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KF #22. Nimble Learning

430: How to Reach the Unreachable: Lessons Learned from Master Teachers with Jeff Gargas

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Jeff Gargas shares best practices from teaching that every professional can use.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three links between classroom management and organizational management
  2. How to return to caring when you’re not feeling it
  3. How to reach the unreachabl

About Jeff

Jeff Gargas is the COO and co-founder of the Teach Better Team (Creators of www.teachbetter.com, The Grid Method, and Teach Further). He works with educators to increase student engagement and improve student success.

Prior to co-founding Teach Better, Jeff was the owner of ENI Multimedia, an online marketing firm, where he worked with entrepreneurs and small businesses, assisting them with web design, social media, content marketing, and brand awareness.

Prior to all of this, Jeff was an adjunctive professor at Kent State University and spent 10+ years in the music industry. He has spoken at conferences around the country, and has successfully promoted more than 500 events and launched 7 businesses in a variety of industries.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jeff Gargas Interview Transcript

Jeff Gargas  
Truly an honor to be on here and I really appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh yeah, well, I’m excited to dig in. And first, I want to hear you share when signing up for this scheduler, that you can “likely cry,” more so within your wife. What’s the story about it?

Jeff Gargas  
I’m a big sucker for romantic comedies, and I’ve always been a hopeless romantic as I describe it, just the way I am. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I blind my mo, but I’m just a hopeless romantic and my wife’s a tomboy, so I’m more likely to tear up a little bit at a moment. Even if silly, like Adam Sandler romantic comedy, and it shouldn’t be. Too likely, I’ll get there before her for sure. Yeah, like it’s not that uncommon.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh, that’s funny. That’s funny. I just recently discovered the TV series This Is Us.

Jeff Gargas  
I wanted to get into it. I wanted to get into it because I know what’s going to happen, like my brother and my sister-in-law are watching, my mom is watching, and I’m like, no, I don’t know how to handle that, like, no.

Pete Mockaitis  
It’s like it’s a good thing I waited until I became apparent to watch this show, otherwise… yeah, this is boring but I’m like, “Oh, my god!”

Jeff Gargas  
It’s crazy after you become a parent what other things affect you and you’re like, “Yeah, that shouldn’t. Wow, okay. Wow.” Yeah, it’s crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you’re also a listener and fan of the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Jeff Gargas
I am. Big fan. Legitimate.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to things that publicist say to try to get…

Jeff Gargas  
No, absolutely legitimate fan. No joke. And not because we were doing this, but I was at the gym a couple hours ago, gonna get my workout in. And I was listening to it, with your episode with Michael Hyatt, which was awesome. He’s a big fan of his as well. So yeah, love it, man. Love what you’re doing, totally.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, I love what you’re doing, you are helping the world teach better. So can you orient us a little bit? So you got a few things going on, what’s up with “Teach better,” and the “grid method,” and “Teach for us?”

Jeff Gargas  
So yeah, the Teach Better team is what we are at things over at teachbetter.com, and we basically work, but we do a lot of stuff with like, our general missions is we work with teachers and school districts to implement best practices, implement district-wide initiatives and other bits and pieces of professional development and training for the teachers.

Essentially, all we try to do is just help teachers be better at what they do. Like, teachers are already doing amazing things in the classrooms, we’re not trying to go in and change what they’re doing. We’re just trying to support them in every way, in any way we possibly can to help them do it.

It all got started with something we call the Grid Method, which is a mastery learning framework that my co-founder Chad Ostrowski, he created in his classroom, basically out of necessity, and you’re struggling to reach his very high-needs population of students and got to the point where he considered quitting, and decided that he either need to go get a job somewhere else, or he needed to figure out how to teach better.

And he luckily stayed in and figured that out. He’s a scientist by trade, so we kind of dissected everything and found best practices that seemed to be, the research showed, would answer his struggles, but couldn’t find a way to put them all together. So we created the system.

And that’s sort of what launched us, as he called me asking about doing an ebook, because I was in the online marketing world at the time. And teachers in his district were asking questions, because basically the students were telling them they didn’t know how to teach anymore, which was fun for him in a lot of ways.

It’s a little target on his back, but also a lot of teachers that were like, “Hey, I want to reach these kids, too.” And then our team will tell you my famous words were, “Dude, we’re not just doing an ebook.” I said, “We have to do something different. You’ve got something here.”

And apparently I was right, because now we try it to schools all over the country, and it’s growing. And we do a lot more than just a good method now and teach for— there’s another model that we have that incorporates classrooms working with community members and mock internships and real life, real purpose situations and all their units, and we do a lot of your just regular base, the best practices and stuff.

I’m one of the co-founders, and I work as our chief operating officer. We’re a small business with a small team, so I really operate also as our chief marketing officer, CFO, HR manager, and just about anything else you can think of. We all wear a lot of hats, but really what I try to do is just work to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to first take care of our team. And then a very, very close second is take care of our partner schools and all those teachers that are changing the world. We’re just trying to what we can help them.

Pete Mockaitis  
And in your work, you say that you have seen many commonalities, connections between some of the teaching better classroom management stuff, and then, you know, nonprofit, government, business organizational management stuff. Can you lay out that link for us?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, I think the biggest link, to keep it really simple, is relationships, relationships, relationships, and then environment and culture. So I come from a background in the restaurant industry, managing restaurants, and a wide variety of those also in the entertainment industry for a little while. And I’ve been, pretty much most of my life, ever since I got my first job and was able to get promoted to a shift-level management — I’ve been in management my entire life and the supervisor role.

And now with our team, it’s a little bit different, but so many commonalities there. And then we started to chat, and I started seeing all these connections between like how we needed to build things and run things in our business and the connections they had to the management in the classroom.

And one of the biggest things we saw is like this need for strong foundational relationships and building the right environment, the right culture. So like whether you’re in a classroom, a restaurant, entertainment company, market, firm, insurance agency, whatever it is, you need to build a culture of trust, of positivity, and to build that synergy.

And you need that environment that promotes growth, that promotes passion, that promotes excitement around what you’re trying to do. And in order to do all that, you’ve got to build the relationships first, whether that’s building relationships with your students to understand where they’re at, what they need, and how to reach them, or if it’s working with that new, that new employee, or a struggling employee, and building that.

And from an employee standpoint, if I’m on a team, understanding that I’m also a massive part of building that culture and building that environment, and how I interact with my colleagues, how I interact with my supervisors, and how do I build those relationships that I can understand, how do I do my job the best I can to make my supervisor’s job easier, because that’s going to make my life easier, and so on, so forth. So in my mind, all that comes in on those relationships is the foundation of everything.

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, so intriguing. Relationships, relationships, relationships. Can you maybe paint a picture for us? So what does it look like for the world class teachers? I guess we’re gonna say relationships, but what does that look like in practice, in terms of what are they doing? What are the key differentiators that these rock stars who are getting huge student learning attainment gains, test scores, improvements rocking out versus the rest of the teachers who are kinda getting by, you know, doing okay. What are the things that they’re doing differently? How are they working their relationships or classroom behaviors in a different way?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, man, the relationships are a huge piece of that, because any kind of management system you put in place in your classroom, any kind of new technology, or awesome new innovative type of experience or anything like that, even the lesson plan that you bring in, it’s going to fall apart, if you don’t have the relationships to build on that.

The same thing is, I know the best business plan in the world, but if my team just can’t operate, because there’s no relationship, there’s no culture, there is no environment, it’s not going to work. But I think on top of that, these teachers that we see that are just amazing like that, they just have a refusal to quit, they refuse to quit. We call it the Teach Better Mindset.

It’s this relentless pursuit of better. It’s not perfect, it’s never going to be perfect, it’s just better — better today than you were yesterday, better tomorrow than you were today. That’s what we preach on. And it’s never this, “Hey, we want to change everything you do,” or, “Hey, you got to fix everything,” or, “You’re not good.” It’s, “You can always be better.”

And the champions that we see, these teachers that are doing amazing things, as they always look every day that reflect in their software, and they’re always thinking, “What can I do to be better? How can I reach more kids? It’s never enough until I’m reaching 110% of them.” Right?

So I think the teachers that refuse to accept anything but the best for the students, and who go above and beyond every single day to do whatever it is that they need to do to support those kids. And basically, I mean, if you think about, they’re spending their days just pouring love into other people’s kids.

I mean those are world changers, that they dedicate so much to it. And I think it’s really just that refusal to accept anything, and they’re willing to take risks and put themselves on the line and challenge themselves every single day, every single second of every day to do better and be better for the kids. Those are the ones that are really making those differences.

Pete Mockaitis  
All right, that’s awesome. Maybe could you could share a story in terms of a teacher who’s really just doing that great? So I just sort of get a sense for, build relationships and never quit. What does that look like in practice?

Jeff Gargas  
I can think of a lot of stories, but it’s all slightly general, more general. But like, it’s a teacher that you mentioned that’s already doing pretty well, right? So, you know, I’ll talk about Ray here, she’s on our team, but she’s also a phenomenal teacher, which is why we checked her into working with us.

So Ray, you know, was a good teacher, she was doing well. You know, she did well on her observations, she was reaching most students, they did well, the bell curve looked like it should as the average kid was doing well. And she could have easily skated by and been okay, and just probably had a good career, probably worked her way up to maybe being a principal one day. That was, you know, she was gonna go back and get her license, probably could have, you know, she’s got the personality and charisma to where she could have easily got into an admin position and probably, you know, had a nice career.

But early on, she decided she was not okay with being okay. And she… look, she said, “My kids are engaged, but are they as engaged as they possibly can be? My kids are doing well, but are they doing as well as they absolutely can be. I’m reaching most of my kids, but am I really okay with most of my kids?” And then she wakes up and says, “Man, I hope I hit some of my kids today. Like, that’d be great.”

No, I wake up and I say, “I want to have every single one of my kids grow today.” And I think it was that passion and her and then like, again, that’s where piece of equipment the way she did it. She said, “This isn’t working. I’ve got a lot of great pieces, but I need other pieces.”

Actually developed our Teach Further model. She’s the one who, like that was one of the things that caught our eyes. And she said, “How can I take what I’m doing, these fun activities, and really make sure that I’m not just putting in fluff?” Ray’s biggest thing is “Fluff is not enough.” And by fluff, I mean, it’s really, you know, it’s easier to create a classroom that looks really cool on Instagram, that looks really fun and engaging. But if there’s no purpose underneath it, there’s no connection to what they actually need to learn in the real world application of what they’re learning in your classroom. It’s just fluff. It’s not actually doing much other than just, you know, being fun for Instagram.

And so she said, “How can I do that? How can I make these connections?” And then she started reaching out and calling companies, businesses, saying, “I have this idea. I’m wondering if you’d take this crazy journey with me, and allow my students to operate in a mock internship with your company, and here’s how I’m going to connect it to my math standard, here’s how I’m going to connect it to my ELA standard,” and the way that she started connecting pieces to real world applications, to these seemingly boring math standards and things like that, is phenomenal.

And now, we’ve sent them to build, help teachers all over, connect with major companies and businesses and do some amazing things. But, you know, she’s a great example of that teacher that you were talking about, that rock star teacher that just said, “I could be okay, I can be comfortable, I can get by, but I refuse to do that.”

You flip that, you see it in the corporate world — I saw it when I was managing people in the restaurant industry of kids who came in and out a lot of time. I was in fact in the quick service industry, kids come in a lot of times, the first job, first opportunity, they’ve taken a management position or have a little bit of responsibility.

And you have some that said, “I’ll just do what I need to do, because I’m just here while I’m figuring out what I’m doing my life, because I’m going to college, it’s a part time thing,” and others that looked at and said, “If I’m here, I’m going to be the ‘best here’ I possibly can be. I’m going to learn everything I can, I’m going to pick the brains of the people that are here, and maybe I’ll end up in this place forever and I’ll retire here, or at the very least, I’m going to take it and make sure I get the most out of this experience. So that when I go on to the next part of my journey, my life, I can be the best I can be there.”

I think that’s the same thing when it comes to any industry or in any job you’re in. And it’s this refusal to just settle for being okay. I mean, we spend more than 60% of our lives at our jobs. So if you’re just being okay, that means you’re just being okay, for the majority of your life. I’m not okay with that. But…

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, so it starts with having a higher standard, a higher bar in terms of, “Okay, we’re going to be the best we possibly can, we refuse to quit.” So once you get that commitment, that fire in play, let’s talk about this relationship stuff. So how does one go about forging great relationships?

Jeff Gargas  
It’s a couple of things. So the biggest thing with me is, I think it’s caring. It’s actually caring, though I have this thing that I talked about a lot, where some people do things because the book tells them to. And by the book, I mean the manual, or the best practice, or the person who says, “This is how you should do your job,” or whatever. And there’s some people that do it because they actually care.

A really simplified answer is in a restaurant, where an elderly couple is at a table, when you go to have a conversation with them. The difference between going there because, well, that’s good customer service, “And our manual says we should focus on customer service,” versus, “I’m going there because just possibly, those are grandparents who haven’t seen their grandson who’s about my age in a long time, and I can give them a little glimpse or reminder of that grandson they haven’t seen for a while. I can have a conversation with them and brighten their day.” Those are very big differences.

In same thing when it comes to building relationships with your employees, with your colleagues, with your with your students. It’s actually caring, and it’s not, “I’m doing this because it’s going to better me and make my life better, even though it will. But it’s focused on how can I help make your day better? How can I actually learn because I actually want to help you?”

And I think in the more and more tactical piece, it’s actually fairly simple. No, we chatter fast, because all the time, we have a thousand conversations about nothing. But truly get to understand that person. Dig down and figure out what they’re actually about, and build that.

You talked about authentic relationships. Authentic relationships isn’t, “Pete likes to be rewarded at work.” It’s, “No, why is Pete like that? What is the actual reason behind that? What what’s going on in Pete’s real life that connects them? Why is recognition at work so valuable to him?”

So that can truly understand what truly drives you. And I think the teachers that truly understand what their students need, and what drives them and each individual student, they’re the ones that reach them, they build those relationships nested and wants to work for them. And I think that’s the biggest piece of that, it’s truly actually caring and then having those conversations to dig down and actually understand those people.

Pete Mockaitis  
Now that’s tricky. When it comes to the “actually caring” part, I’d love to get your take on that: If you if you don’t actually care on a given day, because you’re tired, you’re stressed, you’re overworked, you got so many distractions, whatever your reasons, you know? I’m going to assume you’re not just like an evil, hateful person. But to give a day, you don’t actually care. What do you recommend to get back into that zone?

Jeff Gargas  
So there’s, I guess two parts. One is, my day will be spent figuring out why you don’t care that day, and see if there’s something you can do to fix that. But sometimes, there’re just as a new thing you can do: Would you try to leave it in your car? You can’t, and you just don’t have it in you.

So then, you may still want to practice that, because that’s still important to your and your role, but also to that person. It’s important for them, too, because you still need to understand them. So you still need to dig them. So you may have to practice the fact that, “Today, I got to put on a face and I got to make sure that I’m still digging, I’m still building these relationships, I’m still letting them know that I care.” But you can’t be fake about it.

So if you’re going to come off fake, and they’re going to see through it, that’s going to ruin a lot of the progress you made. So you may have to kind of take a day off, or maybe take not quite as many conversations. It’s not digging up in as deep. But I think the key to that is for now, “Why don’t I care today? How do I fix that?”

It’s one thing to just be down and be like, “Hey, I’m not in the mood for conversations,” that’s understandable. But like, actually not caring? You’re like, “I just don’t care about anybody today.” Like, there’s something else going on there in my mind that needs to be addressed first, and figure out like why am I not feeling this way today.

“And if I’m feeling that way, is it actually going to be harmful if I try to engage with my colleague or with my student or this way, because I’m putting off some negativity?” And so having that self-awareness and reflection on that, I think, is coordinated and figuring out, “Okay, how do I get back onto it tomorrow and I can be authentic again, and get back into doing what I need to do?”

Pete Mockaitis  
And I like the example you brought about with the waiter or waitress in terms of, “Hey, these grandparents may not have seen a really young person in a while. And so this could mean that for them.” So that seems to be a little bit of the formula with regard to “I am putting myself in their shoes and recognizing how the thing I’m doing here can make a world of a difference.”

And for teachers, that’s huge, like, “Hey, what happens here can set the stage for whether learning and growth and development are headed to college or career or interesting fulfillment jobs or, you know, much less pleasant for folks.” So that’s as well as medicine. But I think that some of the other fields I think can require a little bit of thought at times to zero in on who is it that we’re serving, and how is what I’m doing today potentially going to be transformationally amazing for them.

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s important to understand who you’re serving, regardless of what industry you’re in, and what kind of engagement can help whatever it is that they’re coming to you for. And I mean, obviously in the hospitality industry, it’s a lot of that communication and being friendly, because you never know what kind of day they’re having. And if you can put a smile on their face, that might be the first time all day.

Same thing in the classroom. It’s like it takes so long to figure out what are those kids coming to school with? What else do they have? You know, what are the other things that they care about emotionally? And you might be the only person in the world that that’s showing them love for the day. That shows you care for them; that’s massive.

The same can be said for your employee or your boss or your colleague, like everyone’s got something going on, right? And you don’t know if the guy in the cubicle next to you or the girl down the hall and in the other office is struggling with something, that just the simple, quick smile, a “Hello, how are you?” an actually authentic “I care, I actually am asking you. I want to know, how are you doing today? What’s going on?”

That can that can make a world of a difference to somebody. And if you have a culture in your small business, big, large business, whatever, that has that, and everyone’s feeling that way, the opportunity for negativity to seep in is far less, which is better beneficial for everybody.

Pete Mockaitis  
You know, I like what you said about the difference a smile can make. It reminds me one time, just a few months ago, I was in church and there was someone who’s just smiling, like completely and thoroughly. It was like, “Wow, that feels really good.” I realized that she was looking at my baby.

Jeff Gargas  
Oh, there you go. That’ll do it, right?

Pete Mockaitis  
I guess that puts you in a good mood. She’s looking adorable, but I was like, “Wow, you know, it’s pretty rare that you actually get to feel a genuine, authentic, full-on smile. Like, I have enjoyed seen you!” I mean babies get it, but we don’t as much.

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah. And you know, the crazy thing is the smile. It’s crazy what a smile does for you. So there’s an author and amazing educator named Adam Welcome. He wrote a book called Kids Deserve It, which is a massive hit and educational, but then he also wrote a book called Run Like a Pirate. In this amazing book, he just picked up with a short, easy read, but it’s phenomenal.

It’s like his story of 2017, he ran a marathon every single month — because Adam’s just intense. But in the book, he talks about, like, one of his tactics for sort of getting through that mental game of running — and I’m a runner, this is why it’s big for me — but it’s to just smile.

And it’s funny, like when I run now, like if I feel like I’m having a hard time getting rid of a mental hurdle, I will smile. But then what’s funny is then I remember the fact that I’m smiling because I had this book said it, which makes me kind of chuckle, and I smile.

I’m telling you, man, it’s like a whole other level, like it just does something to you. Like it’s crazy. So if you can give someone a smile, maybe they give you a smile back. And now you get your authentic smile to yourself. Like it’s going to warm your soul. And I’m a huge fan of that.

We so often as humans just do anything we can to avoid contact, or avoid eye contact, right? Like we look down, we just don’t do anything. I try really hard. And I don’t do it every day, but I try really hard to just smile at people and say hi to as many people as I can, because again, you don’t know what they’re going through. That’s just such an important thing, in my mind.

Pete Mockaitis  
And to point about having a thousand conversations about nothing, in a way, I like the feeling that sentence creates, because it’s sort of like, you could just chill out. It’s like, I’m not intentionally trying to tease out 14 precise takeaways from this discussion.

But yeah, we’re talking about, “Oh, you like pizza? That’s cool. What are your favorite toppings? Oh, yes, sausage is the best,” you know, whatever. And in so doing, you build up a picture. But that being said, could you share what are some of the conversations about nothing that are often quite telling, and they deliver something?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, I mean, simple conversations about like, “What did you do this weekend? What are you up to tonight?” and then playing off that at all, like, “Do you do you watch this? Do you watch This Is Us, right? Do you cry during movies? Do you get up? You said you like pizza.” It’s a million different ways.

