Tag

KF #19. Cultivates Innovation Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

566: How to Start Focusing and Stop Firefighting with Mike Michalowicz

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Mike Michalowicz shares how to zero in on the most important issues to fix next.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to identify what you need to fix next.
  2. A crucial question you’re forgetting to ask.
  3. The tremendous energy unleashed by providing context for goals.

About Mike

Mike Michalowicz is the entrepreneur behind three multimillion dollar companies and is the author of Profit First, Clockwork, The Pumpkin Plan, and his newest book, Fix This Next: Make the Vital Change That Will Level Up Your Business. Mike is a former small business columnist for The Wall Street Journal and regularly travels the globe as an entrepreneurial advocate.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Magic Spoon. Enjoy free shipping on delicious, healthy, high-protein cereal that reminds you of childhood. Free shipping on the variety pack at magicspoon.com/HTBA

Mike Michalowicz Interview Transcript

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

Mike Michalowicz
Pete, it’s my joy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, I’m excited. I’ve really enjoyed your audiobooks, and you’re kind of a goofball which I am too, so I think feel free to cut loose here. It’s interesting. We had another guest, Simon Sinek, who dubs you as a top contender for the patron saint of entrepreneurs, which is high praise.

Mike Michalowicz
Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m familiar with some stories of saints, and often they include heroically facing adversity. And one of my favorite stories from you involves a tough night at dinner, and some people coming to your aid. Can you share that with us to frame up what you’re all about?

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah, yeah. So, I started my entrepreneurial journey very early in life right after college and had a couple of early wins under my belt. I sold my first tech company. I was in computer technology. My first tech company was a private equity exit. My second company was a Fortune 500 acquired us, and I’m like, “I am hot shit. I know everything,” which, by the way, seems like to be the impetus or the start of a downfall for many a person when we believe we know all. And I was just full of arrogance and ignorance.

Well, I started a third business that I leave off my CV conveniently as an angel investor, and I sucked at it. I had no idea what I was doing. I thought, “Hey, I’m so smart I know everything about business. As long as I’m here, we’re making money.” I started 10 companies, and within a mere six months, all of them were out of business. I was paying bills for businesses that didn’t even exist anymore and, also, just blew money on just arrogance.

The big house, I got a place in Hawaii for our sabbatical, our family sabbatical. I just blew money on cars and all stuff. And it took me two years, I got a call from my accountant, he says, “Mike, you hit rock bottom. I think you should declare personal bankruptcy,” something actually I didn’t do. I thought I was responsible. But, as a consequence, I had to lose my possessions. We lost our house 30 days later, cars, everything.

I came home the night I heard this from my accountant, and had to face my family because I hadn’t been telling them the truth of the struggles. I really did think, you know, I had a bank account that was dwindling at an exponential rate, somehow, someone would come in and save the day and acquire this mess I had created, but nothing happened. And I came home to my family and told them, “We’re done. We lost it all.” And I was sobbing. I was just devastated. And I had to face my wife, and say, “I’m sorry. We’re losing the house, and we’re losing our cars, and we’re losing our possessions.”

My daughter was nine years old at the time, and she’s sitting there, and I said, “I’m so sorry but I can’t afford for you to go to horseback riding lessons.” That was like 25 bucks for a group session. And she stood up and just ran away. Everyone was crying. And she ran away. I thought she was running away from me. She ran away to her bedroom to grab her piggybank, and she ran back down to me as fast as she could, and she says, “Daddy, since you can’t provide for us, please use my money to support us.” I think I’m getting chills just thinking about it.

I’ve said that story so many times it’s still as devastating. I was so ashamed of who I was, and the arrogance, and the ignorance. And then I forced my daughter, my nine-year old daughter, to save me? Well, that triggered years of struggle for me to reconcile that. I actually went through a depression, I drank, and ultimately discovered that that moment actually has become a source of light, a seedling for me, to realize I didn’t know much about entrepreneurship, that I had to fix these things. And that became a spark for being an author.

I write my business books to solve problems not only for others but for my own problems, my own misunderstandings around business, and simplify the journey and, hopefully, prevent others from experiencing the fallacies and the arrogance and ignorance that I did.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is powerful, and thank you for sharing that again with our audience here.

Mike Michalowicz
My joy.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you are renowned as an author for entrepreneurs and small business owners. And in chatting with your publicity folks, I was like, “Well, I love Mike’s flavor, but we’ve got a little bit of a different audience here, which is more so professionals, kind of in the middle of the hierarchy as opposed to the owners.” But there’s a lot of great sort of tools and frameworks and approaches that are totally applicable in your next opus here, “Fix This Next.” So, can you orient us a little bit in terms of what’s the book about and why is it helpful?

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah. So, what I did is I wanted to figure out, “Is there a common DNA or structure for businesses?” And I’m convinced I found it. And it’s something that we all can use regardless of our title or role. We all have a responsibility for the health of the business because collectively it moves us altogether. So, what I did was I wanted to see if there’s a common DNA.

And I, first, started looking at humanity ourselves – me, you, everyone listening in. If you look at the essence of who we are, we’re identical. If you peel back the stuff we judge, the skin, the height, male, female, and we look at the essence of it, the makeup is basically the same. If I was having a heart attack, the doctor wouldn’t say to me, “Where’s your heart? Do you keep it in your foot? Is it in your ear?” No. The heart is in the same place for all humanity, so they know how to operate on us.

Well, the same is true for business. If we peel back the skin of the business, a manufacturer versus a professional services company, or vice versa, we will find there’s a common structure, that’s what I call the business hierarchy of needs. The business hierarchy of needs, I translated from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which defines human needs.

So, this is a quick session on Maslow. Maslow studied human needs and discovered and argues that all of us have base physiological needs. We need to breathe water, I’m sorry, breathe water. Breathe air, drink water, eat food. And if those needs aren’t being satisfied, then we can’t survive. But once they’re satisfied, we go to the next level which is safety needs. We need protection from the elements or harm. Once that’s satisfied, we move onto the longing, the need for relationships, and so forth. And we keep on climbing up ultimately to self-actualization.

But, if at any time, a base-level need is not satisfied, let’s say you and I are having this conversation, we consider it intellectual conversation, we consider it as part of self-actualization, if I start choking on the food I’m eating, well, all of a sudden, my Maslow hierarchy brings me right down to the physiological need of getting that out of my throat.

Well, our business has a hierarchy of needs too. Real quickly, they are sales, that’s the foundation, that’s the creation of oxygen for business; profit, the creation of stability for an organization, without it a business can’t sustain; order, the creation of efficiency, consistency; then there’s impact, which is the creation of transformation, it’s where we have service to our clients beyond the transaction, beyond the commodity; and the highest level is legacy, the creation of permanence, where there’s no dependency on the people that are running the operation, the company is designed for its continued service, and others can come and go, but the business lives on permanently.

The difference between Maslow’s hierarchy and the business hierarchy, while they’re very similar, is one great distinction. Maslow talked about human needs and how we are biologically, neurologically wired into our needs. If you and I, Pete, are walking down a dark alley, and we get the creeps, like someone is going to kill us, what will we do? We will, hopefully, turn around and walk out. And we should because our senses – sight, smell, touch – those senses are triggering, “There’s danger here.”

But the thing is we, as business professionals, are not neurologically wired into our business. We say we trust our gut. I think this is what we got to do. I can feel it. But, really, we need the empirical data to evaluate exactly what the true needs in our business, focus on that, resolve that, and then move onto the next need, resolve that, and so forth, and continue to progress forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so then, let’s talk about the particulars for how that really can be transformational for folks. I’d love to hear some tales about some professionals, some organizations, who applied some of this rigor to great effect.

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah. So, I’ll share a coffee shop that does this, and the team rallied around it with what’s going on. As we’re recording this, with the economic crisis, COVID, this company is responding. And let’s evaluate the business hierarchy needs just a little bit further. So, the business hierarchy needs, the five levels, the foundational need is sales. Now, again, the sales is the creation of cash. If your product, your service, your company, your division does not have consistent sales, is not bringing oxygen into that division, so we need to address that first.

And you address it to the adequate levels of supporting profit. That’s actually the simplest base question, “Do I have enough sales to support profitability? If I don’t, we have a sales issue. If we do have sales so we have profit, but we’re not profitable, we actually have a profit issue. Do we have enough margin? Are we controlling the debt we have, and so forth?” Once profit is addressed, we ask ourselves, “Is it adequate to support the layer above it, which is order, efficiency?”

Now, one argument I want to make here is that we’re not ignoring efficiency. You have to have some order and efficiencies in our sales process when we’re doing that. You have to have some system for profitability. I’m just saying this one becomes your concentrated effort. You don’t ignore sales when you’re working on order. You continue it but they must work in relation.

When you get to the order level, this is where it becomes our concentration to resolve efficiency. Now, actually, let me start off with this story because I think it’s the best. This is Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, it’s in the SEC conference. I mean, talking about an organization, thousands and thousands, actually, I think tens of thousands of employees, a massive organization. They implemented the business hierarchy of needs in their own form. They did this before I wrote the book, but they’re far in this process inherently.

And what they noticed back in, I believe, it was the early 2000s, that the school had noticeably less applicants than any of the other SEC schools. So, the first thing we do is, when we have a problem, we ask ourselves, “Where does this reside in this hierarchy?” Well, application is as similar as prospects. They have less prospects, and that’s a sales-level need. So, the company identified, “Okay, we have a need in the sales level, the most foundational level of the business hierarchy.”

Then they asked, “What’s the triggers behind it?” And they went through a process called OMEN. I write about it in the “Fix This Next” book, but OMEN stands for Objective, Measurement, Evaluation frequency, Nurture. It simply means identify what the problem is, measure the process, regularly revisit it, and tweak and change things as we move along, nurture.

They identified this challenge of not getting enough prospects, and they start interviewing prospects of why they aren’t signing up. And they find that the primary reason is the campus ain’t so pretty. One of the biggest determining factors of a student picking a college happens within the first five minutes of visiting a campus. It’s their first impression. And back then, Ole Miss didn’t have such a pretty campus. So, they realized, “We have an issue.”

They then went to their frontline, the people that beautify the campus, the landscape maintenance team, and they said, “We need a more attractive campus. What do we need to do?” Well, interesting, and this happens sometimes in the business hierarchy that needs get interlinked. And the maintenance team said, “Well, we want to do beautification projects. We don’t have enough time.” Now, their campus is a thousand plus acres, that’s a lot of acreage to maintain, and they only have a crew of a certain size, and so Ole Miss was forced upon a decision, “Do we double or triple our team, or do we enable our team to find alternative solutions?”

Well, it wasn’t in their budget to triple the maintenance team so the team had to figure it out. And one thing they noticed is the biggest time-consuming element, now this is an efficiency thing, an order level, one of the challenges at the order level was how long it took to mow or maintain the properties. When they were mowing, the fastest way to mow a property is to go in a straight line. But when they were coming upon trees, they had to navigate around the low-hanging limbs. When they got to a mulch pattern, that was in a square, they had to kind of jostle around that pattern. And when a garbage can was in the grass, they had to kind of go around and get out with the weed whacker.

So, the team said, “If we want to increase efficiency here, cut the limbs off the tree so we can go right under them, 10 feet high,” which, by the way, is a great way to beautify trees, they raised the limbs. They said, “Change the square patterns and angular patterns of mulch always to an oval so we can do sweeping motions right around it and continue on.” They made decisions to increase efficiency which allowed them now to maintain the property in half the time, freeing up the other half of their time to work on beautification of the campus.

Well, fast-forward only a mere few years, Ole Miss became the most beautiful campus. It has the reputation for the most beautiful campus in the SEC conference, perhaps in all of the nation, one of the top-rated campuses on attraction, on its beauty. And you won’t be surprised, they had an exponential increase in their prospects, their applications. So, that’s an example where leadership identified, “We have a problem.” But instead of just saying, “We got to fix the way this place looks,” they looked at the hierarchy, and said, “This is a sales issue. Where do prospects first enter the campus?” That was their first beautification project was near the administration building where students will come in, the students center, and so forth.

They spoke with the frontline, the people that are closest to the problem, and got their direction. And in this case, they killed two birds with one stone. They brought efficiency to their organization at the order level while addressing a sales issue. So, that’s an example of how this business hierarchy of needs is a great way to diagnose and pinpoint what we need to work on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is awesome. And, boy, way back in the day, we interviewed Jeff McManus, who leads up the team.

Mike Michalowicz
Oh, yeah, Jeff is the leader of that team. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, yeah, he shared some more elements to the story, so that was fun. Well, so then, I imagine then in a business or an organization, you’re going to come up with dozens or hundreds of problems or opportunities, as my favorite reference, that you’d notice that could benefit from some attention. So, if you’re thinking about the hierarchy of needs, how do you determine who wins? I mean, do the sales issues always win because they’re at the base of the needs? Or, how do we kind of navigate and triage that?

Mike Michalowicz
Great question. As opportunities or challenges present themselves, you always address the base level first because if the base is compromised, the entire foundation of the structure is. I set a reference to that coffee shop so let me explain how they did this. This coffee shop was growing, and multiple team members, they built a second location, they then opened a roastery facility where they’re preparing coffee. And what they noticed is they’ve been in business for 13 years, and rapidly growing coffee companies. It’s called Cottonwood Coffee, by the way, in South Dakota.

And the leader of that organization, his name is Jacob, noticed that when he looked at the business hierarchy of needs, that they had some sales issues and prospect attractions and so forth. But, also, said, “We’ve been in business for 13 years. We’re one of the most established providers in this area. We’re beyond sales issues. We’re really about impact and legacy of being of service to our community.” And he tried to continue the focus there but the business kept on kind of getting stalled in its growth. Well, finally, he said, “You know what, maybe it is a sales issue.” And he went back to the community they were serving and how they were serving them. And by getting back to the base, all of a sudden, that opened up sales and it allowed them to build up the rest of the structure.

Picture this like building an actual structure building that has five levels. If you want to build a tall building with a big top and you want to have a huge impact, you can’t have a little needlepoint structure below it. It’ll collapse on that. It won’t be strong enough It’s like a pyramid. You must have a foundation that’s adequate and substantial to support the level above it. And that level must be adequate to support the next. If, at any time, we want to grow up stronger at a higher level, we need to make sure the foundation is appropriate to support it. So, this is not a ladder. You don’t just climb up and aspire to be at the top. You cycle through, constantly strengthening the base and the lower levels to support the higher levels.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m hearing that. I guess I’m just imagining an organization in which it’s sort of like, “Okay, we got 60 problems/opportunities. They’re sprinkled across all of these dimensions, and some of them fall into sales.” So, I think it’s a good argument that you got to handle that before to really kind of flourish and have that foundation. I guess I’m thinking, in a way, you know, hey, sales, everything could always be better. So, how do you go about maybe doing the data collection or the benchmarking to say, “Oh, I thought our sales were fine. Oh, but maybe they’re not. I thought our profits were fine. Oh, but maybe they’re not”? Because I think they could always be better. So, what do you think of that?

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah, everything could always be better, but it can only be better in relation. So, the simple question, and there is no specific number I can share, but what I can say is that, “Is the base adequate to support enough and substantial elements to the next level? Is sales strong enough to support our target and goal and profit?” And a lot of this is just communication.

I’m surprised at how many divisions. We have some public companies that implemented the business hierarchy of needs, and these divisions are taking on without consideration of the overall business hierarchy of needs. So, there’s a greater business hierarchy, and then within each division becomes its own little hierarchy so we got to work in relation to that. So, what’s the major corporate goal and need specifically?

Then we look back and we say, “In our division or in our field of responsibility, do I have adequate sales to support the profit expectation for me? And if so, then I actually have a profit issue if profit isn’t there. It’s not a sales issue.” Sadly, I see businesses go, “You know, we just need to sell more. We’re going to sell our way out of this.” It’s the most common thing I see from business leaders, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes because sales do not translate to profit. I see businesses sell unprofitable items. And while their sales dollars go up, the profit margins are getting thinner and thinner, and the business is actually struggling more. So, it’s all in relation.

We need clarity from the next one who we’re connected to, the next leader that we’re working with, and, “What are the proper expectations to drive your needs? What are the sales expectations? What degree of efficiency? How many resources can we use to get this stuff done? And what are the turnaround times?” Those are questions we have to have clarity on. In that way, we’re speaking up the chain all the way to the leader or leaders of our organization to understand the needs and they drive them back down. So, it works in relation and it works through communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it sounds like there’s expectation setting and communicating that’s going forward.

Mike Michalowicz
Oh, yeah, of course, right? It’s funny, I say of course and yet it doesn’t happen. I’m shocked at how many businesses have arbitrary goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s what I’m getting at is the arbitrariness. Like, how do we un-arbitrary them and make them based on something real?

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah. And the similar question is, “Why and how is this serviced?” I worked for a Fortune 500 after they got acquired, and I was blown away by the lack of communication at least around goal-setting. There’s a lot of communication around red tape but there was not a lot of communication around goal-setting. And so, when I was told, “Hey, Mike, your department has to do X.” I said, “Why?” And they’re like, “Because that’s what we told you.” I’m like, “But what’s the reasoning behind it?” And that started an understanding of the importance of how it serves the company in a greater whole.

Now, in context, it actually empowered me in that division. I only worked there for a year before I went back out and started my own business, but then it gave me context of why I need to achieve, what I need to achieve. That’s a very empowering thing, so get the context.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that so much because when you ask why, they’re like, “What?” It’s like, “No one’s ever really asked me that before, Mike. I just got accustomed to telling people what they need to do, and then they try to do it.”

Mike Michalowicz
They just do it. Yeah, it was shocking. And part of it, too, I think was just history, “That’s what we always do. We just pick 10% higher.” “Well, why not pick 50% higher?” “Well, because we never do that.” So, that context. And it isn’t to be challenging in the confrontational sense. It’s we’re challenging in seeking clarity. And just because, in that case, the leader of our department wasn’t telling me that, didn’t mean it was right to ignore that, that I had a responsibility to step up and ask, which made us both better leaders, I think, as a result.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. So, then let’s zoom into the professional who’s somewhere in the middle of things, and they then communicated a target, “We need to reduce the manufacturing waste rate by 10% or the conversion rate of clients needs to be increased by 10%,” it’s like something. And maybe have a good conversation about, “Well, why?” “Oh, I see how that makes sense, interrelates and fits with the other dimensions.” How do you go about making that happen in terms of determining what to fix next within a narrower scope of your responsibilities?

