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720: Navigating the Great Resignation with Dr. David Rock

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Dr. David Rock shares strategies to help both employees and employers come out of the Great Resignation feeling more satisfied.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why so many professionals are now quitting 
  2. The small shifts that drastically improve satisfaction and productivity
  3. The telltale signs it’s time to quit your job 

About David

Dr. David Rock coined the term neuroleadership, and is the Co-founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI). The Institute is a 23-year-old cognitive science consultancy that has advised over 50% of the Fortune 100. With operations in 24 countries, the institute brings neuroscientists and leadership experts together to make organizations better for humans through science.

Dr. Rock has authored four successful books including Your Brain at Work, a business best-seller, and has written for and been quoted in hundreds of articles about leadership, organizational effectiveness, and the brain which can be found in Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, CNBC, Forbes, Fortune, Inc., USA Today, BBC, The Boston Globe and more.

Dr Rock is originally Australian, though based in the US since 2010. He holds a professional doctorate in the Neuroscience of Leadership from Middlesex University in the UK.

Resources Mentioned

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Dr. David Rock Interview Transcript

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

David Rock
It’s a pleasure. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’m excited to be with you and I’m hoping you can give us some insight beyond the headlines. We’re hearing this term Great Resignation a lot. First, can you define it for us? And tell us, is this a really a big deal or is this overhyped?

David Rock
It’s a bit of both. Statistically, when you really look at the data, and I’m a scientist, I like data, it’s definitely bigger than other times but it’s also part of an ongoing trend where we’ve seen increasing numbers of people changing jobs every year. So, it’s definitely a bump but it’s really hard to say whether it’s a function of sort of no one quit last year, because we were so uncertain, and then kind of, suddenly, there was this big bump now making up for that. Statistically, it looks a little bit more than just that big bump but it feels bigger. And certainly, it is bigger, and you may notice it around you in certain industries, but it’s not kind of enormous thing necessarily from a statistic point of view.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, but is there something noteworthy and bigger there that’s worth exploring and digging into?

David Rock
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a really very specific experience that millions, if not billions, of people have had. It’s very unusual. The Great Depression, a hundred years ago, is probably the only thing in all and parallel that really left a mark on people. People who grew up through the Great Depression had certain habits, the horrors of their life till the end of their life. And I think, in a similar way, the folks who’ve lived through this pandemic are going to be affected by it for a long, long time.

And there’s a number of things that happened. Huge parts of the economy are built on devices to distract us from ourselves, whether it’s movies, books, television, apps, everything else. And for a lot of people, Netflix kind of ran out, and there was nothing left to distract them.

Pete Mockaitis
They finished it.

David Rock
They finished it, right? And so, they’re left having all this time with themselves, and sometimes what they saw they didn’t really like. So, there’s a percentage of the population who’s interested in self-reflection and kind of thinking about life, but there’s a lot of people who go through life, probably a majority, without much time really thinking about themselves. We don’t have 90% of people in therapy.

And so, a lot of people were kind of forced to take a good honest look at their life because there wasn’t much else to focus on, and they saw that they didn’t really love their job, that maybe they didn’t love their partner, maybe didn’t love where they lived, and those three things changed a lot when the pandemic finished. And the job is the easier one to change than a house or a partner. You’re probably more likely to trade up in the job, but the other two, it depends. So, a lot of people kind of coming out of this say, “I want to make big changes.”

And, also, there’s this really big lack of control that we all have experienced and are still experiencing. There’s a really big lack of control, so think of autonomy. And so, by kind of changing jobs, in particular, you’re reasserting your feeling of control in your life, in a way that’s probably the least disruptive as well. So, I think that’s another reason. In summary, people kind of had time to think and got to see a lot of their life wasn’t great. And then they found a way to regain control, which is the easiest way is changing jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, autonomy, status, control, things that folks want or maybe not getting as much as they’d like in their jobs, and so a switch is one way to accomplish that. Do you have any interesting research insights on can we get more of that while staying where we are?

David Rock
Yeah, absolutely. So, autonomy is this really interesting construct in the brain. It’s a feeling of being in control or having choices. The two are quite similar. When you press a button to cross the street, you expect it to change in a certain amount of time. If nothing happens after a few minutes, you get frustrated. You thought you had control over crossing the road and you discover it’s broken and now you feel better. You’ve regained control and you cross another way. But our feeling of kind of being in control is something that goes up and down through the day but, generally, within a certain limit. And the pandemic really drops that sense. We felt completely out of control. We just didn’t know what to do in a huge way. And it’s such an interesting phenomenon – control.

In animal studies, it’s the difference between life and death. So, in animal studies, essentially, you can give animals a certain stress, and some will have this perception of being in control of it and some will feel out of control, and it literally is the difference between life and death. There are studies with humans, in retirement homes, in aged homes, where they give a control group no change, and another group, they give them three choices. This was done in about the ‘70s. But they give them three choices of like a plant, or an art, or where to put the bed. It actually halved the death rate for people who were given control.

And then a third study that always blows my head off, people given the control over how they laid out their cubicle. So, same job, same company, same cubicle, still had the same computer, but they were allowed to bring in like personal things in their cubicle versus not. And the people allowed to bring in personal things, who felt in control of their cubicle, are 25% more productive. It’s like a day a week more productive. It’s crazy.

So, autonomy has this outsized effect on many, many functions in the brain. And, essentially, it puts us in more of an approach state or towards state when we have a sense of control. And when we reduce that sense of control, it activates more of a threat state or avoidance state. And, generally, we’re far more creative in an approach state. We literally have greater cognitive resources for holding big ideas in mind. We collaborate better. Just about everything is better in more of an approach state, what happens when we feel like we’re in control.

A little bit of an avoidance or threat state is okay for focusing for short bursts but you won’t be very creative but you’ll be able to execute well. So, there’s a whole lot of science to this but, essentially, the pandemic kind of reduced our feeling of control but a lot of clever people worked out hacks to that, and said, “Actually, you know what, I can control my diet now better than any other time in my life,” and decided to really monitor their diet and track it, do experiments, and people said, “You know what, I can control my sleep properly for the first time ever. I can even control the people I meet.” And the introvert, germophobes, had a field day. But we could suddenly control a lot more things because we were in a home environment.

And so, while you can sort of focus on being out of control, there were other ways that you could focus on. Actually, your control had increased in a local way. And we even had more control over when we worked versus when we had breaks and all of this stuff. And that was one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we had this increased sense of control about kind of workflow because our manager wasn’t standing over us. So, it gives you a clue to sort of what we can do. But the science of this is really fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. And what a powerful impact there by having even minor amounts of control. You’re allowed to decorate your cubicle as you see fit. And so, boy, that just gets me thinking, there’s probably so much autonomy that, we guess, we just sort of leave on the table, if you will. It’s like we don’t even consider that we have that control in order to exercise it and enjoy the benefits of controlling our work, break time, or our food choices, or our sleep. Any other categories you think are just sort of like overlooked, like, “Hey, this is in your control. Seize it and reap the benefits”?

David Rock
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re at home a lot of the time, you’re in control of who you socialize with. And now you don’t have to socialize with people who are in a 20-mile radius. You can socialize with people anywhere in the world. And I’ve been part of a poker school, or poker club, for over a decade, and most of my buddies I played with are in Australia where I’m originally from, and I kind of miss them.

And what I found is that there was a great app where we could literally play poker online and see each other and hear each other perfectly. It was just like being there. And we started playing monthly and enjoyed it so much, we started playing weekly. And now I’m getting together with some of my favorite humans literally every week for a couple of hours and just hanging out. It’s a wonderful thing.

So, you gain this control over who you interact with, and whether it’s family or friends or people you really want to learn from, that’s another upside to this time. And I think the people’s willingness to sort of try things on platforms is always going to be with us. We’ve all learned that there are things we can do on platforms, like Zoom, that we never imagined were possible, and actually they can work. And so, I think that’s going to stay with us for some time.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, so then what are some other ways you recommend folks can upgrade their satisfaction with where they are? They can look for opportunities to exercise their autonomy. What else?

David Rock
Another thing that you want to play with is your sense of certainty.

So, we have this drive for our feeling of control that’s always relative, so you have a little more, a little less than where you were. But we also have this drive for a sense of certainty, and they’re similar but quite different things. And a sense of certainty is literally, “How much do you feel you’re able to predict what’s about to happen?”

Let me give you an example. Normal times, you’re at work, you’re at the office, and you live a little far away, and your partner borrows your car. And during the day, they say, “Hey, I think I’m going to be back in time but I’m not sure, and if not, you’ll need to get public transport.” You know that’s like an extra hour and a hassle. The whole afternoon, your brain is going to go back and forward, back and forward between, “Do I have to leave at 5:00? Do I need to leave at 4:00? Am I going to have to deal with that?”

While that ambiguity is there, a big piece of your brain is trying to solve for two different realities, and it’s trying to do all the sort of what-if questions about if you have to take the subway and the bus, or if you’re going to have the car, and it’s debilitating. You’re actually using some of your limited working memory. So, that’s a small bit of uncertainty where you just got, “Do I take transport or am I having a car?”

And so, your brain is constantly mapping out into the future trying to kind of plan ahead unconsciously. When the world is really certain, as it sort of was before the pandemic, things were kind of in a flow and you knew how you’re getting home, and what you’re doing next week, and where you’re going for vacation, and when you would next see your parents, and all of these kinds of things. Then certainty plummeted during the pandemic. And one of the interesting phenomena was our temporal focus, or how far out we could think, really shrank.

Normally, we think like, it’s not uncommon to think a year out and plan a vacation in a year, or some education in a year, or two years, you’re working towards, or be saving for something a few years out. We went from a year to not a quarter or even a month, and not even a week. Many of us, during the pandemic, could barely think a few days ahead. We were very much in the now. And it was because of the amount of uncertainty, there were so many variables that were uncertain that it just hurt to think even a week out at some points. There was just so much that was changing all the time.

And so, we became much more focused kind of in the moment. And part of it is that uncertainty, like a lack of control, increases the threat response in the brain, which literally reduces resources for prefrontal or working memory. And so, you had this issue where lack of control actually made it harder to just hold things in your mind, and so you just focus on the now. Then there was this whole kind of complexity of just trying to calculate further out and how exhausting that was, and we just kind of gave up.

And so, that issue happened. And interestingly, again, this is one of those situations where you can kind of hack your perception of control just like you can autonomy. And the interesting thing about the brain is things that are local are valued more highly than things that are farther away. So, feeling certain about your office where you spend a lot of time will actually give you a whole lot of benefits because it’s right in front of you all the time.

And so, you can hack your brain’s need for certainty by…and a lot of people did this, like organizing your office like crazy, organizing your bookshelf, organizing your filing, re-setting up your systems, getting your computer better than ever, getting the stand you’ve always wanted, and the camera and eyesight. Just getting super organized, so literally you didn’t have to use working memory for lots of little things anymore.

Steve Jobs was famous for this, always wearing the same things where he didn’t have to make decisions in the morning, and could focus on other things. It’s a bit like that. You just create this huge amount of certainty, and your brain has to make fewer decisions, and it’s less taxed overall. So, there’s a local effect with things that are physically close to you and also things that are close in time, and that’s one of the ways of hacking this.

So, you end up organizing your calendar, your schedule. You end up just kind of getting really disciplined and structured, and that hacks your sense of certainty even if the outside world is completely crazy. And so, there’s always kind of hacks like this, particularly around autonomy and certainty you can do even when the world is really crazy, to locally feel a lot better and be able to think well.

Pete Mockaitis
That really resonates and what’s coming to mind for me is I’ve got a buddy, Ronnie, and he said to me, boy, decades ago, he said, “Laundry is power.” I said, “What are you even saying?” And then, sure enough, this was before I was doing my laundry regularly, we’re like teenagers. And then when I got in the groove and I understood, it’s like, “Ah, yes, when you have a drawer of perfectly folded and organized and clean and ready-to-go laundry, that is power.” Because whatever tiny bit of your RAM was spent wondering, “Do I have clean underwear or shirt or dress, socks?” whatever item you might need or want. It’s like the answer is, “Yes. Why, I’m certain my clothing is handled.”

Likewise, I’ve got a bunch of high-protein snacks on my shelf, and that feels great in terms of like, “I don’t need to worry. If a schedule gets all choppy or weird, I’m not going to go hungry. there’s reassurance there that feels good.” So, organizing in terms of, “I know I’ve got my pens or my stand or whatever, my apps,” lay it on us, what are some other ways we can remove uncertainty from our lives and reap those psychological benefits?

David Rock
I have to tell you a funny relevant story before we go into some other ones. I just had a birthday recently, and my partner said, “What do you really want?” And I said, “I want to never think about socks again.” Like, I work out every single day. I’m just spending like five minutes pointlessly searching for socks and pairing them and stuff. I said, “I want you to really care about the perfect socks, and go test them, find out and see if you can work out. I like XYZ, and then that’s the thing I most want for my birthday.”

And they did it, they went out and she like worked out the exact one and threw out all my other socks, and gave me just dozens and dozens and dozens of the exact same socks, so I just never have to think about matching socks ever again. And it’s kind of something I’ve always wanted. I always felt too indulgent. But it’s like that stuff adds up because it’s attention you can’t put elsewhere in all those little places.

Pete Mockaitis
David, I love that so much. And the problem with socks is that they have all these different styles. Like, if you get pack of five, it might be five different designs, like, “That doesn’t help me because if I lose one, then the pair ends, whereas I’ve got redundancies, they could replace each other.” And so, it’s harder to match and pair. So, I’ve actually had the same fantasy but I, too, have not taken the time to realize it.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. All right. So, socks, that’s one thing you cannot think about ever again.

David Rock
Well, it’s a good metaphor. And then if you take that and say, “Look, what else do you regularly, like at least once a week, find you waste attention on?” Because attention is actually a limited resource. If you’re having to pair socks, that’s attention you can’t put onto something else. So, what else do you regularly, like at least weekly, maybe daily, put attention on so that you really don’t need to, you really shouldn’t have to? And how can you replace those things so that you really don’t have to actually give that any focus anymore?

You’ll start to see a lot of things where you could create a lot more certainty in these areas, whether it’s bulk buying food so that you know you’ve always got three months’ worth of things that you never have to worry, or shop four times a year, or it could be around planning your exercise routine a month out at a time, or planning your diet a whole way out. So, there’s different ways to think about it. It’s kind of whatever you’re interested in but, essentially, the fewer decisions you have to make that are kind of pointless, the better off you’ll be. That’s the tip overall.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And so, it’s not so much, “Oh, I’m at the gym. What am I going to do here now?” but rather, “I’ve taken some time, I’ve done some research in advance based on my goals and the equipment that’s available and the time I have, this is what I’m doing.” And so, you’ve made one decision to rule dozens or hundreds of subsequent things.

David Rock
Right. One of the things I did is I realized I was terrible at going to the gym, and it just was the time sucked till I get there and deal with things, and get back, and I didn’t like the environment at the gym, and I needed to work out fairly regularly. I felt there were benefits. The research was really saying there were benefits.

And as I looked into the research, it became clear that actually a small amount of exercise, if you do it every day, is fantastic. And by small amount, I mean like five minutes, even five to ten minutes. And I realized I’m overcomplicating this thing. What if I could do something that I could do absolutely anywhere, it doesn’t matter what hotel I’m in, what part of the world I’m in, what mental state I’m in, I can just, anywhere, do some exercises and do them absolutely daily?

When I simplified it down to that, I had all this certainty, and now I could just weave in exercise into part of my day. And so, pushups and sit-ups go a long way plus some stretching. If you could do that regularly, daily, you’ve got an amazing set of health benefits and strength and confidence. And add some cardio from most days from a walking meeting so that you’re getting that cardio in as well while you’re in a meeting, and you’ve got a fantastic exercise routine without ever going to the gym. So, again, you’re kind of creating, I guess, it’s not just certainty. Also, you’re just creating more ease with your attention and with having to achieve your goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like, “Oh, when and where and how am I going to get this workout in?” It’s like, “Oh, that’s just five minutes. It can be anywhere. And for the time being, I’ve chosen to schedule it at this time recurring, and now there it is.” Cool. All right. Well, so then let’s talk about if we do want to make a change in the job, how do we know it’s time and how do you go about thinking through and deciding that?