And you know, with students, a lot of times, it’s, “What did you do this weekend?” And that that opens up another question, noticing something that, maybe they have a graphic T-shirt on, like, “Oh, do you like The Incredible Hulk?” or whatever. Given that, your co-workers can simply just be like, “Maybe they have a shirt on,” you know, depending on the dress code and stuff, but it could be asking them what they do this week, and what are they up to this week, and what do they think about this or that, did they cast a game last night, have they got in that new movie, whatever it might be they have.

You know, just those conversations that just start a conversation about nothing, you give you a chance to just sort of learn a little bit about them, because the way someone tells you about their weekend, or explains what they liked or disliked about a movie, or the team they cheer for, something like that tells you little bits and pieces about that person, you know? You get someone talking.

I’m a Cleveland Browns fan. So you connect with the Cleveland Browns fan, and you connect with another Cleveland Browns fan, that’s a bond that can’t be shook. So those little areas — and a lot of sports teams are like that, like that’s such a connection that you may not know that you have with a colleague or with your boss or whatever — and that simple little connection can change the way you guys communicate forever. Because now there’s that little, like, “Oh, that’s typical Browns, right?” There’s these little inside jokes that automatically form, or you love that show, or, “I’m a huge fan of Friends, the TV show Friends from way back.”

And I had an employee of mind for that for I think five years, he was with us. And he had autism. But he was a credible worker; worked really hard. And he would have moments where he had some struggles, and he got frustrated with what would usually begin, you know, directive, because he’s pretty good at his job. But if we need to direct them, sometimes he took them wrong, he had a lot of stuff in his life that he was dealing with, and people would have to struggle with him.

And when he got into that mode, he was kind of like… you weren’t going to break him. And I would literally just rattle off lines to the episode of Friends, and we would just get going. And it was just this ridiculous, back and forth that no one else understood, because unless they happen to know that one weird episode, but it was just to crack him out of this thing.

And it was a little piece that took me a while to figure out, through just random conversations, where one day… I don’t even remember the actual conversation, but we were talking. I don’t remember the situation with the conversation, we were just talking about… I said something, I came up with a line, that reminded him on an episode, he goes, “Oh, that’s like the time Joey  said blah blah blah,” and we repeated it. And we’re like, “Oh, it’s the connection.” And now I now have my bond with you.

We now have a million inside jokes that we can laugh about. And I now have something that I can pull off to help you get out of a funk if you get into it. And that just, like for me, that made my life managing shifts that he was on so much easier.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, and I’m curious, as you’re having these conversations about nothing, you’re forming some relationships, you’re learning all kinds of little things. I mean, especially in the context of a teacher with a classroom of I don’t know, 15, 20, 25+ students, how do you keep all that straight direct community particular systems, or tracking, or note keeping?

Jeff Gargas  
Well, you know, we’ve seen teachers do a million other things, and some teachers are just amazing at it. Just really, really good at it. There’s a lot of different types of things of, you know, at the beginning of the year, working with… some teachers do picture things with it, the kids get to share their stories along with pictures, and then the teacher sort of has that on the walls around, in a document or something like that, where they have that sort of resource. But you know, they’re spending every single day with those students

So you’re getting to know what they become, just like your colleagues at work. I mean, if you’re with the same 10, 15 people every day at work for 60% of your life, whether you like it or not, they’re in your life as much as a best friend would be, so you’re able to build that. So, I think, you know, big pieces.

It is much easier if you’re truly caring, I’ll go back to that. Because I don’t have any trouble remembering which one of my friends likes this, or likes that, because they’re my friends. I know though that information because I care about them. And I built it in an authentic way, not because I was supposed to because my job said so.

So it’s tough to remember, “Okay, what’s employee A1’s favorite food?” It’s easier to remember what’s Max’s favorite food, because I’ve built a relationship now, versus “I learned it because I’m supposed to because my job will be easier.” And I think it’s the same thing with teachers, teachers who truly care about their students, like they remember, “That’s Johnny, he has the brothers that do this and the mom that struggles with that,” or the, “He lives with his aunt,” or the “He has this,” and “Now, that’s Sarah, and she has these things.” I think it comes with the actual caring that comes in that situation.

So I think teachers are naturally inclined to be really, really good at that, because their hearts’ there in the first place. They’re trying to do something amazing and reach those kids, but I really think it comes down to actually caring about the people that you’re working with, and people you’re serving, and truly wanting to learn about them.

Pete Mockaitis  
You know, it’s funny, you keep coming back to this caring. And we had an interview with Alden Mills, who was a NAVY seal, and his whole thing was caring. He had a framework: CARE — C-A-R-E, each of the letters has multiple subcomponents that start with a C and A and R and E. So it’s kind of fun little connections here.

Well, so let’s talk about, what are your great phrases that you have for your businesses that help teachers to reach the unreachable? So we’ve talked about some principles that are applicable across students. But if you got a particular employee or student who is noteworthily, seemingly unreachable, what do you do?

Jeff Gargas  
It’s gonna feel like I’m coming back again and again, but it’s the way you understand them, like truly understand the person, to figure out who they are, what drives them, and why they’ve been deemed unreachable. So when it comes to employees, it’s figuring out what are their strengths, what are their struggles, and then working with them to play on those strengths, and focus on those strengths while still trying to build those struggle points, and focus really on what drives them.

You know, one of your colleagues, one of your employees might be driven just by financial gain, like they’re driven by money, and that’s okay. But understand what drives them, versus someone who’s driven by admiration and wants to be looked at as an incredible employee or the best colleague around, whatever it might be.

When it comes to the classroom, it’s finding out what’s driving your students. Are they struggling, or they’re quote unquote, “unreachable” because they come from a really rough home? And their entire life, they’ve been told that they’re there dumb and they fail, and they’re stupid, a knock at school, and no one’s given them a shot because they struggle when they were younger? And now they’re in seventh or eighth grade, and it’s just been the cycle of failure where, you know…

Chad talks a lot about the cycle failures. If you think about a student who goes to school in first grade, like every student goes to the first grade as, “I got my backpack on, and my new shoes, I’m ready to go!” right? “I’m gonna be awesome!” And they go on to try really hard and they get an F, “You failed.” “That’s all right; I’m gonna try again next year.”

Second grade, they go and they’re pumped up. “I’m gonna try really hard to do awesome.” “You failed, you get an F.” “Okay. All right, I’m gonna try really hard next year.”

And again, by the time they hit that fifth, sixth grade, they start doing some quick math in their head, and they’re like, “Huh, you know, if I try really, really hard, I get an F. But if I don’t do anything at all, I also get an F. That’s a lot easier.” Boom, stamped with unreachable. And what happens is, unfortunately, they get kind of written off. And so then, you get this little, like, “Oh, watch out for so and so; he’s unreachable. You’re not going to like him. He’s a trouble. He’s gonna…” whatever.

And the difference is when a teacher chooses to say, “Yeah, I don’t accept that. I’m going to figure out what’s really happened. Why are they struggling?” And in Chad, this is actually, like, I love the asset, because actually, you know the story Chad tells a lot about one of his students, Jesse, who was that kid. He was a kid who was on all those lists that teachers don’t have on the top 10. And it actually ended up where Chad had him at the end of the day, and for a couple weeks, Chad never saw him.

So he thought maybe he moved, because transferring was pretty common in those types of community and stuff. But he asked his colleagues, like, “Where’s Jesse? I haven’t seen him today.” “He was just getting kicked out of class before he gets to yours. He’s getting sent down to school suspension.” Then Chad asked if he could go get him, worked out a deal with his principal and stuff, and actually started going to get him, because he had delta relationship with Jesse.

And you know, “Look, this kid’s just been struggling his whole life. He’s never had anyone tell him that it was worth it,” and he was able to. Long story short is that Chad was able to connect with him, because Chad started to understand that if Jesse had some time to work through things a little bit, and had an opportunity to fail a few times and try again and try again without being told, “I’m dumb,” because a lot of times when students get to a certain point — they get that after that D — their mind goes up, “I’m stupid. I’m not good. I don’t do well at school, I’m not good at school.”

And Chad goes, “Well, if I can give us some time to work on that, and if I’m working my class and management class right way, and I have some time to maybe read aloud to Jesse to help work through these things, I bet he can do better.” And he did he started doing really well, obviously still had some issues here and there and stuff, but end up doing real good.

“I actually am good to be in the class.” And it’s an awesome story that Chad tells that I won’t go into because he’s much better.

But I think it’s the same thing. You know, I think about the employee I was just talking about, it’s a similar thing. Like, when he got on those modes, it was just like, “Well, here he goes again. I can’t, he’s just written off, like you can’t get to him.” And this isn’t to say that I’m anything special or anything, but I was able to find a way to connect with him. To get him out of that. He went from being unreachable to reachable now, and boom, he was doing his job well.

And so, I think that goes for whether it’s an employee, whether it’s your colleague, whatever it is, like, everyone’s got something going on, and it all comes back to this: getting to know that person and truly understanding them and figuring out, “Okay, what drives them?” And then also, what takes them to the spot where they’re quote unquote unreachable? And then what can I do to get them out of that?

You don’t need to be a boss to be the person that gets an employee out of a funk. Sometimes, the best person to do that is a colleague, right? And it’s just like, sometimes it takes another student to do it. But, you know, I think it’s really focusing on understanding that person, and what drives them, and what they need at that time.

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, well, I’d love to get your take when it comes to to teaching, the actual delivery of learning content, what are some of the key principles that make communication engaging versus kind of lame and boring and not so engaging?

Jeff Gargas  
I think this goes the same as caring over some of the things we say that carries over, both in the classroom and in the world, and all other industries, when it comes to training, teaching, and redirecting all the stuff.

The thing is focusing on the why. So, “Why am I teaching you this content? Why do you need to know that?” And it’s the same “why” as like, “Why do we do this or that in this particular way, in this company?” You can choose to just say, “Because I’m boss, and I said so. Because I’m a teacher, and I said you have to do this, and this is how we’ve always done it.” Or, you can go beyond just barking orders and show them why it needs to be done.

So I talked about Ray earlier, and the Teach Further model. And that’s one of the big things; we’re going beyond just the, “Hey, let’s just do this because the state says we have to hit these standards.” But let’s actually focus on “Why do you need to know this?” Like, why do you need to understand math for the real world? Like, why do you have to understand this concept? Why is understanding history important? Why? Why should you learn coding? Like, what are you going to do with your life? And let’s connect this. “Let me show you how this is connected to real world applications.”

One of the awesome things about the Teach Further model is that a piece of that, at the end of every lesson where wherever unit, where teachers are sending home what we call a “Plan for the Future page,” which is to the parents or stakeholders, whether it is the guardians, it says, “This is what we’ve learned, this is the state-standard hit. This is how we did it. Here’s some of the things that your students showed; that means that maybe they’d be interested in a couple of these fields. And by the way, if they weren’t interested in these fields, here’s the type of education they may need to do after high school.”

We’re doing this at sixth grade levels and fifth grade levels or eighth grade levels. way before they even get to high school, because they need to be understanding that early on, so they can apply all the stuff that they’re learning through the rest of the school into real life things.

And it’s the same thing when you’re in the business world and you’re trying to employees and stuff. It’s like, “I can tell you to just do that, because that’s how you’re supposed to do it, because the rulebook says it,” whereas “I can tell you why the rulebook says why have we determined this, the way of doing this thing or that thing is the best, how does that affect everything else that happens?” Because what I’m essentially doing is saying, “Hey, this is why your job’s important, why your role in this company is important, because if you do this, this is what happens. And it ends up doing this for our customers. If you don’t, here’s how it bottlenecks, it falls down and we don’t get there.”

And so that’s the way that I think takes it from… even the person who goes, “Man, my job says I just do these numbers and whatever.” But it’s like, “If you don’t do those numbers, then x, y, z doesn’t happen. And somewhere down the lot, this ends up happening, that we don’t serve our clients.”

There’s an old story, and I can’t remember who told it originally when I heard it, but they’re interviewing a bunch of people in NASA before, like when we’re getting ready to launch to the moon, way back when. And they were talking do a janitor, and they asked, like, “What do you do?” And he said, “I’m working to put a man on the moon.” And he’s understanding that if those halls weren’t clean, if the garbage wasn’t taken care of, if the lounge wasn’t clean, that affects the progress of everyone else, and could potentially interrupt someone who shot to make a breakthrough to figure out how do we get to the moon.

You can break that down. Like every little piece of the organization is so important that if you focus on explaining to your team and everyone and to students the same way, like why is it important that you’re doing what you’re doing the way you’re doing it, we’re learning these things. How does that affect the outcome? How does it positively impact what we’re trying to do? I think that’s how you get there.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, I really dig that, because you unpacked the explanation of why, on a few dimensions, I think it’s great as one is, you know, historically, this is what we’ve discovered, and how we ended up here. And the formulation of it is the way it is for this reason. And then this is what happens if you do it, and this is what happens if you don’t. So that paints a picture, like “Well, shoot. This is pretty important. Like, I matter.”

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, and that’s the key, right? I matter, because who’s going to work hard?” Or someone who just thinks they push papers, or think someone who thinks these papers matter. Like that person who thinks the papers matter. If you’re a manager, listener, supervisor, whatever, one of the other little side effects that this does, and you may not like it, but you should, like, it is that if you’re explaining to people why you do things a certain way, it opens up the door for them to recommend other ways.

And sometimes as managers and owners, whatever, we don’t want to hear it. But it’s really important to close your mouth in that and listen, because they may have something you never thought of, because they’re at the ground level. And that’s crucial. And we see it in classrooms, too, where if you’re explaining to the students why do they need to understand that, they’ll come up with other reasons and be like, “Oh, or because x, y, z?” And you’re like, “I didn’t even think of that call. Like, yeah, I’m gonna throw that in mind next time I talk about it.”

But the same thing in a company is like,

“Hey, this is why we do it.” And they’re like, “Oh, that’s great. Why don’t we do it like this?” And you’re like, “Oh, we probably should; let’s change that.” Like, it’s just powerful in so many different levels.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. That’s real nice. Well, so we hit the Grid Method a couple times in terms of little references. But you know, I just can’t help myself. But I hear Grid Method, I’m already visualizing a grid, and I got to know, what does it consist of? And how might it be applied to folks learning and growing and developing in a grownup work context?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, so what the Grid Method is, is a framework for utilizing a mastery learning in classrooms. So when I say mastery learning, there’s a lot that can go into that. But in general, it’s a shift from standing in the front of classroom delivering content to all the students all at the same time and expect them to move all at the same time, to shift into mastery learning, which is where students are moving at their own pace, and only moving on as they master the content and master certain pieces of it.

And a lot of organizations already do a similar version of mastery learning, where you’re in a training program, you have to master a certain level of skill or understanding before you can move on to the next. I think the difference is, and the focus is the speed at which.

In education and a lot of businesses, we set a certain time table. We say, “Well, let’s take it two weeks to learn this. And if you don’t learn in two weeks, I guess you’re just not good enough for it.” Or in classrooms, it’s “If you don’t learn these in two weeks, too bad. You fail, we’re moving on,” right? “If you don’t understand two plus two, we’re moving on to two times two, and you’re just never going to get it at all, ever.”

I think the biggest thing is that individuality, because we need to understand that we all, one, learn differently, and two, learn at different speeds. So if you think about— a real great way to break it down is, think about that. You have a couple kids at home, correct?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Jeff Gargas
Okay, so when you were teaching them to walk, maybe you’re doing it right now, you probably did it like most people: you stood him up and then they fell a lot, they called, and they fell, and they started using whatever they can to grab onto your leg or the furniture or whatever. And then eventually, they figured out. Now they run around like crazy, if they’re like my kids.

But what if I told you that the way I do with my kids is, I took my son Jonathan, I said, “All right, man, we’re going to do this. We’re going to practice for two weeks, and then I’m gonna work with you. You’re going to fall and everything like this.” Then in two weeks, I said, “All right, Jonathan, here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m gonna stand there, I’m gonna stand the prescribed 10 feet away from you, and now you need to walk to me.”

And he takes a couple of steps, stumbles, boom, falls. And I said, “Well, sorry, son. You failed in the walking test. I guess we’re going to just not learn how to walk. We’re gonna move on the potty training.” It’s ridiculous, right?

But then when we get into school, and in the business, we say, “Hey, you got two weeks to learn this, or you got a week to learn this. And if you don’t, I guess you’re just not going to get it.” And I always wonder how many potentially amazing employees are we not giving a shot to, because we wrote them off? Because they didn’t get it quick enough?

Same in education, too many students get written off as unreachable, or not smart, not good test takers, not good at math, because we gave them a short amount of time. And we expected them to move at the same speed as everyone else. Well, we all learn differently, how to walk in different speeds — some kids walk a year, some take some three years. I mean, same with talk and same with learning how to ride a bike, learn, and everything like that.

So the framework, and just the mastery learning shift in general is focusing on the individual and actually focus on what they actually need, and when they need it, versus when we think they should have it. And I think that’s the biggest piece we drive that helps drive mastery of the content, whether in a school, business, whatever.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. And so where does the grid come into play?

Jeff Gargas  
So the grid, essentially, so when we work with teachers, one of the first things we do is we help them look at their state standards and what they have to meet, what the state says that they’re supposed to be teaching, and we help them break them down and align them to the essential questions that they need to ask their students, that they need to have their students understand. And then that breaks down into learning opportunities and activity, the actual activities that students are doing in order to master the content, in order to master that.

So then, they take all those learning opportunities, which you can think of like a lesson plan, right? We call them learning opportunities, because a lesson is something you give someone; a learning opportunity is something they have to take. So we purposely use those words, but the grid becomes a learning path for their students to move. It’s the guide, it’s their map, if you will.

And it’s this form, these little squares that have activities in them. And it explains what they need to do, what it needs to get to whatever it is that they’re doing, whether that’s vocabulary words, whether that’s science experiments, whatever it might be, and then what they need to do in order to be checked off for mastery.

So students move through these. And so I go and I do what I need to do in square one, and when I’m ready to be checked, and I feel I’ve mastered that, I check in with the teacher, or there might be a self-assessment or automatic assessment through technology, and I cannot move on to the next square until I’ve mastered that content and I’ve shown my mastery at least an 85% or higher level of mastery. And then I move on.

So the grid, if you can visualize, is just a piece of paper with levels, five different levels of those squares. And as students start from the bottom, they build that foundational level knowledge. As they move up the depth of knowledge that’s required, the level of mastery that’s required grows. So there’s fewer boxes, few activities, because they’re a little more in depth as they move on. And as they move up, and they level up in that grid, they’re getting deeper and deeper into that content and into that concept and into that.

So a grid itself would encompass basically sort of like what you would consider like a unit of study. Some units might require multiple grids, some are just one grid. So it could vary from teacher to teacher how much they want to pack in there.

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, we talked about, is there something in particular that’s on the x axis and the y axis?

Jeff Gargas  
So yeah, so going up on the side, there’s your levels of depth of knowledge. So your x depends on the lead, those are your learning opportunities, right? Those individual boxes that say “This is what you’re going to do to help practice,” and then show your mastery along the moving upwards is that level. So the knowledge we’re referring to, we built it off of what’s called Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. And there’s levels, and it’s moving up, it’s the level of understanding. So as they move up, those levels are showing the level of understanding they had.

There’s actually four levels and depth in Webb’s; we do five levels, because we put like an independent exploration up top for the students that just excel and blow through it, so that once they master content, they can go have fun with it and learn more about it.

Most standards are written in that 2, 3, sometimes four-range, typically two to three range. So most students are going to end up around that level, but you have students that are moving all at the same or at different paces, based on what they need. And so what this does, then, is allows those students that have just get it and they’re just like — we call them rabbits, that are just really quick — and they just get it, they can move and they can keep learning. They can grow, they don’t have to wait for the student that maybe struggles.

But that student that needs a little more time, that needs a few attempts to try to get it because they just don’t get it, now they have the time to do that. You can spend time with them, either one on one or small groups to assess where they’re at, where they’re struggling, to find other ways to explain it to them. Also, side note, build those relationships really nicely there and stuff, and move on. Because what you’ll find is, most students struggle, because of one or two reasons: either one, they already get it, and they’re bored. And so they just checked out of your class. And a lot of times that leaves the problems.

