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384: Bringing More Joy into Work with Bruce Daisley

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Vice President  of Twitter Bruce Daisley shares the key differences that make the difference between work delight and drudgery.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two hacks for restoring your personal equilibrium at work
  2. The benefits of connecting with your colleagues through laughter
  3. Why working more than 40 hours a week is a bad idea

About Bruce

As European Vice-President for Twitter and host of the UK’s number one business podcast Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat he is in the centre of the debate about the way work and communication is evolving.

Daisley has been one of the Evening Standard’s 1,000 Most Influential Londoners for four years and is one of Debrett’s 500 Most Influential People in Britain. Campaign magazine asserted that Daisley is ‘one of the most talented people in media.’

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Bruce Daisley Interview Transcript

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

Bruce Daisley
Well, I’m really flattered to be asked, so thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to dig in. I believe Dan Cable introduced us and his was one of my favorite podcasts episodes, so there’s a big, big expectation Bruce, that you’re going to bring it.

Bruce Daisley
Thank you. Well, let me try my best.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, you have defined yourself as “work culture obsessive,” which is a good turn of a phrase. Your body of work seems to show it. On top of a pretty demanding job, you’ve put out a great podcast, Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat. You’ve got a book coming out. What do you mean by being work culture obsessive?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, I think the interesting thing for me, I work at Twitter. I’m fortunate enough that when guests used to come to the London Twitter office from all around the world, almost without exception they’d say, “Wow, this is just an incredible office. We love the culture here.”

I had heard that previously. I used to run the UK team for YouTube at Google and all the time people used to either wander past my team or interact with my team. They’d say, “Wow, what a special team.” Unfortunately, I was misdirected into believing that that was down to a magical skill that I had.

I think a couple of years ago I became aware that maybe people at my work weren’t as motivated or as happy as they once were. I became obsessed not with sort of drawing on my own hunches about how culture is created, but more thinking, “I wonder how I could arm myself with evidence.” I think that’s the critical thing I’ve done really. With the passion of trying to work out how to improve work culture, I’ve set about trying to get evidence of how to do it.

In the course of the last couple years on my own podcast I’ve really just pestered and tracked down some of the people who’ve written the most interesting books that I’ve found.

I’ve been fortunate enough I think that when you contact someone who’s written a magical piece of research, something that’s just really fascinating and compelling and they’re not in the promotional time for it, they’re often very willing to talk. I’m so lucky to have got people who have written just some of the most fascinating books and got them to talk to me.

I guess, I’ve got a fascination in how to improve work and being evidence led on how to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Very cool. I want to do dig into all sorts of fascinating bits of research. Maybe could you orient us right now? You are a vice president of Twitter for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. What does that mean or what does that entail in terms of your job and what are some of the practices that you’re seeing really make a big impact in terms of bringing about the joy of work?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. It’s a good question. I think when you do an original job like mine, it goes without saying that I’m fortunate that I’ve got very, very capable people in all of the markets we operate in. I’ve got a formidable person working in Spain. I’ve just got an incredibly talented person working in the UK. My job really is to try and provide sort of bursts of energy for those people.

Someone contacted me today asking for some help with a contractual issue. Effectively, I guess, I’m someone that the leaders in those countries can call upon when they need additional support. I’m like a router really. I sort of direct energy and I direct resources when appropriate and try and stay out of the way when appropriate as well, so an interesting role.

I guess the principle thing I would say in terms of how I’ve learned about the joy of work from those countries, I think the thing that the UK is very similar to the US on is that increasingly more and more workers are sort of eating at our desks.

When you go and explain that to someone in France or someone in Spain, you say, “Guys, it’s really important we start trying to take lunch breaks,” they look at you very confused. They don’t really understand what on earth you’re talking about.

It’s because those cultures have really recognized, historically recognized, the importance of lunch breaks and the importance of the social magic that’s created in those interactions. Unfortunately, it’s the more Anglo-Saxon part of the world that’s economized on those things.

For me, it’s understanding work culture and understanding how to improve work culture as being a real excursion into understanding the different national cultures around the world and what we can learn from them.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to touch on that national piece there because the engagement data on workers in the UK is even worse by a pretty good margin than it is for workers in the US. Do you have a comment on what could be driving that there?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. To give those figures – I think the engagement figures for US workers I think – all of us, if we looked at these numbers cold we’d say – I think the US engagement is 20-something percent. I can’t remember top of my head. The figure for UK workers is 8%. 8% of British workers feel that they are actively engaged in their job.

The only solace that I can provide to the British is that the lowest in the world is actually the French. According to the Gallup survey, the Gallup workforce survey, 3% of French workers are actively engaged in their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Even with the lunch breaks?

Bruce Daisley
I know. How bad. There’s certainly a global crisis of engagement. We seek so much of our own identity from our jobs. If you look at the evidence, people who do jobs are happier, they live longer, they feel more fulfilled in life, then those who don’t do jobs.

Jobs play a really important part in our self-esteem, but quite often they’re not set up correctly, they’re not focused on us achieving things in the way that we would most like, so we end up becoming slightly disengaged or sometimes very actively disengaged in the jobs that we do.

Pete Mockaitis
Right and I’m curious from your observations across countries, are there particular mindsets or policies? I wondered if it’s a little trickier – my understanding is in some European countries it’s trickier to say fire somebody. I think sometimes it’s trickier to find a job. Is that fair to say as compared to the US?

Bruce Daisley
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I wonder if that had a role with it with regard to finding fit. It’s a little bit of obstacles there. Do you think it’s a factor or what’s behind it?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, I think – I wouldn’t necessarily say that those things have a direct impact on how engaged people are in their jobs, so you see – you do see a variance across Europe and you do see – it’s not necessarily that when it’s hire-at-will and fire-at-will that workers are more engaged.

There’s definitely cultural factors that play a part. There’s definitely elements in the job that play a part. Some cultures historically have been more hierarchical. Some national cultures have been more hierarchical.

When you look at workers, one of the key factors in people being engaged in work is the ability to speak up to the boss. It’s sometimes called psychological safety. The ability to put your hand up and say, “I don’t think this is right,” when you see something that appears to me maybe slightly against our expectations. The willingness to speak up to the boss is one of the most powerful indicators of workplace culture.

There are definitely some cultures that are more hierarchical. Some cultures where speaking up to the boss is really frowned upon. Definitely that plays a part. There are significant cultural differences between different countries.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. You unpack some of this in your book, The Joy of Work. What would you say is the main idea or thesis there?

Bruce Daisley
I split it into three parts. The fundamental part for me was when I was setting out on my own process of discovery I was interested in finding evidence about how we could bring some of the work that’s being done by experts into the world of work.

There’s no shortage of psychologists, anthropologists, people who’ve studied neuroscience, who’ve given us indications of better ways to be working. The challenge for me was that a lot of that evidence wasn’t reaching the workplace.

I split the book into three parts. The first part is just to try and restore us to a position of a more balanced equilibrium. I think it’s fair to say that the stats suggest that half of all office workers report feeling burnt out, but that’s also common to nurses, that’s also common teachers. The state of feeling burnt out by our jobs, by feeling exhausted by the amount we’re working is becoming increasingly ubiquitous; half of all of us feel it at any point.

The first part of the book is really just very simple ways to try and restore our equilibrium. I call that section in the book Recharge. Some of the sections there are often really small interventions. I’ll give you one example. One of the most effective things that anyone can do to feel less overwhelmed by their job is to turn notifications off on their phone.

Pete Mockaitis
Just like that.

Bruce Daisley
This is a really strange one. Because when you tell people that this is one of your interventions, they often look at me thinking, “Okay, this book’s going to be really trivial.” But let me give you the evidence on that one.

Half of all people – this was done by someone working at a mobile phone company of all things. He’s working at Telefonica, a European cellphone company. He was trying to get people to turn their notifications off for a week. He couldn’t get enough people to do it. He said, “Okay, if not a week, will you turn your notifications off for a day.”

To just give you an indication of how powerful this is, two years after he did that intervention, half of all the people who made that decision to turn their notifications off, still had them turned off.

Pete Mockaitis
One day.

Bruce Daisley
One day, two years. People when they try this they say, “You know what? I was just able to get a bit of calm back to my life. I was able to not keep checking that email icon that kept popping up. Black Friday offers or whatever it was that was drawing me back there. I was given a bit of head space.” Half of all people who did that still had it turned off.

Consequently, with that in mind, as soon as you realize you can improve work with lots of little hacks, with lots of little changes, then it becomes an exercise in finding what are the other hacks.


One of the other things that I found that was fascinating for creativity. When we look at creativity, there’s many different ways to categorize the brain, but one of the most common systems is that scientists talk about the salience network, the executive attention network and the third one, the one I’ll talk about, is the default network. These three networks sort of operate across the whole of your brain, but they do different functions.

The default network is this fabulous part of the brain which is – it tends to be where we dwell when we’re daydreaming. It’s all where thoughts organize themselves and bounce around, but often when you say to people, “When did that idea come to you?” it’s at a time when the default network is running our brains.

I’ll give you an illustration. Often people say, “Oh, had a good idea while I was in the shower,” “Had a good idea while I was going for a walk.” That’s not uncommon because that’s the time the default network is daydreaming and allowing little thoughts to interact with each other, to bounce off each other.

As soon as you know that, as soon as you know that creativity comes from the default network, you start thinking of what are the ways to activate that? One of the most powerful ways to activate the default network is to go for a walk.

If you’re trying to brainstorm, if you’re trying to get ideas down on a piece of paper, then often we find ourselves stranded in a lifeless sort of pretty dull meeting room often frowning into our laptops, or frowning onto a white board. Actually one of the most powerful things you can do is go for a walk. 81% of people saw an increase in ideas. Their ideas went up two-thirds when they did that. It’s a really powerful thing.

But the default network can be activated in so many different ways. My favorite example of the default network is the guy who wrote The West Wing TV show, he also wrote The Social Network film, a guy called Aaron Sorkin. He stumbled upon this. No one told him this, but he stumbled upon the idea that his best ideas came to him when he was in the shower. As a result of that, he had a shower installed in his office.

In a sort of fabulous interview – he was interviewed I think by Hollywood Reporter and he was asked about his habit for showers. He takes eight showers a day. He takes eight showers a day. He was asked about this. He said, “It’s not that I’m obsessively clean. That’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because the sense of freethinking, the sense of sort of free association I have in the shower just gets me past any road blocking, gets me past any sense that I’m stranded in my thinking.”

For me, as soon as you understand that, you start thinking, right, then when am I allowing my default network to play and to create? The answer quite often is pretty infrequently. We fill our day with meetings, with emails. We’re not giving ourselves time to think and dream.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that example in that it’s sort of an extreme action. It’s like, “Hey, I’ve made this observation and it’s really working for me, so we’re going to go all in. Install the shower. Do it eight times a day.” That’s such a cool example.

Bruce Daisley
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to dig into that notifications a bit. Not to get too nitty-gritty, but let’s talk it. Now the key thing about the notifications is simply the beeps and buzzes from our phone or is it everything. Don’t pop up on my phone screen visually. Don’t give me red badges. Is it sort of like all notifications or just the ones that can interrupt you from other stuff?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, it’s all of them, all of them. But what I will say, Pete, it gives you a real mental availability. My own experience at doing this of all the interventions, there’s 30 interventions in my book, which unfortunately it’s not being published in the US for another 12 months. But there’s 30 interventions in my book and I’ve tried all of them out.

But this one is you have to turn off all notifications. You turn off the number that sits on that email app. You turn off the thing that slides down on your screen. What happens is that I find myself in the morning and I go through that routine that we’ve all become accustomed to, which is you wake up, you check your message apps, you check your social apps.

Then it used to be that I always checked my email and increasingly now I forget to check email. I’ll find myself heading out on my journey to work and then an hour into my journey to work or just as I’m arriving at my office door, I think “Oh, I haven’t checked email.”

To me it’s incredibly liberating because often that sense when you’re checking email but before you get to the office, it either disrupts your morning commute and you find yourself trying to answer something badly at the kitchen table or it sort of creates a sense of sort of claustrophobia that you want to answer it but you don’t have time.

Of all the interventions, as I said, this is the most powerful one. It’s just an illustration I think that we can push back against the demands of work. We often feel helpless in the face of work, but this gives us scope to really push back and try and feel more refreshed, feel more recharged really.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. I like that term claustrophobia in terms of right now it’s sort of got a piece of you in term of your mental attention. It’s there. It’s like, “Oh I want to reply to that. I can’t right now. What will I say? Maybe this.” Now your brain is consumed with that and you’re sort of short changing your opportunity in the default system mode of transportation zoning out to get those creative ideas.

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
You said 30 interventions, so I know we won’t have time to hit all 30, but if I may invoke perhaps the 80/20 rule. If 6 of them are yielding 80% of the value, can you give us what are the other half?

Bruce Daisley
The first 12 are all these recharges. Then probably the bit of the book that I found most fascinating when I was researching and it was something that the more I researched it, the more I became addicted and compelled to the science of it was this idea of human sync, this idea of human synchronization. The science of this is remarkable.

If you put a group o as soon as you realize you can improve work with lots of little hacks, with lots of little changes, then it becomes an exercise in finding what are the other hacks. f people who are strangers singing together in a choir, you observe that their endurance, their fortitude goes up. I’ll explain to you how in a second. When you put rowers together and you get them to row in time with each other, their fortitude and their endurance goes up. They become more than the sum of their parts remarkably. It’s choirs, rowers. When you put people together who dance, you see the same.

When I mention the fortitude, that’s one thing that scientists have found. They find it very difficult to measure the endorphin levels in people, but they find it very easy to measure the consequence of those endorphins. What they often do – and it sounds a touch callous – but they inflict pain upon people.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Bruce Daisley
Scientists, they tend to put these armbands around people’s arms, sort of things like what you might have worn or taught a child to swim in. But if you imagine you keep inflating those armbands until it starts creating a bit of pain on the arm of the subject.

What they found was that people who had rowed in time with each other could withstand twice the amount of pain of people who just rowed on their own. People who danced together, withstand more pain than people who’ve not danced together. People-

Pete Mockaitis
Now is this while they’re rowing and while they’re dancing or sort of at a resting state?

Bruce Daisley
Yes. No, so immediately when they stop, they can withstand the pain. It creates this magical thing. It’s really interesting. When we’re thinking about teams, the choir is a perfect example. You put strangers together and you get them to sing together and actually when you look at the evidence afterwards, they often say, “I feel a connection to the person I sung with,” even when that person was a stranger ten minutes before.

It has this remarkable quality. As soon as you understand that there is something about us being in sync with others that seems to develop this sort of fortitude, it seems to develop this connection, then you start thinking okay, are there other ways that we can access this. There are.

One of the most compelling bits of science about sync I’ve seen is scientists took about 4,000 unmarried couples who were living in a distant relationship. They were maybe sort of – one was in the West coast, one was in the East coast.

Pete Mockaitis
These are like romantic relationships?

Bruce Daisley
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
So distance. Okay.

Bruce Daisley
That’s right. They tried to understand which of these couples stayed together. What they found was the couples that stayed together over the period of time that they were being observed had one thing in common. It was the ones who phoned each other every day to talk about trivial things.

When we have this human sync, when we take time to get in sync with each other and that often is conversation, but clearly the most magical form is this physical interaction, but we can observe it. The couples who spoke together every day, their relationships were more enduring.

