than people like to think they are, and that you have to kind of accept that and be good with that, and that’s what makes it interesting. It’s never neat and tidy and perfect. So, I would say that might be one of the meta things I’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, and I think that kind of goes right into what I was going to ask about next. So, within that, what do you think is the core fundamental root of leaders when they fail to achieve organizational health? What’s behind that?

Patrick Lencioni
Well, there’s a lot of different things, but, as an individual, I would say a lack of humility and vulnerability is probably the single greatest thing. It really takes a leader to be vulnerable enough to admit what they’re not good at and what they don’t know, and humble enough to realize they’re not more important than the people they lead, and that it’s good to be vulnerable and transparent. And so many leaders, if they’re either insecure or self-protective, they really limit their ability to be successful and the organization’s as well. So, I would say it’s humility and vulnerability is at the core.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, yeah, that really tees up and something I’ve been so curious about. The humility, the vulnerability, when you open the book The Advantage, with a really great story in which, I can just visualize the scene, you’re sitting with the CEO and watching the different programs that their workers have initiated across the year.

Patrick Lencioni
This is about Southwest Airlines.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. So, it’s Southwest Airlines, there we go.

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’re hearing some really cool story after really cool story, there’s clearly a lot of good organizational health and vibes going on there, and you asked the CEO, “Hey, so how come your competitors aren’t doing this?” And he says, “Honestly, I think they believe it’s beneath them.” And those words just really stuck with me. And so, what are some examples of things that people don’t do that they think maybe are beneath them that, really, we should start doing?

Patrick Lencioni
That’s a great question. In fact, my last book, my most recent book, which is just out now, is called The Motive. And what it talks about is if you’re not a humble leader, if you’re not doing it for service and for responsibility, but for yourself, you’re probably not going to do many of these things. And the things that leaders who are motivated by the wrong things, they don’t like to repeat themselves. That sounds crazy but the leader at Southwest Airlines, I’ve seen him over the course of almost 20 years in various settings, and he has no problem standing up and reiterating the same messages to his people again and again and again, because he realizes it’s not about looking cool and it’s not about entertaining him. It’s about helping his people stay on topic and reinforcing what matters.

And so, here is probably one of the most successful CEOs in the last 50 years, a guy who, by the way, if he walked into your office right now, you wouldn’t knew who he was, and you might not even know his name if I asked you right now, and yet he’s ran the most successful company in America over the last, you know, he’s been doing this for 25 years. It’s not about him, he constantly repeats himself. He is the CRO of Southwest Airlines, which I call the Chief Reminding Officer, and he’s good with that. So, that’s one of the things that people don’t do, and that’s not beneath him. It’s not beneath him to get up and constantly tell the stories and reinforce the messages in different ways.

One of the other things that’s not beneath him is to actually manage his people. It sounds crazy but a lot of CEOs are like, “You know, I’ve been doing this for a long time, I shouldn’t have to manage people anymore. So, I’m going to hire people, I’m going to trust them to do their jobs, and I’m going to just go focus on the stuff I want to do.” That’s not what a great leader does. A great leader realizes, “Whether I’m running a billion-dollar company and I’m a senior executive, or whether I’m running a startup and I have 12 people sitting around me, I have to manage my people. It might sound tedious but I have to do it.”

Another thing that great leaders have to do is run great meetings. So many leaders say, “I hate meetings,” and as a result, they just kind of mail it in, or they avoid them, or try to go to as few as possible. But a great leader has to make meetings great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s a good list there. And I want to talk about the management bit for a moment. So, we had Bruce Tulgan on the show, back in episode 302, who discussed what he called the crisis of undermanagement.

Patrick Lencioni
I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And I thought that was very resonant. We kind of covered some similar themes here. And you’ve got a quote, I think it’s from The Motive, when you say, “Hey, it’s not babysitting. It’s management and it’s your job.” Can you sort of dig into this, this misconception between babysitting, micromanagement, management sort of? Where is the line? What should be done? And what’s not being done enough?

Patrick Lencioni
Well, I want to connect with that guy. I’ve never heard of that. Did he say that, because I feel the same way of crisis of undermanagement? You know, we live in a world where I think people don’t like be held accountable. I think that’s a social phenomenon as well. And so, what they do is they throw out the idea of, “You’re micromanaging me.” And managers, that’s like, I don’t know, that’s like one of those unanswerable things that people go on.

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, I’m sorry.”

Patrick Lencioni
And managers back off. And the problem is, no, we’re undermanaging people. And if micromanaging means, “I know what my people are working on, I know how they’re doing, I’m available to give them coaching. I’m checking in with them to see how they’re doing,” then let’s all micromanage more. And I think that we’ve come to that place where too many people get away with trying to justify not being held accountable by accusing people of being a micromanager. No good leader is afraid of that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patrick Lencioni
And so, I just, I agree completely with what Bruce said. And I think that it’s our job. And if we don’t really want to know what people are working on and coach them and be responsible for making sure they’re successful, then we don’t want to be a manager or a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. And so then, so you laid out a couple of things. You understand what they’re working on, and the status of those things, and you are available to chime in and do some coaching as necessary. And so then, what is too much in terms of managing? What is true micromanagement look, sound, feel like?

Patrick Lencioni
You know, that’s a great question. And it’s one of those things like we promote conflict, and people say, “Well, what’s too much conflict?” And I would like to say, well, here’s the deal, 95% of people engage in too little conflict. So, rather than worrying about what’s too much, let’s realize that’s a high-class problem.

Now, I’ll answer the question though, but I would say that most managers undermanage. What’s too much? I suppose too much is asking somebody to give you a daily accounting of how they’re spending their time, and asking them to prove every day what they’ve accomplished, and questioning every decision they make, and not giving them any freedom and autonomy. The truth though is I think in all the jobs I’ve ever had, and most of the people I talk to, there’s actually very little of that that goes on in the world. Most people are undermanaged.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny, I actually do ask for a daily accounting of my people’s time, but it’s because they’re in another country and we don’t have much face to face.

Patrick Lencioni
That’s different.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s like six lines long most of the time, “I did this and then this and then this, and tomorrow I plan to do that.” It’s like, “Perfect. Thank you.”

Patrick Lencioni
Hey, you’re not micromanaging. You’re saying, “I just want to know what you’re doing so we can make sure that we’re all rowing in the same direction.” You’re not doing it because you’re questioning whether they’re golfing or watching too much TV.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, not at all.

Patrick Lencioni
Right. And, by the way, you doing that at the risk of saying you’re overmanaging is far better than say, “Well, once a month or so, we check in and I see how they’re doing.” Successful businesses don’t undermanage. They know what everybody is doing and they help each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so we’re situated there. Let’s dig into more about your latest book here. So, we’re talking about The Motive and so your core message there is that there are different motives that drive leaders. And can you break this down for us a little more?

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, this is the 12th book I’ve written, and if somebody were to say, “Which book should I start with?” I would say this one because this is the first book where, instead of talking about how to lead or how to manage an organization, I address the first question, which is “Why?” Why do you want to be a leader in the first place? And some people have the wrong motivation for that. And I realize that because years ago, Pete, I was talking to a bunch of CEOs and giving them advice, like it was at a conference.

And I was giving them just straightforward advice about how to deal with things, and there were a handful of them that weren’t writing anything down, they were just dismissing everything, and some of the advice seemed really straightforward and other people were getting it. And I thought, I was starting to figure out what was going on with them, and I realized, “You know, if they’re doing this for the wrong reason, none of my advice makes sense to them.”

And the wrong reason is this, “I want to be a leader because it’s a reward for a lifetime of hard work. I’ve arrived, it’s a title, it allows me to focus on the things I like to do, and it’s kind of cool that I get to be the leader.” And there are a lot of people that go into leadership, young and old, for that reason, and that’s a terrible reason to be a leader.

You know, when I go to college graduations, people say to these people, “Go out and be a leader.” I want to yell, “No, please don’t be a leader unless you’re doing it for the right reasons.” You see, the right reason to be a leader is to say, “I’m taking on a burden and a responsibility. It’s a responsibility. And the economics of it are going to be very bad. I’m going to pour far more of my energy into being a leader so I can serve these people than I’m going to get back from it. And I have my eyes wide open. I realize it’s a responsibility and a duty, and it’s going to be hard.” If you do that, then you’re going to do the right things as a leader.

You’re going to say, “Yeah, I don’t want to have to have a difficult conversation.” That’s one of the other things leaders don’t do. “I have to have hard conversations with people. It is my job.” You know how many CEOs I worked with, Pete, who do it for the wrong reasons, who will do anything to avoid having a hard conversation with somebody? They’ll even fire somebody without that conversation just so they never have to have it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I wanted you to actually go deeper into this, so I think it was in The Motive in which there was a tale of someone replaced a chief information officer, so one of the CEO’s direct reports, you called him Fred. Give us the whole story. It’s a winner.

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, and that’s not fiction. All my books are fiction but that’s not fiction. That’s in the back of the book where I talk. So, a true story, a famous CEO of a big company, who I don’t think was a great leader, for obvious reasons when I tell the story, he had a chief technology officer, actually. I think I changed it too, and I knew the guy because we were doing some consulting in the organization, and the CEO wanted to bring in a different CTO, chief technology officer. And, instead of sitting down with the old one and explaining that, “I’m going to hire somebody to replace you,” he just hired a new one.

And one day, the old CTO comes to work and sees an email that goes out to the company saying, “Hey, John Jackson is our new CTO. Let’s all welcome him.” And this guy is like, “I thought I was the CTO.” And so, he calls the administrative assistant. I can’t make this up, right? In fact, this happened about 20 years ago, and I just wonder if I’m making it up because this seems too crazy. Somebody sitting here in the room listening to this is going, “Nope, you didn’t make it up. It was true.”

So, this guy calls the executive assistant to the CEO and says, “I’d like to meet with the CEO,” and they just can’t find any time to meet with him, “Oh, he’s busy.” Weeks, literally, like weeks go by. This guy is coming to work knowing that there’s another guy in the company with his title. Finally, he’s about to get on a private plane with the CEO, small private plane, he says, “I’ll finally have a chance to talk to him.” They get on the plane, the CEO closes his eyes, pretends to sleep the entire time, never speaks to him. Finally, the CTO just quits.

And that’s not just an interesting, wacky story. It goes to show you there are certain people that are leaders but they don’t have the courage or the character to sit down with somebody and say, “I need to give you some tough feedback,” or, “I need to let you know what’s going on.” Now, I get it, all of us are tempted to do that, and I’m not saying we should go around, like, “Hey, all I want to do is have difficult conversations with people.” But that’s our job.

And if a leader isn’t willing to do that, it’s probably because they’re doing it for the wrong reason, they’re like, “Hey, I’m supposed to have fun. Hey, I’m the leader of this department or this organization.” “I’m the principal of this school, the pastor of this church, the CEO of this company, I should get to pick and choose what I spend my time on, and that doesn’t sound interesting to me.” That’s a fundamental problem in organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ll tell you, even though my team is small, those words really resonated and echoed back to me in terms of, “Wait, am I just doing this because it’s fun? Am I just not doing that because it’s not fun?” And it’s really quite a look in the mirror in terms of like, “Yeah, oops.”

Patrick Lencioni
One of the people that endorsed the book, we sent the book to a CEO of a company, and he sent it back and he said, “Yeah, I’ll endorse it.” And his quote was, “This book rocked me to my core. I wish I had read it 20 years ago.” Hey, we all are tempted to do things for the wrong reasons. I look back at my tenure here at my own consulting firm and realized there were times when I was largely doing it for myself, and I wasn’t good.

And so, we can read this and go, “Okay, I don’t want to do that anymore. I have to do it for the right reasons.” So, life isn’t black and white, we’re not binary. We’re capable of changing, but sometimes we have to be asked that question or ask ourselves that question, “Is my motive really the right one?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, thank you for that. That’s good. And then, at the same time, you talk about there’s suffering, there’s sacrifice associated with leadership, and yet you’ve also got a concept called joyful accountability. How does that fall into things?

Patrick Lencioni
Well, that question is a great one, and the answer to both of those comes back to a very famous CEO, who’s become a friend of mine, named Alan Mulally. Now, Alan Mulally was the guy who turned the Ford Motor Company about, I don’t know, 10 years ago. He took over the company when they were hemorrhaging money and they were about to go out of business, and he took it over and didn’t take any money from the government. He’s an amazing leader.

I mention him because both of the questions you just asked me relate to him. First of all, he came to visit us after he retired, and he said, “I don’t like that part in your book, Pat, The Advantage, when you talked about management being a sacrifice, that there’s suffering involved. It’s a privilege.” And I was like, “Alan, that’s not how the world works anymore.” He was like a Boy Scout from Kansas. I think I even said, “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Alan.” And he thought, “Well, why would anybody not see that job as a privilege?” And I said, “You know how many people want to be the CEO because they think it’s cool and because they have the right to do whatever they want?”

And if we don’t help people understand the hard part, we’re inviting them to take a job that they don’t want. So, he got that. But the thing about Alan was he had this way of holding people accountable. I mean, here, he turned the Ford Motor Company around. I think he said he only fired one or two people. So, you’re thinking, “Wait a second. How do you turn a company…?” This was the DMV, basically, that he was taking over.

And he said, you know what he would do, he’d see somebody behave in a way that was contrary to what he wanted, he would go to them and he’d say, “Hey, I noticed that you were doing that,” and they’d say, “Yeah, I don’t really want to do this thing you asked me.” And he’d go, “That’s okay.” And they go, “Really?” And he goes, “Oh, yeah, we could still be friends but you can’t work here if you’re not going to behave that way, so it’s up to you. Let me know. You can either opt in and act this way, or you don’t have to, and honestly we can still be friends.” He wasn’t being snarky. And people opted out or they opted in, and very times did he actually have to manage them out of the organization because the point of the matter is, if you hold people accountable and tell them there’s no breathing room there, they’re going to choose the right path.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Patrick Lencioni
In or out. And so, he had this way of joyfully, he wasn’t afraid to do it. And I think that’s why he was able to turn that company around. He would have hard conversations that other people would just agonize over, and he’d go, “What’s the big deal? They can work someplace else.” And I think it’s a great lesson.

