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KF #12. Decision Quality Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

518: Why to Never Go With Your Gut with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky says: "When you have comfort... that's the time to most suspect your decision."
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky explains why we often make disastrous decisions—and how to make smarter ones.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest decision-making mistake people make
  2. Three handy debiasing techniques
  3. Five questions to guide everyday decisions

About Gleb

Known as the Disaster Avoidance Expert, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky protects leaders from disasters by developing the most effective decision-making strategies via his consulting, coaching, and training firm Disaster Avoidance Experts. A cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist, Dr. Tsipursky writes for Inc., Time, and CNBC. A best-selling author, his new book, available on Amazon and in book stores everywhere, is Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Gleb Tsipursky Interview Transcript

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Thank you so much for inviting me, Pete. It’s a pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to learn all about you have an interesting brand for your business. It’s called Disaster Avoidance Experts. Tell us, first of all, what do you mean by disaster? What are we avoiding here?

Gleb Tsipursky
Any sort of things that seriously impact your bottom line in a negative way. Now, that might mean things like having a key employee leave, or having your website crash unexpectedly, or lacking a succession plan as I mentioned before. Let’s say, what happens if you have a disability and you can’t work for a while. What happens then? If your key client leaves and you’re really dependent on that client, that’s a problem. So, that’s one area of disaster, things that seriously impact your bottom line in a negative way.

Another area of disaster which people think about less, but just as impactful, is when you don’t take advantage of opportunities. So, let’s say your competitor goes bankrupt and you have all your money and resources devoted to your current business plan, that means you can’t take advantage of the competitor’s bankruptcy to get their employees, key employees on board with you. You can’t take advantage of your competitor’s bankruptcy to get their clients if all of your money and resources are devoted to something else.

Or other sort of opportunities to open up, let’s say the political situation. You know, you have some tariffs going on so people are changing their supply chains and you have an opportunity to be their new supplier but you’re already locked into contracts that keep you with others, with people you’re currently supplying to. That’s another problem. So, people don’t think about missing opportunities as disasters but they could be just as disastrous as threats. So that’s what I mean by disasters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’m intrigued then, what in your client experience would you estimate is the biggest disaster that you’ve helped somebody avoid?

Gleb Tsipursky
Oh, the biggest disaster. Well, that’s a tough one because it really depends on how you think about jobs or careers. I do a lot of coaching for executives which includes coaching on their careers. So, I’ll give you an example. There was this executive who was thinking about making a job switch to create an enterprise, to be a startup leader, and we talked through the situation. He was excited. He wanted to make the jump. We talked through the situation kind of what was he excited about, what were his long-term plans.

And what we discovered was that he was excited about the idea of a startup, he was excited about kind of the financial potential of a startup, the impact on the world. But when I talked to him about, “Hey, do you know what it’s like to work in a startup? Have you ever worked in that environment?” it turned out that he wasn’t really prepared for the chaos and stress of that is involved in a startup, and especially the failures.

When you start up a business and entrepreneurial in you knows, you have a ton of failures, not the whole business itself, but when you’re trying to figure things out, how your system is going to work, how your processes are going to work, who are going to be your clients. He really wasn’t prepared for that. He was very much a perfectionist and he took failure poorly so he really wasn’t prepared for the chaotic entrepreneurial nature of a startup and especially a failure, so he decided not to go for it. He stayed in corporate America and spent the rest of his career there. He was quite happy and he would’ve been very stressed out if he went for a startup. So, that’s one example with a personal career move.

Now, another career, another situation would be with a company. There was a company that I was consulting with which was a midsized manufacturing company here in the Midwest about 2,000 people, and they were going to buy another company of about 1500 people, another mid-sized manufacturing, this time in the Southwest. And so, what happened was that they really were excited about buying it. They looked at the company. They looked at the company’s financials; the financials looked good. They looked at the company’s products; the products looked good. They would fulfill a gap that the buying company currently had.

But what they didn’t think about, they didn’t really think about the internal systems and processes of this company, the company culture. Now, I worked with a company that was my client for a while to get their internal culture more team-oriented and more flat, less hierarchical. But the company that they were going to buy was much more hierarchical and its culture was much more hierarchical top down, and its internal systems and processes were much more hierarchical top down, so, honestly, they would’ve really clashed in a really bad and harmful way.

And I’ve seen companies, I mean, if you think about mergers and acquisitions, you look at the research on this topic, about 80% of mergers and acquisitions fail. So, this would’ve definitely been one of those 80% that failed, and I’m very thankful that my client decided to avoid that merger and went and stepped away from it. So, those are two disasters that I helped leaders and businesses avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’d love to hear then, in terms of humans and decision-making, what have been some of the most striking discoveries you’ve made about how we go about decision-making and often poorly?

Gleb Tsipursky
I think the most important thing that I have discovered, and I have been doing this, just to be clear, for over 20 years in consulting, coaching, training and decision-making, so I’ve been doing this for a while. I’ve also went into high academia. I researched this topic. I’m a cognitive scientist and behavioral economist, that’s where my research is, and research level doing peer-reviewed research.

What I found was that, really surprising and very bothersome, was that people very much tend to go with their gut, with their intuitions, what they feel is what they do. So, they equate the feeling of rightness and correctness and intuitiveness, “This is the right thing to do. I feel it in my gut.” They equate that with truth and the rightness and what’s best for their bottom line, what’s best for their long-term goals, and that’s terrible.

Our gut evolved for the savannah environment. It’s evolved for small tribes of 15 people to 150 people, and the saber-toothed tiger-response when we need to flee from a saber-toothed tiger. That’s what our gut is adapted for. We are the descendants of those who jumped at a hundred shadows and successfully avoided that one saber-toothed tiger. In our current environment, that’s really bad to jump at a hundred shadows. We get so much stress, so much problems, there are so many people who are anxious and depressed because of these excessive reactions from our gut. But people still trust their gut, they trust their feelings, they trust their intuitions, and they make really bad mistakes as a result.

The most fundamental thing I convey to my clients that has helped them so much is to distance themselves from this feeling of rightness, from this feeling of comfort. When you have comfort, when you’re comfortable about a decision, that’s the time to most suspect your decision because you’re often going to make the most wrong decision when you feel most comfortable with it. It’s counterintuitive but that’s the civilized thing to be, just like it’s counterintuitive to eat with our fork and knife. We had to learn how to eat with forks and knives. Now, it would be very weird if we don’t eat fish and steak with your fork and knife, but that’s something you had to learn to do. But we still make decisions as though we eat with our hands.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So much there. I think that makes a lot of sense, is to know there’s a wide distinction between the feeling of rightness and truth. And often, when you’re the most comfortable, that is not an indicator that it’s right, and especially if in the sense when you’re trying to do something new and different and challenging, or that sort of stretches you in some way, it’ll naturally be uncomfortable. So, I guess I’m wondering then, so are you saying then that intuition has no place? Or how would you contextualize and position intuition in the scheme of decision-making?

Gleb Tsipursky
So, intuition is a complex concept, and we need to separate two things here. We have to separate gut reactions which have to do with our evolved tribal intuitions, and that’s kind of coming from our instinct, from our savage primitive environment. That’s when we were babies and we responded to things. That’s intuition, that’s inborn, that’s genetics, and that’s really, really harmful in the modern world.

In a modern business environment, you don’t want to use the genetic, inborn intuition, that tribal response where you think, where you look at a person, and if the person seems like that person is like you, you will like that person much more. That’s the halo effect where we tend to like other people who look like us, who think like us, who feel like us, who have our color, our skin color, and someone who have our politics, our value sets. That’s very dangerous. And, of course, we don’t like people who don’t have that. That’s called the horns effect.

Now, in the current business environment, it’s very bad to use this tribal sensibility to make decisions because then you’ll hire other people, let’s say you’re a business leader, you’ll hire other people who are like you, and then you’ll be making very bad decisions because you’ll be all thinking alike and you won’t question each other’s decisions. Same thing if you’re a solopreneur, you’ll be collaborating with other people who are like you and you will not be getting the huge benefit of collaborating with different people. So, that’s kind of one area where you want to very much be aware of these inborn intuitions.

Now, where intuitions are helpful. Here’s an area where they’re helpful. They’re helpful where you have learned overtime to make good, quick, effective decisions. For example, right now, pretty much any professional has learned how to look for their email and quickly separate the spam from the quality email. You don’t need to think about that for a long time, you just say, “Okay, this looks like spam.” Leaders, people who are in leadership positions, have learned how to organize judgment and decision-making, delegation effectively. How could you delegate effectively to other people? You can do that effectively now but that’s a learned habit.

Now, people who have been working effectively for a long time have learned good productivity and organization systems. They’re really productive. They know how to do that. But, again, they had to learn these things. So, now they feel intuitive just like eating with your fork and knife feels intuitive. But what they are is healthy learned mental habits. It’s kind of like driving a car. You have to learn how to drive a car. It took a lot of time. It took a lot of effort. I remember driving, learning how to drive a car myself. I failed my first driving test. I couldn’t pass it the first time. Now I can drive a car very easily and it feels like I’m driving on autopilot, which feels like I’m using my intuition, but what I’m actually using is healthy learned mental habits. So you want to differentiate those savage primitive instincts from those healthy learned civilized mental habits, that natural state to the civilized state.

And so, the intuition is useful when you’ve been doing the same thing in a specific domain for a long time and you’ve been correct there. What you don’t want to do is apply to new domains. So, for example, many business owners trust their ability to hire people based on interviews. They have someone come in, they talk to this person, they hire this person or not. Extensive research has shown that that’s a terrible decision, that’s really bad strategy for hiring people because they don’t have enough experience in hiring people. They don’t really know how to do it effectively and some people might be offended by it when I say that, but, hey, I’m just telling you what the research shows.

Another area is when you sell your business. When people are selling their business, they make many, many, many mistakes because they haven’t done this before, and they haven’t done this often. Same thing in mergers and acquisitions, they haven’t done this often so they don’t know what to watch out for. So, any new area, anything you haven’t done before, anything important and significant, anything emotionally salient, anything that really pulls at your emotions, you want to be especially aware of and not use your intuitions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m curious in particular about intuition when it comes to, let’s say, the matter of trusting another person. You know, it seems like they have a proposal for you, maybe it’s a business-related thing in terms, hey, there’s this new vendor. They can provide this thing at this price and they seem to have all the right answers and check the right boxes based on your criteria but there’s just something inside you that says, “You know what, I kind just don’t trust this guy. I think he’s going to not deliver the goods.” Is that a particular type of intuition and what’s your take on that one?

Gleb Tsipursky
Yeah, that’s bad. If you don’t know this person for a long time, it’s likely that it’s your tribal intuitions. If this guy is a slick salesman, and he’s able to sell you it’s because it’s a famous salesperson technique to make it look like and appear like he is similar to you. They try to mimic you, they try to use your wording, so this person is most likely just not a very good salesperson and doesn’t fit your idea of what it looks like your tribal member should be. So, you don’t want to trust your instincts around new people.

This is going to offend a lot of people. It already has. The research shows it offended a lot of people, and it’s okay. I’m just telling you what the research says. You shouldn’t trust your instincts around new people. You need to look at that person and say, “Hey, is this person any way significantly different from me, different in race, ability, gender, sociality, politics, the way this person speaks, this person’s background?”

I’ll give you an interesting example. So, I was doing a presentation for over a hundred HR professionals at a diversity inclusion conference here in Columbus, Ohio. And Columbus, Ohio is, of course, famous as the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes, our football team, “Go, Bucks!” and it’s very, very popular around here. So, our big rival is the University of Michigan up north, the Wolverines, not very popular around here.

Pete Mockaitis
“Yeah, those Michigan people.” I went to the University of Illinois. It’s fun to hate people who went to Michigan. No offense, Michigan listeners.

Gleb Tsipursky
There you go. Well, let’s hate Michigan, I agree.

Pete Mockaitis
Not everybody but some of them are really obnoxious so you got to stick it to them. Please continue.

Gleb Tsipursky
I know, I’m joking. But, anyway, what I asked these HR professionals who are leaders in diversity inclusion here in Columbus, Ohio was, “Hey, would you hire somebody who’s a University of Michigan fan?” So, out of those hundred people only three people indicated that they would hire a University of Michigan fan, and these are experts in diversity inclusion. They would not hire a Michigan fan. Just because that person is a Michigan fan that would exclude that person from hiring, so that shows you the importance of tribalism in something so, you know, I mean, everyone likes to hate a Michigan fan but, honestly, it’s kind of a trivial thing which is extremely rude for. It’s just about which team. It doesn’t really matter for your work performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe in that context, I wonder if they were sort of afraid to raise their hand because people would look at them and go, “Ugh!”

Gleb Tsipursky
No, no, I mean, that’s indicative, that’s why they wouldn’t hire this person, right, because they know that other people would be like, “Why the heck did you hire this University of Michigan fan at their job?”

Pete Mockaitis
I would hire them and tell them not to let people know that they’re a Michigan fan.

Gleb Tsipursky
It’s not a viable scenario. It’s not a scenario we should have, but that’s the way our brains work. So, just because someone is from the University of Michigan. So we should not trust our intuitions about new people. That’s the critical important thing.

What you want to do if this is a new person, you want to bring in someone quite different from yourself if you are kind of serious about using this person as a new vendor, and use this external trusted advisor to evaluate this person and see what they say.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, that makes sense in terms of, you know, and then the intuition still is serving a function. It has given you some bit of information which may be confirmed or denied, and that probes you to go a little further in your investigation versus if they weren’t there, you might be like, “All right, we’re good to go. No need.”

Gleb Tsipursky
And that’s something to be afraid of also because if this person is a slick salesperson and sells you a bill of goods, if you feel very comfortable with this person, you want to step back and see if this person is using typical salesman techniques like copying you, mimicking you, echoing you. These are techniques that you can learn about and protect yourself from. But if you don’t know, if you just go with what’s comfortable for you, and you don’t protect yourself from this comfort feeling techniques, then you will be sold the bill of goods.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay. So, that’s handy. Well, then let’s talk now about cognitive bias. First, could you define that for listeners who are not familiar with the term? And then list out just a couple of what you’ve observed to be the most pervasive and disastrous cognitive biases in the workplace.

Gleb Tsipursky
So, cognitive biases are mistakes that we make because of how our brain is wired. A lot of it is due to our heritage. Like I mentioned before, tribalism, the flight or fight response. Other aspects are due to just our information processing is imperfect, just the way we process information, our brain is far from perfect, and so that is why we have systematic errors that cause us to deviate away from the perfect decision-making.

So, the perfect decisions are decisions that most benefit in the workplace, so just in the workplace, most benefit your bottom line. In other life spheres, it’s going to be decisions that most benefit your life goals or your professional goals, or whatever goals you have. So, that’s the perfect decisions, the ones that can give you the most benefit. Cognitive biases are systematic errors that cause us to deviate away from these perfect decisions. I gave you an example before already of the halo effect and the horns effect. Another cognitive bias that a lot of people get struck by very problematically is called the planning fallacy.

The planning fallacy is an interesting one because it’s where we tend to assume that everything will go according to plan. We invest a lot of resources. I mentioned before what are disasters. Disasters are when we don’t anticipate the risks and when we don’t anticipate opportunities. So, we invest all resources into our plan, and when problems happen or opportunities happen, we don’t have enough resources to take care of them, and we don’t anticipate, we don’t look for these opportunities or threats in advance, and we are unable to address them because of that. So, that’s the planning fallacy.

And you’ll often hear the phrase “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Again, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This is a common phrase. It’s very common, just like “Go with your gut” is a common phrase. They’re both wrong. They’re both problems. You don’t want to go with your gut and you don’t want to think that failing to plan is planning to fail, because our plans, we tend to make perfect plans. So, what you want to think about is never go with your gut and, for the other one, you want to think “Failing to plan for problems is planning to fail.”

Again, failing to plan for problems is planning to fail. What you want to do is plan for what kind of problems might come up and address these problems in advance. And the same thing for opportunities. What kind of opportunities might come up and address these opportunities in advance, as well as reserve some resources for unexpected threats and unexpected opportunities, so that’s the planning fallacy, that’s one.