We see lots of examples of this. One of the other bits that you see in this … is that there’s a wonderful researcher who’s looked at a lot of this work, a guy called Robin Dunbar. Robin Dunbar, he looked at animals and he observed that one of the ways that animals get in sync with each other is they do mutual grooming. It’s no longer acceptable Pete, unfortunately for me to stop and pick fleas off of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m just thinking I’ve got a great hairbrush, just come on over.

Bruce Daisley
Maybe this is why we see teenage girls do this. We see the endorphin levels rocket through the roof when animals spend time in mutual grooming. However, he said they observed exactly the same behavior when humans laugh together, which is really interesting.

You’ve got this phenomenon of human sync. Chat activates it. Spending time around in synchronized activities with others activates it, but also laughing with others activates it. The consequence of sync is that it tends to make us more bonded with the people we’re working with. It tends to make us have a greater allegiance with the people we’re working with.

Anyone who’s thinking about how to make work better, thinking about how you can build some maybe sort of collective laughter into the working environment is a really important thing.

Of course, strangely a lot of us have stumbled upon that through our own experience. We’ve maybe been in companies where the company meeting at the end of the week, there was always a guy who stood up and made everyone laugh. That place seemed better than this place, but we couldn’t put our finger on why.

I think this for me is a good piece of science that says, as human beings we shouldn’t be ashamed of finding benefit in some of these things like laughter. We shouldn’t be ashamed in feeling more connected to our teammates when we spend time laughing with them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. That just gets me thinking in terms of how to get that laughter going. I remember one time I was in an office and we had just a little fun event in which everyone – well, you might dig this, former YouTube – everyone was to bring one of their favorite YouTube videos. We just sort of hung out. That’s what we did. There was maybe 20 people. Each person brought a YouTube video they thought was great and we all just laughed together. It was a whole lot of fun.

Bruce Daisley
Well, one of the best books on laughter is by a scientist called Robert Provine. Robert Provine said – it was a really interesting thing – he said even though I think there’s somewhere in the region of 70,000 scientific papers, so peered-reviewed papers into pain, there’s less than 100 scientific reviewed papers into laughter. Scientists often feel it’s a bit frivolous to investigate laughter.

He decided that he was going to do one of the biggest pieces of research into laughter. He pulled together all of everyone else’s research. Here’s what he found.

He found laughter quite often in an office – so I’ve talked there about optimizing an office for laughter – but he said often in an office, laughter is around things that aren’t necessarily the funniest things in the world. We often find ourselves laughing with colleagues at things that wouldn’t necessarily get on their own Netflix special.

But he said in many ways laughter, the way he describes it, is in many ways, laughter is like a human’s bird song. It’s like the sound we make to feel connected to each other.

Actually one of the things that laughter signals – there’s a wonderful bit of science that if you look at how animals play, one thing that dogs do is they often do a thing where they lean forward on their front two legs, sort of very similar to the yoga position, the downward dog.

Scientists who look at that say that that signals that no harm will pass here, that dogs know that if they lean forward on their front two legs, that even if they look like they’re about to bite each other, they know that it’s a signal that things are safe. One scientist said to me that laughter signals the same for humans. We laugh to signal we’re all friends here. This is just – we’re connected with each other.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. This is bringing me back to my days at consulting at Bain and one of their best – the best lines in their recruiting materials – I think they’re still using it is “We laugh a lot,” which was true.

Then one of my favorite sort of events we had, they called it the Bain Band in which people would change the lyrics of popular songs to reflect sort of the dorky nuances of the consulting experience, so
Time After Time would be Slide After Slide. It wasn’t super hilarious, but it was your colleagues that you recognized up there being kind of silly on stage. You just sort of laugh a little bit like, “Oh yeah, that’s our life, slide after slide, ha, ha, ha.”

It had such a powerful bonding effect. I remember we would all rush to get with our favorite colleagues and have chairs next to each other. If someone was going to the bar for a drink, nobody wanted to leave their seats, “Oh get me one,” “Oh get me one,” “Oh get me one,” someone’s coming back with seven drinks in their hand somehow. Yeah.

Bruce Daisley
Isn’t it interesting though that so often and especially when times are difficult, so let’s imagine the last few years have been difficult for a lot of businesses, that one of the things that you know there from your own subjective experience backed up by the science that I’ve done is that laughter made you feel connected and made you probably in truth, want to work harder for the people around you.

But when times are hard, we find ourselves saying, “Now is not the time for laughter. Don’t let the bosses see you laughing in the office.” We often have this idea that somehow laughter is frivolous, somehow unnecessary. It’s a distraction from the job rather than it’s forging a link with us and the colleagues we work with that’s going to make us do our best work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That is good. Boy, just keep them coming Bruce. Laughter, any other big ones you want to share?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. For me that was so fascinating because the idea of laughter. But I think probably the one that’s been most talked about in the last few years is the idea of psychological safety. This is the idea, I think I mentioned earlier that the willingness to speak up to the boss. I was really interested.

I met a member of the equivalent of the Navy SEALS, a member of the special forces in the United Kingdom. He told me about their tactic of reaching this. Psychologically safety is this immensely difficult thing to achieve.

When teams feel willingness to speak up to the boss, what you tend to find is it produces a fluidity of discourse. It ensures that you don’t end up in a situation where the whole of the company knows that something’s bad but the bosses are asking them to do it.

If you look back at some of the recent memorable corporate failures, Nokia was famous for it had a culture where people were instructed if they couldn’t be positive, don’t do anything. As a result of that, when they were faced with the iPhone arriving and people starting to question whether their smartphone was good enough, the people who had dissenting voices and maybe wanted to speak up were really clearly told don’t speak up. This is not the time – there’s no value in speaking up.

I think what we’ve learned is the businesses where they can encourage this psychological safety are incredibly powerful. This is when the conversation I had with a member of the elite military came in.

He told me a really simple thing, which was they have a daily debrief. They have a – at the end of every interaction when they’re out in the field, this is the combat field – maybe they’ve just been on a deployment in Afghanistan or in some sort of war-torn part of Iraq or wherever. He said at the end of every day they have a quick standup. They all gather around. He said it should take no more than 10 – 15 minutes. It’s while we’re still in our combat clothes.

He said the way it works is that he describes what happens that day and then he will say what he did wrong or what he felt he could have done better. Then he invites everyone else to discuss what happened that day. The very act of a leader saying, “Here’s what I did wrong,” and demonstrating that they aren’t infallible, that they have got vulnerabilities is an incredibly powerful access point to everyone else doing the same.

Psychological safety is this really elusive quality. You see businesses talk about it increasingly. But I loved his simple access point for that because so often we come out of big meetings and we come out of interactions with – we come of big meetings or client interaction or we come out of a review and firstly we often gather the feedback a week later or we’re send an email round everyone saying, “That went well. Any thoughts?”

Of course you lose specificity in that because you lose the sense of people know that that one answer that one person gave that wasn’t right, you lose specificity. But by taking time afterwards and the leader being the first to step forward and say, “Here’s what I did wrong,” seems to give a really powerful access point to people feeling that they can share the same.

Again, these aren’t – I don’t think these are – they’re not going to be revolutions that are going to be patented by someone. They’re not going to be – on their own, they won’t transform a business. But the thing that was fascinating for me was following the evidence of what other people have done as an access point to improving the jobs that we do.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fantastic. Particularly when you think about military in which rank is just so clear and you think that you need to be strong and to be a tough leader who’s being entrusted with people’s lives. If they can do it, anyone can do it.

Bruce Daisley
Right. He told me a fascinating thing. He said to me the biggest mistake that anyone makes about the military is thinking that we give orders all day long. He said the decision making is often far more consensual than you think because if we found ourselves just giving instructions that were unwelcome, it would be a failure of leadership.

That was a real revelation to me. We’ve got this idea that soldiers are just given marching orders and told where to go. He said, “No, far from it.” They very much regard themselves as people who are studying and learning from the world of work and wanting to improve upon it. For me it was just a revelation to speak with someone who had that experience.

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

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, look, probably the one thing I will say is that the overwhelming debate right now in the world of work is the amount we work. There’s been certainly a contribution to this discussion this year by Elon Musk. I think he doesn’t make the best poster child for the 120-hour work week.

But Elon Musk has a couple of times this year said he works 120 hours a week and that he feels that nothing good can be accomplished at less than 80 – well, he said 40 hours is not enough to work and he feels that you need to work 80 hours a week to achieve anything.

I think the wonderful thing about that is that there’s no evidence for it at all. In fact, when you actually invite people to make evidence and to gather evidence on these things, you see that either we’re lying to ourselves, that we’re not working 80 hours, we’re – but we’re working 40 hours distributed across a week.

I was chatting to an investment banker today. She was telling me that she used to leave the office at 10 PM every night, maybe 11, sometimes 12. I said to her, “Wow, was it relentless all day?” She said, “No, no, no, no. It was the culture though that you didn’t leave till 10. There were times when we weren’t working especially hard.” She said, “There was a lot of time for downtime and laughter, but the culture was you didn’t work – you didn’t leave till 10 PM.”

Sometimes work is the lie we tell ourselves. We’re not being honest with ourselves. The wonderful thing is the more you look at the evidence – there was some fabulous evidence that I found – that really the most that the human brain can really work and what most of us work with our brains is around 55 hours a week. After that the marginal gains for each hour actually are negative. When we work 70 hours a week, we actually achieve significantly less than when we work 40 hours a week.

As soon as you identify that science, as soon as you realize that that’s the case, you start thinking, “Okay, well, maybe my objective should be to work 40 good hours a week to be energized, but to value my rest as much as my work.” For me that’s the path to enlightenment here.

If we can start thinking rather than doing 70 exhausted hours a week, let’s do 40 good hours a week and that’s a good week’s work. Or less. If people want to work less, then by all means. But I think the more that we can get balanced, it’s going to help us achieve greater creativity.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right with you there. All right, so now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. This is a quotation that’s from – they often say, certainly in the UK, they often say that all quotes ultimately are attributed to Winston Churchill. If you say something, people will say, “Yeah, originally that was a Churchill quote.” This similarly, albeit that this is the mantra of the UK team, the cycling team. One of the most – I often don’t use sporting metaphors, but it’s one of the most accomplished transformations over the last 30 years, the medals that the UK cycling team has won.

But their mantra is this, their mantra is “Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down.” What they mean by that is effectively, preserve your energy because energy is finite. Use your energy when you’re ready for your most important action. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste it on trivial moments.

For me, as soon as you think about that – there’s a similar quotation about our brains. It was in a book by a guy called Daniel Levitin a couple of years ago, about three years ago. I can almost remember this quote verbatim. He said, “Our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions every day. Once we each that number, we’re unable to make any more irrespective of how important they are.” Right.

That’s a game changer for me because – the science behind that if anyone wants to look into it is called ego depletion. But as soon as you realize, okay, so me running around and working from seven in the  morning and doing all these things and reading all these papers and doing this then going to this meeting, then answering all these emails, it’s zero sum. You reach a stage in the day where you brain can no longer do any more.

As soon as you realize that then that cycling team mantra becomes really important. “Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down.” If we’re going to achieve the most we can achieve in work, it’s not by working longer and harder, it’s by using that finite gunpowder we’re got in our brain for the most important uses of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, it changes for me all of the time. I loved – there’s a wonderful book by a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Sandy Pentland. He’s called Sandy Pentland. The book is called Social Physics.

He took some badges, sort of like the name badges we might wear around our necks to get into most offices and he turned them into sort of microcomputers. Then he used those badges to start tracking the interactions that happened in offices. I have to tell you, when I read this book, I was blown away by it because it starts telling you the truth about what goes on in offices. Honestly, I sat there like this is like magic.

What he found was emails contribute about 2% of the output to offices. Meetings account for about the same. Most important thing that contributes to what goes on in offices is face-to-face chat, is face-to-face discussion accounts for two-fifths of everything that’s achieved in an office.

Probably, Pete, you’ve witnessed that there’s less chat going on in offices these days. People are busier than ever before. They often put on headphones as a way to cope with an office, an open plan office. People are doing – they’re finding less time for chat. I think for me seeing evidence and he built up the biggest amount of data of face-to-face interactions in offices ever. He was able to track this. It became just – it was eye opening for me what we were able to learn from it.

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

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. That’s a very good question. It’s certainly not – I love Twitter. I work at Twitter, obviously I love it. First and foremost, I used it. Probably the thing that I find has transformed the world of learning more than anything else though is my Audible app. I love Audible. I’m a keen runner. For me listening – sometimes I’m listening to a novel at the moment, which is such a wonderful palette cleanser, but listening to the latest book, for me it’s just a revelation.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Bruce Daisley
I think probably the most important habit that any of us can have is to try and get as much sleep as possible and I try to get seven and a half hours of sleep a night. Normally with good success, but I’m not 100% sure that the sleep is always the highest quality, but that’s what I try to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they retweet often?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, the thing for me is that some of the things that I’ve mentioned here to some extent this day in modern work is that we all feel guilty about work. We go home with 40 emails in our inbox. We didn’t get back to that person. We didn’t do this.

For me, the biggest learning that I’ve had this year is that all of the science suggests that creativity is destroyed by stress. As creativity is going to increasingly be the most important asset in our toolbox for managing the world of work, then we need to recognize that stress kills creativity. Focusing on that all the time will help us achieve more in our jobs.

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

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, they can – I always welcome people hitting me up on LinkedIn. I’m very willing for people to connect with me there. I’ve also got social media, so you can find me on Twitter at BruceDaisley or you can search for the podcast which is Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat.

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

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, I would say – the best thing I would say is take another look at the way that you’re working. I found that quite often I felt that I was the exception. We all think we’re the exception. You hear that the most that humans can work is 55 hours and your first response is “Not me. I can work longer than that.” I found when confronted with all this data, I did exactly what everyone else did. I argued with it.

Then I found myself on a Monday night sitting at the kitchen table, emailing at half past nine. I thought to myself, “What have you actually emailed in the last hour?” I hadn’t emailed. I’d reread one email four times. I’d gone and got myself another cup of tea. I changed the music three times. I hadn’t done an hour of work. However, what I’d done is I’d deprived myself of an hour’s rest. I think be honest with yourself about work. Work is the lie we tell ourselves quite often.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Bruce, thank you so much for sharing this good stuff. It’s a shame that us Yankees have to wait an extra year for your book, but thanks for teasing so much goodies here. I’m really excited to put them into practice.

Bruce Daisley
Pleasure to talk to you Pete. Thank you so much.

383: Driving Adaptability in your Organization with Michael J. Arena

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GM’s Chief Talent Officer Michael J. Arena explores the idea of ambidextrous leadership to help lead your organization in its current state and in its future – at the same time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Ways to positively disrupt the way you work
  2. Concrete ways to mine the ideas of your organization
  3. Why conflict is essential to the evolution of ideas

About Michael

Michael is the Chief Talent Officer for General Motors (GM), where he launched GM2020, a grass roots initiative designed to enable employees to positively disrupt the way they work, which was highlighted in Fast Company and Fortune. Michael is the author of the book Adaptive Space, which is based on a decade long research initiative that won the 2017 Walker Prize from People + Strategy.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael J. Arena Interview Transcript

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

Michael J Arena
Thanks Pete. I’m looking forward to this.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh me too, me too. Well you’ve got what sounds to be to me like a pretty fun job as the chief talent officer at General Motors. Can you orient us a little bit to what does that mean in practice?