Do you have, like these extremely gifted students that are really intelligent, but they cause problems? They’re just bored. They’re like, “Why am I learning this? I already know it, I don’t need to do this, this is a waste of my time.” Or you have a student that’s just struggling because, maybe they’ve struggled, they have trouble with reading? So like, just basic, simple vocabulary work is really tough for them. And they’re struggling because they’re getting yanked along, and it’s like, “Oh, you don’t know two plus two? So we’re moving on right now.”

“I’m frustrated because I don’t get it. So now I’m lost forever.” And it’s just been a cycle. So, by folks giving everyone the time they need, you’re hitting that top level, and all the way down to the bottom level of students getting what they need. And they’re allowed to move on when they need to move on, but they can take a little more time, with a little more time. So and then, there’s a lot of pieces that go along with that, on how to manage that and stuff.

And that’s where a lot of our training comes into. It’s like, alright, and how we create a grid. But then also, how does this work in my classroom? Because it can be a little scary to think of 20, 30 students all moving, doing different things at different times. And that’s a big mindset shift for a lot of teachers.

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

Jeff Gargas  
Let’s go.

Pete Mockaitis  
Alright, sure how about a favorite quote? Something you find inspiring?

Jeff Gargas  
It’s “Some people dream of success. Others wake up and work hard at it.” I think that’s true, no matter where you’re at in your life.

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

Jeff Gargas  
So I don’t do a lot of studies up, but there’s one that I have found a while back. I don’t know what, it’s from the University of California, Berkeley. And there’s just a study on happiness, like what is happiness? And the biggest thing that I’ll refer back to every now and then, but really just sort of the summary of it, and the fact that like, happiness isn’t about money or things; it’s about fulfillment. It’s not about what others think, it’s not about Keeping Up With the Joneses, and stuff like that. It’s about what you need, what’s important to you.

And you know, for a long time, I felt like I needed to be like a certain person, at a certain level of success, make a certain amount of money, do certain things, whatever. But all I really needed was to find something that I love doing and that I’m good at, and that I find a purpose. And I think that’s… I just love that about happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jeff Gargas
The Go Giver, Bob Burg. Is one of my all-time favorite, I love it. I have quotes, you’ve had them on that episode — I gotta dig through that episode. Actually, I have massive final prints of the laws, all over my walls. So…

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

Jeff Gargas  
I live and die in basecamp, we leave that as our project management, use of self reminders, project management. Our team, we’re all virtual. So that’s massive for us. And then I also use an app on my phone called the Five-Minute Journal. That’s really just a like a morning, sort of gratitude and self awareness. And then an evening reflection, it just sets me up for the day and allows me to reflect everyday. Love it.

Pete Mockaitis  
And a favorite habit?

Jeff Gargas  
Favorite habit, I started running about this past August and just getting back into it, focusing on waking up early and getting a workout, and it’s changed everything.

Pete Mockaitis  
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with those that you’re teaching?

Jeff Gargas  
Yeah, I think so with them and more with the team and stuff I love, is… I don’t know if you know Gary Vaynerhuck, he says… I won’t say it in the way he says it, but if you live for the weekends, your stuff is broken. That’s massive for me, because I just think we live in such a world where there’s so many opportunities to do so many different things that if you’re doing something you hate, like it’s just not worth it. You gotta get out, find something that you love.

And I say the same thing to teachers all the time. I said “If you’re dreading Monday, you should probably not be a teacher anymore.” And I love when I talked to teachers and they’re like, “I am so pumped to be back from spring break, because I get to see my kids again. I get to make an impact.” And I’m like that, too. I am pumped for Mondays, every Monday, like even when it’s stressful.

And it’s crazy. Like we’re a small business, we’re growing, it’s stressful pretty much every day. But I love it and I just think if you’re just dying on Monday already for it to be Friday night, man, like something’s broken, you gotta fix it.

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

Jeff Gargas  
Twitter, I love big on Twitter. I love Twitter. I’m on there all the time. I’m @JeffGargas. I’m on Instagram, too. @_JeffGargas. Or just reach out to us at TeachBetter.com, and you can literally email me at Jeff@teachbetter.com. I love building connections and chat with people and just figuring out if there’s any way that I can help

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

Jeff Gargas  
I think take some time to get really, really self-aware. Get rid of all the nonsense and like the BS and what other people say. Take time and figure out what you love, what you don’t love, what you’re good at. And once you start with really thinking about it, clearing out all that other junk, everybody else’s voices… forget the expectation that people have for you. That criticism, the negativity, all that stuff.

Just focus on like the real you. Be you. When you do that, you have no reason, like, make it up and try and put on a show. It’s just for you, like, what are you awesome at? What do I love doing? Go do that. Figure out how do I play on my strengths? How do I surround myself with people who are awesome at what I’m not, so that I can be awesome at what I need to be?

And just like, what that means going to work for someone joining the team, development team. “Let’s fill your gaps,” whatever it is, like no one can be as awesome at the things you do as you are. So go find out what that is, do it, and just love your life. It’s just not worth not doing that.

Pete Mockaitis  
Awesome. Well, Jeff, this has been a treat. Good luck and all you’re doing and helping folks teach better.

Jeff Gargas  
I appreciate it, Pete. This has been awesome. Thank you.

395: How to Learn Faster with Andrew Geant of WyzAnt

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WyzAnt CEO and Founder Drew Geant discusses the best and worst ways to learn, particularly when engaging a tutor one-on-one.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The most in-demand hard and soft skills
  2. When you should consider engaging in one-on-one lessons
  3. How to give and receive good feedback

About Andrew

Andrew Geant is co-founder and CEO of WyzAnt, which brings the proven impact of personalized learning to all learners via the largest tutoring marketplace and community. WyzAnt has one of 75,000 tutors available within 10 miles of 97% of the US population offering their services in-person and online. Drew co-founded WyzAnt in 2005 with his Princeton classmate, Mike Weishuhn. Today, WyzAnt has 80 employees in offices in Chicago and San Francisco.  With now over 2 million tutors and students that have used the platform, the company was bootstrapped with just $10,000 and has been cash flow positive since inception.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Andrew Geant Interview Transcript

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

Drew Geant
Yeah, thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m happy to have you too. Could you first orient us a little bit? Your company, Wyzant – thank you for telling me at last how it’s pronounced. My curiosity is satisfied. What does it do?

Drew Geant
Yeah. Wyzant is an online tutoring marketplace. We have about 75,000 tutors across hundreds of different subject areas. We help match up those tutors with learners who meet with the tutors one-on-one. It used to be in person. Now it’s all happening online or the vast majority of it through our online platform. You can picture a video chat, virtual whiteboard, a bunch of other tools that create this really rich online learning experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. I’ve been dying to – this is sort of fun – to get your take on this because back in the day, previous podcast guest, Muhammed Mekki, brilliant guy. We were both into education and had sort of the entrepreneurial streak. We got to talking one day and ended up creating this little offering and company we called Tutor Trail.

Drew Geant
Nice.

Pete Mockaitis
The principle was it was also online tutoring, specifically for math. The angle we were going for is it would be super affordable, like 20 dollar an hour sessions. The way that was working financially was we had folks in maybe India, Pakistan, Philippines, who are paid less than sort of the US minimum wage and be okay with it.

Drew Geant
Sure, geographic arbitrage. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
If you will, yeah.

Drew Geant
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
It was cool. We got it working in terms of okay, we’ve got some platform, we’ve got some people, who’ve got skills and are reliable and can execute some good experiences. We had a few students try it out and they were having some good times. But the challenge that we ran into is that we had zero revenue and customers.

Drew Geant
Well, revenue and customers are important. Right, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It was so perplexing to us. We thought okay, people are paying for tutoring. Okay, check. This is a great price and people like saving money. Why the heck isn’t this thing seem to be gaining any traction taking off? I figured if anyone would have a great speculative answer it would be you. Where did we go wrong?

Drew Geant
Oh man, the name of the game is – well, you have to have a great product, which sounds like you guys had a good product, and all that good stuff. It’s a big marketing challenge for sure. Unfortunately if you build it, they will not come. You need to figure out how to get it out to the market. What were you guys doing for marketing?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we had a friend who was a superintendent, so we said, “Hey,” we started chatting there. We were – I went to a conference about No Child Left Behind.

Drew Geant
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
We said how can we get the government dollars.

Drew Geant
Yeah, totally. Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
With the program there. Turns out there’s a lot of hoops. You’ve got to be kind of established before you can get those dollars. Yeah, we were sort of telling our friends and family and putting the word out, a little bit of Facebook ads. It wasn’t a huge push. We didn’t have funding. We parted with I believe fewer than $3,000 total, which is a great way to fail in a startup if you’re going to.

Drew Geant
Right, right. Yeah man, it’s a tough space. There’s been people – it’s super fragmented as you probably know. There’s plenty of individuals who hang a shingle and that’s great. You can start your own business and do your own marketing. There’s plenty of – there’s brick and mortars. There’s plenty of the online tutors in India and Pakistan. That model exists as well. It’s just crowded and you have to figure out how to differentiate yourself.

For us, we’ve always spent a lot of time on online marketing. I’ve gotten pretty sophisticated there. That’s been a big angle for us. But back in the day, when you’re talking about super early stage, it was pounding the pavement, it was signs on telephone poles, it was – we would literally stand outside a school and directly solicit the parents. We would do anything required to get those first few customers.

Then once we got the marketplace with a certain amount of activity and volume, it began to have some amount of organic growth. But getting it started is the toughest part for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
We talk about a crowded market place, well, most of our listeners are not founders looking to create a business at least right away.

Drew Geant
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
But I think there’s a great lesson there associated with how did you think of what made you unique, distinctive, and the place to go if you wanted tutoring as opposed to those other options?

Drew Geant
There were a few problems we were trying to solve from the outset.

One was price, which we talked about, and really from the tutors’ perspective in particular. If you’re a tutor and you want to go work for a tutoring company back in 2005 when we started, they would probably bill you out at $50 and pay you $15 to $20. That felt a little bit off. We said there’s got to be a better way to – there’s got to be a way to invert that using the internet. That was one problem we set out to solve.

Another one was we had this belief from the very beginning that it was the match between the student and the tutor that really mattered, so what we did was we created these really robust tutor profiles and search capabilities, such that you could really find the perfect fit. That I think continues to prove to be the right sort of way to create the most value is getting that – dialing in that fit.

Today it’s done algorithmically and there’s a lot of data behind it. Those are some of the differentiating factors for us.

[6:00]

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Perfect fit sounds huge. I remember we had a previous guest, Steve Ritter, was saying that there’s some really compelling research that if you’re working with some sort of professional for an intervention, be it a coach or a mentor or a trainer or you name it, counselor, it’s like the fit and rapport between learner or client and provider accounts for just like a substantial proportion of whether or not this thing is going to be successful and deliver what they aspire to deliver.

Drew Geant
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re thinking in the professional context often it may skew a little bit more toward mentoring, although I’m sure we’ll talk about the actual tutoring that happens among adults as well, but it’s all about that. You have to have trust. There has to be accountability. You have to be able to have really sharp communication, be able to give honest feedback, all those things that with a stranger, somebody that you don’t quite connect with, become a lot harder.

It’s crazy how these relationships get built and how strong they become. You see tutors will reach out to their students years later. Their relationship will still be an important part and birthday cards and the whole thing. It becomes very personal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well so that’s a bit of the story for how Wyzant came to be. I’m enjoying saying it correctly with confidence.

Now what I found rather surprising was that – so your publicist informed me, which is kind of how we got connected here, that adult learners, not high school, college students studying for the GRE or the ACT/SAT, but rather adult learners like me and listeners, are in fact now your largest segment of users of the platform. Is this true and how did it come to be?

Drew Geant
Yeah, it is true. It really happened in the last few years. To be honest, it was something that occurred naturally in the marketplace. We were surprised, to be honest, especially with sort of the higher education learner that we didn’t think would necessarily have the disposable income to invest in tutoring.

Then once we saw the growth in the adult learner, the career learner, that made a lot of sense to us once we stopped and looked at the broader trends of rescaling and upscaling that are going on with the knowledge economy and jobs getting more technical.

We got very excited about that and leaned into it and now that’s really where we want to take the business. We still support a lot of K-12 academic tutoring, but it turns out that we can have sort of an outsized impact for adult learners who are learning very specialized things because that’s what we do. Like I said before, it is really the match between the tutor and the student.

It’s very hard to find a tutor for some super specific technical skill or career-specific discipline. That’s where we’re I think the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Well now you’ve got my wheels turning because I’m thinking about specialized skills. It seems like almost no one is familiar with how to use Google App Maker. Listeners if you know, talk to me. We’d like to make something.

That’s pretty cool. That’s what you’re seeing is it fair to say that it’s less about, “Hey, let me help you with your communication skills or your creativity,” and more about, “Okay, you want Perl, you PHP, you want C++, or a programming language,” more that sort of thing?

Drew Geant
Yeah. There are some soft skills. Presentation skills are a big one. Public speaking is a big one. But the vast majority are technical. I’ll sort of take through what we’re seeing in terms of the subjects.

The first is the computer programming languages like you just said. Also, a lot related to analytics, whether that’s basic Microsoft Excel or visualization tools like Tableau or machine learning and much more advanced analytics topics. We see a lot of software, so people want to learn how to use Salesforce, they want to learn how to use Adobe Creative Suite or AutoCAD.

Having somebody sit down with you, or in this case virtually, but walk though that, share your screen and help you with your project or just generally familiarize with the toolset and how to navigate the software is a perfect use case for 101 sort of tutoring.

We see language. ESL is a big one. People learning Spanish, Chinese for professional purposes. Let’s see, those are some of the biggies. Oh, the other one is professional licensing exams. Almost every career-

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, like CPA.

Drew Geant
Right. Finance you have CPA, you have CFA, you have your series 7, 63, 24. That’s just finance. Teachers have to pass the … and the Praxis and nurses have to pass the NCLEX. Even if you want to be an online marketer, people want to become Adwords certified and Salesforce web developer certified. It just goes on and on. Again, perfect use case, have an expert help walk you through it. It can really shortcut your learning curve in a big way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. You said 75,000 tutors. It sounds like the odds are good that you’ll probably find someone who’s covering what you need covered. That’s pretty interesting.

Then financially – I guess well first tell me, what is sort of the situations that users find themselves in terms of like “Oh shoot, I need some help. I’ve got to go somewhere?” Is there a particular kind of a catalyst or prompt or inciting incident that gets you – get these folks saying “Oh boy, I need to hop on board and get some help?”

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s a really good question because there is. We’ve positioned ourselves and we’re quite happy to be sort of the support layer. People do come to us and say, “All right, I want to learn JavaScript from scratch,” and they start with a tutor, which is great too, but in most cases there’s some sort of struggle, some sort of – there are a lot of great self-directed learning tools out there from YouTube to Google to on and on.

We think that’s a great place to start, but some percentage of those people are going to get stuck. They’re going to reach an impasse. That’s the point in time mostly where we see they turn to us to get them back on track, to get the boost they need, and help get them unstuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Maybe even backing it up before they even embarked upon trying to learn these things. Are they going after just for the love of learning, like, “This is cool and fun and interesting,” or is like, “Uh oh, I’ve got a new role that’s freaking me out and I’m not ready for it?”

Drew Geant
Yeah, that’s actually a surprisingly common use case. We do customer research a lot and you see people get in over their head. They, “Yeah, I know how to do SQL and analytics,” and so they get hired for a job and they’re expected to know those things. Then they say, “Oh crap, I have this project. I don’t know how to do it. I’m not really comfortable going to ask my coworkers or boss because I said I know how to do this thing, so I’m going to go find someone out there that can help me,” which is great.

Sometimes it’s a bit more proactive, where somebody has their sights set on a new career or advancing within their current career and they know what they need to learn and maybe they’ve been trying to do it on their own and they need, like I said, a little extra support.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right, let’s say that if I were to meet up with a tutor to help me with some learning here, maybe it’s the Google App Maker that I’m after.

Drew Geant
That one seems to be on your mind right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it is just because I was looking at Upwork.com for some folks who could do it for me and I was like, there’s two people. Really? I’m accustomed to seeing hundreds and hundreds for anything I might want.

Drew Geant
You seem like the sort of guy, you want someone to teach you to fish though, right? You want to be able to get in there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes and no. It’s fun. I really do love learning. It’s enjoyable and it kind of is a thrill. I feel sort of empowered and equipped in a cool way. But in practice it’s sort of like well, I’ve got to a lot of highly leveraged demands for my time that I’d probably – I would see more business results if someone else were doing this for me and I was elsewhere. But I would have fun doing it. Similarly with Photoshop. I’m not great at it, but it’s really fun.

Drew Geant
That’s fun. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, oh, I could play around with this for three hours and make it look okay or I could have a professional do it for 30 minutes and look excellent and I could do something else. Anyway, that is an ongoing internal challenge with me.

But let’s say I did want to learn the skill, what have you discovered are some best practices associated with folks. They’re engaging in the learner/tutor relationship and they’re after maximum improvement. What are some of the key things they need to make sure to do or not do?

Drew Geant
Certainly I would say on the front end invest in finding the right expert. Out whole product is designed around giving you the opportunity to interact and ask questions with a variety of tutors before making your decision, before making any sort of commitment or payment.

That’s really important because you’ve got to find someone not that just has the right skillset, but like we said before, that matches your learning style. We know everyone learns differently and every tutor teaches differently.

Beyond that, you do have to make a commitment. It’s not a silver bullet. It’s not 30 minutes of tutoring and you’re going to have a concept mastered. On average we see people using between 8 and 12 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Drew Geant
Yeah. It’s a lot, but you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars necessarily to get a lot of value out of a tutoring relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool because I recall from my Tutor Trail research back in the day that in order to show statistically significant gains above what they just expect for normal growth and coursework as you age, like, “Hey, now you’re halfway through fifth grade, so you should be smarter just from your classes,” like the minimum effective dosage, it was substantial, like it was well over 20 hours in terms of programs that could prove and show the results.

But in the context of a super specific professional skill, you’re saying you can get some real gains in 8 to 12 hours.

Drew Geant
Yeah. The skill is specific but also the intervention, if you will, or the actual dialogue is 100% personalized and customized for you. Here’s the exact thing in the app builder where I’m hung up, so you go right to it, whereas if you’re watching a video or taking a course or a class, there’s so much wasted time until you get to that part you need. A tutor comes in and you put your finger right on the issue where you’re struggling and you go from there. It’s very efficient in that sense.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. You said pick the right person and match your learning style. How do you think about the segmentation of learning styles?

Drew Geant
Yeah. We don’t profess to be the learning experts. Our whole approach is let’s get the experts and let’s help make them available and accessible to the learners. That being said, we know that a lot of students respond better to visual learning. When you look at our online platform, it’s designed with that in mind, where you can bring in diagrams, you can use the virtual whiteboard as a drawing tool, all that sort of thing.

There’s a lot that happens between the tutoring sessions. There’s this homework aspect of it. That’s a big aspect of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yes. I’ve seen that as I’ve done coaching that those who pursue their homework diligently in between sessions tend to – surprise, I learned this lesson from piano back in the day – they advance the quickest when they really make the time for the homework in between.

Drew Geant
Right, it’s sort of this back and forth, that ping pong game, where you have to wrestle with something on your own, then you go get the – the tutor comes in and sort of helps you tune it up and figure out where you’re doing well and not so well, then you go back and wrestle with it some more. You go back and forth is what we see happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. Those are some of the best practices. What are some of the worst practices?

Drew Geant
The worst practices. Well, certainly – there’s a whole market around this, but we try to avoid it, which is “I have a test tomorrow” or “This is last minute.” Our tutors hate it because they know they’re not setting the student up – they’re not setting themselves up for success. “I have two hours and I need to learn all this material.”

You’ll actually see this when the tutors and students are interacting with one another. Tutors will say, “Hey, what are your goals? What’s your timeline?” They want to make sure that the student has realistic expectations. Give yourself plenty of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay, certainly. Plenty of time, that makes good sense. Anything else?