Another one that a lot of business leaders run into is overconfidence bias. Overconfidence bias is our tendency to be way too confident about our decisions. And, honestly, the higher up a leader is, the more experienced somebody is, the more they tend to be confident and the more biased they tend to be, the more excessively confident they tend to be. Not everyone, but this is the general tendency.

So, for example, we found research that if somebody says, “I’m 100% confident about this. Yes, I’ll bet the company on this. I’ll bet my career on this.” They’re only going to be right about 80% of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting. Those who say, “I’m 100% sure about this,” are right 80% of the time.

Gleb Tsipursky
That’s correct and that’s horrible because they lose the company and they lose their careers, so 20% of the time, so this is very dangerous for people who say they’re 100% confident definitely in this thing, just because of the way our brain works. So, we have to be very careful to develop a sense of humility, and this is really important. Humility is such an underappreciated business emotion. We need to be able to have this sense of humility, have this sense of, “Oh, hey, I might be wrong, and it’s okay. Let me step back and let me evaluate this situation. Let me be less confident than I intuitively am. Let me ask others for strategies.”

My book Never Go With Your Gut goes for a whole bunch of strategies that you can use to evaluate the situation, address threats, seize opportunities. So, you want to be more humble, and that is one of the critical emotions that you want to develop in order to get yourself to use these strategies effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got a number, a dozen, of de-biasing techniques. Could you share what’s perhaps the most one or two powerful or efficient means of really helping remove some bias and improving the decision-making of every professional?

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, I’ll share a very quick one, and then some more complex ones. The quickest one is counting to ten. Your mom probably told you, “Count to ten before you do something emotional, especially when you’re angry.” And that actually works. The recent research has shown that counting to ten, delaying your decision-making works quite effectively for day-to-day decisions. That’s really one good useful strategy that you can effectively deploy. Counting to ten, taking the time to think about it at least for 10 seconds before day-to-day decisions. So, that’s one.

Another one that many people don’t use but it’s incredibly helpful is making predictions about the future. Again, making predictions about the future. Let’s say you are in a meeting of the C suite, and people are saying, “Hey, this product will go great,” or, “This product will not be good at all that you’re about to launch.” Have everyone make a prediction, have everyone make, “Hey, here’s how I think it will do in the next 6 months,” and make sure that you check back on what happened 6 months ago, that way you’ll calibrate.

How well do you think your business, if you’re a solopreneur, is going to do? Or, if you’re the business leader, how well do you think it’s going to do? How well the specific aspects of your business, how well as they going to do? How well is the client, a specific client, going to be with you? How much will they order? Thinking about these things. Make predictions about the future and then check yourself, and you will slowly improve your ability to make good decisions because you’ll calibrate yourself over time. So, that’s another one that I want to mention.

And another one that I think is incredibly important is to get an outside view, or have an external perspective. Step back from your current context. So, people tend to be greatly overconfident, business leaders especially tend to be very optimistic. I’m an optimist myself. I tend to be too optimistic. I think the grass is greener on the other side of the hill, things are less risky than they seem. However, what’s really helpful for that optimism and overconfidence is stepping back and say, “Hey, if somebody else was launching a product just like that, how do you think it would work? What is the typical situation for mergers and acquisitions?”

So, a typical situation for mergers and acquisitions is that 80% fail. So, if you’re going through a merger and acquisition, you shouldn’t think that you are better than all the other business leaders who’ve gone into mergers and acquisitions. You should assume that the most likely situation, four out of five times you’ll fail, so you have to really work hard to make sure that your specific merger or acquisition is going to be so extremely good that it overcomes this very, very high typical rate of very smart people. I mean, business leaders who do mergers and acquisitions are pretty smart people, and you have to make sure that it will not fail and it overcomes a pretty high barrier. So, those are three things that I would share with people.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, you also spent a period of time discussing our human tendency to try to minimize loss. And so, what’s going on there and what should we do about that?

Gleb Tsipursky
Yes, so we as human beings tend to minimize loss, and that is a big problem because we don’t look sufficiently at gains, and this is a tendency called loss aversion. So, for example, when somebody, let’s say, has invested their money, and loss aversion, the tendency to minimize loss is there are a couple of cognitive biases around that.

So, for example, when somebody has invested money into some project, let’s say, I was working with a client who invested 2.5 million into a manufacturing project. And the client was really reluctant to look at the situation and see the external environment changed. It actually changed because of the recent tariffs, and there was nothing nearly as much demand for the product anymore because of the changing supply chains. And I was helping this client, I was pointing out the situation, and he was really reluctant to let go of his vision of the future. So, he didn’t want to lose this. He didn’t want to lose his vision of the future because he invested a lot of emotions and he felt a lot of positive emotions over it, and he didn’t want to perceive himself as someone who made a mistake, as someone who’s a loser. So, that’s one of the worst emotions for business leaders.

When I do trainings for business leaders, and I talk these examples, “What are you most afraid of?” Failure is probably the biggest, biggest most common thing I hear about. People don’t want to be perceived failing, they don’t want to be perceived as losers, so they are trying to do a lot of things to avoid these losses, and they throw a lot of good money after that. So, he kept going quite a bit longer with that project than he should’ve. Eventually, he got out of it, fortunately. But that was a pretty bad investment. At the time he made it, it wasn’t really terrible but he put quite a bit more money into it than he should have. And that’s a tendency that’s called sunken cost where we tend to sink too much money, too much resources after previous resources we have made because we don’t want to feel like losers, and we don’t want to lose these initial resources.

What’s much more effective, the strategy to address this loss aversion, this sunken cost is to say, “Hey, okay, these resources, they’re lost. Let them go. Just from the situation where you are right now, what is the best decision to make for your long-term goals, whatever your long-term goals are in this professional activity, let’s say, for your bottom line?” The same thing applies to personal life, in relationships. So many people sink a lot of their time, resources, into relationships that really aren’t going to work out that they should’ve cut off a long time ago. So, that’s a common thing that happens in relationships unfortunately.

So, you want to be thinking about, “Hey, ignoring the previous investments, what’s the situation now?” Because of your previous investments, you might feel bad about them, but it doesn’t really matter from that perspective. You want to think about your current position. And from your current position, what kind of steps do you want to take to maximize your long-term future returns in all life areas? And so, that’s a strategy that you can use to address loss aversion.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
One of the things I want to mention, to make sure is that there are techniques that people can use to very effectively and quickly address their decision-making problems that we all tend to have, and these are five questions that you can use to avoid decision disasters. So, here are the five questions that you should use for everyday decision-making, and you can even use them for major decision-making when you don’t have time to do a more thorough technique.

First, “What important information did I not yet fully consider?” You want to especially look for information that goes against your comfort levels, that goes against your intuitions because this will tend to hide the kind of problematic aspects of your decisions. So, you look at information that goes against your intuitions especially.

Second, “What dangerous judgment errors, cognitive biases have I not yet addressed?” In my book, Never Go With Your Gut goes over the 30 most dangerous ones. Third, and I mentioned this before the program, “What does a trusted and objective advisor suggest that I do?” So, imagine a little bit little Pete on your shoulder, and think about, “What would Pete suggest that you do?” Or somebody else that you trust who’s an objective advisor to you. Now, those are the first three questions that have to do with making a decision.

We’re transitioning into the last two questions about preventing failure and optimizing success in implementing the decision. First, “How have I addressed all the ways this decision can fail?” Again, “How have I addressed all the ways this decision can fail?” Think about all the potential problems, realistic problems you can anticipate, and address them in advance. And the same thing for opportunities.

Finally, “What new information would cause me to revisit this decision?” Again, “What new information would cause me to revisit this decision?” You really should make this information identified as in advance of implementing the decision because in the heat of the decision-making implementation, you will tend to run into situations where you want to, “Oh, maybe I should change my mind. Maybe I should revisit the decision.” It’s much more effective if you already decided what would cause you to revisit the decision or rethink things in advance.

Pete Mockaitis
What I also love about that question, “What new information would cause me to revisit this decision?” is it can reveal your sort of, I guess, one-track mind, obsessed, like, “If the answer is nothing. This is what we must do.” It’s like, “Oh, that’s probably a red flag that there should be something that could possibly cause you to revisit it. And if nothing comes to mind, we’re probably not done thinking about it yet.”

Gleb Tsipursky
Yup, you’re not thinking about it straight is the problem, that pretty much any decision can be and should be revisited if you have specific information. And if you can’t falsify this decision, that you can’t falsify this choice, if you can’t say, “Hey, this would make me change my mind,” then you’re probably way too overcommitted to this decision

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Sure. I really like Ben Franklin’s quote that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s a very insightful quote, and it’s something that I live by, and I encourage everyone that I meet to live by because we tend to spend way too much time dealing with disasters as opposed to preventing them in advance.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or a piece of research?

Gleb Tsipursky
I really like a study where, and this was a good study, I don’t know from which university it was done, let’s say it was Ohio State, where a bunch of students were given a math test as an experiment. They were paid for the math test, and they were paid for how many questions they would get right on the math test, and they were given the opportunity to score themselves. So, everyone in the Ohio State was given the math test, and then there was one student who was obviously cheating, very obviously, very clearly cheating.

And this student, in one set of experiments, was wearing an Ohio State uniform, so he’s kind of part of the tribe. And at that set of experiments, many, many other students cheated, a whole bunch of other students cheated. Now, in another set of experiments, that student who was wearing a University of Michigan uniform…

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, those cheaters from Michigan. That sounds about right.

Gleb Tsipursky
Yeah, exactly. And pretty much nobody else was cheating at that experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
So, no one else ended up cheating. They were not influenced by the outsider.

Gleb Tsipursky
Yeah, nobody else. Influenced by tribalism. The first experiment where this person wore an Ohio State uniform, it’s like, “Oh, my tribe is cheating, therefore, this is a good thing. Therefore, this is appropriate.” The second set of experiment is the enemy is cheating, “No, we will not cheat. We will do the true, honest, ethical thing.” So, it shows us how much we’re influenced by tribalism. And so much of this is very, very applicable to culture within organizations.

So, whenever you see people within an organization cheating, it’s because this culture induces cheating. Whereas, if you see people in an organization being honest, it’s all about the culture causing honesty. We’re very much influenced by our culture and the people around us much more than we tend to believe we are.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Gleb Tsipursky
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This is the seminal book on cognitive biases. I really like it. It’s part of that older generation of scholars. Daniel Kahneman is part of the first generation of scholars on cognitive biases. I really like his work and I think it’s incredibly important as a foundational base for all future work that was done on this topic.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, what I have found is that I really like flexible tools, and the flexibility of Trello as an organizational tool. I’m not being paid by Trello, I’m not an affiliate of Trello in any way. But Trello is a system of essentially Kanban board where it uses a combination of index cards, cards that you move around from different columns. So, I use it all the time for my organization and for various projects that I do because it’s very flexible and that’s kind of pretty intuitive for me to use, kind of index cards. So, that’s my favorite tool.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
My favorite habit that’s really important is, as part of my routine, I always do journaling in the morning about what I learned from the last day and what I’m grateful for and a couple of other things. But that’s the essence of the journaling, kind of what I’ve learned and what I’m grateful for. So, the first one, what I’ve learned, helps me keep a constant habit of self-improvement throughout my life.

The gratitude, what I’m grateful for, helps improve my mood. And we tend to greatly underestimate the importance of mood. So, the research on this topic shows that we are about 80% to 90% driven by our emotions. Again, 80% to 90% driven by our emotions to do what we do, to make the decisions that we make. So, I make sure to take care of my emotions, and that’s one of the ways I take care of my emotions, by having a gratitude diary.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, I’ll tell you, something I mentioned in the presentation, in the podcast earlier, is that you want to avoid, avoid, avoid equating the feeling of comfort with trueness. So, avoid. Comfort is not true. So, whatever you feel is comfortable and intuitive is often going to be the worst thing for you to do, so you want to very much question that feeling of comfort and intuitiveness even if it feels right, even though it feels right. That’s exactly that time when you need to most question it in order to make the best decisions going forward.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, they can check out my book Never Go With Your Gut. They can check out my website DisasterAvoidanceExperts.com for blog, videos, podcasts, and so on. And they can check me out on LinkedIn, connect with me there please. That’s Dr. Gleb Tsipursky on LinkedIn. And if you have any questions about anything you heard today, I welcome you to contact me by email at gleb@disasteravoidanceexperts.com.

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

Gleb Tsipursky
I want you to remember to be aware of going with your gut. Going with your gut is a very common piece of advice. It’s probably one of the most common pieces of advice, and I want to challenge you to question this piece of advice. It’s very dangerous to just go with your gut. It causes you to run to serious career disasters, serious business disasters, and you don’t want that to happen to you like it happens to so many people.

Don’t trust your gut. That’s one thing. And the other part of this that I’ve also talked about is “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Don’t trust that. Our plans tend to not survive contact with the enemy and you want to make sure to think that failing to plan for problems is planning to fail. So, those are the challenges that I want to give folks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Gleb, it’s been lots of fun. I wish you much luck and fun in all your upcoming decisions.

Gleb Tsipursky
Thank you so much, Pete. And I wish you the same and thank you so much for helping people be awesome at their jobs.

514: How to Make More Winning Decisions with Alec Torelli

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Alec Torelli says: "I care only about what I can control."Professional poker player Alec Torelli shares his tips for making wise decisions during high-stakes situations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to keep emotions from overtaking logic
  2. When to go with your gut
  3. How to better read people and situations

About Alec

Alec Torelli is a professional high stakes poker player turned digital entrepreneur and keynote speaker, who shares how the lessons he learned from poker can be applied to life and business.

Alec is the founder of Conscious Poker, a popular poker training platform, and after spending the last 14 years making decisions for hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single hand, he now gives talks in which he dissects the anatomy of decision making to help others hone the way they make choices.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Alec Torelli Interview Transcript

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

Alec Torelli
Pete, I love what you’re doing and flattered to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, I’m excited to really dig into some of your wisdom associated with decision-making and keeping your cool and all that good stuff. But, for starters, maybe you could regale us with an exciting tale from the land of professional poker.

Alec Torelli
A specific story or…?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, just like the most riveting, like, “Whoa! That’s awesome.” No pressure, Alec.

Alec Torelli
That’s fine. So, I’ve been playing for 15 years. It’s interesting to pick out one thing that comes to mind. I guess, for me, personally, I think the coolest story, the first one that comes to mind, so I was 22 years old at the time. This is about a decade ago. And it was a Wednesday night, I was at my apartment in Las Vegas, and it was 7:00, 8:00 p.m., kind of like nothing going on. And I was like, “You know what, I’m going to just head over to Bellagio and see what’s going on and play whatever poker game is running.” Clearly, like a Wednesday night, not expecting anything to happen.

Go down with some money. Show up and there’s a game running with a $2,000 buy-in, so it’s 10, 20 or the blinds, or the forced antes. It’s a pretty normal-sized poker game, nothing out of the ordinary. So, I show up and I have, I don’t know, I bring $10,000 or $20,000 to the table, which is allowing myself a few buy-ins to the game, not knowing what to expect.

Playing for a couple of hours and the foreman comes over to me and says, “Hey, Alec, I know you sometimes play higher-stakes games, and there are three businessmen that showed up with Doyle Brunson…” who’s like the godfather of poker, “…and they’re looking for more people to play to start a poker game. They don’t want to just start with four people. Do you, or does anybody in this game, want to play?”

So, I’m like, “Sure, Matt, I would love to play,” but, of course, I completely know it’s a Wednesday night, I was completely unprepared. I’m sitting here with a small amount. They’re playing some very high-stakes poker game, and I don’t have money on me and I’m not even sure I can afford to play this game. I have no idea. They might be playing for $100,000 to buy into the game.

So, I walked over to Bobby’s room, and he says, “Well, just go talk to Doyle, and he’s looking to play.” So, I walk in and, of course, Doyle is my idol. I read his books growing up, I watched him on TV.