Michael J Arena
In essence it’s really about how do you optimize human capital across the overall corporation, so how do we bring in the best people possible. In short, I’d like to say, how do we bring in the best people possible and then bring the best out in those people. That’s all about human capital and how do we get those people positioned to be able to leverage what they know. Yeah, it’s quite fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Now in practice over the last few years you’ve been doing a lot of bringing out the best in people it sounds like. If you look at sort of the financial picture at General Motors in 2009, they’re filing for bankruptcy and now you’ve got some great profits. The business press would point to cultural shifts as being an essential part of making that transformation.

Could you give us a little bit of the behind-the-scenes or in-the-middle-of-things narrative for how this came to be and the human capital pieces play into it?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, absolutely. Just to clarify, I joined the company in 2012, so I can tell you – I can describe that journey from that point forward and more precisely around this role here in HR. I do think it’s about culture. It’s certainly – it’s been quite the journey.

I can remember when Mary Barra took over as CEO. One of her very first quotes and comments was this industry is going to change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50. What that means is you need to rethink everything you’re doing.

Culture is a core element of that. It’s not the only one. It is either an enabler or a stifler of what you want to do with things like business strategy and how you’re going to drive operational management, how you’re going to think about new consumers and new business models and all that sort of stuff. It’s been quite the comprehensive journey from that point to this with much of it still in front of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so could you give us a little bit of the particulars with regard to before the culture was more like this and now it’s more like that and here are some of the key things we did to bring about that shift?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, and again, I think it starts kind of with the industry. This was an organization and an industry that was all about driving execution, all about continuing to drive scale across the world. The game’s changed quite a bit. It’s now – we’ve got a – it’s now the future mobility.

We now need to think about what are customers demanding, what are customers – the best illustration I can give about that, then I’ll go back to the specifics of your question is people are moving to cities, just to put it in a real live external marketplace example. People are moving into cities and everyone’s becoming connected. The way you think about mobility inside of a city versus mobility in a suburban environment is very different.

We need to then get the business to start thinking about things differently. That certainly requires us to instill new sets of behaviors and to challenge everybody to think bigger than perhaps they had in the past. Again, to move faster as well because the world outside is moving super fast compared to what we’ve been used to.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so it seems like we’re changing sort of the total focus in terms of what General Motors wants to be excellent at in order to succeed in a different environment with more people in cities and sort of car sharing and ride services, sort of a different landscape than it was in 2009. I’m curious to hear what does that look like in terms of day in/day out humans at GM interacting with other humans and how they’re doing it differently now?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, one of the big things we did to start to drive this transformation is we plugged in a program that we call Transformational Leadership. This was a partnership with Stanford. It’s a year-long cohort program with Stanford where we take the top of the organization, 35 people on an annual basis, go through this program.

The reason I call out that program is because it answers your question rather directly in that we’re not just shifting to the future, we’re thinking both about the current state of the business and the future state of the business in the same moment. We call that ambidextrous leadership if you will. That came out of that program.

Everything we talk about here is growth and core. We’ve got to be excellent at the core of the business. We’ve got to continue to be – operations, we have an operational excellence program. Operations have to be maniacally precise and everything we produce has to be durable and everything else, but at the same time, which is what makes it ambidextrous, we need to be thinking about the future. We need to be thinking about where is the customer tomorrow going to be and how can we get there sooner than anybody else.

There’s a lot of people talking about agility in the world today. The way I like to talk about it is most large organizations shouldn’t talk about themselves as being completely agile. They need to be agile in places. They need to be agile on the edge. They need to be agile in the growth side of the business because the growth side of the business is where the future is. They need to be disciplined and operationally excellent in the core.

In fact, one of the studies that I read recently that talks about this, and then I can share exactly how we’re doing that, was a Mackenzie study where they said organizations need to be both fast at times and stable at other times. About only 12% of the companies they reviewed were able to do those two things at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that makes a ton of sense with regard to boy, if you think about sort of any organization, sort of what it can handle well and what it can’t, I even think about customer service interactions in terms of it’s like if you want to check your credit card balance or sort of get some basic information and sort of – or get a replacement card or report a stolen card or do some fraud stuff or change the credit limit, it’s like that’s kind of very basic.

But if you sort of go out beyond the edges, suddenly it gets really I guess confusing for the people in terms of what they’re trying to do. It’s like we’re really built up and tooled up to do these dozen things very quickly and efficiently and systematically.

But now I’m trying to get my private mortgage insurance canceled with my new insurer – my new mortgage holder because they transferred them over as they do. It’s been rather challenging. It’s like, “No, no, no, I understand your policy, but in fact if you looked at the original text, the original mortgage, this is kind of how it’s supposed to work, so can we do that?” They’re just so flummoxed, like, “We’re going to have to look into this, sir.”

I think that’s intriguing to think about it. In some ways you want to just be high-scale, high-efficiency with doing that thing repeatedly with, frankly no innovation because it’s working great and other areas where you really got to adapt and see what’s new and what are people starting to really ask for.

Michael J Arena
Yeah, 100%. 100%. It’s funny that you mentioned banking as your example because I grew up in banking.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Michael J Arena
I remember that exact question coming to me at one point in time when I was asked by the president, the company I was working for, “Michael, how can we become more innovative?”

I told the same story you just did a moment ago. “Are you really sure you want to be innovative where you’re driving precision and you’ve built expectations for consumers and you want to be reliable and you want to create a consistent set of interactions or are you asking if you want to be innovative on the edges?”

At that point in time, this was before mobile banking, so it’s a great illustration. When it comes to something like mobile banking before it had existed, you have to be innovative there because no one’s ever done that at that point in time. No one had ever done that. You have to be agile. You have to think differently. You have to move, shift, flux, understand the consumer, shift with the market. You have to do that super fast.

That’s where we are now as a company on things like car sharing and what we’re doing with Maven, what we’re doing with electification, what we’re doing with self-driving vehicles. You have to be completely agile and you have to manage that side of the business with a whole different set of muscles while continuing to keep an eye on the core of the business and making sure that you’re doing that flawlessly.

My analogy for this is every organization is both a super tanker, which is critical to getting stuff done precisely and at scale and a set of speed boats that are being sort of tossed out into the white water so that they can move fast and agilely shift with the environment and then ultimately grow themselves into what the next core of the business is and should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you talk a little bit about sort of the people practices that bring that about? I’d be curious to hear if in the course of having meetings or interactions one-on-one, you’d say whereas before at GM people more so spoke or interacted or accepted or challenged these kinds of things, now it looks different in terms of their interactions.

Michael J Arena
Yeah, so the first thing to know is that in that model the era of one-size-fits-all solutions is inappropriate. You’ve got to use different solutions for the different parts of the model. Some of the practices are – we use a lot of design thinking on the growth side of the business. We’re out talking to consumers. We’re out engaging consumers in Manhattan and San Francisco and places that we might not interact with on a day-to-day basis traditionally.

Then we’re thinking about how do we bring those ideas back into the business and connect up with other parts of the business, build bridges, if you will, to do agile design and to move fast. Amazon calls them small two-pizza teams, very small teams that can first of all build something, like a minimum viable product or solution and then ultimately the reason the bridges matter later is scaling. That’s the growth side of the business.

Now on the core side of the business, you just incrementally have to ask yourself the question, how do we make this better every single day. How do we continue to get more nimble and more agile even in the core so that whenever the new growth part of the business comes to fruition, that the core is already ready to sort of cast it up onboard and take it on?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then in forming these teams, can you give us an example of something that you’re able to quickly react to and how it was done?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, so a couple different examples. The one that I can think of most notably off the top of my head is what we’ve been doing with Maven, which I’ve mentioned already. Maven is our car sharing platform. Maven by its very definition is access to a vehicle as opposed to ownership of it. We sell cars and in the core of the business we continue to and will continue to for quite some time.

But on the other hand just like there is Uber and Lyft, which are ride sharing applications, there’s a need to get from one point to the next inside the city. We found this sort of whitespace that no one was serving, which is how do get outside – how do you not own a vehicle, but maybe take that vehicle for longer durations than just from one of the end to the other end of the city.

Maybe you’ve got it for a couple hours. You’re driving it as opposed to someone picking you up and you’re actually deploying an asset – someone else’s asset – that may be sitting in the garage at some point in time.

This whole shared economy model, we went out – to be very precise – we went out and started interviewing people in the streets. It was in design thinking. What we found out was owning a vehicle inside of a city may be more of a burden than a benefit for some, but we can build a solution around that so that they still have access to a vehicle in such a way that they get the conveniences of it without the burdens of it. That’s where Maven really evolved from.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Now you were big in pushing a concept called GM 2020 throughout the organization. What does this mean?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, it’s, again, we’re now back in the core of the business. One of the things we want to do is we want to think about the core of the business in regards to how do we build the culture where people just can’t wait to show up to work the next day. People just really want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Back in 2014, we launched this, I’ll call it a movement. We launched this movement where we invited – and this was back when we were really trying to attract young people into the organization. We were really just starting to as corporations as a whole create different environments that were, at that point in time, I would say were more Millennial friendly. I don’t believe that any more. I think that’s true for anyone and all of us.

But we launched this initiate where we thought about okay, if we were to recreate the culture or rethink culture or rethink the workplace, why not invite the people in the room that will actually be living with those outputs in the year 2020.

Literally using some design thinking methodologies and inviting 30 people into a two-day event, we went out, we took them out on buses, and we went and looked at all these creative workplaces first across Detroit. That movement, those 30 people, ended up growing into a movement that we call GM 2020, how do we positively disrupt the way we work.

They continue to grow into a much larger body of people. It’s thousands now of people that show up into these events, constantly thinking about how we can get better and all volunteers, but constantly thinking about how we can organically get better on a day-to-day basis.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Then what have been some of the key adopted practices that have shown up in terms of doing work better and in a more enjoyable way?

Michael J Arena
The great part about this is that all kinds of ideas emerge out of this. One of the – perhaps my favorite story, there are plenty that I can share, but perhaps my favorite story was we were about ready to open up a new building.

It was a ten-floor building where generally what happens is you go in, you bring a facilities crew in. You bring in some architects. They look around the space and they decide what the footprint should look like. They plug in standard furniture and everything else. Well, rather than approaching it that way, what we decided was why not invite the people who are going to be working in that space into designing it.

We did what we called a two-day co-lab, kind of like a hack-a-thon, if you will, across two days. We invited in 35 people. We put them into teams of 5. We asked them to – we walked them through the space. We gave them the same parameters that any facilities team would have in regards to cost constraints and architectural barriers and all that sort of stuff.

We literally had these teams and teams of five build prototypes. After giving all those constraints and talking to individual users, which were their fellow employees, we actually had them build prototypes of what that space should look like. They competed against each other.

At the end of the – I said two days, it was actually 24 hours from beginning to end, from 12 o’clock to 1 o’clock the next day – at 12 o’clock the next day, they presented their working physical prototypes to a design team and the winning team actually created the design of the way that that building ultimately was created.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Then how did they like it?

Michael J Arena
Again, it was very different then perhaps what would have been designed for them. One of my favorite stories was the winning team actually cut a hole in the – they said if you want to collaborate, you need to be able to look up and down across multiple floors, so they actually cut a hole in the center of the building in their prototype three floors deep. They said “This is will be the collaboration zone. The two floors above that will be the concentration/deep work zone.”

Whenever they did that, well, of course they’re not architects, so they weren’t thinking about how sound this was, so there was all this push back on, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but architecturally that doesn’t stand up.” I’m thrilled to say that that team ended up becoming part of the overall design team.

They didn’t cut a hole in two floors, but they ended up – or in three floors, but they ended up cutting it in the two in order to make their solution work. They were thrilled, the short answer. They were thrilled at the end of the day with the new design.

That’s not a huge example, but there are all kinds of those everyday examples that I’m giving you now, like where people designed an onboarding app or people designed a learn and share so that they could do a career fair and all these little things that manifested throughout this community so that they’re able to move really fast and organically create these new solutions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. With the hole in the floor, you could – one person could stand on one floor, the other person stands on the floor above and they look down at each other?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You could accidently – if you weren’t paying attention, walk into a hole and fall down.

Michael J Arena
No, no, it’s not quite that way. They had the railings and all that stuff up. But it was really much more to illustrate that we’re not separating ourselves from different groups. If we’re going to collaborate, we at least need to have this sort of proximity to one another as opposed to hitting our floor button and showing up.

It’s, again, a small thing, but as you engage people in making those decisions themselves, they become very, very proud about those outcomes and they figure out how to iterate on it and make it better over time.

Pete Mockaitis
So people don’t speak to each other through the floors? It’s more of a symbolic-

Michael J Arena
Yeah, absolutely. They see each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael J Arena
So they can certainly correspond back and forth. I guess I’m just sort of the dispelling the safety myth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. The railings certainly, that makes sense. We’ve got the safety covered. They would in fact speak through the hole from one floor to another.

Michael J Arena
Completely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. That’s fun. Now, you’ve also got a book, Adaptive Space, that captures some of these principles that you put into practice. Can you sort of share with us kind of what’s the book all about?

Michael J Arena
I’ve talked around a lot of it already, but it’s this core concept of why are some organizations adaptive and are able to respond to the changing marketplace and the other organizations perhaps aren’t quite as adaptive.

As a researcher, this was even prior to my time I come into General Motors, as a researcher, four of us actually launched a research initiative, went out and studied 60 different companies, all Fortune, really, 100 companies, and asked that question, why are some adaptive and why are others not.

What we found, and this is the part that I talked around a bit already is that those were – every single organization had two things. They had these sort of core systems, we call them operational systems, which is the formality of how you get work done and they all had entrepreneurial pockets, even organizations that aren’t adaptive have innovative entrepreneurial activities happen within them.

What the adaptive ones had that the non-adaptive organizations didn’t have was what we ultimately called adaptive space, but basically it’s the bridge to get those ideas through the organization and pulled into the formal systems.

Think of it quite literally as how do you more intentionally mine the idea, everyday ideas throughout your organization, both big and small in such a way that it becomes part of the adaptive fabric of an organization that can respond differently to the outside market. That was a lot, but-

Pete Mockaitis
What are some of the – what was that?

Michael J Arena
No, I was just saying, so that was more than a mouthful for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh no, that’s cool. Then what are some of the practices associated with getting those bridges up and going in terms of these things make all the difference if you’ve got them versus don’t?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, yeah. The interesting part about this is it’s a social phenomenon. The interesting thing is the connections that you create inside an organization are more important than I think we ever believed they were before.

Think about it this way, we all want to think about who are the – how do we build a bigger network and how do we build our network inside of an organization. What we discovered was your network matters immensely, but your network needs to be different for different intentions.

I talk a lot about social capital. I’m in the talent space and spend a lot of my time talking about human capital, but I also talk about social capital. Human capital is what you know, social capital is how well positioned you are to leverage what you know. Remember, I said that every organization had entrepreneurial pockets, but not everybody was able to leverage that and that was because they weren’t connected appropriately.

A couple of the practices to get very precise with you is there are times where you need to create discovery networks. A discovery network is a network that’s actually going outside of the insular walls of an organization and finding out what the customers of tomorrow really need and want, like the Maven story I shared with you a few moments ago.

There are also times that ideas were too. Organizations, all organizations have lots of ideas. You’ve got to bring those ideas into the world. It’s important to have discovery connections because that’s how you stay relevant, that’s how you can move – you can keep pace with the outside market, but you’ve got to bring those ideas in and you’ve got to actually put them in the very small, tight, what Amazon calls two-pizza teams. We call that agile design in many organizations or scrum teams.

That requires a different set of connections. You want very trusted small groups of teams of maybe six that are taking ideas that were discovered and then bringing them into the world and iterating them, move them fast.