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah, so this is where we present the hierarchy of needs. So, you talked about conversion, you talked about manufacturing, the factor of efficiency.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so two separate kinds of…

Mike Michalowicz
Two separate things. One was an order level; one was a sales level. So, what we do is we go back to our department leads and say, “Listen, I’ve been given direction in this hierarchy, and there’s two different demands.” The default is we always go to the base. But do we understand, is that a necessity? Because the leader can be giving you arbitrary goals. Do we have adequate sales to, first, drive that efficiency and will have a greater impact on our business? Or do need the sales in place first in order to make the investment in building the efficiency? So, we have to figure out the sequence.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like, you might be too small to make investing in the super cool technology or robot, but what?

Mike Michalowicz
Oh, my God. I see companies that have so much potential efficiency but so low flow because it becomes actually less efficient. I worked with a major playset manufacturer, one of the bigger ones there, over $100 million in revenue, and what’s so fascinating is they had this massive equipment, and the complexity in setting it up was so time-consuming. Now, they had the demand. Once that system was set, it was just ring out process to process, so the gain was in more volume. But if they just placed one playset through that, the 16 hours of setting up, someone could hand-paint three playsets on their own. It’d be faster, actually, to do hand painting. So, this stuff always works in relation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great perspective there. Okay. Well, then I’d love to hear, in terms of sort of what’s the alternative, like if we’re not thinking in this way, I guess it’s not arbitrary and you’re not motivated and inspired because you’re not connected to the why. You could misallocate your resources and attention on things that don’t really matter. Could you sort of share with us kind of what does life look like when you’re doing this versus not doing this? And what are some of the best and worst practices to making sure you’re doing this well?

Mike Michalowicz
So, with the business hierarchy of needs and the fix this next process, the first thing we always talk about is what’s called lifestyle congruence. It is the base of motivation, “How does this serve you? If you do something, how does it serve you?” And this is how all humanity is wired. So, there’s more than just the organizational needs. It’s how the organizational needs translate to the service of you? Does it give you an opportunity to climb the corporate ladder? Does it give you actually more time, more free time? What objectives are you serving on your own? So, it’s that interpersonal relationship.

Without the hierarchy of needs, without the understanding, I’ve seen business professionals get into a very much an action-reaction mode, meaning there’s some trigger, a request, a demand, that incessant string of email coming in, and we just put out fire after fire after fire. Something comes in, we react to it, but there’s no contemplation.

So, the business hierarchy of needs, the differentiator is an action, a trigger that happens, but now there’s contemplation between the action-reaction. There’s an intentional pregnant pause to say, “How is this of service to the organization? How is this congruent with what I’m trying to set as my own objectives?” And now we move much more deliberately.

The business hierarchy of needs helps us focus on the next impactful thing to do. Without it, people focus on the next apparent thing, and there’s a constant stream of apparent issues and so it becomes a randomization. Those divisions, those leaders often make a few steps forward, and a few steps back, and a few steps forward. The ones who are deliberately identifying the most impactful thing and act on it are much more effective in moving forward consistently, and growing to their objectives.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Well, can you walk us through maybe a couple more examples of there’s someone, and they are…we got a set of responsibilities for a division, and then they are doing some real smart prioritization of fixing the right thing next.

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah, so I was working with a corporation which I want to leave nameless, but since the COVID incident, they’ve lost a massive volume of customers. Actually, the experience, it’s more massive churn. They’re losing customers but they’re gaining. And I may or may not have said to the board of this company, maybe I just gave it away there, I said to the board of this company, and we had an impromptu discussion. The company was working on the impact level.

Now, by all means, you don’t ignore sales. They had sustainable sales and it continues to grow on its own but where the concentrated effort need to be was on impact of being great and great service. All of a sudden, with this shift and this drop in clients, because these clients were not business or a B2B business, and these other clients coming in, now all attention went to sales. The leadership team redirected their focus and said, “How do we cater to this new market? How do we serve these customers that are leaving us almost at a whim because of fear? How do we protect them and retain the core function?” They provided very necessary function for these businesses. Without them, they may go out of business. You need this function. And then, “How do we re-address it?”

So, very quickly on the dime, they saw an issue present itself just when this case broke, or they noticed the metrics, the empirical data of a drop of customers, and all leadership looked there and said, “We will achieve legacy and impact. We have been satisfying that but, for now, we can’t stop building that third and fourth floor of the building. We got to get back in the basement because we have a crack in the foundation,” and leadership went down there, they responded very rapidly as a result. And the story will reveal itself over the next months, perhaps a year or two ahead, but their quick response and deliberate response has put a tourniquet on potential massive loss if they just said, “You know what, we’re going to just continue to focus at this level and not redirect our attention.”

And I think they would’ve been made aware of it because they always looked at the business hierarchy of needs and are asking, “Where do we need our attention now?” They’re responding quicker than if they weren’t considering that hierarchy.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love it if you can give us, are there any sort of shortcuts or really kind of quick questions or indicators or acid tests that might make you say, “Aha! I have a hunch that I need to focus my energies over here.”

Mike Michalowicz
Yes. So, quick indicator is if you’re taking on debt, if you have increasing demand on budgets, and you don’t have increasing sales, so if debt is increasing in excess of sales and profit, that’s a massive indicator that we actually have a profit issue, there’s a margin issue in the organization. One of the shortcut techniques that I love I see companies implementing right now is in repositioning. If an offering, if you are not buying an offering, to try to sell harder, particularly at the macroeconomics that’s occurring now, it’s not usually a right response. We’re using a technique called one step prior.

Here’s what it is. You look at your final offering. I’ll just use the restaurant because probably everyone on this call has experiences with a restaurant. When you go to a restaurant and you sit down, they deliver food to your table. That’s the end product. But if we look one step prior to that, well, what are they doing? They’re carrying the food to you, they’re delivering it. Well, that’s an offering in itself, the delivery of food, and some restaurants are responding that way. What happens one step prior to that? Well, there’s a preparation of food. A restaurant could make that an offering, make it a new product by recording the 10 most popular recipes and deliver that as a new product offering. What happens one step prior to that? Well, there’s the procurement of raw materials, the inventory, the meats and vegetables. Maybe they can sell that.

So, I see organizations reconsidering if they’re to stop in sales, or you some empirical data with a drop off, one option, too, is reconsider the packaging in the first place, and that’s a real simple shortcut to do that.

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

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah. So, the last thing I just want to mention is, well, there’s a resource for you, if I can share that, and there’s a process. So, I’ll do the process first, it’s called OMEN, it stands for Objective, Measurement, Evaluation frequency, and Nurture. Once we identify what to work on, you can use OMEN as a simple structure to measure and ensure the progress, the results you want.

Then there’s a resource that I’m encouraging people to use because it’s totally free and it’s a quick evaluation for your division, your business. It’s at FixThisNext.com. So, if you go to FixThisNext.com, you could go on a free evaluation. You can take a 5-minute, this is a series of questions, to really pinpoint what to work on next. And there’s no download. The results appear on the screen, and you can take action on it. So, it’s a good compass or guidance tool.

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

Mike Michalowicz
Oh, I have it above my desk at home, and I’m going to bring a big one and put it in our hallway here at our office, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” In my final assessment of business and life, the most successful people are the ones who are most joyous, it’s the ones who truly are simply themselves, and allow the business to be a platform to be more of themselves.

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

Mike Michalowicz
Right now, I’m studying quantum physics, and I’m studying this concept of [31:47] but basically that we’re in a box universe. Actually, that’s not even the right term but that all time has happened simultaneously. So, the past, the present, and the future has already all occurred. It’s all available. It’s time slicing effectively, and so it’s a mind wrap. I’ve been studying it intensely and really trying to wrap my head around it, and it’s changing our perspective of life itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Could you point us to a book, a resource, to get in that?

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah. Well, Stephen Hawking has some good resource around that. “Simple Answers to Big Questions” is a good starting point, and then the BBC has some really great basic teachings in some of these ethereal concepts.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book in general?

Mike Michalowicz
Well, I say current one, it’s appealing to me, it’s called “100 Days of Rejection” by Jia Jiang, I think, is his last name. And it’s just this guy who studied the power of intentionally being rejected. It’s really a cool concept.

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

Mike Michalowicz
A favorite tool? We use a tool called Voxer here in our office for rapid communication. It’s a really cool way to batch communication and keep a record of communication. I think, particularly, in the virtualization of business that’s really being enforced now, you have to, that we need a new way to have still a semi-tactile experience and engage, and this has superseded voicemail or email. It’s just a better form of communication for us called Voxer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think my friend Lisa who’s also on the podcast, Lisa Cummings, loves Voxer. And how about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome?

Mike Michalowicz
Well, every morning, I exercise. And after that, I do a singing bowl. It’s a bowl that you hit and you can rub a stick on it, and it rings. And I use that for meditation or prayer time. It’s just a great way for me to put thoughts out into our world and universe, and it’s a great way to sense relief too.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you move the bowl and do you say anything or just think or…?

Mike Michalowicz
No. So, a singing bowl, it’s like a bowl, like a cereal bowl made of metal. You tap a stick on it and it makes a chime sound. And then, as you move the stick around, the vibrations continue so the chime actually gets louder and louder, and you can make it softer, and there’s ways to change directions on the chime. And the visualization I use, is it puts out sound waves or vibrations into the world, and so as I have my thoughts, and I put thoughts out for the goodness of humanity, of people, health, I can see it visually going out. So, it’s kind of a cool visualization tool and an audio tool.

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

Mike Michalowicz
You know, one thing that’s been really powerful is “People speak the truth through their wallets, not their words.” And I’ve used that as an asset. It’s measure people by their action, particularly when we’re in a business. Are they willing to spend or not? Because if they’re saying, “We support this. We love it,” and they don’t spend, they don’t support it. They don’t love it.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve lived that a few times.

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah.

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

Mike Michalowicz
So, you can go to FixThisNext.com to do that evaluation. And if you want to learn more about my research of business and business operations, you can go to MikeMichalowicz.com. But here’s the deal, Pete, no one can spell Michalowicz so I have a shortcut. It’s Mike Motorbike, as in the motorcycle, it’s my nickname in high school, so I still own it. So, MikeMotorbike.com. And if you go there, all my research is available for free on blogs and podcasts. I also have my books there. I used to write for the Wall Street Journal, and it’s all for free at MikeMotorbike.com.

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

Mike Michalowicz
Yeah, listen, this is the time to step up. And the world kind of got punched all business leaders in the face right now, and it’s also asking you to turn up the heat because we need the economy to keep going. So, the call to action is really a call to arms. It’s time for us as business professionals to step up, step forward, and start kicking some ass.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Mike, thank you. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you all kinds of luck as you’re fixing things next.

Mike Michalowicz
Exactly. Thank you.

565: How to Get Out of a Rut and into Your Flow with Jonah Sachs

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Jonah Sachs says: "Stop thinking of yourself as an expert. Start thinking of yourself as an explorer."

Jonah Sachs discusses how a simple shift in the way we think helps us achieve more.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the experts are often the most unreliable
  2. How to make any task more exciting and engaging
  3. How to turn anxiety into fuel for creativity

About Jonah

Jonah Sachs is an author, speaker and viral marketing pioneer. Jonah helped to create some of the world’s first, and still most heralded, digital social change campaigns. As co-founder of Free Range Studios, his work on Amnesty International’s blood diamonds viral film was seen by 20 million people and was delivered to every member of congress, helping drive the passage of the Clean Diamond Act.

He later helped to create “The Story of Stuff,” which, viewed by over 60 million people, marked a turning point in the fight to educate the public about the environmental and social impact of consumer goods. Jonah’s work and opinions have been featured in The New York TimesThe Washington PostCNNFOX NewsSundance Film FestivalNPR. Sachs also pens a column for Fast Company, which named him one of today’s 50 most influential social innovators.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Pitney Bowes. Simplify your shipping while saving money. Get a free 30-day trial and 10-lb shipping scale at pb.com/AWESOME

Jonah Sachs Interview Transcript

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

Jonah Sachs
Hey, thanks for having me, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. And you’ve got an interesting turn of a phrase – unsafe thinking. What does this mean?

Jonah Sachs
It’s just the idea that if the world is changing around us, our careers are changing around us, business is changing, that what once was safe, relying on what we once knew, what we’ve always done, what’s worked for us so far, is actually incredibly dangerous, that if the world changes we need to change with it. And so, trying to help people get out of that sense that they need to seek safety and really jump in in a smart way to unsafe thinking, which is about kind of breaking all your own rules.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, so that’s a fun phrase there because unsafe, we think, “Hey, safety is important. We don’t want to do anything that’s not safe.” But here you are advocating, “Unsafe thinking is what’s up.”

Jonah Sachs
Yeah, definitely. I’ve just had my own personal experience of running a business for 15 years that eventually I did sell. But going through this process of being on the wild cutting edge of viral video in the early 2000s, and then getting into that place that so many businesses get once they reach a certain level of success that so many people get to, which is you’re just trying to recreate what you did before. But the internet changes so fast, and every industry changes so fast these days, that that falling back on what you know what you know is just deadly. And it became deadly for my business. And so, I kind of took this quest to learn how to break through and to teach myself new ways to think.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, can you share, specifically, you say it became deadly, how did that unfold?

Jonah Sachs
Yeah. So, I started this company called Free Range Studios when I was 22 years old with my best friend from high school, and we had no idea what we were doing basically. We were doing social change, advertising, and somebody once asked us, “Can you make an internet video?” We’d never seen an internet video before back in 2000 but we figured we’d give it a try. And I think that kind of beginner’s luck, that kind of just joy of doing what we love to do, really helped us break into an industry or start an industry in a way. We were getting 20, 40, 50 million views on some of these socially-conscious activism videos.

And then, as time went on, and we tried, more and more people were coming to us, saying, “Can you reproduce that video you make? Can you make me something like that?” We had 35 employees, we were trying to churn it out kind of like a factory. And what I was noticing first was, “Look, we need a lot more structure here. We need a lot more rules. We need a lot more ways of getting people to just do what we know works.” And the more rules I put in place and the more management consultants I worked with, the less fun everything became, and the less excitement there was in the work, and, frankly, the less creative the work was.

And I kept thinking, “All right. Well, how do I put better rules in place? Or how do I discipline people more to get them to just be creative?” And I realized at some moment when people started quitting, when I just looked at our work and I was like, “Yeah, this looks like the same stuff we were doing five years ago,” that all those rules and processes were actually getting in the way of creative breakthrough. And I didn’t know how to get out of it. It was actually a really difficult life moment for me. Really depressing and I doubted myself.

And so, I started reading neurobiology texts, social sciences, and asking how people that I really admired how they were able to break out of these ruts. And I found that almost everybody who was successful got to this point at some point, what makes them continue to be successful is they found a way to break out of it, and that’s what I was really after when I was doing the research for this book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, speaking of research, I’d love it if you could share some of the most hard-hitting studies and numbers associated with the benefits of stepping out and doing some more unsafe thinking.

Jonah Sachs
Yeah, certainly. So, one of my favorites is they did a bunch of research on expertise, and they did kind of a broad study of about 20,000 expert predictions, and they found that the most vaunted experts over 10 years in each of their fields in business, in politics, in invention in business, were worse than dart-throwing monkeys at predicting what was going to happen in the future. So, they were worse than random chance at making predictions. And how could that be?

Well, they went a level deeper and they found that the more you were quoted on TV, the more social currency you had, the more likely you were to actually be even more wrong than your average expert. So, experts tend to be less accurate in making predictions than someone who’s just a complete beginner in many fields when the world is changing quickly around them. Not only that, the worst thing you can do is believe yourself to be an expert.

Once you believe you’re an expert, then you get even more stupid. So, in a couple of controlled studies, they showed that people who first said that they knew a lot about financial terms, primed themselves to then say that they knew what the meaning of fake financial terms were. So, they would ask them a bunch of terms, and say, “Are you familiar with all these terms?” And some of them were completely fake. The people who claimed that they knew more were the ones who were fooling themselves into believing and too proud to say, “Oh, I’ve never heard of that.”

So, basically, as we gain expertise, we gain also the ability to have impact in our field, and so we start to move up this curve of impact and quality. But at a certain point, most people start to go back down. It’s kind of an inverted U. And you get to the top of that U the minute you believe that you’ve become an expert.

And so, what I learned from that is that you have to break out of that sense that you know what you’re doing. You have to break out of that sense of clinging to what you bring to the table, what maybe people are paying you for, they’re looking for expertise so they’re paying you to have the answers. Really, in a world that’s changing quickly, you have to have more questions. And so, I looked for research on how that actually works. How do you actually break yourself out of that expert’s trap? And there’s a couple of things that do that.

One is kind of humiliating yourself, getting used to the idea of acting and showing yourself to be a beginner and to be an explorer rather than an expert. I tell the story of a CEO of a 56,000-person company. The company was going kind of down the tube when he was brought in. He knew he didn’t have the answers for it. He brought together 5,000 of his employees in an arena, and this is in India where kind of CEOs are known to be sort of emperors in a way or thought to be. And instead of giving his presentation, he started doing this Bollywood dance.

And he was kind of a heavy middle-aged guy, he’s sweating profusely, he’s a terrible dancer, and the arena is kind of rocking it but no one is dancing with him, and by the end, everyone is kind of laughing and wondering what’s going on, and he kind of just sits down and he starts to give the presentation. And he basically said, from that moment, he was able to pull himself down off that pedestal. He was able to admit that he didn’t have all the answers. He was actually asked by the employees then to go give the same presentation to everyone in the company.

So, when you do whatever you have to, to break that sense that you stand above, you start to break that expert’s trap. Other things you can do is engaging in fields where you know nothing. We’re so specialized these days in our work, and we’re so desiring to kind of keep going where we know. If you break out and start to…I think singing lessons is something I’m terrible at, but I do it because I begin to get more creative by stepping into a field in which I have no expertise. People who live abroad for six months are shown to be more creative than people who haven’t had those experiences.

So, the whole take away from that piece of research, which I really love, was stop thinking of yourself as an expert. Start thinking of yourself as an explorer. And the weird thing about it is that when you do that, you will find that people who follow you will not have less confidence in you. There’s a lot of studies now that show that people prefer leaders who are humble and self-effacing to those who act like they have all the answers.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, there’s so much good stuff in there, and that really resonates in terms of like experts and predictions. Like, I can’t help but shake my head when I’m reading financial predictions stuff, it’s just like, “Well, you sound smart because you’re using all the words, and you have a theory, and it kind of adds up that, okay, that theory might indeed result in those financial results.” But, in practice, it’s like Back to the Future or something. It’s like if you could really predict like that, you would just be crazy rich and it’s unrealistic.

Jonah Sachs
That is true. That is true.

Pete Mockaitis
So, okay. Well, so then that’s really interesting.