So, I walked into Bobby’s room and I’m like, “You know, Matt said that there was a game. I’d love to play. I’m not sure that I have the money or what size game you are playing.” And Doyle is like, “Well, the buy-in is 50,000.” I’m like, “Look, I only brought 20 with me and I was up a couple thousand. I have maybe half of that.” And Doyle looked at me, he has no idea who I am, he’s like, “You look like you know what you’re doing. How about I give you 25,000 and take half your action, and we start a poker game?” And I’m like, “Is this real? Like, am I in a movie?” So, I’m like, “Okay, sure.”

So, I sit down, by this time it’s like 8:00 or 9:00 or 10:00 at night. I don’t remember exactly, and now the VIPs, the businessmen, they’re like ordering these crazy bottles of wine, they’re ordering all these food and oysters. So, we’re drinking wine, I’m sitting here talking to my childhood hero, we’re telling stories. I ended up winning, it’s crazy, you think I would remember, but I ended up winning a large amount in the game, I don’t remember how much, and Doyle kind of hit it off at that time. Clearly shared a unique experience.

And when he went to go start his poker site, Doyles Room, because of that interaction, I became the first sponsored pro of the site. And so, that was something that I’ll always remember, where preparation meets opportunity. I had a good session in the game, I won, I made a good impression, but I was just involved in a crazy serendipitous moment, and that was one of the highlights of my poker career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so intrigued. So, Doyle said, “You seem like you know what you’re doing.” And I wonder, did he recognize you? Did he have prior information? I’m just sort of wondering what kind of triggers that reaction or response?

Alec Torelli
Well, if you’re in your early 20s and you’re in the Bellagio at 9:00 p.m. on a Wednesday with 20 grand, you probably know what you’re doing. Like, you’re probably a professional poker player. Like, there’s not many things that you could be doing. And so, it was he didn’t know who I was, for sure, but you could kind of identify if someone is good or not based on how they look and come across. Like, you could pick out, if you just look at a table and you’ve never seen anyone, you could typically tell if someone is very confident, or if they’re a professional, or if they’re likely to be an amateur, or if they’re a very experienced player.

And I think he just kind of gathered that I was probably a professional poker player. There was a lot of young guns playing professional poker at the time, and so he figured I’m probably going to be a big favorite in the game given that the other three people were not professionals, let’s just say, the least, and so it was going to be a profitable investment. And, also, frankly, I think the game wasn’t going to start unless there was more than the four of them sitting there, and so part of it is just being aware of what’s going to kickstart the action. And you can’t make money if there’s no game, so he’s like, “Look, I got to do what I got to do.”

Doyle has been around the block a few times, so it was just being at the right place at the right time. And then I think having the image of, “Look, I clearly know what I’m doing.” Actually, it’s one of the few times that it helps you. I think poker players, most people don’t want to play with professionals because they don’t want to be in a game where they’re going to lose. But, in this case, Doyle actually valued that I was a professional and he figured, “Hey, look, if this professional is going to sit in my game and be a favorite to win and make money, I might as well get a piece of the action.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, that adds up. Makes sense. So, I love that the story is so meta there because we’re talking about opportunities and decision-making, and then even another poker player’s decision-making that made a lot of sense once you unpack it a bit. So, we’ve interviewed Annie Duke previously, another professional poker player.

Alec Torelli
Yes, that’s how I found you there. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And that was one of my faves, so we’re going to – I’m sure there’s a poker term – double up. Thank you.

Alec Torelli
Double down, yeah. Double down, that’s more of a blackjack term. But she’s awesome. I like Annie a lot and she has a great book for those that are out there thinking in bets. Highly recommend it on my shortlist. So, yeah, she’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then let’s dig into it now. In your view, what do you think are some of the key principles of smart poker playing that are absolutely applicable to professionals looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Alec Torelli
Oh, man, there’s so many. One of them is decision-making, in general, and just being able to objectively make decisions without emotion, and using a combination of logic and intuition to make good decisions and not make emotional ones. I think another one is separating the facts from the noise and focus on the merit of making good decisions and not being preoccupied by the outcome.

And not basing the quality of your decision based on the outcome but based on the expectation that the decision will produce that outcome in the long term, and understanding that in the short term, or in an N1 sample, meaning a sample size of one, there is variance, meaning there is volatility there. There’s non-zero probability that you’re going to have a different outcome because there’s luck. So, it’s being able to step back from the results of the decision you make and evaluate the process of the decision. And that’s really what you’re after in poker.

And then I think another one is what poker players call bankroll management, which is shorthand for being able to manage your money in a way that allows you to properly evaluate your risks so that you can reach the long term and that luck is not the deciding factor in your success. And casinos do this as well where they have betting limits per hand so that they manage their risks so that no one hand of Blackjack, Roulette, Craps, whatever, can sort of break the house. And they know that in the long run, the odds are in their favor but they’re mitigating their risks along the way so that no one hand is significant and they can reach that long term.

Poker players practice the same thing using bankroll management to ensure that no one hand, or one session, or one tournament is significant in the grand scheme of things. So, these are, I think, three of the core principles that poker has taught me. And maybe self-awareness is another one, to look at things objectively, and try and screen for your cognitive biases as well. So, those are some of the big ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, yeah, there’s a lot that we can dig into.

Alec Torelli
Yeah, a lot to unpack there, I know.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s talk about emotions. Now, you know, we have them, they’re there. So, I would love it if you could sort of, first, lay out, in terms of, “Hey, when you’re experiencing these kinds of emotions, you tend to make these sorts of mistakes in logic.” For example, I believe I’ve heard and experienced in my life that if you’re feeling stressed, rushed, too busy, we tend to prioritize the short-term immediate relief, whether that’s undisciplined eating pizza or just like hurry, “Just get it done. I don’t care what it costs. You know, fine,” and we overspend on getting some help because we’re really desperate and we need it. So, I think that’s one connection between emotions and suboptimal decisions that tends to pop up. What are some others and what do we do about that?

Alec Torelli
Yeah, I think if you look at the types of decisions you can make fundamentally, I typically break them down into three categories. So, logic or analytical, and this is well-thought out, pros and cons, analytical-type of decision-making. Then there’s intuitive decisions, which is trusting your read, or feeling, or gut instinct. And this sometimes gets confused with the third type of decisions, which are emotional, and those are the worst decisions we make, right? Impulsive, frivolous, frantic types of decisions.

So, I think, in poker, the challenge is to eliminate the emotional decisions and work with the other two. At the poker table, this is called tilt, meaning you make decisions when you’re in a state of mind that is suboptimal and you’re frustrated by the previous results, or lack thereof, and you’re trying to compensate for that or make overly-aggressive plays to win money in a short period of time. And this causes people to play poor hands, make bad decisions, bluff at the wrong times, chase when the odds are not in their favor, and, ultimately, in the long run, lose lots and lots of money. This is the ruin of many players.

So, otherwise, good players sometimes can’t win in the long term because they can’t manage their emotions. So, your talent is only one part of it. It’s being able to execute consistently that is another part. And so, poker really is extremely punishing if you’re not, I would say, great or excellent at this because it’s unforgiving in the sense that, unlike the real world, you don’t have a lot of time to come back to calm yourself down or to step back from an emotional state of mind and make a rational decision later on.

So, for example, if you get a completely unwelcoming email or something like that, you can emotionally be charged but you could decide not to respond to that in real time, right? You can make a rational decision later. But at the poker table, every hand is dealt consecutively, like it’s a continuum, so if you’re not able to shift from an emotional charge from the last hand, to completely present, logical state of mind in the current hand, you’re just going to get killed. So, it really is unforgiving in that way.

But I think one thing that’s helped me do that is to try and have a process that I go through every hand of poker I play, kind of like a tennis player does in a sporting match. So, if you watch them play from one point to another, they might be like really charged up after winning a point, or they might be really frustrated after hitting an easy volley into the net, and they might be pissed or slam their racket. But the next points, inevitably, they come back to the line and they have this little meditation process they go through to get them ready for the next point, mentally, to serve the ball and play optimal tennis.

And so, I’ve tried to apply that same philosophy to my life in poker, and it’s through exercising that muscle that I’ve been able to translate that over into the real world as well. And I’m happy to share some concrete ways I do that, too, if that sounds interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, please. Now, this tennis, in particular, sounds familiar. Was there a book, The Inner Game of Tennis that discussed this matter?

Alec Torelli
Great book.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s ringing a bell. I don’t think I read it. Maybe I read the Blinkist summary.

Alec Torelli
Yeah. Either way it’s a great book.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Understood. Timothy Gallwey, 1997, okay. And I recall from that book or something that that was a key differentiator between championship players and not-so championship players, was the ability to do exactly that. So, let’s hear, hey, in practice, if we want to do a quick reset when necessary, say, “Okay, I’m flustered. I got some feedback which I thought outrageous and unfair,” or, “I feel offended, slighted, dissed, or just anxious, tired, unmotivated, don’t feel like it,” you know, there’s some emotion that’s there, and we can sort of deal with it, process it, think about it, work on it at some point, but, for right now, we got to reset and take care of business. How does one do that?

Alec Torelli
Yeah, and I think you find this in personal life as well. You mentioned just like unmotivated being one of them, like just letting emotion come into your decision-making process in the morning. For example, just like deciding you don’t want to exercise because you’re unmotivated. So, I think this plays out in a lot of facets of life.

I’ll kind of walk you through my process a little bit and then also go through how I have used that to navigate the real world, so bear with me here for a sec. In poker, it’s a little bit different because you’re trying to…you’re just like in a performance state so it’s a little bit more contrived in the sense that, right away, I’m just trying to be like, “Okay, I only have 30 seconds between one hand and another. I have to reset right away.”

So, the first thing I do is just sort of, as cliché as it sounds, just take a deep breath, right? So, when you focus on your breath, or you breathe, you automatically release stress, so that’s just like the first thing to do, and I think it’s just training that muscle that helps you just automatically respond in that way. And then I really am trying to release the charge of the previous hand and focus my process on what I can control.

So, a lot of times when we’re in an emotional state of mind, especially in poker, there’s a lot that’s outside your control. Like, you can’t control what cards you’re dealt, only how you play the hand. So, trying to bring the focus back to what I can control to feel empowered to make a good decision, so I say to myself, I’ll tell myself something positive, I’ll repeat something to myself, a command to myself as I close my eyes for a second, take a deep breath, and I’ll say to myself, “I’m present and focused at the poker table. I care only about what I can control. My goal is to play this next hand the best way possible.”

And so, now I just bring the focus back to something that’s very simple. And, instead of looking outward 100 miles into the future trying to imagine like all these futures that I can’t play for, I’m just looking at, “What is the very next step that I can take? Like, where is my foot going right now?” And where it’s going right now, the only thing that I can really focus on, the only thing I can control, actually, the only thing that exists or matters is the next hand, the current hand, that’s going to be dealt. And if I want to win back the $50,000, $100,000 I just lost in the hand before maybe because I made a mistake, maybe because I got unlucky, the only way I could do it is through this very current next hand.

And I think that mindset really helps and take that mindset with you to the real world as well. Like, maybe there’s this seemingly insurmountable mountain, like you lose your job, or you’re fired, like, “How am I ever going to come back from this relationship I just ended?” or whatever it is. But the only way forward is what you could do this current moment, this next day. And so, instead of focusing on…I mean, it’s good to be prepared like for long-term planning, but just being able to focus on something that you could do tangible right now to kind of bring back your sense of control to the situation and feel empowered, like the action you’re taking matters, really helps setup that domino effect of getting motivated again to make good decisions.

And then, I think when it comes to everyday action, it’s about separating myself from my emotions. So, I talked before about emotional, logical, and intuitive decisions. So, when you’re navigating, I think, your daily life, it’s really important to focus on making logical decisions and not emotional ones. And emotion is something that speaks very loudly in your mind at any current time, like you’re lazy, you’re tired, you don’t feel like exercising, you’re craving something you want to eat, a piece of cake, you’re kind of like, “Oh, I don’t feel like working. I want to watch Netflix.” If you listen to the emotions, it’s easy to get swept away in this current and not ultimately do what’s best for you.

So, what I’d like to do is I like to treat myself like I’m a parent managing a child, and that I’m talking to myself in the third person. So, I’m creating space between my emotions, or my ego, and what I know is my higher self, or what is best for me, and I talk to myself in the third person, and I say, “What should Alec do? Or, Alec, what is the best decision that you can make right now?” And so, I get up in the morning and I don’t feel like exercising, or maybe I need a day off, so it’s not about asking yourself these questions to push yourself to always do the hardest thing. Sometimes the correct answer is taking a day off or eating a piece of pizza because that’s the right thing to do because you need that balance, and that’s fine.

But I’m always trying to focus on the quality of making the right decisions. So, I’ll say, “Alec, what should you do right now? Or, what should you do tomorrow?” As I’m mapping out my day the night before, I’ll say, “What should you do?” And then I’ll write out the things that I know that I need to do that I should do, not the things that I might emotionally want to do in the moment.

And so, this is something that I can come back in real time as I’m making decisions. I was doing this today, for example. I had the choice between spending a couple more hours working on this book I’m writing, or coming home and doing something else. And so, I was kind of confused and I felt emotionally connected to one thing, but I asked myself, “Alec, what should you do right now?” And I realized staying in the library and focusing on writing was more important even though I didn’t really want to do that emotionally. So, I think that really helps to create space and helps me to navigate decisions in a better way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. So, third person, like a parent to a child.

Alec Torelli
Yeah, you have to do it because sometimes you’re just, at least for me, like so susceptible to, like, “Today I feel unmotivated, or today I feel like doing this, or I don’t feel like doing that, or whatever.” But at the end of the day, you know you’re going to feel better if you do the things that you know, logically, you should do that matter, right? So, I know that if I go through the motions of meditating in the morning, and doing my HIIT Cardio, and taking a cold shower, like having a healthy breakfast. I know in two hours I’m going to feel great, but emotionally, right then before I do all that, I’m looking at these tasks that are on my lists, and I’m like, “I don’t want to do any of that.” But if I listen to emotion, at the end of the day I’m going to feel worse. But if I listen to logic, I’m going to feel worse in the short term. But it’s about optimizing for what I think is the best long-term process so that’s part of the reason why I think that’s important.


Pete Mockaitis
And the question is, “What should you do?” I imagine there’s a number of ways you could articulate that but that’s how you do it, it’s like, “What should you do?”

Alec Torelli
Yeah, or, “What is the best decision?”

Pete Mockaitis
“What is the best decision? What should you do?”

Alec Torelli
Yeah, “What should you do right now?” Like, “What is the best decision?” And sometimes I just close my eyes and I’d pose that question to my subconscious. Like, I’ll just sit on the couch and pose it, and then I’ll think about it for a minute, and I’ll let the answer sort of come to me. I’ll listen for the answer in a way that’s like a little bit more intuitive or maybe it’s something that requires a little bit more thought. I’ll write down some ideas. I’ll just write like a stream of consciousness and write for 30 seconds or a minute.

And usually it’s pretty easy to come to the right answer and you can usually separate out, “I don’t feel like doing this but I know this is what I should do,” type of logic that you can get down on paper, or sometimes you can do it meditatively, or whatever. And I feel like that helps come to that conclusion. But I think it’s about priming yourself for those questions is a good place to start.

And if you’re really honest with yourself, and you listen, I think most of the time you’ll know what the right answer is.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think the “What should you do?” I guess that’s almost like a shorthand, or, “What’s the best decision?” It’s sort of like it’s based on something in terms of like there are embedded criteria, whether it’s your life’s purpose or mission or vision or values or kind of long-term goals that matter to you a whole lot. It’s sort of because that’s the first thing that my mind fires back. It’s like, “Based on what? Under what criteria? Toward what end?” And so, I guess, there’s some pre-work there associated with having some clarity on that such that your current moment decisions are in congruence with that.