Then once they built a minimum viable product, this is where a lot of companies sort of fail, once you build a minimum viable product inside of a small pocket, you then have to start to think about how do I get that scaled on across the broader business. That requires yet a different set of connections that we call diffusion connections.

That’s – when you think about those different practices, it’s a different set of connections and a different set of practices for each of those steps, if you will, on any given product lifecycle or any given solution lifecycle into the business.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m really intrigued by the notion that you said that the ideas are a dime a dozen. There’s tons of them in a scaled organization. Boy, I imagine a critical lever that is really make or break here is effectively choosing, selecting, deciding which of these ideas are worthy of getting a two-pizza team to advance it and go after it a bit. What are some of the key ways that these decisions can be made optimally?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, you’ve got to be disciplined in that process. I’d say ideas are cheap. I say that somewhat tongue in cheek. They’re cheap if nothing’s done with them. If somebody just shares an idea and they don’t do anything with that idea to bring it to life, then who knows if that was a good idea or not.

An idea is nothing but an abstract, but if you actually take that idea and you build something around it and you go test that idea, which gets into your question, the best way to find out if an idea is worthy is to actually build some aspect of it, low-resolution prototype and get out and test it. Test it first with some friends inside the business, find out if some colleagues get excited about it. Then ultimately test it with consumers or would be consumers.

Then that’s not enough because it’s still this low resolution sort of fragment of an idea. It’s better than the idea itself I should say, but it’s still a fragment of a concept. You then have to decide, okay, what are the thresholds to know whether or not we can win with this idea or this is a real idea that would have real market impact or this an idea that’s worth our investment.

That’s a whole different series of practices and the only way to know that is to set up milestones around that concept or an idea and hold people accountable for getting to those milestones. If they don’t, you kind of decommission it and you say we can only take so many of these at a time.

Every organization has a finite set of resources, so you just simply decide how many people am I going to invest in this idea, how many people – what do they need to prove between now and the next milestone, whatever that is, and if they don’t prove it, do we have the courage to shut that idea down so that we can take those resources and reinvest them into something else.

In short, what you just heard me describe is there are parts of the organization where you need to act and think much like a startup.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I think that’s excellent in terms of having that discipline and those clear thresholds that you’re identifying. I guess I’m thinking about backing it up a little bit earlier in the process. I imagine GM has thousands of ideas emerging. Then you may only pilot test out dozens at a time. Why don’t we say 1 out of 80, little ratio, shows up and gets the minimum viable product treatment.

How do you decide what hits that initial threshold, like, “You know what? We are going to spend some time, money, resources six people on this one.”

Michael J Arena
This is where I think it truly is a social phenomenon. I think our inclination – when you or I have a new idea, our inclination is to go take it to a leader and to go get it formalized. That may be the worst idea possible. That may be the worst step forward possible because you don’t even know if that idea’s good at this stage.

What I’m – and we’ve done this very much in the GM 2020 community, where we basically say, “If you think you’ve got a great idea, go find a friend.” That first friend is really social proofing your idea. That first friend – somebody who you trust, somebody who you respect, somebody who you think would get this – is your first litmus test.

Once you share that idea with that friend, if they look at you like, “Michael, this is really stupid. I have no idea what you’re talking about,” well, you might just be wrong and you might just decide that it’s time to shut it down. But if they’re excited about it, then our next step, what we talk about a lot is, go follow the energy.

If I share this idea with you and you’re excited about the idea, then okay, so who else might be excited about this idea. At this point it becomes more than it’s Pete’s idea, Michael’s idea together and we go find a few more friends.

This, what I’m describing to you, is much more organic than mechanistic, which is how we want to tend to think about innovation inside of a company. It’s much more social than process driven.

At some point, you need formal support. At some point once you know you’ve created network buzz and people are excited about this idea and they believe in the beauty of this as it’s co-created and it’s no longer just my idea, it’s all of our ideas and we can all find ourselves in it, well then the likelihood of securing support and resources is amplified ten-fold.

That’s the way that you get these, as I stated it earlier, these entrepreneurial pockets fired up and linked up across the broader organization for grander success.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Awesome. Well, any other kind of key practices you think the typical professional needs to know or do you want to move ahead to hear about some of your favorite things?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, well I guess one thing – because I haven’t talked about one – there’s one thing that everybody who’s listening to this conversation is wondering. Okay, that’s all fine. That sounds great. But what about the resistance? What about when somebody doesn’t like my idea? Then what do I do?

One of the things that I like to talk about is conflict sometimes – charge into the conflict. The conflict later – once you believe your idea is good, once we’ve got a band of a half dozen or so of us, then the conflict is really critical to the evolution of that idea. The conflict is essential to getting it scaled.

One is take that conflict as a compliment because you’re probably not doing anything innovative if you haven’t created some disturbance. Charge into it and start to think about it. Oftentimes what I like to say is you can’t really have a breakthrough without something to break through. If you’re not expecting some degree of resistance or some degree of conflict, then you’re probably not being so bold.

A lot of people ask me, “Well, what do you do with conflict? What happens whenever the antibodies kick in?” What I say is, “That’s awesome.” It’s about how do you pivot in response that that, how do you bring them in to the process so that you can pressure test those ideas, you can morph them and you can challenge them in such a way that you make them bigger and more scalable both within the business, but far more importantly outside into the marketplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you.

Michael J Arena
I just would not want to underplay sort of the value of tension even more than conflict, I wouldn’t want to undervalue that, but what I will say is tension too early in the process actually prematurely kills ideas. Tension later in the process becomes almost like this pressure testing sort of amplifier, if you will, to get lift off sooner.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you. Well now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michael J Arena
You probably have noticed even though I live inside of a human capital job that social capital is an area that I spend a lot of my time.

One of my favorite quotes and this will get a little bit into the conflict thing is it’s a quote by Colonial Picq. This quote goes like this, “Five brave men, who do not know each other well, would not dare attack a lion.” I know that’s masculine, so I’ll pivot it in the next part of the quote. “But five lesser brave men or women would do so resolutely.” I think this is a team activity. What I’m talking about, you have to have friends. You have to find friends. You have to have people who are in it with you.

One of the things that I know is that if you try to do this alone and you try to take all the credit for yourself and you try to hold onto an idea, you try to hoard it – this idea can be anything, any kind of solution – you will not succeed. But if you find and enlist friends and you work together as a team, you’re chances of succeeding are amplified significantly.

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

Michael J Arena
Again, this whole networking space, I studied a lot of network theory. I guess the one that just jumps out at me right off the bat is a professor over at University of Michigan, Wayne Baker, a good friend of mine, went out and studied – we didn’t even talk about this – but went out and studied energizers and people who bring energy into an organization, which is one of the core network roles that I talk a lot about.

What he found out was that high performing, agile adaptive organizations have three times as many energizers as average performing organizations. That’s a study, where in the HR space we talk a lot about engagement. My belief is we’re going to be talking much, much more about energy moving forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. How about a favorite book?

Michael J Arena
I guess in the last couple years books that I’ve read, the one that jumps out the most is Adam Grant’s Give and Take, like givers and takers. His whole philosophy, if you haven’t read it, is that long-term, givers, people who are constantly helping, supporting and lifting each other up are the winners in the long-term game. It’s a phenomenal book.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Michael J Arena
I think it’s easy to live inside of an organization and become somewhat inculturated. One of the disciplines – I don’t know if this is a habit – one of the disciplines that I have instilled for myself is to – I have, on my calendar I have, literally this is what it says, ‘critical distance day.’

Literally once every six weeks I have a day on my calendar where I have prescheduled, I’m getting out of the day-to-day business and I’m going to go do something very, very different. I’m going to talk to consumers. I’m going to go to a conference. I’m going to a university campus. But I’m going to do something to refresh myself to think differently than I would if I were just managing the daily business.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get quoted back to you frequently?

Michael J Arena
Yeah. I guess the one that I think of is we live in the era of disruption. We’re all talking about digital disruption these days. We want to talk about things like agile, but I personally believe that in the era of disruption, social is king. We’re going to be talking much more, much, much more about both energy and social capital as we move forward over the next decade.

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

Michael J Arena
The book, there’s a website for the book, AdaptiveSpace.net. They can certainly go on there. I’ve talked a little bit around some different network roles. There’s another website out there called NetworkRoles.com that they can actually go sort of take a self-assessment to better understand their own individual network role.

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

Michael J Arena
Stop talking about it and start doing it. Go find a friend. That first friend matters more than you can ever imagine. Find a first friend to partner with on whatever it is that you’re thinking about it is the first step forward. We oftentimes think of things and oftentimes don’t act on those.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Michael this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for sharing the good word. I wish you and GM lots of luck in all you’re up to.

Michael J Arena
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed the conversation.

372: How to Take the Work out of Networking with Karen Wickre

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Karen Wickre shares ways both introverts and extroverts can grow their networks without that transactional feeling.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A pro-tip for how to build up your network despite social anxiety
  2. How to farm for contacts instead of hunting for them
  3. The strength of weak ties

About Karen

Karen Wickre is the former Editorial Director at Twitter, where she landed after a decade-long career at Google. She is a member of the Board of Visitors for the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University, and serves on the boards of the International Center for Journalists, the News Literacy Project, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She has been a featured columnist for Wired.com and is a cofounder of Newsgeist, an annual gathering conference fostering new approaches to news and information. She is the author of Taking the Work Out of Networking and lives in San Francisco.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Karen Wickre Interview Transcript

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

Karen Wickre
Oh, thanks, Pete. I’m looking forward to this.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve been looking forward to this as well. I’d like to start by hearing the tale – I understand that you attended the first concert of The Beatles in the US. What’s the whole story here?

Karen Wickre
Well, the whole story is, I’m old enough to have attended the first concert of The Beatles in the US on February 19th, ’64. It is true. I’m I guess a classic Baby Boomer. I lived in Washington, DC. That’s where I grew up. The Washington concert was strangely enough, their first US concert. Then they went to New York. Then they went to Miami.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Karen Wickre
I was already a Beatles’ nut by the time they arrived here. I was getting British magazines and all the rest. So my poor dad drove a couple of us down into the city to this concert, which I know now was probably 40 minutes long. He waited for us. And so I don’t remember really hearing anything of the songs because there was a lot of screaming, to which I contributed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Was this your first concert?

Karen Wickre
I think it was. I’m sure it was because I was 12 or 13. Kids in those days didn’t really just go off to concerts. I did later in high school, but this was earlier.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So plenty of screaming, a moment in history and you were there.

Karen Wickre
I was there. I’m still here, which is I guess ….

Pete Mockaitis
And you remain. Well done. Well, so let’s hear about your upcoming book. Will this also make history? It’s called Taking the Work out of Networking. What is the main idea here?

Karen Wickre
The main idea is maybe hidden in the subtitle, which is An Introverts Guide to Making Connections That Count. I don’t know about making history because frankly, I think it’s full of a lot of common sense, which isn’t often historical when we look back.

But the idea came to me for a couple of reasons. One, I have lived and worked in Silicon Valley in San Francisco for over 30 years. I’ve worked in technology businesses for all of that time. So I’m used to the ecosystem of that, which helped me kind of understand that, your connections are part of your currency professionally in a place that’s as fluid and fast moving as Silicon Valley. Today, it’s certainly not the only place that is that way.

But what I noticed is I do have a wonderful world of contacts of all kinds who I feel I can always turn to for any number of questions or needs I might have and so can other people. I’ve noticed over time that my way of staying in touch with people is almost all online, almost all digital.

In talking to other people, many of told me, whether they’re introverts or not, “I hate networking. I hate the idea of it. It seems phony and awkward, but I – so can you help me, introduce me to so-and-so.” Of course I always say yes, but I don’t have to be the only one who kind of has this ability.

I tried to document kind of all the ways that people can make better, more useful, and meaningful connections then trading the old business card while you’re looking past the other person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So I’d love to get your take on a couple of the approaches in a moment, but first let’s dig into that subtitle a little bit. You talk about connections that count, could you maybe paint a clear picture for us in terms of what does it look like when you’ve made a connection that counts versus the alternative?

Karen Wickre
Right, one that doesn’t count.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Karen Wickre
Yeah, I think that to me if you dig a little more deeply into someone’s background and history and what they’re currently doing beyond the small talk of “What do you do? Where do you work? Here’s my card. Can I be in touch?”

If you get a little deeper than transactional, you find much more – sort of a richer person, a fuller person there – who may become a good friend, who may become a valuable business contact, but you don’t know that if you’re just doing the transactional things. I encourage more sort of conversational exchanges, more drawing out, being curious about the other person beyond that immediate identified work/job title, whatever it is.

And those to me, they can happen in person, but also can happen with a video chat. I have contacts I keep up with that way. And we have sort of virtual coffee. To me those are more – it’s not any particular skillset or field, it’s just you feel like you know them a little better and vice versa.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. Well, can you share a little bit in terms of some of the questions that you’re proposing or the key things that you find yourself saying often in conversations with new people that bring about some of that curiosity and that opening up and that sharing?

Karen Wickre
Yeah, well, for me, here’s where we play a little bit on the introvert part of this. I realized a few years ago something that had always been true for me. I’ve kind of throughout life made a game of getting other people to talk first. I think that as a kid I think I wanted some sort of reassurance that I could trust them or I could feel good around them or I was willing to reveal a little bit more about myself because introverts typically hold back.

Frankly, it works wonderfully to ask other people questions and get them going conversationally for the purposes of making a better connection, right? Or for the purposes of hearing and understanding more about someone else.

Questions to me to ask are not yes/no questions, but “Tell me a story,” questions. “How do you – are you enjoying the conference? What brought you here today?” if it’s that kind of meeting. “How did you get into your line of work? How do you like Company X? Do you enjoy this location? Are you thinking about somewhere else?”

Things like that that are sort of openers, where people generally – they’re safe enough to feel inclined to answer. They’re not terribly personal, but they’re personal enough. Then you obviously at some point have to take your turn and jump in, but you have a little more information there to sort of give context to the conversation.

Those kinds of questions, depending on how you read a person, there may be times to get a little more personal. If they’re wearing a team t-shirt and you know something about that team or they have wild eyeglasses on and you like those – there are ways to make people feel at ease and make them feel noticed and heard. You can do that by sort of making note of the fact that you’re paying attention to the other person with these kind of cues.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, it’s just that simple in terms of “Hey, I noticed that you’ve got some cool glasses. Where did you get them?

Karen Wickre
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Say, “Well, I got them at PhoneticEyewear.com,” or whatever.

Karen Wickre
That’s a little more fun than just sort of – even at a conference, “Where do you work? What do you do there?” That’s okay. Those are informational questions too, but sometimes it’s nice – it depends kind of how you can read the person.

My theory is that introverts are more observant of other people and perhaps more curious because we’re people watching and we’re kind of wanting to see other people kind of play out a little bit before we commit too much to speaking.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe you can help out us extroverts in terms of just going through numerous things that you can notice that maybe we might overlook. You talk about maybe glasses or apparel. Let her rip. Maybe just kind of reflecting back to the last few times you met new people and the things you noticed and struck up conversations about.

Karen Wickre
Yeah, I’ll make a caveat. This is a little bit outside of say a job interview, which I do talk about in the book. There are ways to do that too, but that takes a little more caution.

Any other setting – I have commented to people about their shoes or their bag or how did they like – if not their phone, because there are, precious few options there. Do they have any favorite apps, their carrying case for their phone, what their – if they look like they’re deep into technology, what do they like best, how are they liking that new app or something.