Pete Mockaitis
No, and I think that is great and I think there’s, I don’t know, just fear in the mix or maybe litigation, lawyers, lawsuits, wrongful termination. It seems like, I guess, those things do happen, but I have a feeling that these are kind of hobgoblins of the mind that are just sort of just trying to feed the justification to avoid doing the hard thing. So, yeah. So, I’d love to maybe zoom in there. So, let’s say, hey, you know you got to have a conversation, you don’t want to have the conversation, but here you are, you’re tempted to pretend you’re asleep on a plane or duck it by any means necessary, how do you summon the stuff from inside to do what needs to be done?

Patrick Lencioni
You mentioned the word justification. I think the false justification we use, and I’ve certainly done this in the past, because I’m a wus, I’m going to tell you I’m a wus. I don’t like doing this either. If we justify it by saying, “Man, I really care about the people that work for me, and I just don’t want them to feel bad so I’m going to avoid telling them this thing because it can make them really sad.” That’s a lie. And I used to do that. And then, one day, I realized, “Oh, wait a second. You know who I’m really wanting to avoid feeling bad? Me, because I’m going to be uncomfortable. They’re not going to feel better when I don’t tell them because it’s going to come back to bite them later.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Either they’re fired, or their career doesn’t progress, or they get less cool, fun, interesting responsibilities. One way or the other it hurts.

Patrick Lencioni
Exactly. And so, I was like, “If I love these people,” and I used the word L, “I should love the people that work for me. Even if I don’t like them all the time, I should love them. And if I love them, I have to tell them the truth.” I mean, I have four sons, right? Do I think that I’m doing them any favor by not telling them the truth about things they need to get better at? No, I love my children. To deprive them of that is crazy. If I’m a manager, I should feel the same way. So, once I kind of debunked that myth that I was actually a nice manager by not saying things to people, it gave me the courage to do it. And I still have to do that and I struggle with it all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s excellent. And so, when you say that you need to love your people but not necessarily to like your people, how are you defining love in this context?

Patrick Lencioni
Love means I’m willing to do something that benefits them even at my own expense. I think love is a verb. I’m committed to them. I’m not even enjoying their company right now, and maybe that’s my own fault or whatever else, but I am willing to do what’s in their best interest ahead of mine. You and I are both Catholic, it’s a biblical definition, right, to…

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Patrick Lencioni
I was just reading in the Bible today about loving your enemies, right? Well, first of all, so love our enemies, and the person who works for me, who actually, they’re on my team, and I have to tell them something that’s going to be hard for them to hear, I think I should be able to love them for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And as we talk about your sons, I’m thinking about my son right now. He’s two years old.

Patrick Lencioni
Oh, wow.

Pete Mockaitis
And he’s in a habit of doing some screaming when he can’t get what he wants, and so we keep…

Patrick Lencioni
So, my advice to you is never discipline him, always let him do whatever he wants, and then when he’s 20, he’s going to be great. We would never do that.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Patrick Lencioni
But so many leaders are like, “Oh, I don’t want to tell this person.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “I would have to remove this from you and it’s for your own good, and it’s going to cause you to scream, which is going to cause me to feel stressed and unhappy, but here I am making that sacrifice on your behalf. Much like I‘m going to share some feedback with a person and that’s going to make me uncomfortable. And if I make them uncomfortable, maybe yes, maybe no, in the moment, but ultimately has positive consequences downstream.

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, I absolutely agree. You know, Pete, I’m going to tell you. So, my kids are 21, 21, 17, and 13. I have four boys. I know I’ve learned more about being a leader by being a parent, I think half of these books come about because of the crossover between being a parent and a leader at work and team work and all the things. There’s so much in family life that crosses over the business, and around humility, and around accountability, and around all these different things. So, it’s fascinating. My poor wife, because we have to apply this together, luckily, she’s interested in it too. And my kids are now, even my 13-year old, the other day said, “Yeah, this stuff is really interesting.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Patrick Lencioni
So, it’s going to be fun watching. What’s your two-year old’s name?

Pete Mockaitis
Jonathan.

Patrick Lencioni
Jonathan. It’s going to be fun talking to you in five years when he’s seven.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Yes, I think so too.

Patrick Lencioni
That’s an exciting thing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, here’s a scenario I thought I might run by you just because I was thinking about our upcoming interview and prepping some stuff, and I was also doing some training for an organization, we’ll keep it broad, in the health space. And so, right before the training started, we’re sort of chatting a little bit, and then I heard someone ask an assistant who’s helping us out, “Oh, hey, what’s up with all the contractors and stuff next door?” They said, “Oh, there’s this executive and they’re building out a suite on this floor for his office.” And then they said, “Really? So, we’re cramped on space, we always have to do this and this and this, and this guy needs a suite and so we’re going to have even less space.” And then the assistant said, “Oh, yeah, and they might actually take over this conference room that we’re in too. They still have to decide that.” And they just sort of shook their heads.

And so then, I got you in my ear, thinking about organizational health and conflict and all these things, and I just thought, I said this out loud, it was like, “Wow! So, it seems like you perceive some sort of wrong or injustice is occurring here, and yet I have a feeling that they’re probably never going to know about it and you’re just going to feel a little bit miffed, a little bit resentful over it over time.” And it’s like, “Is that accurate or am I right way off based here? It’s like I’m pontificating.” And they said, and a couple more people chimed in, it’s like, “Well, yeah, I’m not going to say anything about it but it’s because they didn’t ask and they don’t care.” And I thought, “Man, this is the stuff. I think this is kind of like where the rubber meets the road in organizational health.”

It’s like on the one hand you could say, “Hey, this executive, it was hard to recruit him. He needs some things to be one over.” And then it’s like, “Is it really their job, or duty, or responsibility to explain every decision they make to the people who also dwell in the office?” But, at the same time, if you don’t get into that messy stuff, you’re just going to have this resentment and bitterness and stuff unspoken in the mix, and it’s harmful. So, Pat, putting you on the spot, how should healthy organizations deal with just these everyday kinds of things that need to be addressed?

Patrick Lencioni
Oh, yeah. Well, first of all, those people are right to wonder what’s going on. Secondly, it’s not their job to go ask why this is going on. Somebody else knows this and they’re not doing it. And so, I would say either somebody is letting that CEO or that executive down by not questioning it and preventing him or her from doing something that looks really bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and that person’s going to have poor relationships with all the people that are kind of miffed because he’s taking all the space.

Patrick Lencioni
Or he knows and he doesn’t care.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, possible.

Patrick Lencioni
Okay, this happened to me once. In fact, the first book I wrote, and the first part of that first book, came from this too. So, I worked with a CEO of a company, and he took over when the company was kind of in trouble, and they were laying people off literally, and so offices were coming open. And an office would come open and people go, “Ooh, can I have Fred’s office now that he’s gone?” And so, the facilities people, their numbers were actually going up because they were doing all these moves at a time when the company was hurting. So, the CEO rightly said, “Okay, it’s time for a little adult supervision,” and he announced that there would be a freeze on all office moves and facilities. Okay, that made sense.

The very next week there were contractors in the main headquarters, in the lobby where people came, building out the conference room that they use for customers and for meetings and turning it into his office. And the reason why they had to make it bigger was because he was having office furniture flown in from the East Coast and they needed to make it fit so they had to change the shape of the conference room. And I didn’t know at the time but we look at it now, his motivation was not to serve others. His motivation was about himself and it was completely consistent with who he was, and that is the problem.

Now, if he’s doing that and he’s just clueless, boy, somebody could be his hero and say, “Hey, do you realize what kind of a message you’re sending?” And that’s why a leader’s job is to surround themselves with people that are going to tell them the truth and push on them. And so, I think that’s a fantastic example that you gave, one that I’ve seen too, and I think it’s probably is an issue of motive.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s quite likely. And so, I’m wondering, in this kind of a situation, what would be the ideal healthy way for leadership and teams to address this issue? It’s like, “Hey, we’ve got some competing demands on our limited space,” how do we hash that out optimally?

Patrick Lencioni
Right. What I would say is this, so that executive, his team, it’s a he it sounds like, his team, the question is, “Do they have the kind of trust, vulnerability, and conflict on their team to put these things on the table?” because that’s where it belongs. And he has to be the one to be vulnerable enough to say, “Hey, you guys could ask me any question and challenge me. Even if I disagree with you, I’m going to be honest with you about how I feel. I’m not going to punish you for that.” So, the question is, “Why isn’t that team having those honest conversations?” And the leader has to take it upon himself to create that kind of trust.

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

Patrick Lencioni
Oh, no, but I’m going to go back to the question you asked at the beginning, and you said, “What’s one of the big insights?” The big insight, and I touched on it before, is this, what I’ve come to realize is that if you’re a leader and you constantly remind people about what they need to do to improve, 95% of the time, more, they’re going to either improve or they’re going to go someplace else where they fit better. And I think if I could give any leader advice, it would be become completely immune to your fear of saying to somebody, “Hey, you did that thing.” You talk too much during meetings, “Hey, you did it again. Hey, you did it again.” Most human beings, if they’re constantly reminded about how they need to improve, are going to do it because they’re tired of being reminded or they’re going to leave because they don’t want to change.

And if every company did that, there’d be far less firings, which are very painful, and far less lawsuits, and companies would actually start attracting the right people and repelling the others. And it usually comes down to a lack of courage on the part of leaders. So, that’s one of the things I’ve learned. So, I think that’s it.

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

Patrick Lencioni
Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That’s a fantastic quote. And then my favorite Bible verse, it’s “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Sometimes I think we make things harder than they need to be because of our pride and because it’s self-oriented and things like that. So, those would be my favorite two.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Patrick Lencioni
I like the one I learned in social psychology where the person, like if you go on the street, and you ask somebody, “Hey, will you help me do this?” A high percentage of people will say yes. And then if you introduce a financial element to that, fewer people would actually say yes because now they feel like it’s an economic decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so you pay people and then fewer of them want to do it because they’re getting paid.

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, like, you’re unloading things out of your car, and you say, “Hey, can you help me carry this across the street? I need to unload my car,” and like X percentage would say, “Yeah, I’ll help you.” And then you said, “Now, I’ll offer them $5 to do it,” and fewer of them would actually say yes. And I think sometimes we think that people are coin-operated and it’s actually a disincentive to do that. And people’s inclination toward helping others and doing the right thing is much higher because it’s the right thing to do. And I think companies do that too, like, “We need to pay people more.”

It’s like, no, how about treat them well, get to know them, thank them, help them understand why their job matters. People really want to work hard. Great volunteers at a church or a nonprofit work harder than people being paid in a for-profit because they’re doing it for the right reasons. That’s not to say, “Hey, go cut your people’s pay,” or, “Don’t offer people money.” But I think sometimes we overemphasize the financial incentive of behavior and don’t appeal to people’s better nature.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Patrick Lencioni
You know, Dean Koontz is my favorite author, and he wrote a book called Brother Odd. He has a series called Odd Thomas, but there’s a book called Brother Odd which I think is fantastic. It’s funny. It’s mostly really deep and funny and clever.

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

Patrick Lencioni
The whiteboard. You know, in my office here, we just add it onto our office and have a new cottage, and we’re like, “What artwork should we put on the wall?” And we just painted it with that. There’s a new paint that’s like it turns a wall into a whiteboard and, boy, do we use it, and good stuff comes out. I’m looking at stuff right now where we solve problems and then we leave it up there. So, the whiteboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Patrick Lencioni
In my house, at home, I should have whiteboards in every wall.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you become more awesome at your job?

Patrick Lencioni
Well, it helps me in my job and it helps me in life, and that’s praying the Rosary.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good.

Patrick Lencioni
Fifteen minutes a day, usually do it in the shower.

Pete Mockaitis
You do the whole Rosary in 15 minutes?

Patrick Lencioni
I could do it for 15 minutes.
usually that’s when I’m flooded with peace and it helps me think through my day and be more charitable and kind.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a particularly resonant nugget, something you share that really seems to connect with folks and they quote it back to you again and again?

Patrick Lencioni
I always like to say, “The truth is don’t make the truth.” I mean, the perfect enemy of the good. And people repeat that back. Because I’m a believer in the 80/20 principle, “Get the first part done and we’ll figure it out from there.” And so, I think that’s one that probably comes back my way.

[36:01]

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

Patrick Lencioni
I would point them to our website, which is TableGroup.com. And we have a podcast also called At The Table with Patrick Lencioni. We just started it this year and we’re having fun. We’re not as professional as you. You said you had a 302, 300 episodes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that was the Bruce Tulgan episode, 302, yeah.

Patrick Lencioni
Wow! Yeah, I think we’re at like 25 but we’re loving it. We’re loving it. We’re enjoying it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, it’s definitely fun. Well, hopefully, you’re getting better and better as you get in there.

Patrick Lencioni
We’re trying.

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

Patrick Lencioni
You know, I think that take the risk of speaking truth to people in kindness, and good things happen. And we tend to think that the cost is going to be too high to do that, but if you speak truth and love and kindness and humility, you’ll be a leader’s hero, because we’re not all CEOs. But if you can go to the leader, nine times out of ten, they’re going to be glad that you told them, and five times out of ten, they’re actually going to listen to it and make you a hero, and four times, they might ignore you, one time they might not like you, but it’s always the best thing to do. I think people are too risk-averse when it comes to pouring into a leader upwards. So, manage up. Manage up.

Pete Mockaitis
Pat, this has been a treat. I wish you lots and lots of luck and blessings as you’re pursuing these adventures.

Patrick Lencioni
Thank you, Pete. And have fun with Jonathan and your family. God bless.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. You, too.

520: How to Start Finishing Projects with Charlie Gilkey

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Charlie Gilkey says: "If it's worth doing well, it's worth doing badly in the beginning."