Jonah Sachs
Those people wouldn’t have to be writing books.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Right.
Well, so that’s great in terms of, especially, when you think you’re the expert then you’re in even more trouble because you’re not, I guess, seeking the dis-confirmatory – is that a word? The evidence that goes against the expertise…

Jonah Sachs
Yup, dis-confirmatory. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
…that’s there.

Jonah Sachs
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then let’s get into it in terms of how should we go about building in the practices so we’re engaging in unsafe thinking and reaching wise decisions as frequently as possible?

Jonah Sachs
Yeah. Well, the book is a long, long exploration of how we do that with kind of six or seven main areas we can do it in. And I can jump to a couple more of the ways that we start actually stepping into those practices. Before we do, I do want to also say that we live in a world now where this has also become this sort of negative feeling about experts in certain realms where I’m not arguing for the idea that, for instance, in the middle of this COVID crisis we shouldn’t listen to what doctors and scientists have to say.

We still, of course, live in a world where gaining information, education, understanding your environment is incredibly important. It’s just that even those doctors and experts perform better when they don’t hold themselves up to have all the answers, when they’re constantly in that curious mode. So, I’m not saying, “Just go listen to your uncle about what to do to treat a pandemic,” but I am saying that the more humble you are as an expert, the more flexible you’re going to be out in your environment.

But, yeah, let’s look at a couple other things that we can do to be more creative and to be more flexible in our thinking. One thing that I found that was just incredibly fascinating and really helped me break out of a few of my traps was this idea of attuning the level of challenge that you have to the level of competency you have. And that’s so often what gets us stuck. When we reach an impasse, and we want to fall back on what we’ve always known, and we find it’s not working, that’s often because our skills are not perfectly tuned yet to the challenge that we’re taking on.

So, if you want to understand this, you look at kind of motivation, right? And there’s been a lot of work done on motivation, and you probably heard some of this stuff about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. They used to think that people were only motivated by rewards like getting raises, making more money, status, all that kind of stuff. But then about 20 years ago, they started to really realize that there’s more deep motivations that people carry with them, that when you actually give them rewards at times, they start to be less motivated.

There are some interesting studies that show that young children who are asked to do art projects are more creative when you don’t offer them candy for who’s going to make the best piece of art. So, that’s called intrinsic motivation. But we often run out of intrinsic motivation when the going gets tough, and that’s when we go back to our stereotypical thinking, and that’s when we begin to really fail.

So, where do you draw that motivation from? Well, usually we think of intrinsic motivation coming from things like, “Oh, I have a passion for the work that I’m doing,” or, “Oh, I’m an artist,” or, “I’m an inventor,” and yet we all have so many tasks we have to go through that are not necessarily intrinsically motivating. Any piece of building a career is going to be of varying degrees of excitement. We have to do them all well to make our careers work.

So, how do we keep that motivation and that creativity up? Well, that’s where this theory called flow theory really becomes important. This researcher named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, you’ll never be able to spell it, I had to train myself to say it, but he was a rock climber, and he began to ask himself this question, which was, “Why do I go out there, nearly break my bones, rip up my fingertips, kind of give up all my money in time so that I can try to get to the top of a mountain from which I’m just going to come right back down? Where’s the motivation coming from in that?”

And he began to form an early theory, which is now one of the best-tested creativity theories, which is that people, when given a challenge that’s just at the edge of their skills, will tune in and almost obsessively work on that problem. It’s why people play so many video games because the video game is always just a little bit better than you are, and it never gets too far ahead, and it never comes too far behind.

So, when you find yourself in a situation where your motivation is beginning to flag, you’re probably out of flow. You’ll know you’re in flow because you’re working for 12 hours and you hardly notice it, or you just can’t wait to get back to that project. You know you’re out of flow when you’re procrastinating, you’re putting it off, and you’re phoning it in. So, what do you do? It’s not really the task itself. It really has to do with whether your skills are just being pressed and just at the lower level of the challenge itself.

And so, what I ask people to do, and which I find to be extremely effective, is, “Look at that thing that you’ve been trying to do, look at that thing you’re procrastinating, either it’s not challenging enough for you, therefore, you’re getting bored by it and becoming rote. So, how could you change the way that you do it so that you gamify it, in a sense, you add challenge to it? Or, on the other hand, it might be a little too far beyond your skillset to do it well. In which case, even when you’re in a hurry, it really makes sense to step back and brush up those skills.” Again, that’s where we go to breaking that ego of the expert, and saying, “I got to learn something here.”

So, the next time that you’re finding yourself flagging and losing motivation, I would really try to chart where your skills are, where are challenges, and where they’re departing. If you’re bored, you know it’s not challenging enough. And if you’re overwhelmed and exhausted, you know it’s too challenging. And in the book, I just give lots of ways for companies to be organized that way, for people to break up tasks into different phases to keep that flow going. So, another tip, that’s what really gets that creative brain going. When you get in flow, you really do better work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jonah, I would love it if we could really kind of go through a number of levers or tweaks to make something a bit more or a bit less challenging because I don’t have a whole lot of ideas here. Hey, there’s some humble self-effacing action there.

Jonah Sachs
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess, in practice…

Jonah Sachs
I thought you were the expert here.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess if I want to make it more challenging, sometimes I’ll set a timer and see if I can do it faster within a timeline, or I might try to see if I could do a whole batch of them, like, “Have you ever done three in a row?” to turn that into some more challenge. And if it’s too challenging, sometimes I’ll just try to split it into just the tiniest increments, like, “Step one, open up the email where they ask me to do that thing. Step two, list out each deliverable that they want in that email. Step three, open a blank Excel spreadsheet…”

Jonah Sachs
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it really does help in terms of, “Oh, I’ve been avoiding it. This is hard. I don’t know where to start.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, you do know where to start. It starts by opening up the email.” So, that’s really all I got in terms of tricks to make something easier or harder. What else do you recommend?

Jonah Sachs
Yeah, I’ve got a few of those, of these kinds of tips. And what you’re talking about, in some ways, are these fairly rote tasks, which are very important actually to doing them well. The high level of competency in rote tasks is actually key to creativity. When you’re not doing those things well, you’re acting like the mad professor who’s super creative but not very competent, you’re actually putting a lot more stress on your brain and decreasing your creative abilities.

But I do want to differentiate between really creative tasks and tasks that you just kind of have to slog through. So, talk a little bit about the tasks that you just want to slog through. I looked at a lot of research about how bad, and you’ve probably heard about this, how bad we are at multitasking, and how much stress it puts in our brain to do a number of things at once. So, you might be doing something like, “All right, I’ve got this slog thing, it takes me an hour and a half to update my CRM, or to send out this email, or both.” Take a screencast of what you’re doing for about 10 minutes, see how many times you’re switching apps, see how many times you’re actually working, or checking your email, or picking up your phone, actually look at what you’re doing.

We live in a world where usually we’re doing two or three things at once. And things that seem really hard and take a long time, actually take very short if you shut out all outside distractions. It’s actually part of staying in flow is shutting out distractions. The novelist Jonathan Franzen, he apparently used to put hot glue into his ethernet port, back in the day when you needed a wired connection, and worked out of a windowless non-airconditioned office where no sound could get in. He basically shut out all outside, and he said it was the only way he could work.

And I think it’s really interesting because so few of us do work that way. So, one, shut out the distraction that is probably causing things to take twice or three times as long as you thought they were. It is not easy but sometimes when we see how hard it is, we realize how addicted we are to distractions. So, that’s one of them.

Another one is to break up, just like you’re saying, break things down into tasks, some things, smaller tasks. The creative side of your tasks require intrinsic motivation, and you don’t really need to get rewarded for that. You kind of want to isolate the parts of the task that you really enjoy, and, like I say, if there are parts of the creative side, if you need more inspiration or training, give yourself that time because sometimes we need to up that ability.

But other things that have been shown to really work are to think about a problem very directly and hard for about 15 to 20 minutes, make sure you have all the parameters of the problem, and then go for a walk, take a shower, take a nap, step away from it. It’s usually the background processing in your mind that will come up with original ideas when you’ve ran out of other ideas, because what happens in that first 15-20 minutes, the most obvious solutions come forth, and then it’s when you let your mind rest that new ideas. So, for the more creative ideas and more creative tasks, I recommend this sort of on again, off again burst of creativity and focus, and then open-minded for solution-searching.

And then, finally, because, again, we can go on all day just about this one piece of it, but there’s a lot of research to suggest that some tasks really do require external motivators. And so, sometimes you have to treat yourself like a parent if you’re really procrastinating, and say, “I’m going to give you that cookie, or I’m going to let you watch that TV, or I’m going to give you that reward, if you do these three things,” and set small goals for yourself, and give yourself small rewards.

A lot of people report like having that little treat at the end is a strong signal to their brain and a strong dopamine hit that makes the task not as hard as it once seemed. So, these are all kinds of ways essentially of managing energy through the long task of doing things that are hard as opposed to just reverting to going back and doing the things that are easy.

I can tell you that if your main mode of operation is to always work on the things that are easy for you, you are basically atrophying at your desk, and won’t be long until you’re way underperforming to your potential.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly and that really connects there in terms of it can feel unsafe to do the thing that’s really hard and you’re not quite sure you could do, but it’s so essential to do that. I want to follow up on that point you made, that certain tasks really can benefit from treating yourself like a child and there’s going to be a treat if you do this. What are the sorts of tasks that seem to benefit most from that reward-treat-carrot action?

Jonah Sachs
Yeah, those tend to be the more rote, less creative, left brain type of tasks. So, you have to do things very precisely, you know how to do them, they’re difficult only in that they take attention and they take diligence. Those are things that tend to do better. And if you’re working with employees too, those are the kinds of things you want to give people extrinsic motivations to do, “Clean something thoroughly,” whether that’s a bathroom or a database, “Make sure that we have received all our receipts and accounted for them.” Those are the kinds of things that you want to give external motivation for because there’s really not that much excitement from a job well-done. You’re just expected to do it well and you have to, but there’s no real intrinsic joy in doing it.

Something like, “Come up with a new slogan,” “Pick new colors,” “Come up with a creative solution to a problem that we’ve never solved before.” Those are all things you don’t need to give rewards for in that sense. You will want to celebrate people’s creativity, give them more open space, give yourself more open space, and try to dial back that pressure to do it quickly is always helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, I want to talk about sort of the social dimension here of unsafe thinking. So, we talked about kind of managing yourself and your productivity and the challenges you take on, adjusting the difficulty. Now, it can be tricky and feel unsafe to challenge someone else’s viewpoint in a meeting to say something, in however you say it, to convey, “I disagree. I think that there’s an alternative which may serve us better,” can be quite intimidating and feel unsafe for people, maybe rightly, because there’s retribution and animosity, or maybe wrongly, it’s just a boogeyman. But, tell us, what are some of your best practices, pro tips, for engaging in unsafe thinking and articulating that with others?

Jonah Sachs
Oh, man, this one is really, really hard because so many workplaces are the sort of schizophrenic mixtures of both really wanting creative employees and really beating them down when they don’t fall in line with company flow. And so, let me just start by saying there’s this fascinating study that looked at teachers, asking them, “All right, first, rate all of your kids in your class from your most creative to your least creative.” So, they put them on a spectrum, obviously, without telling the kids.

Next, they said, “Who are your favorite students and who are your least favorite students?” And, across the board, without exception, less creative kids fell into the favorite student category, and more creative kids were in the troublesome category that teachers actually didn’t like. And when asked, “How important is it for you to teach creativity?” teachers said it was the number one most important thing that they wanted to do. So, this tells us exactly that, by fourth grade, we’re already getting these mixed messages, “Be creative and fall in line.”

So, let’s move that into the workplace, what’s happening in the workplace. Meetings are so often hated and so often deadly because there’s this thing called shared information bias, which tends to happen. It’s this deep psychological problem in groups that happens in a meeting. Okay, so 10 people come into a room, right? They’re having a meeting because it’s important for them to share information. They have to find out what they don’t know from the other people, that’s why they’re meeting, otherwise, people just work alone at their desks.

What happens usually is the leader of the group will set the tone, they’ll say what they know about the problem or about the situation, and that makes sense, and then asks for everybody’s input. Well, it turns out that what people value and report liking in meetings is saying what someone else has said before. And usually so the leader says what everybody already knows because the leader is always speaking, and then everybody feels a psychological pull to rephrasing or somehow agreeing with what the leader said. And, in fact, people tend to even forget what they wanted to say once this shared information bias starts to come up.

And so, what happens is everyone knows something, everyone knows A, B, and C when they enter, D, E, and F are held by a couple people in the meeting, everyone gets together, and everyone leaves still knowing A, B, and C, no one mentions D, E, and F, and the company is stupider for it. It doesn’t work. So, there’s all these things that need to happen for that to be changed. Some of those things need to happen at the level of the organization, some things can be done by individual contributors who don’t have the power.

Let’s talk real quick about the top level of the organization. Leaders should not speak first in meetings. They don’t need to give the context. Let somebody who doesn’t usually speak start the meeting with what they know. You will get information that you did not expect. And they find, often, that low-status individuals in an organization, for a number of reasons, have some of that hidden information that’s most needed because it’s not what everyone is talking about. It’s what’s being seen from the edges. And information from the edges is a key ingredient to being more creative in a group. So, that’s one.

Number two, you can teach in your organization a kind of respectful disobedience. They do this in the airline industry, they do this in the Navy, they actually role-play and practice for the co-pilot to say that they have a different opinion than the pilot. That turns out, because in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the pilot was kind of the king of the cockpit and no one wants to speak up to usually him, we had way more airline crashes. But when co-pilots, and even flight attendants, were specifically trained to be disobedient, to speak back to power, and say what they observe, airline crashes have plummeted, because one person simply can’t know everything that’s need to be known and they have biases and make mistakes.

So, in your organization, teaching what’s called intelligent disobedience, which means that you’re going to be totally loyal to the company, but you’re going to speak back when you know something is wrong is a huge plus. From the individual contributor level, what do you do in a group? One, to get over that problem of actually the amnesia that comes from shared information bias, I recommend writing down, before you get to the meeting, everything that you want to say. It’s hugely valuable. So, if you have the courage to speak up, this will help you not forget what actually your point of view was. And by the end of the meeting, if something hasn’t been said that you have written down that you still think is important, make sure it gets out there, and you will then be contributing something that was otherwise missing.

Second, just keep in mind that employees who engage in intelligent disobedience, those who kind of speak up and are willing to outwardly say they disagree, are considered more loyal and more effective by managers, this has been well-studied, than those who quietly disagree and pretend they do agree. So, basically, if you’re going along with the flow, but you’re not wholeheartedly agreeing, people actually recognize it and it’s seen as a sign of kind of subversion. If you’re willing to speak up, and then go along with decisions once the group has made them, being loyal to the larger group, you’re going to be seen as more creative and a more effective collaborator. So, that fear may be a little bit unfounded.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s interesting indeed. I’m putting myself in the leader’s shoes, yup, it’s preferable to have someone openly tell you they disagree than to grumble and quietly muddy the waters with their subversive, I think is a great word for that. At the same time, I guess there’s that teacher effect that you mentioned that the creative ones are more kind of inconvenient because they don’t fall in line, “The meeting is going to take longer if you have a different opinion that we need to cover as opposed to you just sort of nodding and agreeing or else.” But at the same time, that’s what the meeting needs to do, is surface this stuff that wouldn’t get surfaced otherwise. So, in a way, it seems like your leader has to have a little bit of awareness and virtue, I guess, in order for them to appreciate what’s happening there with that intelligent disobedience.

Jonah Sachs
Yeah. Well, first of all, if you’re a leader and you’re turning your hair out because your employees are not creative enough, it’s just important to internalize that message that if you are subtly or directly calling for agreement and for efficiency, that you are the problem, it’s probably not your employees. So, getting that, opening that space for disagreement is going to be the source of your creativity.

Yeah, there’s another kind of key leadership tool here, I think, but it’s also something that team members can help to build. And Google did a landmark study on it, I spoke with Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors, he kind of uses it as well, and it’s kind of a little bit counterintuitive when you think about unsafe thinking. It turns out the most unsafe workplaces, the ones that are the most creative and willing to think outside the box, are the ones that provide the most psychological safety to people within that group.

I know that sounds crazy but what I’m trying to say here is that if everyone feels a sense of belonging, if they feel that their job is protected, and they feel that they matter to the team, they are more likely to be able to go against the grain, to say the things that might sound crazy, to open up their mouth when they see things are going wrong. There are these great studies of you could judge a company’s creativity by setting up a prediction market. So, see how often people are agreeing with what the CEO says when you’re actually asking them in front of the CEO, “Do you agree?” But then have a side market where people bet on whether the outcomes or the choices are going to work or not, and you’re going to get the real opinion.

So, prediction market is actually a better way to know if people agree with you than just kind of asking them. But if you create a sense of psychological safety, you don’t need that kind of output. You get to say, “Look, in this arena of creativity, everybody is equal. We fight it out, we go crazy, we are willing to look at ideas. And when you fail, we don’t punish you. We actually reward smart risks rather than just success,” then you’ll find people are willing to start taking those chances.

Now, you don’t want absolute chaos, that’s why it’s very important for groups to be cohesive when they move out of that exploratory phase and into the execution phase. But in exploratory phases, take a look at, “Are you building psychological safety within your organization?” There are lots of tools for doing that. And, again, that’s how Steve Kerr, when he got to the Golden State Warriors, kind of unlocked all the creative potentials of that team to take them to, whatever, five NBA Championships in a row, was by first setting up psychological safety in the locker room so they could get more unsafe on the court, and he kind of walked me through that, and I tell that story in the book.

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

Jonah Sachs
I guess I’ll just say that one of the things that I found most fascinating has to do with the real psychological mechanisms, and this is just kind of one more tip that I think is helpful when you understand this. I came to understand something that I call the safe thinking cycle. So, what happens is the world change around us, and that creates a certain amount of anxiety. What we’re doing is no longer working. We sense it because we’ve stepped up into a new position, and we’re not quite able to perform in it yet, we need to learn more, or what we’re doing no longer works, or there’s a new competitor in the space, or anything like that. We get a signal of anxiety.

Now, we’re programmed by evolution to see anxiety as a threat to our bodies basically. Anxiety out in the African savannah would mean that there was an animal about to eat you. And in those cases, what happens naturally from anxiety is that our peripheral vision shuts down, our nonessential bodily functions begin to slow down, and we really fall back on what we know works. So, we take what’s called stereotypical actions.

So, anxiety will, first, lead to the sense of, “Okay, I got to do something differently.” But by the time you start thinking what to do differently, you’re programmed by evolution to fall back and do something expedient and safe, and then things get worse because you haven’t reacted to the stimulus, and the cycle just repeats and repeats and repeats. And so, that’s where most people find themselves. The more stressed out you are, the less likely you are to take new and creative actions.