David Rock
Companies are really good at trying to keep people, and I think that it’s really good, and I speak as an employer as well, I guess, in this, but it’s really good to explore the options because sometimes we just think that the job we’re in is the only opportunity, but a lot of companies are good at being flexible, and you might find there’s a completely different career path in the same company.

I remember we did a lot of work with Intel for quite some years, the chip maker, and I remember a dinner a few years ago with maybe a dozen of the Intel executives, and they were introducing themselves, and I said, “How long have you been here? And what do you do?” to a person. Everyone had been there 20 plus years. And they weren’t necessarily that senior, they were mid-career, I was like, “How does the company keep you so long?”

And everyone just laughed and said, “Well, every two or three years, I get a knock on my door, and someone offers me a ridiculously big job that I could never imagine I would ever be chosen for and throws me in the deep end in this incredibly challenging opportunity that I get to really sink my teeth into. And they just keep doing that every few years. I’ve never gone more than five years without that happening.” And everyone to a person agreed.

So, Intel, in the background, who worked that out, and kept really, really good people by stretching them a lot. And so, a lot of clever organizations want to give you different kinds of roles, and I think the first step is to explore, “Is it the company or is it the role?” If you’re an extrovert and you’re stuck in accounting filling in forms, you may find that joining the sales team might make you intrinsically happier. That’s an obvious one.

So, I think the first thing is, “Is it the company, or is it the role, or is it the team?” Maybe you’re in a team where the chemistry isn’t right. And I’ve got a team of 200 plus people, and magic happens sometimes when you move someone to a different team. Someone can be an underperformer and not happy. You put them in a whole different team, they do incredible work. So, there’s a definite chemistry thing. So, I think it depends. Is it the company? Is it the team? Is it the work? It’s good to think about those things and explore ideas.

If it’s all three, you might want to consider your options. And sometimes people just want to really shake things up. They want to really, really shake up their kind of whole world and kind of challenge themselves to learn new things, especially if they’re maybe mid-career, they’ve done a few years kind of in their first five to ten years of working. They’ve kind of really learned a lot of skills in one environment, they’re like, “I want to challenge myself and learn something completely different.”

I was talking to a colleague who’s been in pharma for a long, long time, and she’s like, “You know what, I want to go and be in media now. Pharma has been great but I want an entirely different ecosystem. I want to learn entirely different things about the world, and that’s something I’m passionate about.” So, that’s a person that probably will leave because it’s the entire industry they want to shift, so getting a new job in there won’t be helpful.

So, I think you got to think about also the industry, the company, the team, and the job itself. What really is it? And if it is time to leave, it’s always really great, and I guess I say this as an employer, but it’s always really great to let people know really early and minimize the surprise elements so your colleagues, not just your managers, but your colleagues also have time to set things up so they’re not drowning.

I know in many organizations right at the moment, everyone is struggling for talent. I don’t know how the math of that works but I think just a lot of people are not working. And it’s not just restaurants and bars. Like, everyone, everywhere is really short staffed somehow. Just about every industry I talk to, people are saying, “We just don’t have enough people for the work.” So, I’m a fan of giving folks lots of warnings so you’re not throwing anyone in the deep end.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we’ve talked about some tiny interventions in terms of just like your own mindset and what’s in your sphere of control, what you can do there. We talked about some big changes in terms of, “I’m out of here.” And so, maybe about some in-between size changes, do you have any pro tips on how we go about communicating with managers, leaders, others in terms of, “Hey, you know what, this job isn’t working for me,” or, “Hey, I really appreciate if we can make this shift or accommodation”? Any magical scripts or words or phrases or approaches that really work well here?

David Rock
Yeah, there’s no magic in that stuff. It creates a lot of anxiety for people, so I think being clear is really helpful, being really clear about whether you’ve made a decision or not, whether you’re talking to other organizations already or not, where you are in your process. If you’re really early in your thinking, let people know you’re early in your thinking and you’re not planning to do anything for a few months. If you’ve kind of already decided to leave and you’ve already done interviews, you got to be kind of upfront about that.

So, I think there’s a lack of transparency in both directions, employer and employee in these things, and I think everyone wins when there’s more transparency around this stuff. So, I think just be really clear about where you are in your process and it’s just really nice to give people a little bit of a time to find that replacement as well, especially in this environment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Flipping the perspective a little bit, when you are the employer and you are looking to retain the talent, you mentioned some of the best practices of Intel, what are some of the other things that you find are really great things to do to help get people to stick around?

David Rock
One of the biggest motivators is feeling you’re making progress. There’s a whole book on that called The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile. But it’s this feeling like you’re actually able to really do your best work, not just make progress but you’re able to really be proud of the work that you do, and know it really is your best work. There’s sort of nothing worse than getting home and saying, “I tried my best but, really, there are all these roadblocks in the way, and I did half the job I could’ve done,” or, “If only my colleagues had my back,” or, “If only I had this technology,” or, “I just didn’t get to look as good or hit it out of the park.” It’s frustrating.

So, I think helping people do their best work is really important. And the challenge with that is it’s very individual so managers will have to learn to ask questions about it. So, some really interesting data out recently, like there’s a whole conundrum about, “Where do you let people work now that the offices are opening up a bit?” But it turns out, there’s no one answer to that. About a third of people are saying there are productive places at home full time. It’s not just that they want to goof off. It’s actually where they work hardest to get the most done.

Now, some of them might also appreciate having more time with their kids and less pointless time driving and all sorts of things. But, literally, a third of people say they’re more productive working at home than anything else. About a third of people say they’re actually more productive working in the office, and that’s where they get the most done. Now, they might be extroverts, or they might not have conditions at home that are good, or they just might not have the discipline that they just end up distracted too much at home. So, you’ve got really different polarities there.

And so, as a manager, you want to help people work out where they do their best work but even when they do their best work. Some people, like their routine is such whether they have kids maybe, but they just do amazing work if they can start at 5:00 a.m., work through 8:00, take four hours off, and then do three hours in the afternoon. And they’ll do stellar work if they do that, and be healthy, and a good parent, and all these other things.

Other people, they’ll do stellar work if they start at lunchtime and go straight through till 8:00 p.m., That’s just how they work. They’re night owls. So, there’s the where you work, there’s the when you work, there’s, our research show, that who you work with and what you work on is even more important, even more motivating. Like, you can give people, this is back to autonomy, give people a little more control than they thought they might have over what they work on and who they work with, you actually get an even greater sense of engagement.

So, we’re coming back to autonomy a lot, but giving people more control over where they work, and when they work, and what they work on, and who they work with, these things are very intrinsically motivating. And, at the same time, how can you, as a manager, kind of remove roadblocks and give people the tools they need to really feel like they can do their best work? Those are a couple of the really big things we think.

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

David Rock
I think this is an incredible time to make big changes in how we work individually and for organizations. I think it’s a really interesting time because all our systems kind of that were very frozen forever are being kind of unfrozen, everything is sort of bit in flux. And as we start to open offices again and go back, before we fall on bad habits again, I think it’s a great time for companies and individuals to think about the habits they want to have, think about the kind of culture they want to have, think about the kind of team they want to be part of, all of this.

So, I think it’s a great time to be really intentional as we kind of transition into 2022. Let’s be really intentional about the kind of life we want to live as individuals, or the kind of culture we want to have as a company. And, for me, it’s really important to say this. Follow the science because the science is often different to our gut instinct. Follow the science and then experiment, and then follow the data. Follow the science, experiment, and follow the data, are three really important things as we move forward. Don’t just follow gut instinct.

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

David Rock
Theodore Zeldin, a philosopher at Oxford, one of my favorite authors, he often said, “When will we make the same breakthroughs in the way we relate to each other as we’ve made in technology?” So, that’s something that inspires me really often.

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

David Rock
I really like the study by Dan Gilbert. Dan is a professor at Harvard. He wrote the book Stumbling on Happiness, which is about the way we mis-predict what will make us happy in the future. We think that a big car, an hour in the suburbs will make us happy than a small apartment in the city. And it turns out, the ten hours a week of driving makes us miserable much more so than the space makes us happy.

So, anyway, he wrote this great book Stumbling on Happiness and he did this study a few years back, looking at kind of, “What are the different activities that make people happy?” And what he discovered was really surprising, was that about half the time people are literally not there mentally. The lights are on but no one’s home. They’re like in a meeting but they’re mentally in lunch tomorrow. Or, they’re supposedly working on a document but their mind is off on something else altogether.

So, about half, it’s about 48% of our waking hours, we are literally not present in what we’re doing. It’s such a fascinating finding and tells you why we need to kind of be reminded to have more of a growth mindset and kind of experiment a lot more because we’re just not present a lot of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

David Rock
A book that kind of changed my life a lot and sort of set me down the neuroscience path a lot was John Ratey’s book. It’s an old book now but it’s called A User’s Guide to the Brain. And I read that and read that and read that, and thumbed through that, for years and years and years. And it gave me like the first kind of really good dose of language about what was happening inside my head. And at some point, I said, “You know what, I really wish there was a version of this for doing work.” And there wasn’t, and I kind of ended up writing that book. That’s my book Your Brain at Work.

And, as self-serving as this is, I just re-read it and re-edited it, and ten years later, after I kind of originally read it, I actually got a lot out of it. So, that’s my second most favorite book, it’s my own book. It really helped me understand my brain, writing it. And even ten years later, even if it’s very late, I had to do it to kind of improve it. So, anything that sort of gives you language for what’s going on moment to moment in your brain, gives you an ability to be more mindful in a way because you’re paying attention to internal experiences and states so you’re literally more full of your mind. Your attention is on your mental process.

And these kinds of things end up having a similar effect as actual mindfulness training in that it reduces stress and gives you greater cognitive control and all these other things. So, I’m a big fan of learning about your brain as a way of being more adaptive in life and more effective in your career or as a manager.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

David Rock
I think my favorite tool is the hot tub, the jacuzzi. It’s a communication tool, and I’ve probably had one consistently for the last 20 years in everywhere that I’ve lived. I’ve made sure of it. And what I find is you get this unusual window of time where you’re super comfortable, super relaxed, where you can really have long deeper conversations, usually with my partner or with a close friend. It’s this kind of non-obvious conversation tool for having really good quality downtime. And I find, when I don’t have a hot tub around, we just don’t spend that kind of time really going deeper on things, whereas with the hot tub, you do. So, there you go, an unexpected tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that people seem to quote back to you often?

David Rock
“We tend to think about what’s easiest to think about rather than what’s right to think about.” Something I said in Your Brain at Work, and a lot of people quote that. We tend to think about whatever is easy to think about rather than what we actually should be focused on. And so, a lot of the intangible things don’t get enough attention over things that are just more tangible by kind of accident.

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

David Rock
A couple of places of work that I do with organizations, NeuroLeadership.com. Personally, DavidRock.net. My book, my most recent book is Your Brain at Work. You just look that up. You’ll find it everywhere. And easy to find me through DavidRock.net if you’re interested in all the different things I’m involved with.

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

David Rock
I think this is a great time to think about the next decade or so for yourself. The decisions you make right now about your career will last you five to ten years. So, I think this is a good time to think deeply about what inspires you, what motivates you, what you want to really spend your time and your attention on. A bit like the socks. Do you want to spend your attention on something that annoys you or do you want to spend your attention on something that really inspires you? So, I think it’s a great time to be thoughtful about how you want to spend the next decade or so.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. David, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you much luck and fun in your adventures.

David Rock
Thank you so much. Appreciate the opportunity.

709: The Eight Superpowers You Need to Thrive in Change with April Rinne

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April Rinne reveals eight key skills that prepare us to thrive in a world of constant, relentless change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key mindset shift that helps us thrive in flux 
  2. How to escape the trap of a more mentality
  3. How to re-script your mind to prepare for change 

About April

A World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and ranked one of the “50 Leading Female Futurists” in the world by Forbes, April Rinne is a change navigator: she helps individuals and organizations rethink and reshape their relationship with change, uncertainty, and a world in flux. She is a trusted advisor to well-known startups, companies, financial institutions, nonprofits, and think tanks worldwide, including Airbnb, Nike, Intuit, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, NESTA, Trōv, AnyRoad, and Unsettled, as well as governments ranging from Singapore to South Africa, Canada to Colombia, Italy to India. April is the author of Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change. 

Resources Mentioned

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  • University of California Irvine. Chart your course to career success at ce.uci.edu/learnnow 
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April Rinne Interview Transcript

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

April Rinne
Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear about the wisdom you have to share about flux. But, first, I want to hear about your notorious handstands. What is the story here?

April Rinne
Oh, I’ve been outed. So, I have been doing handstands for most of my life. Learned to do them as a child, as a gymnast, and then kept doing them. And then, at a certain point in my life, realized that none of my friends that I was doing them with as a child were doing them anymore, and it became a bit of a, like, signature, I suppose. So, I travel a lot, I work internationally, and back in my 20s, actually, some family members challenged me to take a photo of myself doing handstands when I would go to interesting places. They did not realize how seriously I would take them on that challenge.

And so, here we are years later, have visited more than a hundred countries and have handstands in the most random but also most interesting of places. And so, my goal is to keep doing them when I’m hopefully in triple digits. We’ll see.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. I sort of imagine you, I don’t know, you’re at the Taj Mahal or something doing handstands, and then like you’re gathering a crowd, and so that you are also the tourist attraction. Has that happened?

April Rinne
It’s funny you bring that up. Yes, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Giza, the Coliseum in Rome, take your pick of well-known but also really off the beaten path places as well. And what I love is that the vast majority of my handstands over the years have been done when I’ve been traveling on my own. Now, my husband does travel with me and he knows the drill. He’s a wonderful photographer. But most of the time, I actually have to find somebody to take this picture, which means introducing myself to a stranger and trying to explain to them, and often their native language is not English.

So, I’m trying to explain to them in a foreign language that I’m going to stand on my hands and they need to take a picture. And, of course, you get this look of like, “I don’t think I understand what you’re saying at all. And if I do understand what you’re saying, you’re crazy.” And then we sort of go through the paces and they get it, and then, oftentimes, yes, a small crowd gathers, which is just fun in terms of meeting locals. But kids start tumbling and joining in, people start laughing and shouting, it becomes a bit of just like a little celebration, I suppose.

And, for me, it’s not, at that point, about the handstand. It’s about immediately getting to break the ice with people I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet. And it has often led to cups of coffee or tea afterwards, or like, “Tell us about your family,” or, usually, “Where is your husband? Why are you travelling alone?” those sorts of things as well. So, thanks for asking. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s just cool. Well, I don’t have a clever segue but maybe there is one.

April Rinne
Upside-down perspective on the world is what I call it, which leads into how we navigate change.

Pete Mockaitis
You do the work for me. This is perfect. Well, yeah, let’s hear about your book, Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change. What is the big idea behind this book?

April Rinne
Yeah, the big idea is that in a world and a future that is full of change and constant relentless change, that we, as humans, need to radically reshape our relationship to uncertainty to have a healthy and productive outlook.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. So, radically reshape our relationship to uncertainty, I’m sure there’s variability and variation quite a bit from person to person. But if you had to generalize, what would you say is the “typical” relationship to uncertainty? And what is an optimal transformation of it to where are we now and where “should” it be?

April Rinne
Yeah, great question. Well, let’s just pause for a minute and think about change, which includes uncertainty, but just a sense of something what is or was something is becoming something else. Change is messy, it’s complicated. Humans tend to love change we opt into. So, a new relationship, a new job, a new adventure, a new haircut. We tend to really resist change we can’t control. So, the kind of change that blindsides you on a Tuesday afternoon, it goes against your expectations, it disrupts your plans, and it creates an environment of uncertainty.

Now, a change that’s easy for you might be really, really hard for me, and vice versa. We know that more change and uncertainty is around the corner, yet knowing this often freaks us out. So, you sort of get these layers of like it’s complicated and it’s really messy. But when it comes to uncertainty, there’s also this piece, like humans really want to be able to know what’s going to happen. We want things to go our way. We want to command, predict, control, engineer the future. And the last 18 months, but we can come back to this, I didn’t write the book about the last 18 months. The last 18 months, however, have been an incredible kind of wakeup to just how unfit, how outdated that way of seeing the world and our place in it is.