Charlie Gilkey discusses how to deal with the obstacles that derail your important projects

You’ll Learn:

  1. The magic number for projects
  2. Signs that a project truly matters to you
  3. When and how to say no to your family, friends, and bosses

About Charlie

Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Charlie Gilkey Interview Transcript

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

Charlie Gilkey
Pete, thanks so much for having me. I’m pumped to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to talk about starting and finishing and getting to done. Let’s start with starting, actually. I understand you don’t choose to start your year in January. How does that work and what’s the backstory here?

Charlie Gilkey
Well, there are several things going on. And thanks for that question. That’s a deep cut. Two things going on. One is the business cycle for the business that I’m in or the year cycle starts actually in August for the back-to-school, you know, back-to-work sort of thing. That’s when everyone comes back online, it’s like, “Hey, we got to get after it.” And so, that’s a really important point for my business.

And I’ve also learned that actually doing your yearly planning, if you’re going to do it on the personal side in February, is a way better time to do it because it kind of lets you shake off the high of New Year’s resolutions and all the things that go along there, and I think we’re way too optimistic during that period of the year. And then if you pay too close attention to the goals you set in, it can be a really good way to feel bad about yourself. But if you kind of wait until February, kind of around Groundhog’s Day and give yourself a redo, what I’ve learned is that we end up making way better sort of annual goals and resolutions during that period.

So, I have kind of two periods in which I do annual planning, but that’s kind of par for the course for me, and then I’m always recalibrating plans and working in it

Pete Mockaitis
That’s clever. Groundhog Day, redo, and I’m thinking Bill Murray right now. Part of that was shot near me in Woodstock, Illinois. Fun fact. So, yeah, that’s a good way to think about it in terms of like the day and where you’re going to choose to start and why. So, thank you for that. Let’s talk about the book Start Finishing. What’s the big idea here?

Charlie Gilkey
The big idea is that finished projects bridge the gap between your current reality and that life you want to live and that work you want to do. And so, a lot of us have, you know, we have really big dreams and visions for ourselves. We have that idea of our best work or our best life, and a lot of times we could feel stuck and we don’t quite know what to do. And it turns out that, again, it’s those finished projects that bridge the gap.

And I think it provides a bit of a different take on productivity, and getting things done, and sort of personal development, which either can be far too granular and focused on tasks, or it can be far too lofty and focused on sort of vision and sort of the big view of your life. And the mess of life and the beauty of life is in this middle world of projects.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, okay. Indeed, the finished projects bridge the gap. And one thing I think I’m coming to learn is that almost finished projects don’t. And I’m thinking about all these instances in which it’s like the vast majority of the hard work is done but it’s not all the way finished and, thus, it doesn’t turn into something.

So, I remember once, we’ve got a multifamily home here and we were trying to rent out one of the units and things were almost completely renovated, cleaned, whatever but there’s like a bunch of cardboard boxes in the corner. And I think that prospective tenants can know that those won’t be there when they move in but, nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice that every showing we did where the boxes were there did not result in an application, and those that we did with the boxes absent, totally cleaned up, did.

And so, it’s sort of like almost done doesn’t pull it off for you. But it’s kind of encouraging in that it means that there’s very little left to get to finished project status. So, those are my own musings on the finished project piece. Give me your take on that.

Charlie Gilkey
Well, I love that. You know, I talk a lot in the book about displacement which is the idea that anything you do displaces a practical infinity of things you could do, or you can’t do one thing, or you can’t do multiple things at the same time, right? Barring simple things like doing the laundry while listening to a podcast. But when it comes to this significant work that we need to do, what I call best work and what I call those things that really light us up and are part of the matrix of meaning-making that we’re in, we tend to only be able to do one thing at a time.

And the frustrating thing about those half-finished projects is that they suck up all of the time that could’ve been going to something else, but they’re not bridging that gap. They’re not doing the work that they’re supposed to do to power your life. And it would be like investing a hundred bucks a month, for however long you want to do it. Let’s just say it’s 12 months, and you don’t get the return on it until the 13th month, and then you decide on the 12th month to just stop, and then everything disappeared, right? It’s like you’ve already sunk in all of that money, you’ve already sunk in all of that time but you don’t get the reward for it just because you decided to jump to something else. So, absolutely.

And one of the things that I really stress in the book is that we should really be focusing on throughput and not load. And by that, I mean I think we commit too quickly to ideas and end up carrying too many projects around with us and too many things that we’re not going to be able to finish. And so, if you make that commitment to where this week you’re going to, like, “I’m going to do these 17 projects,” and you only do three, well, you’ve carried the additional 14. And I think, unfortunately, what we do is we’ll say, “Well, this week, I overestimated this week so I’m going to do 12,” and then we do three projects.

Well, it turns out that if we just focus on the three that matter most and we get through them faster, not only is it just about efficiency but it’s about that momentum that you can build with these finished projects. And so, depending on where you want to take this, Pete, a lot of times when I tell people I like to focus on three to five projects, the first thing that they’ll do is, like, “I can’t. I got all the things.” But let’s do a reality check here, are you actually finishing those things or is it just a continual state of juggling and a continual state of sort of commenting about the status of a project but not actually moving that project forward? Or is that continual story that you’re going to get to but you don’t?

And I get to say, you know, over the decade I’ve been doing this work with people. There’s momentum, there’s more pride, there’s more joy, and there’s more results just from coming from focusing on fewer things, getting them done, and moving to the next thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, boy, that’s well-said with regard to load because you could feel that, and the word itself, it’s like, “I am shouldering a burden, a load, like a camel or an ox. Like, there’s a lot of things on my plate, on my back here.” And so, you identify these are the things that we’re actually going to sail right through here, we’re good to go.

And it’s intriguing that when you mentioned three to five, you’re getting pushback because, I guess I’m thinking about Jay Papasan who we had on the show with the One Thing, it’s like, “Oh, man, you’re being lenient. You’re giving them three to five instead of just one.” So, let’s talk about that for a moment. Why do you think that’s perhaps the magic number there, three to five projects?

Charlie Gilkey
It’s partially because enough studies both with my own clients and work, and external study showed that that’s about the limit of which we can do. Now, I want to pause here. I love Jay’s work and I find that most people can’t just commit to one thing because when you commit to one thing, I think you often forget. Well, there’s different ways of understanding his book and the message, so that’s one thing to talk about.

I want to make room for projects that are not just economic projects. So, for me, anything that takes time, energy, and attention is a project. And so, finding a place for those cardboard boxes you’ve mentioned, that very well could be a project, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s why it wasn’t done.

Charlie Gilkey
That’s why it wasn’t done.

Pete Mockaitis
It took multiple steps. There’s too many to just shove in the alley so I had to take another…do something else there.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, you got to find out where they are, and you got to sort, and you got to figure out which other closet you’re going to put them in, and then you open that closet and realized, “Oh, crap, there’s something in there. This got to go somewhere else.” It’s kind of like a shell game and stuff sometimes, right? But, also, getting married, getting divorced, having kids, moving across the United States, getting a new job, like all of those things are projects.

And, unfortunately, we tend to prioritize economic projects, or creative projects, or work projects, or however you want to say that, and we try to squeeze the work over our lives and the leftover, the time leftover from the economic projects, and we’re just not getting to it. And so, again, not to go overly critical of the One Thing, but it’s like we are not just work-related people. Like, our thing in life, our thing at work is one of the many things that we might want to attend to. We might also need to attend to our aging parents that we need to help transition into elder care, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think that in the conversation, Jay mentioned, “Hey, what’s the one thing within like a context or a domain?” “The one thing in my marriage, the one thing in my business, etc.”

Charlie Gilkey
Etcetera. And so, I think people misunderstand his message in that way, and so I just wanted to say, like, we’re actually super aligned in that way, but that’s where we start saying the five projects, or three to five projects. Yeah, you have to look across the domains of your life and not just pick the one thing, and not just pick like one domain, and say, “I’m going to go all in on that.”

And so, for instance, right now, I’m in the middle of launching this book and doing the PR too for this book, and it’s a major project. I’m also in the middle of reintegrating back into my business after working on the book for so long, so that’s another project. And I’m also getting back into the gym and working with a personal trainer. That’s a project, so that gets me through it.

But, anyway, you asked why three to five. I think that many lets you invest in the buckets of your life that matter without spreading yourself too thin. Two, I think it’s when we look at sort of the cognitive load that we humans can bear, we sort of heard the five plus or minus two, I think, is now four plus or minus two, like, the things we can remember. Well, when you have a fewer number of projects and you can always rattle off what you’re working on, it turns out you don’t need a super complicated productivity system or an app to help you with that. You can always just sort of have those things front of mind.

And the last thing is every one of the projects, another way of thinking through this, every one of the projects that you carry, they need fuel. And I talk in the book about focused blocks which are 90 to 120 blocks of time where you can sit down and make substantial progress on things. So, if it’s a creative project, it might be that time where, let’s say it’s writing, where you actually are able to sit down and get some good words in, lean into the project, get out of the project rut. But it doesn’t have to be creative work, it can be, again, going back to that garage.

A lot of times we don’t end up cleaning the garage because we look at it, it’s like, “Oh, I think I can just move it around,” but you know that it’s going to take you three to four focused blocks because you got to figure out where everything goes and do the organizing. And because we don’t schedule that time, we know we won’t be able to make any meaningful progress, so we don’t actually start.

And so, when we look at the sort of the three to five projects, it’s like, how many of these focused blocks do you have in your life, and in a week, that you can allocate towards these things?” And no focused blocks equals no momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I’m seeing how the pieces are coming together. So, I’ve got my three to five projects, I’ve got focused blocks for 90 to 120-ish minutes, and then I’m allocating particular focused blocks towards particular projects in order to get momentum. So, I understand you’ve got a full-blown nine-step method, so I think we’re already getting into a couple of them. How about we sort of get the full view here?

Charlie Gilkey
Yes. So, the full nine-step method would be, well, there are different ways we can say this. But where people often will fall down is that they go immediately from idea to working on it, and that’s really not a great way to do it because we don’t do ideas, we do projects, and so we have to do some work to convert that idea. But before we can get there, in chapter two, well, one of the steps is really getting clear about the obstacles that are in the way from you doing this life-changing work that we’re talking about. And if you don’t start with looking at that, the first thing that you’ll do is choose an idea, start working with it, and then see, all of a sudden, that you’re upside down with it and you can’t go forward with it and sort working backwards. So, it’s a root-cause approach.

So, the first step is getting in touch with some of those root causes that keep that gap between our current reality and the life we want to live. So, second sort of step is to pick an idea that really matters to you. And that seems like obvious except for what matters to us is oftentimes not the first things that we’ll pick because of fear, because of the seeming difficulty, and we end up choosing low-hanging fruits, or we end up choosing other people’s priorities.

And then when we get into the messy middle, or towards the end of the project, we don’t get anywhere. And that’s largely because, at the end of the day, that idea did not matter enough to us, it didn’t supply the amount of meaning and sort of commitment juice that we needed it to, and so there’s just a certain point in sort of imagine this lever of, like, at past a certain point of difficulty and grit, if you don’t have the amount of internal emotional buy-in and sort of spirit in that project, the difficulty of it is going to win, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Charlie Gilkey
And so, you have to pick an idea that matters enough for you to invest a life force that is going to take to push through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And I think that’s well-said with regard to just because you’re doing it doesn’t mean that it matters to you. You very well could’ve chosen it because you passed up the bigger things out of fear, or, “Ooh, that just sounds hard.”

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, it just sounds hard. And I want to pause here because, over the last few decades, I think we’ve lost a lot of grit and we just sort of baked into some sort of talent myth, like if it’s hard it’s not for you because if we look at all the prodigies and the people that seemed to do things super easily, it’s like, “Oh, they got that talent. And the people that have the talent, they should go do those things. And if you don’t have that talent, maybe you go find something else that’s easier for you to do.” Right?

And what that ends up doing for a lot of us is that when we start something and it gets difficult, we sort of encode that maybe that’s a sign that we’re doing the wrong thing, maybe it’s a sign that there’s something else that I should be doing because it shouldn’t be this hard. And my whole point is, first off, if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing badly in the beginning. Bottom line, if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing badly in the beginning.

And, second off, in almost all these cases, these effortless talent displays that we see, it’s a lot of hard work and cultivation of those people behind the scenes, so they have a certain amount of budding seed time that we don’t have. And so, I want people to orient themselves so that when they see something that’s difficult, or when they see…well, let me say it this way.

I talk in the book about thrashing. And thrashing is sort of the meta work and emotional flailing and “research” that you’ll do to push an idea forward but it doesn’t actually push an idea forward, right? It’s just thrashing and flailing. And the thing about it is we don’t thrash about things that don’t matter to us. Like, no one has a mini-existential crisis about doing the laundry or taking the trash out. There’s no “Why am I the right person to do it? Is now the right time? What if I’m not good enough?” It’s like you do it or you don’t do it, right?

But when it comes to time to some of these best-work projects, which is what I call these life-changing projects that really only you can do and that change the world in really phenomenal ways, those are the ones where we’ll have all those sort of mini crises, and those are the ones where we’ll start wondering if we got what it takes, and so on and so forth.

And so, it turns out that the more it matters to you, the more you’ll thrash. And so, it’s a really good sign when you’re feeling that feeling of, like, “Wow, this is…” not just that it’s daunting, because you can take on a project that doesn’t matter and could be daunting, but you’re thinking like, “Wow, I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes. I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” those are actually really good signs that the project matters to you, because if it didn’t, you wouldn’t be feeling that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is one worth sitting with it and remembering because you want it to come to mind when that feeling occurs again. Indeed, wow, yeah, so many implications when you’re experiencing, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t know if I have what it takes.” It’s indicative of that’s something you care about a lot or that thought would not have occurred to you at all, the, “I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to…” And it’s not just about how challenging it is, because you might say, “But I don’t know if I have what it takes to take out the trash every day.” The take-out-the-trash challenge, you know. It’s, like, that’s probably not go do it. It just sort of says, “That’s dumb. I don’t feel like bothering.” So, yeah.