The way to break this cycle is not to respond differently or to force yourself to respond differently. It’s actually to reframe what anxiety means. And this has been a really fascinating look, for me, into sort of a whole bunch of different both kind of biological science and psychological science. But people who effectively break this cycle are those who tell themselves that anxiety is not a signal of danger, but a signal that they’re on their creative edge.

So, if what you’re doing is moving away from situations that cause anxiety, you’re actually creating further and further anxiety. And there’s a lot of psychological research that shows the more we concentrate on avoiding a feeling, the more we’re going to have it. The more you move towards that anxiety and say, “Okay, that anxiety is a signal that I should move toward it not away,” that is where we can experience the anxiety, and then take new action in its face.

So, it was very counterintuitive to me, nobody likes that feeling of anxiety, but if you can take it as a signal that you’re in your creative zone, when you feel it, that can really reshape your relationship to the creative thinking cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that’s really good, and I think we might characterize anxiety all the more broadly, not just the, “Oh, crap, something terrible is going to happen” sensation, but I guess maybe also like I think about just sort of learning and growth mindset stuff. It’s just sort of in terms of awkward or dread, like, “Ugh, I’m not any good at this. Oh, I feel stupid.” It’s like that whole family of unpleasant feelings you can associate to, “Oh, I’m at the edge of creativity, or of growth, or of breakthrough,” as opposed to, “Oh, this is a thing to retreat from.”

Jonah Sachs
Yeah, for sure. For sure. The things that are like worth doing but don’t make you anxious are the things that you have been doing for a really long time, probably for a decade. So, the first time you give a speech in public, you might feel terrified. Once you’ve given that talk 20 times, you don’t feel scared anymore. If all you’re doing is giving that same talk again and again and again, your days are kind of numbered.

So, it’s great to fall back on the things that we know when we know we can do well. I would say give yourself at least 15% to 25% of your time though doing things that you suck at, and that will make you just a much better, more flexible thinker.

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

Jonah Sachs
I still love the bumper sticker, I don’t know who even said it, but, “Don’t believe everything you think,” always makes me smile, and I kind of take that as a motto for myself.

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

Jonah Sachs
I looked at a study that showed that people, when given a chance between feeling medium-level electric shocks and being bored, would usually, after about 10 minutes, choose the electric shocks. So, when they put four people into a white plain room, and said, “You can have the electric shock and leave, or you can stay for another 10 minutes,” people mostly took the electric shock.

And just amazing to me, I think probably a hundred years ago, 50 years ago, maybe even 25 years ago, we were pretty good at sitting with ourselves and sitting with our own feelings and ideas. The fact that we’re at a place where most of us would rather be in pain than quiet is definitely a sign that there’s a lot of white space, a lot of opportunities for those who could be a little bit more mindful and take their time through processes, and be in that zone where creativity arises, which is in that quiet zone.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonah Sachs
Well, I’m reading right now a book called Station Eleven. It’s a post-pandemic science fiction book about a future in post-pandemic. And sitting through a pandemic right now, I’m kind of enjoying its beauty and its quiet, looking at what the world sometimes becomes.

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

Jonah Sachs
I have been really appreciating using Asana lately. It’s a fantastic product and helps me organize the millions of tasks that I try to keep. And I’ve tried many, many different tools, and have really struggled to use one again and again. I’m on kind of month 18 now with it and I find it’s really sticking, so that’s my tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Jonah Sachs
I think I mentioned the one that I’m most excited about, which is doing things that I’m bad at and staying out of my comfort zone, so continuing to press, although I’m not improving as fast as I like, continuing to press on my singing is my latest habit that I’m trying to stay in.

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

Jonah Sachs
I find that the thing that most gets quoted back to me from my work, actually, comes from my first book Winning the Story Wars, maybe it’s because it’s been out for so long. But I kind of had three key tips for how to communicate and how to build your own personal brand and tell stories. And that was be interesting, tell the truth, and live the truth, and that gets repeated back to me as a sort of three pillars in life that are always worth following.

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

Jonah Sachs
JonahSachs.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?

Jonah Sachs
Yeah, I would just say it all really comes down to move towards the things that scare you, get out of your comfort zone, and if you’ve been saying that you’re going to do things differently, start doing something different today.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jonah, this has been a treat. Thank you and keep on rocking.

Jonah Sachs
All right. Great talking.

521: How to Generate 100 Ideas in 10 Minutes with Dr. Roger Firestien

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dr. Roger Firestien says: "The creativity comes in the stretch, the innovation comes in the stretch."

Dr. Roger Firestien shares his simple method for generating more original ideas.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The four guidelines for generating ideas
  2. Why silly warm ups seriously help brainstorming
  3. The magic number for creative ideas

About Roger:

Dr. Roger Firestien has taught more people to lead the creative process than anyone else in the world.

By applying Roger’s work in creativity:

  • Clorox solved a 77-year-old problem in 15 minutes;
  • General Motors came up with a $1.50 solution that saved the company $50,000 a week;
  • Mead Paper developed a world-class line of products and saved $500,000 a year;

Called “The Gold Standard” of creativity training by his clients, he has presented programs in creativity

to over 600 organizations nationally and internationally.

Roger’s latest book Create in a Flash: A Leader’s Recipe for Breakthrough Innovation provides techniques

to grow personal and team capacity for tackling tough challenges and recession proofing any business.

Thank you Sponsors!

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

Dr. Roger Firestien Interview Transcript

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

Roger Firestien
My pleasure. I’m happy to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued, so we’re going to talk about thinking and creativity. And I understand that when you like to think, one of your favorite things to do is drive tractors. What’s the story here?

Roger Firestien
I grew up in a farm in northern Colorado, and one of the beautiful things about being a part of my family is that my father didn’t say I had to be a farmer, right? And I got very interested in music, and the interest in music led to my interest in creativity. So, when I moved out to Buffalo, New York in 1978 to study creativity at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, I really never wanted to set foot on a farm again.

And a number of years ago, I went through some challenging times, and I ran into a fellow named Philip Keppler who owns a cattle ranch near Medina, New York which is about 40 miles northeast of Buffalo, where he grazes about 400 cattle. And so, Phil and I became friends, and I started to just go out to the farm to do what I call farm therapy. And what farm therapy is, is you go and you do stuff but you don’t have to make a decision on what you’re doing. My friend Phil says, “Let’s go move those bales up the north,” and we do it. my friend Phil says, “Let’s go move that tractor over there,” and we do it. My friend Phil says, “Let’s move those cattle over there to that pasture,” and we do it.

So, what it allows for me to do, and I do it regularly now, is that when I get stale with writing or when I get frustrated with what it’s like working in a university, in the International Center for Creativity, or running creativity consultancy firm, I go out there and I spend some time either driving a tractor, or working with cattle, or shoveling cow manure, or even falling in it sometimes, because what it does is it gives me break from what I usually do.

The other thing that farm therapy does to me is that, when I’m out there working on a field, and I’m supposed to, what we call bush hog, which is cut down a whole bunch of brush or anything, there is a tangible result from beginning to the end. You can see when it’s finished and there’s great satisfaction in that. In our work in teaching and writing, sometimes you often don’t see it.

So, farm therapy is what I recommend for folks who do businesses like us to be able to get away, get out in the fresh air, have somebody else make the decisions for them, and then oftentimes after that, I get some new ideas or some new insights for a new book I’m writing on, or program that I’m delivering, those sorts of things. It’s really taking a break both mentally and physically for how you spend your usual day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m convinced. Farm therapy.

Roger Firestien
I’ll see you on the farm, Pete. We can always use another hand.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like our next sponsor is a farm therapy offers.

Roger Firestien
International Harvest or John Deere, right?

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’m excited to talk about creativity and, in particular, I understand that you are capable of generating 100 ideas in 10 minutes, and we can all do this. How is that done?

Roger Firestien
Well, it’s not me that does it. It’s a group. So, let me tell you how it’s done. So, first off, let’s get a couple things clear here. One of the things we’re talking about is that we’re talking about an entire creative process here. Earlier on, in the 1950s, a gentleman named Alex Osborn, who happens to be the O in the advertising agency BBD&O, invented the brainstorming technique. But what Osborn realized was just an idea-generating technique isn’t enough. So, he also invented this process that helps you to define a problem, generate ideas, and then develop some plans for actions.

So, when we talk about generating 100 ideas in 10 minutes, it’s not difficult at all. And here’s the procedure that we follow. First, we’re talking about a group of about five to eight people, that’s about it, right? First thing you need to do is to go over the guidelines for generating ideas: defer judgments, strive for quantity, seek wild and unusual ideas, then combine and build with other ideas. Then, and here’s what’s really crucial, is we do a little warm up activity first, like a 5-minute warmup activity. And some of my favorite warm up activities are like, “How to get a hippopotamus out of a bathtub,” or, “How to improve a bathtub,” or, “What might you be able to do with 10 tons of orange jello,” right? Something fun, something sort of zany like that, and we use Post-Its, and we have people write down their ideas, say them out loud, and jot them up. And so, a warm up activity takes about 5 minutes.

Now, in addition to that, we also do this technique called forced connections, which is a technique that we use to combine different ideas from different perspectives. So, when you get stuck, oftentimes what tends to happen is you’re running down the same route. So, if I’m sitting here and if I’m working on a particular problem on, say, how to write a chapter for a book, and I get stuck, I might look around the room and see what ideas the lamp gives me, or what ideas my model rocket that I made when I was 12 years old gives me, or what ideas I get from pine trees at the backyard. And that’s the real essence of creativity, which is combining ideas in a different way than what they’ve been combined before.

So, we’ll oftentimes use pictures to help people to do that, from various aspects, pictures of food, or nature, or machinery, or people. So, then, let’s take a look at how to generate those 100 ideas. So, let’s say you’ve done a little warmup activity, and you’re working with a group, and you’ve generated about 25 ideas in 5 minutes. That’s not uncommon at all when you’re not judging ideas. Then, give the real problem that you want to work on to the group, take another 5 minutes, and oftentimes the group will generate between 25 or 30 ideas there.

Then we do a technique called brainwriting which actually helps people to write their ideas down. We use a little form where they write three ideas on a Post-It. It consists of nine squares. And what they’re doing this way is they’re working sort of in parallel. So, they’re all working at the same time. You don’t have to worry about a recorder, or a facilitator slowing down the process by getting those ideas up there. At the end of that 5 minutes, we usually have 60 or 70 ideas. It’s not uncommon at all to generate 100 ideas in 10 minutes.

Now, the thing behind that is, oftentimes then, what you’re going to find is about 20% of those ideas, about 20 or 30 ideas, let’s say 20% conservatively, are going to be good ideas that you can take and refine. Pete, what the formula really is in this is the generation of ideas doesn’t take long, but it’s the selection, the refinement, the building of those ideas, it does take the time.

So, let’s say you have an hour meeting and you want to generate some ideas for solving a specific problem you’re working on. First, come in with a well-defined problem, starting with the words that would invite ideas, like “How to…” or, “How might…” Then, give a little break, a little warmup activity work to challenge 15 minutes, and you’ll have about 80 to 100 ideas. Then the rest of that time, the remaining 45 minutes or so in the meeting, that’s what you need to use to select those ideas and refine those ideas and decide which ones you’re going to move forward. So, that’s sort of a formula for about an hour, an hour and 15-minute meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so lots of good stuff in there. Now, let’s talk about the warmup. I imagine the goal here is that you get people have an easier time generating lots of wild ideas about something that is not close to home than they do generating wild ideas about something that they see every day, and so you’re getting their brain in that zone via doing something a little bit more distant. Is that kind of the logic here?

Roger Firestien
Pete, you’re absolutely right. And we do a warmup for three reasons. First, to briefly train the group on the technique. You can’t expect a group to go in there and just get creative, like, “Okay, we need some creative ideas.” So, first, a little training on them. Next, to sanction the time for speculation. And when I say sanctioning the time, people will come in from a meeting and they’ve been busy with other aspects of the day and other things are going on, and so what we do is we draw a line, we say, “Look, the way you’ve been thinking before, judging, putting things into action, executing, we’re not going to do that right now. We’re going to speculate. We’re going to try out some new ideas.”

And then the thing also is to create what we call judgment-free zone where people aren’t judging their ideas. They’re just coming up with those ideas. And you’ve got it exactly, what we want to do is we want to create something that’s fun, whimsical, non-threatening, away from the problem to generate that energy and to also practice the technique.

And so, in the book Create in a Flash, we have a bunch of warm up activities listed on page 69. And so, the whole purpose there, Pete, is for people to defer their judgment, think differently, and sanction that time for speculating. Then you can go in and work on the type of challenge. And I have to tell you, my entire career, when I neglected to do a warmup activity, I did that twice, either I thought the group was already warmed up or I didn’t have time. And what I had to do was go back into a warm up activity.

And, oftentimes, people will say, “Well, warmup activity is silly.” Well, by design it’s silly. Or they’ll say, “Well, I can’t work with my CEO on this.” I’ve had CEOs, I’ve had army generals, I’ve had people in government do warm up activities, they love it because it gives them a chance to loosen up, to have some laughter, and then that energy from that warm up, you move into working on with the challenge at hand. Oftentimes, what tends to happen is, the reason why people are not successful in idea-generating sessions is, one, they haven’t warmed up or, two, they haven’t followed the guidelines for generating ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes total sense to me. And the warm up, I think that’s well-stated in terms of the warmup is producing an energy, a state of mind, a groove, and that’s just huge.

Roger Firestien
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that when I’m giving a speech that goes amazingly versus, you know, fine between that…on that continuum. The difference is largely what kind of a state did I get into prior to in terms of was I curious and eager to connect with the audience, or was I kind of in my head in terms of I have these eight takeaways that I’m going to convey now.

Roger Firestien
Right. And here they are, one, two, three. I got to get them out, yeah. Yeah, that’s a challenge of every speaker. What I’ve also found too, and I‘m sure you found this too, it’s like less is more. So, yeah, but you get on that track, “I got to get these takeaways out there,” yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, excellent point then on the warmup, and I appreciate hearing about the general in terms of, okay, this is a serious person who has lives at stake who takes the time and finds it great. So, very cool.

Roger Firestien
And also, the thing about that is generals, people like that, will use that. For example, generals realize the value of training and being very, very well-trained. And what this does is it gives some training on something that they have no stakes in at all so they can experience the process, they can experience the procedures. And then when you work on the real challenge, and you’re trained already to do it. I mean, you practice target shooting before you have to go into combat. Same thing, you practice generating ideas in a really fun way before you have to apply them to the challenge at hand. And to your point too, it’s simple but it’s huge. It’s easy to do, it’s easy not to do. And so, it’s just that very simple thing when people do it, they’re successful. When they don’t, generally they’re not.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I also want to talk about, so we’ve got that five to eight people who are able to generate 25 to 30-ish ideas, lickity-split. And then you do some stuff with Post-Its and three-by-three which turn into a whole bunch more. So, can you go into some details, as to what are we doing with that three-by-three and the Post-It stuff?

Roger Firestien
Well, first off, the Post-Its is pretty common in this business, and we use it in those things called brainstorming with Post-Its. And so, the first 5 minutes is people are generally writing their ideas, they’re saying them, they’re getting them up on a Post-It, and then they’re going up on a flipchart that the facilitator is running, and that’s brainstorming with Post-Its.

This other technique, is called brainwriting. And it’s a really cool tool because what it does is have people work individually. And so, we have a little grid here and we have nine Post-Its on it, three across, three across, three across. We write the creative questions at the top, we say to people, “Write three ideas, put the form out in the middle, pick up a form somebody else has not completed, write three more ideas on that.”

And so, they’re writing ideas continuously. The beautiful thing about this, Pete, is that they already have ideas generated from their brainstorming with Post-Its that are up there on the flipchart. They can use those to build ideas off of this wonderful little brain-writing technique, they can build ideas off of it as well. And the key is to use both. First, is stick ‘em up brainstorming, or the brainstorming with Post-Its where you get all those ideas out in a very wide format, and then, using this brainwriting tool to help people to add onto those ideas to refine them. And, oftentimes, the second round with this brainwriting tool, the ideas are a bit more well-defined because people have to write the ideas down, they don’t say their ideas anymore.

So, they write three ideas, put the form in the middle, pick up a form somebody else has used, write three more ideas, so it’s three ideas and go, and three ideas and go, and three ideas and go. And they will often, say, you’ve come up with 30 ideas with brainstorming with Post-Its, oftentimes people will double that with the brainwriting, 60, because they’re warmed up, they have ideas to build off of, and they don’t have to compete for airtime to get those ideas out there.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say pick up a form, what’s on the form and what are we doing with that?

Roger Firestien
Well, if I can refer to the book, on page 78-79, also there’s PDFs that go along with this, if go to CreateInAFlashBook.com, there’s a downloadable PDF of this form called brain-writing, and all it is is just a simple little grid with nine squares. We put nine three-by-three Post-Its on it, and write these three ideas and go, and three ideas and go, so it’s really pretty not complicated at all but it’s a group process of getting those ideas out that really gets them going.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let me get out of this, but aren’t you writing in both of these phases? So, brainwriting is not actually distinctively different with the writing because writing had happened earlier as well? I’m getting hung up on the word brainwriting.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, the distinction between brainwriting is, first, when you’re doing stick ‘em up brainstorming or brainstorming with Post-Its, you’ll write your idea on a Post-It, you’ll say it out loud, you’ll hand them up to a facilitator that will put the idea on the chart. By saying it out loud, other people in the group can build on that idea and add to it.

Now, with brainwriting, you’re not saying your ideas out loud. You’re simply writing three ideas down, putting the form in the middle, picking up another form, reading the ideas that other participants have jotted down, either building on those ideas or adding more ideas that are coming to mind. So, the second time, the brainwriting is, yes, you’re writing those ideas down, yes, you’re recording those ideas, you’re just not saying them out loud, and you’re doing three at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, from there, we got a whole bunch of stuff. What happens next?

Roger Firestien
Well, then what you do is you need to converge on those ideas, all right? And we actually talk about this, in addition to Create in a Flash, there’s 20 videos that go along with it. So, when you go to CreateInAFlashBook.com, you can actually see this process happening. And we have in the front of the book the directions to find those online videos so you’ll actually see what we’ve talked about happening, Pete. And that’s probably the best is go to the website there and look at brainwriting in action.

But after writing those ideas, we do a technique called highlighting. And the first thing we do in highlighting is we take just colored dots and we have the person whose problem we’re working on go up to the charts and mark what we call the hits. These are the ideas that are interesting, intriguing, workable, might solve the problem, you like them. You mark as many hits as you like. Then, from there, you take those hits, you cluster them together into themes, right? Then you restate that cluster as an action or as a new idea.