And so, this radical reshaping is like, wow, we have structured, and we can come back to this, part of it is neurobiology, neuroscience, part of it is psychology, part of it is just the human condition, we have in many ways, I think, deluded ourselves into believing that we can predict and control and command the future, and that we can have certainty, and that we can, yeah, predict things and know what’s going to happen. And nothing could be farther from the truth.

And in a world in flux, and when we think about flux as constant relentless change, and before you’ve responded to one change, something else has happened, the list goes on and on and on. And that’s actually what the future looks like. More of that, not less, that there is this kind of, “Oh, this isn’t just a wakeup call. This is also a kind of warmup for what’s ahead. And how can we get ahead of that? Instead of constantly reacting to change that something happens and you’re trying to triage it? How can we reshape our relationship to change from the inside out to be fit for this world in flux which is very different than the kind of world many of us were taught to believe we lived in?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is quite a question, and part of me wonders, “Is that even possible?” I take it you think the answer is yes. Could you share with us an inspiring example or case study of someone who’s just a flux master?

April Rinne
Well, I love that you bring this up because, by and large, humans are really pretty bad at this, and that’s part of why I wrote the book. I like to say that I’ve been working on this book since 2018, so it’s been the better part of three years, like in the writing, but it’s really been more like three decades in the making, in the seeding of these ideas. And a big chunk of that time was spent both as a futurist and a strategist, also just as a human and observing that, on the whole, humans, we can adapt to change pretty well when we’re forced to, when our back is against the wall.

But as a proactive, kind of, “I’m going to lean into change because it’s good for me, or I’m actually going to see a change I don’t want to have happen, I’m going to see that nonetheless as an opportunity for growth and learning and improvement,” we don’t do that naturally. And what was making me and, candidly, continuous to make me very concerned about humans moving forward, both individually and collectively as humanity, is that we are, in many cases, stuck in mindsets and with what I call scripts that are not fit for a world in flux, and we need help.

And so, I can point to individuals that are good at certain of the flux superpowers, let’s say. But on the whole, and at the risk of generalizing, are we really fit? Are our mindsets grooved for a future of constant relentless change? I reckon they are not. But in that is an enormous opportunity for each and every one of us to level up. So, we can come back to some of the examples, but I want to put that out there. Now, you might prove me wrong here, Pete, but I’ve never met anybody who’s like, “Change. Tick that box. I’m good.”

Everyone struggles with some part of it, but we’ve all developed our own unique ways of dealing with it, talking about it, feeling about it, etc. There’s a lot we can learn from one another, but I believe we are very early into this journey into a future full of flux but, as such, we will all have homework to do but we’ve all also been given, I look at it, almost like this gift of growth and improvement by upgrading our mental muscles about change.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, sure. Could we hear an example of someone who has got at least a couple of the superpowers of flux going for them that seems to be doing pretty good when it comes to constant relentless change in their world?

April Rinne
Yeah. An example that I often talk about in regards to flux, and again it’s not all eight superpowers, it’s a couple of them, but it is Airbnb and founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. And if you go back, and here I’ll tease out a few of the flux superpowers, they built this company that’s home-sharing.

They saw value in empty space in people’s homes that hotels wrote them off as crazy and foolish, said, “This is never going to go anywhere.” Lo and behold, one of the eight flux superpowers is to see what’s invisible. They saw value in what other people couldn’t see. They saw invisible value, basically, and tapped into that and unlocked it, and created a company that is more valuable than the five largest hotel chains combined. That’s a very flux-y way of seeing one’s business model, if you will, to see what’s invisible, find what other people can’t see, and unlock the value that’s in that.

But, at the same time, another one of the flux superpowers is called “Start with trust.” Again, go back to Airbnb, what were people telling them? “This is crazy. People will never stay in other people’s homes. Why would we trust other humans?” And I’m looking at this always against the backdrop of, “How do we navigate change?” and think about who you turn to when change really hits. You turn to your trusted relationships. And if you don’t have many, you’re in a world of hurt far greater than if you do.

And Airbnb, early on, signaled, “We actually think humans are trustworthy. This isn’t blind trust or naïve trust, but we actually think that we can build a business around humans trusting one another.” Lo and behold, they have. And that, too, I’m looking at this from the perspective of, “How do we navigate change together? How do we navigate change better?”

So, I’ll pause there but those are some of the superpowers start kind of surfacing as we dig deeper.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe let’s have a quick overview of the eight superpowers and maybe have your definition and a sentence or two for what that means, and then we’ll see where to dig deeper.

April Rinne
Yeah, sure. So, there are eight flux superpowers, and I always like to say they’re a menu, not a syllabus so you do not have to do one before two, or two before three, but they stand on their own and they also enhance one another. So, the first flux superpower is to “Run slower,” which says that in a world with an ever-faster pace of change, your key to success is to slow your own pace. And I’ll put in a quick caveat here too. Each and every one of these is counterintuitive in some way. It goes against what, oftentimes, society teaches us. We can circle back to this if you’d like.

The second flux superpower is one that I was just talking about, which is, “See what’s invisible.” And this says that when the future feels uncertainty or blurry, rather than focusing on what’s visible and what’s straight in front of you, we need to focus on what’s invisible. Now this includes both identifying your blind spots but also uncovering new forms of value, new forms of talent, new ideas, new forms of inspiration.

The third flux superpower is “Get lost,” which is all about going beyond your comfort zone and your relationship with the unknown. The fourth flux superpower is “Start with trust,” that says when trust seems broken, assume good intent. And this is all about, as I was mentioning, how we navigate change better together.

The fifth flux superpower is, “Know your enough.” And this gets at our quest for happiness and satisfaction, and really the tension between our obsession with more, kind of more, more, more everything, and how that’s mostly making people miserable, in my experience. The way I like to put it is when you’re always after more, you will never ever find enough. And, yet, when you know you’re enough, you’ll immediately begin to see abundance. And, again, more, we can think of as more income, more power, more prestige, more love, more likes, more clicks, more everything.

So, what does it mean to “Know your enough”? And that’s Y-O-U-R. People often ask me if that’s a typo, and I say no. Knowing your enough includes knowing that you are enough just as you are without doing anything more. So, we can come back to that if you’d like.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny when I read that, I guess I didn’t even think about the apostrophe, and I was like, “Know your enough. Like, your number, your level. And what is the level at which it is enough?” which could be different for you versus me versus another. But, yeah, layers. Thank you. Okay, what’s next?

April Rinne
So, the sixth flux superpower is “Create your portfolio career.” This is about designing your professional development and identity in ways that are fit for a future of work in flux. And the punchline here is that I firmly believe that the career of the future looks far less like a singular path to pursue and much more like your portfolio that you create and curate as an artist or an investor would.

The seventh superpower is “Be all the more human,” which gets at our relationship to technology and the tension that we have in spending ever more time with our devices, yet ever less time with one another. And last, but not least, the eighth flux superpower is “Let go of the future,” which is all about our relationship to control, something I have found is tricky for most everyone today, and I always put a caveat on this one as well.

Letting go of the future does not mean giving up. It does not mean failure. It does not mean doomsday-ing. It actually means quite the opposite. So, again, going back to this counterintuitive-ness, even this contrarian-ness, that pervades much of the thesis of flux.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ooh, so much fun there. So, tell us then, when it comes to professionals seeking to be awesome at their jobs, what’s your take on what is the most important yet also most rare of these superpowers that we should really zero in on cultivating?

April Rinne
Well, I’m not sure that I would put the most important and the most rare…

Pete Mockaitis
We could take two. We’ll take two.

April Rinne
Yeah, I think we’ll do two because I can definitely tell you which ones are most popular. Let me do this, I’m going to put out a few because they’re all very, very sticky for professionals in the workplace of how to be awesome at your job. No question.

So, no doubt, no question, or perhaps no surprise, the first superpower “Run slower” absolutely popular and difficult because this is burnout, this is exhaustion, this is anxiety, this is “Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I constantly…? Why am I in this rat race? Why am I on this hamster wheel? How did I end up here? This is not what I had planned for my profession, for my livelihood, etc.” So, “Run slower” for sure.

Interestingly, as soon as you start getting into “Run slower” you do end up often over at “Know your enough,” and that’s sort of, “How do we define what is valuable and important? And what metrics are you using not just to judge how you show up at work and what you ‘do’ but also how you show up in life?” And so, it really starts to unpack some of our values and whether or not those values are reflected at our organization, so on and so forth.

And then the third one, which, not surprisingly, it is the one superpower that is related to work and the workplace, and that is “Create your portfolio career.” So, any of those would be ones I would start with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, when we talk about “Knowing your enough,” Y-O-U-R, no apostrophe, tells us, how do we arrive at that knowledge?

April Rinne
Arriving at that knowledge, I think there’s a process of kind of peeling back the layers of your unique onion around this. And I like to ask people, and this does relate to every one of the superpowers in some way, kind of getting your flux baseline is what I call it. And most people haven’t really thought a lot about their relationship to change as a whole. We’re busy reacting to change, “Something happened and I need to do something about it.”

But we’re not really thinking about, “What are the things, what are the emotions, and the feelings, and the experiences, that are driving me to react in the way that I am? And what is…” what I call in the book, “What is my script about change? What are the stories and the narratives and the norms that I’ve been taught about how the world is supposed to work, and what my role in it is supposed to be?”

And I share this because a lot of our scripts, really, it’s directly related to knowing your enough, a lot of our scripts are increasingly being shown to be not that fit for a world in flux. They’re quite good for worlds that we can command and control, and sort of tie up in a neat tidy bow, but they’re not that good for when the future you thought you were going to have just sort of melts or falls apart or doesn’t work out like you thought it would be, like you thought it would, which I think many of us had experienced in different ways over the last 18 months.

So, back to knowing your enough. For a lot of people, and here I would include myself, we were taught that more is better, and like inherently better, and that the more you had, the more important you were, the more valuable you were to society. And I think, for a lot of people, that’s more money but also more power, more prestige, more love, more choices, more clothes, more clicks. Like, I was saying, it’s more everything.

And, yet, look around and ask yourself, “What is that getting me? Is more actually…?” and here I would say in the workplace, the more meetings you have, the more productive you are. The more productive you are, we can come back and question, meetings are not a good metric for productivity, but the more hours I work.

Pete Mockaitis
The more emails you get, the more important you are. The more emails you send, the more productive you are.

April Rinne
Yes. Yes. And, yet, and again, we can put this on a financial metric, an emotional metric, a workplace metric, take your pick, more is mostly making us miserable. It’s not necessarily leading to greater happiness or satisfaction. It’s not necessarily…it might be making us feel more productive if you’re measuring your life in how many emails you send, but not if you’re measuring it necessarily in outputs, impacts, ways, number of people that you’re able to serve and better, and the quality of your own life that you’re living.

And so, what I like to ask people, the punchline, the metric for this superpower is, “What is your enough-ness? Have you thought about your point of enough?” Because what I find a lot of times, and I’m generalizing a bit here, but we are, particularly in Western culture, we are really over-indexed on stuff. We have more. A lot of people have more than they need in terms of stuff, and whether that’s cars or clothes or physical possessions. But we’re kind of under-indexed on a lot of the humanity stuff. We actually don’t have enough human connection. We don’t have enough dignity. We don’t have enough tolerance. We don’t have enough integrity. So, we’ve got this kind of too much and not enough but not really a sense of what’s in the middle.

And so, I ask people, “What do you have too much of and what do you have too little of?” And too little can include, “I have too few hours in the day,” “I have too little time to spend with my family,” “I have too little…” and you get into this sense of where we have a culture of insufficiency. And so, finding your enough requires getting clear on, “What are you over- and under-indexed on?” And, partly, I’m not giving one specific answer here because everyone’s equation, everyone’s relationship is different because each of us has a different lived-experienced and different things that we’re strong at, weak at, etc.

And so, it’s interesting because even on the enough factor, “Did you grow up with enough love in your household?” I know it sounds a little bit woo-woo but, in fact, not enough love and care as a child will show up in all kinds of ways as an adult but don’t actually get you closer to your enough. You start to compensate for love with money, etc. And so, all of this, I throw out to get people to start peeling back the layers of their own onion around enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s really thought-provoking in terms of what you have too much of and not enough of. And it’s funny, when it comes to money, maybe nobody would say they have too much money but they might say that they have more than enough money, so you can just change the words around a little bit.

April Rinne
Well, what’s interesting, can I…? Oh, sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
Go take it away, yeah.

April Rinne
So, this cycle of more. And, again, to be really clear on all of these things, I am not saying that more is bad or anything. I’m just saying let’s get clear on what’s really what here. I’m not saying that for any of the superpowers, I’m not saying like the counter is not good or bad. It’s more like, “Have you thought about this that there are more options on the table than you might realize?”

Here’s the thing about more though, how many people do you know that say, “I will be happy when…” “I will be successful when…” “I will be…” fill in the blanks, when? When implies that you don’t have something you need. You need more. And, yet, when you get to that point, so let’s just say more money, “When I have more money…” then what do you need? You need more money. It’s no longer enough. You need more.

And you get on this kind of vicious cycle that feeds on itself and that never allows you to acknowledge and rest and be easy with enough. And that’s the part we get stuck, call it a hamster wheel, call it our own monkey brain that’s kind of running laps around our minds, but it keeps people from realizing that, actually, a decision to be happy, it actually can happen right now. And when you realize that you might already have enough, and that’s kind of that’s your point of sufficiency, satisfaction, again not too little, not too much, that’s the kind of contentedness. And we can talk about the difference between happiness and contentedness, but that sense of kind of peace and comfort as opposed to this drive for ever more.

Now, I’m not saying don’t strive, don’t try to do things, and I’m not saying…What’s interesting too is if you want more and more and more, okay, what’s that more going to get you? And this is where it gets super interesting because of the belief that if you want more, let’s just use money, you want more money so that you can hoard it or keep it for yourself, okay, I’m not sure how much better that’s going to make the world.

But if you want more in order that you can share it with others, in order that you can gift it, be generous, help better the lives of others, that’s actually a pretty good more but you’re not keeping that for yourself. So, you start getting into issues around ego and generosity as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess if we talk about hoarding it, like you probably won’t feel much impact in terms of, “I want more money because, I don’t know, going in an unsafe neighborhood with my children, and I’m worried that they’ll be shot.” Okay. Well, if you have more money and you get to a different neighborhood, you’ll probably feel that as an upgrade in the happiness and peace and contentment parts of your life versus, “You know, I’ve got one million in my mutual fund account, and two is just so much cooler,” then you probably won’t even feel that impact at all except when you refresh the page and go, “Oh, two. Nice. Now it should be three.” There you are.

April Rinne
Yeah. And it’s interesting and, if I may, I’m going to share a personal story here because it factors in exactly into what we’re talking about. And it is interesting because a lot of times people are like, “Oh, I want more money because it’s actually a hedge against uncertainty.” And I totally get that. It is kind of the more money you have, the more options you have, the more ways that you can potentially navigate uncertainty and change. That’s somewhat true.

I also would say that that way of thinking can blind you to what’s really needed when we navigate change. And the story I have to tell, it relates to why I ended up writing the book as well, and I sort of mentioned that I bring the lens of a futurist to change, I bring the lens of a global traveler and global citizen, if you will, to change, but I also bring other human and lived-experience with change and uncertainty. And I often say that my journey or my baptism entry into flux began more than 25 years ago when I was in college and both of my parents died in a car accident.

And I share this because I was 20, and speaking of careers and jobs and all of that, 20 is a really interesting age because I was old enough to be living on my own. I was at college. I could take care of myself day to day, but I was young enough, I really did not know how the world worked or my role in it, all of that. And it had a profound effect on how I thought about my career and how I thought about more versus enough.

Now, back then, I never would’ve expected that I’d read a book about this kind of thing. That wasn’t in the plan at all. But I started asking questions at the age of 20 that I now see, many years later, people going through some kind of a mid-life crisis or some kind of real-life, “What is my purpose on earth?” kind of thing. And the question that I would ask myself every day was, “If I were to die tomorrow…” because look what just happened. No one knows how long we have, “If I were to die tomorrow, what would the world need me to do today?”