Alec Torelli
Yeah. So, in poker, before you make any bets, I always tell my clients to think about what you’re trying to accomplish before you make a bet. So, sometimes, people are like, “Oh, I bet because the other guy checked,” or, “I bet because the action was on me.” But it’s like, “Why are you trying to bet? What are you trying to accomplish?” And I think in the same vein, that sort of applies to life as well, and I call this having my North Star. And that’s really trying to identify, like, “What are the core values in your life that you’re trying to optimize for?” So, like, “What are the important things that the rest of the decisions that you’re making are helping you maximize?”

So, for example, for me, I try and maximize my decisions around the values of freedom, excitement, and choices. And so, I think freedom is like the main one that I’m trying to optimize for, and so I think money is a great tool and it helps, but it helps in terms of achieving more freedom units. So, a lot of times, I’ll perhaps find an opportunity or a situation where I’ll be passing up something that is potentially monetarily rewarding because it lowers my freedom. Like, it’s a big, huge commitment either to an activity or a time or a location or I’d have to be somewhere at a certain time, and like even though that could present a monetary reward, it could lower my freedom. But by understanding your priorities, it helps to maximize your aim.

So, for example, that’s like on the macro, right? Those are like the big decisions that you make structurally in the scope of your life, like what job you’re going to take, or where you’re going to live, or how much you want to have, how much you want your mortgage to be, might affect your ability to travel, which might affect your freedom, like those are some things. But I think, on a micro level, it also is important as well to have your other short-term goals, or maybe your lesser goals.

So, for example, when you go to a restaurant and you say, “What should I order?” If you’re in a period of your life where your macro goal is to lose 10 pounds, well, that might be the way that you decide to optimize those decisions. And so, you might decide to make an ordering decision based on that objective. So, I think it’s about understanding the big picture and then reverse-engineering to make sure the decisions you make are mapped towards your ambitions.

And then, also, being aware that success is not a linear path. It’s not a straight line to your goal. It’s like a curved line where there’s setbacks and ups and downs. So, the idea of trying to lose 10 pounds might mean eating healthy five or six days a week and a couple of times having a pizza even though it’s not, in a vacuum, the best decision to reach your goal of losing 10 pounds, but it’s also about being aware that, “Hey, I’m out with friends on a Friday night, and everybody is having a glass of wine, and we’re enjoying a nice restaurant. Like, I’m going to be okay with not necessarily going the most expedited route to my goals because it’s part of life as well.”

So, it’s about being able to be intuitive in those moments and being, what I call, situationally aware, which is a concept we use often in poker. There’s typically rules that you follow, where like these hands are the correct hands to play in certain situations, but there’s always circumstances where the rules are broken, and I think it’s important to be aware of where those apply in your life as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to get your take on intuition. To what extent should we trust it? How should we use it? And how do you think about it?

Alec Torelli
I think about intuition as the first part of the decision-making process. And so, for example, when I play a hand of poker, I’m typically looking for intuitive read about the situation. And this is something that’s hard to quantify. It doesn’t come from my logical mind. It just comes as a feeling right away. And this happens in real life, too, like when you meet someone for the first time, it’s hard to logically express whether you like them or why. So, you’re not going to say something like, “Oh, well, I like him, or I’m attracted to him, because of his black shirt.” It’s just about their aura, their essence, their personality, the vibe you get. These are all sort of intuitive things. And this is like the first part of the decision-making process. It’s primal. Instinctual.

And then after that, you use logic or reason to confirm your hypothesis, so you might get to know the person better. You might understand their values and see if their priorities or North Star align with yours, and then you might be able to confirm with now your intuitive read. And this is also what I’m doing at the poker table, right? Like, if I have an intuition that my opponent is bluffing, then I’ll analyze their betting patterns and I’ll work my way through the hand to see if their betting patterns confirm this idea that it’s likely that they are bluffing. And, in fact, when my intuition and logic are pointing to the same conclusion, that’s when I feel like I make my best decisions, when both of those things are in harmony. It’s like a marriage of both of those things to make a good decision.

But, lastly, on that subject, I typically find that I don’t always have intuitive reads. I don’t want to overemphasize making intuitive decisions or that you should be like just sort of meditating your way to make a decision in every facet of your life, because most of the time I don’t have intuitive reads. Like, I‘m watching my opponents, I’m looking for betting patterns, or what we call tells, meaning physical actions that allow someone to deduce the strength of your opponent’s hand. But I don’t get that read every hand, right? So, most of the time, I’m making logical decisions, I’m analyzing pros and cons, I’m weighing probabilities, I’m using logic and math and those sorts of things to make my decisions probably 90% of the time.

But the 10% of the time where I do have a strong instinctual read about a situation, a person, a business deal, a relationship, it’s typically right. And it’s the situations in which I override my intuition with logic that I end up paying the price. So, for example, at the poker table, when I really get the gut feeling that my opponent has a very strong hand, I know the right decision is to fold, but I can’t quite explain why logically. And then I start letting my conscious mind override my intuition and talk myself into calling because I try and use logic to kind of like override my intuition. I say, “Well, I can’t fold here because of this,” or, blah, blah, blah. And then I call, and he usually has it.

And I feel like this is true in life as well. Like, when you have a strong feeling, like, “This guy is bad news,” or, “I can’t trust this person,” or, “I shouldn’t go into business with him,” or, “I can’t take on this project,” or, “This job isn’t right for me,” or, “Something about this isn’t right.” That is usually something to listen to, and I feel like it’s the situations where you kind of try to override that by talking yourself into something that you intuitively know is wrong that we end up paying the price. So, that’s a little bit about my relationship with those things and decision-making on and off the felt.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to, you mentioned the tells, I’m intrigued. Let’s talk for a bit about reading people. To what extent can it be done? Are there any kind of telltale signs that you think are pretty reliable?

Alec Torelli
In poker, yeah. But, unfortunately, they don’t necessarily directly apply to decisions off the felt. So, for example, in poker, a common tell is your opponent’s hands are shaking when they’re betting.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they have happy feet.

Alec Torelli
Yeah, or that’s indicative of a strong hand. That’s a release of tension. They usually have a very good hand. Inversely, when they call a bet very quickly, they act extremely fast, they usually have a weak hand. They’re trying to intimidate you by acting quickly, by saying or conveying the message that, “Hey, look, I’m going to call you right away. I have something,” when, in fact, they don’t.

But, typically, like that specific, those specific actions don’t quite translate to the real world. It’s not like if someone shakes their hand, their hands shake, they’re lying to you or something. This doesn’t work like that. But what I will say is that being forced to interpret body language or basically infer people’s true intentions without words has helped me off the felt as well. And I think it’s a good skillset to practice because, in poker, you’re basically communicating with people that don’t speak your language. It’s sort of like doing that because people aren’t really talking to you.

And even if they are, the words, you can’t trust that the words they’re saying are indicative of their hand strength obviously, right? They’re not obliged to say, “Hey, I have a good hand,” when they have a good hand. Nobody is going to do that. So, you can’t really listen, I mean, you can listen but you can’t really trust that what they’re saying or the information they’re conveying. You have to read into it. And I think that’s a good skillset as well to help get to truths within relationships, avoid potentially problematic situations when you’re able to read people or situations a little bit better because people aren’t always conveying things accurately, sometimes for malicious reasons, other times just for protection. They don’t want to say something to offend you, or to get involved in a hard conversation, or it’s tough for people to express their true feelings. So, being able to read people is like a muscle, I think, that you could exercise, and poker helps you do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, with the exercising of it, what are the activities or practices that one does to exercise it?

Alec Torelli
So, there’s not like a specific body language thing that I think correlates, but I think it’s just about being more present and aware of the subtleties when talking to someone and really trying to infer if what they’re saying is representative of how they’re actually feeling and kind of like just being aware of this process, and then looking back on it and analyzing it. I don’t have a great practice for doing this in person, but I think, yeah, in so far that you can try, I think it’s a useful practice to do. I wish I had more, a little bit more of a tangible thing here to do for someone looking to do that off the felt.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it sounds like simply observing and making a note to asking yourself internally, “Is there a congruence and consistency here between what they’re saying verbally and what I’m picking up elsewhere?” and then just sort of make a note of that and look at it later can be handy as opposed to just sort of letting it flow right by in terms of you’re not even kind of paying attention to those non-verbals in the first place.

Alec Torelli
Yeah, and like just kind of starting to observe for and just being conscious of it and then watching for reactions. I mean, your intuitions are usually right. You can tell if someone is giving you a false compliment or if someone genuinely is interested in something you’re saying, right? Like, you were doing this all the time whether we’re aware of it or not, right? Like, if you are talking to someone and their eyes are wandering and they’re looking disinterested. It’s hard to quantify exactly what the tells are for that non being interested in what you’re saying, but you can typically tell if you’re boring someone during your conversation, and then you might change the subject. But you might just do this subconsciously without even thinking about it.

But I think going into the conversation conscious of it and saying, “Okay, what was it that made me realize that that person wasn’t interested in what I was saying? And why did I just change my subject of conversation there? Or, I could tell that person wanted to say something. Why was that? And why did I pause and let him talk?” or whatever it is. So, I think just going into it with a sense of curiosity, I would say, is probably the best word, allows you to kind of explore this a little bit more. And I think people will find that it’s a fun game to play and it’s also quite a useful skill.

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

Alec Torelli
No, this is awesome. This is great.

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

Alec Torelli
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. And small minds discuss people.” I think that’s a great quote.

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

Alec Torelli
I think a book that had a big impact on my life, I guess you have to be at the right place for it, is Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar. He’s a professor at Harvard, and I think it’s in Economics, something unrelated completely to this subject. And he taught a course on happiness and it became the most popular course at Harvard, and then he wrote a book about his findings.

He has a subsequent book called Perfect as well about how perfectionism is an unattainable thing that it’s a quest that leads people to be unhappy. But Happier was really good. And I actually went through it and there’s these exercises in the book, and I was at a point where I was in the mood to kind of like do them and be tangible with it. And I found that was a great book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And, tell me, how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Alec Torelli
Like, what’s an example?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, some people would say the Trello app is amazing.

Alec Torelli
Trello, I was going to say that. That was the first thing that came to my mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, how about that? There’s my intuition, Alec.

Alec Torelli
Okay. Good job. Well, that’s crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Trello it is.

Alec Torelli
Yes. So, I would say Trello as a good tool, but since I feel like other people might’ve already said that, I will say SaneBox to filter email on Gmail is incredible. So, it allows you to put email in a lot of different folders depending on who sends it, and set reminders, messages go to your inbox at different times. It’s incredible. It completely organizes your email. And one more, I would say, would be some sort of meditation app. And I like Waking Up by Sam Harris, and I think that’s a great tool as well.

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

Alec Torelli
I guess I’ve been more interested in meditation recently, and I think looking at some of the effects that it has on long-term meditators and how it changes certain aspects of the brain, and improves memory, and reduces stress, and makes people potentially live longer, I think that was pretty profound and insightful.

Pete Mockaitis
And have you found that to be your experience as you embark upon meditation?

Alec Torelli
So, okay, I’m nowhere near at some super advanced level. I’ve been doing it for four years and I would say the first-year average, like 10 minutes a day, and then 20 minutes a day, and then 30 minutes a day, so that’s kind of been where I’m at. But it’s one of those things that you really, I feel like, at least for me, have to get through this initiation phase. And I feel like a lot of people probably would be inclined to quit before that point.

And so, I think if it’s something that you’re going to start, it would be to commit to doing like at least 30 days to two months, and do like 20 minutes a day every single day. And then don’t start unless you can commit to that because it’s only then when you start to kind of realize, like, “Oh, there’s something here. I’m not just sitting and thinking randomly about nothing, or bored.” But I have noticed there is this sort of tipping point where things start to click, and then it becomes incredibly interesting and insightful and quite productive, profound, I think so. Yeah, I have noticed that. It took a while though.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’m curious with the word productive there. If you think about all the minutes you’ve spent engaged in meditation as compared to the benefits it’s yielded, would you say that those minutes have paid for themselves? Or what kind of ROI have they delivered?

Alec Torelli
Good question. Yeah, I know it seems counterintuitive, and I thought this in the beginning as well, that typically people are short on time, “Of course, I don’t have time to meditate. I could be doing something more productive.” But I think what meditation really helps you with is focus. And to do anything great, you have to be really, really focused. And so, I think it helps me get clarity in a lot of things, and get re-energized, and really focused on what’s important.

And so, for example, let’s say I’m working all day, and it’s like 2:00 p.m. and I’m kind of tired, I can sit for 5 to 10 minutes, close my eyes and just meditate, and let my mind unwind, and all the thoughts of my day will kind of come out from my subconscious, to like I can kind of watch my thoughts go by. And sometimes in that moment, like letting my thoughts unwind, I will get great ideas. And ideas will come to me that I couldn’t think about during the course of my day because I was actively engaged in all these activities. So, then I’ll sometimes stop meditation and write them down, of course, on Trello, or otherwise, after, my mind will just kind of unwind, and the noise of my mind will unwind, and then I could sit down after that and focus for another two hours.

So, it’s actually like taking a half a step back to take four steps forward. Whereas, if I just try to plug along, at 2:00 o’clock I try to take a break and did something else during that break, even if that break was longer, like a 30-minute break or an hour break, but during that break the state of my mind was engaged still, even if it was not engaged necessarily like learning something, but even just like you’re talking to people or you’re doing activities, and your mind is wandering and thinking while you’re involved in the physical world and doing all these activities, I don’t feel like I rest as much. But if I take 10 minutes, like I’m just charged for another couple of hours. So, I feel like it’s this superpower almost if you get to a little bit of proficiency with it, where it’s just unlocks this potential that I have to be more focused in the activities that I’m doing. You also learn a lot about yourself.

Like, I think there’s a great video by Jay Shetty, who was a meditation monk at one point, and then he’s come back to the business world and is a speaker, that, “Meditation Made Me A Bad Person.” It’s kind of an interesting title because it really forces you to look at some aspects of yourself that you might not have been aware of before. At least for me, I’m realizing, like, “Wow, I typically have these thoughts, and I typically behave this way. Like, these are things that I’d like to change or improve. Or these are some my strengths, and I wasn’t aware of that.”

So, all these things help you be, help you win more in the long term, however you want to look at that, whether it’s productivity or focus or whatever it is. I think it’s a net positive when you add up the minutes and then you look at the increase in productivity. Or if you measure with another metric, like stress or happiness or gratitude or connectivity with other people, all those things are greatly advanced. So, yeah, it’s been awesome.

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

Alec Torelli
Well, I do have a YouTube with there’s like 500 or 600 videos on poker and ideas and lessons from poker that apply to life and business as well. You can look up Conscious Poker, or just Alec Torelli, and you’ll find it. Otherwise, ConsciousPoker.com if you want to learn poker strategy and get better at the game. But if you are more interested in the lifestyle side of things, I keep a blog at AlecTorelli.com with more of my personal thoughts and content as well.

I’m also very active on social media @AlecTorelli, Instagram, Twitter. Come say hi and shoot me a DM or send me a message or leave me a comment. I do read them all. Let me know you found me on here, I’d love to see it.

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

Alec Torelli
Just to always try and work on yourself, even if that means looking at things that are sort of hard or uncomfortable or potentially receiving painful feedback from people that are close to you or loved ones, to reframe that as an opportunity for growth, to look at the feedback that’s coming, or potentially even the things that you label as negative as opportunities for growth and challenges to get better, whether that’s a setback, or a demotion, or getting fired, or breakup, or whatever it is.

Instead of looking at it like, “This happened to me,” but perhaps, “This happened for me. And how can I learn from this experience, or grow from this experience, or get better from this experience? And what could I have done differently?” And that’s one of the questions that I always ask myself in poker that’s really helped me off the felt. It’s like, even if I win a hand, or even if things go well, I’m always asking, like, “What could I have done differently? How could I have played this hand better? What decisions could I have made to led to a better result?”

And I think focusing on that process and really looking to improve in every hand you play is a good framework that I think will help on and off the felt. So, I hope that’s a good challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alec, thanks so much for sharing the good word, and good luck to you.

Alec Torelli
Thank you, Pete. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

432: How Leaders Consistently Make Great Decisions with Greg Bustin

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Greg Bustin says: "Leaders are in the decision-making business."