But sometimes it is sort of, “Those are great shoes. Those are great glasses.” Someone with fantastically dyed hair, I think is someone who wants some attention for that, so I think it’s okay to say, “I love your purple hair,” but to leave it sort of friendly and not too probing, but as sort of a positive, ‘I’m paying attention to you and I like what I see’ is the idea. I’m curious. You may want to tell me all about the purple hair or you may not. That’s okay. We’ll move on to your favorite apps.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. I’d love to get your take then for those who are experiencing some social anxiety, whether it’s all the time or just under certain contexts and scenarios. What are some of your pro tips for managing that and trying to be confident and calm and engage well?

Karen Wickre
Yeah, I’m a big believer in one-to-one exchanges as opposed to a group. If I do go to kind of a group party, I may be the one in the corner, deep in conversation with one person for the bulk of the evening because a good conversation to me is—it’s kind of the whole megillah. Where someone else may want to make the rounds and sort of, hop from one to another, if I like the conversation, I may want to stick with it.

I mean, I think you can just come away with a good feeling from a one-to-one exchange. It might be as simple as starting with people you’re somewhat familiar with as opposed to strangers. You may have work colleagues, who you don’t directly work with or you don’t see that often, but they seem interesting or they do – they’re in a team that you’d like to know more about or you want to understand what their work is. Have coffee with them.

I actually kind of repeat a saying in my book a few times, which is, “It’s just coffee,” which is to say, it’s not an interrogation or a job interview or something scary. But one-to-one, you begin to feel confident, even if you’re in a room then of mostly strangers but here’s this one person you kind of know. That’s a good thing.

But the other thing is, to not start with “I don’t know these mythical people out there, who are strangers to me, who have answers to all my problems,” but instead “I’ve always liked the contractor in our office and I thought maybe I’d get to know them a little bit better,” or a vendor or —the summer intern. Or you’re the summer intern and you want to get to know someone in an interesting role.

Start with people who are familiar-ish to you and break that down into sort of these one-to-one conversations. Then you build up new contacts and you have them among people that you consider safer perhaps less daunting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well so we dug into a bit of the how and maybe we should zoom out a touch for the why. I think some folks would say, “I just don’t like networking and I don’t need to network, so I’m not going to network.” What’s your response to that? You’ve referred to networking as a necessary evil. What makes it necessary? What makes it evil?

Karen Wickre
Well, the idea of this networking where you’re conducting transactions or hoping to, I think that’s how people think of – that word networking even, I think they think it’s trying to get something when I need a lead for a job or I’m forced to go to this thing by work or it’s a conference or something  and I have to do this meaningless small talk and trade business cards or worse yet, I’m desperate for a job and I really – I have to go through these motions.

That’s what seems both necessary and evil I think to people, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re constantly maintaining the contacts you do have and continuing to extend them. The reason why this is important – or, there are a few reasons actually.

One is that more of us are going to work longer and that is going to be in more jobs. The days of having a single job through your career are long passed. You’re going to be going into new fields. You might be changing direction. You might be moving to a new area. You’re going to need to continue to make connections for yourself over time.

Similarly, younger people are taking more jobs from the get-go. One study I saw said that new-ish college grads have 5 jobs within the first 5 years of their getting out of school. We’re all familiar with the gig economy. There are more people doing independent work, piecing together contracting and project work and freelance this and that. That all requires more contacts to keep the pipeline going.

In addition, Americans actually move around geographically more than ten times as adults on average. So there’s a lot of reasons, that we need to continue to have new contacts and be able to reach out to new people with questions and our needs.

And we all have that need, by the way. We all have turns where we need to do this. It’s not like everyone else has it all sewn up and I’m the only one that needs to meet someone new to get some new ideas. Everyone needs to.

I’ve only met one person in my travels who admitted to me she had a nice, secure job for eight or nine years. When I met her, she said, “I realized I want to look for another job. It’s time for me to move on and I’ve let my network go because I’ve been in my pleasant comfortable job.” Well, guess what? Now she had to sort of create a new network of contacts to reach out to for her search. Rather than scrambling at that point, better that you just have people to turn to all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Okay, we’ve got the necessary, we’ve got the evil. Let’s talk a little bit about the “Oh, but I’m just scared,” or “Ah, that’s so uncomfortable. It’s just not me.” How do you reframe that such that maybe it can be all the more manageable and approachable?

Karen Wickre
Well, as we were saying before, as we were talking about before, the idea that you actually know more people than you think you know. Start with familiar people. Don’t make it a faceless mass out there.

Think about – let’s say you’re interested in moving on from your current company and you want to sort of move up with the next role. You know the kind of company or you know the specific company. It’s quite possible you might know someone who works there or is in a similar role. How did they get there? This is the sort of thing LinkedIn obviously was designed for and is useful for but there are other ways in addition.

It’s really just sort of just getting away from the general scariness to the specific “Let me talk to this person and let me talk to that person.” Just as you would not maybe want one opinion from one doctor, it’s sort of like get second opinions from other people who have different experiences and can help you along the way.

I don’t know how to make it more or, less scary than that other than to say, one-to-one coffees and one-to-one sort of email and phone call exchanges are pretty safe compared to that scary mass of strangers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I also want to get a little bit of your take, we talk about coffees, that’s making me think about Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone and his kind of mentality of kind of just going for it, all the time. How do you think about that premise of never eating alone and just really going after network building with gusto?

Karen Wickre
Or a vengeance.

Pete Mockaitis
Or if – your words, not mine.

Karen Wickre
I have to say, I feel like I’m at the other end of this than Keith. I know his work and his energy I’m impressed by. But I want to have meals alone sometimes. I don’t want to be talking to people all the time.

Again, for me, the game is not building a network so that there’s more contacts in it. The game for me really is making the connections between people. That’s what I do naturally. That’s what I like to do.

For people who don’t necessarily want to be the connector, simply having more resources to draw on and to give back to – because as I say this is all sort of mutual and reciprocal – over time. It’s very cumulative. There’s a quote I like very much that I came across when I was writing the book, which is from a guy named Ivan Misner, who created-

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve had him on the show.

Karen Wickre
Oh really?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Karen Wickre
Okay, so Mr. Business Network International, right? His line that is so great is “Networking is more like farming than it is like hunting.” What I love about that, even though he uses the networking word, instead of connecting, it really is true.

If you think of farming or gardening, either one, you’re planting, you’re weeding, you’re replanting, you’re nurturing throughout the bad weather as well as harvesting and the good weather, all that kind of stuff. As opposed to hunting, which is really transactional when you think about it. You’re going in for the kill and you kill or you fail, but that’s it.

I find thinking about it that way, that really gets my point across is it’s more like the cyclical, kind of long-term, long-game process of farming or gardening.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I dig it. I also want to get your take on – you’ve got a fun turn of a phrase that you suggest we embrace our quiet side. What does that look like in practice?

Karen Wickre
Well, I think for those who aren’t glad handers and don’t want to work the room and don’t want to go out there, as I say, I probably spend 20 or 30 minutes maybe in the morning when I’m first sort of warming up for the day – I read the news. I’m kind of a news junkie. I follow lots of things.

Someone will come to mind when I see one story or another if I know – as just happened – a Red Sox fan, and I find some quirky story about their recent World Series win, I just send off the link to my friend and say, “Hey, thinking of you. Enjoy this.”
I do that probably 10 or 15 times to people I know well, old friends, people I don’t know as well, where I see something of interest that just makes me think of them or I might have a specific question. That’s like 20 – 30 minutes in the morning. That is sort of my sort of outreach for the day maybe.

People come back in their own time. It’s very asynchronous. But we’ve had a moment of being top of mind for each other in that. That actually is maintaining your connections. That’s maintaining your network right there. That’s why I say you can do so much behind the screen as opposed to having to go to events and having to make small talk.

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

Karen Wickre
Let me think. I think the only other thing I’d say, and I do have a chapter in the book about this, is the power of weak ties. Weak ties are the people you know less well and often are the ones who – especially in a professional or in a job context – may be the key to unlocking an opportunity for you.

This is why I encourage people to think more broadly about who they know. It could be a colleague they had 10 or 15 years ago, they haven’t been in touch with. It turns out when you say, “Oh I’m interested – I’m glad to be back in touch. The reason I just want to tell you what I’m up to. I’m doing this and I’m looking to do this,” and they say, “Oh my God, my next-door neighbor, my best friend is so-and-so. I’ll introduce you.”

You wouldn’t know that unless you had made that sort of friendly agenda-less contact with a weak tie or even a stranger. I guess I can’t say enough, people should think broadly about who they know and not be afraid to reach out in a way that is kind of friendly and open and with a specific need if you have it.

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

Karen Wickre
Gosh, I’m such a quote fan. I love this one from Susan Cain, who of course wrote Quiet, which is the bible for introverts that came out in 2012, so much work has come out of that. She said something like, “Some people require the bright lights of Broadway and others thrive at the lamp-lit desk.”

I love that because not only does it sort of encompass these different styles, but it’s like it’s okay to be either. It’s okay and fine and there’s a good quality to if you must have the Broadway lights, perhaps that’s Keith Ferrazzi, or if you thrive in a different way. Both are fine and all points in between.

I really think that’s to me is a sort of broader idea than just for introverts and extroverts. I think it’s a good way to think about living and other people.

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

Karen Wickre
Let me think. Well, at the risk of repeating myself, when I looked into this idea about your weak ties, it all goes back to one Stanford sociologist in the 1970s, who made a study of people who were then looking for jobs. Remember they didn’t have digital means for looking and scouting. It was all sort of human face-to-face.

The experiment that he set up had to do with where people got the best leads for the jobs they had. They came from this characteristic – this group of people he called weak ties.

I just thought especially for going back to – I think it’s ’73 is when he published this study – it’s so interesting to think about how that – first of all how it’s resonated in all the years since and been cited for all kinds of things, but also how it was conducted then and how he found out that people in fact did get the best job leads and the best opportunities and landed them through people they knew less well.

Since we live in a digital age where we do so much outreach to people we don’t know well online, it’s – I love that that study has had legs.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Karen Wickre
Favorite book. I am so torn on this. I’m so torn on this because I’m still attached to print and I have so many at home. I think one that I have liked very much recently is called – is by Olivia Laing, it’s called The Lonely City. It’s a little bit of a memoir and a little bit of a sort of meditation on being alone in a city and all the feelings that come up as you walk around and explore it. I’m a bit of a city walker myself. I’ve just been – it takes me to another place than the workday does.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Karen Wickre
A favorite tool. If you could see my phone – immediately I go to the phone as opposed to my hardware drawer.

I think for me something like WhatsApp provides a lot of interesting utility when I travel overseas. As you know, it’s not as – hardly used in the US, but it has given me such utility in places where everyone uses it and where it’s very easy to either talk by voice or text people and reach them instantly. I had never heard about it until Facebook bought it. I use it with my non-US friends. It’s an intriguing tool I wouldn’t have thought of.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Karen Wickre
Favorite habit. Now I must ask you how you define habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s something that you do regularly that helps you to be awesome at your job. Common answers include exercise, meditation, visualization. Those are the ones that kind of frequently – reading, journaling. Sometimes it gets super specific, so it’s always fun to learn.

Karen Wickre
Yeah. Well, for me it is art museums. Whatever city I’m in, I make an effort to go to an art museum. Some cities I always go to my favorites. I don’t – sometimes, I’ll look at a big show, but other times I want to be through the quiet rooms that are not crowded or go at an off time and just stop and look and see what grabs me, see what speaks to me. I find that very restorative.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, when you’re teaching this stuff, is there a particular nugget, a thing that you share that seems to connect and get retweeted and sort of frequently mentioned back to you?

Karen Wickre
I’m just at the start of talking about this in relation to the book, so I would say I may not have a – I don’t know if I have a full set yet, but one thing that people seem to pick up on – in the book I talk about there is a value to small talk.

I’m not by nature a small talk fan, but when I talk about the utility of it for sort of breaking the ice and making people feel comfortable and included, a little bit what I said here earlier about conversation starters, people seem taken by that because here again I think we all say we don’t like small talk, but in fact there are times that it’s a great value.

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

Karen Wickre
My own – I’m very active on Twitter. I guess that’s the first place. My handle is KVox, V-O-X, V as in Victor, KVOX. I have my own website, which is just my name, KarenWickre.com. Then of course there’s the book itself, which is available in all the usual spots where books are sold or will be on November 27th.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Do you have a favorite call to action you’d issue to folks here seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Karen Wickre
I would say curiosity. Being curious about – it’s sometimes a hard thing to fight against the routine and the tasks in front of you and the silos that we’re often in. I would say fight that to the extent you can to be curious.

How did something get to be that way?  Why are we doing it this way? What are people doing in other teams? What else is going on that I don’t know about around the company? That can really benefit your current job, but also kind of shake up your thinking and make the whole scene a lot richer for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Karen, thanks so much for taking this time. I wish you tons of luck with the book and all you’re up to.

Karen Wickre
Oh, thank you so much, Pete. I enjoyed it.

338: Keeping Your Networks in Good Working Order with Glenna Crooks

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Glenna Crooks illustrates the eight different kinds of networks everyone has and why you should make sure these work for you while you work for them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The eight different kinds of networks in your life
  2. A method for successfully pruning your network
  3. The maximum number of connections each person can sustain

About Glenna

Glenna Crooks is a strategist, innovator and trusted counsel to leaders globally.  She was a Reagan appointee, global vice-president of Merck’s Vaccine Business and founder of a global strategy firm solving tough health care problems. She is active in academia, on boards, writes books and blogs, is a sought-after speaker and was recently named A Disruptive Woman to Watch. She is also a Zen artist and donates her paintings to support children with special needs.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Glenna Crooks Interview Transcript

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

Glenna Crooks
It is such a pleasure to join you. I love the thoughtfulness that you bring to the questions in these interviews.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well thank you. I appreciate that. Well, I’m excited to get into it. I think you’ve got a lot of great stuff to share. The first thing I want to hear you share is a tale of when you were five years old and you organized over 50 kids to create a circus in your backyard. What is this story here?

Glenna Crooks
First of all, I have to say I was a boomer, so on my block there were 50 kids. We were all about the same age. I can’t imagine a better sort of social life that I could have grown up with.

Now, why I decided to organize this circus, I don’t know, but it’s a credit to my mother’s patience that I’m here to tell the tale because I never told her, so she didn’t know until the day came. She was in the basement doing the laundry and saw all of these legs and people flocking into our backyard.

We had – some kids had dogs and so we had acts. We made costumes for the pets. We sold treats. I lived to tell the tale.  …

Pete Mockaitis
That is amazing.

Glenna Crooks
I think I’ve been organizing chaos ever since.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. So many follow-ups here. First, how big is your backyard?

Glenna Crooks
You probably could have put a two car garage in it and maybe a little space besides that. We didn’t have a garage at the time so that gives you kind of an idea of the size.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, so these kids were pretty packed in there.

Glenna Crooks
Yeah. We had adults – we invited our parents too. I just forgot to invite my own.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, were you punished or how did that go?

Glenna Crooks
No, not at all. My mom, when she tells me stories like this, she just sort of rolls her eyes and says, “I think they gave me the wrong baby at the hospital.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s impressive. I’m looking at my backyard right now and just imagining 50 kids in it because it sounds like it’s in the same ballpark of what you described. That’s wild. That would be a sight to see. Cool.

Yes, organizing chaos at a young age, putting together networks and making it happen for some cool results. You’ve got a book out called The Networksage. To what extent is it similar to circus organization for five-year-olds versus different or what’s the big idea here?