And it wasn’t about me, like, “What do I need?” my ego. It was, “What does the world need?” because we all have finite time, and we all have a lot we want to contribute and can contribute to others. So, I keep asking myself this question, and then the answer was never “Get more money.” It wasn’t. It was this sense of, “Yes, I need enough money, for sure.” At that point, I was 20, I became, overnight, self-sufficient. There was no back stop. There was no house to go home to, so to speak, when my parents died. It was like, “Okay, I’ve got to figure out a way to move forward.”

And so, it was very clear to me that I needed enough money to be able to take care of myself, but anything over that became like this, “Is that what the world needs from me today?” And it’s interesting because I spend a lot of time talking to people about grief and loss and this kind of change and uncertainty, and, “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” as well. And never, never has the answer been, on someone’s deathbed, that, “Oh, I wish I’d earned more money.” It has definitely been, “I wish I’d prioritized my family more. I wish I’d gone after that job that spoke to my heart, but maybe I would’ve earned a little bit less,” kind of thing.

And so, it’s interesting because even when it comes to how to become awesome at your job, these are the kinds of value judgments and value assessments that we’re doing all the time. And I think one of the best ways to be awesome at your job is to make sure that you’ve got a job that aligns with some of these bigger even existential questions, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. That’s powerful and a lot there. And so, it sounds like you’ve worked through some powerful questions that really get you places. Can you maybe give us a rundown of some of the most insight-provoking questions and how you recommend sitting with them effectively?

April Rinne
What a great question. So, I don’t mean for this to be a pitch for the book but it’s going to sound that way, and that is simply that, at the end of each chapter, I wrote the books because I wanted to help people ask these questions. And these questions that don’t…they don’t have easy answers, and the point is not to come up with the answer. The point is to actually sit with them and think about, “Wow, I’ve been so focused on metrics A, B, C, I hadn’t even paused to consider what might be behind that or this other set of questions.”

So, at the end of each chapter, there are a series of five questions for each chapter that are designed to provoke exactly this kind of thing, and, again, each one tailored to the superpower. So, I’m wondering which one you want start with. What’s interesting is the “Know your enough” is kind of the questions that we were just going after. Like, “What do you have too much of? What do you have too little of? Have you ever thought of that before?” And, also, “Could you draw what enough looks like to you? Don’t write it. Could you draw a picture?”

That gets really interesting because if you have somebody who’s drawing a bunch of houses and cars and stuff, that’s one view of what is more. But then, actually, if you see somebody who draws a kind of Earth where humans are connected and it’s sort of peaceful, that’s still enough but it’s a different worldview. So, that’s “Know your enough.” But let’s just take another one, “Start with trust.” It gets really interesting.

So, generally speaking, are you quick to trust or to mistrust? Just your default, like, if you don’t know otherwise, do you trust or mistrust? And why? Where does that come from? Most people, our tendency and the script that society has taught us is that humans should not trust one another. That, candidly, Pete, I shouldn’t trust you right now and you should not trust me. That’s what society says. And, yet, where did that come from? Like, really? Because we’re in the midst of a trust crisis and trust is the way forward and yet we’re doing everything we can to undermine it.

And so, you start unpacking questions around trust and you start realizing how often, without our even noticing it, we have a narrative in our mind that humans, on average, are not trustworthy. And what’s worse, very few people actually trust themselves. I mean, we learn to. But, like, how does it feel, do you trust yourself? How does it feel when others don’t trust you? Oh, it turns out, you don’t actually generally trust other people.

So, we’re trying to reset our relationship to trust because, as I was saying earlier, trust is the path forward. If we don’t figure out that one thing, there is not a future in which any of us actually can have a lot of hope. But when we learn to start with trust, and what I call design from trust, a whole new universe of opportunities and goodness of others shows up.

So, those kinds of very essential questions. Back to “Run slower” do you feel like you’re running faster today? Why? Where did that come from? When did it start? Is it something you’re driving yourself to do or others are driving you to do it? You got to get this baseline and then you can start saying, “Okay, how do I need to kind of bring the pendulum back, bring more balance, harmony into my life?” And then, in the book, the superpowers are kind of the how-to and what are the practices and disciplines and exercises that you go through to improve that part of your relationship to change.

Pete Mockaitis
And on that trust stuff, it gets me thinking of Dan Ariely’s work, and it’s not bad. Yeah, people do cheat but humans are pretty good. It depends on the context and all kinds of variables that you modify but it could be a lot worse.

April Rinne
Right. Well, I love that you bring that up because I am not saying there aren’t bad apples out there. I’m not saying blind trust, or naïve trust, or just like willy-nilly trust but don’t verify kind of thing. But what’s fascinating to me is that we have designed so many of our structures, institutions, systems, from the basic premise that the average individual cannot be trusted, and that’s the key. Because when we design that if we don’t know, we do not trust.

A minor flip of the switch that, again, you need to account for bad things happening and some people not being trustworthy, but if you treat that as the exception not the rule, you design a different system. And that’s where it gets fascinating because what happens when we design from a premise of mistrust, we throw out so much goodness in people. When I think about, “Would I rather assume that people are good and have an abundance of goodness and generosity show up, and, yeah, I may have to pay a price every now and again, bad calculation, didn’t work out,” versus, “I’m going to live my life assuming that no one is trustworthy, and live in a system that is designed for untrustworthiness?” you’re basically sucking the life out of you and the people around you. So, you do have to be willing that you won’t always get it right, but that price you’re going to pay is worth its weight 10,000-fold over for all the goodness and generosity that you’re going to see instead.

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

April Rinne
Oh, goodness. FluxMindset.com? No, it’s a joy to join you today. I’m really just happy to be able to share more about it. And, yeah, the way I like to put it is when everything is in flux, everything can benefit from a flux mindset. So, there you have it.

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

April Rinne
One of my favorite quotes is inspired by the last superpower, “Let go of the future,” and it’s by Lao Tzu who wrote the Tao Te Ching, and it is, “When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” So, I love that. Lots of good quotes from Lao Tzu.

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

April Rinne
I think one of the books that shows up in Flux, and I continue to refer to time and again, is called The Body Keeps the Score and it’s about the relationship between mind and body, particularly around trauma, but there’s a lot around just anxiety and mental health. And the body of research that’s in this book around how our body holds what our minds and hearts and souls are feeling, but without necessarily words, the ways that shows up and how much we need to pay attention to our bodies, and the kinds of things that we’re holding that we’re often burying, absolutely cannot recommend that book enough.

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

April Rinne
I was thinking about this because it’s so basic and yet so powerful. I use Post-its. I use Post-its for absolutely everything. I have a wall that’s covered in Post-its on any given day. If you ask my husband, when I travel, what’s the first thing I pack on a business trip, it’s actually Post-its. So, it’s simple but it has been my super tool over the years.

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

April Rinne
There are increasingly ones about flux but I actually kind of want to come full circle on this one, back to the handstands. And it does show up a little bit in the superpower “See what’s invisible,” but this whole notion of the upside-down perspective on the world. So, I do have people often quoting some aspects of my handstands and upside-down perspective. Why bring this up is that we are trained to see things, literally, figuratively right-side up. There’s one way that you look at something.

And, yet, this goes beyond change. When we flip our perspective, and here I’ll say literally and figuratively, when we look at something upside-down, we see it completely differently. And what I can tell you is sometimes it looks even better. So, I love this like flip your perspective, go upside-down, see something you’ve been struggling with in a fresh light, you might not only see it better but you might find your solution in your path forward.

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

April Rinne
FlexMindset.com is for all things Flux and book related. AprilRinne.com is my personal site where you will find the handstands.

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

April Rinne
I’m going to show my bias but it is all about think about get clear on your flux baseline, groove a flux mindset, open a flux mindset, harness your flux superpowers, and reshape your relationship to change from the inside out from here on forward.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. April, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your fluxing.

April Rinne
Thank you very much, Pete. And may the flux be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

680: Becoming Unstoppable in the Face of Chaos, Crisis, and Change with Gina Osborn

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Gina Osborn says: "The more you tolerate, the more chaos you're going to have in your life."

Former FBI Special Agent Gina Osborn reveals her top tips for masterfully dealing with the difficulties of chaos, crises, and changes.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to find your footing as a new leader
  2. How to stay cool and calm in the face of a crisis
  3. How to convince others to embrace change

About Gina

Having spent over 28 years in law enforcement, chasing Cold War spies in the Army and terrorists and hackers as an FBI Agent, Gina L. Osborn knows about dealing with chaos, crisis and change.  Through it all, she learned that crises can be managed, chaos can be controlled and change is inevitable.  Gina is a leadership consultant and International Speaker.  She hosts Lead Like a Lady – a Real Life Podcast – featuring inspiring women who have made it to the top in male dominated industries.

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Gina Osborn Interview Transcript

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

Gina Osborn
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we need to start with an exciting FBI story, Gina. Can you give us a riveting tale that tees us up for talking about calm and crises and managing our emotions?

Gina Osborn
I’ve dealt with cyber crises, I led the team that investigated the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack. I dealt with terrorism in Southeast Asia, so, gosh, a specific story. There are so many.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, how about the Sony one if you’re open to suggestion, let’s hear it.

Gina Osborn
Sure. Okay, yeah. So, the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2014, we got a call from Sony Pictures Entertainment who had a very menacing screenshot on all of the computers for Sony Pictures Entertainment, and it said that the Guardians of Peace had taken over their systems and some menacing language about “We told you…” blah, blah, blah.

And, essentially, what the whole thing was about was that North Korea was very unhappy with the way their supreme leader was being depicted in a Seth Rogan-James Franco movie, and they had sent their displeasure to Sony as well as, I think, the State Department. And so, one day, the Monday before Thanksgiving, they pretty much shut everything down. And then, over the course of a couple of weeks, they were putting it out on Pastebin, all the information, emails between the executives, embarrassing emails, content, scripts, things like that. So, yeah, it was pretty devastating.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And how did you resolve it?

Gina Osborn
So, I had a crack team of cyber people that I’m very, very proud of. And they went to work and, within a very short amount of time, they identified North Korea as the culprit. And the investigation continued, and it turned out that North Korea was also behind the WannaCry ransomware that was out that caused, I think, a billion dollars’ worth of loss as well as a hack into the Bank of Bangladesh where they stole, I think, about 81 million dollars. So, my folks wound up indicting some folks over in North Korea, and it was just a very, very interesting insight into how they’re basically funding their nuclear weapons program.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. That’s wild. And so, I understand that when you started that you took over the FBI cyber and computer forensics program, you didn’t have much technical knowledge. Can you tell us how that came to be and how you managed?

Gina Osborn
Yes, I’d like to say that I was a very good leader, but when you don’t have technical credibility with your team, it’s kind of hard to lead. So, I was on the FBI inspection staff. In order for us to get promoted into the executive ranks, we have to do about 18 months on the mothership. So, I went back to Washington, D.C., I was on the inspection staff, and I was a team leader, and none of the other team leaders volunteered to inspect cyber programs because cyber back then, this was like in 2005, it was relatively new, and not a lot of people had the technical expertise to really inspect a cyber program within a field office.

And so, I didn’t learn in the Army not to volunteer for things, which is something I should’ve learned, but I’m glad that I didn’t learn it because I volunteered to go and look at the Chicago office, and they had a very large cyber program. And then I just sort of became the cyber programmatic expert within the inspection staff. And then, right when I was going back to Los Angeles, they had created the first Cyber Assistant Special Agent in Charge position, so I put my hat in the ring, and I wound up getting that.

And, yeah, I definitely had to change my leadership style because I would always lead from the front leader, but when you can’t lead from the front when you don’t have technical knowledge when you’re cyber person, so I became a servant leader, and I got my cyber geniuses, everything they needed to do their jobs, and they were wildly successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then, I’m curious, in terms of just your own, the chatter in your own head and your mindset, when you find yourself in that place, are you like, “Oh, shoot. I’m going to screw up. I’m going to fail. I’m not equipped for this,” like how does your brain go and how do you manage those sorts of thoughts?

Gina Osborn
Well, when I went into the military, I think fewer than 10% of the soldiers were women, and that was in ’87. When I went into the FBI in 1996, there were only 14% of all of the agents were women, so I think I kind of, in the beginning, I had the negative thoughts in my head. I had gone from a cocktail waitress to a counterintelligence agent in the Army pretty much overnight, like within a six-month period.

So, I had experienced those things back in the day but I think, at that point, after I’d been in for about 15 years in law enforcement, I think, really, all of the skill, the leadership traits that I had taken on up until that point had been very masculine leadership traits that didn’t really suit me because I was a very good communicator, a good problem-solver. I was very empathetic. I like to build teams and create relationships and things like that.

So, when I could no longer lead like a man in a male-dominated environment, because my cyber folks kind of forced me into a whole another leadership style, I really began to shine as a leader because I was leading authentically, because I was using the skills that I was authentically good at, as opposed to taking on leadership traits from the men around me. And I was able to build an empire with my team in cyber and computer forensics because everybody had ownership in the mission.

My job was to keep the race horses on the reservation and, like I said, get them everything they needed to do their jobs. So, I became more and more confident in that position because I was leading from the right place.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, can you give us some examples of what are some things that maybe race horses don’t get, or they find frustrating, or where you specifically add value and make their lives great?

Gina Osborn
Well, I would say the communication was a big thing because although I didn’t speak their language, I learned enough about their language to be able to dumb it down to share it with my bosses so I can get them funding and approvals for operations that they wanted to do. So, that was one thing. And we would go to these presentations, and whenever they started to speak over everybody’s head, I was the one where I was kind of saying, “Hey, we need to dumb this down just a little bit so the common person can understand what’s going on.”

I had been at headquarters so I knew where all the money trees at headquarters were, so the way to a cyber person’s heart is through their equipment. And so, they gave me a list, a huge list of equipment that I wanted, and I was able to procure that for them, and really building relationships. I had been in the Los Angeles division for pretty much all of my career, other than my time at headquarters, and I had really good relationships with chiefs of police because I had worked with them when I was a working agent.

So, when my folks needed additional resources because they wanted to build task forces, I could go out to the chiefs, and say, “Hey, can you give us a detective or two so we can have them participate in this upcoming threat, and teach them how to do these cyber investigations,” and that worked really well. And we were able to build a $6 million, or a $7 million state-of-the-art computer forensics lab as a result of relationships that I had, and my team had. And so, really, when I built trust with them by finding how I could contribute, and although it wasn’t technically, I had other things that they really needed, and so that’s how we wound up being a really good team.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so your book Becoming Unstoppable, I’d love to hear more about that. If we’re not already unstoppable, how do we become unstoppable?

Gina Osborn
So, we’re still working on the book. However, I’m an executive coach, and I coach people on how to lead through chaos, crises, and change, because so many times, when we’re looking at, say, chaos, for example. And, really, what is that? That’s the nagging little things that are coming up all the time, and we just are on overload because we’re looking at so many emails, and we’re getting so many phone calls, and COVID, and you’ve got family problems, you’ve got all of these things.

And so, when I talk to people about chaos, the first thing I say is, “What are you tolerating?” Because the more you tolerate, the more chaos you’re going to have in your life. So, when I’m working with my clients, I have them make a list of all of the little nagging things. These aren’t the monumental relationship problems because we can work on those a little bit later, but if you just identify the little, the energy zappers, the annoying things, the things that are keeping you from getting to where you want to be.

And then, just for example, you have boxes in the garage, and you know they need to be unpacked, so every time you pull into the garage, you’re thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve got to unpack those boxes,” or the leaky faucet in the kitchen. That’s another thing that every time you walk into the kitchen, you’re confronted with this leaky faucet. Well, take a couple of hours on a Saturday, have the kids unpack the boxes, call a plumber to fix the kitchen, and then every time you go into the garage, in the kitchen, you’re going to feel that sense of relief, right?

So, if you do that and you start really eliminating these tolerations, you’d be so surprised at how much space that you have to deal with your priorities and getting down the road to where you want to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really interesting. So, things like unpack boxes and dripping faucets can, indeed, impede our ability to move forward on what matters. So, you’re saying the best move isn’t just try to ignore them and hunker down on your priorities, but rather, first, address them.

Gina Osborn
Yes. And when you address enough of them, and you find that you’ve got this extra space, you’re going to be able to see chaos coming from around the corner, and then you’re going to be able to prevent it before it gets into your life.