And I’ve often had this thought. I’ve said to my wife numerous times, like, when I’m feeling frustrated by something, I think, “Well, you know what, it’d be a lot easier if I didn’t care so much.” It’s like, “If I didn’t care, if my clients were getting great results in ROI from our trainings, then I’d just be like whatever.” But I do and, thusly, I get a little bit worked up associated with if folks are doing the exercises and understanding and connecting with the stuff.

Charlie Gilkey
Absolutely. It’s kind of like envy as a compass. And by that, I mean we’re not envious of other people when they don’t have something that we want. We’re only envious when someone has something that we actually care about. And, unfortunately, we try to wash out the envy, we try to wash it out, but, for me, I’m like, “Oh, maybe let’s pause a little bit and say, ‘What is it in this moment, in that sort of feeling that you have that’s telling you that something matters? And what are you going to do about it?’” as opposed to just pretending like you shouldn’t feel it.

Like, you like what you like, and you value what you value, and that’s one of those learning to center those fundamental truths and that it’s perfectly fine to like what you like and to value what you value, and you have permission to do that, then let you say, “You know what, that man with the shoes on over there, those shoes are really kicking, man. I love those shoes. I wish I had them.” So, what is it about that and what do you want to do to address that?

Maybe you decide later on, “No, maybe I was just being materialistic,” or maybe, just maybe, you like the shoes, and that’s enough for you to say, “You know what, I’m going to do something about that, meaning I’m either going to buy it, or if I can’t afford it, it’s worth it to me to do the work that I need to do to exchange my labor for money I need to get those things.” And that is a choice that I don’t think we allow ourselves to really sink into a lot of times unless they are socially-approved values and likes, in which case it’s kind of a given that we get those.

Like, many people, I know this is kind of straying in the personal finance land, but many people don’t question the value of owning a home because it’s one of those given, it’s like that’s just what you do. You go to school, you get a job, you get a partner, you buy a house, right? And so, deciding not to buy a house and deciding to be a renter for the rest of your life because you realize that 3% to 5% of you the cost of your home is going to be spent in maintenance, and those type of things in general. Like, that becomes important but a lot of people don’t give themselves permission to say, “You know what, this whole home-buying thing, not something I care so much about. I care more about freedom. I care more about that.”

And, again, I’m not trying to make a strong case for that particular economic choice. I’m just trying to say there’s a lot of decisions like that, that we default to the socially-approved cues and, unfortunately, end up living our lives doing work that we would rather not do to get stuff that we really don’t want, and then miss out on this one precious life that we have in front of us and that way we could have lived it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s adding up and resonating there in each of those components in terms of this is just what you do versus you’ve given some real thought to it. And when it comes to envy, I think it’s also intriguing to look and see if there are some finer distinctions because you got my wheels turning in terms of I saw this Netflix documentary about Bill Gates and I had some envy, but I don’t at all have envy for Elon Musk, right? And so, here are these two super rich people who are innovating but there’s a distinction and that is sort of rich fodder for potential insight. So, it’s like, where do you have envy and where is there a similar situation where you don’t? And then we’re really homing in on something.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. So, what does that envy tell you about your values? That would be the question, right? And where is the lack of envy in other places, not do the same things? So, again, these are really good tools. And the thing about it is, especially productivity but I’ll say the broader sort of personal development, we approach it from a headspace in like a thinking space. But when it comes down to actually doing the work that changes lives, changes our lives, changes other people’s lives, and having the courage and being able to set up the boundaries, it’s always going to come back to your heart space. It’s always going to come back to stuff that really matters.

And so, I encourage people to actually steer with that as opposed to getting caught into all the things sort of in that headspace of what you should do. And, just while I’m on that, just about any time you’re telling yourself you should do something, pause. Because, usually, what you’re telling yourself is that there’s some external standard that is a guideline for what you ought to be doing. And where I want you to pause is say, “But is that really true for me? Is it really true that that’s the right thing for me to do?”

And sometimes when you should, in the case of given who I am and what I care about, this is the thing that I need to do, but I’ve learned so oftentimes, so many times we only use the word should when it’s an external rule, an external guide. And when it’s our own sort of compass, we say, “I get to…” or, “This matters to me,” or, “I want to…” or, “This is meaningful.” Like, we use all sorts of words that are different than the should word. Does it make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I have been thinking about should a lot lately in terms of, I guess, when I see or hear should, I get very curious as well in terms of “What do you really mean by that?” And I find, often, that should, all that really means is, “If one were to invest additional time, energy, money, resource in this domain, there would be some kind of a benefit.” But, like you said with regard to opportunity cost, well, is that really worthwhile?

And I’m really intrigued when I hear it with regard to people talking about TV or Netflix, like, “Oh, have you seen the latest season of this?” And I say, “Oh, no, I should really watch that.” And I’m thinking, “Man, really, should you? I think you got the right idea and I’m the one who should watch less Netflix.”

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, stop shooting on yourself is a long way of saying it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Charlie Gilkey
Like, if you wanted to do it, you would have watched the show already. If it really mattered to you, it just turns out that, I talk a lot about cage matches, whether it’s a priority cage match or a project cage match, and that’s just a homage to my upbringing in the ‘80s of professional wrestling, where the basic idea, if you’ve never seen this, it’s like a bunch of competitors get into the ring, and the strongest one, some way or the other, ends up throwing everybody else out or beating them into submission. So, I know, terrible metaphor for this particular context.

But there are certain priorities and certain things that they’re always going to win that cage match. If you are a parent and something comes up about your kids, you’re going to displace almost everything else to make sure that their needs are attended to. And so, what I want more of us to do is to look at all the OPP, the other people’s priorities, not the Naughty by Nature O.P.P. song, but that’s also a great song, right? I want to look at everyone else’s priorities and say, “You know what, why and how are those more important than my own?” Because you could be that person that runs around trying to fill everybody else’s priorities and end up exhausted and depleted and frustrated, and still not be able to appease everyone and fill their buckets.

Or, you can say, “You know what, I can’t be everything for everyone. I’m choosing for the smaller set of priorities to be who I am and to live in the way, live and work and allocate my time in a way that really accentuates those values.” And that does mean that there are a lot of people who might be mad at you, there might be a lot of people who decide not to be friends with you, or there might be a lot of other, like there might be some social fallout for that. But, again, look forward into a decade, would you rather have done the things that really are going to power the type of life you want to live or just continue to maintain other people’s projects and priorities?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And while we’re here, as I’m rolling with it, what are your pro tips on saying no?

Charlie Gilkey
Pro tips on saying no. It depends on where it’s coming from, so I got to start with that. Obviously, if your boss walks into the door, walks into the office, and is like, “Hey, I’ve got a new project and priority for you,” be careful about saying no to that because you may not get to say yes to the job tomorrow, right? And so, there’s a context there. And even with bosses, and I’ve had to do this in the military, back when I was in the Army, where it’s like you get handed this project, or you get handed this mission, you’re like, “Okay. Well, I can do this but it may displace some of these other priorities that you have for me and that we’ve already talked about. So, do you want me to do this instead of that? Or like what’s the priority conversation here?”

And that I think always returning to, especially the work environment, to priorities is a good way to talk about it, because you’re not saying, “Screw you. I don’t care.” You’re saying, “I’m here to do a certain job, or I’m here to make sure that I’m providing the best value to this team that I can. We’ve already discussed these other ways in which I could provide that value. Now, there’s this new thing. Is this better than that?” And that’s a good conversation that a lot of teams can have even that a lot of people can have with their boss.

I think when it’s with your friends and family, first off, my observation is that we spend too little time talking to friends and family about what actually matters to us, and so we end up negotiating a bunch of trivial things. We get invited to go to the club, or you get invited to go to watch the football game on Saturday, or you get invited to all these sorts of things, or you get expected to, like, “Hey, can you watch my kid today?” or, “Can you come over?” and there’s never been that talk of, like, “Actually, Saturday is the day that I spend in community service, and that’s why I’m down to soup kitchen every Saturday because that’s super important to me.” We haven’t established our priorities first and so we’re always negotiating what matters on the backside of things.

So, step one is to have more intentional conversations with your friends and family about things that matter to you, the projects you’re working on and how they fit into this life that you want to live, in that way when you do get asked to do something or requested to do something, there’s a preexisting conversation about some things that matter. It changes it, it changes the conversations because the people around you understand that it’s not like you’re sitting at home on that Saturday evening just looking for something to do, right? You have these other plans for yourself and other things that truly matter, so it does help with that conversation.

The second way that I would look in on this one would be to, where it’s a resonant request, meaning it’s from someone who can legitimately make that request, and it’s something that, in general, like you’re open to doing it but perhaps can’t do it right now, is always provide that alternative. It’s like, “You know, I’m sorry that I can’t do that that day because I have some preexisting commitments. Is there a way that I can do that Wednesday or Friday or this other period of time? Because what you’re requesting from me, I actually do care about and I care about the relationship that we’re in here. That particular time is not the best time.”

And the last thing that I would say is, and this goes back to talking about things that matter and being honest with your friends and family, is if there are certain things that you’re being requested to do and they don’t resonate, and they aren’t something you’re ever going to do, don’t BS people and be like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get to it,” or, “Yeah, it sounds great,” or, “We’ll have coffee in three months.” If you know that you don’t want to have coffee in three months, avoid that. Avoid setting that sort of precedent. And I know that seems perhaps obvious, and maybe it seems hard, but I think too many people are not honest with the people around them for fear of rejection, or for fear of becoming a social pariah, or whatever that is, and we end up negotiating a lot of things that, if we were just being forthright with folks, we wouldn’t have to be negotiating.

Pete Mockaitis
Charlie, I have no interest in drinking coffee with you.

Charlie Gilkey
Hey, I got it. Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s not true, Charlie. I think it’d be a lot of fun.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how does one say that?

Charlie Gilkey
How does one say, “I’m not interested in having coffee”?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ever.

Charlie Gilkey
Ever.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I think that’s kind of what you’re saying. They’re saying, “Hey, in a few months when things quiet down,” it’s like that’s kind of what you mean is that’s just fundamentally is not worth doing to you.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, that’s a tricky one, right? Well, here’s what I’ll say. Very rarely do I have someone out of the blue who doesn’t know just ask me to go for coffee, right? So, typically, it’s in the context where they know I got a lot of stuff going on, and so I can say, “Ooh, I’m going to have a hard time.” Or, what I will normally say is, “Hey,” especially if I don’t know them and I really don’t want to have coffee, like, “What’s your thought there? What are you thinking?” And this may just be peculiar to my line of work because I am a coach and things like that.

If it comes up with doing all these things, like, “I’d love to have coffee because I want to pick your brain about something,” then I can say, “Hey, Pete, I’d love to have that conversation. I am a professional coach, and the best way for us to have that conversation would be under this sort of structure. Are you open for that conversation?” And, basically, what that’s saying in some way, without being a butthole about it, is, one…

Pete Mockaitis
It ain’t free.

Charlie Gilkey
It ain’t free. And, two, if it matters to you, like if it matters for you enough to do it, then let’s have that conversation. But, for me to show up and do that for free, like, again, that’s displaced other people who pay me to do this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

Charlie Gilkey
And, on that note, I have a certain amount of time that I just think of as service to the world and community service and things like that. And so, there are some people who are like, “You know what, that’d totally be something that I would pay…” like someone would pay me to do. But, in this circumstance, I just feel called that this is a conversation that I want to be in and so I’ll do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Charlie Gilkey
But, again, I don’t get a lot of that. I know women actually get a lot more requests for coffee, and it’s kind of one of those things. Are they requesting you to coffee to pick your brain? Which is basically that conversation we were just having, Pete. Or are they wanting to establish a friendship? And so, I think, largely speaking, the best way to say no sometimes is to say, “Let’s determine what we’re actually trying to do.”

If you want to avoid that tendency to say yes too quickly, and this does seem to contradict what I was saying a little bit earlier, your go-to is always, “Let me check my schedule and see what projects I have, and see how I can make that work.” And then say, “Let me get back to you in a day or so.” And then that at least gives you enough time to not overcommit yourself, but also think about how you’re going to disengage from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. Well, Charlie, we got a lot of good stuff here. I had a big list going in. You’ve distinguished three different ways projects get stuck, and I think that’s worth mentioning. So, can you give us, what are these three categories and how do we deal with those?

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, can I get a three and a half here?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, 3.5, yeah.

Charlie Gilkey
Three-point-five because I kind of want to talk about the red zone on this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Charlie Gilkey
Because the red zone is a metaphor, I’m appealing to American football, where as you get in that last 20 yards of the drive, a lot of teams will fumble it, or a lot of teams will screw up in that last 20 yards, and then end up in a field goal situation, or a turnover situation. And the reason you end up in a red zone is because they’re such tight space that everything working against you doesn’t have to spread itself so thin.

And so, projects can get stuck in that red zone where you’re in that last sort of 3% that seems to take as long as the full 97% before, and a lot of that is just about, again, that’s when your perfectionism is going to come up, that’s when your procrastination is going to come up, that’s when all of the implications of the scope and goal will creep, start coming up. And so, just understand that that’s a normal part of the process.

And in the book, I do give some ways to work through the red zone, but part of it is doubling down at the end and not thinking that you’re just going to be able to slide it home. I’m being super quick there because I’m conscious of time.

The other three sort of ways projects get stuck, so there are cascades, there are logjams, and there are tar pits. Cascades are when you have a series of projects that you got to do step A before you do step B before you do step C, and step A gets behind, so step B gets behind, so step C gets behind, and you might have a whole cascade of those. And at a certain point, I think we’ve all been in that where you start spending more time trying to keep your projects up to date and communicating with people about those projects than just getting those projects done in the first place, and it just keeps slipping on you.

And so, the trick of solving the cascade is you actually have to clip both ends of the cascade. You have to stop new projects coming in and, in a lot of times, you have to look at those projects that are backed up and start deferring them, start dropping them, and start focusing on getting the ones that you can through so that you get it going again. So, you can’t just focus on the new projects.