Glenna Crooks
Well, I have to give credit where credit is due and that’s to Robert Downey Junior. I happen to like action flicks and superheroes, so in 2007, after the first Iron Man trailer was released, I noticed an interview that he did in a fashion magazine.

In it he talked about how he had a pit crew of people helping him out: yoga teachers, sensei, a psychiatrist, his wife. But he said, “But I need a pit crew because after all I’m not a Model T; I’m a Ferrari.” He said, “And it takes more of a pit crew to keep us on the road.” Well, I must have been in a snarky mood that day because I thought to myself, “You know what? If you’re a Ferrari, I’m at least a Maserati.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Glenna Crooks
But you know what, you’re also right. It does take a put crew. Who’s mine? And how are they doing?

Then after a while I thought, “Uh-oh, I’m in other people’s pit crews. How am I doing?” Now I never actually had the courage to ask anyone, by the way, but I do know there were times I didn’t do it well enough. What a lot of those times had in common is that my pit crews let me down and because of that I let other people down.

The big idea here is that you have a pit crew; let them help. It was hiding in plain sight for me. Now I see that one of the most valuable assets we have is human capital, our own and that of the other people in our life, which is why the subtitle of the book is Realize Your Network’s Superpower because that pit crew that we have, that’s a real superpower for us.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. It is absolutely. I want to dig into that but first I want to just comment on how Robert Downey Junior made quite the physique transformation for that movie, Iron Man. It was amazing. He was just muscles on muscles, so I can imagine that would take numerous professionals in the area of nutrition or training in the gym. That must have been a brutal few months getting ready for that role.

Glenna Crooks
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Which is why actors I guess get paid the big bucks. Well, that’s cool.

The pit crew notion, we’ve all got one. We’re all part of one and it’s a huge asset that is going on in our lives. We’re maybe sort of overlooking the value and importance of it. Understood.

Then, now you’ve actually gone ahead and categorized or segmented eight different network groups or types of pit crews that provide support in living life. Let’s see, could you maybe give us your one minute version or less explanation/definition/description of each of these eight types of pit crews.

Glenna Crooks
Sure. You want to hear all eight in one minute or-?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it. One minute each. Eight minutes total.

Glenna Crooks
Okay. Eight minutes total. I’ll do it in less than that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you got it.

Glenna Crooks
In all I’ve categorized eight different networks. Now five of them I call birthright networks because we are born into them. Our parents create them for us. If you have kids, you’ve created them for your kids. This is going to make total sense. Remember said I said it was hiding in plain sight.

First, a family network. Second, a health and vitality network. Third an education and enrichment network. Fourth, a spiritual network. Fifth, a social and community network. Makes sense, right?
Now from the time that you’re quite young, you start shaping and changing those networks to suit yourself, but you will never outgrow what those networks provide for you.

Now then you mature into three other networks. The first one is a career network, which is how we usually think about networks and networking. The second is a home and personal affairs network. Personal affairs being things like your lawyer, your accountant, your car dealer, your banker, people like that.

Then there’s a final network I call ghost. Now, I didn’t set out to find ghost, but I’ve been doing research now with hundreds of people ranging in age from 7 to 87 for the last ten years, looking deeply into their lives and the people in it and ghosts started showing up.

Now ghost are people who used to be in your life who are no longer, either they’ve passed away, they’ve moved away, your paths diverged. Let me just think about it. Your third grade best friend, are you still in touch? A lot of us have lost touch with our college roommates, for goodness sakes.

Now, it’s important to know about ghost because there’s at least two or three really important types. One I call friendly. These are the people who loved you and you knew it. If you think about them, they warm your heart. They’re the people you should think about when you’re having a bad day.

Then you have another group I call hungry. These are the ones that left you with a bruise and a hole in your heart. Now, I call them hungry because you couldn’t satisfy them and you can’t satisfy them now, but guess what? You’re still trying. Not with them of course, because they’re not around anymore, but with people or in situations who remind you of them.

For me, instead of thinking about my grandfather, who was a friendly ghost, for me, when I’m having a bad day, it’s those hungry ghosts who come out and they pitch a tent in my office. They sort of scream at me all day and undermine what I’m trying to accomplish.

Understanding that even people who are not really present in your life today are still having an impact on you, is important for trying to be awesome in your job.

Just like your health and vitality network serves a really important role, not just because of your health but in that network is where I place the people who help you look good. One of the things we know is that attractive people make a quarter of a million dollars more over the course of their lifetime than unattractive people.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you mean literally physically looking good, like your pores are tight, your body fat is low and you’re muscles are toned and you’re glowing with your flesh, that kind of looking good?

Glenna Crooks
Well, there are certain characteristics that contribute to attractiveness that are just plain genetic, but grooming, having a good haircut and wearing good clothes and looking good that way also goes a long way. People who do, sell more products. They have a kind of a halo effect that they wear that really translates into hardcore income dollars for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s dig into a little bit more detail here. Family networks, I get it. You’re right, that’s your aunts, uncles, mom, dad, brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, et cetera. Health and vitality you laid out, helping you look good physically in terms of the grooming and appearance and what not. What do you mean by education and enrichment networks?

Glenna Crooks
I mean education that prepares you for your job. Whatever it takes for you, whatever degree is required. Then enrichment, things like museums and the arts are part of enrichment.

In your spiritual network you may be a member of a religious congregation, but then you may also have connections with other people outside of a congregation for experiences you consider spiritual. For some people that’s reading poetry, tor other people, it’s walking in the woods, as examples.

Your social and community networks, the people in your neighborhood. Then of course as you get older and you can move around the city on your own and take mass transit or drive your car, being able to get out and around, the community organizations that you volunteer would be examples there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Then let’s talk about the career then.

Glenna Crooks
Well, the career network is really interesting from my perspective. There’s four different groups that I place in this career network.

The first one is your workplace or where your job is. You have an official org chart for example. You have a job. You work within a hierarchy of a boss or a supervisor. You may have direct reports and then you’ve got people in a company who support you: HR, finance, so on.

There’s also another group and that’s your career networking group. Now this could be a professional society that you’re a part of or some sort of affinity group. Maybe you’re in marketing and you’re part of a marketing organization that meets from time to time. Or perhaps you’re part of a group that supports women in business or minorities in business for networking and career growth purposes.

The third group within the career network is your career education network. Now lots of companies today are providing educational opportunities for employees within a company, but then some employees decide they really want to do their own thing outside.

Maybe go for an advanced degree or maybe there’s a skill set that they want to build and they prefer to do that own their own than do it within a company or maybe the company doesn’t offer it. They take courses or do independent study on their own as part of that group.

Then finally you have a group that helps you with career transitions. If you are – have lost a job or if you are thinking about changing a job, there are networks that you can reach out to to help in that regard.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. That’s a nice line up there in terms of segmenting the universe of pit crews and then having some sub-segments there.

I’m intrigued though, once you kind of go through this list, I think you’ll sort of notice some things that are strong and wonderful and some things that are lacking. Maybe right now we’re looking for a good carpet provider. I guess that shows up in home and personal affairs. What do you do then if you find that you’re lacking or you’ve got a hole or two in some key networks? How do you go about filling that hole?

Glenna Crooks
My comment about that is most people first of all don’t even know who’s in these networks. We haven’t had a structure for thinking about it. We think maybe this is data available in our Outlook contact database or maybe we can connect through LinkedIn or we can go on Facebook or Angie’s List or whatever, but because we haven’t had a comprehensive way or a framework to look at these things, the kind of find me a fill-in-the-blank-type person, tends to be hit or miss.

In addition to that, my research shows that a lot of our networks are way overloaded. I’m a gardener for example, before I plant, I weed. That’s what most people need to do in their networks. There’s lots of books out there and tools out there to help you network, like LinkedIn or like an Angie’s group to find the carpet supplier you would like. You can also get referrals from your friends.

What I have found is people know how to solve that problem. What they don’t know how to do is to look at all of their networks and decide how to prune and cut back so that they free up the bandwidth they need to go on and do more and better things and have the sort of life that they want to have.

To help do that, I’ve categorized or defined three different types of people within your network. Some I call primary.

Those who are primary are the ones who are closest into your heart. If they passed away, if they cut off the connection with you, you would be devastated, so a spouse, a child, a boss, your best clients, and even yourself. You’ve got to have yourself on that list. Those people are primary. Why I put you on this list will be important when I get to the next type. I call those support.

For everybody who is primary for you, you have certain intentions. You want your children to grow up to be healthy and well-educated and acculturated in your traditions. You want your boss to successful. You want your direct reports to have the resources that they need in order to do their jobs. You want your clients to be served well with the products or the services that you provide them.

Now, so for every one of those people who are primary and the intentions that you have, some people are supporting you to do that. It’s important to understand that’s their role. Their role is to be a support.

Everybody else is transactional, which doesn’t mean they’re not a human being who deserves dignity and kindness and all of that. It just means that if – you’re not going to have a special outreach to them if they get sick or you’re not going to worry if they decide that they’re going to move on to some other job or location.

The first thing people need to do is understand that distinction, once they know who’s in their life in all their networks. Then what they need to do is be very strategic about what they want to ask for. They need to know what they need.

Just telling me that you are looking for somebody to carpet your home doesn’t necessarily tell me enough. I want to know if it’s important to you that it – is price an issue for you? Is service quality? Is a warranty? Is the convenience of them showing up at a particular date? Will they move the furniture out of the room first or do you have to do that?

Pete Mockaitis
Is it CRI green label plus certified?

Glenna Crooks
Yes. Those are the – when you ask yourself those questions and you have clarity, then when you go out to get the referral, you know with much greater specificity what to ask for. Then – what I can tell you from my research, by the way, is that there are patterns in terms of what people lack in these networks. I know, for example, that if I am talking to a young man, he probably doesn’t have a physician.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so funny. I was just chatting with a couple young men about this exact topic yesterday. One of them was like, “I know I’ve got to find a primary care physical.” And the other one, well he recently had a health scare, so now he has one. This is coming up just yesterday. It was quite common. It was interesting.

Glenna Crooks
Well, and I know if I’m talking to couples with young children, they don’t have custodial arrangements for the kids in the event of their death. I also know that lots of people must not have an attorney because 70% of adult Americans don’t have an up-to-date will.

There are some sort of hot spots within our networks. I think within a career network it’s so common today now to talk about finding a mentor and a sponsor that it will be obvious to people right away when they’ve made their list if there’s a mentor or a sponsor who’s missing.

Then with the clarity of knowing what it is they’re looking for. Do they want a mentor to help them change careers into a different field or do they want a mentor to help them go up the ladder within their own company? With that sort of clarity they’ll then know how to reach out to others and find that right mentor.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Just having that clear set of – I’m thinking about needs, I’m thinking about network categories and sub-categories and the specific match-up associated with them sort of highlight some needs and some people to fill in there. I want to talk a little bit about the pruning element. How – what are some indicators that someone should be pruned and how does one go about doing that?

Glenna Crooks
It’s probably one of the biggest surprises when people hear about this when they ask me that question. I say, I don’t really have to talk about this with people because once they see all of the people in their networks, they instantly see changes that they want to make. Even just making the list, people start to – they write somebody’s name down and they say, “Ew, I wish they weren’t around.”

Now, some people can never leave your network. If you’ve got a problem with your sister-in-law, you kind of can’t – you can’t un-sister-in-law yourself.

But what I – the other pattern that I have found is that the people who are the most successful at doing this pruning start with the transactional connections they have, again, that’s the – those are the least important. They are the most easily replaced. Then they move on to the support connections.

For example, I’ll use myself and a story about me. I have a – if I make an appointment, if somebody requires I have an appointment, like a doctor or a hairdresser or a manicurist, I’m willing to wait, but not long. I had people in those categories who always kept me waiting. Once I almost missed a flight because of it. Now I replace them just because I could see it. I could be very clear about what I wanted and then I could seek out someone who was better.

Here’s the other data from my research. Very frequently people think they have a problem in a primary relationship, a primary connection, with a spouse, with a boss. Those are the two biggest complaints I get: my spouse and my boss. What people find is when they have pruned and then replaced with better services, those people who are support and transactional, the problems with the boss and the spouse go away. That wasn’t the problem.

So much of what was happening was people were in the workforce, they were giving the best of themselves away all day, they went home and they had nothing left for the one they loved the most. Or conversely, the rest of their networks were such a mess— they had unreliable childcare or they were also caring for a pet who was then sick or they had an older relative they were helping out and a neighborhood that was not terribly supportive.

You put all of those things together and it was difficult to go to work with a clear head. I now realize myself doing my networks that the biggest career setbacks that I encountered came from being a homeowner.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Glenna Crooks
Well, I’m single and everybody talked to me, my financial advisors and so on about the money. “Could I afford the down payment,” and the upkeep and so on? Nobody said, “Do you have the bandwidth to manage 20 people,” because that’s what it takes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, it does.

Glenna Crooks
If you get up in the morning and find a leak in the roof or under the kitchen sink, you don’t exactly go off to work with a clear head. Or in my case since I travel globally, get on a plane and fly to Singapore and be fully present on the job. That was an insight that I didn’t have until Robert Downey Junior came along.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s good stuff. So then when it comes to the pruning, I guess I’m having a little bit of a hard time as I think about my own collection of people who I don’t really want there. Maybe I’m not thinking hard enough or maybe I’ve already pruned.

I guess there have been no dramatic exchanges like, “I am terminating our relationship.” Like that never – that conversation hasn’t ever happened I guess explicitly. I guess I’m wondering, am I missing something or do you think maybe I just pruned. Are some people, are they already pruned by the time they get to you and they’re chatting?

Glenna Crooks
No. Everybody prunes. Everybody. Everybody downsizes something. People who entertain in their home decide they’re not going to do that anymore. It’s too much effort to clean the house and take care of the kids and prepare the meal. They take other people out for dinner instead or they only have potlucks and it’s in the backyard and people don’t come into the house. They make those kinds of changes.

Now I have seen in my research people who do make a coffee date with a support connection like a friend and say, “You know what? This relationship has been all take and me giving and you taking. It’s not been balanced. And so, this is not the kind of relationship that I want.”

I say much to the credit of the other person, they have said, “You know what? You’re right. I want to be a better friend. Tell me how to do that,” which I think is another part of this having clarity and telling people what you want.

And for anyone that you support as a part of their pit crew, if they haven’t told you what they want, we both know you’re not a mind reader, ask them. “What’s your definition of quality? What is it that you want from me? Let’s see if I can deliver that or not. Or maybe I can but not every day.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that’s exactly where I want to go next is thinking about this giving and taking. What are some pro tips to making sure that we don’t fall on either side of that to be almost always the giver and sort of left void or almost always the taker and to be kind of a selfish person who’s burning some bridges along the way?

Glenna Crooks
The people that I have seen who have been the most successful at this are the people who’ve really looked at their own lives first and all of their networks, and then they’ve started by – and they’ve done a bit of pruning and they’ve created some bandwidth and time and energy for themselves because of that – and then what they’ve done is reached out to important people, shared that information and asked them to do the same because what that does is start to give you insights into each other’s lives.

This, by the way, happens best in the most intimate relationships, between spouses for example.

Couples divide workload. One person in the couple knows something that the other person does not. If one dies, the other loses more than half their heart, they lose all their information that their partner had. In my data are couples where a young woman died and left her husband without such basic information as the name of the children’s pediatrician.

Or – and many people now are moving into a stage of life where they’re not only caring for – they not only have a job, but they’re caring for children and they’re anticipating perhaps caring for older relatives.