I can’t stand it when I’m not getting the ball down the field. That’s my place where it just drives me nuts when things come up and I have to deal with other things. And then, all of a sudden, I’m dealing with so many things that I’m not even thinking about getting the ball down the field. But that, if we actively just eliminate the things that we’re tolerating.

And these can also be relationships that we have, they can be arguments that we have with our friends, or our family members, or our significant others that are never going to be won, so why are we even bringing up someone leaving milk glasses around or someone not picking up their dirty laundry or something like that? It’s like why are we having these arguments that we know that are never going to be resolved?

So, I think there’s so much room for us to get rid of that clutter. And once we get rid of that clutter, that’s when we get closer to becoming unstoppable because it’s not the little things that are going to trip us up. We’re going to be prepared for when the big things come down the pike that we’re going to get over or around or under that wall, but no matter what, we’re going to get through that wall.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say it’s not going to be resolved, so let’s not just have this argument, what does that look like in practice?

Gina Osborn
It’s about setting boundaries, and that’s another thing that we need to do in our relationships. Because when you set boundaries, that means we’re going to create a safe place around us to work and live. And, also, it teaches people how to treat us. So, if we know that every time we decide to go down this road, that’s a trigger for an argument, let’s not go down that road. Let’s just agree that this is never going to be resolved. Otherwise, we’re just going to be wasting our time.

So, really, it’s about time management and really recognizing what’s going to get fixed and what if it doesn’t get fixed. Okay, so you leave the milk glasses out. All right. Well, maybe I’m doing something that’s bothering you, and then you can clean up after me in other places. But I think if we just let these unresolved issues just continue to grow, it’s just going to, again, zap our energy and not allow us to get the ball down the field.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess with the milk glass example, you’re freeing yourself from the burden of having that argument repeatedly, and so that mental energy is liberated there. Now, if the milk glasses remain there, and so you’ve got some mental energy drain from seeing them repeatedly. So, is there also sort of an internal mindset shift that occurs there? Or, it seems like, in a way, you’ve eliminated one problem but you still got another.

Gina Osborn
Right. So, you have to make a decision. Either you’re going to pick up the milk glasses and put them in the kitchen or you’re going to argue it, or argue with it. And you have to evaluate, “Is this relationship worth me having to pick these milk glasses up and put them in the kitchen, because this person refuses to do it?”

I mean, maybe it’s just a symptom of a bigger issue. And as we clear out the things that we’re tolerating, we need to evaluate relationships, “Are they working or are they not working? Does it work for you when you see your neighbor, and you’re getting ready to go to work and you’re going to be late because you’re always kind of running late, and then you’ve got a neighbor who wants to talk to you for 20 minutes before they let you out of your driveway?”

So, we just have to set the boundaries so we can choose, “Okay, is this going to be part of my priorities? Is this relationship going to be part of my priorities?” Because if the relationship isn’t going to be part of the priorities, then you don’t have time to spend that 20 minutes with the neighbor. You’re going to have to create some sort of boundary to let them know that this isn’t working for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so then, that’s interesting because you may decide, “I’m okay having no relationship with my neighbor ever.”

Gina Osborn
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And if it goes to the darkest place in terms of, like, “I’m willing to take that risk when they say, ‘Bob, I’m done with the morning conversations.’”

Pete Mockaitis
So, you start with that intent of clarity in terms of “What’s at stake? What’s the risk? Can I live with that?” and then that gives you some power. But, yes, it sounds like that’s where we’re going to go next is how you have those conversations about setting boundaries effectively.

Gina Osborn
Yes. Well, everything can’t be a priority. So, if you want to have time with your family, you want to get a promotion, you want to spend time with your elderly parents and take care of an elderly parent, where does the neighbor come in on the priority list? And everything can’t be a priority. So, if the neighbor has got to go, then, like I said, you can’t do everything right. And that, again, brings chaos into our lives when we don’t have priorities set and everything is a priority, and so all we’re doing is juggling all day, and that doesn’t make for a good quality of life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Great. So, we’ve set up some things here such that your overall mental peace and space is in a better place for when crisis does happen. So, when the crisis happens, maybe first can you define that for us, a crisis? How do you recommend we navigate through it?

Gina Osborn
So, before we go there, just remember that if we don’t deal with chaos, it could very well turn into a crisis so we definitely want to know that the importance of getting rid of the chaos before it becomes a crisis, that’s going to help you in the long run. But what is a crisis? So, a crisis can be anything from a death of a family member, illness, it could be a divorce, it could be any major change, anything that happens at work. If we’re watching the news, there are so many cyber attacks that are happening. That would be considered a crisis as well.

And I’ve had to deal with a lot of these crises between my time in the military as well as my time in the FBI. And so, whenever something major would happen, the first thing I would do is set priorities. First, I want to hear about everything, of course, what’s happening, everything that everybody has, give it to me as the leader. But then I need to set priorities.

And those priorities can change but at least there’s got to be some sort of roadmap out there that, “This is what we’re going to follow until there’s a change.” Now, as new information comes in, you need to be flexible and you need to be able to change with that. It’s also important to have a great team with you. Whenever I would have a crisis, the last person that I would want on my team is somebody who is going to be zapping us of our energy, somebody who would be complaining, somebody who wouldn’t be working as hard as everybody else. So, you definitely want to choose a good team around you to deal with the crisis and eliminate anything that’s getting in your way of going down the road to getting your priorities checked.

And then it’s just working every day and keeping your eye on the ball and getting through it. I think a lot of time, people maybe give up before the crisis is dealt with but, sometimes, we don’t have that luxury. But a lot of times, people will grieve for a very, very long time because they choose not to deal with the crisis. So, I think when there’s a crisis, or I know when there’s a crisis, setting priorities, having a good team, having a roadmap to get to the end of dealing with a crisis, and also knowing what success looks like so that there can be an end to what this crisis is.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, when it comes to the setting of priorities, how do you recommend we arrive at them? Like, are there some key questions or a thought process that you go through?

Gina Osborn
Well, my crisis would be different than other people’s crisis, but if you look at what the crisis is and, really, identify, “Okay, again, what does success look like? Where are we going with this? Are we going to be mired in the crisis until it chews it up and spits it out? Or, how do we get out of it or evolve out of what’s happening now?” So, really, that’s where the priorities come in, and setting those priorities of, “Okay, we’re going to do X, Y, and Z. And this is what we’re going to do until this time.” It’s very important to know where you’re going as opposed to just being stuck into an undertow of a crisis.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess what’s tricky about a crisis is that there could be very well be dozens of directions that feel kind of urgent all at once. So, maybe could you walk us through an example of, hey, crisis appeared, and here’s how you arrived at the priorities, and what they were?

Gina Osborn
Sure. So, with Sony Pictures Entertainment, looking at, “Okay, we have this crisis because we’ve got a company that’s on American soil that has been attacked by an adversary, a nation state. That is a problem. Okay, what do we know? So, send people out, get the team together, identify who’s going to be on this team, who has the skills to be able to identify who did it,” because that’s what the FBI does is they conduct the investigation.

Also, we had to be mindful as to what was going on with the victim company because, I think, 47,000 – someone will have to check my math – employees and former employees, all their information, their Social Security numbers, privately owned everything was out there in the wind. So, now you have a workforce that’s been victimized so we had to address that by giving presentations about identity theft, and also having great…there is a huge media push, wanting to know what was going on, what happened to Sony, all of this information was coming out about every three days, it was posted to Pastebin by the adversary, so that was going on. So, really, understanding what success looked like as far as helping the victim get through it. And then working every day to conduct the investigation so that we can identify who did it and bring those people to justice.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re in the midst of things and if you find yourself freaking out, how do you return to calm and collected and wise?

Gina Osborn
Well, as a leader, you can’t really freak out because the biggest way to lose trust with your team is through unpredictable behavior. So, if you are going to be leading a crisis, it is very important for you to maintain your people’s trust and confidence by keeping a cool and level head, and really leading. But there are times, in the middle of a crisis, that people are going to get tired, and that’s why it’s so important to have a good team around you.

If you’re going through a divorce, if you’re dealing with an illness, different things can happen within a family, making sure you have that team. A lot of people are fearful or they’re embarrassed or they’re ashamed in reaching out to other people to ask for help. I don’t know about you, Pete, but whenever somebody is going through a problem and they ask me for my help, I am honored to help them out with the problem. And I think a lot of people feel that way, so people shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help because if you’re going through something very, very difficult, you don’t have to do it alone. Get a team around you that’s going to help you through that crisis, and that’s very, very important.

So, whenever I would get tired, I mean, I had other leaders that I work with, and they were doing a great job, so, really, that’s why you have a great team around you because sometimes you can’t throw the punches every day. Sometimes you got to sit down and rest for a minute, and that’s why you have a good team around you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we talked about the chaos, we talked about the crisis. Now, how about change?

Gina Osborn
Change is inevitable. Change is going to happen. And I’ve worked with some clients who have a very, very strong culture and tradition, and their workforce is resistant to change. In fact, I dealt with it myself when I was with the FBI, especially after 9/11. How do you go from being a criminal investigative organization to a national security intelligence gathering organization? We went from investigators to intelligence collectors almost overnight. And so, how do you take a workforce that were working gangs and drugs and organized crime and bank robberies, and tell them that they’re going to work terrorism now?

So, I definitely got an education because I was counterterrorism coordinator in Los Angeles after 9/11, and we had to create 15 terrorism squads within like an 18-month period. And so, really trying to enlist people and giving them ownership and being part of the change, that’s going to break down the resistance as opposed to saying, “This is how we’re going to do it,” and then do it. I don’t think…it has to come from the top down. I think it has to be very collaborative when you’re trying to turn the ship, do a U-turn on a great big ship, and it doesn’t come overnight.

But people are going to be resistant to change and, again, it comes with communication, “How can I communicate this change? How can I get people involved? How can we give them ownership in having this change take place?” And I think the more people who are involved, the more it’s going to be an easier change for people. But, yeah, when you’re steep in culture and tradition, it’s very difficult to change, but it can happen.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you’re having some of those communications in one-on-one or in small groups, and trying to bring about some additional ownership, do you have any favorite approaches or phrases? What do those conversations look, sound, feel like?

Gina Osborn
Oh, boy, my favorite military phrases. “This isn’t a volunteer army,” sometimes. It just depends on what situation you’re in. But I think it’s really important as a leader to understand why there’s resistance because sometimes resistance, I mean, most of the time resistance is going to be fear-based. So, they don’t understand it, maybe they don’t think it needs to happen, maybe they’re afraid that with the change comes other responsibilities that the employee may not feel that they’re going to be able to do.

So, I think really understanding where the resistance is coming from and addressing those issues. Okay, so perhaps it’s a training issue, so bring training in and talk about it. Talk about what the change is going to look like, and talk about the reason for the change. If that’s communicated, I think people, “Okay, I understand that so maybe I’ll get on board.” But it is a process. If you’re in a resistant workforce to make change, but change can happen but you have to be consistent with it.

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

Gina Osborn
If anybody is looking to eliminate chaos from their life, for your audience, Pete, I have a free e-book called 7 Key Ways to Eliminate Chaos From Your Life and From Your Business. And if they go to GinaLOsborn.com, they can
download that e-book for free.

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

Gina Osborn
Okay, I’m going to modify it a little bit, “She who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.” And that’s a modified quote from Albert Einstein.

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

Gina Osborn
I’m learning patience. I’m still a work in progress but I think I’m a big believer in embracing your weaknesses because your imperfections are what make you extraordinary. So, yes, these days I’m kind of working on patience a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Gina Osborn
I like to play. I definitely like to play. I like to write. I like to fly kites. Any playful things, I just really enjoy doing. Letting the little Gina inside me go out and have fun. That’s always good.

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

Gina Osborn
You know, it’s funny, yes. My dream when I went into the military was to work for the CIA, and I didn’t get into the CIA, and it was devastating to me. But I had to figure something else out, so I like to say that even if your ship comes in, if your port is not built, your ship is not going to come in to where you need to be. So, you definitely need to work on your port to make sure that you’re prepared for when your ship comes in. So, yeah, I’m a big believer in that.

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

Gina Osborn
I would say you can listen to me on my podcast. It’s called Lead Like a Lady. And it features remarkable women who have made it to the top in male-dominated fields. And I also have another podcast called Behind the Crime Scene, which is a true crime podcast. You can find those on your favorite podcast provider. And I’m also an executive coach. And for more information about that, you can go to GinaLOsborn.com.

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

Gina Osborn
I would say lead authentically. Be who you are. Embrace whatever things that you’re really good at and don’t take on the leadership characteristics of other people just because you want to lead like they do. It’s so important to really embrace who you are and to lead authentically because you really can’t fake it to make it when you’re in a leadership position because people will notice that right off the bat. You’re not going to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.

But when you lead authentically and you really rely on the things that you’re really good at, no matter what it is, do an assessment and find out what your strengths are, if you rely on those things and make it your contribution using your leadership skills, and lead like an authentic leader, I think you’re going to be much better down the road.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Gina, thanks for this, and I wish you lots of luck in the crises to come.

Gina Osborn
Thank you very much, Pete.

671: How to Make Change Happen Faster, Easier, and Better with Jake Jacobs

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Jake Jacobs reveals why organizational change doesn’t have to be difficult and provides  key levers that make the difference.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to keep change from becoming overwhelming 
  2. The hack to accelerate change 
  3. How leaders accidentally kill enthusiasm for change 

About Jake

Jake Jacobs helps organizations, teams, and individuals make monumental changes. He’s worked in 61 industries, from high tech to manufacturing. He’s consulted for 96 organizations, from Fortune 50 to community theaters and supported more than 210,000 people in changing strategy, creating cultures, and mergers and acquisitions. 

Jake has partnered with CEOs, front-line workers and middle management at Ford, Kraft and Marriott. He’s also helped create change in the City of New York, U.K.’s National Health Service, and the United States Army and Navy. 

Clients call Jake when they need faster, easier, better results. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Jake Jacobs Interview Transcript

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

Jake Jacobs
Thanks so much, Pete. I’m glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to have you and I’ve got so many things I want to hear from you about how to leverage change but the first thing I want to hear from you is about your massive baseball card collection. What’s the story here?

Jake Jacobs
Well, first of all, we should tell your listeners it’s 45,000 cards, so for some people that’s considered massive; for others it’s just puny. But I started when I was about eight and just got the bubble gum and the packages, and then I hit about 15 and decided this was a potential way to send my kids to college at some point. And so I started ordering full sets and not opening them, which took the fun out of it but at 15 you’re kind of moving onto girls and other things. So, it sits actually in my parents’ basement, Pete, all 45,000. They’re not even with me. I moved into a house that I fell in love with a woman five doors down, so I can keep a ready eye on those cards.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Now, 45,000 cards, how much space does that consume in a basement?

Jake Jacobs
It’s a healthy pile. It’s a healthy pile. I think it’d go about waist high. And if I did the splits, I’m not terribly flexible, but if I did the splits it’d probably be about that far wide.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. That’s substantial. And then, in the basement, are you worried about flooding? What’s the estimated value when you think on this collection here?

Jake Jacobs
No, you haven’t met my father so there’s no flooding in that basement, brother. And I do have several Mickey Mantles and one card when the Padres were going to move to Washington. Nobody remembers this, but in ’72 they were going to move to Washington and they printed 500 cards with Washington on the card and then they decided not to go to Washington, so I’ve got one of those 500 cards. So, who knows? Neither of my kids ended up going to college.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, hotdog. There are just so much there in terms of do you view these as an economic-type investment or do you go and look at them from time to time? I’m just fascinated by people with big collections.

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. On podcasts that I’m on, generally, Pete, I refer to the economic benefits because some people think that I’m crazy having that many baseball cards and possibly even immature. But in my place in the world, I have a heart connection to them because it brings me back to mark, row, sorting baseball cards, putting rubber bands around them with the teams in little pieces of paper, and so I don’t need to open them, and I figure, yes, they’d be worth more if I don’t open them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fun. Well, so now we’re going to talk about leveraging change. I don’t have a great segue there. Just as sometimes teams change locations and then don’t change locations, some organizations fail to follow through with their changes.

Jake Jacobs
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, can you give us the rundown on when it comes to change in organizations, how often do those changes succeed versus fail and what’s behind that?