So, there are times, Pete, where people will come to me and they’ll tell me what they’re doing, it’s like, “All right. So, first thing is we’re on a new project diet, right? You don’t get to take on any new projects until we get these ones done because we don’t have any space to add anything anyways. It’s just going to be a frustrating conversation for both of us three weeks later because you’re going to tell me, ‘I didn’t make any progress on anything.’ And I’ll ask you why, because you didn’t have time, so on and so forth, so let’s not do that.” New project diet.

So, you got to sort of clip both ends. Once you get enough of those projects going, then maybe start accepting new projects back into the pipeline. And how that might work in a work context is, again, talking to your boss and being like, “Look, here’s what’s happening. I’m not able to get any of these projects done because of the rate this is coming. I need two weeks or I need a week where I can just focus on getting these things caught up. Here’s my plan for that. Is that all right with you?”

And a lot of times, when faced between you not getting something done, and you getting something done, bosses and teammates would much rather you get something done. And so, it’s not as hard of a conversation as people make it. You just have to admit that the amount of inputs that are coming in exceed your ability to put them in the output mode. And that’s a hard conversation for a lot of us to have, but having that conversation after four months of struggling, doesn’t do you any favors. If you see that, you might as well get ahead of it.

You know, a lot of what we’ve been talking about today is about taking the hard parts or maybe the pain parts of getting stuff done and putting them on the frontside of things, because the idea is that at some point, if you’re going to be falling behind and overcommitting and your projects are going to be stacking up on you, there’s a certain amount of pain that that’s going to cause. We know that. And so, it’s not necessarily avoiding the pain. It’s, can you put some of the pain at the beginning of it so that you don’t have to face so much of it later on? So, cascade, that’s how you handle cascades.

Logjams are when you have too many projects competing for the same amount of time. This is the classic case where you have five deadlines on Friday, and you start looking at all the work it would take to do those deadlines. There’s just no way you can do them all at the same time. So, it’s different than the cascade, because cascade, you can kind of think of like projects stacked back to back. A logjam is like projects stacked on top of each other, and there’s just a certain amount that’s kind of like trying to push the golf ball through the garden hose. It doesn’t work, right?

So, with the logjam, some of it is similar in the sense of like a no-new-project diet will help but you really have to get real about, like, “Which of those projects that are trying to compete for the same amount of time have to be done?” Like, if you don’t do them, you’ll get fired, or it will cause a lot of pain, and which ones are nice to do? And those nice to do ones, or would be good to get done, or the ones that get deprioritized so you can focus on getting those ones that will get you in hot water done, and then you can sort of reestablish the flow of your projects again.

And the last one is a tarpit. And I’ve learned this for a lot of creative projects, but a tarpit is when that project is like you sort of touch it a little bit, and then the second you let it go, it starts sinking in a tarpit, in like one of those Jurassic tarpits, it gets stickier and deeper and deeper. And not only do you have to work to pick it up, you have to work to pull it out of it all over again. So, if you’re ever stuck with one of those projects and the mental or spiritual or literal closet, you know what I’m talking about. It’s so hard to resurrect those things. And then once you do, the second you let it go, it starts sinking back in there.

And so, the thing about tarpits is a lot of times it’s some layer of fear that keeps that thing hiding in the background, or there are some deep sort of emotion around it, and you’ve got to get clear about what that is before you get back into that project, because if you don’t address it, the same pattern of it sinking deeper and deeper is going to keep happening.

And then the other thing about tarpits, projects in a tarpit, is you want to make sure to give it enough time, enough of those focused blocks that I’ve talked about, that you can go ahead and clear all of the muck and get some significant progress on it, because, I’ll tell you what, there are a few things better than seeing one of those tarpit projects and figuring out, it actually does still matter to you, you’ve just been daunted or overwhelmed or steered by it, and then it’s knuckling down for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, getting it done. It’d be like, “You know what, it’s done. It’s out of my soul. It’s out my emotions, out of my brain, and I can move onto the next thing, feeling so much more buoyant, and not just weighed down by that project that’s just sort of haunting me from the closet.”

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us some examples of projects that often fall into the tarpit category?

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. So, creative projects and creative, broadly speaking, so if you want to write a book, yeah, that can be a tarpit project. If you’re a musician, you’ve been meaning to write an album, those fall into the tarpit pretty quickly because it can be challenging to bare your soul in the ways that it takes to do that type of creative work.

A common tarpit project that I’ve seen from people, I haven’t had this problem yet because of the age of my parents, but it’s when you end up with heirlooms and sentimental items that you inherit from your parents when they pass. They end up in garages and closets where you just can’t get in there, and you can’t figure out what to do with your mom’s baby shoes that she gifted to you for some reason.

And so, those types of projects, and anything around clearing out the material belongings or material items that exists from relationships, so it could be that you have that box. I know of a few of my female friends that have boxes of letters and cards from boyfriends they had in high school, right? And I’m like, “Well, okay. So, what’s that about?” But just getting in there and figuring out what to do with it and things like that can be a total tarpit.

For a lot folks, financial stuff, getting your taxes in order, figuring out where all your money has gone, is going, might go, anything around money can be one of those tarpit projects which is like, “You know, I want to get in it, I get in there, I poke around a little bit, but I don’t actually make the investment. I don’t actually buy the insurance. I don’t actually do the thing that I need to do.” Those tend to be classic sources of tarpits.

And what else? I think those are three pretty good cases of that.

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

Charlie Gilkey
I know we’re wrapping things up, but I wanted to talk briefly about success packs because it’s a game-changer for people. And success packs are just a group of people that you put around yourself and your project that really help you figure out how to go. I would normally talk a little bit more about this, but the thing about success packs is they help you convert “how” problems into “who” solutions.

And when you use them, it takes a lot of that overload that we can feel, that overwhelm that we can feel about having to have it all figure out ourselves, and all the work that we might do, and feeling alone, and just realizing that we have a team of people that we can reach out to for different reasons. And so, whenever you’re wanting to do work that matters for you, before you start making heavy plans, before you start jumping headlong in there, think about the group of people that you would want to put around you that will be your advisors, that will be your helpers, that will be the people who benefit from the projects, and that will be your guides so that, again, you’re not stuck doing this type of work alone.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. So, now, tell me about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Charlie Gilkey
This one is from Lao Tzu from the Tao Te Ching and it goes, I’ll give this version of it, “Because the master is aware of her faults, she is faultless.” And the idea there goes that because she’s honest about her limitations and constraints and who she is, those limitations, constraints and character quirks don’t end up tripping her up and making her life harder than it needs to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Charlie Gilkey
And so, I love that because I think a lot of times we don’t want to talk about those constraints and limitations and challenges. It’s kind of like when people are like, “Well, we don’t want to talk about the hard things because it makes them real.” But if you arm is broken, like you talking about your arm being broken doesn’t break it. It’s already broken. So, what are you going to do about it? And so, I love that one because whenever I’m, one, it allows a lot of room for humility but it also allows a lot of room for hope at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Charlie Gilkey
I’ve been really geeking out on the marshmallow test, and especially that they got it wrong.

It turns out that that was largely, when they did the research on the data and they tried to run it again, what they found out was actually a determination of someone’s social status was actually what was determining their ability to hold out or not. And the reason I’m super pumped about that finding is, one, having grown up as a poor kid, and just seeing how different realities manifest because of just where you grew up on the opportunity divide, gave me a lot of hope there. But it also reminds me that we need to be super careful about the judgments we make on people, and that we need to dig deeper when we’re starting to see some of these types of trends.

And so, again, it’s one of those big things that’s largely grit determined what you would be able to do in life, and it turns out that where you start in life determined how much grit you may have. And that means, in some ways, grit is a muscle that we can all work on, and our future is not necessarily predicated by where we grew up, even though that has a super strong influence on it.

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

Charlie Gilkey
Well, since I got the quote from that, I probably should say the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.

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

Charlie Gilkey
The tool that’s popping up to me is the AlphaSmart Neo2 which is a late ‘90s word processor. It’s, basically, a keyboard with an LCD screen on it. And it’s really helpful for writing when you’ve been super distracted, or when you got a lot going on. It’s actually what I wrote about 95% of Start Finishing on. And when it comes to quality words and volume of words, I have yet to find a better solution than the AlphaSmart Neo.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Charlie Gilkey
That would have to be my morning routine. And so, I drink tea and meditate for at least 25 minutes in the morning, and that 25 minutes setup the rest of the day. And there’s a marked difference when I don’t have that 25 minutes than when I do, or when I don’t prioritize it. So, that is the habit that keeps all the other habits going.

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

Charlie Gilkey
I don’t have a really good one but what resonates is a quote but something that a lot of readers have said about this book, is really commenting that the part about them not being uniquely defective really stands out. So, I can say it in a quote form. So, in the book, I talk about, in chapter one, I just remind people that we’re not uniquely defective. We’re not fated to being able to get our stuff together. And we’re not fated to always be in struggles with that. And I think that’s such an important point because a lot of times we approach really important stuff from a frame of like there’s something uniquely defective about us that’s going to keep us from being successful.

And when you let go of that belief, when you let go of that way of orienting yourself to the world, and you see that, to quote Marie Forleo of like everything is figure-outable, and you are fundamentally able to change if you will yourself to do it, it opens up the world of possibilities. And so, yeah, that’s the one I would put down as you’re not uniquely defective.

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

Charlie Gilkey
So, if you’re interested in the book, go to StartFinishingBook.com, that’s all one word. If you’re interested in the broader body of work that I’ve got, you can find it at ProductiveFlourishing.com.

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

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. In the next full week that you have, reach into that closet of your soul where you put one of those projects that really matter, one of those ideas that really matter, that will make your work better, that will make your colleagues work better, that will make your workplace better, and start thinking about, “How can I spend at least two hours this week bringing that idea to life and turning it into a project?” Start with that two hours and if that’s all you’ve got is two hours a week, better to work on that and make work awesome than to leave it in there waiting for a better time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Charlie, this has been so much. Thank you and good luck in all of your finishing projects.

Charlie Gilkey
Thanks so much for having me, Pete.

491: How to Have Powerful Conversations that Improve Performance with Jonathan Raymond

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Jonathan Raymond says: "We're too nice to each other. We're not having honest conversations."

Refound CEO Jonathan Raymond teaches how to communicate feedback that gets results.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes traditional feedback ineffective
  2. How to have more effective conversations using the 5 stages of the Accountability Dial
  3. How to articulate feedback to your team, your peers, and your seniors

About Jonathan

After twenty years of not being able to decide whether he was a business executive or a personal growth teacher, Jonathan stopped trying to figure it out. He’s the author of Good Authority — How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, and the Founder & CEO at Refound, a people training company that teaches people how to have human conversations at work. Refound specializes in working with people leaders at high-growth organizations and is proud to be a trusted learning partner to Fortune 100 organizations like Panasonic and McKesson, cutting edge tech firms like Niantic and Box and small businesses that are going places. He’s madly in love with his wife, tries not to spoil his daughters, and will never give up on the New York Knicks. Jonathan is an experienced CEO and people manager and has thrown his heart, mind, and soul into more than a few culture change projects. He lives in Encinitas, California and is an avid, albeit mediocre, surfer.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jonathan Raymond Interview Transcript

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

Jonathan Raymond
Thanks, Pete. It’s great to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, have you learned anything extraordinarily useful and maybe new that changed the way you were thinking from two years ago?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, I hope the answer to that is yes. We’ve learned a ton, really, as an organization.
I think that one of the ways that we work with organizations and try to advise them is, you know, a lot of people will say, like, “Well, we want more communication.” But if you actually talk to people inside an organization, which we do through our engagements, they say, “Well, you know, it’s not so much that I want more communication. There’s plenty of communication.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Plentiful.

Jonathan Raymond
“What I want is for them to think a little harder.” They meaning the organization or the leaders or whoever. “I want them to think a little more about which ones matter to me and why, and invest a little bit more time in context and why, why this particular piece of communication.” There’s a bunch of stuff that you’re telling me about that, it’s not that I don’t care but I have so many things that I’m trying to digest at the same time, I’d rather you didn’t. If you could just invest a little bit more time in thinking into which pieces of communication need a little bit more context and a little bit more of the why, those organizations are succeeding in terms of having more effective communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, when it comes to communication effectiveness, I wanted to chat with you in some real depth about feedback. We touched upon it last time, which was, boy, way back, more than about a couple of years there. And so, I wanted to talk about feedback in particular for this chat and maybe to start us off with in what ways does feedback often sort of just not work in teams and organizations? Sort of what’s the problem that you bump into most often?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. Well, let’s start by thinking about for anyone who’s married or in a serious relationship. When you try to give feedback to your partner or spouse, how does it go? Usually not well, right? If you have kids and you try to give your kids feedback, including but not limited to teenagers, how does it go? Generally, not well, right? Why? Like, why does feedback not generally go well?

One is because we’ve got a lot of pent-up emotions, typically. We sometimes have more power than the other person, not always. We are often missing context around why they did what they did when they did it. There are so many possible ways that things could go wrong. We have our own bias, we have our own judgments, we have a lot of our own projection and how we feel about ourselves, so it’s a mess. So, when we enter into a thing called a feedback conversation, the likelihood of success is very low given all of those factors.

And so, we have to start thinking beyond feedback. Because that setup, whether it’s in the workplace or in our families—it doesn’t work. We know that it doesn’t work. People get defensive, it’s awkward, we feel uncomfortable, we talk past one another, so we need another way to think about solving the problem of what is the problem that feedback is intending to solve. There’s a real problem there that we’re sort of taking this tool called feedback and saying, “Oh, that’s going to solve it.” And then we found our position is like, “Hmm, not so much. It’s not going to work for that for a lot of different reasons. There’s another way.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose most often, the problem I’m trying to solve with feedback is, “I would like for you to do this thing differently and better as I perceive better.” And so, if feedback is not the mechanism, what is?

Jonathan Raymond
So, for us, the everyday conversations take a different tone. So, exactly as you said, right, “What is the purpose of feedback?” Well, I want someone to behave differently. Now, we could also say we also want to give them feedback around things that they do well. And we’ll get into kind of the different feedback spaces or the different feedback relationships that we all have.