Greg Bustin reveals his insights on decision-making gleaned from 52 inspiring historical events.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two things you need when making a decision
  2. The Seven F’s tool that can help you decide what you want
  3. How to fight cognitive bias

About Greg

For more than two decades, Greg has been skillfully counseling a diverse roster of innovative companies. He’s a trusted advisor to savvy CEOs and key leaders—steering three executive groups and providing one-on-one coaching as a Master Chair for Vistage International, the world’s largest CEO organization.

Organizations around the world invite Greg to conduct private workshops and deliver thought-provoking keynote addresses on leadership, strategy, conflict resolution and Workplace Accountability.

He’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Financial Executive, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Greg Bustin Interview Transcript

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

Greg Bustin  
Thank you, Pete. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis  
I’m glad to have you. And I think the first thing we need to hear about is your drumming career.

Greg Bustin  
Well, it started in early age. I probably started on pots and pans like most drummers, and then got a little drum set when I was six. And I was in a marching band, an orchestra, jazz band, a rock band, I’ve kind of I’ve kind of done it all. Now, I pretty much just play the steering wheel.

Pete Mockaitis
Safely, I assume?

Greg Bustin  
Oh, yeah, both hands on the wheel, in the 10 and 2 positions, right?

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good, that’s good. Cool. Well, so I want to hear about your book, How Leaders Decide. I liked the format in terms of all the different stories, but I guess I’d like to start with a bang. What’s maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made when you were putting together the book?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I ended up looking at more than 25,000 events, and you go, “Wow, how do you get it down to 52?” Because the format of the book, as you alluded to, it’s really bite-sized chapters, because the leaders that I work with, like I’m in that kind of, “Hey, I can read this in 10 minutes and reflect, and I can either put it down or keep going.”

So how did I get it down to 52, and of the 52, what’s the one you most want to know about? I think the one that’s most surprising to me is the story of Mary Edwards Walker. She is the only female recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. So, 3,522 recipients, and she is still the only female ever to be awarded this honor, which is the military’s highest honor for bravery. And her story of bravery and courage and sacrifice took a lot of twists and turns, starting with the fact that, you know, as a woman, in the 1850s, she wanted to pursue a career as a doctor. And you know, she was told all the reasons why that wouldn’t happen.

Her parents were very encouraging, and she actually became one of the first women to graduate from medical school, and about the time she graduated, civil war was breaking out, and she wanted to volunteer. And she was turned down, not really because of her capability, but because of her gender. And ultimately, her persistence and her desire to serve landed her the position — first behind the fighting, and then ultimately she was placed on the battlefield. And from there, she even volunteered to become a spy for the North and went on some spying missions in Georgia.

And so she was awarded that in 1864. So as the war was nearing its end, she was awarded that — and it can only be awarded by presidents. And so, she made it through all the naysayers, all the bureaucracy, all the males, and eventually was awarded that. It was taken away from her, actually. It was reinstated by President Jimmy Carter.

So almost, you know, 100 years lapsed — or more than 100 years — between her receiving it, having it taken away, and then having it reinstated. And to this day, as I say, she is the only female Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. And I knew nothing about her. I just stumbled into it as I was researching the book.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, that is deep, surprising and fascinating. I did not know this, and now I do. And so now, since we’re all teed up about, you know, this person and the story, what’s sort of the leadership decision-making takeaway from that one?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I think it’s in multiple parts. First, she did not care who got the credit, and so that she was really driven just by the desire to serve our country and help her fellow human beings. I think it’s also obviously a story of persistence. And when you look at a lot of these stories, I mean, you see that as a common theme.

My challenge in writing the book is that, “Okay, well, you can have every chapter. If they’re 50 to 60, it’s like, guess what? The lesson is persistence”, because these folks all fought their way through some adversity or another. But I think her selfless desire to serve, was a cool thing.

And you know, the lesson is, if you’re a leader, how would those people in your organization rate your fairness and consistency when evaluating performance? And the question is, do you play favorites? Mary Edwards Walker had to overcome stereotypes, favoritism, double standards, and yet she persevered and triumphed.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. Thank you. Well, so then that’s one key theme that kind of weaves through the book, how leaders decide. Any other kind of main messages that you’d like to emphasize?

Greg Bustin  
Well, yes.

I think that what you’ll read in this book, many people say, “Look, I knew about the story of the Titanic,” or “I knew about Winston Churchill,” or whatever the case may be. It’s really the story behind the story that people find interesting.

I think the main message is that leaders are in the decision-making business, and all of these people, some of these were reluctant leaders, some of them just found themselves at a time and place where their integrity was confronted, their values were challenged.

And you know, what you see in the book is that essentially, these people made the decisions that they made, because number one: they were grounded in a very firm belief of understanding where they stood on issues and matters of integrity. And the other is that they also knew very clearly what it is that they wanted.

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, that’s good. Well, so then I’d love it, maybe if we could jump into another one of what you think is perhaps the most illustrative story out of your 52 collection that really is eye-opening and transformational for the typical corporate professional who wants to just make better decisions.

Greg Bustin  
Well, I got a question at a book signing event: “What chapter would you recommend that your daughter read?” And I said, Well, I’d let her read the whole book and let her make her own decision.” And when pressed for it, I actually put another female that I had profiled: Marie Curie. And I picked Marie Curie because I think that the transformational aspect, or the applicability to today’s leader, whether they’re an aspiring leader or a seasoned leader, is that Marie Curie was raised in an environment where learning and improvement was strongly encouraged.

I mean, ultimately, her family, despite severe hardship, growing up in Russia-controlled Poland, raised a teacher, two doctors, and a Nobel Laureate. And that really speaks to the kind of environment where leaders perform well. And I think the other piece that’s transformational is that when she married Pierre Curie.

Pierre came to the conclusion that Marie’s work was actually more applicable and more important than the work that he was doing. And so, he was willing to set aside his work and become Marie’s partner. And so, if you think about that, if you’re a leader, I think that one of the ways that you’re encouraged as a leader is to be a part of a team that supports one another.

And certainly, Marie Curie had that in the form of her husband, where again, in a traditional role of typically males being the dominant force in a relationship, Pierre recognized Marie’s capability, and was willing to essentially take a backseat.

And I think that in today’s environment, having that kind of support and encouragement from your peers, your supervisor, whatever, can really cultivate and bring out the best in today’s leaders.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s handy, certainly. So that humility and knowing when, “Okay, I’m going to take a backseat and just support them,” and that’s a winning move. Certainly, that’s a great takeaway for many environments. So I guess I’d love to hear, in terms of — you got 52 stories in here, we’ve talked about a couple of… right up front, you know, of all the suggestions that you have unearthed from these tales, when it comes to improving decision making, what do you think is the practice or approach that can offer you the greatest bang for your buck, if you will, like the most decision quality boost per hour or unit of effort?

Greg Bustin  
I think that it starts with what I’ve called seven behaviors that distinguish decisive leaders. And so one of those is believing deeply. So there’s a chapter about Walt Disney, and his brother, Roy, has a quote, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” And I think that speaks loudly today. If you know what your values are, the decision should be easy. You may not like the answer, but the answer will be clear. So believing deeply is the first of those behaviors.

Secondly, confronting reality, openly. We looked at JFK and 18 months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is the the event that’s profiled in the book, was the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.

And in hindsight, Kennedy realized that he had not opened up the discussion more broadly; people had been pigeonholed in in their thinking, and there was a lot of peer pressure to let the conventional wisdom of the CIA take its course. And what happened was that it ended in disaster.

And so when the Cuban Missile Crisis came around, Kennedy said, “Look, I’m learning from those mistakes. We’re going to bring in lots of people, we’re going to get fresh ideas, we’re going to bring in outside experts.” He even decided, “I’m going to leave the room sometimes, because I know that I can have an influence on people needing to say what needs to be said,” and he asked a lot of questions. And those questions were all aimed at confronting reality, facing the facts. There’s a need to cultivate curiosity.

And we talked about 3M and William McKnight, and the culture that he instilled inside of 3M, to make 3M, one of the most innovative companies in the world. There’s a notion of engaging meaningfully. And we look at the Apollo 13 crash and how these guys on the ground had to solve a problem 250,000 miles out in space with only the materials they had, and they had to bring everyone together under the crunch of time to do that.

There’s an element of deciding speedily, and then the need to adapt proactively. So all of those things, way into it. I think it really goes back to knowing what you want. And in my talk with the executives that I work with, what ultimately comes from these discussions is that it’s not as hard to achieve what it is that you want.

What’s harder than achieving what you want is knowing what you want. And so I think that before you can make decisions, again, I come back to those two things: You’ve got to know what your values are, and you got to know what you want. And I think pound for pound, that’s how you get through to get more of what you want, and how you make better decisions.

Pete Mockaitis  
Understood, yes. Great. Let’s talk about that. How does one get to know what they want? And I imagine the true depth of what you want is often not what leaps to mind off the surface?

Greg Bustin  
Well, you’re exactly right, Pete. I’ve actually got a form on my website that your listeners can download for free. It’s called “The Seven Fs.” It’s an F as in Frank.

The mind is a funny thing. Sometimes we need to let it roam freely. Other times when you let it run so freely, you’re just overwhelmed by the number of choices. And so what this seven F’s document does is it really forces people to say, “Okay, when you think about your friends, what do you want when it comes to your friends? When you think about financial? What does it look like when you talk about financial? When you think about your fitness, what does that really mean?”

When you start putting some definition around those things, “fun” is one of the Fs, right? When you when you talk about fun, you know, what does that look like? And so when you start compartmentalizing these aspects of your life, it really allows you to get more specific about deciding what it is that you want.

You know, my dad had a phrase that I loved. I mean, I was talking to him one day; it was after I’d started my own business. And frankly, I wasn’t very happy. I mean, my name is on the door, I’ve got all these people working for me, and I’m making a lot of money. I’m not happy. And he said, “Look, do what you love with people you love at a place that you love.” And what I realized is that what I was doing was, it’s like, okay, on the surface, it all looked good, but it wasn’t very fulfilling for me. And it wasn’t very gratifying for me.

And, you know, I asked him. I said, “Well, what about the money?” And he said, “Well, the money will come,” and he was right. And I think a lot of times, you know, we need a setback. Or maybe we need a shock. Or maybe we just need to take the time to reflect.

I was talking with an executive just a couple of days ago, and he said, “You know, the job that I’m in, I’m not sure I’ve trained all my life for this job. But I’m not sure that this is what I want.” And I said, “Well, what do you think you want?” He said, “Well, I’m not sure.” And I said, “Well, I would keep doing what you’re doing, and doing it the best that you can. And I do believe that over time, something will reveal itself to you.”

Just to be clear, I don’t think that you can say, “Okay, I’m going to check everything that I’m doing and go off on some wild hare.” But I think that you need to be in tune as to whether or not the amount of time that you’re putting in at the workplace is creating the kind of fulfillment that is worth the trade-off of spending time away, perhaps from your family, or a hobby, or just relaxing, or the ability to even take a vacation.

Again, I’ve got this document that’s designed to at least become a catalyst to get people to pause and reflect.

And that’s really how the book is served up. It’s not really a “do these five things, and you’ll make better decisions,” but rather, “Here are some historic events that changed the world’s trajectory. In here are some questions around each of those events that give you the opportunity to pause and reflect and think about how that applies in your life today.”

Pete Mockaitis  
I dig that. And so when it comes to your own decision making, I’d love to get your view. So I guess you’ve laid out into your core values and what you’re after, and these Fs. And so then, can you share, you know, what are some of these values and things that you want? And a decision that you approached recently that flowed?

Greg Bustin  
Yeah, that’s all well, that’s great. You’re making me eat my own dog food. And I love it. I had an opportunity. So I run these chief executive groups for small and mid-sized organizations. The smallest is probably $10 million in revenue a year, 25 employees, the largest is multi-billion, with employees, you know, all over the country, in some cases outside the U.S.

And in one of these groups, I had a couple of these CEOs that were exhibiting what I would call bad behavior. And I knew it, and I tolerated it for longer than I should. And really, the tough decision that I made ultimately was, “this is not fun for me, these guys don’t share my values.” My values are about helping people grow and learn and develop and improve. And these couple of guys were not sharing in that. And they were pretty disruptive in the meeting.

And we would get together once a month. And you know, we’re talking about 14, 15 people around a table. And finally, I just said, “Look, I’ve had enough.” And I talked to them about it, and I talked to several people: I talked to my wife about it, I talked to a couple of other folks that I trust, and the answer was consistent. It’s like , well you’ve got to do what you need to do. You already know, you just need to do it. And what I was afraid of was that they would leave and it would put the rest of the group at risk, because I knew that, you know, three or four people would leave the group.

And finally, I just said, “Look, that’s it. I know what I need to do, I just need to do it.” And that’s actually a quote that I have from Amelia Earhart: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity,” right?

And so I knew what I needed to do. And I had a conversation with these two CEOs. And they left the group, and four of their friends went with them. And I thought, “Okay, this is it.”

That was about a year and a half ago. I’ve rebuilt the group, everybody’s there for the right reason. I’ve never been happier. The people who were there are all bought in on what it is that we’re trying to do. But it was a moment of truth. And I think that when you look at some of these decisions, you know, sometimes what happens is, you make the decision when the pain of doing nothing is greater than the pain of doing something, right?

So in my case, it’s like, “Look, I could keep doing this, and keep kicking the can down the road.” But I was not looking forward to those meetings. I could tell that there were other folks around the table who were not happy with that behavior. And if I didn’t do something, then I might lose the entire group. As it was, I lost half the group. And we’re better today for it. And so I think that, you know, one of the things about decision-making is that doing nothing is a decision to not act. And so that was the decision that I was choosing to make. And so finally I just said, “Okay, I know what I need to do. And I’d rather just do something and see what happens, as opposed to continuing this and not having a productive experience.”

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. Well, not that we need all the lurid details, but I think it would be helpful if we had this little bit of a sense for what do we mean by “bad behavior.”

Greg Bustin
So there were two or three things. So there was a lot of judging that was going on with some of the folks. And so this idea is that you’re coming in here, you’re all from noncompetitive businesses, and the ideas that you can share openly, because, look, everybody generally, when it gets down to it, is talking about the same thing. You’re talking about customer issues, you’re talking about employee issues, you’re talking about money issues, and you’re trying to make your business perform at a higher level.

And you know, people would come in and open up and somebody would just kick the heck out of them, you know? And it’s like, look, it takes some level of courage to open up your heart and say, “Look, I’m scared,” or “I’m screwing up,” or “I’m not sure,” or whatever. And you know, these guys would go, “Oh, you know, well, that’s easy,” or whatever. There was also the idea that when you looked at their business, they weren’t really moving forward. And so, it was really, “Hey, let’s come in, let’s have some yucks, you know?”

“Let’s talk tough, and then let’s figure out where we’re going to go afterwards for cocktails.” And it’s like, look, that’s fine to do that. But really, our purpose here is to help each other get better. And so there were just some things like that, that were counter to the kinds of values that I was looking at, which is, “Look, let’s be authentic, let’s be honest, let’s be supportive. And let’s be all in on this,” because the money is the least of what these guys are paying. These guys are giving up.

I say, “Guys, guys and gals, are giving up a day out of their life, and they’ll never get that time back. So it’s up to me to make sure that we’re making the best use of that time.” And so it just seemed like we weren’t making the best use of that time. And it was becoming evident to some of the other folks in the group that, you know, “these sessions are starting to look like a waste of time for me.”

So anyway, those are some of the things that just say, “Okay, I’m sort of backed into a corner.” And, some of these events just happened to ordinary people, like the first female senator of the United States, got the job because her husband died. But she made the decision. And the decision that was profiled in the book was she made the decision to run again.

Nobody believed that she would run again. Hattie Caraway is the first woman to be elected a U.S. senator. So I think there’s a lot of instances where people were just living ordinary lives, and then an opportunity came their way. And they had the opportunity to step up and do the right thing. And that’s what really distinguishes a lot of these decisions.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh yeah, that’s good stuff. I’m a sucker for stories, aren’t we? The human condition, and say, so you wisely put together 52 of them, as opposed to, you know, a list of cognitive biases and the scientific research for them, which you would make a good book for me. I’d like that.