Jake Jacobs
Well, if you go by the Ready Reports, and in this is in the Harvard Business Review, this is in the Sloan journal, there’s all kinds of books that had been written on this, and the common number is 70% fall short of the objectives they set out to achieve. So, that doesn’t mean that they fell on their face, it just means that what set on to achieve, they didn’t. This is going to sound odd, but I actually, in 35 years of doing this work and had great mentors so this is not all on me, I had some of the mentors who started my field of organizational change, but I haven’t had a client disappointed.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jake Jacobs
After all that time and all that work. And I think part of it, Pete, goes back to like a “Never say no” attitude. So, if we haven’t gotten done what we need to then we’re not done with the work that we set out to achieve. And so, that notion of continuous improvement and hanging in there, and so when I work with clients, we get very clear on the outcomes at the beginning and what the deliverables are, and that’s what we work to. And I don’t have a clock going. Some consultants track things by time, I track things by outcomes. So, if we’re short of the outcomes, then there’s work to be done.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay, cool. Well, sounds like a good consultant work. Good stuff. Well, so then you’ve packaged a good bit of your learnings and insights when it comes to change in your book, Leverage Change: 8 Ways to Achieve Faster, Easier, Better Results. So, can you maybe hit us with a power punch to start. What’s a particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discovery you’ve made in your decades of work on change when it comes to change? Like, what’s something most of us don’t know but should know about this?

Jake Jacobs
Sure. So, Pete, what I would say is that you, your listeners, people who’ve written about change, studied change, practice change, both been changed and changed others, that’s what they focus on is, “What’s going to be different? What’s changed? What’s going to be different?” And at face value it makes sense. I mean, it’s what you’re trying to accomplish so why wouldn’t you focus on it?

I talk with my clients about what not to change. Now this is a different perspective. It’s what I call a paradoxical approach. So, each of the levers in this book states a common problem that organizations and people bump up against when they’re trying to bring about successful change. And then I have a lever, or a strategic action, a high-impact action, people can take to remedy that problem.

So, in organizations where there’s too much change, a lot of people talk about change fatigue, it’s like, “Oh, there’s one more coming down the pipe,” and what people hope for is, “This, too, shall pass. So, maybe we can get another leader and survive this change effort.” And I have a lever that’s called “Pay attention to continuity,” so what not to change.

And what I tell clients, very simply, is to make a list of all those changes that are going to occur in their organization. And they make a list, it’s a couple of flipcharts long, and it gets a little depressing in the room because it’s overwhelming. You’re surrounding yourself by all of these things that you’ve got to do differently. Then I tell them, “All right, we’re going to change gears. Now, what I’d like you to do is make a list of all those things that are going to stay the same, that are based on continuity. This time I want you to make the list twice as long.”

Well, people have a lot of ideas once they start thinking about what’s going to keep going the way that it’s always been, whether it’s who they work with, how they get paid, where they work, I mean, all kinds of things stay the same. But once they see this continuity lever, it shifts the energy in the room, it shifts the purpose that people have, how driven they are going to work. It changes the organization.

And I think that all of this focus on change is good and right, and it’s half the story. And it’s like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together with half the pieces. You get a great picture of what’s on half that front of the board but you’ve missed half of reality. And so, that’s one that I think has been really powerful with people that I’ve worked with.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I mean, that sounds powerful right there in terms of just the feelings you get, when everything is changing, is kind of uncomfortable. It’s sort of like a rising sense of, I don’t know, dread, anxiety, overwhelm.

Jake Jacobs
Those are good words.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you think about all the stuff that’s going to stay the same, it almost feels like after that it’s like, “Oh, no big deal. Okay, so I still got the same boss, I still got the same colleagues, I still get paid the same amount at the same frequency, I go to the same office, I use the same computer. Oh, but a couple of the software programs we’re using to insert inventory orders, or whatever, is going to be different? Okay.” It’s like, “What are we so stressed out about? Game on.”

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. And it really is I think it’s an emotional thing. I think that change goes to the heart of empowerment. And I’ve had clients tell me, “Everybody minds being changed and that people don’t necessarily mind change.” And so, if I’ve got my hands on the steering wheel and I’m starting to make some decisions about my future and I see that some of those are repeating the past, the way I describe it is that people find much firmer footing on that continuity side of the cliff, if you will, and they get a much firmer push-off into the unknown future. And so, you can be a lot more confident about how far you’re going to get because you’ve paid attention to the continuity.

So, when I even have executives give townhalls or they do communications, I had a client once that literally, in the working sessions that we held, it was about a rapid growth strategy and they needed to change a lot of things about how they did business and their roles and relationships and all kinds of stuff. And, in the meeting itself, he made sure that every time they worked on an issue around change, they worked on the same side of the issue but dealing with continuity.

And it was a very powerful session because it gave people permission at some basic human level to reclaim what was theirs. And I think that envisioning and creating our future is the most powerful thing that we can have and making that possible by reminding people of the things that are going to stay the same makes a big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, heck, Jake, let’s just get into it. That’s one lever and that’s beautiful. You’ve got eight of them. So, you tell me, should we just maybe do a quick overview and then dig deep into perhaps two or three more that make a world of difference for a lot of folks?

Jake Jacobs
Sure. I’ll tell you what the problems are that people bump up against and then just a short bit on the lever because I think there are a few that can lead to immediate action that people can take. Levers can be used by individuals, teams, organizations. They can be used with existing methods that people already have in place, and it’s like, “No, no, don’t give that up. Build on it and turbocharge it.”

They can be used at the beginning of a change effort or in the middle. They can even be used as informal tools where you don’t have a formal change effort but you’re just looking to do business a new way because the subtitle of the book says, 8 Ways to Achieve Faster, Easier, Better Results. So, if you’re into faster, easier, better results, these are good things for you.

And let me say one quick thing, Pete, because people may wonder, “Why levers? Like, what does this mean?” And it comes from a story about Archimedes who was a 3rd century BC Greek mathematician, and he was known for describing the power of leverage by saying, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and, single-handed, I shall move the world.”

And so, I believe people can move their worlds in the arena of change by taking these levers and putting them under with the right results with a fulcrum and making change, something that can be faster, easier, and better.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. All right. Well, let’s hear some levers. Well, problems and levers.

Jake Jacobs
So, “Change takes too long.” Now this is one that you hear a lot from leaders and there is a lever, and I think I can talk more about this, which is “Think and act as if the future were now,” right? That’s number two. We’ve got one, “People reject your approach because it’s not invented here.” So, a lot of people will say, “Have you ever done this in my industry? Have you ever done this with an organization my side? Have you ever done it…?” And the answer to that is “Design it yourself.” There’s a lever that talks about “Taking the best of what you’ve used and actually looking back at your own organization’s capabilities with change and putting that into place.” So, design it yourself.

There’s “People don’t know enough to make good decisions.” In a lot of organizations, leaders appear to be making decisions that don’t make sense to frontline employees, and frontline employees are taking actions that leaves to throw their hands up. And so, this whole notion about not knowing enough, I have a lever called “Create a common database,” and it addresses this directly. And I’ve got a great story about that one with a client, too.

Then we’ve got “All change efforts must begin from the top.” So, this is one of my favorite ones because every consultant will come in and they will say, “Start with the senior executive team, get them on board, then cascade this through the organization. One needs to be transformed before they transform others. This is the way it goes.” Well, I say start with impact, follow the energy. So, that means start where you can make a difference and then follow where people want to do the work. And that’s a very different model than the waterfall approach that’s quite common.

So many ask, “What’s in it for me?” So, anybody who’s been in an organization may recognize the “WIIFM” way of talking about this, that’s, “What’s in it for me?” laid out in letters. So, the “What’s in it for me?” a lot of people see this as a problem, asking the question, like selfish, like there’s something wrong with the person asking it. And I look and I say, “No, this is a normal human reaction. This is not unreasonable to be asking ‘What’s in it for me?’”

So, the lever that I developed to address this is called “Develop a future people will want to call their own.” And if I developed a future that I want to be part of, then the “What’s in it for me?” question comes off the table, no longer is an issue. People get to only do their routine work of their daily job. Now I’m not saying that that’s unimportant but what I’m saying is that people yearn to make a significant contribution in their lives whether it’s in their places of worship, in their families, in their communities. It’s also true at work. And so, finding ways for people to make a meaningful difference is another one of these levers.

And then the last one. So, “People’s plates are already full.” You hear this all the time at organizations, they’re like, “I don’t want to take on change. I’ve already got enough to do.” And I have a lever that reframes this to say, “Make change work part of daily work,” that it shouldn’t be another item on the agenda, it shouldn’t be the meeting on Friday afternoon. You should be looking at it every day in everything you do, and that will actually change both your paradigm of what’s going on but also your experience of it.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to this extra bolt-on thing, it is rather the thing.

Jake Jacobs
Yeah, and it’s part of it. I had a client that was a team and they were looking at improving their performance, and they did an assessment and I was working with them instead of somebody else, and so they were like, “Well, let’s put a sub-team together, a committee, and they’ll study this,” and all this extra work that people resisted.

And I said, “No, no, let’s make this part of your weekly meeting. Every week we’re going to do something that improves your performance, whatever it may be.” And we started out taking part of the next meeting with feedback and the boss getting feedback first, and deciding what to do differently. But rather than separating change as “Another event, another item, that I got to deal with,” make it part of daily work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, so let’s hear about the common database. You said you’ve got a great story there. Let’s hear it.

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this was in a merger and acquisition. And in that merger and acquisition, they needed to get a lot of people on board with the culture change. One of the organizations, I’m not going to be mentioning the organizations, but was a little slower, a little less rigorous, and worse-performing, and the other one was on the better side of that coin. So, what we needed to do was get everybody up to speed on what was going on with the merger and acquisition.

What we had were meetings. This actually took place around the world 200 people at a time but they don’t have to. You could do this with 10 people around a table. But what we did is we taught the frontline people about convertible bonds and debt and floating interest rates and all these things that the CFO and their people should be paying attention to, but what they were asking of these frontline people would not make sense unless they understood these business terms.

And so, they got a mini-MBA as part of these sessions. And that’s about people knowing enough to make good decisions. And so, that common database, it’s different for everybody. I do these LinkedIn videos, and one of them that I put up recently was “Do you know something that somebody else should know? Don’t keep it a secret.” So, this basic question of, “Do I know something, Pete, that you should know to be able to do your job better?” then it’s my responsibility to reach out and make sure that you know it rather than being too busy with my own work or having these senior leaders say, “People aren’t getting on board.”

Well, they don’t have the information you do. They don’t understand what the payoff is if we make these numbers this year instead of next year, and how much money saved, and what their bonus could be, and all those questions, I think, in that situation, needed to be information everybody knew. So, you get a mini-MBA if you need it as part of the work that I do.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s intriguing, and I recall, boy, with my very first internships. My boss, Kevin, we were working in channel strategy for electrical components in terms of like, “How can we get distributors to sell more of our stuff,” basically is what we’re trying to figure out.

Jake Jacobs
Good internship.

Pete Mockaitis
And he mentioned, numerous times, how he did a training in finance, and that he thought of it again and again and again with regard to what shows up with like the share price and the earnings and the expectations, and how things bubble up. And I thought that was interesting in that that’s not sort of directly essential to know that, and, yet, everything you hear from the CEO just makes a bit more sense forever when you have that internalized. And I want to hear you elaborate on how the frontline workers understanding the convertible bonds improved what they were doing.

Jake Jacobs
Well, for one thing, it shifted their motivation immediately because if you understand that if you pay off that debt sooner, you save money for the company. And that money for the company, yeah, it’ll go into innovation, and it’ll go into next year’s budget, but some of it was going to go into their pocket. So, understanding the relationship between how fast they paid this debt off and what they could buy at Christmas was fundamental. They didn’t understand that.

And once they understood that the floating interest rate was there and why was it that they paid so much for this other company if it was underperforming, they understood what it meant to have those assets and what it meant to open new markets that they weren’t in previously on a global scale. And so, rather than just being US-based, they diversified their risks by going global and they diversified their customer base.

And all of these things which could’ve been on the rumor mill, which is very efficient, it’s one of the most effective communication strategies any organizations had, but around the rumor mill they were like, “We paid all this money for this company, and why did we? Look, they can’t even do their regular jobs right.” And that was the scuttlebutt on the street. And when they understood what that new business made possible for them, it made a lot more sense.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool in terms of immediate motivation for your compensation this year and what you can do as well as I think just enhancing some trust forever in terms of, “Okay, our senior leaders aren’t morons. In fact, they got a deep understanding of this thing, I’m just now learning about, that has implications for what we’re up to, okay. And I see how I fit into this.” So, even if there is not that direct connection to, “What can I buy at Christmas?” there’s a huge, I think, emotional energy lift that occurs there. So, that’s beautiful. Thank you.

Jake Jacobs
Sure. One other thing I’ll just jump in with, Pete, this is not just about people who don’t have to do with finance getting financial information. This is like even about what I do on my daily job and having information. So, years ago, there was something called open-book management that came out, and in plants and factories, they would post numbers on production numbers, and people hadn’t seen those before. They didn’t know what they were.

So, it’s not always this big leap in logic to say, “Well, we should teach somebody who’s on an oil platform enough to get an MBA.” But it’s like within your own team, do you know things that other people know? And like I said, if you’re keeping it a secret and you’re frustrated that your team is not performing well, then, I don’t know, it was Michael Jackson who said, “Take a look in the mirror and you might realize that you’ve got a lot more power in this situation than you thought you did.”

Pete Mockaitis
And just while we’re here, what are some things leaders ought not to disclose to more junior team members? Is more transparency, more openness always better? Or are there some guidelines, or limits, or times less is…?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, there’s an approach that I take that really says you can have too much of a good thing, that there needs to be a balance between the sharing of information and the protection of information. And so, I worked with the Department of Defense and there was a lot of information they weren’t meant to share with other people. But if I have personal information about your performance, about the issues that you’re working on, about your family, about your development plan, there are a lot of things that I might know about you as a direct report of mine, and it’s probably not appropriate to be sharing all of that. It’s not helpful.

So, one of the things I would tell your listeners, and this answers the question simply, directly, and, I would argue, correctly, which is, “What do these people need to know to do a great job for this business and themselves?” And if you can answer yes to that 95% of the time, it’s a good thing to be talking about. And if sharing this is not going to make a profound difference for the performance of that team or that organization, like me talking about your personal issues, it doesn’t have a place in that, then they’re going to be safe sharing the information, and they’re going to be in a good place to protect what shouldn’t be shared.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, could you give us another story about a lever and action that made all the difference?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this is the one, when I talk about it, Pete, think it’s most unique. And it’s the one about change taking too long, that it being too slow, and leaders happen to complain about this a lot because they see what the benefits are, what needs to be different, and they’re trying to get things to move faster and they’re not for whatever reason. And I came up with this lever called “Think and act as if the future were now.”

So, what this means, it’s a paradigm shift, you got to think differently. Rather than the future being something that’s out there that will occur later, which sounds like common sense, what we’re going to do is we’re going to get some image of that future, however clear we can be, grab hold of that image of the future, pull it back into the present, and start thinking and acting as if that were our present now.

So, here’s a story that I have. There was a group of executives who were in deep debate, they had a day-long meeting set aside to figure out how to come up with a sales strategy in this new market, and they spent the whole morning arguing passionately about it, not as an unhealthy team. I mean, they listened to each other, but they came up with two answers to the question by lunch. And then people started to pick on sides and I could start to see this was not going to be a helpful way to spend the afternoon.

Now, this organization had said they wanted to create a participative culture. So, knowing my lever, I said to them, “Well, what could you do to create a more participative culture around this sales strategy issue?” Some of them looked around the table, didn’t know what to do, but there were a few of them who said, “Well, we’d probably get more salespeople involved in this conversation.” And that seemed to make sense to everybody.

So, they got out their version of a calendar, whatever it was at that point, and they started to make a meeting for next week when they would bring these people in. So, I saw this as a big, fat fastball down the middle, to go back to my baseball cards. And I thought, “All you got to do is swing,” because it’s going to make a lot of sense. And by that, I mean, I said, “Why wait for next week? You said you wanted to make a difference. And if you think and act as if the future were now, if you became that participative organization right here and right now at lunch, what would you do? Be in that future.”