So, what you’ll have is a whole bunch of ideas for solving a particular issue that will cluster around a certain area. Those build into a concept, then you label that concept with a verb phrase, and then from there you can go further to refine the ideas and develop them. So, that’s the basics around generating them, and then focusing on them. What’s real crucial, after you spent all this time to generate these ideas to not just go up and pick one idea. Well, in that case, why did you spend all those times generating those ideas in the first place?

So, the converge is a very gentle converge. First, what’s interesting, intriguing, workable, how do those relate to each other. And then, once you got that, labeling the cluster with a concept or a phrase that really captures the action, the essence of that idea cluster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’d also love to get your take on when we’re trying to create independently on our own, what are some of your pro tips to do that well?

Roger Firestien
Well, very simple, following the same things, creating on your own as you would create in a group. For example, artists have sketchbooks. A dear friend of mine is an artist, when you look through his sketchbooks, he’s got thousands and thousands of sketches in there just jotting down new ideas, just sketches and those sorts of things.

So, when you’re working by yourself, first, define the problem, have a well-defined problem, like, “How to reduce the cost of this project?” or, “How to raise the money for this project?” or, “How to get my leaves raked in my backyard without too much effort?” And then just defer judgment. Don’t judge. Jot down all the ideas that might come to mind. What you might find is the first 10 to 12 ideas, this probably will come pretty easily for you, you kind of probably thought about those ideas before.

The next one is you might have a bit of a challenge around, so that’s when we recommend using this forced connection tool. So, say, you’re looking at ways to reduce costs on a project, well, then you look around the room, and you say, “Well, what ideas does my telephone give me for reducing costs on this project?” Well, maybe an idea would be, communicate the need to it broader. Broadcast out why you need to do it. My phone has got push buttons on, so separate the project down.

And so, that will spur you on to come up with some more ideas, but I recommend people stretch for about 30 ideas. Now, they don’t have to do it all in one setting. The beautiful thing about the creative process and why tractor time or farm therapy is so helpful is when you step away from the challenge, oftentimes new ideas begin to surface there. And that’s when it’s important to have your smartphone with you to just say those ideas into a voice memo, or have a sheet of paper where you write the idea down, because oftentimes when we find that you start working on a challenge, other ideas are going to be coming in because it stirred your brain up to come up with more ideas and more concepts. We have some good research that shows that that seems to be the case.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, this number 30, is there some magic to it?

Roger Firestien
Yeah, a bit of magic. So, one-third, one-third, one-third principle. And so, early on, when we were working with the creative process back in the early 1980s, I ran a consulting company called Multiple Resources Associates, and this was early on in a lot of the development of creative process where we really had to try and chart a place, “Where are we going to get breakthroughs when we’re working with our clients?”

And so, as we went through many, many, many, many transcripts, we often found that idea 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, that’s when the new ideas were coming. And so, this is also based on an early principle around the old brainstorming technique, and essentially, it’s this. The first third of your idea production, about the first 10 to 12 ideas, tend to be the usual ideas. These are the ideas you’ve of thought before. These are ideas that are already roaming around people’s heads.

The second third, from idea 12 to 20, or 25 or so, those are kind of the crazy ridiculous ideas. It seems that people have loosened up a little bit, they get a little crazy, a little goofier. They’ve exhausted the usual associations that they have around solving that problem. Then the next third, the third third, that’s where the pay dirt comes, that’s when people come up, begin to make new combinations using that kind of crazy stuff they came up with the second third, some from the first third, and that’s where the new ideas and insights begin to blossom.

And so, I say the idea 30 to 35, you’re bound to get some new insights there. But what often tends to happen is we sit around in a group and we generate 10 or 12 ideas for solving a problem, and we think we’re getting real creative, well, you’re not. All you’re doing is getting those ideas out there that already romping around people’s heads. The creativity comes in the stretch, the innovation comes in the stretch. But that’s what’s behind that idea of saving the quarter for about 30 ideas or so.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, I’d love to know, you talked about forced connection, hey, you look around, there’s a lamp, there’s a telephone. Are there any other ways you recommend bringing useful stimuli into the equation for association?

Roger Firestien
Well, I want to save your listeners a lot of money because the whole idea of forced connections is really the basis of what creativity is. There’s lots of books out there that give you 101 ways to come up with more ideas, those sorts of things, and they’re all based on the concept of making a sort of remote association, an association with something that’s not related to the problem at all, which is combining ideas that usually don’t appear to be related in any way.

Now, what we use is we use visual forced connections. So, if you’re in a session and the group is slowing down, we’ll have a series of pictures, lots of pictures, and they fall into four categories. One category is people, second category is nature, the third category is machinery or the non-living world, and the fourth category is food. And we’ll just have these pictures just scattered out over a table. When people get stuck, they can take a look at the pictures, see what ideas it gives them, use that to create a connection and come up with a new idea.

Now, you can use pictures but you can also use smells. You can also use sounds or music. You can also use taste. In other words, you’re working on a problem in some way, and you’re tasting cinnamon. What ideas that cinnamon bring to mind? Or you’re working on a problem and you see an ocean liner. What idea does an ocean liner bring to mind? That’s the basics of it, Pete. Taking a look at something or making connection with something that’s not related to the problem at all and use that connection to create a new idea. And that’s my go-to tool.

So, there’s other tools that you can use but if we’re going to give our listeners something that they can use consistently, it’s this forced connection tool. We have an interview on one of the videos of a gentleman named Dr. Robert Gatewood, who took one of my classes and he said, “I would leave class, and as I was driving, I’d be working on a problem, and I’d look around and I’d see what connections I might get from a stoplight, or what connections I might get from a building.”

And there’s an interesting story about forced connections if you want to go into that in a second, but I want to make sure that I’ve responded to your question here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, got it. It’s storytime.

Roger Firestien
Storytime. So, one of the people that we talk about is a gentleman named Wilson Greatbatch. Now, do you know who Wilson Greatbatch is?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t.

Roger Firestien
Most people don’t. You know what a pacemaker is?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Roger Firestien
Of course, you do. Wilson Greatbatch invented the pacemaker, and he actually lived about 10 miles from where I live, and I got the opportunity to visit with Dr. Greatbatch a number of times. Now, one of the things that led to the invention of the pacemaker was a lot of failures, a lot of trial and learn is what we call them. And Wilson Greatbatch is wonderful about reframing failure. He said, “I look forward to failure as a learning experience. Nine out of ten things that I worked on fail. But the one that works pays for the other nine.”

So, in my conversations with him, the idea for the pacemaker, he told me, actually came from a hazard flasher on the side of a road. So, he’s driving back from a meeting one time, he sees this construction site, he sees all these hazard flashers flashing. That flashing made the connection between the pacemaker electrical charge and this network with the heart. So, that’s one example.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, yeah.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, cool. They all are, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. So, trial and learn instead of trial and error.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, trial and learn because whenever you do something, you create a result. It might not be the result you anticipated, but the question is, “What can you learn from that result?” If you look at highly-creative people, they see failure in a different way. They see failure, they don’t attach a negative value to it. They see failure as, “Well, gee, that didn’t work. What else might work? What else might work?” Edison was famous for his quotes on this, but he was about halfway into inventing the lightbulb, and somebody asked him, “Mr. Edison, how many tries have you tried to invent a lightbulb that haven’t worked?” He said, “Well, I’ve succeeded in proving 700 ways it will not work. When I find a way that will work, I will be 700 ways closer to that.” And so, it’s that whole attitude about failure.

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

Roger Firestien
So, as far as creativity is concerned, and as far as things that your listeners can take away from, I think it’s really crucial that oftentimes people think that creativity is just coming up with lots and lots of ideas. But what I found over my 40-year career is that oftentimes, most of the time, what we think is the problem isn’t the problem at all. And that’s why it’s important to ask a lot of creative questions, which is what we talk about in the book.

Now, Pete, this is we talked about generating lots of ideas for solving a problem. You can use that same principle to generate lots of creative questions. So, if you’re coming up with creative questions, just differ judgments, strive for quantity, seek wild and unusual questions, combine and build other questions. And when you get those out, once again, 30 questions or so, look through those, find the best one, and then you’re going to to be much more on target for generating ideas.

So, I would say that’s one of my favorite things for your listeners to take with you. It’s like don’t accept the initial definition of the problem. And in my entire career, as I’ve facilitated hundreds of groups of creative problem-solving, there’s been one time, one time only, that the initial definition of the problem was the real problem. The rest of the time, that wasn’t it at all. It was somewhere else.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, by asking, you’re brainstorming different iterations of the problem or question to be solved, and in so doing, you’re sort of following the same process of zeroing in on which one seems the most resonant, workable, compelling?

Roger Firestien
Yes. What we do is we have you phrase those questions beginning with a phrase as a question. So, we use words like “How might…,” or, “How to…”, “What might be all the ways to…” And what those do is they setup the question as a divergent question. In other words, they’re opening your mind to search for ideas. So, “How to reduce the cost…” is very different than saying, “We don’t have enough money, okay?” That statement blocks your thinking. “How to reduce the cost…” tells your brain to begin to start to look for some ideas. So, using language in that way really helps to open up your thinking. It also helps to diffuse a lot of arguments and stuff as well.

So, if you’re in a highly-charged situation and people have different points of views, well, just phrase your point of view as a “How to…” or, “In what ways might we…” you get it up there on the chart and people feel heard, they feel valued that way. That’s one of the other things about the idea-generating process when you’re using something like brainstorming with Post-Its, everybody’s idea is valued, everybody’s idea gets up there, everybody’s idea gets heard, and so that builds teamwork. And the best way to solve a problem or the best way to build a team is to solve a problem together.

Pete Mockaitis
With that, could you now share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Roger Firestien
A favorite quote that I find inspiring? Yeah, yeah, I do have a favorite quote. Thanks. And this is one of my favorites. It’s from Create in a Flash, and I didn’t know this was by this person, but Mike Wallace, a columnist, I love this quote, he said, “If you don’t wake up in the morning excited to pick up where you left your work yesterday, you haven’t found your calling yet.” I just love that quote because if you look at creative people, if you look at people that are passionate about their work, that’s what they do. It’s like, “I’m ready to start tomorrow morning because I’m so excited to pick up where I left off.” So, that’s one of my favorite quotes, yeah.

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

Roger Firestien
Ah, well, I’ve got a bit of research. Actually, this is my doctoral research that we did back in 1987. And what we did was we compared groups that were trained in creative problem-solving with groups who were not trained in creative problem-solving. We gave them a real-life problem to solve, we took them over to the television studio on the campus, and we videotaped them while they solved the problem. When we analyzed the videotapes, we found the groups that were trained in creative problem-solving methods, the things that we’re talking about, participated significantly more, they criticized ideas less, they supported ideas more, they laughed more, they smiled more, and they generated twice as many ideas as the groups who were not trained in creative problem-solving.

Now, when we gave those ideas back to the business people that gave us a problem to work on in the first place, we found that the groups who were in creative problem-solving outproduced the untrained groups by about three to one on high-quality ideas. And the output of this is that they had more, better ideas to choose from, so they had a much greater array of ideas that they could choose from. Henceforth, a much greater possibility of solving the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s so interesting. So, three to one on quality, and two to one on quantity.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, just about like that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing.

Roger Firestien
So, again, Pete, what was that again?

Pete Mockaitis
So, you said it was three to one on quality.

Roger Firestien
On quality.

Pete Mockaitis
And two to one on quantity.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, two to one on quantity. Yeah, I’ve never really looked at it that way before, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that means that the average quality score, if you will, I don’t know, of a given idea was better still.

Roger Firestien
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “Well, yeah, they had more good ideas. They had 10 times as many so some of them were bound to not suck.” It’s like, I don’t know, the average quality was higher too.

Roger Firestien
You know, that’s an interesting way to look at that, a great way to look at that. I’ve got to write another study, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Roger Firestien
Well, come on, “Create in a Flash: A Leader’s Recipe for Breakthrough Innovation.” We just released it. So, I love this book.

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

Roger Firestien
A favorite habit. Well, I think, yeah, let me give you a couple of things. One is I’m in a wonderful position to be able to kind of control my schedule. So, one of my favorite habits is naps. And if you look at folks that are highly creative, they’ve taken naps, they’ve taken refreshers. And so, if you can sneak in a short 20-minute nap sometime during the day, that gives you what I call as two days. Because you work for a certain pace for a while, and usually about 2:00 o’clock or 3:00 o’clock, I tend to slow down. So, a little nap, a little quick meditation just to refresh, then you’re good for the rest of the day. That’s one.

And then the other thing is just really be aware that you’re always coming up with ideas, and just writing those ideas down whenever they occur to you. So, when I’m out doing farm therapy, I always have my smartphone with me because 99% of the time, I’m going to come up with an idea there to help me with something I’ve been working on, because your brain is working on it all the time just on a deeper level. You just have to get out of the way with your judgmental thinking to let those ideas begin to surface.

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

Roger Firestien
What you think is the problem is not the problem at all. And I think that’s really one of the biggest nuggets that I can give to people that would say when encountering an issue, or a challenge, or a goal, or an opportunity, don’t accept the first definition of it. Challenge your thinking about it to see the other angles of it, to see this might be a symptom. This might not be the main issue. So, I guess I would say challenge your initial definition of what you think the problem is. And, many, many times, that’s going to really help you to come up with some brand-new insights, insights you wouldn’t have thought of before.

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

Roger Firestien
Go right to my website RogerFirestien.com, it’s German. And you can go there, you can take a look at the programs we have available. And if you find the Create in a Flash button, you can click on that and find all those videos for free to download, printable PDFs along with that brainwriting form that we talked about. So, RogerFirestien.com.

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

Roger Firestien
Yes, I think the final call to action would be when you’re working on a challenge, step back from it, right? In other words, first, spend some time figuring out what the real problem is, don’t accept the initial definition of the problem. Challenge your definition of the problem. Step back from it and then be ready to capture those ideas whenever they occur to you. And that I think would be the biggest thing, because we’re coming up with ideas all the time.

And, oftentimes, I think you probably have, Pete, the occasion where maybe you’re falling asleep at night, an idea comes in, and you go, “Oh, I’ll remember that,” or you’ve taken a shower and say, “Oh, I’ll remember that.” Well, no, you won’t, okay? Get that idea down as soon as it comes to mind. So, the big takeaway to help people become awesome at their jobs is one of the things that we know is that when you’re away from work, that’s when you’re going to probably have some of your best ideas. Very few people tell me that they get their best ideas at work. When you’re away from work, that’s the time when the ideas are going to surface, so be ready to capture ideas whenever and wherever they occur to you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Roger, thanks so much for sharing, and I wish you lots of luck and many great ideas.

Roger Firestien
Thank you, Pete. This has been a delight. I really appreciate it.

476: How to Create Courageous Change with Ryan Berman

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Ryan Berman says: "Either you drive change or change drives you."

Ryan Berman offers his tips and tricks for building your courage muscle to make exciting changes.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three elements of the courage equation
  2. One simple trick to boost your courage
  3. How to convince your boss to make a courageous change

About Ryan:

Ryan Berman is the founder of Courageous, a change consultancy that develops Courage Brands® and trains companies how to operationalize courage through Courage Bootcamp.

He has spent a career developing meaningful stories for household brands—like Caesars Entertainment, Major League Baseball, New Era, Subway, and UNICEF—and he believes that courage is the ultimate competitive advantage for any willing business, being or brand.

Ryan Berman used the courage methodology detailed in the book to launch his own Courage Brand called Sock Problems, a charitable sock company that socks different problems in the world.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

Ryan Berman Interview Transcript

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

Ryan Berman
Thanks, man. Thanks for having me. How is it going?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s going well. It’s going well. Well, we’re going to talk about courage a lot. And I want to start us off by hearing about a time that you had to dig deep to find some professional courage. What happened?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, I think that’s a really fair question and a good place to start. I actually talk about, right now, being like I’m in it. The irony here is when you write a book about courage, you kind of have to live it. So, I’m in it right now. I actually, I don’t know how much of my story that you know, but I was running a 70-person creative agency and, to be very honest, I felt the bigger we got the less happy I became.

And I got further and further away from the things that I was most passionate about, which was doing the work. And so, the irony here is that I wrote this book to position that company, and they pretty much gave me the courage to fire myself and to start over. And so, I’m in it right now where I’m actually back.

I’m passionate about what I’m doing but you go from having all these resources to a startup. And when I described Courageous, which is more of like Special Forces, like reinvention company, where we help companies reinvent themselves. I’m back. I feel like I’m back living the premise of the book and it’s terrifying. As it is, I’m also much happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s cool. So, then the courage there was, “Are you going to take that leap and to part from reliable income and all that sort of thing?”

Ryan Berman
Yeah, but it’s more than that. I never thought I’d be a guy with a method, and here I am. You go through this thousand-day listening tour, and I still can’t explain why people at Apple and Google and Method and Dominos let me into their lives. It wasn’t like I paid them, and it wasn’t like they were clients. And the leaders of these companies let me in, and I was fascinated by how some of the biggest companies on the planet are also the ones that are the most agile, which doesn’t seem to make sense.

And so, the more I got to dissect those companies, and realized how important being aligned with the values of the company and the leaders were. And when I really look back at like the problems that we had setup in my last company, it just set me up to be ineffective at the level that I wanted to be effective. And it doesn’t mean like my way was the right way all the time, or my two partners who was there, their way or the highway. In order for me to scale and change, and I think if we’re not working on our tomorrow, if we’re not working on sustained relevance, what are do you really working on?

And so, when I looked at it, it was like, “Okay, how do I setup a company, really, to be calculated with our courage, but help us stay ahead of the curve with everybody else?” And when I really looked at that method, it made it easy for me to leave, or easier. It’s never easy but easier to leave, because I just wasn’t aligned with who I was and what my values were.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. And so, can you tell us, if we’re kind of zooming into the typical “professional” who is working a job, how is courage helpful for them? Like, where are some of the key ways that we can chicken out to our detriment?

Ryan Berman
So, first of all, I think we have the wrong idea, or some people have the wrong idea of what courage is. So, I always wondered if it makes more sense to share, when you look at the dictionary definition of courage, the dictionary definition is the ability to do something that  And imagine devoting a hearty amount of your time exploring the topic that’s going into a book, and you’re vehemently disagreeing with the dictionary. By the way, not a good place to be. Like, the last thing I want to do is to be on the wrong side of the dictionary.

But when I looked at that definition, I didn’t see any utilitarian value to it. I’m like, “How does being frightened really help me in the  So, a lot of my early research was just seeing if I can come up with a definition that can help people incorporate, unlock their courage, and do it in a calculated fashion.