But if we think about approaching that conversation, not by making a statement about something but by asking a question, or making an observation, but doing it from a place of acknowledging our subjectivity, and saying, “Hey, I noticed this,” or, “It seems to me that X,” or, “When I was sitting in the meeting, one of the things that struck me was…”

But we’re approaching those conversations with a spirit of curiosity, with a spirit of dialogue, like, “I don’t have all the information. I don’t know everything about why you did what you did when you did it. I just noticed something and I’m going to bring it up because, as your colleague or as your manager or as your subordinate—whatever the case may be—I see that as part of my role to when I see things that are either problematic or potentially problematic, part of my role as a leader in this organization and in standing for my own values is to say something.”

But the way we go about it changes the whole game. And if we approach it from a place of assumption and conclusion and prescriptive, like, “This is what happened, and this is what you need to do differently.” Well, now we’re doing feedback and we’ll get the results that you would imagine. But if we approach it from a place of, “Hey, I have a question about this. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It seemed like this but I could be…” And so, it’s having that open hand relative to those everyday conversations.

So, in one way you could say, “Oh, that’s another way to do feedback,” and that’s fine, you could call it that. But for us it’s really different. When we train and teach these tools, people feel like, “Oh, so I don’t really have to give feedback in the way that I understood it. All I have to do is talk with people. All I have to do is show up as a human being, find a way to surface what I’m feeling, thinking, sensing, and then we can have a conversation, and that’s right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued. So, we start with the curiosity and a statement of, “Hey, I noticed this…” And then maybe how’s the rest of the conversation go or maybe could you do a roleplay or an example?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes, so what we did is we created a tool called the Accountability Dial. And what we found—and this came from my own painful experiences as a people leader—is that I found myself having the same conversations over and over again, whether I was in a management role or when I was more junior, and I would flag something or name something, and I would find myself repeating those conversations.

And so, what we did is we created an architecture, we said, “Hey, what if there’s actually five parts to that conversation?” We called them the mention, the invitation, the conversation, the boundary, and the limit. And if we think about locating ourselves, “Well, where am I in this conversation? Is it the first time that I’m bringing this up? Well, I’m at the mention stage.” “Hey, Jennifer, I was in this standup this morning and you seemed frustrated by where the conversation was going. I’d love to hear more about that if I’m reading that right.” So, that’s the mention, right?

So, I don’t know why Jennifer, maybe there’s a really good reason, maybe there might be 27 things that could be happening, maybe I’m misinterpreting the situation. But my mention is just my first attempt to get in dialogue with Jennifer about that. So, that’s the mention.

Now, let’s say a couple of days goes by, maybe a week goes by, and I’m still sensing she’s frustrated in that meeting, I notice that in some email back and forth, something is not clicking. So, if I was Jennifer’s manager or if I was her peer and I cared about her as another human being, I wouldn’t let it go. I would come back to her and I would say, “Hey, I mentioned something in the hall last week. I’ve noticed a couple of other things. It seems to be something bigger and I care. I want to know. Maybe there’s something, maybe there’s some way that I can help.”

So, that’s the invitation stage, the second step of going into a little bit more deeper dialogue. And every single one of these steps, all five of them, are ways to express care in human ways to say, “Look, there’s something going on, or at least I think there is, and if there’s something that I’m doing, I want to be able to change it. And if there’s something that we need to work out together, well, let’s do that.”

And so, we go through those stages. That’s how we move through the Accountability Dial where we don’t try to tackle the whole thing in one bite. It doesn’t work that way. We’re not geared to be able to solve important things as human beings that touch on all these interpersonal and intrapersonal issues. We can’t solve those in a 30-second conversation so we’re going to come back to it a couple of times over a period of days or weeks or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
And for that second bit there, the invitation, what exactly are we inviting them to?

Jonathan Raymond
So, we’re inviting them to reflect, to say, “Hey, look, it looked like it was maybe a one-off thing but now I’m seeing maybe it isn’t a one-off thing. Maybe there’s a pattern that’s emerging. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it doesn’t mean you failed, it doesn’t mean I’m judging you. It just means, hey, I’m here. I’m human, you’re human. There are probably things that you see about me that maybe are patterns. But, in this instance, here’s something that I’m seeing. And if I’m your manager,” and, again, this is a philosophical point of view.

In our work, we say, “Hey, if you’re the manager or the people leader, it’s your responsibility to approach that person, if not in real time, in near time to say, ‘Hey, look, there’s something that seems to be happening here. I’m inviting you to take a reflection on this, to think about, hey, is there something that you’re not saying, or is there a conversation you need to have with someone else, or is there a step that you need to do that you haven’t done?’” Whatever it is, but not from a place of judgment or shaming, but just offering somebody from that coaching mindset, a reflection from the outside.

Because what’s really hard for us as humans is we don’t see when we’re doing that often. Most of us, our powers of self-reflection, especially with the pace of work, are limited. So we want, you know, if you’re hungry for growth you need people around you who are going to say, “Hey, look. Hey, Jonathan, here’s something that I’m noticing. Maybe it’s worth thinking about.” That’s the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s an example we’re running with. So, Jennifer, the first time with the mention, she seemed frustrated by something. And then so how does the conversation unfold during the invitation phase? You say, “It appears that this has happened a couple more times. This might be a pattern. So, I invite you to think about it or…”

Jonathan Raymond
Well, so it depends in the context, right? So, if I’m Jennifer’s manager, that’s going to feel a certain way, if I’m a peer I might approach that conversation a little differently. It depends on how you know the person and what the nature of that relationship is. But the invitation stage, it’s not so much, it’s not a directive. The invitation is more sort of describing the stage. Like, imagine you had like a black light that you could put on the floor of an office, and you could see all of the, what we call, feedback conversations.
Mostly what you would see is a lot of like started but never re-engaged conversations. So, people bring up something, they flag something, they name something, they highlight something, but they never come back around to that person and say, “Hey, remember that conversation we had the other day? There’s something else that I’m noticing that I think might be connected to it.”

And then the whole point of using the Accountability Dial in everyday conversations is you’re engaging your curiosity, right? “Hey, I don’t know. It’s not my job to know the answer, but here’s what I’m seeing,” and building those relationships of trust with a colleague. So, that’s the invitation. And then we move to the next stage, into the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then some time goes by again, and you notice some other things. And then what happens?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is when we try to help somebody, again, whether it’s a colleague, or a direct report, or somebody more senior, shift their awareness from intentions to impacts. So, most of the time, 99% of the time, when something happens in an office that isn’t great, or a factory floor, you know, we do a lot of work in manufacturing and other contexts like that, it’s not intentional. The person is not intentionally trying to create work for other people, or make life more difficult, or they’re not intentionally doing something to harm others or the team or the customer. And yet, behavior has impact.

And the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is to help somebody shift their awareness, “Hey, so I get that that’s not what you intended. I get that. I understand that. But I’d love to actually have a conversation about what the impact to de-personalize it. It’s not, well, you’re bad a person.” People are likely to get very defensive especially if you’re their manager or any other context like that too. I know many of your listeners are not in a people management role.

But the context of that conversation is, “Let’s step back and let’s talk about, well, if you’re finding yourself frustrated,” if we take Jennifer’s example, “Jennifer, if you’re finding yourself frustrated with the team and maybe the pace of projects, or there’s too many changes, or whatever it is, how might that be impacting your working relationships? How might that be impacting our customers or vendors or stakeholders? How might that be impacting the overall experience that we’re having as a team? How might it be impacting your own development? Like, is there some career goal or something that you’re working on that’s staying in the state of frustration is keeping you from reaching as fast as you may want?”

So, questions like that to help people go like, “Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought about it in that way.” That’s how you know you’re in the conversation stage to help people, again, de-escalate. Like, the whole goal here is we’re trying to have human conversations, things happen, it’s not about jumping on somebody when they make a mistake, or creating a culture of fear is the opposite of what we want to create, but to be in conversation with that person, but to help them see.

Just like if you had a financial advisor, or a relationship coach, or in any domain of life, the reason why you hired that person is you’re trying to have a different outcome, right? So, you wouldn’t go to your relationship coach and say, “Well, I didn’t intend that,” and expect that to be the end of the conversation. “Of course, you didn’t intend that but that’s what happened, so let’s talk about why. Let’s talk about what the impact was and then let’s work our way backwards.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you’re asking all those questions, “How might that impact…?” So, I’m imagining you have your view of how it’s impacting things. But is your recommendation to keep it more of you are more of a question-asker as opposed to a describer of what’s up or you do both?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. So, your orientation, in our overall philosophy, we say, “More Yoda, less Superman,” or, “More Yoda, less superhero.” So, your job is you’re trying to help somebody grow. You can’t actually force them to grow, right? You can’t make them change their behavior. So, the orientation, the best orientation to take as a coach is to ask questions.

And it doesn’t mean, just as you said, you may have a theory. Your theory may be bang on. You might have a really good theory as to what’s happening for them. But if you give it to them, they’re far less likely to feel ownership of that thing that they’re changing and they’re far less likely to succeed in their goal. But if you ask questions and you encourage them to think about things differently, that’s what a good coach does, right? That’s the difference between a coach and a consultant, right?

A consultant gets in there and does it for you, doesn’t force you to ask those difficult questions, those self-reflective questions. A coach, or the hallmark of a coach, is someone who’s willing, who takes a different tact, and says, “Look, this isn’t my thing to change, it’s your thing to change. And the best way that I know to support you is to let you do it and let you struggle a little bit, and have some, maybe, ‘Oh, wow, I never really thought about how it impacted our customers.’ Okay, that’s fine. Maybe think about that for a little bit and let’s get back together at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to solve everything in the moment. We become so inured to this, like, solutions, solutions, solutions, solutions. We don’t even know that we’re doing it. When we do inventory discovery, the depth to which we have adopted it, actually a really problematic level of firefighting and going through our inbox and knocking off inconsequential activity in place of strategic, in-depth full and creative thinking, a lot of that comes from how we role-model that. Do we role-model taking a moment to reflect? Or do we role-model like, “Okay, conversation solved. Let’s go. Action. Go, go, go”? That’s what leads to burnout and overwhelm and all of those things that take culture sideways.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess I’m wondering here, if you’re asking, “How might that impact these things?” and they’re drawing a blank, and you know very well, “Yeah, I see the impact that that had on some things,” and they’re not picking it up, how do you play that game?

Jonathan Raymond
So, you can be and should be transparent. You can say, “Look, I have some theories about how it might be but I think it’s more helpful if you arrive at that on your own.” So, I would be transparent, that’s how I do it. And if they’re struggling, then you can give a hint, you say, like, “Well, one thing I noticed was in this interaction between David and Suzanne, I noticed this.” So, that would be an example. So, give them an example, a specific example of where you see that behavior having an impact.

And then you will almost always get, like, “Oh, I see what you’re saying. I never thought about it in that way before. Yeah, I could see three other things.” So, you’ve got to prime the pump a little bit oftentimes, especially if it’s really on the nose. If it’s something that somebody, it’s so second nature to them to do, you might have to give them an example, and then they’re much more likely to open up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so then, we engage in that conversation. And what happens next?

Jonathan Raymond
So, here we’re going to go, we’re going to diverge a little bit into different types of conversations. So, if I’m a more junior person relative to somebody that I work for, let’s say, and I’m having an accountability conversation. I’ve used the mention, I brought up something that I think is problematic that I’d like to see change. Nothing happened.

I went to the invitation stage, I said, “Hey, I think this is a pattern and it seems to be problematic to me.” Nothing happened. We had the conversation, maybe in a one-on-one, and hopefully I work in a culture where I can talk with my manager in a more open way. I know that that’s not always the case. It’s changing these days, not fast enough, but let’s assume that there’s some amount of that. But I have the conversation, we talk about the impact, and I get an acknowledgment from my boss, and they say, “Yeah, you’re right. I can see that is having an impact. I’ll get better at that.” Let’s say that’s the generic response.

Now, what do you do? So, it’s really different if you’re the manager and this person is more junior than you. You have more authority. You have more structure. You have the ability to put a boundary around the situation to say, “Hey, look, this is what needs to change by when, and here’s what it looks like.” And so, that’s what the boundary looks like if you’re in the manager position, or in the more senior position, you have more power.

If you’re in the more junior position, you have less power, the boundary might look different. It might be, “Well, okay, here’s where I’m at. I’ve had the conversation with this person. I’m not really sure where to go next. But maybe I’m not going to step up for volunteering on the next project that this person has, or maybe there’s some other step that I need to take.” Perhaps even going to an extreme position, and this is a very real position for many people, which is, “Look, if this keeps going, I don’t think I can keep working for this person, or I don’t think I can keep working on this team.”

And the reality is that’s the nature of how most people are already feeling. So the boundary is about getting in reality of where things actually are. And when we interview people all the time, thousands and thousands of people managers and frontline employees, and we ask them, like, “Well, how would you feel about setting a boundary for yourself of what do you need to take care of yourself here? And when does this need to change by? And what does change look like?”

Most people will say, like, “It’s got to change like this week,” or, “It’s got to change in the next month.” Like, I understand why they’re struggling with this but people are incredibly frustrated. And I think one of the things that we have to do is we have to take the mystery out of this idea of like employee engagement or employee disengagement. That’s what it looks like. If you’re spending your energy and life units worrying about what the organization is doing and, “Why my manager is behaving this way?” you’re already disengaged on some level, reasonably so, from the mission and the values of that organization because it’s not real to you.

And so, that boundary stage, or that fourth stage, mention, invitation, conversation, boundary, looks really different depending upon how much power you have in the conversation. And then the third version of that is if you’re working with a peer, you have the same amount of authority as they do, well, what does that looks like? So, the first three steps are the same, mention, invitation, conversation, and then at the boundary, we’ve had whether it’s a senior exec or a junior manager, actually make new agreements, “Hey, we have to make a change because this is what’s happening in your group over here, and these are our needs. This is what we need from you.”