And they said, “Well, we would grab the salespeople who were walking the halls here, and we would call up the ones that are out in the field, and we’d probably might even get some customers involved in this because we said we wanted to be bridging relationships with them.” And I said, “Great. Set it up for 1:00 o’clock, finish lunch, and let’s go to work.”

And what they found in the afternoon was this common database lever came into play, and a lot more people learned about what the issues were, and people on the frontlines talking about a new region of business, they had opened new regions before, they knew what was needed, they knew what was going to be a good or a bad idea.

And so, by learning that and by thinking and acting as if that participative organization was part of one that they were members of, they came up with an entirely different solution. It was a third solution that nobody in the morning had come up with but one that everybody in the room, customers included who were in on the phone, thought, “I got a lot more confidence in this being a path to take.” And what they found was they opened that new region faster than they’ve ever opened another region before, and it got to profitability faster than any region had before.

So, they came up with a good idea but it goes back, for me, to this, “Well, do we want to wait a week?” No, you lose time, you lose money, you lose energy, you lose political capital, all of these things. Why wait to get a better answer when you can start behaving as if you already knew it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. And I think it’d be really fun if you are a salesperson in that afternoon who are just kind of surprised, pulled into a room full of senior executives, like, “Oh, okay. Well, I feel kind of special and important right now.”

Jake Jacobs
A little nervous too.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And then that creates all sorts of good things in terms of some of the other levers with regard to they all make meaningful difference in that work and bringing it together.

Jake Jacobs
Absolutely. Absolutely. And the levers, Pete, work together that way so you can focus on one and start to make gains on two more where you don’t have to think, “Well, let me find a meaningful way for people to contribute. Let me find a way to create a common database.” They were working on thinking as if the future were now, and they got freebies in terms of what the results were on those other two.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, can you tell us, Jake, what are some key things to not do when we’re trying to get a change going?

Jake Jacobs
Yes. So, one of them, I think, is the notion that people see change as something that happens to them instead of with them. And so, if you can engage people in conversations that matter about their future and talk about the meaningful difference that they can make, avoiding those conversations, being nervous about those conversations.

I once had a client, it was a plant, and they were going to close. It was in Cleveland, it was a casting plant, I won’t tell you the company, but it was going to close. And so, they held a big meeting, there were 300 people, to talk about it. And there’s one woman who stood up and she said, “Look, if closing this plant is going to create an opportunity for my son to work at the plant the next town over, I’m willing to close it here.” The place went dead silent and it’s like, “Was she serious?” I mean, that’s something that you’re not really supposed to be talking about. It doesn’t make sense to talk about and, yet, for her, she decided that that was important.

So, a lot of people, when they deal with change, emotion is something that’s off the table. You shouldn’t be talking about how people feel. And what she did is she put on the table, her bare to her soul, and I’ve worked with clients a lot of times. I had a leader once who basically said, “We’re not dealing with feelings; we deal with facts and figures in here.” And his people were dying because of the support they needed and they couldn’t even ask for it because they saw it as a sign of weakness.

And so, if you can create a culture in your team or your organization, where people can speak the truth, and including their emotions and put it on the table, even this woman, it was a safe enough environment for her to stand up and say, “Look, I’ll put my job on the line.” But I think, too often, we look at change as a project, and it’s got deadlines, and it’s milestones, and it’s got resources, and it gets very cold and calculated, and we’re dealing with human beings, and that’s not how we’re wired.

Sure, you’ve got to pay attention to all those things but if you’re not looking at people’s experience of the change and asking them, “What’s going to make it better?” you don’t have to have the answers, but if you ask them, they know most of the time what’s going to work better for them. And so, that ask, and then you got to listen. So, if you’re asking and don’t pay attention, you’re in worse shape than if you hadn’t asked in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
“Man, you don’t care.”

Jake Jacobs
Right. Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football, and Lucy pulls the football out and Charlie Brown ends up on his backside. It’s like asking people what they need and then ignoring it entirely – not smart.

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

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this one is actually one that I’ve used a lot of ways in a lot of places. So, this comes from Thomas Jefferson and it goes back to 1820, and he said, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves. And if we think they’re not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is to not take it from them but to inform their discretion.”

So, I think what he was saying is if people don’t know enough to be smart about decisions they need to make, then educate them. Help them make good decisions. Don’t take those decisions away from them. So, I’m a big believer in engagement in organizations for all the right reasons. It’s not right all the time but in a lot of organizations today, we err on the side of not informing discretion. So, I think that’s less of an issue for most people to deal with, but I think Thomas Jefferson in 1820 had it pretty darn well.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, now could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. My mentor’s mentor, Ron Lippitt, people don’t believe this but actually, was a significant player in the invention of flipcharts, being if you want to claim the fame. Ron was at the University of Michigan, and what he studied was the difference between what he called preferred futuring and problem-solving. So, what he did is he gave two groups the same situation. One of them was to go about it as solving a problem, “What’s wrong? What do we need to do to fix it?” The other, he came up with this thing called preferred futuring, which said, “We’re in our future and what did we do to get there?”

And what they found at the end of this study was that people who were in the problem-solving group had less energy at the end, greater blame on other people, and they had reduction of pain solutions. So, it’s like, “It won’t be as bad if we do this than it normally would.” The preferred futuring group was the exact opposite. They were more energized at the end, they took more ownership of the situation, and they found innovative solutions to their problems.

So, this preferred futuring is actually the precursor or the father of all the visioning work done in organizations today. Until that time when Ron did this experiment, problem-solving ruled the day, and this was in the ‘40s, but he had the insight to say, “Maybe there’s another way.” And now it’s so commonplace, people would look at you like they had their heads screwed on backwards if you didn’t think about what the vision for your organization was going to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jake Jacobs
So, for me, I think that my favorite book is a book called The Practical Theorist. It was written by a guy named Al Marrow, and it was written about the founder of my field of organization change, his name was Kurt Lewin. And The Practical Theorist was saying, Lewin said, “There’s nothing so practical as a good theory.”

So, to me, it’s very concrete because I love the story. It’s very useful for the listeners. He was in Germany before World War II, and they used to sit and have coffee at the cafes, if you can imagine, and students would sit with them, and they had this wondering about, “Would the waitress remember the bill better before or after it was paid?”

And what they decided was it was going to be before it was paid. Other people decided after. So, they asked the waitress what it was before and what it was after. She could remember to the Deutsche Mark before it was paid, she had no idea what it was afterwards. A woman named Bluma Zeigarnik took this on as her doctoral thesis and it became known as The Zeigarnik Effect.

And what it says is that people have greater recall and motivation to go back to unfinished tasks. So, don’t tie a bow around something at the end of the day or the end of a meeting. Keep it open and you will find that people would be more motivated to go back to it the next day, or the next meeting, than if you finished something at the end of the meeting. So, a lot of times there’s this mad rush to get through the last slide or to get the last agenda item covered, and I would say don’t. Leave it for next time and you’ll find a lot more energy to work on it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. And, likewise, I think, for, I don’t know, books, movies, stories, TV shows, like if the story is not quite finished, it’s like, “Ooh, what’s going to happen?” You got to know and you keep going.

Jake Jacobs
Absolutely. I think a lot of sitcom writers probably studied Kurt Lewin before they got into sitcom-writing.

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

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this one for me is that I find that listening is the most powerful tool that I have at my disposal and it’s readily available anytime, place, or with anyone. And when I say listening, I mean listening to see the world through their eyes. And so, I talk with my clients about four magic words that they can use whenever they’re in trouble. It’s like you get a little hot under the collar, you start breathing a little faster, you start interrupting the other person, like we all know what it looks like for our own version of that.

And I tell them, “As soon as you start to feel that happen, say, ‘Could you say more?’” And that gives an invitation to the other person that they have the floor still, and it creates a safe place for that person to go deeper into whatever it was that they were saying because you’re inviting them. So, when I give you an invitation, Pete, that says, “Could you say more?” you’re going to feel better about sharing it with me.

And the other thing it does is it interrupts that whole building of interruption and heat and breathing, all those things when we get a little ticked off. But when you say, “Could you say more?” well, one thing is they see Jake in their face saying, “Say it,” and hopefully your listeners will hear me next time they get in that situation. But it’s very practical advice. I think, like this guy who wrote the book “The Practical Theorist,” it’s like, “If you can’t put theory and put it into practice, then it’s not worth knowing in the first place.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget that you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this one goes back to that lever about “Think and act as if the future were now.” I interviewed people to put on my website, clients, and half of them came back to me and said, “You know that thing you say about living in the future and making it happen today? That’s been really helpful.” And one of the people said, “Yeah, I went back to my team the next day and there was a guy, after I said that, who was like the chief engineer, had a whole list of things that he needed to start doing differently if he was going to operate and do business in new and better ways.”

And so, that has been something that a lot of people have come back to me and said, “You know, one thing, for sure, that I’ve taken away from my time with you is that quote and putting that quote into practice.”

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it one more time.

Jake Jacobs
“Think and act as if the future were now.”

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

Jake Jacobs
I would point them two places. One, my website JakeJacobsConsulting.com. The other thing that I would encourage them to do, if they’re not on LinkedIn, I’d get on it, but if they’re on it, look me up there, I’m Jake Jacobs. And I’ve got a short Jake on Change, two-minute videos, that I put up there, there’s articles, there’s quotes, there’s all kinds of materials because I believe you go into the world with open arms. And the more you share the more you receive. So, it’s really important to me to make sure that I continue to push my own thinking, and I continue to give whatever gifts I have to other people so it will help them create faster, easier, better results, whatever they may be working on.

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

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. I think that the final challenge is for them to picture a day when the results they’re working on for their change effort are achieved, for them to picture a day when somebody who’s been resistant to their change work comes up to them and says, “I’m really glad I got involved. I’m excited about the future we’re creating,” and to picture a day wherein their organization, faster, easier, better results just become the way of doing business. It’s not something special or different. It’s just the way that we operate.

And if they could sit back and picture those days when those things are happening, I think they end up getting pulled into the future more by what Ron Lippitt would call their preferred future or vision, and less of it is about getting mired trying to solve today’s problems. It’s much better to get pulled forward than pushed from behind.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jake, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish much luck in all the ways you achieve faster, easier, better results.

619: Seth Godin on How to Ship More Great Creative Work…and Why Much of Your Work is Actually “Creative”

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Seth Godin says: "Fear needs to be seen as a compass... because that feeling is telling us we're onto something."

Seth Godin debunks persistent myths about creativity to show how professionals can deliver more creative output at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The real reason why we don’t think we’re creative 
  2. The most effective way to overcome creative block 
  3. Why you should embrace your impostor syndrome 

 

About Seth

Seth Godin is the author of nineteen international bestsellers that have been translated into over 35 languages, and have changed the way people think about marketing and work. 

He’s a recent inductee to the Marketing Hall of Fame, and also a member of the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, and the Guerrilla Marketing Hall of Fame. 

In addition to his writing and speaking, Seth was founder and CEO of Squidoo.com. His blog (find it by typing “seth” into Google) is the most popular marketing blog in the world. Before his work as a writer and blogger, Seth was Vice President of Direct Marketing at Yahoo!, a job he got after selling them his pioneering 1990s online startup, Yoyodyne.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Seth Godin Interview Transcript

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

Seth Godin
Oh, it’s a pleasure. Who knows where here is anymore, but we’re here together.

Pete Mockaitis
Everything you say or write is profound. Well, I’m super excited to dig into your latest book, it’s called The Practice. And I don’t want to do flattery but I genuinely do mean that you are among the most prolific and brilliant writers that I’ve encountered. I haven’t read all your books, many people have, and it’d probably better if I did. But it sounds like in your book, The Practice, is this sort of your secret or…? Tell us, what’s this book all about, because it seems like you’re really kind of giving away the inner secrets here a little bit?

Seth Godin
Oh, I don’t think it’s my secret. I think it’s our secret. I think everybody knows that they need to ship creative work because being a drone and a cog is no fun. And I think everyone realizes that there’s no such thing as the muse, that talent is overrated, and that if we just showed up and put ourselves on the hook, we can not only do better work but do it with more joy.

And what I wanted to do in this book is capture a whole bunch of truth that we keep reminding ourselves that the opposite might be true. We’re confused. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s all these skills that we could learn that are masquerading as attitudes, etc. All of these things are ways that we can decide to contribute more. So, this book is really personal in the sense that I wrote it so that I would remind myself of what I needed to hear.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And it seems like a number, or you tell me, or perhaps all of them, are coming from your legendary Seth’s Blog short blog posts from across the years. I was just reading “Where do ideas come from?” and it’s almost like poetic. And then I see, oh, that was indeed one of your posts like 10 years ago, and you’ve sort of collected the relevant ones and put them in a beautiful package.

Seth Godin
I think there’s like 220 essays and perhaps six of them have ever seen before, maybe eight.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, really? Nice. I didn’t know those. Okay.

Seth Godin
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, maybe let’s hit some definitions just to make sure we’re on the same page here. So, ship and creative work, I think I know what you mean by these things. But can you establish those for our audience of professionals?

Seth Godin
So, creative means it might not work. It’s never been done before. It’s personal. It’s generous. It’s human. It’s for someone else. You’re solving an interesting problem. That’s what creative means. Work, because you have to do it even when you don’t feel like it. Work, because you put yourself on the hook, you made a promise. And ship, because if it doesn’t ship it doesn’t count. If you say, “Well, I had the idea for blank years ago. I was going to write Hamilton,” no one cares because you didn’t ship it.

Pete Mockaitis
“We had the idea for Airbnb but we never did anything with it.” So, understood. And so, ship just really means kind of like deliver, get out the door, execute, do the thing.

Seth Godin
Right. Now, there’s a Nike problem. And the Nike problem is when you say, “Just ship it,” you could think that means, “What the hell. Put crap out there.” That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying merely ship it. Go without commentary. Do it without drama. Simply do it because that’s the work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s dig into a little bit of the particulars here. So, you say that creativity is not a gift for a select few but rather a choice. So, help us think through that, these mindsets here in terms of contrasting them and how does one make the choice.

Seth Godin
Have you ever done one thing in your life that was creative? Have you ever once solved the problem, told a joke, connected with someone who needed to be connected to? The answer, to anyone I’ve ever asked it to, is, yes, of course. So, if you can do it once, then the only question is, “Can you do it again?” And, yes, you can. So, that means it’s a choice. It’s not like you’re sitting there waiting for some flyball to land on your head. The reason we feel that way is because we’re afraid of the bad ideas. We’re afraid of the things that won’t work. And so, because we’re so afraid of the bad ones, we throw them all out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, let’s dig into this fear, this emotional piece. So, we’re afraid of bad ideas and, thusly…Well, I think about professionals all the times in the conference rooms people are choosing not to share things.

Seth Godin
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
And a lot of that is fear, maybe with good reason from experience. They get their hands slapped, or they get yelled at, or dismissed, or invalidated in one or another way. Well, can you help us think through? If you got some things to share, and you got some fear, what should we do?

Seth Godin
Fear has some very important elements. Fear that keeps you from crossing the highway on foot at rush hour is a good thing. Fear of a saber-toothed tiger is a good thing. That’s what we evolved to have but it is false fear when we feel nervous before giving a speech because nothing bad is going to happen to you. In fact, dancing with that fear will make a better outcome happen, not a worse outcome.

So, fear needs to be seen as a compass, as an opportunity to lean into that feeling because that feeling is telling us we’re onto something. Because if you’re not feeling it, I would argue you’re probably not trying hard enough.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. And so, you’re sharing not just that you reinterpret the feeling, like, “Oh, no, I’m excited,” which is a good strategy for nerves and stage fright, but to actually seek it out, like, “Oh, we got a compass that’s pointing us somewhere here.”

And, boy, we had Tara Mohr on the show say that there are two Hebrew words for fear. I don’t know if I can recall them, like yara and something else, and they’re kind of very different flavors. And one of them is kind of like the fear of inhabiting kind of a larger space. That’s kind of the good one. And so, that very much syncs with the notion of it’s a compass that’s pointing you into some cool territories.

Seth Godin
Yeah. You don’t hire a coach to train you so you can run a marathon without getting tired. It’s understood you get tired. The way you finish a marathon is by figuring out where to put the tired. And the same thing is true for any contribution we’re seeking to make, “Where do I put the fear?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, “Where do I put it?” in terms of your internal mental categorizations of, “What does this mean? And how do I respond to it?”