And you go up through these interviews. I call the interview process the 3Bs. There was the brave, which are like Navy Seals and tornado chasers, firefighters, the ER operating chiefs. It’s like I was really fascinated by that process. They didn’t know who was coming through the door but, yet, their job is to save lives.

Then there was the bullish. So, leaders at those companies I mentioned. And then the brainiac was the third B, so just clinical psychologists, Cambridge PhDs, immunologists, just to study our brain and the way that we’re wired. And I came out the other side with this definition of courage that I think plays well for corporate which is quite out rad. It’s just it’s knowledge plus faith plus action

And, look, in business, you’re never going to have every snippet of knowledge you need to make a call. And, by the way, data is not knowledge. Data is a means to knowledge but it still takes those synthesizers to look at the data to get to your knowledge. And you can wait and hope to collect all the knowledge in the world but you’re probably going to get passed from a competitor

And when I talk about faith, we’re not talking about religion. We’re talking about inner belief. Like, what do you feel? Like, what do you really feel? The more your knowledge goes up, hopefully, your faith is going up. And then comes the hard

Two or three in any direction is not courage. So, if I listen to this, and I’m in a workplace setting, and you’re working on something that needs courage, and I do think courage is a journey word, meaning you need it for these tough decisions. Think about it this way. Like, do you have the knowledge to make a call? Do you feel it’s right? And then you take an

So, knowledge and faith with no action is paralysis. You know what you should do, you feel it’s right, and for whatever reason you can’t pull the trigger. Faith and action with no knowledge is reckless. So, I think if some people think that jumping without a parachute, that’s one of my six courage myths, by the way. I think that’s that definition, faith and

And then knowledge and action without faith. Like, if you’re on the inside and you’re going through the motions and you’re working on a project, and you don’t feel like any friction whatsoever, or any little voice inside going, “This is a little crazy.” My sense is, it’s knowledge plus action without faith is status quo. You’re working on safe. And when your idea hits the market, and you’re not there to defend it, it’s just going to blend in with a thousand of other messages or

So, it has to be all three – knowledge plus faith plus action equals courage. And that’s how you know you’re

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what’s intriguing there is like it’s almost like if there’s not a degree of, “I don’t know about this,” then there’s less, I don’t know, juice, opportunity, differentiation, power in that thing that you’re up to.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, it’s like if you don’t feel just that little voice going, “This is a little crazy. This is crazy. Oh, my gosh, we’re going to get fired if we do this.” These are on emotional datapoints actually but you’re actually on the right path to doing something courageous, that’s going to break through.

And I come out of the courageous idea space. So, I always say, “You’re not trying to make a courageous idea that when people see it the first time, they’re like, “Wow!” You want to create this idea when someone sees it at the eighth time, like, “Gosh, I wish I did that.” And that’s sort of the tell of a courageous concept.

Pete Mockaitis
So, can you just give us examples here of some courageous concepts that kind of fit this?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, for your listeners out West, one of the things we helped is Harrah’s, which is a casino. You think, “Oh, casino. Where is this going?” And all of our research showed that people look at it as a destination. But what if we can actually turn that destination into a real destination – a city?

And so, we actually came up with a concept of Funner, California, and how awesome would it be if we made a real-life city. And the good news about Harrah’s in southern California is it’s on sacred land, so we actually went to the Council of the Tribe with the leadership team at Harrah’s, and that just tells you the level of trust we have with the leadership team, and convinced them to change the property to Funner, California. So, literally, the proximity of the property is now a real legal city called Funner.

And once we got the smiles on the face of the team, well, if you’re going to have a city, you have to have a mayor, right, because what city doesn’t have a mayor? So, who would be the perfect mayor of Funner, California? Our first mayor was Mayor Hoff, Mayor David Hasselhoff.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Ryan Berman
Yeah. And so, next thing you know our commercials were with Mr. Hasselhoff, I mean, Mayor Hoff, who, of course, had keys to the city and rules to his city. And the irony here is not only did it move the needle for their business, but when you talk about holistic change, this was an example of once we got it right on the outside, we then started to talk about, “Well, what about behind the curtain of the company, the employees? How would the employees of Funner behave if there were burrows? What should a pit boss look like in Funner, California?” You know what’s not Funner? A pit boss with a suit with his arms crossed trying to take your money.

So, we started to like take this concept of Funner and really blow it out inside and outside. And I think that’s the big idea here, it’s like, “How do you come up with ideas? There is no curtain anywhere.” If there’s a curtain between internal and external, you’ve got a problem. And I think Funner was a great example of them having the courage to go, “We are a destination. Let’s do it for Funner.” And once that was their marketing communication, then we started to work inside to make the organization more fun in all directions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, yes. And it is kind of different, so I hear what you’re saying with regard to that faith bit. But, at the same time, that there is distinction there which is kind of meaningfully unique in terms of the innovation and being appealing to folks, like, “Oh, I don’t want to go to the one that’s less fun.”

Ryan Berman
Right, right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I want the one that’s funner.”

Ryan Berman
“Yeah, let’s go to Funner.” Yeah, I think we actually call out, we sign off, like, “It’s not a word, it’s a place.” And to some people, like, “Funner is not a word.” And so, you know, the big insight for me also, and permission to give a quick shameless plug on the book, but the true insight was every single time in my career where we have presented the most courageous idea, and our partners chose them, the return on courage was higher, and their staffs were happier.

And every time, you know, because sometimes you’d present multiple ideas, every time we’d present the safer idea, or our partners went with the safer idea, the return on courage wasn’t even half. And, by the way, our staff was less than happy. They knew it wasn’t going to work at the level it could. So, you have this really courageous idea that makes sense for the business, by the way. Next thing you know, you’re talking about like peer through reinvention.

We weren’t just reinventing their communication. We were reinventing their culture. We’re reinventing new innovation opportunities for them. Yeah, go for it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you say you’re comparing a return on courage for values. What’s the numerator, denominator here on this formula?

Ryan Berman
For return on courage?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Ryan Berman
Well, again, it’s less algebraic than the first time around. But I think the number one is in involving relevant business that’s sidestepping stasis or death. The return on courage is like you’re back into a relevant position. You’re building internal believers and external believers, and you’re building your courage muscle which breeds more courage, which keeps you ahead of your competition, ultimately try reinvention. So, helping these companies reinvent themselves and stay relevant.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I think you said that when you took the bolder path, the return on courage was like more than double that of the safer path. What is the number we’re talking about?

Ryan Berman
Yeah. I don’t have like the actual EBITDA number for here but, to me, almost every single time we’ve actually have a client pick the courageous idea, and obviously we’re playing off, “Here’s how you maximize your ROI,” but I don’t have like lock-me-down number on, “Oh, every time we do this, it’ll be 8x or 4x or 10x.” I wish I had more time. Maybe that’s something we can explore.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s more than double, you said.

Ryan Berman
Oh, yeah, there’s no question. Yeah, there’s no question.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so that’s encouraging right there. I think that’s a shot in the arm, a boost to the faith right there in terms of thinking, “Oh, okay. Well, this might be a little nuts, but Ryan said that when you do something that’s a little nuts, that makes sense and there’s a lot of energy behind it. More often than not, it’s at least twice as effective.” So, that’s pretty cool.

You made a reference to some myths when it comes to courage. Could you share a couple of those? Like, what’s the most pervasive or damaging and how should we think about these courage myths correctly?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, so there’s six courage myths that were sort of uncovered in the interview process, and some of them were obvious, like courage jumping out of a plane sans parachute, or courage is activated on impulse. I think courage can’t be taught, and I think those are critical. But when I really think of what’s the most debilitating one, I think it’s that courage describes other people, or courage doesn’t have a role

And I truly believe if that’s what you think, then of course it doesn’t have a role in our daily life. But if you look at courage like a muscle, and you can start to build that muscle and train for it, then you start to look for courageous opportunities inside your organization. We’re just not built that way. When you talk to leaders of companies, they see courage as a peripheral thing

And so, to me, that’s just an opportunity waiting to be unlocked. And if you can get your whole organization prepped and trained to look for courageous opportunities, I do believe those start to appear. And, again, if courage breeds courage, then you’re looking for those moments where we can be courageous to push forward those ideas that really change the game for your

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, let’s hear some more myths.

Ryan Berman
You know, again, I think courage is a solo risky journey. I don’t think it’s a solo. I definitely think it’s a journey but I don’t think it’s as risky as people think and I certainly  Again, especially in a corporate setting, we’re all dealing with stuff on our own, our demons on the inside, but to me that’s part of the problems. Like, how do we get out of our own way and properly communicate what we’re afraid of?

There’s a famous proverb that fear and courage are brothers, that you actually can’t get to the courageous choice without first channeling it through fear. But most of us, we suppress those things that we’re afraid of versus  And so, part of this is like, “Let’s look out what we’re afraid of. Let’s actually talk about what those fears look like. Is there a product fear we’ve got? What’s the perception fear? Which is what I would call like the marketing fear. What personal fears are you bringing to the job?” Like, “Hey, if I pick this idea, am I going to be on an island all by myself? Am I going to get fired?” We don’t talk about this stuff.

And so, as leaders, my hope is that people will empower their teams to bring this to the forefront and like I always say FOMF, Fear Of Missing Fear. Like, if you don’t have a fear, go find one and smoke out that fear, and then start to

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s get to a little bit of the how of fear. So, let’s say you’ve zeroed in on a fear, how do you go about doing the shrinking of it?

Ryan Berman
Yes. So, like I mentioned a little bit earlier, I never thought I’d be a guy with a method, and here I am. So, what I wanted to do was almost take the courage out of courage and give people the tools they need to make faster decision-making but do so in a calculated way.

So, if your audience has an opportunity and the book, Return on Courage, the back half of the book is the how. Like, how do you actually know the knowledge to follow, how to build internal and external faith, and then where to take action. And the back of the book is basically the five steps to becoming what I call a courage brand. And there’s a price. There’s a price to becoming a courage brand. And price is an acronym. It stands for Prioritize, Rally, Identify, Commit,

And Prioritize is prioritize through value. So, it’s almost going all the way back to the beginning and really looking at the  And, unfortunately, most of us have, like the values are on a wall somewhere, they’re collecting dust in an employee manual, but they’re not really being operationalized and activated.

Or maybe a company has nine values or 11 values, and I can just speak for myself. Like, I can barely remember four. So, if I’m the leader of a company, and I’ve got a thousand people working for me, how do I make this clean and simple, have less values, have each value be more valuable? And then, how am I rewarding my staff on these values?

And when I say core values, they’re not eyerolls, they’re the exceptional role. Again, this is just for me going out and seeing how these companies, the most relevant companies in the world are operating. Now, are all of them like playing by these rules? No. Amazon, I think, has 16 values. That’s unfathomable to me. But, obviously, it’s working for them.

So, it talks about, “What are the values of a company?” and then, let’s say you’re just on the team, like, “Do you actually mirror those values? Are you a believer of those values?” Which brings us to the second step, which is rally,  And I think organizations even make believers or fake believers. And the funny thing about fake believers is they’re hidden in the organization. They don’t exactly wear a T-shirt that says, “Fake believer.” They don a smile and collect the paycheck but deep down, like conviction is dropped, there’s the eyerolls and productivity isn’t what it could be.

And so, I really do believe that belief is the ultimate currency in an organization. So, when people believe, they’re in, and when people don’t believe, they’re out, and that comes straight down to leadership. So, that leadership team is responsible for creating believers, which starts with the values. And then, again, are you making believers? Are you caring about your team? I think there’s four ways

And so, respecting makes believers, caring makes believers, I would say repeating makes believers, which is really annoying sometimes for the leadership team but you need to be playing on the same playbook and say the same thing over and over again. And then seeing is believing. So, if you say something, and your staff doesn’t see something, that’s a problem, right? If you say something,

And, again, these two steps are organizational health steps. It’s as simple as galvanizing your people and creating conviction. And the number one problem that I see today is this misalignment between leadership and the next-generation workforce where the leadership team can’t wrap their heads around why you don’t want to stick around for  And the next generation is like, “I don’t need a watch. I have a watch on my phone. Like, I need skills. I need to be challenged.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s my thing. It’s like, “Because you’re going to fire me as soon as there’s a downturn.”

Ryan Berman
Right. And so, there’s this recalibration that’s needed. Both sides need to understand each other and that means talking about it. Like you said, “Hey, if I speak up, am I going to get fired?” Okay, that’s a personal fear that needs to be discussed. It should be discussed. We don’t discuss it. So, again, I think these two steps are just about organizational health, it’s about finding people with conviction that have the right intention, that are on the metaphor of co-rocket ship.

And then we move into the I, which is identify fears, so you have to do that. And the way I try to break down fears is looking at industry fears, what’s the industry fear for your vertical, like what could take down the entire industry. Are you the

And I imagine going to an offsite and thinking through these things. By the way, this concept only came up because I was so frustrated with SWOT. You know, remember the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats? And the more times I did that, my strength ended up on my opportunity, and my weakness ended up on my opportunity, and my weakness also ended up on my threats. And so, I just wanted to come up with a better way to SWOT, which has somehow survived as the standard for the last six decades.

And so, I think an art of fear is a better way to SWOT where you can get really clear about what could take your vertical down or where’s the problems with your product, which is product fears, or service fears, and I guess that perception fears which is marketing. And, again, if you don’t know what can take you down, you can’t put a plan in place and you’re reacting. Usually, it’s a little too late by the time the thing comes to get you. So, the idea is to smoke out what could take your business down and take your vertical down, and then you have a decision to make on if you want to double-down and

The C is “Commit to a purpose.” Again, I think this is a hard thing for current leadership teams to recognize but the next-generation workforce believes that we have an obligation as a business to be purpose-driven, to make the world better,  And so, I think there’s a study where 50% of millennials felt that way, that the point of this was to make the world better not just to make money.

So, if I’m a leader, you can even roll your eyes at that or just sort of accept the obligation that comes with being a business leader. And so, that means committing to an authentic purpose, a truthful purpose. Simon Sinek has spent so much of his career playing in this space. I agree with him that we got to find our why. I think the only sort of addon is, now, I think you need to have a rally cry in that why. What’s the rally cry? Why and how are people

You look at a company like SpaceX, and there’s not a ton of proof that they’re going to be successful on their rally cry purpose, which is life on another planet. But if you work there, you’re committed. You’ll give 20 hours a day to push that boulder up the mountain on what you’re trying to achieve. And I know not every company can be SpaceX, but you’ve got to find that rally cry.

You look at Method Soap, that soap company, and their rally cry and their why was the people against dirty. And what I love about it is they had a clear enemy that they chose to take down which was dirty. Are you for clean or are you for dirty? The people against dirty. By the way, I think they have a 100 million annual sales as a target, and it’s soap, it’s a commodity. So, what I love about it is it doesn’t matter if you’re a commodity or a rocket ship. You can find a purpose and get clear on that purpose and galvanize people behind it.

And then, finally, we get down to E of PRICE which is execute your action. So, knowledge, faith and action, right? It’s go time on the execute  And, again, it just depends on what type of action you’re jumping into. But the book talks about, it’s a little bit of a choose your own adventure on, “Are you reinventing your product? Are you reinventing your story? Or are you reinventing like a new offering?”

And, again, this is the hard part. The hard part is you know what you’re doing and you feel it’s right. Now you have

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I want to zero in on some of the values pieces here because I think you’re right that a lot of organizations, they have values, maybe there’s nine, maybe there’s 16, but they’re not really alive in the sense that they’re sort of hanging out on some materials, in a file cabinet, or on some walls. So, could you maybe give us some examples of company, value, and how that gets lived for real? Because I think a lot of listeners might find themselves as like, “I don’t think I can recite our company values and I don’t think any of them are leaping to mind as I look at how we do business.”

Ryan Berman
Yeah, again, I think this goes all the way back to the basics, right? You would think that we would honor the values of the company. And the problem I think is many companies are honoring the founder’s values which may not mirror what the next generation demands, or what you demand of that next-generation workforce because, to me, that’s what values were made for. They’re supposed to be guardrails to help you make decisions. It’s to drive behavior. And if you have multiple offices and thousands of people, they all should be playing on the

So, one company that comes to mind is Zappos. They do have 10 values but their number one value is, “Deliver wow through service.” The way that comes to life, I mean, from the second you walk into their office, yes, it is wall art, but I just love this idea that they have on the wall, “We’re a service company that happens to sell blank.”

Which I love that fact. And you can go in there and what they’re selling, they see themselves as a customer service company first. It doesn’t matter what your title is, you’re the first one that you’re at the office, you’re working the call center. Their CEO, Tony Hsieh, still works the call center during the holidays and people are sort of floored when he tells them, “By the way, I’m Tony Hsieh, I’m the CEO.” It’s like he’s taking calls so they don’t believe him.

And so, he is operationalizing the values. They also have a reward system. It’s almost like when you go to like one of those game rooms where you get your tickets and you can turn your tickets in for different rewards. They basically have that where other people can give you points on service and you can redeem those points for schwag. So, there’s actual science in Jonah Berger’s book Contagious that says, “We cannot imitate things we don’t see.” Which is why it’s “Monkey see, monkey do,” not “Monkey hear, monkey do.”

And so, Tony, recognizing that, he visualized this everywhere. You see it everywhere. Everywhere you go in that office, you can’t not see something on the wall reminding you of how you’re supposed to behave. I think the military also does a really good job of this. So, the Army does a really good job of this. And leadership is their acronym, and the recognize that everybody coming in through their system is coming from different walks of life, right?

So, the Army officer has a massive advantage that they get 16 weeks of bootcamp here. They really get to train their people. And most of us in the workforce, we get like 48 hours and then we get the metaphorical weapon to go out into the workplace and try to do our job. But if you’ve ever studied Fort Knox, you’ll see, again, written on the walls, it’s leadership. It’s all those values. You get it on the dog tags. They ingrain it in you. They’re training their people.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I see there that we skipped the E and the A. We got loyalty, duty, respect, and selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage, and these things mean something for real to them.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, it’s everything to them. By the way, you talk to people that are Army infantry men, they talk about how those values play off the field as much as on the field for them. So, they’re making it real. They’re operationalizing their values.