And so, that boundary stage is critical. And when I talk with CEOs, every single CEO I’ve ever worked with, at some point in our first conversation, they’ll say something to the effect of, “Well, accountability is one of our core values.” They don’t always use the word exactly accountability but they’ll say, “Accountability is one of our core values.” And I say, “Great. That’s wonderful. Talk to me about that. How does that work in your organization?” And they’ll say, “Well, what does that mean? What do you mean how does it work?” “Well, talk to me about a situation where someone wasn’t accountable and what the consequences were.” And they say, “Well, what do you mean consequences?” To which I reply, “Well, what do you mean accountability?”

And then we can have an interesting conversation. And this is what we see over and over again in organizations from Fortune 100 companies that we work with to tiny little startups that you’ve never heard of. This is what organizations are struggling with right now. We’re too nice to each other. We’re not having honest conversations. We’re way too over-indexed on wanting to be liked and wanting to be nice and we’ve forgotten the value of having people who are courageous in positions of leadership, in positions of management, who say, “Look, that’s not the way we do it here. We need to do better.”

And we’ve lost that in large measure. We’ve lost that foundational accountability. We could talk about the historical narrative of why, but that’s a lot of the phase that we’re in right now, is we went from too much command and control, we said, “We don’t like that.” And then we went to not enough command, not enough direction, and now we’re finding our way as a business culture, we need a hierarchy, we need managers, we need leaders, we need people who have more experience to direct activity. How do we do that in the lightest way possible so we don’t undermine autonomy and creativity and we’re as transparent as we can be? And that’s the moment that I think we’re in right now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. So, if you are the junior person, with regard to the boundary, do you recommend that you sort of share that boundary with the manager, or that’s just sort of internal, it’s like, “Okay, this is what I’ve decided that this behavior will need to change within a month or I’m going to be pursuing new opportunities”? Or, what’s your thought? Is it more something you articulate or more something that’s internal?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the first thing you have to know, you may already know, like, “Is there a fear of retribution?” because that could be very real. It is very real in some cases. But, if possible, I would recommend articulating it. And so, here’s what it sounds like. If I’m setting a boundary with someone more senior, I’m saying, “Look, I really appreciate that we have this conversation. It’s impacting my results and I don’t know what else I can do.” Right? So, that’s my boundary. It’s like, “I’m working within the constraints that I see in front of me and I believe that that’s where I’m at, and I can’t move what I can’t move. I don’t have the authority to change that. I need you to change that. But, in the interim, here’s where I’m at.”

And so, to be able to articulate the impact, again, so we’re pointing the conversation stage forward, so that impact is still there. “And here’s how it’s impacting our results. And I’m doing the best I can. If there’s something that you think that I’m missing, please tell me. I’m happy to hear that. I’m happy to consider that but that’s where I’m at.” That’s the boundary as articulated to somebody more senior.

And, again, you have to know who you’re dealing with. I would say most of the time, and with most of our engagements with most managers, people are willing to hear that conversation as long as it’s not coming in the form of an attack. It’s like, “You’re screwing up and you’re making life bad for me.” And you frame that conversation as, “Look, here’s how it looks to me, is I can’t move this project any faster because these things happen so I’m going to continue to do it based on the constraints that I have.” So, that’s a form of how you would articulate that to somebody more senior.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think sometimes your boundary and the implication is that you’re just not enjoying the experience of work under the circumstances and you would rather be elsewhere.

Jonathan Raymond
Right. And I think that’s, at least in North America, we’re at effectively 0% unemployment, right? So, if you’re talented and you’re resourceful, you can go get another job and employers understand that. So, we do a lot of work in tech. The average tenure in tech is 1.8 years, right? It’s not very long. So, people are moving around a lot. It’s longer in other industries, but people are moving around a lot. People are looking for different experience of work.

And so, from our perspective, it’s like we’re just being reality around that and then make a plan. So, if you know, now there may be opportunities in that organization to move. You may have, hopefully you do have, other outlets for where to go, “Hey, I’ve been trying to have this conversation, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’m frustrated. I really love this company, this organization, but this isn’t working for me.” If you’re any at all talented or a skilled person, you’re going to find a receptive ear in that other person. So, don’t feel like, my last piece of advice there is, don’t feel like you’re on an island there.

Oftentimes, people will leave an organization prematurely and then they won’t take that other step of like, “Go talk to somebody. What’s the worst that could happen is your feelings fall on deaf ears. Okay, well, you’re already there so no harm done in having that conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then there’s the final step, the limit.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, the final step is the limit, and a lot of people think, “Well, the limit means I quit,” or the limits means you’re fired. It doesn’t mean that. If people read the book Good Authority they’ll get the nuance there is if you think about good leaders, just take a moment, for anyone who’s listening to this, take a moment to reflect on effective coaches, mentors, parents, teachers, people in your life who were there in a moment in your life where something big changed for you, something important, not a minor thing, a major thing.

And if you think back to those situations, in some of those moments, one of the tools that they used was a limit. They said, “This goes no further. I can’t support you behaving in this way even one more time.” And it was in that moment where we went, “Whoa, I have to change. I have to do something different. This person, who I respect, who I value, who I love, who I know, even though I don’t like the way they said it, I know that they care about me. They’re putting up a stop sign and they’re saying no further with this behavior.”

And that is a key feature of how we grow as human beings. And so, the limit is doing that in the workplace. If we want to say, “Hey, we want to bring humanity to the workplace,” we have to bring all of it, and so that includes having a limit which doesn’t mean, “You’re fired.” It means, “Hey, we’ve been having this conversation — mention, invitation, conversation, boundary — I can’t support this behavior any longer.” Now, does that mean you’re fired? No, it means, “I want you to take some time to think about this, and maybe there’s a gear you haven’t found. Maybe, for whatever reason, it didn’t quite click for you until this moment. That’s all fine but I need you to tell me where we go from here.”

That’s the limit from the perspective of a manager and it’s an incredibly effective cultural tool. I’ve seen this happen over and over again where leaders, especially when someone is on the verge of maybe leaving an organization, and maybe for an okay reason, not because there’s animosity, but it’s just time to move on. And by having a boundary and by having a limit, you give the opportunity for that person to really own their exit. How often does that happen where a company can celebrate, or a team can celebrate when somebody leaves and it feels like a great moment instead of a lousy moment where everyone is like, “What happened?” and it creates all these gossip and politics?

If you use accountability conversations in the right way then that person will go, “You know what, actually this isn’t the right place for me anymore and I’m sort of approaching this from so much frustration, but there’s actually nothing wrong here. I need a role where I can do this other thing that I really love and I can’t do that here.” Okay, that’s all right. That doesn’t require any personal animosity. We can shake hands on that, and both from the individual and from the organizational perspective.

There are so many good things that can happen as a result instead of, you know, one of the things I say to managers all the time is, “Remember, when you’re managing somebody, especially if you’re in the process of thinking that they shouldn’t be on your team anymore, you got to worry about that person. But don’t worry all about that person. Worry about the rest of your team. How are they interpreting what’s happening? How are they perceiving how you’re handling this situation? How are they perceiving how this person is being treated and whatever their opinions may be?” People are watching so it’s your opportunity to live and live your values as a leader in how you treat people that may be exiting for a good reason or otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now this is a great framework and I’d love to hear it just sort of play out maybe one, or two, or three examples, one from the manager, one from a peer, and one from the report to the manager, and so three different scenarios. I’m really putting you on the spot, Jonathan. Let’s kind of rock and roll kind of through the five steps in three different scenarios.

Jonathan Raymond
Which one do you want to do first?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do the peer-to-peer first.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, let’s say I’m on the marketing team. I’m a junior manager on the marketing team, and I work a lot with operations because a lot of the stuff we do touches on operations. And my peer in the operations department basically says no to everything. Everything I want to do he says no to. So, my mention, let’s call him Dave. So, my mention to Dave is the first time that I see that ideally, I’m going to say, “Hey, so I know this request came through from somebody in our team and it got denied. Can you tell me a little bit more about what happened there? I want to understand.” So, there’s a mention. I’m not saying, “You have to change,” I’m not saying, “Push it.” I’m asking a question, right?

And then maybe I agree with his assessment, or I understand it even if I don’t like it, whatever it is, or I let it go. So, that’s my mention, I’m at the first stage where I’m saying, I’m flagging to some degree, “Hey, there’s a something here where we’re trying to accomplish something and your group said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I want to know a little bit more about that.”

So, then maybe that goes by and then I’m getting from my team, they come to me, they say, “Hey, Jonathan, we’ve pushed through like eight requests to do things in the last week, and like six of them were denied. And we don’t know why. We’re really frustrated. All those ops people, they’re a bunch of whatever.” “Slow down, okay? Let me go talk to Dave and see what’s happening.” So, I’m going to go back to Dave and I’m going to say, “Hey, Dave, so something is happening here. My team put through eight requests and six of them got denied, and I’m not sure what happened there, but there’s some frustration that’s emerging on my team.” So, I’m going to the next level. I’m not going to the CEO and saying, “Dave is a jerk.” I’m going to say, “Hey, let’s have a conversation.”

Now, I may or may not get a good answer from Dave, and I’m going to form my follow-ups based on that. I might even go right to the conversation, he might be like, “Oh, well, I didn’t think those were that big a deal so that’s why we denied them.” “Oh, wait a second. Well, do you have five minutes because I want to talk with you a little bit more?” I’m going to go into the conversation, “So, it’s impacting my team in a bunch of different ways. I don’t know if you’ve seen or folks have come to you with that.” So, we’re going to engage in a conversation shifting. I know he’s not trying to make life miserable for my team, but he’s making life miserable for my team! So we’re going to talk about impacts.

Again, we have the same level of authority in the organization so there’s that. Now, when we get to the boundary, Dave, maybe he tells me what I want to hear in that moment or it turns that he did, and that keeps happening and, basically, they keep behaving the same way and nothing ever changes. Now, I’m going to go back to Dave and say, “Dave, hey, look, we’ve got a problem here. So, we had a bunch of conversations about this, and I have to do something else here because, as I said to you, it’s impacting our goals, it’s impacting our speed and our ability to do things. If you and I can’t come to a resolution here, I’m stuck and obviously I’m going to have to go someplace else with that. I don’t want to do that but can we talk about this?” And we’re going to go deeper, right?

And that conversation might be a little uncomfortable but that’s where we’re going to go because, again, Dave doesn’t control whether I can afford my mortgage next month. He’s a peer in the organization and so we should be able to have healthy conflict. In a healthy organization you’re going to have healthy conflict just like in a healthy relationship, right? And so, that’s going to go through and then if nothing changes there, I say, “Hey, here’s what I need. I need you to go back and take a look at those eight requests and really come back to me. And say, hey, do those really need to be denied, and if so, why? And really help me to understand was it something the way we did it or however.”

And then I’m onto my limit stage where I might have to do something else. I might have to say to Dave, rather than me going to, let’s say we have the same manager, or we have a manager in common. I might say, “Look, I don’t want to go to that person by myself. I don’t want to do that but you and I need some help here. Let’s go talk to Jennifer and see if she can help us with a resolution. So, let’s go together rather than I said, you said, and that kind of thing. How’s that sound?” But I’m not going to let that conversation go. So, that’s what the Accountability Dial looks like, an example of what it looks like in a peer-to-peer situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. I understand it and that’s helpful seeing that play out. And it seems like the timeframes here could be short or long, you know.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
This might happen over the course of a year or a week.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s really the art of it is like, how important is it? Is it something that needs to be resolved today? Rarely, right? Sometimes, but rarely. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next week? Hmm, sometimes. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next 30 days? Almost always. And if you look at most cultures, you have a whole bunch of things that really need to get resolved in the next 30 days that never are, and they go on month after month after month, year after year, and we still haven’t dealt with that and we cycle through people, we cycle through systems, and we cycle through documents and culture initiatives because we’ve skipped over the human conversations to change the very nature of work, the things we work on together day to day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I want to get, let’s do another scenario, and let’s say I am managing somebody remotely and I have a request that I think is simple and that I’d like to see carried on, which is sort of that each day to get sort of a daily email that reveals, “Hey, this is what I worked on, and these are some questions I have for you, and this is what I plan to be working on tomorrow.” So, that’s something that I think is a good practice and I’d sure like to see that but I’m not seeing that. I say, “Day after day after day and maybe I brought it up.” How would you, using this model, kind of roll this out?

Jonathan Raymond
So, I’ll take a step back for a second because you said something that I want to push on a little bit. Is it something that you would like to see or something that you need to see?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose it’s theoretically possible for work to happen without this.

Jonathan Raymond
But you’ve hired this person, right, or you’re managing them. In order to do your job, you need this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. There are certainly numerous negative implications of not having this.

Jonathan Raymond
So, part of it is what is the expectation? So, when this person came on your team, maybe the conversation was then. If not, maybe the conversation is now, and maybe that’s your mention, right? So, your mention is, “Hey, you know what,” there’s two possible mentions, right? “You know what, I don’t think that I was completely clear with you about what one of my expectations. And one of my expectations in the role, for anybody, irrespective of whether it was you or anyone else in the role, was that I would get this daily email. And the reason why it’s important to me is X, Y, and Z,” right?

“So, there might be a piece of context missing because without that I can’t do X, Y, and Z. Does that make sense? Can you understand why I’m asking you for that? Rather than you need to do this because I need it. To some people it might sound really overly process-y…”

Pete Mockaitis
Controlling or dominating. Okay.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, but it’s a really necessary part for people to understand the why. And, again, when we talk with folks, this is over and over again, “I don’t understand the why. I don’t understand.” And from the perspective of the manager it’s often much more clear to us, “Well, of course, I need that,” but not from their perspective because we don’t understand all the other things that they’re trying to deal with. So, if I put myself in that person’s shoes, I’m going to be like, “Oh, my God, an email at the end of every day. That takes me this and I have to do these other things, and I don’t think Pete understands how busy I am,” and all that kind of stuff.