Seth Godin
That’s right. And a lot of people are just hoping it will go away, and it doesn’t go away.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that’s encouraging to hear right now. I mean, you’re pretty legendary and so you’re sharing on the record that you’re still feeling the fear and the stuff right here, right now with this book?

Seth Godin
Only when I’m working hard. I can coast all day without feeling fear. But, yes, if I’m doing my job properly, there’s definitely, “Uh-oh, maybe I reached too far out of the boat,” “Uh-oh, maybe I’m too much in a hurry. Maybe I’m not being clear. Maybe I forgot to do something that would’ve been a useful contribution.” Yeah, all of that, all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now that we’re inside your internal mind dialogue, can we hang out a little longer? So, that shows up, and then what comes next in the conversation?

Seth Godin
“Thank you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Please go on.

Seth Godin
“Thank you.” I mean, it’s such a privilege to be able to do this work. And to have that voice in my head to keep me on track, I don’t try to deny it, I don’t try to rationalize it, I don’t argue with it, I just say, “Thanks for letting me know.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful stuff. And as I’m sort of sitting with that, it really is true that if you don’t have any fear, it’s sort of like you don’t care about the outcome, or maybe not the outcome if there’s a whole lot there. You don’t care about the “it.” It’s not a high value to you personally. It’s not of great importance, the stuff, if there’s not some level of fear, in my experience. Is that kind of a fair characterization?

Seth Godin
Well, I guess. I mean, let’s assume you’re not a sociopath. There’s one thing, which is confidence. And confidence is being sure it’s going to work. And the other thing is belief, which is, “I’m not sure it’s going to work but I’m going to try it anyway.” And if all you’re doing all day are things that you are confident about, then you’ve got a challenge because it means you’re not doing any art, you’re not creating anything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. Well, so let’s dig into a few of your maybe provocative assertions. So, you say writer’s block is a myth. What’s really going on here? Why do we sometimes have difficulty getting creative when we want to flip the switch but it doesn’t seem to be flipping?

Seth Godin
Well, no one gets talker’s block or bicyclist block or plumber’s block, so there’s no reason to think that writer’s block would be an exception. What we really have is fear of bad writing. And if you do enough of the bad stuff, some good stuff will get through. But to say, “I am incapable of typing something,” is absurd. What you’re saying is, “Because I am so afraid of what might come out, I don’t want to type anything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then I suppose it’s quite possible, and really this is a different phenomenon. You could type something and it might be bad. I guess there are times in which you’re in flow, you’re rocking, you’re grooving, and there are times when you’re not, and it’s like, “Okay, I could throw some sentences on this page that I will surely delete afterwards,” versus, “Oh, wow, this is amazing!” So, talk to us about flow. How do we get more of that?

Seth Godin
Well, so people want flow and then they’ll do the creative work but that never is the way it works. You do creative work when you don’t feel like it and then flow shows up. And I appreciate your kind words about my writing but I write bad stuff all the time, you just don’t see it. And my friend, Isaac Asimov, wrote 400 books, published them, and he told me that his secret was he typed for six hours a day every day. And I got to tell you, typing a book only takes about three days. Writing a book takes a long time because it’s figuring out which words to leave out that take all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, let’s think about Seth’s Blog for a second here. So, every day, is it 100% of days? It sure looks like it as I’ve been there, you’re putting something out. So, sometimes you don’t feel like it.

Seth Godin
Oh, I write three, or four, or five blogposts for every one you read. And I have a backlog because I don’t want to break a streak. I don’t wake up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning and type something and hit publish.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, you got a backlog and you’re cranking whether you feel like it or not. And are there some rituals there for you?

Seth Godin
Well, the real ritual is I ask myself a question every single time I see something in the world that I don’t understand, and it’s, “Why is it like this?” because I refuse to believe the world is magic. And so, I want to understand “How does a refrigerator work?” “And why do some doors pull and some doors push?” “And how did that person get elected?” Everything around us happened. Why did it happen? And if I find that my answer is worth sharing, it becomes a blogpost.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love this so much. So, “Why is it like this?” gets the wheels turning in all kinds of places. And then what happens next? So, you’ve got a curiosity about the refrigerator or an election outcome. Do you Google or what’s the next step?

Seth Godin
No, you make an assertion, right? I mean, some things you can look up but not many. You make an assertion about, “What are the fundamental human desires, and needs, and wants, and hopes and dreams, and fears that led somebody to do what they did?” And Milton Friedman would like to believe that everything happens because you get paid. Well, that’s clearly not the case.

So, why is it that there’s hundreds of thousands of people with podcasts who, deep down, know they’re never going to make a lot of money doing it? Why is it that when Monster came out with Beats headphones, which could be seen in any test to be inferior to headphones that cost much less, how did they build a multibillion-dollar brand? Why do people buy those headphones? Questions like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you’re right. And they really do get you…Well, I guess that’s what I find so intriguing is you pose these questions and I’m already curious about them, like the refrigerator and the Beats, I just kind of want to know now. But you say the next step is not so much to go Google something, but to think more about the deep fundamental human stuff behind it.

Seth Godin
Yeah, I mean, that doesn’t work for physics. Refrigerators, you should not make assertions. You should just Google how they work.

Pete Mockaitis
Someone desired cold profoundly for their food. Okay. And with the Beats, though, I am, I almost did it right now, the history of Beats I pose. But you stop and think like, “What do people want? What are they after? What is the brand speaking to?” It’s like they want to be cool with a particular flavor of cool, it’s like, “I want to be like that Dr. Dre,” or so. I’m just…

Seth Godin
No, you’re onto something. I think what Noel figured out was that headphones were a chance to create jewelry for men. And he came up, by working with Dr. Dre, with a piece of jewelry for a certain demographic, psychographic, that you could justify wearing right next to your face. And the market for jewelry is so much bigger than the incremental head-on market for electronics that do a job because those are a commodity. And what happened in many communities is having artificial Dr. Dre’s lowered your status. Having real ones raised your status. And so, that’s what he was selling, was status not audio reproduction.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, let’s think about, as I read your book The Practice, what comes to mind are those who are producing, I don’t know, books, videos, movies, etc. I like your definition of creativity, it was broader. But if you imagine yourself in an environment of a white-collar worker going into an office, when you could go into an office, and interacting there, what are you thinking that there’s something that this community of professionals likely does that stifles their creativity? Are there some recurring mistakes that you encourage folks cut out?

Seth Godin
Well, yeah, the biggest one is they think it’s not their job. Like, let’s pick an accountant. Accounting is not bookkeeping. Bookkeepers are, generally, my bookkeeper excepted, generally, commodity providers that you don’t care who it is, you just give them the data and they give you back the answer. It is a cog’s job. But to be a successful accountant, you’re doing something that involves engaging with other humans.

So, the accountants at Enron did a bad job but not because they were bad at bookkeeping, but because they lost their moral compass and weren’t able to have creative, useful conversations with their clients. And that’s hard work, and it’s different every time you do it. So, it’s so easy to avoid it and say, “I’m just an accountant,” when, in fact, if you want to win at accounting, by any measure, you have to be a human before you’re an accountant. To be a human means you have to solve the interesting problems that accounting presents.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you what, that is exactly why I stuck with my accountant for all this time, it’s like, for one, I thought, “You know what, I’m not really good at this stuff, so maybe I probably should outsource it,” but then when I looked at the bill, it’s like, “Ooh, do I want to keep with this?” But, sure enough, it’s like these little gems, it’s like, “Oh, well, if you’re a single-member LLC, but we have your taxes and S-corp, then the result is that a portion of your stuff is a wage and the other portion is not, something to payroll tax, like all this stuff.” It’s like, “So, you’re just making money appear for me. Oh, thank you. This is like you create more money than I pay you and take something off my plate.”

Seth Godin
I got to interject here, it’s much deeper than that. He didn’t simply make you more money because there are lots of ways someone could make you more money. They could teach you to be a bond trader. What he did was he made you feel smart.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Seth Godin
He made you feel like to not hear this tomorrow would make you stupid. He helped you with your reflection of your own status, which changed your relationship with other people around you. So, there’s layers beyond layers beyond layers, and this accountant may think that all they’re doing is work in the system, but what they’re really doing is understanding what Pete needs to hear to feel engaged in a positive cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that connects. And I recall…I just want to hit this for a moment, this notion of layers and human needs and desires. I remember I was reading something you wrote, and we talked about benefits versus features, people don’t want to drill, they want a hole in the wall. But even more than they want a hole in the wall, you took it further. Can you recap that for us?

Seth Godin
Sure. So, Ted Levitt, in ’62, wrote that no one wants a drill bit, what they want is a hole, and they have to buy the drill bit to get the hole. And I’m like, “No, you don’t need a hole. You need a place to put your lag bolt. Well, you don’t need that either. You need a way to hang a shelf. Well, you don’t need that either. You need a way to get the books off the coffee table. And you don’t need that, you need the way it makes you feel when your spouse says thank you.” That’s why you went to the hardware store.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, likewise, with this accounting situation, it’s like, well, yeah, there’s some economics stuff going on, sure. But even more so, it’s true, I do like feeling smart, and I do like feeling, like together we have accomplished something that is, I don’t know, optimal, clever, that is we found an opportunity, legally and appropriately, and we grabbed it in an exciting way. It was exciting for me. I don’t know even though it was accounting.

Okay. Well, so, oh, you’ve got so much stuff. Let’s hear about impostor syndrome. So, you posit that that’s not so much something that we need to cure and get over, but rather it’s something else. Tell us about that.

Seth Godin
Right. So, no one talked about impostor syndrome until two women wrote about it 30 years ago, and now, suddenly, people are acknowledging that they have it too, “I feel like a fraud. Who are they to speak up? Who are they to have a podcast? Who are they to be creative? How do I make it go away? How do I make impostor syndrome go away?”

And people are surprised when I say, “Well, but you’re an impostor. They can’t go away because you’re an impostor. You’re accurately feeling something, which is if you’re leading, you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before, you can’t be sure you’re right. You can’t prove that you’re qualified.” Therefore, we have to embrace the idea that all leaders, at some level, are impostors. And, again, it’s a symptom that you’re doing this generous creative work.

Pete Mockaitis
So, once we embrace that, then we feel okay about it, or what happens then?

Seth Godin
No, you never feel okay about it, not if you’re a normal person. What you do instead is say, “This is work,” that’s in the subtitle. Be awesome at your job, not be awesome at your hobby. If it’s your hobby, you should do it exactly the way that gives you short-term and long-term joy. But if it’s your work, well, good news, you don’t get blisters and calluses at your job. You don’t have to stand outside in the rain and dig a ditch. Bad news, you have to do emotional labor. And the emotional labor means dealing with impostor syndrome. It means dancing with fear. It means showing up when you don’t feel like it because it’s work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that when you put them right next to each other as a contrast. It’s like you’re choosing a form of hard or a form of discomfort.

Seth Godin
It’s labor. Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about the movie Office Space, where, at the end, the guy chooses the other one, he’s like, “You know what, this is better. I prefer the construction.” Okay. Well, so tell us, Seth, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Seth Godin
Okay. So, the reason it’s worth writing a book, and not another blogpost, is because books are easy to share. You can say to two or three other people, “Let’s all read this and support each other through it.” That’s why I wrote a book. I believe we are not spending enough time looking at each other and talking about how we will make things better by making better things. And so, my hope is that people will embrace a practice and use it as a tool for good.

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

Seth Godin
Years ago, my friend and teacher, the late Zig Ziglar, said, “You can get everything in life you want if you’ll help enough other people get what they want.” And some people hear that as transactional so I’ve sort of altered it to, “Life can be helping other people get what they want,” and that’s a good compass for me.

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

Seth Godin
Oh, the most important thing that people need to learn, truly learn, is statistics. And the most interesting thing they can learn, as far as I’ve discovered after reading a lot of books, is just how profound the process of the evolution of species is. If you want to understand how COVID is doing what COVID is doing, if you want to understand epidemiology, if you want to understand how we have to dance around our future on this planet, you need to understand what Darwin figured out, that many, many small changes, repeated through inheritance, over long periods of time, creates the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Seth, you’re so fascinating. Statistics, I didn’t expect you to say that. Why is that so critical?

Seth Godin
You know, I read an essay last week that we should get rid of calculus in high school and teach everyone statistics instead because you don’t need to know calculus. Calculus is a stepping stone to higher math but very few people need higher math. Everyone needs statistics. The people who think that the polls were wrong on the last election don’t understand what polls are. The people who don’t get what interest rates are and why risk even exists in the world, I mean, all of it. You can see the world so much more clearly if you understand what statistics are.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Seth Godin
I think it’s really weird that people associate books only with school. The average American reads two books a year, buys one. And that it’s awkward to talk about a book you wrote. But the book I wrote, Linchpin, which took a year of my life, which changed my life, which I listen to on audio on a regular basis, is a book that I would say to people, “Here, I wrote this. I hope you’ll check it out.”

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

Seth Godin
Okay. So, the best tool I purchased in the last year is an Austrian smoothing plane. It costs $300. It takes shavings of cedar that are microscopically thin. And every time I touch it, it makes me smile. It’s just magnificent. And in terms of my job, I just discovered the indigo press, which can be used to print PDFs in book form. But they have one giant laser printer, bigger than a house, and I’ve used it before, but now it can print, and I know we’re on the radio, but you can see these.

It can print these matte packaging, for example, that you might find at Whole Foods that they put granola in, and it can do small runs of just a couple thousand at a time. And so, this I find this company called ePac that has an Indigo printer. And I just got to say I just keep looking at this stack of things that I made, and it puts a big smile on my face. So, that’s a giant tool, and an Austrian smoothing plane, it’s a small tool. And between them you might find something juicy.

Pete Mockaitis
What is about the Austrian smoothing plane that makes you smile?

Seth Godin
It does exactly what it’s supposed to do with no complaint. It’s perfectly engineered. It doesn’t weigh a lot. They could’ve made it heavier. It doesn’t have unnecessary controls, but the controls it has do exactly what they’re supposed to do. And I’ve been woodworking for 40 years, more, 50, but I’m not great at it. But this tool, I was great at it. And that says something about the design of the tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Seth Godin
I don’t go to meetings, I don’t watch television, and I don’t eat meat. I think those three habits have helped me a great deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me about not going to meetings. What do you do instead?

Seth Godin
I think a conversation between two people is not a meeting, it’s a conversation. Those are good. If you’re putting the other bunch of people so that you can make sure that they’re working today, that’s just about compliance. That should be cancelled. If you really want people’s input, you should create a shared Google Doc, and create an environment where people will be encouraged to contribute to it. If you want to tell people what the specs are for the tech standards at the conference you’re running, you should send a memo. But there’s so many things that we’re doing today, because Zoom is so easy to click a button on, that consume most of our day, that are mostly about power not about communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Seth, tell us, how do you decline a meeting invitation?

Seth Godin
Oh, I think there’s very few penalties for being respectful, clear, and direct. And so, I say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this meeting. Can you send me a Google Doc instead?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s short and sweet. Well, all right, next stop, you’ve written a lot of stuff. Tell me, is there a particular quotable gem that you hear more often than others, like, “Seth, I loved it when you said blank”?

Seth Godin
I would say the shortest blogpost I recall writing ever is the one I hear about a lot. I don’t know if it’s the most, it’s, “You don’t need more time. You just need to decide.”

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

Seth Godin
You can get excerpts from The Practice at TrustYourself.com, which used to be the title of the book but I changed it with my editor but I kept the domain. And you can read 7,500 blogposts, if you’ve got some spare time, at Seths.Blog.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love that your bio, you can get there by just Googling Seth. There’s a power move. That’s good.

Seth Godin
It’s the equivalent of my Dr. Dre headphones.

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

Seth Godin
it’s pretty simple. Never ever say, “I’m just doing my job.” Simply do your job. Do it in a way that we would miss you if you were gone. Because, yes, management has been exploiting labor for a really long time, but if you’re going to go to work anyway, you might as well go to work and be a linchpin.

Pete Mockaitis
Seth, this has been a joy. Thank you so much. I wish you lots of luck and fun and all the ways you’re shipping work.

Seth Godin
Well, I appreciate it. Thanks for the time. We’ll see you.