Greg Bustin  
Well, you can write it, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis  
I have a poster of cognitive biases in my home office. Fun fact. Anyway, when you share the feedback, like, “Hey, this is what I’m seeing with regard to, you know, how the meetings are going and how you’re behaving and the implications of it.” And they just sort of stormed off. They’re like, “Well, I never, Greg!”

Greg Bustin  
No, I don’t think people like ultimatums. I think they like options. Sometimes, you need an ultimatum. And what I said to these folks is, “Look, you clearly joined for a reason, I just want to make sure that we realign on what that reason was. “Here’s what I’ve been seeing. I think you’ve got a great heart, you’ve built a successful business.”

The behavior that I’m saying is A, B, C, and D. And if that kind of behavior continues, I don’t think this is a great fit. If you want to modify that behavior, and be the kind of person that you were when you joined the group, then that’s a cool thing. And they basically said, “Okay, I thought about it, and I don’t really want to modify my behavior.” And it’s like, “Well, that’s cool, because we’re all about modifying behavior so that we can improve.”

Pete Mockaitis  
Yeah. Okay. That’s cool. All right. Well, so thanks for taking us there, into that tale. And so there you go, because you are clear on those values about learning, growth development, and you were noticing the reality around you in terms of, “This is starting to be not fun, and not enjoyable, and not helpful.” You went there. So that’s cool.

Are there any key tips, props, questions, scripts, things that are kind of little go-to tips and tricks that you use or recommend to help folks make great decisions consistently?

Greg Bustin  
Well, to be very practical, I think that you’ve got to get into a rhythm or a cadence or a habit. And I think that one of the best ways of doing that is to be very clear on goals.

I’m a big goal person, whether it’s weekly goals, or monthly goals, quarterly goals, annual goals, and I’m talking personally, as well as at an enterprise level, I think that that the people that are successful, are driven by something, and they are driven toward something. And I think that from a practical standpoint, the best way to do that is, “Hey, make a list, block time on your calendar, get some people around you that you trust, who may actually think different than you, or think differently than you so that you can bounce things off of them.”

I think that being clear on what you stand for, being clear on what you’re after, and then having these very specific mile markers in the road that show, “Hey, I’m making some progress toward this, because all of those involved decision making,” it involves, “Okay, do I do this? Or do I do this? Is it a trade off? Is it a priority? Do we have the time for this? Do we have the money for this?” Whatever the case may be.

And I think that when you have that clear picture, you’re willing to give up things or make sacrifices in order to get that.

I think the best decisions that I make are driven around having, again, a set of values and a set of goals that you’re driving toward. And I think that, you know, one of the best ways to create a new habit is to make a list. I think that is a very powerful way of doing that.

I use gold boards with just sticky notes at the end of every year. And I take my groups through this. It’s like, think about the things that are important to you, when you picture success and why you’re doing what you’re doing. What is it that you’re doing that is going to cause you to be fulfilled?

We’ll write those words down, be very specific about the type of fulfillment that you’re looking for. Now write down the categories that you need to work against, in order to make your life fulfilling, and then you put little sticky notes under that. And I mean, people love that. They’re like, we present them at the end of every year, I check up on them monthly, and they’re like, “Hey, check that off. I’ve got a new sticky note now.” And you know, whether it’s take a vacation or,, be at home three nights a week to have dinner with the kids, or whatever it is, you know, make it real and make it visible.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any quick tips when it comes to cognitive bias, how to fight that well?

Greg Bustin
Well, I think the way you fight it well, as I’ve already alluded to, is you’ve got to have people around you that you trust and respect that are willing to say, “Look, there’s a blind spot,” or “I don’t think you’re seeing the whole picture,” or, you know, “I think that here’s another point of view that maybe you haven’t considered.” And I mean that’s what these groups that I lead are all about. And it’s about people whose only agenda is to see the other person in the group succeed.

So there’s no commercial gain for that, and the way around the cognitive bias to miss something, is to have other people around that can look at things differently. I mean, our subconscious plays tricks on us. I’m sure you know, that’s what optical illusions are all about. It’s not that I didn’t see it, it’s that the brain doesn’t get it. Right?

And so we need to have other people around us that that we trust and respect to point out those blind spots and to say, “Well, maybe there’s another way of looking at this that you’ve not considered.” And I think that when you do that, that can help at least mitigate some of the biases that we have to make decisions that aren’t always in our best interest.

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

Greg Bustin  
Well, these are my favorite things, because I love what I do. I would invite your readers to go to my website.

There are five lost chapters. You might imagine with all these different historical events, I couldn’t fit them all in, and there are five lost chapters that aren’t fully baked yet, didn’t make it into the book. And your listeners can go to my website and download those for free. And then if they’re interested in wanting a little bit more than they can, they can spring for the book.
Pete Mockaitis  
All right, perfect. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I already told you the one about my dad. The other one that I think really describes my work ethic is from J. Paul Getty, which I’m sure you’ve heard: Rise early, work hard, strike oil. It’s like, no excuses. It’s like get up, work hard, and make things happen. And I’m very results-driven. I’m very goal oriented. And that’s a favorite quote for me.

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

Greg Bustin  
Well, I was just taking a break from research, because I just spent about a year researching this book. I am rereading a book where the centerpiece is an essay by Peter Drucker, and it’s the title of the book, called On Managing Yourself. It’s one of Harvard Business Review’s, 10 must-read books. And it’s just a great reminder of some really practical wisdom by some of our greatest thinkers, and the leadoff hitter is is Peter Drucker.

Pete Mockaitis  
And how would a favorite tool? Something you use to be awesome at your job?

Greg Bustin  
Well, the tool that I use, I mentioned, is the goal board. I believe in that. I mean I’m a big accountability guy, and in the research that I did on accountability, which is my previous book, is that accountability is not a bad thing. It’s actually a support system for winners. One of the reasons where accountability breaks down, or one of the places where accountability breaks down, is the failure to make performance visible.

And so I believe that, you know, being able to visualize very specifically, “This is where I want to go, these are the things that I’m going to do to get it,” and then to be able to literally either take off the sticky note and put a new one up, or check it off or do it on your computer, that, to me, is very fulfilling.

And ultimately I’m driving toward, you know, something bigger than just a list. I mean, I had a list of the 52 chapters, and I blew it up, and, you know, four foot by six foot poster, and I would check off each chapter as I wrote it. And that was very inspiring to me, to say, “Okay, I’ve gotten another one down, and I’ve only got this much further to go.”

So I use a lot of visual tools, both in my computer, and you know, mounted behind my door in my office so that when I close the door, you know, there it is, and I can see how I’m doing.

Pete Mockaitis  
Awesome. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I think the nugget is, when it’s time to decide, it’s time to decide. You know, things that must be done eventually must be done immediately. And so when you are not deciding, you are effectively making a decision to do nothing. And so I think that, you know, and I told you the story about that, and I did nothing for many, many months until I finally had to pull the trigger.

And so I think, you know, the idea is, again, when you know what you want, the decision should be easy. The decision was easy for me, I just didn’t want to do it. And then finally I did it. And of course I felt better.

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

Greg Bustin  
I would point them to my website, www.bustin, B as in boy, U-S-T-I-N.com. bustin.com. There’s all kinds of free tools like the one I mentioned, blogs, exercises. The five lost chapters from my book are there as well, and I would love for folks to visit.

Pete Mockaitis  
And do you a final challenge or call to action for folks?

Greg Bustin  
Well, that’s fine. Yeah, the final call to action is everybody’s got a decision they need to make, and my question, really, or my challenge would be in the form of a question, which is, what’s the significant decision you must make in the next 60 days? And what do you need to do in order to make that decision? And who can you call on for support, to propel you into making that decision?

Again, most of the big decisions, it’s not as simple as yes or no. Sometimes it is, but it’s not as simple as yes or no, or this or that, or black and white. Oftentimes, there may seem, at least on the surface, a lot of gray. And so having someone that you trust, to bounce that off of whether it’s a mentor, or a coach, or a friend, or a spouse, or a partner, is a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis  
Awesome. Well, Greg, it’s been a lot of fun. I know you’re taking a break from executives right now to talk to us, so I appreciate that. You’ve got a cocktail hour calling; I wouldn’t want you to miss any more minutes of that.

Greg Bustin  
Well, I’m sure they’re starting without me, Pete, but that’s it. That’s cool. I’ve loved our time together, and I really appreciate you having me on.

431: Leadership Practices You Should Stop with Sara Canaday

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Sara Canaday says: "What is consuming your calendar? And does it really belong there?"

Sara Canaday highlights key places where conventional leadership wisdom needs to be replaced.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A common leadership practice you should replace
  2. Why we should value soft intelligence as much as we value hard data
  3. How the bias for action can get in the way of progress

About Sara

Sara Canaday is a leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author.  She works with leaders and high-potential professionals from organizations around the world to expand their capacity to innovate, influence, engage, and perform. Her new book, Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom for Breakthrough Performance, is now available on Amazon. For more information, please visit SaraCanaday.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Sara Canaday Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Sara, thank you so much for joining us here on How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Sara Canaday
Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have a chat and I recall last time you mentioned that one of your dreams was to be a backup dancer in a hip-hop video. And I understand that dream is still alive. I’d like to know how that’s evolved and if there’s any particular music right now that gets that dream going for you.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, it is still alive. And I think it’s alive because it’s one way to stay loose and to not take myself so seriously. So, I think it’s important for me to keep that dream alive, actually. I think, probably, my kids, my husband and others are glad that there’s that part of me that tries to let loose a little bit and not be so serious.

So, it’s—that dream has served me well. Now, I wish I could say that it’s found me on the stage as a backup dancer not, yet but I can still hold out. And I think the last time we talked, we talked about artists like 50 Cent and Beyonce.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
I should say that with a 14-year old and a 17-year old, I’m now listening to pretty heavy, rapid RnB sometimes and knowing that you might ask me this question, it was kind of a shame that I had to look and comb through an artist that I listened to that did not have an explicit song.

Pete Mockaitis
Keep the dream alive, keep it loose. That’s good.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, you’ve got a new development in terms of a book Leadership Unchained. I’d love to hear first and foremost, what did you find particularly surprising, striking, fascinating as you’re researching and putting together this one?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, I don’t know if it was confirmation bias at work here but it seemed that even after I wrote the book or while I was in the process of writing the book, I would finish a chapter, I would finish the research, put it aside. And lo and behold, I kept seeing examples of either companies or leaders, who were doing a semblance of some sort of what I just finished talking about in terms of zigging while everybody else is zagging and how it paid off for them.

And so again, it could be that I was uber open to it on a subconscious level, but I felt that I kept finding reassurances and examples for exactly what I was talking about. And that was surprising and it was exciting at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, I’d love to hear an example there in terms of, what’s a zag or sort of common leadership work practice that you think is best replaced with a zig?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think one of the ones that comes for me last year because it’s not anything I had to research, it’s something that literally popped up. After I already wrote my chapter on this idea of having everything earn its rightful place to be on your to-do list, right. And the chapter is not only look at literally what makes your to do list every day, but what kind of projects, initiatives—what is consuming your calendar? And does it really belong there?

Are you doing it because it makes somebody else comfortable? Are you doing it because it’s always been done but nobody would question whether that report ever got produced? Is it moving you or your team forward? And again, in the chapter, I talked about a company that years ago looked at the number of products it was selling.

And so again, it wasn’t just a to-do list of items every day, it was on a larger scale. And in order to be profitable, they made a decision that was very, very difficult but to reduce that profit or those products from 13 down to two.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
And so they had to ask themselves some really hard questions. Long story short, it ended up really working to their advantage. But what popped up several months after writing that chapter was Ford Motor, making their announcement that in North America they were going to stop making Sedans.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
Which is stunning, that’s a stunning announcement, but for various reasons—but some of which meant that they sat down and they really thought about what do they need to stop doing in order to grow. And that was just a prime example to me.

Pete Mockaitis
So, are they not manufacturing Sedans in North America or they’re not selling them in North America?

Sara Canaday
They are not manufacturing them—

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sara Canaday
Which means they no longer will sell them.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I will not be able to acquire like a Ford Taurus in a few years?

Sara Canaday
No, they are stopping production of it.

Pete Mockaitis
This is news to me.

Sara Canaday
Yep.

Pete Mockaitis
Plus learning this.

Sara Canaday
Done, over.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Sara Canaday
And we don’t know, right. It’s too soon to tell, we don’t know if that’s going to be the right decision if they indeed will benefit from that decision. We’ll need a crystal ball for that. But I think it’s very telling that they’re making those kinds of moves.

And that leaders and companies, and anybody should be thinking about that. I shared with somebody the other day that two years ago, I put together my kind of business planning meeting and I invited some people that helped me with my work.

And at the time, I was friends with a colleague who was really good at facilitating strategic planning meetings and business planning meetings. And he said, “you know Sara, would it help you if I came and facilitated so that you could actually be part of the meeting and not have to do both facilitation and brainstorming or what have you?” And I said, “sure.”

Well, this man was brilliant because soon after I talked about what I was looking for the next year, what areas of my business did I want to grow? We drew a big pie circle on the whiteboard, and we put percentages of the areas I wanted my company to grow. And I was ready to talk about, “okay, what do I need to do in order to grow?” And he stopped me in my tracks. He said, “No, let’s first talk about what you need to stop doing in order to grow in these other arms of your business.” And that was the best thing he could have asked me.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Cool.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a wise tidbit there, with regard to making sure everything earns its place on the to-do list and doesn’t just sort of get there.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Just because for another person’s expectations or a habit or an old kind of a relic of previous times, which is maybe not as relevant to do now. And that there’s power in identifying what to stop doing. So, that’s well. So, that’s one example but what’s the overall message or thesis of the book Leadership Unchained?

Sara Canaday
So, the overall message is to try to keep pace with this always on, push harder, do more world by taking some counter intuitive approaches. Because what I’ve seen in working with the leaders over the years, whether that’s workshops or speaking to groups of leaders or even coaching them, is that the conventional methods—the things that we were taught to be true, whether from bosses or from reading books—that approach to work, and to leadership is not working anymore.

And that these leaders are not necessarily getting the traction that they used to get by doing more, by following these conventional practices. So, this book is really about the need to change and disrupt the way we work, think, and lead.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you perhaps share some of your favorite  evidence of studies or whatnot that shows that a particular conventional method or two, ain’t cutting the mustard the way it used to?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, sure. One of my favorites is this idea of big data, right? And that’s because it’s so relevant today. And so many people think it’s just such a sexy thing, right? Big Data. And I think what’s happened is, while it’s helped us tremendously and helped with medications, new medications or new protocols, I think there are ways that we have almost let data rule our decisions.

And we are driven by the data as opposed to just valuing it and putting it in its proper place. And my favorite study, or at least evidence of how this happens is a story that I read about and then I subsequently listened to a TED Talk by a woman who was a cultural ethnographer. And her name is Tricia Wang.
[11:55]

She told a fascinating story about how she was hired in 2009 by Nokia. And they hired her to find out about a particular consumer group and at this point, that was the Chinese population, and in particular, Chinese immigrants. And to study what their preferences were in terms of smartphones.

And like, what a cultural ethnographer does, she immersed herself in their culture. She spent, I think, up to a year working in the rice paddies, she went to the local internet cafes, and observed and talked to people within that culture.

And what she found was very stunning and that was that the need or the want more importantly for an iPhone and the desire to own an iPhone was so prevalent that these Chinese immigrants were willing to spend half of what they earned in a month just to have one.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s quite the discovery.

Sara Canaday
It was a huge discovery for her. And I’m summarizing this study but—

Pete Mockaitis
For quadruple the price, you could get away with it guys, take away all their worth.

Sara Canaday
Well, what’s interesting is at the time Nokia was building high-end, multifaceted smartphones, and what she wanted them to know and what she casme back to share with the executives about her study was that they should put some of their efforts behind building a lower-end smartphone. That that’s where the market was, and that they would benefit from doing so.