And so, a lot of the work I’m doing now is you kind of have to go back to the beginning, and go, “Hey, the way you communicate to your team, the way you’re driving behavior, it’s like Pavlov are you actually rewarding your team off of the values. And often I’ll get from a leadership team, like, “Are we talking about internal values or external values?” And my response is, “Well, that’s exactly the problem. There’s plenty of words for us to choose from. Let’s figure out the ones that work for both and stand there.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I think it gets you thinking right there because when these things are real, it stirs the heart, you know. And when they’re not, it’s sort of like, “Sure,” and they’re just trudging along.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, you can see why value. That’s where the eyeroll comes from versus, “Are you really using them to create the desired results for your company and your people.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Well, so I’d love to hear, when it comes to sort of individuals, would you recommend any sort of small practices or daily activities to help boost the courageousness or courage, if you will?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, I think it starts by recognizing that it can be for you. So, let’s assume we’re past that willingness part. Look, I think, by far, the hardest part of this is the action part. It’s hard. You know what to do. Sometime you feel it’s right. It’s just articulating like, “Okay, we’ve got to experiment, we’ve  And so, I love that word, by the way, in the corporate setting of experimenting. It’s like, “How do you help people just experiment?” Well, that means you’ve got to create a process and a budget for that.

So, let’s say I’m at a company and you’re responsible for budgeting. I would actually create an experimental budget. Like, just throw it away. It’s a failed budget. It can work but you’re literally creating little experiments to learn something new. Or, let’s say you’re not. This isn’t about work, and say this is at home, that I would create

So, one of my favorite things that I like to do is I set different calendar just for myself. I block off time for myself. Sometimes it’s monthly, sometimes it’s quarterly where I’ll send myself actionable messages. So, you can actually go in and you can custom your labels and your alarms, so I actually see things that I need to see in my alarms when they go off that basically . And I think this is a great use for me in controlling technology versus technology controlling me.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give some examples for alarms and labels that you use in there?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, so one of the things that I had to get over when I was writing the book was, okay, we have this thing called our central nervous system that calls all the shots. And let’s break that down for one sec. So, central, the core of you. System, an operating system and computer, basically a computer. Nervous, don’t say that. Don’t think that. Don’t try that. Like, we’re rooted, we have archaic systems that are basically rooted in nervousness and it’s hard to shake that.

So, one of the ideas I’ve come up with was, “Oh, that’s interesting. I wonder if I can develop a central courage system to combat the realities of our central nervous system?” So, PRICE, that five-step process is basically building your central courage system. But when I first came up with the idea, I felt like an impostor talking about this thing.

And so, for me, the way I got over it was by every morning my alarm went off, I saw, “Build strong central courage systems.” And by the 12th time I saw it, or the 18th time I saw it, or the 36th time I saw it, it was building that muscle for me that I needed to see to keep me on my path for writing the book. And so now, I say, yeah, I help companies or leaders build strong central courage systems. It’s second nature for me. But when I first said it, it was hard for me to say. I’m building that muscle.

And so, I think that’s creating these ritualized triggers and using your alarms to do that. So, if you wanted to write that blog, or start that podcast, I would literally schedule time on your calendar, maybe it’s once a week where you’re like, “Today is the day.” And you see that every week at the same time and start to ritualize that process so you can build that muscle. And that makes it easier to do it again and

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Very good. And I also want to get your take, we talked about this sort of a whole organization level. If an employee finds themselves in the midst of their organization, they want to do some courageous changes, but they get resistance from teammates and bosses. Do you have any tips on how they can get more influential persuasive and get things moving even though their kind of authority is limited?

Ryan Berman
And, again, I feel this is going to sound like a promotion for the book, but I think whether it’s my book or someone else’s book, just by giving something tangible to somebody, when you gift knowledge, so when someone gives them, “Hey, do you have a minute? I thought about you while I was reading this book. Can we talk about it when you’re done with it?” Gifting knowledge is an easy way to

A hard way to start a conversation is, “Do you have five minutes?” When they don’t have five minutes, they’re not sure what you really want. And so, what I’ve learned is just by gifting knowledge and gifting the book to someone is an easy way to talk about the process of

Another is, and a lot of this statistics are in the book. Statistics are tough because people don’t think that statistics have anything to do with them. They think statistics are for other people, right? But if you actually look at the statistics, you’ve got a 52% of the Fortune 500s since 2000 that are gone. That number is going to hold. John Chambers predicts that 40% of all companies will be .

You’re going to have 9,000 brands that carousels on and off the Fortune 500 over the next six decades. I can do this for a while. The life expectancy of a Fortune 500 brand 50 years ago is 75 years. So, once you made it onto the list, you can coast for a while. Today, it’s anywhere between 12 and 15 years. So, the numbers are there. Like, this is the problem. We have to shake the leaders of the company and go, “Look, if we don’t change, someone is going to change us whether we like it or not.” And I think even you drive change or change drives you, and if you’re not careful,

So, there are house-on-fire moments. It’s just how do you shake the leaders? And, again, a lot of this content, I just mention this in the book, I talk about like, “What’s going on and why is this happening? Why is this business apocalypse really happening?” And my hope is to do that is to help companies start to deal with this and have the conversation that it’s possible for them to change.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that really hammers it home with regard to you just don’t have the option to coast anymore. You’ve got take a moment to rejuvenate for you and rest and all that stuff, but you just can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing for years at a time because the outside world will not do the same.

Ryan Berman
No, and that’s the thing. You got this iterative strategy and, actually, you will get caught, and incremental growth has nothing on exponential growth. And somewhere, there’s probably five guys in a garage that are trying to figure out a way to take you down. That’s not on your radar yet, and they’re working 19 hours a day to figure out a way to disrupt your category. So, it’s a very real thing and it’s happening all over the country and beyond.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ryan, tell me, anything else you want to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Ryan Berman
No, man, just obviously I love talking about this stuff. I really do enjoy helping companies reinvent. I think courage is a competitive advantage for anyone that chooses to learn how to do it. And I think you can unlock it in your teams. And a lot of my time right now is being able to go inspire groups and speak in different companies and try to get them to see that courage is for them. And, hopefully, once they do, then we can start working on a plan for tomorrow.

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

Ryan Berman
Yeah, my favorite quote is by a German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer who said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it’s ridicule. Second, it’s wild. It’s violently opposed. And, third, it’s accepted as being self-evident.” So, I just love that because I think that is the process of courage. That is the friction that comes with this lot of change where, first, it’s like, “Really? Like, no, this is a silly idea.” Two, “Absolutely not.” And then, third, “Well, anyone could’ve come up with a Google, right?” Like, there’s no period for joy to celebrate. It’s just sort of, “Oh.” By the way, this quote is like evidently 250 years old and still remains true today.

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

Ryan Berman
Being able to sit with Steve Wilhite, who was hired by Steve Jobs to run marketing, was probably my favorite interview. And I love all my children equally, but to be able to sit with Steve and hear his story of how he was hired and what sort of test Steve Jobs gave him to make sure he wasn’t just a yes man so he would actually stand up to him, was pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

 Berman
I would say Essentialism is right there by Greg McKeown in just helping you decide what is essential because once you know that, you’ve got the clarity you need to stay on the path of what you follow and leave everything else by the wayside.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Ryan Berman
Today it’s Slack and Zoom because my company Courageous is virtual, so thank goodness for those tools because it allows us to stay connected in real time and see each other.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ryan Berman
Right now, it’s the one I explained where I’m setting my alarm with different labels to remind myself of what’s important, so these triggers. And so, even for me, after studying these for three years, I want to see those triggers.

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

Ryan Berman
You know what, a lot of people seem to be resonating with the knowledge plus faith plus action equals courage, which is cool. It’s like, “What do I think about this? How does it make me feel? And what am I going to do about it?”

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

Ryan Berman
Well, they’ll learn more about the book, I would go to ReturnOnCourage.com. And if you wanted to get to know my consulting practice a little more, I’d go to CourageBrands.com. And you could probably find me through the ReturnOnCourage.com website.

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

Ryan Berman
If you’re unhappy, you’ve got take your life into your control. And I really do think that’s sort of the aha moment for me, is that it didn’t matter we were getting bigger, I was getting less happy. And so, same thing, either you drive change or change drives you. And if it’s your life, then how are you to take it by being in the driver’s seat of it and make the most of it, and have the courage to drive where you want?

And, again, maybe internally, change starts with one, it starts with you and then find somebody else that’s your real raft mate who can help you make change and then go get another and another and another. And if you like challenges, I’d recommend that.

Pete Mockaitis
Ryan, thanks for taking the time and keep up the good work.

Ryan Berman
Thanks, Pete. Appreciate you having me on.

447: What Innovators Do Differently with Hal Gregersen

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Hal Gregersen says: "One of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and others is choosing to innovate, choosing to create something new and different."

Hal Gregersen reveals the key skills of disruptive innovators–and how you can get them too.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The core five skills required for innovation
  2. The questions disruptive innovators ask
  3. How to network for new idea

About Hal

Hal Gregersen is the Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management where he pursues his vocation of executive teaching, coaching, and research by exploring how leaders in business, government, and society discover provocative new ideas, develop the human and organizational capacity to realize those ideas, and deliver positive, powerful results.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Hal Gregersen Interview Transcript

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

Hal Gregersen
Delighted to be with you, Pete, once again.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m thrilled to have you again. And so, last episode was 385 for folk who didn’t hear back in January, and we talked about questions, and it was so fun. But I’d love to hear, in the interim period, what are some fascinating questions that you’ve encountered in these months that have passed?

Hal Gregersen
Well, one that I bumped into came right after a speech at South by Southwest. I had the chance to get in the car and drive north of Austin, Texas to Waco, Texas and did some work with the folks at Magnolia, Chip and Joanna Gaines and their senior people there. And at the end of some conversations about where they’ve been and where they’re going, we actually explored, quite deeply, what kinds of questions really matter in this new launching point at Magnolia.

And one of the questions that crossed my mind, that we talked about briefly, was, “What is truth in a healthy relationship?” And I realized that when a relationship, be it at work or even at home, is unhealthy, truth takes on a completely different element or definition in unhealthy versus healthy relationships. And I honestly don’t have the perfect or great answer to that question. I’m exploring it. But it was one that’s caused me to think twice about the kinds of things I do at work and at home.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that reminds of the gospels with, I think, it’s Pilate who asked, “What is truth?” It’s like, “What a question, man. That’s tricky.”

Hal Gregersen
Well, I mean, whatever it is, truth, lie, but the notion is in a very unhealthy relationship, truth gets defined by a single person. So, think of an abusive boss or even an abusive partner or spouse. In those instances, the world revolves around that individual, and truth gets singularly defined by them. And their version of truth is very untruthful. It’s just full of shades of grey and ugliness. But in a healthy, equal sort of context relationship, be it, again, at work or at home, truth is a different thing, and it’s consensual, and we’re creating it, and it’s something beautiful versus the opposite.

So, again, it was an amazing conversation with Chip and Joanna Gaines and some of their senior people around some of the key issues, and they just raised some really important questions. And they care deeply about creating spaces there, in our homes especially, where truth can thrive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, we were just breaking the ice and then you’ve got some…

Hal Gregersen
We love to break deep ice. We love to break deep ice, right, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I appreciate it. I’ll be chewing on it for sure. And I want to chat with you, in particular, right around now because you’ve got another book coming out here, The Innovator’s DNA. What’s the big idea here?

Hal Gregersen
Well, the big idea is this book is a revised version of one that came out in 2011, and basically, we’ve updated it. But here’s the genesis of the book The Innovator’s DNA. Jeff Dyer, a good colleague, and I were talking about the innovation skills of disruptive innovators, and we then crossed paths with Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School who coined the term “disruptive innovation.”

And we asked Clay, in a very direct way, “You made up, you created this concept of disruptive innovation arguably,” and the question we asked him was, “How do people like Jeff Bezos at Amazon, or Peter Thiel at PayPal, Niklas Zennstrom at Skype, this again was 15 years ago, how do those people get the ideas that actually disrupt entire industries?”

And Clay had his big, six-foot, seven-foot hands, scratched his head and thought, “I don’t know. I mean, we collectively concluded, ‘Let’s figure it out.’” And so, we interviewed a hundred plus of these people from all over the world, Diane Greene who founded VMware, Fadi Ghandour who founded a company in the Middle East called Aramex, and basically had the chance to ask them, “What were you doing when you caught the initial idea that led to a very disruptive organization that changed the world in the face of it?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an exciting question, and I’ve enjoyed perusing your Appendix A, Sample of Innovators Interviewed, and it’s an impressive lineup there. So, what were they doing? Were they all showering? What were they up to?

Hal Gregersen
Well, what you do is you watch them go about their everyday work, and they spend 30% of their time doing something that other leaders don’t, even CEOs and founders. And here’s what they do. Number one, they wake up in the morning with a problem or a challenge to be solved or found. They are problem finders and solvers. That’s how they approach the world.

And so, they have that mindset. And once they get into that sort of focus, it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to now try to figure something out,” and they do it with five very specific skills. They ask very challenging, status quo challenging questions, frequently and often. They observe the world like anthropologists. They’re carefully watching and paying attention. They network and talk to people who are the polar opposites of them, very different, in order to get new insights and spark new insights. They experiment and try things that other people aren’t willing to try, small, fast, cheap experiments.

And when they behaviorally do those things – questioning, observing, networking for new ideas, and experimenting – it actually gives them the ability to connect the unconnected, to think associatively, to put together ideas that other people couldn’t. Einstein called it “combinatorial play.” And imagine someone actively solving a problem, getting up, getting out, getting into the world, asking provocative questions, making deep observations, talking to creative people, experiment and trying things, and taking the time to associatively think and put stuff together that other people don’t.

Imagine that kind of active problem-solving process, getting primary information, primary data, versus other leaders, or people even in organizations, sitting in their office space being tasked with giving a creative new idea, and that’s basically all they do. They think.

Pete Mockaitis
“Go get an idea.”

Hal Gregersen
They think. They sit there and think with each other, and they talk in their office spaces, and they look at Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint files. And at the end of the day, if you’re betting your retirement income on the ideas that come out of those pretty stilled land, office space conversations versus this very active problem-solving and finding approach, of getting up, getting out, observing, networking, experimenting, questioning, and associatively thinking, you know, where would you put your retirement funds? And, basically, they go towards the people who are using these discovery skills to find and solve problems. Because when we use these skills that way, we actually reduce the probability of failure with our brand-new idea. It makes it more likely to happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it also sounds like a whole lot more fun.

Hal Gregersen
Oh, totally. Absolutely. Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, there’s so much good stuff in there, so I want to maybe start with the problem finding and solving. So, you say they spend 30% of their time doing stuff that others don’t, and that is they wake up, these innovators, and they just want to find a problem or solve a problem. It’s just like it sounds like in the first minutes of arising.

And so, those problems, are they kind of like all over the place in terms of, “Oh, this is an interesting thing I want to tinker with”? Or are they kind of pretty focused in terms of in their kind of functional or industry zones?

Hal Gregersen
They’re deeply focused within their own. They’re deeply focused within a space but they’re open to other surprises. And this is where, if you go to Jeff Bezos at Amazon, it’s like, here’s this guy working in financing, notices out of the corner of his eye, 25 years ago, that the internet was explosive growth rates of 1200% to 1500% per year, and he’s like, “What’s going on over there?” And that’s the point at which he then becomes very curious and very actively using these discovery skills to collect new data, and all of that work relentlessly trying to figure out, “What’s going on with this internet thing?” leads him to sell books on the internet which other people weren’t doing.

And so, the notion is we actually do care about something, as Richard Branson said, enough to do something about it. I remember this story of an animator at PIXAR talking about Steve Jobs getting in the elevator, 20 plus years ago, and surprising this young animator with a whole series of questions, again, two or three decades ago, around, “What kind of music do you listen to? And what are you paying attention to with your music? And where do you listen to your music? And how do you store your music?”

And he’s asking him all these questions about his music in the elevator, and Steve Jobs was trying to figure out the iPod. And it didn’t matter where he was, even if he was in an elevator with a stranger, he was trying to figure out better data to find and solve this issue around the iPod. And so, they care deeply about an issue.

And, frankly, I bet more than half of the leaders I interact with around the world really don’t care about the work they’re doing. They don’t care deeply about the problems and challenges they can find and solve in their own space. That’s the starting point to use these discovery skills to build something different.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it feels kind of like an obsession. It’s like, “I’m going to talk to anybody I bump into about this thing because it’s on my mind a lot.”

Hal Gregersen
And that’s how it works. And so, whether it’s David Neeleman who founded JetBlue in the U.S. a while back, and Azul Airlines in Brazil, and now he’s founding a new airline in the U.S. called Moxy, but Neeleman’s constantly exploring and trying to source new information with these discovery skills to be able to solve problems and build things other people don’t build.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And this reminds of the times I’ve certainly been in the throes of a question, and I just want to investigate. And I’ve often thought, “Boy, if I were to become a detective in law enforcement, I might become a terrible husband,” because it would just play in these, like, “Oh, I’m so close. How does this all fit together?”

Hal Gregersen
Yeah, exactly. But that’s how it works, Pete. That’s how it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so I imagine that, well, some have it, some have not found out ways to, I don’t know if the word is “control” or “harness” or “tame the wild stallions of obsessive innovative thought.”

Hal Gregersen
These hundred plus innovators, disruptive innovators, we interviewed for The Innovator’s DNA book, I don’t think they did shut it off, you know. They are relentless, obsessive problem finders and solvers. And so, I mentioned David Neeleman. Here’s this guy who grew up, he’s roughly my age, late 50s or early 60s, and this is 40 years ago. He bumps into a woman named June Morris, and they found Morris Air, and then that gets sold off to Southwest Airlines. And then David Neeleman gets fired from Southwest by Herb Kelleher because he’s too innovative, and he has a five-year non-compete agreement. He comes back and he founds JetBlue Airlines, and is incredibly successful by all metrics and standards.

Then he goes back to where he was born, in Brazil, to found Azul Airlines on a JetBlue model slightly modified for the Brazilian markets. And so, David, whenever he’s operating in the world, he’s asking these catalytic questions. And the first starting point becomes, “What’s going on here?” And so, David’s constantly asking of the world around him, “What’s working here? What’s not working and why?” And those are simple to ask but it requires huge trust to be able to get answers to them.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say trust, what do you mean?

Hal Gregersen
You know, if I walked outside of my office right now and asked the staff around me, “What’s working? What’s not and why?” They would be maybe looking at me, like, “Can I trust you with the real answers? This is working and that’s not.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s on their point of view.

Hal Gregersen
Exactly. So, it takes a deep commitment that I’m not just asking these questions to be clever or get a career advancement, I’m asking to make this place better off for us and for the people we’re serving. And that’s how David operates in the world. And so, you’ve got these relentless set of questions about the way things are, the status quo, and what’s working and what’s not and why, to lead him then to like, “Well, why don’t we try this? And how might we do that? And what if we try this?” These are very prescriptive world-changing questions.

So, his what-if question around, “What if we stopped having paper tickets? And what if we gave people codes over the phone to get on our planes at Morris Airlines?” ultimately led him, he actually was the inventor of electronic ticketing. And then when he goes down in Brazil, their issues of, “Where are we going to fly out of? What airport are we going to get some landing rights to?”