I had my own experience of that. My mom his retired to Florida and she got sick. I navigated from 1,000 miles away with a telephone number for only one neighbor. That’s been corrected. I now know everyone in my mom’s life, so if it ever happens again I’ll be better able to step in.

For those of us who are in the workforce and want to move on and move ahead and do better at what we’re doing, having the rest of our lives in that kind of order, frees up our minds to actually show up and be fully present when we’re on the job.

Part of our problem with work/life balance and the whole discussion is we’re balancing one network, the career network, against seven others. The numbers in each case are really quite high and there’s a limit to what we can do cognitively.

Sir Robin Dunbar says we can only manage about 150 connections well. Now children hit that in first grade. The average working parent with three kids has got at least 600 people in the networks that they’re managing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a lot. Cool. We talked about how to sort of balance the give and take in terms of sharing what you need and asking what – how can you be helpful, which is great. I’d love to get your thoughts on how and when does one ask for help and how does one do that well?

Glenna Crooks
Well, first of all, we should ask for help more often than we do. Again, in my – in the sample of people that I’ve been working with, they’re tending to do too much, too fast and trying to do it too alone.

The recipe is what I’ve said before, I’m feeling a little like a broken record. It’s knowing who’s around you, being really clear about what it is you want and need, and not just out of selfishness, but because you’re really an important person. You’re absolutely unique.

You have access to more resources than any generation in history and vast human capital, which means you can create a terrific life for yourself, your family and do good things in your career. Reaching out for help is not just for you, it’s for everybody else who’s going to benefit from that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Okay. That’s a nice case for doing it. Don’t hold back. Then when you actually make the request any pro tips for doing that well?

Glenna Crooks
Yeah, it’s just knowing exactly what it is you want, knowing who’s around you that you can ask. If there isn’t somebody who’s right around you who you can ask for that sort of help, chances are someone you know does know someone who will have that information.

We now know, for example, from research that friends of friends are the best source of information about jobs and mates. You and your friends tend to share the same information, so your friends’ friends, who you don’t even know, have different information. You might have to go through your friends and ask them to reach out to their friends you don’t know. Then ask that question best to them.

I will say this. I’m on the receiving end of this a lot because of the career that I’ve had, because I do guest lecture at so many places including at universities, I often have people reaching out to me for assistance. The easiest people to help and the most satisfying type of help and assistance to give is when somebody has a very clear request.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Totally, ‘cause then you know you nailed it.

Glenna Crooks
Yeah. Instead of “Gee, I’m not sure what I should do next?” It’s much easier if you say – if they say, “I am thinking about this or that career path,” or “this or that next career move,” or “I’ve got this or that job offer, I want some help to know how to make this choice best,” or “I want to know if you’ve ever faced a situation like this and what you did.”

The more specific that request is, the more targeted the help is that I can do. Doing your homework first by gaining that clarity is really important.

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

Glenna Crooks
I would just say this. We are hardwired to be social and to connect with other people because we can’t survive alone. So as we’re connecting, what you need to know is that every network has a center of gravity. If you’re below that center of gravity, it will pull you up.

Now, that’s why if you want to be awesome at your job, identify something you want to do better and friend up. It’s like the active side of just asking for help, actually create the connection with somebody and hang around because when you’re around smarter, more experienced, more skilled people, you will do better. It applies to just about anything. It happens to my tennis game. I play with a better player, my game is better.

[33:00]

Now unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If you are above a center of gravity in a network, it is going to pull you back. In subtle ways it can hold you back. If you’re so awesome in your job that you’re getting bigger or better jobs or opportunities to shine in bigger ways in your company, as you transition from one network to another, the people in the old network are not going to be happy about it.

Unconsciously, they’re going to be fearing that if you’re leaving the group behind, what happens to them? Are they going to service? They may use social pressures to draw you back so that you need to know that.

Then finally, when it comes to your career, the strengths and the weaknesses of every other network will show up in force. If you don’t have a good plumber and you find a leak, it’s going to affect your day. If you do have good childcare if you’re a working parent, that’s going to allow you to go to work with a clear head. If your family had connections in your field, that’s going to give you a head start.

While you should always focus, of course, on your career network, it’s important to also take a look at all of the others.

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

Glenna Crooks
Yeah, it’s an African proverb. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I actually think you can do both, go fast and far, if you’ve done some of the things we’ve talked about today and focus on all your networks.

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

Glenna Crooks
Anything done by Nicholas Christakis. He has TED talks too. The difference between Nicholas Christakis and me is that he helicopters above a network and shows how everybody is connected. I help people stand in the middle of all of their networks and see it from that perspective. Both perspectives are worthwhile. He’s done some terrific research. He’s a great speaker too. You’d love his TED talk.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Glenna Crooks
Sherry Turkle. She’s been chronicling technology for a long time. She’s always been an optimist until her last book, which is called Alone Together: Why We Expect More of Technology and Less of Each Other. I think that’s part of why I like what I’m doing in Networksage is it’s reminding us that we need to have quality connections with one another. We just can’t connect through technology.

Pete Mockaitis
That is such a killer subtitle.

Glenna Crooks
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I think I find it so true in the sense of, it’s like, “Why do I have to push six buttons to get what I want from this app? This is absurd.” That’s a pretty high expectation I have of this technology versus it’s like, “Oh, this carpet person isn’t going to call me back, well, they’re dead to me. I’m moving on to the next one. I don’t expect much from them.” Wow, that’s worth chewing on the subtitle alone. Thank you.

All right. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Glenna Crooks
I work on three computer monitors. Multiple monitors have been shown to increase productivity by up to 40%. If I had room on my desk, I’d have a fourth.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh, well tell me how are these arranged and what you do with them.

Glenna Crooks
I do so much writing and so much research that I can keep a document open but then go on another screen and search the web, then watch emails, and Skype with somebody all kind of seamlessly without having to open and close apps.

Especially when you’re working on PowerPoint or Excels and moving data from place to place, it makes it – so I have a mouse that seamlessly moves between them. Then one of them is a TV set, so in case I want to multitask and watch something that’s – binge on Netflix while I’m doing something light, I can do that too.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. This reminds me of one of my favorite Onion articles, which is – I’ll paraphrase to keep our clean rating and to not be censored in India – but it says “Coworker with two computer screens not forking around.” Well, like that, and they showed – it’s like, “Sources confirmed it was like watching Minority Report or something.”

Okay, cool. Well, that’s you. How about a favorite habit?

Glenna Crooks
I work a lot with Europeans, so I get up at 4:30 in the morning to call them earlier in their day while they’re still fresh and they’re rested. Boy, it’s won me a lot of points with my clients, but it’s also helped me to be productive.

There’s no other temptations. The phone’s not ringing. Emails aren’t sailing in to interrupt me. I get three or four hours of uninterrupted work time before most people start their commute. That’s really been – so even when I’m not committed to a European client, I’ve continued that. I’ve just really found it very valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and gets shared frequently?

Glenna Crooks
Actually I just realized that I already said it, that when it comes to your career, the strengths and the weaknesses of every other network will show up in force.

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

Glenna Crooks
My website is GlennaCrooks.com. You can also Google me at Glenna Crooks. I am blogging on this topic. You can sign up for my blog if you’d like. I will have booking speeches now. I’m doing some coaching.

I’ve developed an app to make all of this much easier. It’s designed now. It just has to be coded. I’ve formed a collaboration with somebody to bring this into the workforce and into companies to improve productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s the app called and how do we get it?

Glenna Crooks
The name of the company is Coaching Sage QI. The app – this app – part of the app is probably going to be called SageMyLife. It’s not available yet. It’s designed. It’s not coded. Through my website, my blogs and so on, we’ll clearly be announcing when it’s available.

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

Glenna Crooks
I do. I want to hear from anybody who tries it. Take a look at the org chart that defines where you sit in the company because I don’t think it’s accurate. Create your own.

Take a look at what is it that you have to do, who’s primary for you in the company, who’s support for you across all the cross-functional teams, perhaps outside the company if you engage with customers, government regulators, the press, or other stakeholders, and design a real org chart that is meaningful for you. When you do that, what do you learn?

Just recently did this with nurses. For the first time they realized that a floor nurse was connecting with 125 different types of people, not numbers, types of people, like a patient is a type, a doctor is a type, a pharmacist is a type. Since they had more than one patient, they’re dealing with more than one patient family member or clergy member or so on, so maybe 300 people, none of whom report to the nurse. She didn’t hire them and she can’t fire them.

For the first time it was clear that a nurse’s job was not just clinical, it was management and the toughest management there is because, like I said, the team doesn’t report to her. I think most of your listeners will find that that’s true with them too. It will give them an appreciation for the real challenge they have on the job every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well Glenna, thank you so much for sharing this good stuff. I wish you and the book, The Networksage, tons of luck in all you’re up to.

Glenna Crooks
You’re very welcome and the same to you and your continuing series.

328: Inspiring Actions and Movements with Jennifer Dulski

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Jennifer Dulski breaks down how to rally communities around a common cause—and keep them going even without you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three ingredients of a successful movement
  2. The keys to mobilizing people
  3. How to leverage criticism

About Jennifer

Jennifer Dulski is the head of Groups and Community at Facebook. Prior to Facebook, Jennifer served as president and COO of Change.org, a social enterprise company that empowers people everywhere to start and win campaigns for change. She was an early Yahoo! employee, rising through the ranks over her nine-year tenure to ultimately lead one of the company’s six business units as group VP and general manager of Local and Marketplaces. Jennifer left Yahoo! to become CEO of The Dealmap, a site acquired by Google in 2011, making her the first woman to sell a company to Google. Jennifer has a deep passion for making the world a better place and is a prominent thought leader in Silicon Valley.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jennifer Dulski Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us here on How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Jennifer Dulski
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

So, you currently serve as the Head of Groups and Community at Facebook. And I have to imagine you’ve encountered some interesting groups, in terms of names and the communities and people who are coming together. Could you enlighten us, inspire us? What are some of the most noteworthy, surprising or funny Facebook groups you’ve bumped into?

Jennifer Dulski

Sure. So one of my favorite things about Facebook groups is that there really is a group for everyone and everything you can imagine. And many of the groups are about those things that are kind of closest and most important to us in our lives – parenting and health and work. And then there’s also a group for everything that makes you feel like you might be different or unusual, and many of the times people come together around things like school orchestra teachers, is one of my favorites, or there’s one called “Mama Dragons”, just for moms of LGBTQ kids who are talking about how to help raise their kids in a competent, supportive way.
And then there are fun, interesting hobbies, like there are groups for beekeepers. There are groups for people who are on a health kick. One of my favorites there is a group called “The Missing Chins”, which is a group of men who run together and they’ve lost jointly many thousand pounds, so they have collectively removed many of their chins, as they say. And then another favorite of mine is called “The Very Old Skateboarders”, which is a group of women in their 60s and 70s who love to go skateboarding together. And they say things like, “When we’re alone, we feel different and maybe a little bit odd, but when we’re together we’re birds of a feather all in the same community.”

Pete Mockaitis

That is cool. And how many very old skateboarders are there, per chance?

Jennifer Dulski

I don’t know the exact number, but there are many dozens of the very old skateboarders. Some of these groups are very large. There is a group that I was looking at the other day called “Planners Gone Wild”, which is for people who love to plan. They share their binders and their spiral notebooks, and so forth. That group has 50,000 people in it, so they really do range in size.

Pete Mockaitis

That is cool. So, I want to dig into your book Purposeful, and talk about some of those proactive pieces to be purposeful and inspire change and that kind of thing with a movement. But first, I’m sort of curious – in your role as the Head of Groups and Community at Facebook – what are the big things that you’re thinking through and working on day in and day out?

Jennifer Dulski

So, we’re trying to make sure that we can help everyone in the world find a community that is meaningful to them and adds value to their lives. And we announced a couple of months ago that we now have 200 million people who are in these very meaningful groups, and we see that being able to join a group like this actually helps people get a sense of belonging, feel connected, and it adds the ability to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. And so we’re working on growing that, helping everybody find the most relevant group for themselves.
And one of the challenges we think about is how do you help build empathy between people? We live in a world that’s very divided – increasingly so – and what we see happening in Facebook groups is that people come together over something they have in common. Maybe they love the same kind of dog, maybe they live in the same neighborhood, but they don’t necessarily always have the same political views, or have the same demographics. And we find that people can build really trusting relationships in these communities that’s helping bring our world closer together again.

Pete Mockaitis

That is really cool, because you have a certain affinity, like, “If this guy loves Yorkies, he can’t be all that bad.”

Jennifer Dulski

Right, it’s true. One of my personal favorite groups is called “Grown and Flown Parents”. It’s for people who have kids that are either teenagers or off to college. And this group is filled with hundreds of thousands of parents, all over the world in this case, and we all have something in common. We’re all talking about what do you put in your kid’s dorm room, or how do you pay for college tuition, or what did your kids wear to the prom? And yet, we have a lot of things that we might not see eye-to-eye on and it’s a lot easier to have those conversations once you build up that trust.

Pete Mockaitis

That is really cool, especially in a polarized, divided world. It’s like, “Okay, we both love Yorkies. We’ve hung out a few times. You seem intelligent and interesting, and sort of have a decent head on your shoulders.” So maybe I can say, “Why is it that you love Donald Trump? I don’t know anybody who does.” And then you can sort of go there and say, “Okay”, and then hear a lot of this sound bite animosity that’s out there.

Jennifer Dulski

It’s so true. We actually see some groups doing this directly. So there’s a group called “Make America Dinner Again”, which is doing exactly that – kind of hosting dinners with people who are willing to have these conversations. And it doesn’t necessarily mean they change their mind, but they build understanding of a different perspective. By the way, I looked it up, and “The Very Old Skateboarders” – I hugely underestimated it. Apparently there are nearly 3,000 very old skateboarders.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And we might have a couple listening to the show that are like, “Oh finally, a place I can go.” [laugh] So, share with us a little bit – your book Purposeful – what’s the big idea behind it?

Jennifer Dulski

So the big idea behind Purposeful is that we can all be movement starters. And I have been very fortunate in my career to be able to support and empower regular people who ignite extraordinary change in the world. I did this at Change.org, I now do it at Facebook, helping people who run communities. And what I’ve seen is that all kinds of people can do this. It’s teenagers, it’s grandparents, it’s stay-at-home moms, it’s veterans – anyone you can imagine has the power to start a movement, and that means all of us do.
And in Purposeful, I share the lessons that I have learned from working with and interviewing movement starters from all walks of life. There’s a young woman with Down syndrome who persuaded Congress to pass a new law for Americans with disabilities, there are two teenagers who helped redo the curriculum in the state where they live to add the concept of consent, there’s an entrepreneur who’s reinventing the way we think about personal nutrition. It’s basically activists and business people, all creating change.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, the word “movement” has some power behind it, which is bigger than just “Hey, help me with this thing I’m doing.” So what makes a movement a movement, and how could you turn a goal into a movement?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so a movement is anything that rallies people around a common purpose. The idea is that most movements are started by one individual or a small group of people, but they really aren’t a movement until they rally other people together around that cause. And the first step in starting any movement is to create a vision. And the people that I’ve seen are most successful at this, they have visions that have three parts. So the first part is a desired future for the world.
So the most successful visions all have three parts to them. The first part is a desired future for the world. What is it that you want the world to look like? And it may be your workplace or your neighborhood – so for instance, maybe you’re trying to get parental leave offered at your company. Your desired future would be, “I envision a world in which everyone at my organization is offered paid parental leave.”
The second part is a purpose, which is why that desired future matters to you personally. So you might say, “This matters to me because I want to make sure all new parents are able to have the time required to successfully raise their children and take care of them in these early first few months.”
And then the third part of a successful vision is a story that brings the vision to life. And so, here you might use a personal story or one from someone that you know that really resonates with this issue. So for instance, there’s a woman named Katie Bethell, who’s working on the issue of paid parental leave, and she brings up the stories of two women – one who’s a Republican, one who’s a Democrat. They each had newborn babies who died in accidents in their daycare, because the moms were not in jobs that gave them parental leave, and they had to put tiny infants into daycare, which led to horrible accidents. And so, that story brings a vision to life and makes even more people realize why the vision of paid parental leave is important.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Yeah, that’s powerful. Okay, so if those are the ingredients – establishing the vision with those three bits, what are the first steps a person might take in order to translate what might seem like maybe a mundane goal into more of a vision that inspires? I don’t know, maybe they’re thinking that they need a new IT system, or they need to change one process or approach they’re using at work for another one.