So, it’s an opportunity for you to get into conversation with them about it. So, we’ll put that to the side. But so let’s assume that the context is there, so let’s say it’s day three of their employment. The first two days, they did the email and the third they didn’t, right? So, ideally, I would say to that person, “Hey, I didn’t get the daily email. What’s up?” And not in a mean way, but it’s like, “Hey, I’m right there. Like, I look at that every single day.”

So, I want to let them know the reality which is that, “I look at that every single day so it’s not a process for the sake of process. Every time you send me that email, I open it, I read it, I digest it, and I notice when it isn’t there.” “Oh, I’m really sorry. I got really busy today. Like, can I send it to you when I get home.” “Sure.” “Can I send it to you in the morning?” Now, you might say, “No, I actually need it right now,” or you might say, as you probably would, you’ll say, “That’s fine. Can you send me the wrap-up so I have it for first thing in the morning? That’s fine,” and this, and whatever.

So, let’s say he did that. And then over the next couple of days you’re seeing, “Wait a second. This is like some days I get it, some days I don’t.” So, clearly the mention didn’t have the intended impact which was a full resolution of this thing, right? So, now you’re going to go to invitation. You’re going to bring it back up. Now, again, we said just before, it could be really the timeline or the timescale of the whole five steps could be really short or it could be really long.

So, in this case, if it’s a core business process and it’s not happening, it’s going to happen really fast, “Hey, so we had this conversation and I thought we were on the same page. Something must’ve got crossed there, but two out of the last five days I haven’t gotten it, for example, I’m getting concerned.” So, it’s your opportunity to say, “Look, I am concerned. I’m concerned that we’re not aligned in terms of this particular thing that’s really important to me.”

And leaving space for them to explain or not to make an excuse but you want to understand why is this thing that, from your perspective, seems basic, but it’s clearly not basic from their perspective. You want to understand why. If, for no other reason, then that person, let’s say that person says, “Pete, you’re a jerk. I’m out of here. I never want to work for such a terrible boss ever again,” you want to know what it is about that tool that maybe you can improve for the next person. Maybe there’s a grain of truth in their otherwise victim mentality that you’re like, “Oh, you know what, they didn’t handle that professionally. But for the next person, I’m going to make it six steps instead of eight because that’ll make it a little bit easier for them to do on a daily basis,” whatever the case may be.

So, are we tracking so far?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. So, you say, “I’m concerned,” and then you sort of let them sort of respond without sort of any follow-up questions just to see if they respond?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, if they say, like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s fine. You don’t need that.” “Okay, now I‘m really concerned,” right? Or if they step back and they go, “Whoa!” If there’s an acknowledgment that you have to work with the person in front of you, the human being in front of you. And different people are going to respond really differently in that moment. And that’s how you find out what your people are made of, not that they never make a mistake. It’s what do they do when they make a mistake? How do they recover? What’s their level of resilience? What’s the level of dialogue? Are they willing to be vulnerable with you? That’s the team that you want. You want a group of people that’ll do that with you and that you can do that with them.

So, all of the cycle is happening in leading the high-performance team. So, that’s your invitation. Now, let’s say you have a one-on-one with that person later this week. You might sit down with them and say, “Hey, look, we’ve had this kind of hallway conversations, we’re not in the same building together so we had them via Zoom or via Slack, or whatever it is. I actually want to drill a little deeper here. It’s really important but I know in the hallway we can kind of lose sight of it. This has a really big impact, like when this doesn’t happen, it has a really big impact. And I understand that that might be harder for you to see from your perspective because you’re not the one asking for it. But can you imagine or let’s play this out for a little bit.”

“Like, from your vantage point, how might this have an impact on me or our team or our organization if we don’t have these daily reports?” I promise you they have never thought of that question, they haven’t thought of the answers to that question. So, that’s the conversation stage, you’re helping them shift. They didn’t intend those outcomes, right? They didn’t intend to make you late on the report that you need that information to, that wasn’t their intention. They were just busy. They were overwhelmed. We’re all overwhelmed, or most of us are.

And so, the conversation is your opportunity to help them go deeper, to take ownership and say, “Wait a second. Oh, I didn’t realize how big of an impact that was.” Now, you could say, “Oh, well, they should’ve gotten that from the initial moment.” Yeah, maybe, but that’s not the world we live in. I was working with an IT director recently, and he said, “Well.” We were talking, and one of his colleagues brought up an example, and he said like, “Well, that would be unacceptable to me.” And his colleague called him out, and said, “Come on, man, really? You’re going to fire a person if they didn’t do that?” “Well, no, not really. I can’t really do that,” right?

There’s a whole bunch of reasons why you can’t. Like, you can’t hold that line for really good reasons, we have controls in place in organizations so you can’t just snap off at a person. There has to be an opportunity for, if you went to your HR leader’s office and said, “Hey, they didn’t fill out that report two days in a row. I want to fire them.” They would say, “Get out of my office, Pete. Don’t want your lawsuit. Go have another conversation with them.” So, how are you going to do that? It’s helping them shift from intention over to impact.

And then, you’re seeing the pattern here, so then you have that conversation, and in that conversation, right, you might start foreshadowing what about, “Hey, what’s your plan? How are you going to make sure that you get that report done at the end of the day? Not what’s my plan for how you’re going to get that done. What’s your plan for how you’re going to get that done because I can’t have you do my plan, that won’t work, right?” So, now we’re going to the boundary step, “What is the…”

People will often say, it’s like, “Okay, Pete, I hear you. I get it. I promise it won’t happen again.” “Not good enough. What is the plan? What are the action steps? What do you need to give up in order to make sure that that stays the priority that we need it to be?” Then you’re in the boundary stage of the Accountability Dial. And then if that doesn’t work, so let’s say, I’ll ask you a question that I often ask of managers. So, if I say to you, Pete, “This person is going to be on your team, this remote employee, they’re going to be on your team, and they’re going to be not sending you the daily report 40% to 60% of the time, and they’re going to be doing that for the next 10 years. How’s that sound?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s not going to work. I mean, we can conceivably have an alternative to email, but there must be some sort of a daily communication that occurs, yeah.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, how about if we went on for five years, are you good with that?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about one year?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about 90 days?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if there’s some really extenuating circumstances maybe.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, every single time I run that question, it’s at 90 days where it starts to get a little bit like, “Well, maybe, depends.” But somewhere in there, between zero and 90 days, that’s the boundary, right? The only difference is internally to you, you have that boundary. They don’t know that that’s your boundary.

So, the process, the boundary step is getting in reality with them, and say, “Look, maybe there are some extenuating circumstances that make it so that 75 days is a reasonable time when probably not given the scenario we’re working on. It sounds like something that needs to be cured much sooner than that.” But if you think about the boundary phase as like, “Hey, this is something that we’ve talked about. We both acknowledged that it needs to change. What’s a frame within which it needs to change?”

It’s very, very rare where the right answer is going to be more than 90 days. And almost always it’s going to be in the next 30, and we’re going to need very specific milestones where we know that progress is happening. That’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re having that conversation, we’re establishing and getting to some sort of agreement, like, “Yes, this is what I shall do within this timeframe there.” And so, I guess, that almost sounds like a Performance Improvement Plan. I guess we’re not using that kind of terminology and structure but it’s similar.

Jonathan Raymond
So, there’s an overlap in the way that we approach it. In a lot of the organizations, one of the things that we’ve learned is that what HR wants, which we were hoping would be the case, is that they want the manager to have these types of conversations outside of the Performance Improvement Plan because the Performance Improvement Plan is not a joke, it’s there for a reason but those reasons are legal in compliance. It doesn’t actually improve performance. If you ask any HR leader who’s been around for more than one year, “How many times in your career has a Performance Improvement Plan actually turned somebody around?” And they’ll give you like one example. It never works. Almost never.

So, it is, in this context, when we’re talking about something that needs to change, it definitely is about performance and about improving performance. But the idea is we’re doing that in a humane way, we’re having a conversation, it’s not a writeup, we’re not bringing in HR. Once you bring in HR, once you go outside of that relationship, that bond between you and your employee, mostly only bad things happen. So, it’s, “Hey, this is something that needs to change. Let’s you and I figure this out, right? Like, I know it’s uncomfortable, I don’t like having this conversation, you don’t like having this conversation, but this has got to change. This has got to be our agreement for what needs to change.” So, that’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then, the limit?

Jonathan Raymond
And then at the limit, let’s say you make that and the person says, “Look, I’m going to, over the next 10 days, I’m not going to miss one, right? Every single day for the next 10 days, that’s our first milestone, I’m going to hit every single day. And then at the end of that 10 days, we’re going to like shake hands, and then we’re going to do the next 30 in a row, and we’re going to build up my reps, so to speak, where I’m not going to miss a day.”

And let’s say you’re good with that, and you say, “Okay, that’s fine. Okay, well, what are the consequences, what are the implications if you don’t send me that in the next 10 days, not what do I think the consequences should be, what do you think the consequences should be?” “Oh, hmm. Well, Pete, that’s a really good question. I think in the next 10 days if I miss one, then I shouldn’t be able to go to this conference that I was really excited about that you said that I could go to. Or I’m not going to be eligible to take on this other part of the work until this part of my…” whatever the thing is, right?

So, let them author the boundary if that’s possible. And if they can’t come up with a boundary, what I found is that most of the time when you ask people to come up with their own boundaries and consequences, they’re tougher on themselves than you will be on them. Not always but oftentimes. And so, that would be a boundary and then there are some clear agreements, “What needs to change by when? What does change look like? What happens if it doesn’t work?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s the boundary.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, then the limit is, let’s say, it doesn’t happen. They just don’t do it. Let’s say starting on day one they don’t do it, like, “Okay, I’m going to go right to that limit.” Say, like, “Hey, we tried this. I appreciate your earnestness. We made this agreement. You said you were going to do it, there was no constraint that prevented you from being able to do it. I don’t know what else to do now. I feel like I’ve done everything that I can as your manager. I’ve given all of the thoughtfulness and coaching and everything that I could think of but I don’t know what else to do here. So, I feel like I’m out of options.” That’s the spirit of that moment.

Now, in that case, you have to decide, “How important is that task relative to the role? Are there enough other things that that person is doing that outweigh where you would be willing to change that tool for this person? I doubt it but anything is possible in that scenario. But that’s what the limit would be. And what you will find is that here’s the, I don’t know if we will call it ironic, but what will happen if you use the mention, the invitation, the conversation, and the boundary, is that somebody who doesn’t want that level of accountability in their life, they’re going to leave. They’re going to say, “Pete, you know, I’ve been thinking about this and I think you need somebody who’s more detail-oriented than I am or whatever. And I don’t want to let you…” Whatever it is, right?

Okay, fine. That’s good. That’s a good outcome. In a healthy organization people leave and they move on and we shake hands and we say, “Hey, you were right for the role for this period of time. The role has changed, or you want different things, that’s okay. Let’s shake hands.” I love that concept of the tour that I think Netflix pioneered, you know, that tour of duty, “Hey, go on a tour with me. And then when that tour is over, let’s decide should we go on another tour together.” This idea that you’re an employee for life, it’s a fiction. If it was ever true, it’s definitely not true now. It’s a fiction. Let’s be in reality with one another. I’m there for as long as it’s valuable to me as an employee and that my skills are valuable to you as an employer.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you, Jonathan. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jonathan Raymond
I will just say that for wherever you are in an organization, whether you’re a first-time employee in the workforce or a senior leader, the thing that you want—to feel seen, to feel heard, to feel valued—get that. Don’t settle for less. You deserve that. As a human being, as a sovereign human being, you deserve to have a world of work that is additive to your life and not subtractive where you go home and you feel dread or feel like you’re being exploited or taken advantage of. And I can tell you because a lot of them are our clients. There are amazing organizations out there that would love to have you so don’t settle for less.

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

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite quote is from Albert Einstein, he says, “I don’t have any special talents but I’m passionately curious.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
I love the Harvard relationship study or I think some people call the Harvard happiness study that they did a couple of years ago. There’s a great TED Talk about it. And, basically, what they found was that your satisfaction in relationships is the best predictor of longevity and long-term health outcomes. So, they said, “If you look at someone when they’re 50, you’re much more likely to know how long they’re going to live based on their level of satisfaction in their relationships than their cholesterol.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonathan Raymond
I’m still working on it, but I read the first couple hundred pages of Sapiens some years ago. So, it’s still my favorite book because I haven’t finished it. I hope that doesn’t change at the end. But I love Yuval Harari, a wonderful philosopher and I love what he has to say.

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

Jonathan Raymond
I have to say I’m happy to be off the guests list for Superhuman which is a very hyped email interface that goes over Gmail and it makes it really easy to go really fast. So, the hype is earned in my view. Superhuman is a really neat tool.

Pete Mockaitis
I use it. I love it. And I’m not ashamed that I pay $29 a month for email that could be free.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, it’s worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite habit is walking often with my dog and listening to an episode of Revisionist History. I’m a big Malcolm Gladwell fan.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you’re known for, something you say that gets re-quoted, re-tweeted?

Jonathan Raymond
A lot of people re-tweet, “You don’t get to grow and look good at the same time.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
You can go to Refound.com and then if you click the Resources tab, there is some quizzes and some downloadable tools. And then, of course, you can pick up the book on Amazon, “Good Authority,” Kindle, print, audio, the whole thing.

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

Jonathan Raymond
Have one conversation, ask one question that you’ve been thinking about asking, you’ve been thinking about approaching this person and asking them a question or making an observation. Commit to doing that in the next 24 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Jonathan, this has been a delight. Thank you and good luck with all your great conversations.

Jonathan Raymond
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the conversation.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Stever

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

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

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

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stever Robbins Interview Transcript

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

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

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

Stever Robbins
Hey, Brent.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Psychic growth centers.

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

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

Stever Robbins
That was us. That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a big question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
So, it could be dozens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stever Robbins
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Do speed-reading first.

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

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

[24:27]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Prop down. We’re scared.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Bling. Bling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a persuasive booster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Daydreaming. That sounds more interesting.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s helpful.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you.

Stever Robbins
Sure.

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

Stever Robbins
With me you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

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