There were two major airlines in Brazil who’ve locked up all the major airports near Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In Sao Paulo, there was an airport an hour and a half away, and they actually got some landing rights there, ended up getting it all set up. And a few months before the launch of Azul Airlines in Sao Paulo, they realized the taxi ride from downtown Sao Paulo to the airport, on average, costs more than the ticket of the airplane. It was just too far away and too expensive.

And so, David’s like, “Well, why don’t we just build a huge bus system to transport thousands of people every day?” The senior leaders were like, “We’re not in the bus business, David.” And David’s response was, “Well, why not?” And he was persistent about it. And now they have these amazingly clean, Wi-Fi-equipped, very wonderful rides in downtown Sao Paulo to the airport.

Conversely, in Rio de Janeiro, they again couldn’t get landing rights at the main airport, but there was this airport off the Copacabana Beach in right down downtown Rio de Janeiro. There was a military airport that was not being used. And David and his team went to the government and asked them about it, and their answer was, “No, you can’t.” David’s response was, “Well, why not?” And he was completely persistent about this “Why not?” to the point that that’s where they finally started the Azul Airlines, was at that, “We’re not going to have it here” airport off the coast.

So, yeah, it’s just the way he operates and others like him. They’re constantly asking these questions of descriptively what’s working, what’s not and why, that leads them very practically to, “Well, how might we do this differently? And what if we try that and why not this?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, boy, there’s so much there. I think maybe we talk about these people. I want to maybe touch upon some of the research in the book about nature versus nurture, if anyone is saying, “Oh, yeah, but that’s them and not me.” What do you have to say to that?

Hal Gregersen
Well, my first response would be, if I could see the hands of everybody listening to this podcast right now, and ask them, “How many of you define yourself as innovators?” If the group out there was like any group of leaders I asked that question of in the world, about at most 50% of the hands go up. And then I’ll ask them, “Well, do you solve problems?” And everybody’s hand goes up. And now I’ve got them cornered to that plan, it’s like, “Well, if you’ve got a problem you know the solution, and you have to create a solution, what do you have to do? Well, you’re an innovator, right?” And they’re like, “Oh, got me. You’re right.”

And so, the issue is some of challenge of this nature versus nurture and “Am I innovative or not? Am I creative or not?” it all gets bundled up into these weird words of innovation versus “Do I just solve problems creatively?” The second part is, you know, truthfully, part of our discovery innovation skills are actually nature.

In fact, five systematic studies of genetically identical twins who, they’re born, but for tragic reasons they get separated at birth, and they grow up in different families and neighborhoods and context and schools, then they test them as adults. And about one-third of our ability to use these innovation skills regularly, of questioning, observing everything, experimenting and associational thinking, one-third of that is actually a bit genetic.

So, I’m very tactile. I touch and explore things with my hands. In the world, I got kicked out of school five times by the time I was in junior high school because I was always creating problems. But the issue is every one of those touchpoints, because I got more dopamine formed in my brain, caused me to get data that somebody is not touching doesn’t get. And all those datapoints of all those touches allows me to connect and see things other people don’t see. So, one-third of it is arguably genetic.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, that’s the majority.

Hal Gregersen
No, no, no, it’s one-third. The other two-thirds is pure nurture. It’s the families. It’s the schools. It’s the places we work. And all we have to do, Pete, is think of four-year olds around the world, and if they’ve grown up in reasonable homes and places, I mean, if it’s really extreme abuse, it’s a different story. But most four-year olds, what do they do? They ask a gazillion questions. They’re watching you like hawks and eagles. They are talking to just about anybody. They’ll try just about anything and they are exceptional at connecting the unconnected, and surprising you with ideas you never thought of.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Certainly.

Hal Gregersen
So, a 100% of us were once four-year olds, Pete. We had these skills. We had these creative problem-solving skills. But, unfortunately, sometimes homes and schools and even work can crush them. And so, given that two-thirds of the discovery creative innovation skills is just the world around us, is nurture, if we want to get better at it, it’s a choice. We just have to choose to use these skills to solve our problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s encouraging as compared to, say, IQ. It seems like we got a whole lot more room to grow and expand our creative skills than maybe our IQ.

Hal Gregersen
Oh, absolutely. And so, the data around this are, following what you just said, we are far more capable of making improvements around our creativity and discovery skills than we are around this thing we call IQ. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then, let’s talk about how to do it. So, we talked about questioning and some detail last time and it was a blast. I recommend Episode 385, everybody. But anything else you want to add about questioning or should we kind of move into observing?

Hal Gregersen
No, I think questioning is a starting point. It’s like, number one, care about a problem enough to do something about it. Number two, start asking more questions. And if you have no other time than this, one way to ask better questions is what I call a question burst. Whatever your issue is, set a timer for four minutes, don’t answer any of the questions, don’t explain why you’re asking them to yourself or to other people, and in four fast minutes, generate as many possible questions as you can about the issue.

And simply doing that, if nothing else, will help any of us ask better questions to start down the path of getting better answers. And once we define two or three of those questions that really count, what we know from the data from “The Innovator’s DNA” assessment where we’ve collected data from self and 360 assessments of leaders from all over the world, all kinds of industries, 20,000 of them, we basically know that if we only asked questions, there’s no relationship with that in getting valuable new ideas, new businesses, new products and services and new process.

So, all we do is ask questions. We’re not going to go anywhere. It’s like spinning wheels. But if we ask questions and actively get up, get out into the world, and either observe like anthropologists, network for new ideas, or experiment and just try things, then there’s an interaction effect they call in regression analysis where, in fact, questioning and observing does deliver valuable new ideas. Questioning and networking does deliver valuable new ideas. Questioning and experimenting it does that.

So, it’s the combination of asking with doing that makes the big difference. And I’m happy to share an example too if you’re interested.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please do. Yes.

Hal Gregersen
So, you may have never heard of Rod Drury? Does that ring a bell?

Pete Mockaitis
I think it was the Drury Lane?

Hal Gregersen
No, that’s good. That’s really good. On Drury Lane in London. That would even work for the Gingerbread Man. No, not that Rod Drury. So, I had never heard of Rod Drury, and one of the things we did related to “The Innovator’s DNA” book is we worked with Credit Suisse, we built this innovation premium metric where we’re able to, with the share price of a company, a publicly-held company, determine if investors believed that this company is going to do valuable, new, and different things in the future.

And so, part of the share price of a stock is related to things we’re currently doing, and for some companies, investors pay a premium because they say, “Look, you’re going to be doing something different, I think, in the future. I’ll pay you more than you deserve today.” So, this list we do every year for the last several years with Forbes, in collaboration with Forbes. And a few years ago, this company called Xero jumped onto the list. It’s one of the most innovative in the world. We’re like, “What’s that company?” In fact, it was near the top.

And when we looked at it, we discovered that Rod Drury founded this company that basically solved the exact same kind of software to small businesses and individuals that Intuit sells with QuickBooks and Quicken. And we called Rod Drury and we asked him, “How did you get the idea to build this company that outside of the U.S. is taking Intuit on head to head?” And his answer? He said, “I, for five years or more, watched and read everything that Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, did.” Now, that’s interesting.

And he said he literally would go to conferences to hear Scott and to watch how he operated as a leader. And here’s what he discovered. Scott Cook founded Intuit on his deep questioning and observational skills. He can really see things other people that don’t see. And so, Rod Drury noticed that. And what does Rod do? Well, he founded one software company, and then he’s like, “I think we could do something in this personal and financial and small business software.”

And so, Rod and his team went to 200 small businesses with questions swirling in their head about how to make small business software, financial software better for them. They went into 200 plus small businesses, and spent three to four hours in each of them, simply watching how they went about their day, and then talking to them about what they noticed and observed. That’s a 600-hour commitment by a founder. It’s not like delegating this innovation work to somebody else, it’s doing it yourself, which is what these innovators do.

So, what Rod discovered was many things. One, for example, was he watched these people come up, open their small business at the beginning of the day, get their cup of coffee or hot chocolate, go back to their computer two or three minutes later, and all of them were looking on the computer at basically the same information. So, pretend, Pete, you’re a small business owner, and you’re starting your new day, and you’re looking on your computer for some key information. What do you think that most important data that was that they were looking for?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, how much cash do I have in the bank right now? And how much cash do I need?

Hal Gregersen
Bingo! Bingo! Bingo! That’s exactly it. They were looking at their bank balances to figure out cashflow, “Do we have enough money to operate today?” And what they basically did was they took that observation, which at that point bank statements weren’t linked to this personal financial or small business financial software. They took that datapoint and a hundred or a thousand others to build a user interface, an introductory report when you log on, that’s incredibly intuitive and incredibly simple, and delivering the data you need to work today with your small business.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it must feel cool. What’s interesting about this synergy is questioning plus observing is because it might not occur to you to ask the question, “What is the first thing that you open up and look at in your financial software?” But once you do some observing, you’re like, “Huh, this is an interesting little pattern. I’m going to go ahead and kind of validate or vet by sending a survey to a bunch of people. And, say, hey, sure enough, everybody does this.”

Hal Gregersen
Oh, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I can see how they go back and forth there.

Hal Gregersen
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we talked about the questioning and the observing. So, then how do we think about networking and experimenting?

Hal Gregersen
Well, the networking piece to think through is, okay, they’re not networking to get a career advancement. It’s not networking to get resources. That’s a different kind of networking. This is a networking to expressly spark new ideas. And so, whatever your challenge is, whatever you’re trying to figure out, it’s like, “Okay, who are the top 10 go-to people that, if I talked with them, they would help me get a new idea, a new angle on this issue, possibly asking the questions I’m not caring about?”

And, in this instance, when we’re trying to get new friends, we usually try to find people who are like us. When we’re trying to get new ideas, the whole point is “People who are not like me.” That’s the point. They have a different technical background, they work for different organization, a different industry, they’re a different gender, a different generation, by age, different nationality, a different political group, a different socio-economic group. They’re different somehow, someway. They’ve lived in a different space and world enough that they can give me an angle I’ve never considered before.

And so, Marc Benioff, whom we first interviewed for The Innovator’s DNA book, and I re-interviewed for the Questions Are the Answer book that you and I talked about recently, but Marc, at the very core, is incredibly inquisitive and he excels at networking for new ideas. He calls them listening tours. He gets up, he gets out. When he’s got an issue, sometimes his listening tours last three months, sometimes one month.

He literally goes and embeds himself in a space in order to figure out what’s going on by talking to rich people, poor people, business leaders, government leaders, religious leaders, small businesses, large businesses, non-businesses, literally dozens, hundreds of conversations, collecting information, getting surprised in order to formulate an idea that otherwise he wouldn’t.

So, one of their ideas is this thing called Chatter, which is kind of this integration of Facebook and Twitter internally to facilitate conversations and get work flowing better on their systems. That idea came from a regular dinner that Marc holds with young leaders out in Silicon Valley to get new ideas, and that’s where that spark came from.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then so you’re networking for new ideas, and one of the guidelines is you want to talk to folks who are unlike yourself. But it sounds like they can be from any industry, or functional area, or geography, or socio-economic background. So, what am I kind of looking for when I’m choosing who to get in the room?

Hal Gregersen
Well, often it’s somebody who’s dealt with a problem similar to the one we’re dealing with. And so, if I’m a radiologist working in CAT MRI scanning machine, and I’m having trouble getting kids to settle down and be quiet and be comfortable in this space, I might go talk to dentists who deal with some of the same challenges, and ask them, “How do you deal with this issue? How do you approach it?” And they might get some incredibly new ideas otherwise they wouldn’t get.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Hal Gregersen
Now, I mean, there’s a historical example that’s absolutely fun around this. Have you ever heard of Kutol Wall Cleaner?

Pete Mockaitis
No, I haven’t.

Hal Gregersen
So, back in the 1940s, you and I, if we lived in a home, we probably had wallpaper on the wall. It was paper and we had a coal-burning stove, and the coal put out soot. By the end of the year, the spring, new spring, our walls will be black, not white, because the soot is all over the walls. So, Kutol Wall Cleaner was this putty-like substance that was rolled up and down the wallpaper, because you couldn’t wash it, in order to clean that black soot off, and you’d buy gallons of it to clean your walls off in the spring after a long cold winter.

And after World War II, these coal-burning stoves, they were no longer going to be used because electric and gas-burning stoves were replacing them, so there’s no more market for Kutol Wall Cleaner. So, imagine being the president of that company. It’s the market-leading wall-cleaning putty company on planet Earth, and your market now is disappearing because there’s no more need for it. And the founder actually passed away accidentally, tragically in an airplane accident, so his son took over in the middle of this downward transition, and then the son got cancer, so then they’re really in difficult straits.

And the family is sitting around the table trying to figure out, “What do we do next? The machines aren’t even running. We’re not going to have a spring this year. What are we going to do?” And at the dinner table is a daughter-in law of one of the founders who’s a school teacher, and she raised the problem at school, “You know, it’s cool when the kids do their art stuff. If they used sculpting clay, it stains their clothes with all the color, and if they used the stuff you make with flour, salt and water, it just doesn’t work as well.”

So, somebody at the dinner table says, “Why don’t you take a can of Kutol Wall Cleaner to school tomorrow and see if it works for your sculpting class.” They did. It was incredibly successful. That became Play-Doh.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Same stuff.

Hal Gregersen
Same stuff. So, all they did, the only thing they did was they changed the label on the can, removed the borax cleanser, put in almond scent. They sold the same stuff in the same can within the same factory. It used to be 37-cent wall cleaner, and it was a $1.50 one for the Play-Doh. And they sort of hit a wall with trying to market it.

Pete Mockaitis
The wall.

Hal Gregersen
There was this kid show called “Captain Kangaroo” like “Sesame Street” but way, way back. And they went to “Captain Kangaroo” and said, “Would you put this Play-Doh stuff on your show so we can sell more of it?” And said, “Here’s how much it would cost.” And they’re like, “We’re just barely digging out of a real hole here. What else can we do?” Captain Kangaroo says, “You give me 5% of your profits in the future and I will put it on my show three or four times a week.” He did and now it’s billions of cans later, you know, incredibly successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Captain Kangaroo grew the…

Hal Gregersen
Yes, sure. So, the point here, Pete, is Play-Doh never would have happened if people wouldn’t have been sitting at a table and talking across industries, education and wall cleaning, in order to solve a problem. And then having an experiment, “Just try some at school tomorrow. Small, fast and cheap to make it work.” And it did.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, Hal, tell me, if you’re thinking from the perspective of a typical professional as opposed to a CEO or head of a product, what are some of the top things you’d recommend we do to get better at some of these skills right away?

Hal Gregersen
Pay deep careful attention to the world around you and find an opportunity or a problem or a challenge related to your employees or to your customers that if you did something about it, it would make their world better. That’s the first step. You have to care about something that you want to do something about it. Once you have it identified, then it’s actively, use these discovery skills to find a solution.

And so, just today I was talking with a leader in my office here today who has a legal training and is trying to figure out the new legal tech integration with basically it’s technology, AI, machine learning, deep learning, what’s the impact going to be in the legal field. And I said, “Well, on one hand you can just sit in your office and think it, or you could use these skills and do something about it.”

So, starting point A, build your questioning muscle, your questioning skill by doing that question exercise about your challenge. Take four minutes, generate as many questions as you can, you’ll find some you didn’t discover before, and pick one or two that really matter. Starting point, ask a different question.

Then, I want you to get up, get out, get into the world. So, in this case, it was for this lawyer, “Go and observe the people who are actively using artificial intelligence in their legal work, watch them do their work. Watch people who are not doing their work. Learn about how both of their worlds operate.” Then I said, “Go talk to other people who are integrating AI into their world, biotech, fintech. Have conversations with them and even beyond that world, maybe in the world of transition and change due to technology.”

Then I said, “Try a few small, fast, cheap experiments based upon what you’re learning to see if it might work. And intentionally, once a week, step back with all this data you’re getting, observing, networking, and experimenting, and take a moment to think to yourself, ‘Is there anything I’m learning new, different, surprising from observing, networking, experimenting, anything new and different, surprising, that would be relevant to this problem I’m trying to solve?’”

If we don’t take the moment to make those connections, they don’t get made. And in the business life, we often miss that simple but important element.

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

Hal Gregersen
Whether you are leading yourself or leading your team or leading an entire organization, everybody is looking at how you find and solve problems. And all I know is if you walk into the most innovative companies in the world, these are not passive problem finders and solvers. The senior leaders, the executives who innovate and disrupt, they actively use these five discovery skills over and over and over to do their work. And that’s what makes them so good.

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

Hal Gregersen
Favorite quote. You ask me difficult things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m honored to hear that from you.

Hal Gregersen
No, there was one I ran across. I was playing with two of our grandchildren at the beach, treasure hunting actually, and as I was looking out over the water and the sun was coming in, I had this quote come into my mind by E. B. White, “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” It was just that moment of wonder, “What new treasure are we going to find in the beach? What new treasure are we going to see in the sky?” And to always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder is a creative way to start and end every day.

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

Hal Gregersen
I’m in the middle of reading The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines. I’m a fan of Magnolia. It’s basically their life stories behind the creation of this incredible business that they’ve created. And the powerful thing that I get out of it is they are very, very different people, Chip and Joanna Gaines. But they deeply admire and respect and honor each other’s instincts about how to do things and what they might do next. And that is partly, I think, not partly, I think it’s been crucial to their success and what they’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share in your speaking, your teaching, your book that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and get quoted back to you often?

Hal Gregersen
Innovation is a choice. We all wake up, we all go about our life be it work or at home, and we all have demands that force us just trying to get things done every day. But one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and others is choosing to innovate, choosing to create something new and different, choosing to build a future that looks different than the one we’re living in today. And what’s really cool about making that choice to innovate and create is it not only gets us brand-new ideas but it also buys us more years here on planet Earth, more healthier, we have fewer heart attacks, less depression. It’s just going to lead to consequences that can build a better world not just for us but for those that we care most around us.

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

Hal Gregersen
Easiest is HalGregersen.com. But if you look up Hal Gregersen online, you can chase me down at MIT or beyond and we can connect with each other.

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

Hal Gregersen
Leadership is not about us. It’s about building other people, and it could be those that are working directly with us, it could be the next generation who’s going to take our place. But, at the end of the day, leadership is not about me. It’s about somebody else becoming better at exactly what you and I talked about, Pete, finding and solving the most important problems to make this place better.

Pete Mockaitis
Hal, it has been a fun and inspiring. Yet again, I wish you all the best with this book and your questions and all your adventures.

Hal Gregersen
Thank you. And, Pete, same to you. Wish you well in your journey and adventure. In my simple terms, quest well. There you go.