Jennifer Dulski

Right. So the key thing, the very first, most important thing is to just get started. Taking that first step is the thing that makes all the difference. And I sometimes describe it like starting a standing ovation. So, have you ever been the first person to stand up and clap in a standing ovation?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, I have.

Jennifer Dulski

Wow, that’s awesome! Most people have not. I’m not surprised, actually, to hear that you have. But sometimes I ask this in big audiences people, and you might get one or two hands. And most people don’t do it, because it’s kind of scary to be that first one who exposes yourself a little bit and you think, “What if nobody joins me?” But generally people do. You don’t see many examples of having one person stand up and nobody else, not a single other person joining them. And once those first few people stand up and join the first person who’s clapping, then all of a sudden you get a standing ovation.
And movements start the same way. So, the first step can be something really small, for instance for the examples that you shared – you want to change a new system in your workplace – sometimes it’s just writing up your own thoughts and an outline of what you’d like to see happen and why. Sometimes it might be emailing people you know to start asking for help. Sometimes if it’s beyond your company it might be starting a petition or starting a Facebook group or starting a fundraiser. There are many, many things that can act as a first step. The key thing is, you need a little bit of courage, you need to be a little bit vulnerable because you have to be willing to ask other people for help, and you need to be determined, because movements don’t happen overnight; they take a lot of determination.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, any pro tips for those who are feeling some of the not-so-courageous feelings about going there with the vulnerability and exposure? Is there any psychological perspective or a word of encouragement you offer such folks?

Jennifer Dulski

So, what I use is a very clunky acronym – I call it IICDTICDA, which stands for “If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything”. And my advice is to try to do other things that scare you, and then what happens is that every new thing seems less scary in comparison. So for people who are afraid of public speaking, instead of just trying right away to go out and speak in front of a big audience, I might say, “Well, what’s something else that scares you? Are you afraid of heights, are you afraid of flying?”
One example in my own life – I used to be pretty nervous about flying, and so when I was in college I went with a friend in one of those glider planes, which is a plane without an engine, which might seem kind of crazy. But I said to myself, “Well, people do this every day and they live through it, so I’m just going to push myself to the edge of my comfort zone, try something.” I was quite scared, but when I landed I had that IICDTICDA feeling – this notion of, “Well, if I could do that, then I can probably do anything.”

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. And it can be any number of things that you fear, even if it’s not directly related to the piece that you’re after. I’m thinking about, you might have fears associated with – I’m thinking about previous guests who talked about going for “No” and just seeing what gets liberated when you do that. Like at a store, you just ask them for a discount, like, “Would $4.50 work for you?”

Jennifer Dulski

That’s right. I love that. And I think the standing ovation is actually a good example too. You could just be the first to stand up and clap in the next show that you see. It would be scary, but it would show you that life goes on, even if the worst case scenario happens, which is no one stands up to join you.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, absolutely. I dig it. So, you’re starting to take some action, you’re pushing through that, finding the courage. And then, how do we go about getting other folks enrolled and engaged and interested in this?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so it’s true – the next step is to mobilize other people. And one of the things that I found works well here is a) again – you have to ask for help, but b) empowering those people who work with you to take on a role that allows them to make a real difference too. So, an example that I love here is a woman named Jennifer Cardenas – she started a Facebook group in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. She was evacuating her home outside of Houston, and she started a group with people to say, “Let’s just keep in touch to see where we’re all evacuating to, to see if we can help each other.”
She invited 50 of her friends, and within three days that group grew to 150,000 people. And what Jennifer did was as those people joined, she embraced them. It’s all about embracing those first followers and getting them involved. So she invited 80 of her first people who joined the community to become volunteer moderators for the group. And then what happened a couple of days later, Jennifer ended up losing Internet service because she went to a place that didn’t have access in the storm. And those people that she had embraced as early supporters were able to keep running the community even though she wasn’t there. And they ultimately ended up working with the Coast Guard and the National Guard to rescue 8,000 people from Hurricane Harvey.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s excellent. Really cool. So you give them a specific role and they feel empowered and excited and they’ve got it going. And that’s helpful. And then, what about maybe even trying to enroll decision-makers who are maybe not the direct beneficiaries, in terms of you’re getting other folks on board and invested into your starter group?

Jennifer Dulski

That’s right. So, many movements, even once you’ve had the courage to get started and you’ve rallied other people behind you – in many cases if there’s something you want to change, you may not have the power to do it yourself. There may be a decision-maker, either a company executive or CEO or elected officials, politicians, who have the power to make the change you want. And the technique that I recommend here – there’s actually a whole chapter on this in Purposeful called Get to Know Goliath, because my belief is that it’s about understanding whom and what motivates the decision-maker that you’re trying to persuade that will make you most effective. So, I give an example of a woman named Luanne Calvert who used be the CMO of Virgin America. And she was trying to persuade the CEO of the company to say “Yes” to their new safety video, which I don’t know if you’ve flown Virgin America, but they have…

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I did. With all the musical numbers. [singing]

Jennifer Dulski

Exactly, exactly. You could sing along to it. But before that they had an animated funny cartoon safety video that everybody loved. The loyal followers of their brand really loved this video. And it wasn’t FAA compliant, so she had to change it, and she was really nervous about that because she had to replace this very well-loved video. And so when she came up with the idea for this musical rhyming video, she wasn’t sure that it would be approved.
And she used a technique that I recommend called “influence mapping”, where she looked at the person she was trying to persuade and she said, “Who are all the people that may influence him?” And in this case, she went to the flight attendants, she went to loyal frequent flyers, she went to other Virgin America executives, and in the end when she was making the final pitch to the CEO, it was one of those people in that influence mapping process who helped her get the case sold into the CEO, who finally approved it. And as you know, the rest is history. It was very, very successful. Not only did people love it, but it has been viewed on YouTube 13 million times. Safety video for an airline, which is pretty crazy.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that is good. And so, when it comes to that influence mapping, how do you get that picture, in terms of who has the ear of the decision-maker?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so I recommend just looking at the situation and trying to talk to the people that you think are close to that person. So if it’s inside an organization, you can generally tell because you know who the close confidants of that person are. If let’s say you’re trying to persuade your city counselor or the mayor of your town, you may not know exactly who their influence map is. And so, in that case you can start asking people.
You can also do a technique that I call “Make it easy to say ‘Yes’”, which basically means in addition to thinking about who influences them, you think about what are the things that motivate that person? So for a politician, you can understand that it is issues like the budget that they have to manage, the voters that they have to persuade in case they’re running for reelection, the media that they have to be able to influence and they want to still look good in the media.
So, there’s a young woman who I feature in Purposeful named Amanda Nguyen, who has been fighting for the rights of sexual assault survivors. She herself is a rape survivor from when she was in college. And she found that the criminal justice system is just completely broken in this area. And she went to try to change these laws and she gathered a group of very passionate volunteers that had, as I said, a variety of skills – some were lawyers, some were financial analysts, some were engineers – and she worked with them to understand decision-makers, in this case Congress.
And she drafted a sample law working with attorneys, she analyzed all the budget implications working with the finance folks, and she found other people who could tell their personal stories to motivate the emotions of the members of Congress. And she was successful in actually getting this law passed unanimously by the United States Congress, which almost never happens, as you know. One of 21 bills since 1989.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s awesome, thank you. You also talk about using criticism as an advantage. How does that work?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so the more successful you are in your effort to create a movement for change, the more criticism you are likely to be exposed to. It’s just true that the more public you get, people may have things to say about what you’re doing or how you’re doing it. And my view is that the people who are most successful here can both learn to separate the type of criticism that is perhaps outside of their control. So if people are criticizing you about your gender or your age or your appearance, generally I suggest people set that aside. And the rest of the criticism, which may be about exactly what you’re trying to do or how – then listening to it may have some value, in understanding other people’s perspectives.
And there’s a technique here I call “leveraging the naysayers”, where you can actually use that to your advantage. There’s a woman named Mary Lou Jepsen – she was starting an organization called One Laptop Per Child. They were trying to build these solar-powered, light, readable, very inexpensive laptops, which most people thought was not possible. And she took all the critics and used that as a way to debug her product.
She went and met with all the execs at a big tech company in Asia and they said, “There’s 23 reasons why this won’t work”, and she said, “Great. Let me take those back. I think I can solve 17 of them. And when I solve the rest, I’ll come back, see if you have any more criticism.” And she used that as a way to actually make her product work. So you can be tough enough to hear the criticism, sometimes it can make you better.

Pete Mockaitis

And you also talk about overcoming obstacles and failing well. How does that unfold?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so there are likely to be a lot of obstacles in your path, which is true no matter what you’re trying to build or accomplish. I sometimes call it “the festival of failure”, if you can see your failures as something that not only do you want to learn from, but you can kind of shout them from the rooftop so that other people may learn from them too.
And I feature a story of two women founders of a company called Little Passports. This was a subscription product for kids to teach kids about global citizenship. So they would send a package in the mail every month with two characters, and each month they would go to a different country and kids would get a stamp for their passport and a sticker for the map and some souvenirs from the country, and information and so forth. But Amy and Stella, who founded this company had so many obstacles along the way.
Originally it was, they bootstrapped the whole thing, and then they hit some personal struggles. Amy ended up getting divorced while she was pregnant with one of her children. Her father ended up dying right as they were founding the company, and she just had such a tough time personally. Having a co-founder there in Stella to help support her through that journey helped them get through that first set of obstacles, and then every one that came after that. They had an issue where the warehouse almost took all their inventory, they had trouble raising money, they had one issue where something caught on fire in one of their products. They just took one obstacle after another and kept going with their vision at the core. And now they are a quite successful, profitable company. They’re doing about $30 million in revenue and they’re teaching kids all over the world to be better global citizens.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. So some of the actionable pieces there is one, having support – a co-founder, and others who are on your team. And what are some other things, in terms of how you bounce back and find that resilience?

Jennifer Dulski

I describe it sometimes like climbing a mountain. So the other key piece of advice here is to just expect that there will be obstacles. So, if you remember that taking any of these kinds of leadership roles is like climbing a mountain – some days will be sunny and you brought a picnic lunch and you’re halfway up and you can see the top, and other days will be stormy and you feel like you’re at the bottom and you’ll never take another step.
And the key is to expect and know that there will be both kinds of days, and that neither will last forever. And just to keep climbing each day. So, push yourself on those cloudy days to keep taking another step and know it will get sunny again. And remember not to stop for the picnic lunch on the sunny day, because those sunny days won’t last forever either.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, Jen, tell me – anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, also I would mention that there is a Facebook group for the book, called Purposeful. So, they can find it at the website PurposefulBook.com – there’s a link to it. Even if people don’t read the book, but they want to participate in a community of people who are helping each other push their movements forward, whatever they may be – I would encourage people to join that. It’s free, of course.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Thank you. And now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jennifer Dulski

So one of my favorite quotes is, “Anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference, hasn’t tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.” [laugh]

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jennifer Dulski

So, one of my favorite studies is from Tom Gilovich at Cornell, who was one of my professors. And this piece of research says that people regret in the short term things they do. He calls it “errors of commission”. So, “Oh my gosh, I shouldn’t have asked that woman out. She said ‘No’. It was so embarrassing.” But in the long term, people tend to regret things they don’t do, or “errors of omission”. So, “I should have asked that woman out. She might have been the love of my life.” And this is the thing we go to our deathbeds regretting, is the things we never tried to do.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jennifer Dulski

Favorite book is Gung Ho!, which is by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. It is a book about leadership as taught through the lessons of a Native American folktale. And my favorite chapter is called The Gift of the Goose, and it’s about how geese fly in a V and they rotate who flies at the front and who takes the leadership role. And everyone in the back honks to cheer on the leader goose.

Pete Mockaitis

Is that why they’re honking?

Jennifer Dulski

That’s why they honk. They honk to cheer on the leader, which I think is a great metaphor for all of us to think about cheering each other on. And that sometimes will be the leader and sometimes we encourage other people to step forward and lead.

Pete Mockaitis

So does that mean the goose in front is not honking, but all the other geese are?

Jennifer Dulski

That is my understanding. I could be wrong.

Pete Mockaitis

I never knew this about geese. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Jennifer Dulski

One of my favorite tools is called the “horizon conversation”, and this also is on the resources page of the book website, if people want to … I learned it from an HR exec that I used to work with, and have adopted it since then. But it basically allows people to outline what they want on the horizon of their careers, where they might want to go, and then map out the gaps they have between what they know now and what they want to achieve, such that they can make sure the projects, jobs, etcetera, that they take in between are helping them fill those key gaps.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh cool, thank you.

Jennifer Dulski

And I’ve used it myself as well.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite habit?

Jennifer Dulski

A favorite habit. I think one thing I use a lot is just trying to remember a sense of perspective. So, when things get very difficult, which happens certainly from time to time – I try to remember those moments in my own life that were really tough. I tell a story in the book about having being diagnosed with a brain tumor in my late 20s. Got that call at work in the middle of the day. Clearly no matter what challenges I’m struggling with at work on any given day, they’re not as bad as that day. And so, to remember that we all have days like that and each of us, people sitting around us may be having a day like that. It just helps to keep everything in perspective.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get Kindle book highlighted or retweeted or repeated back to you?

Jennifer Dulski

I think the thing that I’ve shared that’s been the most retweeted is this concept of the work-life mashup, is what I call it. I wrote an article in Fortune. I tried to call it “Work-Life Balance is Bullsh*t”, but they wouldn’t let me. And they titled it “There’s No Such Thing As Work-Life Balance”. But my general concept here is that our work and our lives have become inextricably intertwined, and that one way to make the most of that is to consider it a mashup, or layers on top of each other.
And I had a quote that says, “I’m still a mom when I walk into work, and I’m still a leader of a company when I go home at night.” So, neither of those things go away, and it means that if I get a call from my kid’s school in the middle of the work day, I’m going to take it, and if something urgent happens at work in the middle of dinner, I’ll probably take that call too. And that particular nugget has been retweeted a lot of times.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jennifer Dulski

So I am @jdulski on all the platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. And the website is PurposefulBook.com, which also has a link to the Facebook group.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jennifer Dulski

The final challenge I’d issue is IICDTICDA – the one I mentioned before – “If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything”. And I’d just encourage people to do one scary thing outside of work that might make them more brave inside of work.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. Well, Jen, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing your wisdom. Good luck in all you’re up to, at Facebook with groups, and the book, and everything!

Jennifer Dulski

Thanks so much. It was great to be here.