Drew Geant
Worse practices. To the use case before when you take a job and you act like you know stuff and you don’t and then you have to scramble to backfill your knowledge, I would suggest that that would not be a best practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. At the very least, start before they give you the offer. Or you get the offer before your first day of work, that interim window would be good before you’re found out. Okay, cool. Well, tell me, anything else you want to talk about learning, tutoring, one-on-one growth development, how it’s done well before we sort of shift into your favorite things?

Drew Geant
Yeah. As I’m thinking about the learner or the listeners who are all on their sort of learning journeys, we talk a lot about that among our employees, we have about 75 people, in terms of the culture we’re trying to create. In fact our number one core value at Wyzant is always be learning. We’ve dug into that a lot. For us it kind of breaks down into a few component pieces.

One is giving and receiving feedback is critical. It has to be direct, timely, and actionable. Another thing we talk a lot about and Karen Martin, who was on the show the other day, mentioned this – sort of the inverse of what we talked about.

In fact Karen Martin, who you had on the show a we days ago talked about this. She said people who act like they know everything and know all the answers or think they do is actually a form of arrogance.

The way we talk about it is sort of the opposite, which we say in order to learn you have to have some amount of humility. You have to be able to say, “I don’t know that. I don’t know how to do this. This is a bit out of my comfort zone.” That’s step one, which is a huge component.

We also talk a lot about learning from your mistakes and failures. We relate this back to our users, our tutors and our students as well. Some of the most high-impact time between a tutor and a learner is when the learner comes back with, let’s say in an academic sense, a bad test. What do you do? You got through every one you got wrong in detail and you learn from that.

We really preach that about a project that misses a deadline or an investment that doesn’t have the expected results. That’s okay. It’s going to happen. In fact, it’s going to happen more often than not, but the key thing is to go back through that and diagnose it and learn from it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the feedback is a recurring theme on the show. I’d love to get your take in terms of how do you – you’ve given some perspectives for what makes feedback great in terms of it’s direct, it’s actionable and such. I’m wondering if feedback is not normative in a certain culture and it’s often not, how do you recommend folks make the request for it and keep it coming?

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to give really direct feedback sometimes. It’s hard to receive it sometimes. It really revolves around trust, so getting to know your coworkers, understanding sort of that – and giving them the benefit of the doubt that we’re all here because we have the same agenda, which is we’re trying to accomplish the company goals, we’re trying to advance. The way we do that is by helping each other.

Really framing it as we talk about it in terms of if you’re a team and you’re looking out for your teammate. This is a way to have your teammates back is by making sure that they – you’re sort of a second set of eyes and ears for one another.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good.

Drew Geant
I think that helps people sort of frame it as not this tough conversation or I’m criticizing somebody. It’s like, “No, I’m actually looking out for them.”

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to receiving it, how do you do it well?

Drew Geant
Again, I think it starts with you have to believe that it’s coming from a good place. The opposite of that obviously would be being defensive or whatever it may be. I think asking questions, like trying to really understand it, even if it doesn’t sound right at first, instead of going into defensive mode, “Help me understand that a little bit more. You said this once thing. Can you try saying it a different way?”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I think examples make all the difference. It’s a real shame if the only feedback that exists is what is on the annual review and it’s more perfunctory in terms of “Oh, I’m going to click these boxes and all done.” Not ideal. Word. Cool, anything else you want to share or shall we hear about some of your favorite things?

Drew Geant
Let’s go into favorite things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Away we go. Can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Drew Geant
Oh man. We have in large letters on our office wall a quote from Benjamin Franklin that resonates a lot with me, which is “Investment in knowledge pays the highest return.” Obviously we like to think that is true because that’s what our customers are investing in.

I think from my experience as a tutor, and I would imagine this is true from your experience as a coach, the one-on-one teacher and learner dynamic is just so powerful, especially when you get it right between the fit. I believe very strongly that that is the highest return.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is a fine quote by an authority. I’m sure I will place that somewhere in my future. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Drew Geant
In the academic tutoring context, there’s a study from the 1980s called Bloom’s Two-Sigma study. Have you ever heard of this?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard of Bloom. Is this the taxonomy person … Bloom?

Drew Geant
He’s done a variety of things. This particular study was comparing different types of learning. One of them was one-on-one. If you ask any academic researcher, they’ll all say this is sort of – it’s now accepted as a truth, that one-on-one tutoring is the most effective way to learn. In this case he proved two standard deviations above sort of the norm of other types of learning.

Now if you take that as a truth, you say, “Okay, if we know one-one-one tutoring is the best way to learn, fine. But how do we scale it?” Because it’s inherently expensive. There’s a person on the other side of this. You see a lot of different approaches in terms of using AI and they talk about tutor robots in the sky.

Our approach has been how do we make it more accessible, more affordable with real people? But it all comes back to that belief. I think that again is commonly universally accepted among academic folk that one-on-one tutoring is the best way to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Drew Geant
Favorite book. I thought you were going to ask me a business book, so I thought of a business book.

Pete Mockaitis
It can be business. It can be … book. Favorite business, favorite fiction. We can do it all.

Drew Geant
Well, a book we’ve been using a lot lately as we’re working through strategy is a book called Playing to Win. It gives you really nice actionable strategy framework, so I’d definitely recommend people check that out.

Pete Mockaitis
Now is that – I think I’m getting that mixed up with the Jack Welch book. Is that-?

Drew Geant
It’s not Jack Welch.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s-

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe … Winning is Jack Welch.

Drew Geant
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a little different.

Drew Geant
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. What are some of the provocative takeaways from that?

Drew Geant
Well it’s very simple. The first piece that is have a winning aspiration. That’s where you start. What does it mean to win? You sit back and you ask, “Well, of course we want to grow the business, but how are you going to know when you got there?” What is the outcome? They do a really good job of probing and make you realize, “Man, I don’t even know what we’re playing for.”

Then the second part is well, what’s your playing field? You get to define your own playing field, which is a cool concept. It’s like where are you going to complete, where are you strong, where are you not strong. It sort of goes through these five steps from there.

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

Drew Geant
A favorite tool. I’m a huge Google Suite user.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Maybe Google App Maker would enhance ….

Drew Geant
Right, right, right. Lots of docs and whatnot. The fact that all that stuff is obviously in the cloud and you can use your phone as – good and bad. You can access your work from anywhere. That’s a whole other conversation that I suppose is sort of where remote work is headed. Have you had people on the show talking about that?

Pete Mockaitis
A little bit. I’d say I don’t know if we have a consensus opinion on the future. Well, now you’ve got me intrigued. You got the answer, Drew? You’re going to lay it on us?

Drew Geant
No, I just think it goes back to what we’ve been talking about, about feedback and about learning. I think the technology is there to support it for sure now in terms of the tools, which is how we got on this topic, but you have to double down on things like feedback and communication. It becomes that much harder.

We’ve had some mixed experiences. We had an office in San Francisco that didn’t work out. But now we have a fairly flexible remote work policy that is working out. It’s not easy, but I think it’s doable in terms of accessing the best talent, which at the end of the day, your company is really just a sum of the talent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ll find the best talent in Chicago, right here.

Drew Geant
Yeah, even in Chicago, you live in Naperville, coming into the office every day, it’s a grind.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that is far away. We did not buy a home in Naperville largely for that reason. Even though Naperville has got a lot going for it. ….

Drew Geant
Yeah. I didn’t mean to hit on Naperville.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely downtown.

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s wonderful.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a whole city and yet also a suburb.

Drew Geant
Yeah, if you’re commuting into Chicago, you spend a lot of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s see that was the tool. Can we talk about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Drew Geant
Favorite habit. I would say exercise. I’m not exactly-

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it looks like you’ve got some guns. When you’re live in the studio.

Drew Geant
I’m not exactly a picture of fitness necessarily, but I think what that does for your mind is – just clearing your mind is a huge part of being able to get the most out of your day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular workout focus or time of day that you zero in on?

Drew Geant
Yeah, I have a very modest home gym.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Drew Geant
I try to do that in the morning before work.

Pete Mockaitis
That is one of my dreams for this home is turning our basement-

Drew Geant
I see a treadmill right here.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got a treadmill right here. I really do use it just about every day, especially when it’s snowy and nasty out in the winter. But, yeah, I hope to turn the laundry room into also a little home gym with a bench.

Drew Geant
Yeah, you don’t need much.

Pete Mockaitis
I think a squat rack is really what makes the difference between a true gym and a non-true gym. Even though I hate squats, but if I had my own rack I would do them more.

Drew Geant
I think as a general rule the more you hate it, it’s probably the better the exercise.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh probably. It just takes it out of me and hurts the next day so much. That’s habit. How about is there a key nugget you tend to share with your team or others that really seems to connect, resonate, they quote it back to you often?

Drew Geant
A key nugget. One that we have some fun with that is sort of like I think we mean it when we say it, but we realize it’s not necessarily the most diplomatic was we often say, “Let’s not confuse effort with results.”

Sometimes you can deceive yourself into thinking all the activity is productive, but it kind of goes back to the winning aspiration, what are you actually trying to achieve, what are your goals, and is the activity actually moving you forward? It’s kind of like work smarter, not harder as well. Two things that we talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a great distinction not to confuse effort with results. I remember my buddy Ronny when he was doing some intense football training. He even wrote in huge letters “Effort equals results.” That might be true in the sense of if you push yourself harder in a physical training endeavor, so long as you recover wisely, then maybe effort equals results. But in sort of knowledge work, effort may or may not equal results and it may equal a smidge of results or 20 times that more per hour.

Drew Geant
Sure, absolutely. We bring it back to business too, our just conviction in tutoring and the impact and power of that form of learning is – you can be spending hours and hours and hours watching a video on YouTube. That’s not working smarter. Whereas we think for many cases, hire an expert, you’re going to get the results a lot faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. If folks want to learn more or get in touch with you, where would you point them?

Drew Geant
Wyzant.com, download the app. I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn as well. It would be always fun to connect with folks.

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

Drew Geant
Just always be learning and recognize it’s hard. Learning is a hard thing, but it’s rewarding. Sometimes I think people shy away from it because it’s hard. It’s like, “Oh well, I must not be good at this thing,” but just know that that’s part of it. That’s what I think makes it worthwhile.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Well, Drew, this has been a ton of fun. Thank you and good luck. Hope you equip all the more adult learners in the years to come and keep on rocking.

Drew Geant
All right. Thanks.

378: How to Tackle Uncertainty–and Enjoy It with Josh Kaufman

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Josh Kaufman shares his research regarding tackling uncertainty, the value of persistence in new skill acquisition, and best practices for self-directed learning.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The PICS formula for assessing your goals
  2. The five parts of every business mental model
  3. How and Why to pre-commit to learning a new skill

About Josh

Josh’s research focuses on business, skill acquisition, productivity, creativity, applied psychology, and practical wisdom. His unique, multidisciplinary approach to business mastery and rapid skill acquisition has helped millions of readers around the world learn essential concepts and skills on their own terms.

Josh’s research has been featured by The New York Times, The BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeek, Wired, Fast Company, Financial Times, Lifehacker, CNN, and many others.

Josh has been a featured speaker at Stanford University, World Domination Summit, Pioneer Google, and many others. JoshKaufman.net was named one of the “Top 100 Websites for Entrepreneurs” and his TEDx talk was viewed over 12 million times.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Josh Kaufman Interview Transcript

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

Josh Kaufman
Pete, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into this discussion. One fun thing I learned about you as I was stalking you in preparation for this discussion is it still active that you have a monthly Dungeons and Dragons group going? What’s the story here?

Josh Kaufman
That is absolutely accurate. Actually, we just had I think it’s our one-year group anniversary this past Saturday.

Pete Mockaitis
Congratulations.

Josh Kaufman
It’s fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, what’s the – Dungeons and Dragons, it’s so funny. It has all sorts of connotations, but I want to hear straight from the horse’s mouth, what is it for you that drew you in and keeps you coming back?

Josh Kaufman
Oh, it is the most fun game that has ever been invented. It’s this really wonderful combination. When I try to explain it to people who have never played, it’s like imagine a game where literally anything is possible and people can do crazy things that you have not prepared for and don’t expect and there’s some way of figuring out if a character who tries to do something crazy in a story, if they can actually do that thing.

I love it in two ways. It’s this wonderful combination of group storytelling and improv. The storyteller kind of knows where it’s going to go, but doesn’t know for sure. The players have agency and latitude to do whatever they want.

Then the players can explore a world where they can and try and pull off things that are just really fun to think about and come up with creative solutions that the person w ho’s telling the story just never anticipated. It’s this wonderful combination of story and surprise and creativity. It’s the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Not to get too deep into the weeds, but I’m intrigued. How do you make the call on whether something that someone invents out of their head – I guess I just saw matches like “You are locked behind a dungeon door.” It’s like, “I’m going to pull out some – a bazooka and blast it away.”

I guess how do we determine whether or not they in fact can or cannot pull out a bazooka and blast it away? That’s always kind of been my sticking point looking out from afar, having not experienced it first-hand.

Josh Kaufman
Sure. There’s actually very active conversations in RPG circles about how you deal with this. I think the term is verisimilitude, so how much do you want to try to emulate real life in this fantastical story that you’re all telling together.

Every system has different ways of doing it. At least in Dungeons and Dragons, all of the player characters are playing an individual who has certain goals and desires and also, very important, a list of equipment that they have on them at their disposal, so pulling out a bazooka from nowhere is totally not kosher as far as the rules of the game.

Pete Mockaitis
It would be on the equipment list in advance is what you’re telling me.

Josh Kaufman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Josh Kaufman
Imagine somebody like Conan the Barbarian fighting a dragon at the top of a mountain. The dragon is hurt and tries to flee and Conan flings himself off of a cliff and tries to grab the dragon in midair. Most games don’t really have a good system for figuring out what happens next.

The whole point of a rule system in a role-playing game is essentially giving you the tools to figure out just that. What is the situation? How difficult is it? What is this player? What are they good at and what are they not good at?

There’s a way to essentially reduce it to statistics of you don’t know for sure, you’re going to roll some dice to figure out what happens next, but how great are the chances that Conan will be able to leap far enough to get to the dragon and then hold on if they’re able to make contact. Things like that. It’s really fun.

Pete Mockaitis
I see, so you’re kind of jointly deciding that as a group.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, and the really interesting parts are when the players figure out a solution to a challenge that you didn’t anticipate. At risk of going too deep, my players were fighting ice demons that exploded when they died this past Saturday.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve all been there, Josh.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, as you do. It was really interesting to see the group brainstorm and come up with solutions of how to isolate and then put these monsters in a position where they could be defeated without doing damage to the party.

There were five or six different solutions. Every player came up with their own take on it. But it was just really interesting to see with all of the different personalities and the different sets of skills at the table, everybody came up with their own little solution to figure out this thorny problem.

I was telling the story and I had no idea what they were going to do. The fun of it for me was putting a whole bunch of people in a situation and seeing how they tackled it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s nifty. You’ve compiled some wisdom when it comes to fighting fantastical and mythological beasts in your book, How to Fight a Hydra, but there’s more to it than just a fun fantasy fiction romp. Can you unpack what’s this book all about?

Josh Kaufman
Sure, so How to Fight a Hydra is compiling a lot of research into a universal problem that all of us have that’s we may have a big ambitious goal or pursuit, something that we want for ourselves and we’re not quite sure if we’re going to be able to pull it off. There’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of risk. There might be fear of the unknown or uncertainty that we have the skills that we’re going to need in order to get what we want.

A huge tradition both in ancient and modern philosophy about how to deal with topics like uncertainty and risk, but also a lot of new cognitive psychology or behavioral psychology. How do you get yourself to do something that you know in advance is going to be challenging or is going to be difficult?

I started researching this and started doing it the way that I did my previous two books, which were research based non-fiction. The funny thing about writing about uncertainty and risk and fear is that if you treat it that way, you start writing a book that nobody wants to read because those topics are inherently uncomfortable to think about too long.

That’s where the idea of instead of explaining how to do this, approaching it from the perspective of a story. Let’s take a person who is deciding to pursue something genuinely difficult, something that they don’t know if they’re going to be able to do and let’s follow them as they go through the process of accomplishing this very big goal and experiencing all of the normal challenges along the way.

Then watch them skillfully apply these things that we know from research works in these sorts of situations. It’s fiction. It’s a story, but it’s a story with an underlying logic and purpose that is very firmly rooted in this universal challenge that we all face.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. We won’t spoil the story elements, but within it, there are some components associated with sort of physical training and getting tougher as well as acquiring or crafting a sword in order to pull it off. Could you – at the risk of us entering into the boring territory for the book that nobody wanted to read – what are some of the fundamental steps and scientific insights associated with flourishing when you’re tackling a big project like this?

Josh Kaufman
There are a bunch of insights around – let’s group it around expectations going into something – a new big project, something you’ve never done before, something that is at the limit of your capability. And there are a few common patterns or denominators in how you approach that, and how you approach it makes an enormous difference.

Let’s say you want to enter a new career. You want to start a new business, pursue a creative project. Whatever it happens to be, there’s this undercurrent of, like, “I don’t know if this is a good idea. I don’t know if this is going to work. I don’t know if I invest my time and energy in this way I’m going to get the results that I want. I may have a vague idea of what I’m trying to do, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.”

Those are all very common things that I hear from lots of different people and experience myself. One of the things that’s very useful to know from the beginning is that that is completely normal. It doesn’t mean that you are not up to the task. It doesn’t mean that this is a bad idea or there’s something wrong with you. It’s just a fundamental feature of the world.

These big things that we want to achieve, there’s an inherent element of uncertainty, complexity, variability, ambiguity and risk. Those things are never going to go away. If you understand that from the beginning, you can shift your mindset more from “How do I get this uncertainty to go away? How can I make it stop?” to more of a you are pursuing an adventure. You’re exploring something interesting. You are challenging yourself in important ways.

One of the things that makes an adventure interesting, or exploration valuable, is you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. That’s part of the fun. That’s part of the challenge. Just thinking about these things that we want to do more along the lines of adventures or exploration is a very useful way to think about the process of pursuing something in general.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool in terms of just reframing it as an adventure because we pay good money to experience adventure, whether you’re going to REI and buying some outdoor backpacking-type stuff and going out on a trail or a mountain or a campsite or whether it’s more indoorsy, a room escape adventure, you know?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
Paying money for that kind of experience or just a trip to the movies or a novel or whatever. Yet, elsewhere in life, we want that uncertainty gone. We would like to just sort of know how it’s going to unfold. That’s a pretty clever move in terms of by reframing the uncertainty into adventure, now it’s no longer terrifying and doubt-producing, but rather it’s fun and interesting.

Josh Kaufman
That’s absolutely the case.

Pete Mockaitis
Nifty. I imagine some ways that may be easier said than done, but let’s say you’re in the heat of it. Someone’s looking to change their career wildly from we’ll just say one field of accounting to another field of pinball machine design.

Josh Kaufman
Fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve always loved pinball and this is kind of a crazy switch, but they think they’ve got some special skills and abilities and things to contribute there.

Let’s think about it. One person may very well be freaking out in this situation, like, “Oh my gosh, where would I even start? Why would anyone want to hire me? Should I quit my job? Should I not? That’s pretty crazy. How am I going to support my family, pay the mortgage?” Here we are in the midst of uncertainty and big dream and fear. Where do we go?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, the first bit is exploring more fully what the new thing looks like. I’m guessing that our fictional example may have some experience doing this but may not have completed an entire project start to finish.

One useful thing about thinking about all of these transitions as adventures is there’s a certain amount of exploration that’s always going to happen, particularly at the beginning. There’s actually – I did a full essay about this on my website, JoshKaufman.net, about exploration versus exploitation.

There’s a lot of research about it in computer science, but it’s one of those generalizable things that’s useful in a lot of circumstances. When you’re doing something new, it is in your best interest to spend the vast majority of your time exploring all of your different options.

Maybe in this case, the individual is still working their day job, so there’s some risk mitigation going on there, but then most of the time and energy devoted toward this new activity is spent exploring.

What types of pinball things sound good? What are some of the different industries or businesses that you could work with? What do they tend to specialize in? What do they need? Are you going to build your own pinball machines or are you going to outsource it to a contract manufacturer? Are you selling it yourself or are you selling it through somebody else? There are all sorts of unanswered questions around this topic.