Now, sadly, her small data set was compared to an extremely large data set that was more hard data, right. And they really didn’t move in that direction because they thought that her data wasn’t sufficient enough, and that it wasn’t “hard enough”.

And they did not go in that route. And we all know what happened to Nokia. Right, so, that is one example and what she submits in her TED Talk, and in her research, is that we need to value the immeasurable or what I like to call soft intelligence as much as we do the hard data.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a cool story. I guess I’m not quite following how her big discovery was that their desire for iPhone is so powerful that they’d spend half their income and therefore the recommendation was “make lower-end phones”. I think I’m missing a connecting piece there.

Sara Canaday
Yes, well, I mean, so, she—

Pete Mockaitis
… spend big money, but they don’t try to get that money, I’m not following exactly.

Sara Canaday
They would do so, right. But she knew that if they would change their strategy to make lower-end phones that even more people would buy phones.

But she was not in any way saying that they should keep building the higher-end smartphones. Because remember, these people worked in rice paddy, so even half of what they earned wasn’t necessarily enough for the product that Nokia was building at the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there we go, right, that’s the missing link.

Sara Canaday
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought they were immigrants into the U.S.

Sara Canaday
No, and I should have correct that, they weren’t—I think I used the word immigrants. Migrants.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, okay, gotcha, gotcha.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, it’s sort of like, “hey, they’re willing to spend half their income but half their income isn’t cutting it—

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Therefore, if you have something at this price point—

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
… great shape because folks will spend half their income and get a great phone that has a lot of cool features but maybe not everything, and the kitchen sink, which would dwarf what they can do?

Sara Canaday
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s a discovery that you can make when you’re going deep into immersing yourself in a culture and an environment. But that you may very well miss if you’re just looking at sort of billions of scans of retail consumer electronic transactions and what those are telling you.

Sara Canaday
Right, right. And a lot of times what I see happen is that we love to survey our customers, for example. And when we survey our customers, we rarely do so by asking open ended questions. It’s usually some sort of a Likert scale, rank us as a company on a scale of one to 10.

And we take away from that how the customer evaluates us or our products or services. But what we miss is the nuances, we don’t know why they’re rating us the way their rating us. We may not know exactly how they interpreted the question. But we’re willing to come out and make decisions based on these numeric conclusions.

And so I’m just saying, we need to balance that by getting up behind our desk. And whether it’s with customers or with employees, we need to do our own field research, right? We need to maybe observe our employees or customers in their natural habitat, using our products or services or working in our environment.

We need to maybe solicit stories from those that are impacted by our services, by our products, by the way we operate as a company. We need to make sure that we’re including like I said earlier, the soft intelligence, the human factor.

We need to be asking, what might we be missing in this data? What conversations perhaps are we not having because we’re relying solely on this data? Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s the one you used for your profile and so that really gets me. I’m right with you there when it comes to, we drive these big old decisions from these Likert scales, these numerical things when in fact, maybe, whatever, just make up numbers, 90% of folks chose a six on your seven-point Likert scale. But those people didn’t quite know what you meant by this thing and they assumed meant that thing, and therefore the six, it means nothing.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they weren’t even on the same page that you had thought and hoped and assumed that they were on. So, I’m right with you. So, tell me, what are some of the pro tips for having the best of both worlds in your decision making and research?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think one of the things you can do is if you’re going to collect data, make sure that maybe you have a way to do both quantitative and qualitative gathering, right. So, if you’re going to do a customer survey, maybe you also bring in a customer subset to then talk to you about why they rated you in certain ways, or have a focus group around some of those same types of data sets, so that you can pick up all the nuances behind the ratings. I think those are really important.

Some companies will interview potential customers at the point of purchase, so they haven’t really purchased your products or somebody else’s. But you can maybe understand what they’re using in terms of comparisons, how they’re making their decisions between you and perhaps your competitors.

If we’re looking at employees, I know that an example that was used for years is this idea of exit interviews, right? And understanding why people are leaving your company to get better informed. But how about asking people what really drove you to make the decision to come with our company? What was it about that the way we engaged you with us through this process, helped you decide to come work for us? Those are the kinds of things where we’re asking things at a much more qualitative level and not just quantitative.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s right on. Okay, so, there we go. That’s one piece of conventional practice, like the numerical, quantitative big data rule all that can lead you astray.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
If you kind of overlook the other parts to the picture. Are there some other pieces of conventional leadership wisdom practice that can be potentially problematic, and that you would amend just as we’ve done here?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, the very first chapter I talk about one everybody can resonate with is this bias for action. And it’s something I prided myself on through my years in corporate, right. That I was the person that could get things done. It was somewhat …, but something I also trained myself to be very much about productivity and taking action.

And this is still a work in progress for me, but what I’ve seen is that that actual bias for action, that tendency to be always moving forward can actually get in the way, it can get in the way of innovation, it can get in the way of figuring out how to keep up with this just overwhelm of information, of being able to make good decisions in this instant response world.

So bringing this down to the individual, my discovery and my suggestion to leaders who are trying to keep pace, and for anybody who’s trying to keep pace, is that they consider making an unbreakable appointment with themselves, whether it’s daily or weekly.

And this is an appointment not—this isn’t mindfulness, this isn’t meditation, although I believe in those things. This is about just stepping back and looking at everything you’ve consumed that week, in meetings, what you’ve read, data reports, and letting that percolate.

So that you can really make meaning of what it is, you can separate the wheat from the chaff. And you can make connections where there seemingly may have not been connections before.

That is the sort of counterintuitive practice or zigging while everyone else is zagging. And in fact, what I always say is the willingness to sit still, while everyone else is in motion.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha, cool. Well, tell me Sara, any other key things you’d like to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear some of your favorite things?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think that the only other one that’s a again a work in progress for me, is this idea that I brought up right at the beginning, which is making sure that you put as much emphasis into what you’re not going to do, what you’re going to stop doing as much as what you’re going to start doing.

I think that’s an easy thing to do and I always encourage and challenge people that I’m working with or speaking with is to start your day tomorrow and instead of looking at your to do list, try and stop doing list. Just try it on for size, see how it feels.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it and as you in your own life and work with clients, what are some of the things that tend to appear most frequently on stop doing lists?

Sara Canaday
One of the first things that I see a lot is that I’m going to stop endlessly checking my emails, that always bubbles up, people admit that they don’t put their emails on— they don’t close out their emails. And that that’s an incessant checking of their phone, of their social media, that they’re literally going to close off and not be tethered to those things.

The other is they’re no longer going to value themselves based on somebody else’s expectations. They’re not going to let somebody else’s expectations or I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for but they’re going to start to sort of take charge of their own calendar, if you will.

And I know that that seems hard to do, right. We’ve got people who are relying on us and that have expectations but I think there are some things we can do to drive our own calendars instead of letting somebody else do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Well, now if you will share with us a favorite quote that you find inspiring

Sara Canaday
Well, I think it’s fitting with the topic today and it’s one that was shared by Warren Buffett in one of his speeches several years ago, and it’s quite brilliant, “the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken”. That is one of my favorite quotes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I believe he is correct. It’s really thought provoking.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It is like oh—

Sara Canaday
And he can’t take full credit for that. Apparently, he took part of a very similar quote from a gentleman named Samuel Johnson. He had read something very similar years ago, but he made it his own. Those are his words. Those are Warren Buffett’s words.

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

Sara Canaday
Well, again favorite study is one that is that I uncovered while writing this book. And it was from the Journal of Economic Psychology and it’s interesting. The researchers studied videotapes of goalkeepers and these were top Soccer League goalkeepers. And they analyzed 286 penalty kicks to determine the probability distribution of kick direction and then the responses they elicited.

In other words, what they discovered was that the optimal strategy for goalkeepers was to remain in the center of the net during a penalty kick, not moving to the left, not moving to the right. And by doing so, they had a 33% chance of blocking the ball.

But what they discovered is that these top goalkeepers only stayed in the center six percent of the time. And this study was exactly about our bias for action. And that is what was propelling them to move either to the right or to the left, the idea of doing nothing and standing still, even if they knew that it was going to increase their chances of blocking the goal didn’t work. Again, that bias took over.

Pete Mockaitis
That study is so fascinating because the notion is that you look like a moron.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like if the goal goes in, and you stayed in the middle and moved nowhere, then like the crowd is just like eats you alive, like, “look ….”.

Sara Canaday
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
… do your job”.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It doesn’t quite work to your back,  “it’s statistically optimal for me to stay …”. It’s hard to argue with screaming crowd but thank you.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Sara Canaday
This is so hard. There’re so many books that I like, I think one of the best books, it’s been years, but it’s The Big Leap. It’s by Guy Hendricks and it’s probably one that’s a cross between a business book and a personal growth book. And I think that’s why I liked it so much because I’ll either read business books or I’ll read for sure, pleasure and this one kind of had a mix of both. So, I really liked it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. And how about a favorite tool so that it helps you to be awesome at your job?

Sara Canaday
I got to say that this sounds so trite but LinkedIn. I think about what I do with that tool, like, every meeting I have, phone or in person, I can go in and I can read about that person, I can find things that we may have in common to talk about. I can appear more prepared, or in the know just by looking at some of their history or what it is they do, what their role is. So, it’s just a fascinating tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m a huge fan myself. I got the premium and I use it.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And … go reach out to Sara and myself on LinkedIn, listeners.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
For me the secret password is either a boy band lyric or, “hey Pete, I like the podcast”, just to help differentiate you from the inbound sales funnel lead …

Sara Canaday
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That I’ve been getting more and more of lately.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, …

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure LinkedIn is gonna find out how to crack down because they’re brilliant over there.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Anyway, yes LinkedIn is good. We are agreed on that point. And how about a favorite habit? Something that you do that helps you to be awesome?

Sara Canaday
Oh, you’re gonna laugh, when I read this favorite habit, I didn’t look at that it helps me to be awesome. Although I guess I could find a way to argue it. This is so silly but my favorite habit is that I make my bed right when I get up every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
May be a Navy SEAL guy, he’s all about that.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, the reason I like that habit is because I love getting into a completely freshly made bed. There’s nothing worse than getting into an unmade bed. And so, I refuse to do it. And so, I guess I could argue that it helps me get awesome sleep, which means I could be awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks they quoted back to you?

Sara Canaday
When it comes to mine is when I tell people to be a renegade in their ideas and their approaches, but not in their behavior.

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

Sara Canaday
I would point them to my website, Sara Canaday, or as you said, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook.

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

Sara Canaday
I’m a circle back to what I said earlier. Get out a piece of paper or your phone and jot down one thing starting tomorrow that you’re going to stop doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Sara, thanks for taking the time. This was a lot of fun.

Sara Canaday
Excellent. Glad to be here.

422: How to Make Decisions, Solve Problems, and Ask Questions Like a Leader with Carly Fiorina

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Carly Fiorina says: "An imperfect but timely decision is usually better than a perfect but too late decision."

Former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina, discusses how to solve problems, make decisions, and connect with other people like a leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why to choose a path instead of a plan
  2. Three steps for arriving at the wisest decision
  3. Key prompts to ensure you’ve considered all the angle

About Carly

Carly Fiorina is the former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a seasoned problem-solver. She started out as a secretary for a 9-person real-estate business and eventually became the first woman ever to lead a Fortune 50 company. Through Carly Fiorina Enterprises and the Unlocking Potential Foundation, Carly and her team strengthen problem-solving and leadership capacity across America. Carly is also a best-selling author. Her titles include Tough Choices and Rising to the Challenge. Her third book Find Your Way releases on April 9th. She and her husband, Frank, have been happily married for 33 years. They reside in northern Virginia near their daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Carly Fiorina Interview Transcript

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

Carly Fiorina
It’s great to be with you. Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I discovered that you’ve recently become a podcaster yourself and apparently the backstory involves bumping into an NBA star. Can you tell us the story and what’s going on over at your show called By Example?

Carly Fiorina
Well, yes, it’s funny. I was at a conference for social innovation in Chicago in the summer of 2017. One of the speakers was Baron Davis of NBA fame and UCLA fame. Now I have to immediately say, I’m not a big basketball expert, so, embarrassingly, I didn’t even know who Baron Davis was. But half my staff was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s Baron Davis.”

I listened to him speak and I was captivated by what he had to say. He listened to me speak and apparently liked what he heard. We bump into each other literally in the lobby of the Marriot on a break from this conference. We sit down and he says, “We should do a podcast together.” I said, “Oh Baron, that would be fantastic,” because he was talking a lot about leadership and I talk about leadership.

One thing led to another and Baron Davis was our inaugural guest on the By Example podcast and also brought to us an incredible additional leader named Dino Smiley. The By Example podcast was born in the head of Baron Davis in the lobby of the Chicago Marriott in July of 2017.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, I am in Chicago. I’ve been to the Marriott, so I can visualize the scene nicely. That’s cool. And you’re just still chugging along?

Carly Fiorina
Well, what I was hoping to achieve with By Example based on that preliminary conversation was an opportunity to highlight for people real leaders. The reason I love doing this, first of all, I get to talk with fascinating, wonderful people, but also because I think in this day and age we are so confused about what leadership is. We think it’s position and title and fame and celebrity and it’s none of those things.

Yet, we also need more leadership. I wanted to introduce to people not just what leadership is, but who leaders are. Some of them are very famous, like Baron Davis or Colin Powell and some of them people have never heard of like Dino Smiley and yet, famous or not, leadership is always about some fundamental common elements. That’s what we talk about on By Example.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. If leadership is not that, what would you say it is?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I would say that leadership is problem solving. Leadership is changing the order of things for the better, which is always necessary to actually solve a problem. Leadership is about unlocking potential in others in order to change the order of things for the better for the purpose of solving problems.

That requires many things that all of us are capable of executing against as human being. It requires courage and character and collaboration and imagination. Some people who have position and title, lead, many people with no position and title also lead, and too frequently, people with position and title are doing many things, but they’re not leading.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nice distinctions there. Thank you. Well, I think we could chew on that for a while, but I also want to make sure we talk about your book. Find Your Way, what’s the main message behind it?

Carly Fiorina
Well, the main message behind Find Your Way is that each of us, all of us, are capable of leadership, that finding your way in life is about solving problems that impact you and others that you collaborate with or that you care about.

And that each of us can find our purpose, each of us can practice and become adept at being courageous when we’re frightened to death, having character when it would be easier to do something that is not honest or has integrity, that we actually must collaborate with others in order to accomplish anything, and that seeing possibilities is an essential element in making things better.

That’s one huge message in Find Your Way that finding our way in life requires finding our way to leadership, not the position or the title, but the essence of leadership, which requires us to step up to the problems that surround us.

The other message is that too often people get waylaid because they invest so much in a specific plan or destination or job that they lose the path, they lose their way towards becoming a stronger, better, more effective problem solver and leader and happier on top of all of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, could you further distinguish for us the difference between a path and a plan? You say one of the dangers is if you get too invested in the plan, could you elaborate there?

Carly Fiorina
Yeah, so I had a plan. When I graduated from college, my plan was to go to law school, which I did. Surprisingly, to me perhaps, I quickly discovered that I absolutely hated law school. The plan that I had created for my life – which my parents approved of, everyone was excited about this plan – was making me miserable, so I quit. I was definitely off plan.

More than that, I didn’t have a plan. My degree was in medieval history and philosophy, so I didn’t have marketable skills other than I knew how to type and file and answer the phones because I had worked as a temporary secretary in offices while I was going to Stanford and getting my undergraduate degree. I went to work as a secretary in a nine-person real estate firm. Totally off plan.

However, I stayed on path, which was I’m going to do a good job, I’m going to ask a lot of questions, I’m going to collaborate with others, I’m not going to be afraid to try new things, and eventually that landed me in AT&T, a company with a million people. I had no plan there either. I didn’t have an ambition to become a CEO. I was just trying to do a good job, which to me meant solving problems in front of me, which requires collaboration with others.

Some people would look at my life and say, “Wow, she became a CEO and she ran for president. She must have had a plan.” The truth is I never had a plan, but I never deviated from the path.