Spending a lot of time and energy in the exploration phase makes a lot of sense. You’re gathering information. You’re trying new things. You are testing to see what are the parts of the business or the venture or project that you really like and what are some of the things that you would rather avoid.

All of that exploration is extremely useful later when it comes to the second phase, which is called exploitation. Exploitation is when you’re spending most of your time doing the things that you know are rewarding.

Imagine you move to a new town and you don’t know which restaurants are good. You spend maybe the first couple years that you live there, you never eat at the same place twice. You explore lots of different options to see what you like and what you don’t like.

But the longer you live there, the more you know what’s going to hit the spot at any particular moment, so you spend more and more time doing the things that you know work and doing less and less of the time with things you don’t.

So for our aspiring pinball designer, after that period of exploration, they’re going to have a much better sense of what works and what doesn’t. Then the more and more things that work, the easier it’s going to be to make a transition from accounting to pinball.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing example there when it comes to the food. It’s so dead on because I found myself, particularly when I’m at a restaurant that I’ve been to several times, it’s like I’m torn. It’s like, okay, there’s one thing I know that will be delicious and wonderful, so I’m naturally drawn to that and yet, I’m also intrigued by the new and seeing what could be there.

I’ve had it go both ways. I try something new and it’s like, “Wow, that was even better than the thing I loved. I’m so glad I did that,” versus “Oh, this is kind of lame. I could have just stuck with the thing I knew was good and then been feeling more delighted post meal.”

I like that you’ve provided a particular rule of thumb here, which is in the early phases, you’re going to get a better bang for your buck by doing more of the exploration versus once you know the lay of the land, you’ll have a better return by doing the exploitation.

Josh Kaufman
Absolutely. And the additional wrinkle to this, so this is often in the research literature called the bandit problem because the classical mathematical formulation is you’re playing slot machines, which I do not recommend by the way, but for the sake of understanding, it’s a good example.

Imagine you go into a casino and you can play any slot machine you want. You don’t even have to spend money. It’s just the time that it takes to pull the lever and see the result. If you’re given this opportunity and you want to maximize your return from this experience, what do you do? Well, that’s where the exploration and the exploitation phase comes it.

You spend quite a bit of time testing different machines gathering data. Then after a while you start shifting to the machines that you know provide a much better pay off.

The interesting thing is you would think at a certain point that exploitation is the way to go. You just do the thing you know works over and over and over again. When you look at the studies and you look at the math, that’s actually not the case. There’s always a certain amount of your energy and attention that is going to be devoted to exploration because you don’t have perfect information about what is going to be the most rewarding thing you possibly could do.

The more time you spend, the more confident you can be that you’re on the right track, but it’s always beneficial to you to reserve at least some percentage of your capacity for trying new things and seeing if they work out.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. I guess it’s just my personality or strengths or whatever, it’s just like I find that exploration of the new is so much more exciting and interesting.

Josh Kaufman
I’m right there with you.

Pete Mockaitis
And sometimes to my detriment. It’s like, “No, no, Pete, just continue doing the thing that’s really working for you instead of gallivanting off to some crazy thing,” but the gallivanting is fun. I guess when you talk about the context of slot machines, which is gaming is for the purpose of fun, then that may be all the more true.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, I think a lot of it comes down to – in the personal context, why are you doing this thing in the first place? There may very well be situations or decisions that you might make from a career standpoint that might get you a lower financial return than other options, but if you have a payoff in another dimension, so maybe it’s personal interest and engagement maybe it’s exploring an area that you really love and you’re willing to make tradeoffs in order to work in that area.

There are all sorts of things to optimize for that aren’t necessarily financial return. I think the more broadly you think about what’s the reward for this thing that I’m trying to do and how can I get more of the things that I care about, the easier it is to make those sorts of tradeoffs.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Okay, when it comes to the hydra fighting, any other kind of key takeaways that you think are particularly on point for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, I think the understanding that it’s going to be difficult and that’s okay, is a really great mental framework to begin and that most of these sorts of challenges are met by both improving your skills, so getting better at doing the things that are critical to achieve the results that you want, and persistence and specifically persistence in the face of frustration and difficulty.

And so it’s very easy, particularly early on – this is actually a theme in my second book, The First 20 Hours. When you’re doing something new or something you’re not familiar with or something you’re not very good at yet, that early experience of trying to make progress and not getting the results you want is extremely frustrating.

Understanding that persistence is the thing that allows you to push through those early barriers and solve the challenges and get what you want, the more you can understand that that is the path to victory. It’s not being naturally skilled. It’s not having some sort of magic problem-solving device. It is consistent effort, attention and energy over a long period of time.

That is setting you up for success in a way that a lot of messages in broader culture, just don’t really help you with.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a couple, quotables or articulations of the counter message that’s suboptimal?

Josh Kaufman
Well, I think the best way to frame it—that I’ve seen in various forms is don’t compare your inside versus somebody else’s outside. social media does not do us many favors here because you tend to see the highlight reel of other people’s lives. You see the promotions. You see the vacations. You see the raises. You see the major status-oriented achievements. You don’t necessarily see, the struggle or the fear or the anxiety or the work that goes into a lot of  the achievements that other people have.

Understanding that everyone deals with the same challenges of not knowing what’s going to happen next, not knowing if an investment is going to pay off not knowing if something is a really great idea that’s going to change their life or career or a terrible idea that is going to blow up their life or career. It’s a universal problem.

Giving yourself a bit of grace and being comfortable saying “I may not be where I want to be yet, but I am on a path and I am working towards getting there,” that goes a very long way.

Pete Mockaitis
Not to kill dreams prematurely, but I guess the counter side of persistence is knowing when is it appropriate to shut down a plan that is not going to cut the mustard. Any pro tips on that side of things?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, the biggest advice I can give in that regard is be very, very clear about what you want upfront. The way that I like to think about this most people’s goals or dreams if they’ve articulated them to themselves are very broad and very general. Broad and general to the point where it doesn’t really give your brain anything to work with in figuring out how to get there.

The acronym or approach that works really well for me is PICS, P-I-C-S. That’s positive, immediate, concrete, and specific. Those are the qualities that should apply. When you write down what you want, try to make it as concrete, specific, vivid and something that you can look into the world and figure out, “have I achieved this thing or not. Am I there?”

“I want to climb a mountain,” is very not specific. “I want to climb Mt. Everest by next year,” is much more specific. You can do something with that.

Pete Mockaitis
I like the acronym PICS just because that’s kind of what you’re getting at is we’re trying to paint a picture that’s super clear, that we know if we’ve hit it or have not hit it.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, the more vividly you can imagine what your life looks like and what this thing you want to achieve looks like when it has been accomplished, the more useful it is going to be in terms of figuring out what to do next to get there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Then it’s easier to make that call. It’s like, “This is what I was going for and what I’m experiencing is in no way, close to that nor getting closer to it, over time,” so there you go as opposed to if it were fuzzy, it would be tougher to know that we’re not where we’re headed or where we wanted to be.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, I think a lot of people experience that particularly early on in their career, where they have this image before they enter the workforce or in a new role about what it’s going to look like and what it’s going to feel like and what their life is going to be. And a lot of times, the early experiences don’t match up very well with that. it helps to be able to really articulate what am I trying to get out of this, what is the benefit for me, what do I care about and what do I not care about so much? And then be able to figure out, okay, on a day-to-day basis, is this thing taking you closer in the direction of where you want to be or is it actually taking you farther away?

In my corporate career, I was actually in product development in marketing at Proctor & Gamble, which a huge consumer goods company. I was really excited. I loved creating new things. That part was really great. I decided to move on from the company when I was in a meeting to prepare for a meeting to prepare for a meeting to prepare for a meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you unpack that?

Josh Kaufman
Four levels of ….

Pete Mockaitis
The layers of the meetings. I’ve got to hear this.

Josh Kaufman
A lot of how product development works was we’re individual teams who are working on things and they would essentially pitch it to the vice president/president level in order to get funding.

I was having a meeting with my manager to prepare for a meeting with the brand manager of the product that this would be under to prepare for a meeting with the marketing director, and then to prepare for a the final pitch to the vice president and president to get funding.

And all of those meetings were important. And then I just looked at my life. I’m like, “I don’t want to exist in meetings for the rest of my career. There are other things I want to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
What’s intriguing is that the final, final meeting was still an internal one as opposed to say a venture capitalist or Wal-Mart, Amazon. Are they going to carry your product? It was still an internal one.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, absolutely. I actually had quite a few meetings with Wal-Mart and Target and Costco and all the big retailers and somehow those were more straightforward than the internal meetings about how to allocate funding. It’s kind of funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay, well, so that’s a little bit about the hydra story. I cannot help myself if I’m talking to Josh Kaufman, I’ve got to get some of your wisdom when it comes to self-directed learning. I first heard about you when you came up with the notion of the personal MBA which sounds great. What’s your take here in terms of should nobody pay for a traditional MBA and how do you view this world?

Josh Kaufman
I think that if you’re already working at a company you like, you know you want to move up in that company internally there’s a requirement to have an MBA, uh, to have the position that you desire and the company is willing to pay for it, then that’s probably a pretty good reason to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, some stringent criteria.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah. Anything else aside from that it’s probably going to be more expensive, both in terms of financial time and opportunity cost than you expect and the value of the credential in and of itself is just not really great. In a financial sense, it’s almost always a negative ROI.

If the goal is to understand what businesses are, how they work, and either how to start a new business or make any existing business better, you can learn how to do that on your own. You don’t necessarily have to spend years and tens, hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn business skills. Business skills are very learnable on your own.

The goal with The Personal MBA was to create the best possible introduction, that I could make to the world of business. So assuming you know absolutely nothing about how businesses work, how can you understand all of the parts, that go into making a business work in a way that allows you to do important stuff, whether that’s making a new product, new company or just doing better in your existing job?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. You did a nice job of unpacking the key sub skills that are associated with the MBA and then you’ve got an infamous – maybe just famous, I don’t know about infamous – reading list associated with when it comes to strategy and these marketing and all these things that are handy to know to comprise what an MBA knows and getting there.

I’d love to get your take then when it comes to doing this learning on your own as opposed to in a classroom or a group environment, what are some of your pro tips for pulling that off successfully outside those supports?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah. I think the biggest thing is aside from the basics of setting aside time to read and research and think and apply, that’s going to be necessary in any case. There’s a particular type of thing that when you’re self-studying you should, look for.

A lot of traditional academic book learning is all about memorizing terms and techniques, so specific things that apply in specific situations. I think a much better way to approach learning for application in general is to look for things that are called mental models.

A mental model is basically a conceptual understanding about how a thing in the world works, what it looks like, how different parts of a system interact with each other. It’s essentially one level of abstraction higher.

It’s being able to see the same principles at work in, businesses in different industries, different markets, different products, products to services, understanding how things work at a deeper level and that gives you the ability to look at a situation you’re not familiar with and that you have no context about and have a place to start and have a place to figure out how you would go about getting more information or make decisions in this particular area.

And so, The Personal MBA is really designed around that idea. Let’s learn the most important mental models about business, about people because businesses are created by, run by, and run for the benefit of people, so let’s understand psychology and communication and how that works.

And then systems because most successful businesses are essentially comprised of systems, processes that can be repeated in order to produce a predictable result. The more you understand about systems in general, the more you’re going to be able to take that back to a functioning business or a new business and say these are the things that would probably make the biggest difference right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us an example of a mental model? It’s like, “Oh, because I understand this one thing, I can now take that with me and apply it to having a starting point for this other thing.”

Josh Kaufman
Sure. So one of my favorites, which is, early in the book for a reason is what I call the five parts of every business. And it’s uh, this very universal way of deconstructing a system or deconstructing a business into, universal parts that help you understand how it functions at a very fundamental level. The five parts are value creation, marketing, sales, value delivery, and finance.

Every business creates something of value to other people, could be it products, could be it service, could be a shared resource like a museum. There are all sorts of different ways businesses create value, but it always makes something that other people want or need. So it’s important to understand what that is and why people want or need it, how that value is created to the people who ultimately pay the business’s bills.

Marketing is all about attracting attention for this valuable thing that you’ve created. So how do you make sure that people know that you have something valuable to offer them?

And then from there, you can attract all the attention you want, but if nobody ever pulls out their check book or credit card and says, “Yes, please. I’ll take one,” you don’t have a business. You have something else. And so sales is the process of taking someone who is interested in what you have to offer and then encouraging them to become a paying customer of the business. It’s the part where, money flows into the business instead of running out.

It turns out, if you take people’s money and you don’t deliver what you promised, you’re not running a business; you’re running a scam.

Pete Mockaitis
You find yourself in prison.

Josh Kaufman
Exactly. So value delivery is the part where you have a paying customer. This is great. You have something valuable that you’ve promised to deliver them. Let’s deliver this thing in a way that makes the customer deliriously happy. This is everything from the construction of physical products, the, service, delivery, follow-up calls, and all of those things that turns a paying customer into a happy customer. That’s all in value delivery.

And then finance is essentially the analytical step. So, in, value creation, you’re usually spending money to make this thing. You’re investing. Same with marketing. You may be spending on advertising. You may be spending on any form of outreach to attract more attention to this thing you’ve made.

Sales is the wonderful part where money comes in. Then value delivery, when you are making your customer happy delivering what you’ve promised, you’re usually spending money there too.

And so finance is the process of analyzing all the money that you’re spending and all the money that you’re bringing in and answering two very fundamental questions. One, is more money coming in than is going out, because if not, you have a problem. And then, number two, is it enough. Is it what we’re bringing in from this system worth the time and energy that it’s taking to run the whole thing?

And no matter how large or small the business is, whether you’re one of the largest companies in the world or you are a company of one starting something new for the first time, if you’re bringing in money and it’s enough and it’s worthwhile to keep going, congratulations, you have a successful business. That’s all it takes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so then that mental model there is you just said, hey, we’ve got these five components, so even if I know, know jack diddly squat about, real estate investing and, buying homes and renovating them and renting them out, by applying this model of the five key areas, I can sort of quickly get an understanding in terms of saying, “Okay, what is it that customers, people who rent apartments want?” and then away you go.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, that’s exactly it. I was doing consulting and advising related to personal MBA for many years. It was really fun talking to people who worked in wildly different industries and markets, being able to come back to the same core process of okay, I may be speaking to someone who is implementing electronic health care records for midsized doctor’s offices with 10 to 20 doctors practicing.

That’s not an area that I had any direct expertise or experience in, but coming back to this framework, it was very easy to understand what was going on, what was important, where the opportunities were just based on a conversation around, “okay, these are the areas of this particular business that I need to know before we can dig in on here’s what’s going to be most beneficial and what you should focus on.”

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you.

Josh Kaufman
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well so then I’d love to go a little bit deeper when it comes to the how associated with, developing these skills. You’ve laid out kind of a four-step approach for learning a new skill within a mere 20 hours, not 10,000. How does this go?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah. This is part of my research for I did for my second book, The First 20 Hours. The goal for that one was to understand how to go from knowing absolutely nothing about something you’re trying to do to being reasonably good in a very short period of time. Usually that early learning is slow and frustrating, so anything that we can do to make it a little bit faster and way less frustrating is going to beneficial for us long term.

That goes back to the PICS acronym we discussed earlier. Like, getting very clear, very specific about what you want to do, how you want to be able to perform, and what that looks like when you’re done.

And so from there you’re able to take that image of what you want and, do what’s called deconstructing it into smaller parts. usually the skills that we want to learn, aren’t single skills in isolation. They’re actually bundles of different skills.

So a good way to visualize this is imagine a complex game like golf. So playing golf actually involves lots of different things. I don’t play myself, so apologies if the terminology is wrong. But driving the ball off of a tee and putting it into the hole, on the green, are two very different things.

And so the more you can understand what those isolated sub skills look like and which ones are most important to get what you want, the easier it is to practice the things that are going to, to give you the best return for your invested time and energy. You practice those things first.

Learning just enough to go out and be able to correct yourself as you’re practicing gives you the biggest return.

Too much research can be a subtle form of procrastination. That’s actually something that I, struggled with quite a bit. I want to know everything about what I’m trying to do before I do it. Spending just a little bit of time and energy researching just enough to go out and try to do it and to be able to notice when you’re doing something wrong and then try, go back again and self-correct. That’s really important.

There are two other things that are particularly important, so removing barriers to practice, some of those barriers can by physical, mental or emotional. Make it as easy as possible for you to sit down and spend some dedicated time getting better at this thing that you want to do. Then pre-commit to learning the most important sub skills first for at least 20 hours.

The pre-commitment is a very powerful tool from a psychological standpoint that makes it much more likely you’re going to practice long enough to start seeing benefits. So the early hours, super frustrating, so you need to have some type of method, some way of getting past that early frustration.

And the best tool that I found is pre-committing to a relatively short period of time and I recommend 20 hours as a nice happy medium for most of the skills that we would learn either in a personal or professional context.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy with the pre-commitment upfront. “Hey, this is what it’s going to be and I’m ready for it. I’m strapped in and we’re kind of pushing past it,” as opposed to, “Hey, it turns out I’m not good at this and I hate it, so we’re done.” That’s nice there.

When it comes to the sub skills, could you – I imagine it varies quite a bit skill to skill – but could you give us a further example of, what’s the approximate breakdown in terms of when it comes to sub skills, I think I might make it a bit too granular in terms of “There are 83 sub skills.” What do you think is kind of the right level of detail when defining the sub skills that we’re going to tackle?

Let’s say I want to be handy. I’m a homeowner now. I want to be handy around the house. It’s like, okay, well, we can talk about screwing screws. We can talk about drilling holes. We can talk about drywall. We can talk about furniture assembly, etcetera.

I think that it might be possible to subdivide it into a huge number of things and maybe, well, hey, being handy is a very broad thing that warrants that. But could you give me a sense for what’s roughly the right size of the piece when we think about a sub skill that we’re going to get our arms around?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, so in an instance like that, I’m really glad you brought it up because you’re right, being handy is like a state of being that you develop over time. It’s hard to look at your day-to-day life and experience a moment where you think to yourself, “Wow, I have really accomplished being handy.”

Pete Mockaitis
I have arrived at handiness.

Josh Kaufman
Yes, like I’m here. But one thing that’s really useful in situations like these is to think in terms of discrete projects. So look around your house for all of things that you would want to change or improve.

So I think the drywall example is a really interesting one. Let’s say there’s a section of your house where for whatever reason the drywall needs to be replaced. Maybe it has dents in it. Maybe it wasn’t done well the first time, who knows. But there’s some section of wall where you want to do that.

That is breaking down this very meta ‘I want to be handy’ into ‘I want this particular section of my house to look good and having it look good requires drywall work.’ That gives you the context to figure out, “Okay, if I’m going to work on this piece of the house, here are all of the things that I’m going to need to learn how to do and here are some of the tools I need and here’s how I’m going to have to figure out how to get the drywall down.” You can start breaking it into smaller and smaller parts.

And then the practice of it might look like saying, “Okay, I’m going to try to replace this myself. And I’ve never done it before. I’m a little hesitant to do it, but it’s either going to be done or I’m going to put 20 hours into the doing of it.”

If you’re terrible and everything looks horrible and you need to hire somebody to fix all of your problems after the 20-hour-mark, great, but in the meantime you’re going to focus on solving this specific problem with the time you have allotted to it.

Pete Mockaitis
What I love about the 20 hours, to jump in there, is that it’s – on the one hand that seems like a crazy big amount of time if you think about someone who already knows what they’re doing. It’s like, this could be a one-, two-, three-hour job max for, uh, someone who’s uh, experienced with drywall. But you have laid it out that I’ve pre-committed to the 20 hours. The goal is to learn the thing such that I can deliver on this one project.

I think that does a huge service in terms of short-circuiting that frustration because if—if you find yourself in hour 16 like “This is insane. It’s taken me over five times as long as somebody who knows what they’re doing would take them,” you’d be like, “Ah yes, but I’m almost done and according to my 20-hour commitment, therefore I’m winning.”

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, totally. I really like um – there’s just something about making the commitment that short circuits all sorts of very detrimental things. The First 20 Hours, the first edition of the book was published in 2013.

And now like, five years later, having lived with this for a long time, every time I pick up a new skill, I have to think to myself, “Okay, I’m going to do this. If I’m terrible, I’m going to be terrible for 20 hours. If I don’t like it, if I’m having a miserable time, then I only am going to be miserable for 20 hours and then I can stop.”

But just making that mental shift of it’s okay if I’m not good at the beginning. It’s okay if it’s frustrating. I’m just going to push through that because I know that if I stick with it long enough at minimum I’m going to be a lot better than I was when I started.

Um so, there’s just a whole lot of excellent goodness in both letting it be hard, like not expecting it to not be because it very often is. It usually is. But then also helping to really shift into the mode of, um, not comparing your skills or abilities versus other people who have probably been doing it for a lot longer than you have.

Like, that’s a huge trap, both in skill acquisition, but also in business and creative endeavors in general. Like looking at somebody else and their level of development and expecting ourselves to have those skills and that level of development from hour zero.

This—this approach really helps you to hone in on, “Okay, where am I right now? Where do I want to be?” And then as you’re putting in the time, you can see yourself getting better and better and better.

It’s called the Power Law of Practice. It’s one of the most reliable, effects or studies in cognitive psychology. The first few hours that you practice something new, you will get dramatically better very, very quickly. It’s just a matter of sitting down to do the work in the first place and then persisting long enough to actually see that improvement happen.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. I also really appreciate the notion of the comparisons and how, I guess, silly and futile and unproductive that is in the sense of I can imagine, it’s like well, you can think about something that you’re amazing at and then say, “Well, what if my contractor tried to start a podcast or deliver a keynote speech or write a book?” It’s like, things that I’m good at.

It’s like, “Well, he’d probably not so graceful and elegant, kind of the way I do right now as I’m hacking through this drywall and doing a comically poor job.”

Josh Kaufman
Absolutely. That’s exactly the way to think about it. Like, there are things that you have become amazing at because you have learned and practiced consistently over a very long period of time. That—that’s just how humans fundamentally improve at everything.

And so you can take that general insight is if you approach the early part of the process in a skillful way, so knowing it’s going to feel hard and it’s going to feel frustrating. And that’s okay. That’s expected. If you can get through that early part, then you can become better at anything that you put your mind to. It’s mostly a decision of what to work on and of all of the things that you could work on or improve at, what are the things that are going to give you most of the results that you want.

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

Josh Kaufman
This has been really great. I think the um, underlying theme of my work in general, and I have some new books that are in various stages of, of research right now, but I really try to focus on, on the, uh, straightforward, practical wisdom if that makes sense, just trying to understand important areas of life, figure out how to get really good results in that area, and describe it in a straightforward way.

If anyone decides to explore my work, I really hope that’s what they take away, whether it’s business or learning a new skill or tacking this big ambitious project you’ve always wanted to do, I hope you’ll take away some, um, very straightforward, very practical approaches and techniques that will help you get what you want.

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

Josh Kaufman
I love quotes. I collect them. It’s hard to pick a favorite. So there’s one attributed to Andy Rooney that I think about a lot, which is, “Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all of the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.”

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

Josh Kaufman
Well, all of my books are my collected research,so that’s kind of an ongoing uh, uh project. Part of how the personal MBA came to be, was reading a bunch of business books and—and pointing folks to the ones that I—I found most useful.

A book that I’m in the process of reading now, by Mo Bunnell called The Snowball System, which the best way I can describe it is like, sales and business development for normal people, who may approach the sales or business development process with a little bit of trepidation or not wanting to be a salesy person. Mo does a really, really great job of making sales and relationships very practical and very accessible. I’m about halfway through it and I’m really enjoying it so far.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. How about a favorite tool?

Josh Kaufman
Favorite tool. Well, we were talking about this a little earlier. I’m doing a lot of podcasts and audio book recording.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, you sound amazing.

Josh Kaufman
Thanks, yeah. So, so the microphone I’m talking into right now is the Mohave Audio MA-200. No joke I ordered I think it was 12 different microphones from various manufacturers. I spent—I spent like three solid days recording the same thing into each microphone and trying to compare how they sounded. This one is a really good one. If you do any sort of recording of any sort, I would highly recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Josh Kaufman
Favorite habit, so I am,  in the process of really firmly establishing a strength training routine. I have been exercising with kettle bells, which I love for all sorts of different reasons. They are inexpensive and compact. I used to live in New York City, so I could imagine myself having this in my former 340 square foot apartment. You can get a really excellent workout in about 25 minutes. In terms of return for your time and effort invested, it’s really high. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks? They keep retweeting it and quoting you back to you.

Josh Kaufman
I think that one of the recent ones, which was related to Hydra, is about the idea of exploration. By virtue of doing it, you’re kind of committing to wandering lost in the woods for a while if that makes sense. So many of us feel really bad when it’s not immediately obvious where we should go next or what we should do next.

Part of understanding that this is an adventure and that adventure requires exploration and exploration involves being lost for a while. That’s something that a lot of people have seemed to find very useful recently.

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

Josh Kaufman
Best place to go is my website, JoshKaufman.net. From there you can find links to the various websites for The Personal MBA, The First 20 Hours, and How to Fight a Hydra.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge for folks seeking to be awesome at their job?

Josh Kaufman
Sure. We’ll go back to our conversation about defining very clearly what you want, what that looks like, what your day-to-day life looks like when you get it, what you’re going to be able to do when you reach the level of skill or development that you’re looking for.

The more clearly you’re able to articulate to yourself what you want, what that looks like, and very importantly, what you’re not willing to do in order to get it – so are there lines you won’t cross, are there tradeoffs that you’re not willing to make? The more you are able to understand the full details, the full scope of what you’re trying to get, the easier it’s going to be for you to figure out how to get it and figure out what you should do next.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Josh, this has been a load of fun. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us and you’re lovely sound over on the microphone.

Josh Kaufman
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
I wish you tons of luck with the hydra fighting and all you’re up to.

Josh Kaufman
Pete, this has been great. Thanks so much for inviting me.

351: Bridging Skill Gaps through Strategic Learning with Andy Storch

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Learning and development programs designer Andy Storch discusses the biggest skills gaps he encounters among leaders-in-training and how to bridge them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three steps for creating an effective learning program
  2. The number one problem facing new managers
  3. How to better understand customers with the ROPE framework

About Andy

Andy Storch is an executive coach, consultant and facilitator specializing in helping clients turn strategy into action and results. He helps leaders accelerate and grow their success through measurable improvements in their business and careers. Just as important, he helps them become the happiest, healthiest, most fulfilled versions of themselves.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Andy Storch Interview Transcript

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

Andy Storch

Pete, thank you so much for having me. I am just so pumped to be here. I’ve been listening to your podcast for a while and just been really excited for this. So, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. Well, I’m excited too. And I understand you also have excitement for public transportation. What is this about?

Andy Storch

It’s funny that you ask those questions ahead of time. Yeah, I share this with some people – for whatever reason I am – I won’t use the word “obsessed”, but I really do love public transportation. And I don’t know where, when that started or where it necessarily came from. But I have had the opportunity to live in a few different big cities – LA and San Francisco, most notably – and I always took the bus to work when I lived in those places if I wasn’t walking.
And I’ve also had really the luck and the pleasure to be able to travel all over the world as a consultant for the last eight years. And when I get to a new city, one of the first things I’ll do is try to figure out the train or subway system and jump on a train and take it, instead of taking a taxi or an Uber like some of my colleagues. I love the efficiency that comes from having a lot of people going in one vehicle or one train at the same time, going places.
Maybe it’s the social aspect of it, even if people aren’t necessarily being that social. If you’ve ever been on a train in Japan, you know that nobody is talking to each other. But yeah, I don’t know what it is; just something about it has always attracted me, so I’m always jumping on buses and trains whenever I go to new places.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, and sometimes when I chat with the folks who are working on the Amtrak trains – they’re all about trains. I don’t know if there’s a name for it, but it’s like their thing. They’re into trains the way some people are into sports. And so, even though their jobs might not seem that glamorous or fun to many on the outside looking in – they are living the dream, working on the Amtrak.

Andy Storch

Yeah. Well, Pete, your whole podcast is about how to be awesome at your job. And I would think that one of the most important factors is your mindset – do you like your job? Are you passionate about where you work and what you’re doing? And it doesn’t matter how much money you make; that’s going to be more important. So, if you’re excited about trains and you get to work for a metro transit company, then you’re probably in heaven and you’re enjoying your job and you’re a step ahead of most other people, I would assume.

Pete Mockaitis

Amen, yeah. And it’s a beautiful thing – people digging their jobs in different capacities. I know I would probably not be as much into that job, nor so much into accounting per se, but the fact that other people are and love it just makes me smile about the human condition.

Andy Storch

Absolutely. Yeah, it’s great.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, let’s talk a bit about your job. You are a partner at Advantage Performance. What’s the company about and what are you doing as a partner there?

Andy Storch

Well so, Advantage Performance Group is kind of a unique company and model in that we get to work with a lot of different thought partners in areas like leadership development and sales training and strategy alignment. And we work with our clients, who are mostly large companies, to connect them with great learning solutions that really help their people do the best work of their lives.
So, I’m really running training and development for big companies in areas like strategy alignment, business acumen, as I mentioned, teaching finance and how a business works, a lot of leadership development and sales training. I get to work as an independent consultant, which means I get to run my business how I want to run it, work with clients that I want to work with and leverage a lot of great partnerships, as well as the brand that we have at Advantage Performance Group.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool, that’s cool. All right, so good stuff. I’d like to get your take, first of all, if you are running these learning programs or partnering with other folks who are delivering these learning solutions, what are some of the key things that make the difference? If someone needs to facilitate a learning session or choose someone from the outside to deliver some of the goods, what should we be looking for and what should we be doing?

Andy Storch

I think when it comes to setting up a learning program, if it’s a development program for your company, or maybe even something that you want to do as an individual, to go out and learn more and get better at your job – I think the most important thing is to start with the end in mind. Think about what are you trying to achieve and why are you really investing in learning and development?
So, I host a podcast on talent development and I get the opportunity to interview a lot of talent development professionals, who are essentially building these programs for a living, either internally or they’re hiring people like me to come help them. And one of the things I hear a lot that’s a pitfall is people getting requests for training: “Hey, we need training on negotiations” or, “We need training on how to be a better manager.” And they don’t take the time to really ask “Why”. Why do they want that? Because there’s probably some other underlying reason that’s driving that request, and if you start to ask why and ask more questions and think about what’s our ultimate goal, that’s going to allow you
So, I think the most important thing is to begin with the end in mind and start thinking about what are you trying to achieve and ask questions about, why are you investing in learning and development? Why do you want to invest in training or learning in the first place? Why do you want to set up this training class? Or even if you’re an individual and you’re thinking about reading a new book or investing in training for yourself, why are you doing that? Does it fit in with your overall goal?
So for a company, looking at the overall company strategy, does this fit in with that company strategy? Does it help us achieve more of our goals? And if it doesn’t, then maybe this is not necessarily the right thing for us to do. So once you’ve established that, I think that’s the most important thing.
The next thing, when it comes to designing effective learning programs is to make it really experiential. So this I’m a little bit biased in because all of the programs that I sell and run are experiential learning programs, but I can tell you most people learn through experience; they don’t like sitting around listening to PowerPoint presentations all day long. There might be a few that like that, but I personally don’t. I learn better through experience, through practice, through examples. And so, I think it’s important to build that in to any type of development program, to give people an opportunity to really experience the learning, what’s going on, and give them a chance to practice.
So if it’s a sales training, build in some roleplay exercises, where they get to practice having those conversations that they’re learning about. And when you think about the military or sports, which everybody watches all the time – those people that get paid a lot of money to perform at a high level in just a few games – what are they doing with the rest of their time? They’re practicing. They practice a lot. But in business, we kind of expect that we’re just going to go out and wing it and just do it in the real world and not worry about practicing at all. It’s kind of a weird thing. So, I think it’s really important to get that practice time in.
And then the last piece is, find some way to have not only ongoing practice, but some accountability. So, write some things down, commit to some goals as a result, check in with your manager if you have one, and let him or her know what you’re trying to achieve, what you learned from the program, and maybe even get a coach or have coaches for the participants of the program to check in with them on a regular basis, so that they are more accountable to the things that they learned and said they’re going to do.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Yeah, those are some good tips there. And I want to talk a little bit about the “asking why” perspective a bit there, because we had Stacey Boyle make a similar point when talking about becoming more strategic, in terms of, when you ask the “Why” sometimes you discover that what someone asked for is in fact a total mismatch for what they really need and what you should be offering and delivering. Do you have any examples of that occurring in your work?

Andy Storch           

So yeah, I had a client come to me just the other day actually who said, hey, we’re looking for some help with some type of negotiations training. And my first question, was, well, why do you need negotiations training? What are you trying to achieve? And we started digging down into the reasons, and the things that were being reported by people in her company, and what was going on with the salespeople. And it turned out that they were giving away too many discounts to their customers. And why was that case the case? When you ask why, again, it’s because they weren’t really having those consultative conversations with their clients where they were able to really establish a lot of value.
And what they really wanted was to be more of a partner with their customers, with their clients, rather than just a vendor or a seller. And so, at a higher level that was really the root cause and what they really wanted more help with, and so we have built something that is more geared towards that rather than something as narrow as negotiations, which wouldn’t really fix the overall problem.

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hmm. Understood. Okay. Well thank you. That’s handy. So then, I want to kind of dig into a little bit of the content that you find yourself sharing over and over again. And this is kind of fun because you are in a position of delivering many programs and delivering those, to lots of different audiences. I just want to take all of the best stuff and learn it right here. So, you got a few topics at work. So, let’s talk about them. One of them is the influence capacity, you know. How people could be more influential at work. Can you share, what are some of your pro tips for how that comes to be?

Andy Storch           

Sure. And I appreciate as a podcaster the, how you could just take someone’s entire life and ask them to answer it in one question. Just take when I had you on my podcast, and I asked for all of your best tips for time management and productivity, right? And you gave it to me in one answer, actually, that was a good one.

Pete Mockaitis

Intrigued, what was that?

Andy Storch           

I had the honor of interviewing Pete recently on my podcast, and I asked him what is his number one tip for productivity, to be more productive at work. And his quick response with no need for extra thought was, get enough sleep was the number one thing. And I agree with you 100%. If you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re not taking care of your health, then none of this other stuff’s really going to matter.

Pete Mockaitis      

I hear you, yeah. So after you’ve slept enough, and you’re showing up at work, how do you be more influential in your interactions with folks?

Andy Storch           

Yeah. How do you go about influencing people? Well, I think for me and my experience, and also from learning from so many other experts and running some of these programs, I think number one has to come back to, are you getting to know people? Are you actually building relationships and understanding what drives them, what motivates them? So many people want to skip this step and use some type of techniques to influence people or persuade them to do different things. The most important thing you can do is take time to get to know people, understand them, show them that you care about them, and show them that you want to do nice things for them, to add value to them, to help them achieve some of their goals. And they’re going to be a lot more likely to want to help you achieve your goals.
And then the added bonus to that is, figure out what motivates those people. So, some people are motivated by money, some people by recognition, some people by all kinds of different things. They’re trying to achieve a goal at work, or they’re just trying to get home on time. And if you can help them achieve that goal, get them out the door by 5:00 by helping them with something, they’re going to be a lot more likely to help you with whatever you need at work as well.

Pete Mockaitis      

Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s great. So, I mean, you don’t know what they need until you’ve built that relationship, and so they feel comfortable enough with you to say what’s really on their mind. Like, you know what, I have been working late too many times, and I’ve got an adorable eight-month-old at home, and I’m tired of getting home after he’s already asleep.

Andy Storch           

Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis      

Now I know where you’re coming from.

Andy Storch           

That could be it.
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis      

All right. Okay, cool. So now, you also teach a lot of leadership development programs, and I’d like to get your take on, when it comes to leaders—I’ve read a lot of, you know, the Korn Ferry Research Associated with the competencies, and the sort of what competencies are easy to learn and hard to learn and that leaders rank themselves highly upon and not so highly upon. So, since you’re sort of on the front lines there, developing leaders, what are some of the most frequently occurring skill gaps that you’re observing? And what do you recommend to folks when they find themselves with that gap?

Andy Storch

Yeah, so this is definitely a hot topic with a lot of companies I work with, and I think one of the biggest gaps, or the biggest issues, right off the bat, is that in almost every type of job, whether it’s engineering, or sales, or anything else, you have high performers who are being promoted into managerial positions and becoming “leaders” or managers when they don’t really have the skills or the experience of being a manager. And they’re not getting a lot of training on that because people kind of have this strange assumption that because you were good at selling that now you’re also going to be good at being a manager and helping the people under you sell. Or you were good at, you know, writing software code, the best actually. So now we’re actually going to pull you away from writing code and have you manage other people who are writing code. It’s a strange thing, and a lot of times they don’t even ask people if they actually want to be managers or not. They move into that. Now some people do … A lot of people do aspire to move into that position to become a manager, but they may not have that experience. And they are often not really given the skills that they need to understand how to do some fundamental things like coaching, giving feedback, that sort of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis      

Mm-hmm. Oh, okay. So, we see it again and again. The high performer … You say, well someone who deserves this promotion to the manager, the one who is doing a great job at the thing that they’re doing.

Andy Storch

Right.

Pete Mockaitis      

So then, they find themselves in a position where they don’t yet have the skills. So what do you do if you find yourself in that spot?

Andy Storch           

Well, there’s a couple more gaps there that I think need to be addressed once you’re in that position. One is time prioritization. Are you actually making time to one, develop those skills. And hopefully your company is giving you some type of development, some type of training, or learning, classes, whatever it is to help you become a better manager. If they’re not, you may have to go out and read some books, right? Or take a class. Go on [Udemy 00:08:38] or something like that and take a class. I mean, there are dozens and dozens, thousands really of books on leadership. So, figure out how to make the time to go and learn how to do that. And then, time prioritization to actually spend time with your people.
The next challenge that comes up is that people often still think they have that job. They try to keep doing that job. They’re still selling, or they’re still wanting to write some code, or whatever it was doing that they were doing before. And not taking enough time to really check in with their employees and have those great conversations about what type of work that they’re doing. What goals do they have? What challenges are they running into? And find ways to help them move past that, give them feedback to help them with some of the things that they’re working on, and give them coaching to not only get better at their job, but in today’s working world especially. This is especially true for millennials and Gen Z, so the younger generation, people really want career development. That is, they want to know, how do they get to the next level? What does their long-term career look like? And how is the company going to support them in that? And if they’re not getting that, if they’re not having those conversations with their manager, then that’s the number one reason people are leaving companies now. So, they’re more likely to leave you, and then you’ve got to deal with turnover and all of that stuff. So, that’s another critical one.
The last piece I think that is a big gap that’s holding a lot of managers back is, it’s a number of things, but if I could group them all in one bucket, it’s fear. And it’s fear that you’re not going to be good at your job, that people on your team or that work for you are not going to be able to figure things out without you, and it’s going to be a poor reflection on you. And therefore you feel like you have to be part of everything because if they fail, it’s a reflection on you, and you lose your job. And the other side, unfortunately, is true. A lot of people fear that if the people on their team figure it out without them, then you’ll still lose your job because now we don’t need you anymore because you know Joe, who works for you, he has already figured out how to do your job as well as you. So, we’re going to go ahead and let you go because Joe is doing that job really well.
So, a lot of managers will become … They’ll start to act like tyrants, right? Creating stress for their team, and putting themselves in a position where they have to be there at all the time. They’ll act like know-it-alls because they feel like they, because they’re a manager, they’re supposed to have all the answers. And they’ll start acting like a micromanager as well, overseeing everything that happens. And these people really become diminishers of their people, holding them back, reducing their intelligence, their productivity because of that fear. Because they don’t have the confidence to let their people really take on challenges, try different things, have the freedom and give them the coaching to help them move along and believe that if they do well in that, that they’ll be rewarded for it and not fired.

Pete Mockaitis      

Yeah. And that’s really powerful. We talk about fear kind of on both dimensions. It’s like, I’m afraid that I can’t trust them to do this because they’ll screw it up. And I’m also afraid that if I trust them to do this, they’ll look so awesome that I look like a chump.

Andy Storch           

Yeah, and

Pete Mockaitis      

And at that point, what do you want? What is there to hope for? It’s like you’re just kind of paralyzed.