That is how I have found my way. I hope to share some of that experience and encouragement with people in this book because I think we hear a lot of messages from our culture and our society that you’ve got to have a plan. Further, I think we hear a lot of messages from our culture and those around us that not only do you have to have a plan, but you have to have a plan that everybody approves of.

We spend a lot of time seeking approval. In my case, I went off plan and was highly disapproved of as a result and accomplished more than I ever thought possible. The book is filled with stories of other people who have done the same.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d love to hear about that sort of emotional process by which you kind of untether yourself from the need for this approval. It seems like – I’ve talked to some folks, it’s almost like they’ve never suffered from that. It’s like, “No, I’ve never cared what anybody wanted, needed, expected of me. I always did my own thing and it was just fine,” and others have struggled with it their whole lives, and others kind of had some epiphany or awakening moments to get liberated.

What do you recommend in terms of the practical tactical? If someone’s like, “I know the expectations of others has a real pull on me, I’d rather it didn’t. What do I do?”

Carly Fiorina
A couple things. First I’ll take it out of the emotional realm for a moment and put it into the practical realm. You have a wonderful podcast about how to be awesome at your job. The people who come to you for advice, while they may say they are untethered from people’s expectations for them, let me just say, all of us are susceptible to criticism.

It is, in fact, why problems fester. Problems fester, let’s just say at work, because the status quo has power. The way things are even if they’re unacceptable stays the way things are principally because when people try and change the way things are, criticism erupts, critics abound. “No, no, no, you can’t do that. No, no, no, we’ve already tried it. Who do you think you are that you can tackle this?”

The truth is all of us are susceptible to criticism and critique, especially if it comes from colleagues, even more if it comes from a boss. People can say we’re totally untethered, but, of course, none of us are.

If you want to solve a problem, if you want to solve a problem, which generally speaking is a requirement for being seen as awesome at your job or getting ahead in your job, you’ve got to bring value and that means solving problems, actually. You have to be willing to accept that challenging the status quo will cause people to criticize you, will cause people to say why they’re invested in the status quo.

I think it just starts with a fundamental recognition that to change the way things are, you have to challenge the way things are. To challenge the way things are, you have to be prepared to accept the criticism that comes with that challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to talk about what preparation looks like in practice. I guess part of it is that you’re expecting it, you’re not blindsided by it. It’s like, “Oops, where did that come from,” but you’re sort of thinking of, “Yes, to be expected. Here is that criticism I was counting on. It has arrived.” That’s part of it.

Do you have any other approaches in terms of perspectives or self-talk or how you deal with that? You’ve certainly had your share of criticism. Running for president will bring it out in droves. How do you process it and rise above it?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I would say at a very practical level, even going back to your previous question, I would say people ought to think about three things. The first is look around. The second is ask questions and the third is find allies. If I can expound just for a moment on each of them.

Look around, one of the stories that I tell in Find Your Way is something that I learned when I was 15. I happened to be living in Ghana, West Africa. I was driving around with some friends and there were these huge termite mounds everywhere I looked. I was asking about, “Wow, this is amazing. How do these termites build these things?” Bear with me, this is relevant. Don’t get nervous.

My friend said, “Well, termites, they follow the same path day after day. They move their dirt along the same path for their whole lives.” He said, “It’s funny, but people are a lot like termites.”

What happens to us, I think, is we get very consumed by the day-to-day. We put our heads down and we move our dirt and we do our work. Sometimes it’s really important to pick our heads up and look around. What else is going on around you? Who else is troubled by this same problem perhaps? Look around. See what’s going on around you. See who is going on around you. Don’t be a termite.

Step two, ask questions. Ask a lot of questions of a lot of people, maybe those people you discovered when you picked your head up and looked around. Because when you ask questions as opposed to maybe telling people the answer, which sometimes as bosses we feel like we have to tell people the answer, sometimes the most valuable thing you can do is ask a question instead and listen to someone else’s answer. You’re always going to learn things that you can use.

The final step, find allies. As you ask questions, as you look around you, you will find people with whom you can ally yourself, with whom you can collaborate, people who will step up and defend you when that criticism comes, perhaps protect you from some of that criticism and perhaps join with you so that the group of people who are focused on solving the problem actually is bigger and more powerful than the inevitable group of people who just want to sit around and criticize but actually doesn’t want anything to change.

Pete Mockaitis
And with those allies it’s sort of like – I felt it before in terms of just being able to reconnect from time to time with a group of like-minded folks. It’s like, “Ah.” It’s like refreshing. It’s like we can all say what we really think about this thing here and you’re rejuvenated and able to keep up the good fight afterwards.

Carly Fiorina
Yes, absolutely. And I would add there’s one caution to that. We are all most comfortable with people like ourselves. We are all most comfortable with people who think like we do. If taken to an extreme, what happens is we only talk to the people that we agree with. That’s a very dangerous place to be. You can see that happening in our culture. Everyone’s sort of devolving into tribes. It can happen in a work setting as well.

Finding allies doesn’t mean only talking to people who agree with us 100% of the time. Finding allies may mean I need to work with people who also think that this is a problem that we can solve but who maybe have a very different point of view than I do or an additional perspective to share with me about how to make progress.

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. Thank you. Well, so you talked a little bit about some of the expectations, the criticism, the fear side of things. I want to get your take on when it comes to actually solving the problems or using your brain to make some wise decisions with consistency, what are some of your real go-to principles or tactics or questions that you ask yourself to be making the wisest decision more often than not?

Carly Fiorina
It’s several steps. First is I gather as much information as I can. That means talking to a lot of people. It may mean, depending on the subject, depending on the problem, it may mean meeting a lot, it may mean both.

But gathering information, that’s another way of saying pick your head up and look around. Gather information, facts, perspective, data from a variety of points of view so that you have a full picture. You can’t wing it. Particularly if you’re tackling a tough problem, you can’t go into it thinking you already know the answer.

The second step then after that perspective gathering, information gathering, fact and data gathering, is reflection. Reflection for me is very important to take the time after you’ve asked all the questions, gathered all the data, to really take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned and what you’ve heard. As you know, thinking substantially is not easy. It takes time. You need to give yourself the time and space to have that kind of thought process.

Then the final thing I would say is I get pretty analytic about it. What I mean by that is I tend after that period of gathering information, perspectives and data, followed by real reflection and substantial thinking, then I tend to get pretty analytic and explicit. I write down here’s options, here’s the pros and the cons of those options. I find it very, very helpful to be as analytical as possible and as explicit as possible.

I would say I’ve done this with all kinds of decisions, not just big decisions like a merger or how to run for president, but decisions like the care and treatment for my cancer because I think it’s easy to get mushy in our thinking, in our decision making. The more careful, thoughtful, deliberate, and intentional we can be about our reflection in our decision making, in my experience, the more successful those decisions are.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get your take and some detail on the reflection step. Thinking substantially does require the time and the space. Some decisions are way bigger than others. But I’d love it if you could share, do you have any sort of rules of thumb with regard to how much thinking time, whether it’s in minutes or hours of quiet or sort of days upon which you can sit and wrestle with something that you try to allocate for yourself when making a decision?

Carly Fiorina
It’s such an interesting question. Well, the first thing I would say is honestly it does depend on the decision. There are some decisions that may require days, months of reflection. There are other decisions that require minutes or hours.

However, I would also add that finding the time for introspection and reflection is especially difficult now because everything in our culture, and technology in particular, drives us to hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up. In fact, we’ve all become accustomed, “Oh my gosh, I sent you a text. You didn’t answer me in the last five minutes.” “I send you an email. We need a decision right now, right now, right now.”

It is true that an imperfect but timely decision is usually better than a perfect but too late decision. This question of how much time is vital. However, in general, I would say hurry up and rush is always the wrong answer. The biggest step I think in finding the time is to give yourself permission to take the time. You don’t have to answer in the next 30 seconds. You don’t have to decide just because somebody else wants a decision from you.

People will have to find their way a little bit. I offer some practical suggestions, but the first and most important step is give yourself permission to take the time to find the time to reflect before you decide.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. When you talk about being analytic and explicit, you’ve written down the options and the pros and the cons, when you said analytic and I’m thinking about tech. I’m imagining sort of like spreadsheets or criteria or weightings of the criteria and scoring of things. Are there any tools along those lines that you invoke or is it pretty much simply, hey, write down the options and then the pros and cons?

Carly Fiorina
Well, of course, I don’t mean to suggest too number intensive when I say analytic. I use and highlight in the book something called the leadership framework, which is a tool  that I have used over and over and over and over to lay out all of the aspects and the facets of a problem so that I am not missing anything as I think about how to achieve goals. I’ve used it personally. I’ve used it professionally. The leadership framework is one such tool that I talk a great deal about in Find Your Way.

The other thing I would say is another analytic tool is to be explicit about what’s wrong with the current state, whatever it is. What’s wrong with it? Let’s write it down. Let’s get clear about it. This isn’t just for an individual to think about alone in their time of reflection. It also might be extremely useful as you are asking questions of others. Why is this a problem? What could we be doing differently? Then to be equally explicitly about the future state.

The leadership framework and current state, future state analysis are tools that I have used honestly all of my life in every setting. We talk about them in more detail in Find Your Way. But what I would say is don’t let the term analytic scare you. It isn’t necessarily all numbers. In fact, sometimes it isn’t numbers at all.

But it does help to explicitly explore all facets of the situation, which is why the framework helps. It’s also extremely helpful to get very clear about why do we have a problem and why is it a problem and what would we like to be different and better?

Pete Mockaitis
Within the leadership framework that helps you ensure that you’re not missing anything, could you give us a couple of the prompts that are often super helpful in surfacing something that might be missed?

Carly Fiorina
Yeah, so for example, the leadership framework starts with what’s the problem we’re trying to solve, what’s the goal we’re trying to achieve. I know that sounds so fundamental, but you would be surprised how often people get into a room and spend hours, months, years even and they’ve never come to an agreement on what the problem is or what the goal is. Our political process leaps to mind.

But the point is, people can talk past each other forever if they don’t start with “Do we actually agree on the problem? Do we agree on the goal?” That would be an important first prompt.

Another important prompt would be who has to do what, who actually has to do what to make progress? It’s something that sometimes people forget. I’ve been in many, many rooms where people will get all fired up. Let’s say they agree on the problem.

Let’s say people agree on the goal and everybody starts talking and getting excited, and to your earlier observation, like-minded people get together and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah we all know it has to get done.” Then they rush out of the room. Nowhere has there been an explicit conversation about okay, but who has to do what? Who’s going to do what? Are there people who are not in the room who are going to have to also sign up? That’s another prompt.

A third prompt might be, how are we going to know we’re making progress? How are we going to measure success? Is there anything that’s going to tell us we’re actually getting something done or are we just going to go back in and tell ourselves that we feel good about things? What are we going to measure? How are people going to behave? Those are some prompts around the leadership framework.

What is the problem? What is the goal really? Who’s going to have to do what really? How are we going to measure whether we’re actually making any progress really? How do we have to behave with one another and with others to continue to make progress really?

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. I get a kick out of the reallys because they really can spark another important thing when you kind of push beyond sort of the quick answer that satisfies, check the box of there’s been a response to this question, but truly addressing the root of it. I dig that.

Carly Fiorina
The other thing you know people do confuse activity for accomplishment. I think our technology encourages that actually. “Oh my God, I answered 150 emails.” Well, that may not necessarily be accomplishment, although it’s a whole bunch of activity.

One of the reasons to ask the question about really is to help ourselves distinguish between “Am I busy and active or am I actually accomplishing something, having an impact, making a difference, achieving progress?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to hear a little bit in terms of your rapid career rise. You mentioned that you stuck to the path of trying to solve the problem that was in front of you.

But I’d also love to hear if you had any sort of secret weapons or tactics or approaches that you applied day after day that really can get a lot of credit for how you managed to become the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company. That’s pretty special. What do you think you were doing differently than many of your peers and colleagues?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I think it comes back to those three things that I said. Looking around. I always look around and see what’s going on, hear what’s going on. It’s so easy to get in a rut. Jobs are pressure-filled. None of us have enough time. We’re all more comfortable with people like ourselves. The discipline, the habit of looking around and seeing what’s going on I think has been hugely important for me.

Asking questions, asking questions. I’ve asked a million questions. I always learn something. Sometimes I learn a lot about myself by asking questions, but I always learn about the situation around me, the people around me. And what I learn helps me make further progress.

The third, finding allies. I try always to build relationships, not break them. I try to always see the good in people, not the bad. Sometimes that’s hard.

I tell the story in the book about my first business meeting with a client was in a strip club. The gentleman who created that situation did not wish me well. It’s why he created a very difficult situation for me. And yet, I came to understand, tried to understand his point of view. Why was he doing that to me? We ultimately became very strong colleagues and allies.

Finding allies takes work. It doesn’t always mean people that are naturally friendly to you or that naturally like you or that naturally agree with you. I always found allies and tried to see the best in people and to leverage the relationships that I built for a common purpose that we all could agree on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Tell me, Carly, is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I think we’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve tried to distill all of those life’s lessons into the books, but certainly you’ve asked really penetrating questions. I’ve so enjoyed the conversation thus far.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Me too. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Carly Fiorina
If I have to pick one, I would pick the one I heard from my mother when I was eight years old, which is “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.” Because, for me, when I first heard that and every time I remind myself of it, it says every one of us is gifted and filled with potential. I believe that based on experience.

It also reminds us that as we are each filled with potential, not all of us get the opportunity or the chance or take the risk to fulfill our potential.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Could you share with us a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Carly Fiorina
I was in church the other day and I will not get this exactly right because the pastor brought forward this piece of research. But it was research about the power of self-talk, you used that phrase earlier, the power of self-talk among professional athletes, the power of self-talk among children.

But what the research essentially said, and again, I won’t get the citation exactly right – kudos to the pastor – but what the research says is that whether we’re 4 or 40, that we each have a tremendous ability to either help ourselves fulfill our potential or, conversely,  talk ourselves below our potential.

We have a tremendous ability to help ourselves become better problem solvers, more awesome at work, better collaborators, better leaders and we also have the power to do the opposite for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Carly Fiorina
I read so much that it depends on what I’ve just read. But one of the books I’ve just incredibly enjoyed recently is actually a science book. But it is called The Fabric of the Cosmos. It’s by a physicist named Brian Greene.

It’s heavy going in some part, but to me it was an incredibly fascinating and inspiring read because not only did I learn a lot about the fabric of the cosmos, but what was most interesting to me was the collaboration of scientists, in this case physicists, over centuries, the importance of courage and taking risks for science as well as problem solving, and the incredible collaboration that’s required.

Einstein is lauded as a singular genius, but in fact, Einstein had to be inspired by many others, he had to build on the work of many others, and he had to collaborate with many others. Believe it or not, The Fabric of the Cosmos to me was not only a fascinating look at physics, but it was also a reminder of all the fundamentals of problem solving and leadership that we’ve been talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences or readers?

Carly Fiorina
It’s interesting. I think stories always connect with people. I try to talk in stories. Stories, my own story. I think one of the things that connects, whether it’s in my own story or in the story of a woman I met on the rooftop in the slums of New Delhi, who was living in desperate circumstances and no one’s ever heard of, but wow, she was one of the most amazing leaders I have ever witnessed.

I think the aspect of any one of those stories that connects is no one’s life is a smooth trajectory. No one’s life follows a smooth plan. Most people fall off the plan for whatever reason. Most people get thrown off their trajectory. Every life is filled with set back and difficulty, even the lives that look perfect from afar.

It is, I think, relieving to people to know that you can indeed find your way through all of the thicket of issues that each of us encounter in life and that life is not one smooth ascent. It never is.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d like to issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Carly Fiorina
Yes. If you’re seeking to be awesome at your job, find people around you that you think are awesome. Don’t get too hung up on how awesome you are yourself. Look for other awesome people and try and leverage what makes them awesome. In the process, I think you’ll become more awesome yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, Carly, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck with the book and the podcast and all your adventures.

Carly Fiorina
Well, thank you. And the same to you.