Andy Storch           

Yeah, it’s a tough spot. And I’ve been there. I mean, I try to embrace all of this stuff. You know, I’ve studied it. I teach it, right? I facilitate it. And in my last job, I had a direct report who was really good, and he learned fast. And I taught him everything, and I was very open and vulnerable. Here’s what I’m struggling with, here’s how you can get better, sharing what’s going on. And he definitely accelerated to a place where he was just as good, if not better than me in the job that I had been doing for a few years. And even though I embrace all of this stuff, I still felt a little of that, of like, man, he’s already better than I am. Is my job going to be safe? But people most of the time will recognize, hey, you put them in that position. Let’s go have you manage somebody else and get them to that position. You could be the all star manager that’s even more valuable to the company because you’re able to do that.

Pete Mockaitis      

Yeah, absolutely. Yes. In terms of it’s like, yes, please Andy, make more of these for us.

Andy Storch           

Right.

Pete Mockaitis      

You do that thing that you’re doing because … In actuality, I recall that with Korn Ferry work, the develops others and/or develops direct reports was one of the competencies that managers tend to rank themselves dead last in, out of all of the competencies. So, that’s a pretty good thing you got going for you if you’re a capable of pulling that off when most people think they’re not so good at it. So essentially, that fear is almost like a little boogie man that you can just unmask, and say, no, no, actually at least leaders who are slightly with it will recognize that that is an awesome thing that you’re doing there as a manager, and we want to see some more of that.

Andy Storch           

Yeah. My favorite book on this subject for anybody who wants to go learn more about how to be a great leader and avoid being a tyrant, some of these things we’ve talked about, is a book called Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. And in that book, Liz did research on dozens, not dozens, hundreds and thousands of managers around the world and found that those managers who act like that, who were really diminishing their people, do act like tyrants. They really believe that people won’t figure things out without them. And the best managers who were able to multiply people’s intelligence are known as multipliers. They have a core belief that people are smart, and they’ll figure it out. So if you give them the right resources, if you challenge them appropriately, you hold them accountable, but you give them space for thinking, and you listen to their ideas before you share your own, and really invest in your people, then they’re going to do great things. And you’ll be rewarded either by attracting more talent because you’re recognized as someone who is such a great leader, or compensated in different ways because you are able to create such great talent. Not to mention you’ll be rewarded with all the fulfillment of having created great careers for so many people who work for you.

Pete Mockaitis      

And we talked about the career development piece being a top reason why people choose to leave if they’re not getting that. So, if you are providing that sort of learning growth development stuff, and then your retention looks better, and if leaders are at all paying attention to the manager’s performance, like retention should be one of like the top things … Because not everyone seems to know this, but I mean when retention is terrible, it often comes about in clusters. This manager’s retention is terrible, and that manager’s retention is not. Then if you dig below the surface, it’s like that person is a terror. People hate working for them, and that’s why they quit quickly when they have to.

Andy Storch           

Right.

Pete Mockaitis      

And so—

Andy Storch           

Yeah. And a lot of companies put up with that for different reasons, you know? They’ve raised one star, or that person’s a star salesperson. I know that people don’t really like working for him. Or we just don’t want to have that tough conversation. But you keep having people leave who work for them, you’ve got to have that conversation. You’ve got to address it. You’ve got to look into it.

Pete Mockaitis      

Yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s talk about sales as well. So you’re also teaching sales programs. And most of our listeners are not professional salespeople, although we’ve got a few. But I still think many of those tips apply when it comes to being persuasive, being influential, getting folks to say yes, dealing with rejection, a lot of universal skills can be drawn and pulled from the world of the sales professional. So, let’s hit it again. You know, what are some of the top gaps that you’re seeing over and over again when you’re executing sales trainings? And what should be done about them?

Andy Storch           

Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that a lot of people can benefit from that because, like you said, not everybody … maybe not all your listeners are in sales, but if you follow like Daniel Pink, To Sell is Human, and these people who talk about the fact that pretty much everybody’s in sales if you need to influence people, right? We started talking about influence earlier, and so you want to have a decent grasp of what it takes to influence and inspire people. And again, as I mentioned, I think one of the big gaps there is not asking enough questions. So many salespeople, or people who get into sales roles, get excited about what they have to offer or trying to convince someone that they should buy their product or invest in their time and whatever it is they want them to do, and so they get to pitching. And they talk a lot about the product, and they don’t really stop and think about why would the other person care. Right?
So, I’ve been in consulting for the last eight years or so, which has given me a lot of practice in asking a lot of questions. So, when I have an initial phone call with a potential client or really anybody because I like to go out to a lot of conferences, and network, and meet a lot of different people, and I always start with asking a lot of questions. We talked earlier about asking about the objective. What is your goal? Asking about why are you trying to achieve something? And I think if you start with asking a lot of great questions, why is another big one, and the other thing is, think about your own why, your purpose. What are you trying to achieve? And why are you doing it? And are you able to really communicate that? You’re going to get better at sales externally as well as influencing internally, and you can really find out what people care about. You’re going to be able to influence them more.
Now, when you’re in a sales situation, one of the gaps that I mentioned, they’re not asking enough questions and they’re not even thinking about, okay, where is my customer? People always talk about where are you in your sales cycle, right? Where is my customer in their buying cycle? What are they thinking about? Because they might ask you for information about something, and you’re ready to sell it to them. But they’re actually just gathering information, and they’re not really ready to buy something for six to nine months. And it may be true for anything else internally. If someone asks you for something, and you’re ready to jump in and help them, but they may not be ready to take action for several months. So, think about where are they in their cycle as well as what they’re trying to achieve. And how can you help them achieve that goal?

Pete Mockaitis      

You know, we had a conversation with Michael [Fortin 00:19:14] earlier about the copywriting. And he just had a really helpful framework in terms of, he called it the oath formula in terms of seeing, where are folks with regard to their need? Are they oblivious … It’s an acronym, O, A, T, H. Are they oblivious to it? Are they a kind of aware: Oh yeah, that’s sort of a problem. Are they thinking about a solution? Or are they hurting? Like, this sucks, I hate it. I need something and fast. And I think that that’s so helpful just to kind of get oriented in terms of, okay, where should I be kind of pointing my messaging in this conversation?

Andy Storch

And one other thing that I like to remember a lot that I learned from friends and mentors, one of them is a guy named [Listin Witherell 00:20:00] who does sales consulting for a lot of consultants out there, is to serve, not sell. So, when I go into any situation, I’m thinking about how can I serve them? How can I help them achieve their goals? Versus let me just sell them on what I have to offer. And if you have that mindset, you’re less likely to try to force some type of solution just because it’s what you have instead of what they actually need. And a lot of times it might not be your product or solution that they need or want at that time, but if you help them find a solution to their problem, whether it’s a sales type solution or it’s just something internally there, you’re going to build a better relationship with them, a lot more credibility. And they’re more likely to do business with you in the future.

Pete Mockaitis      

Oh, certainly. Or to give you a referral if it’s not them, but someone else. Like hey, this guy is helpful and kind of sorting that out.

Andy Storch           

Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis      

And it just makes you feel better in terms of, I imagine it’s more energizing to spend a day serving people than it is to, hawking your wares.

Andy Storch           

Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis      

Very cool. All right, so let’s hear about some of those questions, like what are some of the power questions? Or were ideal things to be thinking about and asking in order to be getting a better understanding of folks’ needs and serving them all the better?

Andy Storch           

Yeah. So, I mentioned thinking about the goal. What are they trying to achieve? I actually use and teach a very simple questioning framework called a ROPE. And ROPE stands for results, opportunities, problems, and execution. So results are … Is that big goal. What are you trying to achieve? Another one is, how will you know that you’re successful? Right? So Pete, you might tell me that you’re trying to become the number one podcast in the business section on iTunes, whatever that goal might be. And I might ask, okay, that’s a great goal. How will you know that you’re successful? Well, you’ll be able to log into iTunes and see that podcast sitting there at number one. Okay, so now we have a great way to actually measure that. What’s your timeline? When do you want to get there? So, you start asking the questions about the results. How can you measure them? Really get a good idea of where it’s going.
Now, you can move into opportunity. So, ROPE, R, O. The opportunity questions or like, what things have you already been doing to try to achieve that goal? Have you already … Do you have any projects or initiatives in place? Have you been doing marketing? Have you been talking to different people? What sorts of stuff … And then you can start to ask follow up questions from there.
And then a big one that is helpful for a lot of people is when you get to that P, the problems. You start to ask, okay, well, what challenges are getting in your way, Pete? I know you’re trying to become the number one podcaster, but what’s getting in your way right now? Are you having trouble booking the right guests? Or marketing to the right people? Whatever it is, if you start to dig into some of those challenges and ask follow up questions, that’s where you’re going to gain a lot of insights.
And then the execution piece is, you start to ask about resources, and timeline, what sort of things you’re working with. If you have multiple people on the team, who’s in charge of what? So you can start to really understand all the different components of the project, or the company, or whatever it is. So you really get like a full understanding of everything.
The other interesting component of that is that when you’re speaking with someone who’s higher level, very strategic, say like a C level executive, you want to focus more on the results and the opportunities because they’re not worried about the execution or the problems. They have people for that, right? But if you’re talking to someone in the bottom of the organization, someone who’s an executer, who’s out there on the front line getting things done, they don’t think as much typically about the strategy and what the results are trying to achieve. They’re thinking more about what problems are getting in my way? And how do I execute on this? What are my resources? What sort of stuff do I need? What’s my timeline? So you want to focus more on those things.
And then the other thing I’ll add about the ROPE framework, because I love this for sales, but it’s also really great for performance reviews as well. So, if you’re a manager, going back to our earlier conversation, and you are listening to this and saying, okay, I’m going to take more time to have those performance conversations with my employees, you can use this to ask them what goals are they trying to achieve? Where do they want to get to in their career? What opportunities do they have? What sort of things are they working on now? Do they have any side projects they’re doing to help them get to that next level? What challenges are they dealing with? Maybe they have a colleague or a coworker who’s really frustrating them. Maybe they’re having some issues at home that’s causing them to have to go home early or whatever it is. And then get into, okay, what timeline are you working with? Who else can help you with this? Maybe I can make some introductions for you.

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

I want to harp on that idea of really asking questions to both influence, to sell, to build relationships because I think that if you focus on curiosity, there’s so many interesting things we can learn from everybody out there in the world. I mean, that’s why I love hosting two podcasts. I’m sure it’s one of the big reasons why you love yours as well because you get to talk to people, and ask questions, and learn from them. And the more learning you do, the better you’re going to be, the more you’re going to grow and hopefully get better at your job.

Pete Mockaitis      

Well, yeah, and speaking of curiosity, I’m curious and I forgot to ask, so, you’ve had a lot of episodes now of the talent development hot seats and the entrepreneur’s hot seat.

Andy Storch           

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis      

Those right? Is that—

Andy Storch           

Yeah.
Pete Mockaitis      
Okay. All right. Want to make sure I get the perfect words for the searching there. So can you tell me personally, was there a guest, or an insight, or an episode or two that really was pretty transformational for you in terms of whoa, they changed the way you thought and you learn something that has been super useful for you again and again?

Andy Storch           

Yeah. I mean, there have been a few. I’ve done I guess about 140 interviews now. Not quite as many as you, but still interviewed quite a few people. And when I think about the entrepreneur hot seat podcast, I think back to episode 47, which was an interview with Jeff Hoffman, who was one of the founders of Priceline, as well as he actually invented those kiosks in the airport where you print your tickets out, which you may not use anymore if you have your airline app on your phone. But for awhile they were extremely popular, and he was, I think the first billionaire that I had on my show. And what really blew me away, first of all, I got that interview because I met him in person at an event the year before, and he actually didn’t show. I was so excited and nervous for it. He actually didn’t show up twice before we actually recorded, and it wasn’t his fault. The first time was because there was an emergency, and he had to take his neighbor to the hospital. And the second time his assistant forgot to put it on his calendar.
So, we finally got to record the interview, and he just blew me away with his humility and all of the amazing takeaways he had in that, which was all about the importance of knowing your purpose, how you define success, thinking about legacy, and the importance of learning every day. I mean, he really focused a lot on learning new things every day, and growing, and really thinking about where your position is in life, and how you’re impacting others. It was just one of my favorite conversations in the last year and a half from running that podcast.
And then on the other podcast, the talent development hot seat where I get to interview talent development professionals from big companies, it was actually an interview I just published a couple, about a week ago, episode 22 with Jessica [Amertage 00:28:06] because she was just so passionate, and interesting, and enthusiastic. About what she was doing. And really smart and strategic about how she’s setting up those programs.
You asked me earlier about some of the tips for setting up great development programs, and I mentioned thinking about the results and connecting that to company strategy. She’s so good at connecting those programs back to company strategy, really thinking about the results that they want to achieve. And so, that was a great interview, one of the best I had had up to that date, but the other thing that really showed me that this podcast is going to be something that’s gonna work, and it’s going to keep going really fast is because she was also so generous in introducing me to so many other fantastic guests that I’ve had an opportunity to interview since then. So I just really appreciated having Jessica on, and I hope people get a chance to listen to that.

Pete Mockaitis      

Cool. Thank you. All right, well now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Andy Storch           

So, man … You’ve mentioned this before, and there are just so many great quotes out there. One that I heard recently that really struck me, and it was actually, heard it for the first time from one of my guests on my podcast, but apparently it’s a very old quote. She said, “A ship is safe at harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.” And it just reminds me of my mission in life, which is to fulfill my true potential and help others fulfill theirs, which means I need to go out and try a lot of things. I got to do different things and really go after my dreams and my goals, and so I don’t want to be that ship just sitting there safely at harbor. I want to be out there trying stuff.

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

Favorite bit of research? I will go back to, I mentioned earlier that book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. She conducted a ton of research on managers all over the world, and I think it has just been so influential in thinking about how leaders lead, and how the best leaders lead, and how some people are diminishing their people, not really on purpose, but a lot of times they are. And I get a chance to go out and work with clients, using content from that, those experiments … Or, sorry, that study. And I think it’s just been so helpful. I love seeing the light bulbs go off when people hear about the different research that really those managers who are multipliers, who are doing those things, empowering their people, and giving them space, they get twice the intelligence out of their people as do a diminishers, diminishing manager.

Pete Mockaitis      

Awesome. Okay. And how about a favorite book? If there’s another one that’s you recommend?

Andy Storch           

Yeah, sure. There’s a few. I mean, probably the book that has had the biggest impact on my life is The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with that or if many of your listeners are. But he went out and did a study of, what are all the habits of the most successful people? And boiled it down to six things which are meditation, affirmations, visualization, reading, writing, and exercise. And ever since I read that book about two and a half years ago, I have adopted that habit. So if you’re going to ask about habit as well, of getting up early and practicing all of those things. And it has been an absolute game changer in my life.

Andy Storch           

And another book I want to mention, which I know has been mentioned on your podcast before, is the book Mindset by Carol [Dweck 00:31:44] has been an absolute game changer for me as well. Not only in running a business, and in working with people, and trying new things, and trying to have that growth mindset, but as a parent as well, it’s been huge in how I talk to my children, and how I want to raise them with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.

Pete Mockaitis      

Awesome. And how about a favorite tool? Something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Andy Storch           

My favorite tool is a little bit old school, and that is that I do carry a journal, a paper journal, around with me everywhere I go. And I write in that journal every morning and every evening, and it helps me capture ideas, plan my day, check in against my goals. And of course, I use a digital version as well, if you will. I have a couple of different Google Docs where I track a lot of different ideas of things I want to do, especially with regard to social media where I’m very active on Facebook and LinkedIn, and I want to make sure that I’m getting all those ideas and putting different things out there. So, I like to use a lot of Google Docs and sheets, but for me it comes back to that old school journal that I carry with me everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis      

Cool. All right. Well, we did talk about habits, so tell me then, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks? They quote it back to you and retweet it, et cetera?

Andy Storch           

Yeah. I think that if you think about the goals you want to achieve, it’s so important to think about what habits are going to lead toward you being successful in those goals. And if you figure out what those habits are, you’ve got to take a consistent approach to developing those habits. So, if you want to get better at, say that morning routine, you’ve got to get up early every morning, not just a few days a week, but for at least 30 or 60 days in a row. If you want to get healthier, I think you’ve got to start with being a lot more consistent with going to the gym.
And if it’s something you’re trying to get better with at work, figure out what are those things that you need to do and try to develop a very consistent approach where you’re doing them day in and day out to really develop those positive habits that are going to lead towards you achieving your goals. I know that’s something that’s been really helpful for me over the last few years is really taking a consistent approach to doing all the things that I need to do, and finding accountability partners if I need it to make sure that I do keep doing those things, and really developing those great habits like the morning routine, and then using those to achieve the goals that I want to achieve.

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

Well, I’m really active on social media. I think the best place to find me and connect with me is on LinkedIn. Again, my name is Andy Storch, S, T, O, R, C, H. And I’m pretty active on Facebook and Instagram as well, under the same names.

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch

My final challenge is to really think about the things that you want to achieve, as I mentioned, and write those things down, whether it’s a physical journal or an online document. Write down the goals that you want to achieve as well as break that down into those different pieces, the different components. Think about, again, like I said, the habits that you want to form as well as the people that you want to talk to who can help you. Because I think about having a strong network, having great people around you is probably the number one thing that has helped so many people be successful, including me. And so you want to make sure that you’re really writing those things down, and thinking about what you want to do, and then talking to people about it, and get help because life is all about, for me, relationships and people helping each other. So don’t forget about that.

Pete Mockaitis      

Awesome. Well, Andy, this has been a real treat. Thank you. I wish you tons of luck with your podcasts, and your training, and selling, and all that you’re up to.

Andy Storch           

Thanks, Pete. Thank you so much for having me on. It’s been an absolute honor for me to come on your podcast, and I really do appreciate it.

332: Making the Most of Online Higher Education with University of Phoenix’s Doris Savron

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Executive Dean Doris Savron highlights appealing opportunities and best practices for enhancing your career through online education. This episode is sponsored by University of Phoenix.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The differences between certificate and degree programs
  2. Key trends on evolving fields with interesting opportunities
  3. Pro tips for finishing courses you start—and retaining the knowledge

About Doris

Doris Savron is the executive dean of the College of Health Professions, College of Education and College of Humanities and Sciences at University of Phoenix. Her career spans 20 years in healthcare, information technology and academia. Prior to joining the University, Savron spent 10 years in leadership roles in healthcare operations, rehabilitation services and information technology consulting. She holds a master of business administration from Cleveland State University and is completing her doctorate in health administration from University of Phoenix.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Doris Savron Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Doris, thank you so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Doris Savron
Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into this. I understand something that really excites you are sports and that you’ve been to the World Series, the Final Four, Wimbledon, and more of the epic grand championship finals to come. What’s the backstory here?

Doris Savron
I’ve always grown up loving sports. I played sports in high school and actually had an opportunity to play in college and turned it down.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Doris Savron
Because I wanted a really true college experience. But I love the competition and the feel of the energy and the buzz. I have favorite teams, so I try to attend those games, but any of those final matches are always exciting regardless of who’s playing.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. I get just a kick out of just extraordinary excellence in any field that I can appreciate. I’m not a hardcore sports lover, but when I just see something amazing that a human being has done, you can’t help but go, “Wow, look at that.”

Doris Savron
Yup. My favorite is just the never quit attitude, like the constant just pushing. You see that in those final games because everything’s on the line, so you just see people at their peak performance. It’s really exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, peak performance is what we love here. You help people get there with the University of Phoenix. Can you orient us a little bit? What is your role there?

Doris Savron
I serve as the executive dean of three colleges, the College of Health Professions, Education, and then Humanities and Sciences. Ultimately, my team and I are responsible for designing the different courses, certificates, degree programs that our industry leaders are telling us they need and want.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That sounds like a large span of responsibility.

Doris Savron
It is. Never a dull moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. Could you maybe orient us a little bit to see sort of what could be possible, maybe a cool career or story or transformation or big difference that emerged when someone went ahead and said, “You know what? I’m going to go pursue a certificate or a degree of sorts,” and kind of what that meant or the difference it made for them.

Doris Savron
Sure. One that actually immediately comes to mind is a young woman had started in one of our degree programs, finished her masters of education in administration and supervision with our online format.

She then partnered up with somebody else, who also attended University of Phoenix and they created or opened a tuition-free charter school that was specifically focused on disadvantaged kindergarteners through second graders.

They’ve been recognized for that work in multiple ways, including Forbes 30 Under 30. Then they continue to serve their community. They’re making a huge difference not just in what they’ve done with that school, but they engage and participate in the community.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. I want to first maybe get some terminology clear here. We talked about certificates and degree programs. What are the differences and the ins and outs of what constitutes each?

Doris Savron
Time is probably the biggest difference. Certificates really are focused on a specific area, for example, billing and coding is a specific area of health care, where degree programs are wider and more encompassing. A health care administration degree covers not just the billing and coding and understanding patient needs, but it could cover finance and leadership and management.

They’re more encompassing. They take a lot longer because there’s more courses you have to take. They are longer credits. It allows you to do multiple things in that industry, where a certificate really zeroes somebody into a specific track.

Information technology is another example where things move so quickly that somebody who has a degree might have to continue to specialize as technology changes. There’s certificates available for example in cyber security. Instead of going back and getting another degree, you go back and get a specialization or certificate in this specific area.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well that sounds pretty handy. It sounds like there’s a specialization there in terms of this certificate will kind of immediately, potentially, qualify you for a whole bunch of roles that I need people to do precisely that.

Doris Savron
Yeah. Depending on the certificate you choose, it will tell you which track or what’s available to you.

There’s some lower level entry level certificates that get you started in a particular field, like billing and coding to get somebody started in healthcare that maybe hasn’t had a professional job yet or hasn’t been in health care.

Then you’ve got some of the more advanced even post-graduate certificates, which get you specialized at a higher level in a specific space. We have post grad certificates in informatics, which really – if somebody’s already working in a healthcare field, is now going to specialize in a data analytics and looking at information and patient trends to determine how do we do better.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. Then also when it comes to the online or in classroom story, could you give a little bit of perspective on I guess maybe the primary pros and cons or if someone was trying to make that call, because I see it frequently, it’s like, “Oh, I’ve got a job right now. Do I want to exit for a timeout to go to school or should I try the online thing?”

What might be some perspective to put that person in good shape to make a great decision?

Doris Savron
First thing when choosing between a physical campus or online, you want to look at lifestyle and schedules.

You’ve kind of already referred to that if I’m working or I have children and they’ve got sports activities after school. What is my availability? A lot of times if they want to attend a physical campus, they have to go a specific night for a longer period of time not that night all the time. Their schedule may not allow for that.

Luckily, they could do that after work hours too because there are now programs that are offered in a variety of fashions even on campus. But online allows you to do it from any location as long as you have an internet connection and a device that allows you to connect to the classroom.

You could do it at night, at home, when kids are in bed. You could do it on the weekends if you travel a lot for your job. You could do it while you’re waiting for a flight delay or even on the plane that has internet access. You’re turning unproductive time into productive time a lot of times in that situation.

It’s really trying to understand what somebody’s trying to accomplish and what their schedule is like that really dictates what’s best for them in choosing between online or a campus.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there some cons on the online side?

Doris Savron
Frankly, I’ve taught in both and there’s benefits to both. It’s really dependent on somebody’s lifestyle.

Obviously, online you have to be more prepared in creating a schedule because you don’t have somebody there physically in front of you saying, “Hey, this is what we need.” You get a syllabus. You know what your deadline dates are and then you go deliver. You still interact with faculty members online and classmates.

But it’s a little different when you’re behind a screen versus when you’re in front of a person on that accountability factor. You have to be pretty self-driven and manage your schedule well to succeed in online.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get some pro-tips there when it comes to doing so, what are some of the best practices or habits or things you’ve heard students do that really enable them to successfully complete and go the distance and find that sort of self-drive and accountability within.

Doris Savron
The biggest thing is finding an area that they’re really interested in. If somebody wants to explore where’s a job growing, what industry, but then they have to look at what their passion and interests are and align those too.

But then the second piece is, and this is probably the key and most important thing to do is really create a schedule and a plan.

We often tell students, “Hey, if you have a family that is counting on you for different parts of your day, make sure you sit down with the family and create a plan of what nights you’ll do your schoolwork, what days of the week you’ll do your schoolwork, and then create a plan and a commitment to that.” When you have a supportive group of people helping out along, that actually helps with success too.

It also helps with accountability. We’ve often found our students saying, “Oh yeah, I got reminded by my kids that I needed to get my homework time in.” It helps sharing what you’re trying to accomplish with other family members and friends.

The schedule is important, not trying to do everything in one setting. We’ve had in some instances where somebody is trying to cram everything in on a weekend and that becomes overwhelming because then you feel like you have no balance.

If you chunk it up and do a little bit at a time, then that leads to more success over time. People can start to see those accomplishments. You can check something off a list which keeps them motivated.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then so thinking about different people or lifestyles and how things fit, I’d love to get your view in terms of you’ve been around, you’ve seen a lot of students do a lot of programs, who seems to be the kinds of candidates that just are fantastic?

They’re rocking and rolling and the online certificate or degree program is just the thing that is perfect for them versus maybe another segment that this isn’t quite the perfect thing for them.

Doris Savron
Well, we’ve definitely, I’ve seen just from my teaching experience that there’s some students that are just intimidated about the whole factor of going back to school. Then trying to understand how they learn best. Some people do better with the face-to-face interaction and visually seeing things. But with technology today, you could also get that in an online environment.

But it goes back to that are you committed to what you want to do, do you know what you want to do, and then have you created the plan. You do tend to see people that are busier and have more obligations in their work life, tend to be successful online because they’re already managing multiple activities and have learned how to prioritize really well.

You just have – some people just prefer the face-to-face interaction. Even with the technology and what’s available online, still would prefer being in a classroom space with somebody just that one day a week and getting the bulk of what they need that day and their schedule allows for it. Those individuals really do need more of that interaction.

But we’ve seen all types of learning styles and experience levels do really well online. It’s the commitment, and the time, and schedule, and putting the work in that really determines how successful they are.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you there. I’m intrigued. When you talk about the technology, sort of what’s hip and cool and new?

I remember back in my day, going back in time, I remember we had, I think this was Blackboard was the platform. I’m thinking this is over a decade ago. There wasn’t a whole lot to it. I guess you could submit quizzes and documents and have a little chat window. But what’s the cutting edge cool stuff you’ve got going these days?

Doris Savron
There’s a lot of technology that is available even outside of the classroom. We have students that work together on teams. We have space for them within the platform to work and engage with each other, create their profile, share pictures. But they could also use their phones and the technology they have already to FaceTime and do their meetings virtually so that they’re seeing each other in real time space.

A lot of those tools are available out there already to students based on the technology they already own. We see them communicating outside the class quite often and trying to connect and really put that personal touch to their interactions.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. I remember the favorite tools I discovered back in the day it was called Twiddla, T-W-I-D-D-L-A. It was just a shared whiteboard application.

Doris Savron
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Which was kind of hard to find actually. I looked at many options. We found it. That was pretty cool.

When I’m trying to explain some math concepts or working with a client in that kind of a way having that visual piece is good. Do you have any cool proprietary stuff that’s like, “Hey, on our platform you can do this?”

Doris Savron
We actually use a lot of what’s already off the shelf because it’s easier for students who already know that material, so it’s a slower ramp up time. We use tools like Office 365, and the group settings, and things that they can do and share documents virtually because it’s already available to them and part of the classroom.

So they’re also getting better at leveraging that technology because they’re now using it seamlessly to collaborate and communicate with each other virtually.

In work environments today there are a lot of people working from home, there’s dispersed teams. That’s a different way to work with somebody than just being able to sit down in front of them and talk. We’re trying to make sure we’re also using the tools that the employers are using out there so that they’re actually getting better even at leveraging that and becoming more efficient with those tools that way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Great. Maybe I’d like to zoom out a little bit and think about sort of fundamentally the benefits associated with going after an online certificate or degree program. I think some motivated learners who have natural curiosity and listen to the How to be Awesome At Your Job podcast, like, “Well, yeah, I can learn stuff a lot of ways.”

Sort of what’s the magic or the benefit or the incremental goodness one gets when they go for a full blown online certificate or degree?

Doris Savron
Well, we all know how much industry is changing. We’ve looked at what’s happened in healthcare over the last three to five years.

Even somebody who’s been in the industry eight to ten years, find themselves – for example, nurses never had to use technology before. Today, they actually take in all the patient information and how they engage with the patient, a lot of them use iPads and laptops to capture the information.

That takes a different level of working and interacting so that you don’t use the human factor of how you engage with the patient, but you still leverage the efficiency of the equipment. We try to teach them on how to embed that into the work that they do so up-scaling and staying ahead of what employers want is extremely important. It allows you to differentiate.

You don’t wait until it already happens because then you’re behind the eight ball. Anytime you can differentiate yourself with a certificate, it allows you to get a leg up on everyone else who is looking for some of the same opportunities.

But just the opportunity to learn and interact with other people. For example, in an online format, there are people across the country that are in those classrooms, so you’re learning also from their experiences and how they’ve gotten to a certain career path.

That part of the learning, which is not necessarily directly tied to curriculum is also a value add because you’re learning from other people’s perspectives and appreciating the differences and how that could all create synergy.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. We’ve got the community, the human, the real world element and experience sharing and getting that element. As well as the differentiation because I guess it’s sort of hard to put on a resume, ‘I watched 30 YouTube videos about this topic.’ I’ve never seen that on a resume. Maybe it would look good. Maybe it would be well, okay. It doesn’t maybe have as much of a punch as something official.

I’d like to get your take on that when it comes to maybe if it’s like perception or from the employer value perspective on the, let’s just say the brand, University of Phoenix.

Because I’m thinking in some ways, I think there are some industries that are kind of concerned with pedigree in the sense of, “Oh, you’re not at a top 20 business school, well then move along,” and others I think maybe would find that favorable like, “Awesome. University of Phoenix, you’re hustling. You’re working hard. You’re a self-starter. You’re going after it.”

What are maybe some trends you’ve seen in terms of industries or employers who just think, “Yes, I love this brand and this stamp that I’m seeing on your resume?”

Doris Savron
Employers have multiple locations, so when they have to quickly upscale or find a way to get people ramped up, we have the capabilities of being able to do that pretty quickly because we already do that in an environment that allows you to do that no matter where somebody’s sitting.

For us, it’s really, it’s critical for us to understand what employers want. We spend a lot of time listening to employers.

Then we design curriculum and student learning outcomes that align to that so that we can measure to make sure that students are getting that component of what they need.

In addition, in every one of our areas, there are professional associations in those industries. Specific specializations might have even industry exams, where somebody could actually say, “Here’s the credential I’ve got. I passed the test.”

We try to in those circumstances align our curriculum and content to those specific expectations so that we know that they’re getting that level of exposure to the content. Then they can go sit for that exam externally as well. It gives them another differentiator.

For us, it’s critical to pay attention to what employers are saying regardless of the industry. We’ve done a lot in our healthcare partnerships, where we’ve actually run classes on those employer sites so that they’re in place after work …

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy.

Doris Savron
Attend a class. It allows them to quickly then ramp up to a specific skillset that they need to move their specific organization forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. I’m curious a little bit about some of the trends here. We made some reference to healthcare, to cyber security, or IT things.

Doris Savron
Information technology, specifically cyber security space, because of – I mean I’m sure you’ve seen it – issues with systems being hacked into or people’s information being taken. There’s opportunities in really understanding well, how do you set up an infrastructure to protect people’s privacy in those organizations.

There’s some specializations there or certificates there, and even degree programs there that would lend people to be able to go into those jobs we’ve seen.

Even with education, there’s some markets and areas that have shortages of teachers. There’s some states that’s an opportunity area as well. Then anything around behavioral sciences/mental health is also some trends we’re seeing that have a need for people that are more prepared to do the jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. Behavioral sciences and mental health, I guess I’m thinking of full-blown therapists or you know.

Doris Savron
Counseling, yeah, counselors, counseling. There’s a variety of specialties in that area, but there’s family counseling. There’s school counseling. You can do that level. Those usually require advanced degrees and some practice hours as part of their degree time.

But we all see what’s happening with the pressures of living in today’s world. There’s a higher need to be able to have people – to help people understand how to cope in challenging circumstances. We’ve seen some pick up there as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. I guess I’m also thinking, if folks are interested in this kind of an opportunity and they’re looking at the online path, so University of Phoenix is one option, what are some other tips or criteria you might recommend in terms of folks checking out their options and vetting and determining, “Oh, this is a good program versus one that maybe I’ll pass on?”

Doris Savron
First they want to make sure they understand what other support services might be offered outside the classroom. Are you assigned a specific counselor that can help you walk through your programs so that you’re meeting all the criteria? Do you have potential to do tutoring and workshops? What’s your ability to be able to engage and interact with faculty?

Those are all important parts of both inside and outside classroom support that’s important. Not all programs are offered 100% online, so they’d really want to take a look at the program area that they’re interested in and see if the entire program is offered online or parts of it are offered in almost a hybrid fashion where you so some classes online, some on campus, so they’d have to understand where that campus is.

In some cases residencies are required that they’ll have to travel in to specific locations once or twice a year to be able to fulfill that requirement, but then the bulk of their work is done online. They just really need to understand those expectations.

The biggest thing is really just understanding what career path you want to take, what are the degrees that align to that, so then looking for those programs and then making sure the format of how it’s offered really aligns to what your schedule allows and your lifestyle allows.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’m curious to hear, we talked a little bit about the importance of the scheduling and good habits and whatnot to actually do the work and make the time.

Do you have any other perspective on how particularly folks who are kind of doing double duty or triple duty with the family and work and education at once, when it comes to the actual studying, learning, knowledge retention stuff, how can people really make the most of a given hour that they’ve dedicated to maximize retention and brain expansion?

Doris Savron
Sure, we always recommend look at first what the outcomes are for the week. What are the key things you’re supposed to be learning for the week? Then quickly scan what are the materials that will support that. Then you know what you need to get started with.

But chunking up the time is important because you can, especially someone who’s busy with work all day, chucking up the time is important and then taking notes because that’s how you retain, you’re rewriting what you’ve just heard and almost summarizing it.

But then for us too is because a bulk of our students are working, we tell them now go – what you’ve just learned, go pay attention to what you see at work and try to apply some of these things at work because putting it to practice is really another reinforcement of learning. They come back and share then that in the classroom through their discussions of, “Hey, I tried that. This is what happened.”

Working with people, other members on a team also helps because it’s reinforcing some of the conversations and learning. Each person picks up something different.

Then we always recommend try to share what you’ve learned with somebody else. Try to teach them, whether it’s another student or another person at work, so you’re reinforcing the information over periods of time.

But the biggest thing is chunking it up and then really trying to capture key messaging or notes. Some people do it on an iPad with a pen that they can write with and capture those notes. Some will do it on just pen and paper, traditional style of learning, take a notebook and a pen and write it down.

It just depends on how much time somebody has each day and what their learning style is. We’ve seen a variety of things work for students.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that when it comes to getting your own experience and applying the learning to that experience then bringing the experience back to the learning. I think Cal Newport said, and we’ll have him on the show one of these days, “Hey, if you can teach it, if you can explain it, if you can summarize it, then you know it.”

Doris Savron
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
By the process of pulling that back out of your brain, you are really making the learning stick and sink in all the more.

Doris Savron
absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we talked about a few tips here. I’d say if you had to prioritize or say as close as possible to the one thing or top tip or most leveraged thing learners can do to succeed here, what would it be?

Doris Savron
I would definitely go back to the plan and then setting maybe mini milestones because it can be overwhelming when you’re doing a degree program because it could take several years depending how many transfer credits you bring in.

Creating small milestones of things you can check off a list. Maybe it’s every course you do something specific to celebrate that. Maybe it’s grab a cup of coffee and celebrate one more class closer to graduation.

It’s the schedule and the plan that’s important. Then making sure you celebrate the accomplishments along the way because that keeps you energized and motivated to continue to move forward.

I would say the other one too that we often talk to our students about is balance. You still have to live your life. You don’t want to cram and take up every weekend and do your homework. You need that balance and that separation and reprieve to be able to take in more information.

We tell them it’s important to still do some fun things or things you’re passionate about in between so that they’re not just trying to work and then go to school and then don’t have any of that break from some of that time that your brain has to take to process and take things in. Those are probably the key ones.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. The celebration, it can be a small one and it’s powerful. We chatted with BJ Fogg about forming habits and how critical doing a little bit of a celebration even it’s just, “Yes,” a moment that totally counts and is worth something.

Doris Savron
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Doris, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to highlight or mention or share before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Doris Savron
I would say because I often hear from people, “I don’t know. I think I might be too old or it’s too late for me to go back to school or do something new or try to take another class,” I would say it’s not too late for anyone. We’ve seen a wide range of people from experienced to aged come back and explore different certificates or programs.

That’s important because things keep changing. They’re changing at a faster rate than they’ve ever changed. We’ve seen industries completely transform. Investing in yourself and really taking the time to learn new skills, try new things, take some risks is an incredible learning opportunity. You learn about yourself during that process too.

But the best thing is you’re prepared for some of those changes that are coming and it helps you stand out when you want to go take that next step.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Thank you. All right, well now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Doris Savron
Sure. It’s one that comes up often. I try to live this philosophy. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by things you didn’t do than the ones you did do.” It’s important for me to really – things that I’m passionate about just to try them. Don’t let fear get in the way. But it’s true. You only have so much time, so you’ve got to make the most of it.

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

Doris Savron
Anything around women and leadership. I feel like I’ve had a lot of women invest in me and help me get to where I am today. I feel like it’s my obligation to give back, so I read a lot about how to help and support women better trying to grow career paths. I’d say anything in that area. I don’t have one specific one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite book?

Doris Savron
I love to read, so I probably read about two to three books a month, but my most two recent favorite ones is Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Pat Lencioni.

Doris Savron
Yes. I’ve even done a study with my team because there’s so many nuggets of really good information there.

Then the one that I’m still in the process of reading is called Own It and really about how to embrace what you offer and really leverage that in your strengths to carve your path.

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

Doris Savron
I love my Kindle app because I can read on the go. I travel a lot, so I can read anywhere that I even find myself delayed, on a plane, waiting in line. But I also love any sort of app. I get my news from news apps on my iPhone, quickly get key nuggets of what’s happening in the world. I’m probably an app junkie.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. We had Laura Vanderkam on the show who said that she read all of War and Peace primarily from the Kindle app on her iPhone.

Doris Savron
Oh my goodness. I have not done that. That I have not done.

Pete Mockaitis
She said War and Peace is actually so bite-sized it lends itself to …, which shows that I did not know how War and Peace was structured and have not attempted to read it. But cool. How about a favorite habit?

Doris Savron
I would say – I don’t know if it’s a favorite habit, but it’s a habit. I have sometimes a hard time kind of getting my mind to stop. I keep a notebook next to my bed and some of my best ideas from come from what I’ve captured in the middle of the night because I just couldn’t sleep so I got it on paper. Then I was fine.

Then I took that he next morning, I’m like this is brilliant. Then I’d take it and apply it. I’d say just carrying a notebook all the time even next to my bed at night so I can capture any thought that comes up at any moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Is there a particular nugget or piece of Doris wisdom that you share often that really seems to connect and resonate with people when you do so?

Doris Savron
Yeah, I think this is one that my team would probably affirm to. I’ve heard them even repeat it is ‘assume right intentions.’ We work with a lot of different personalities and experiences.

Because we work at such a fast pace that things happen. If you assume right intentions, you get to the source of what truth is faster than trying to assume that somebody’s trying to get in your way or block what you’re trying to do. Everybody’s relationship wins as a result of that and you learn some things that way.

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

Doris Savron
I would say LinkedIn is probably the best one. I’m starting to use Twitter more. But LinkedIn is probably where you can see some of the things I post or some of the things that are important to me, but they can also reach out to me in messaging there.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Doris Savron
I would say change is inevitable, so learn to embrace it and make the most out of life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Doris, thanks so much for this. Good luck with your vast spans of responsibility and pursuing your dream of attending all the sports finals and all you’re up to.

Doris Savron
Thank you. I appreciate the time.