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KF #33. Strategic Mindset Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

788: Roger Martin Shares How to Make Better Strategic Choices By Rethinking Your Models

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Roger Martin reveals how to identify the unconscious mental models holding you back from more superior management effectiveness.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why people will resist correcting outdated models 
  2. Powerful questions to dismantle outdated models
  3. The simple word shift that makes you more strategic

About Roger

Professor Roger Martin is a writer, strategy advisor and in 2017 was named the #1 management thinker in the world. He is also former Dean and Institute Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada.  

Resources Mentioned

Roger Martin Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Roger, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Roger Martin
It’s great to be here. I’m looking forward to this.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Well, so I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. Tell us, what’s the big idea behind your book A New Way to Think: Your Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness?

Roger Martin
The big idea is you got to be careful to not get owned by thinking models. You get told, “Oh, this is the way you should think about this problem.” If it doesn’t work, don’t go back and say, “Well, because people say that’s the model that should be used. Keep on using it.” That’s being owned by your model. Instead, you need to own your models. They need to work for you. And if they don’t, you need to change it. That’s the big idea.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Makes sense. Now, the word model, I figured we’ll be saying it a lot. So, could you give us maybe four or five examples of models that professionals use just so we have a real clear sense for what we’re talking about there?

Roger Martin
Sure. A model would be, in order to align the interests of management with shareholders, you should give them stock-based compensation, and that will create alignment. Or, you should always make decisions based on data. That’s the only good decision, that’s a decision made on data. That’s a model. The job of a corporation is to make sure it controls and coordinates the various businesses underneath it. That’s its primary job. That would be a model.

Another model would be customer loyalty is the most important thing about customers.

Roger Martin
Those would all be models that we use that then guide our behavior. So, if you say, “Oh, I must align the interests of management and shareholders with stock-based compensation,” you will have a stock compensation plan that’s based on the performance of the share price as a key feature of executive compensation. So, these models drive behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
So, is there any distinction, not to play too much of the semantic wordplay game, between a model and a rule or a principle?

Roger Martin
Not really. I guess what I would say is a principle tends to be a portion of a model. So, our principle is alignment, and the way we’ll make that happen is through stock-based compensation. So, you’ve got a principle that informs other aspects of a model. That’s how I would distinguish them. You could call a model and a rule kind of relatively similar.

I just think of a model not in a better way but it’s a slightly more comprehensive than either rule or principle. It’s a set of things that we will do because we say if we do those things, it’ll get the result we want.

Pete Mockaitis
And is it possible that we operate from some models that we’re not even aware of?

Roger Martin
In fact, we do that all the time. Let’s say you’re a CEO and you kind of walk into a retailer that sells your product, you don’t like how it’s merchandised, let’s say you’re a fashion line.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m fashionable. Okay, I’m with you.

Roger Martin
Yeah, exactly. Like you, Pete. And you go to the people who are running the store and say, “You, people aren’t following the corporate guidelines on this. I’m outraged, dah, dah, dah.” That’s a model. It’s a model that says it’s their fault, not yours. Your instructions weren’t confusing. Or, your way of merchandising actually doesn’t sell stuff. It’s, “You’re morons,” or you’re not so much morons, “You’re insubordinate,” in some way, “in not following it.” Your model is you have to observe when people are being insubordinate and not following instructions, and chastise them for doing so, and that will improve things.

Pete Mockaitis
And that we know best in terms of the optimal approach for merchandising versus that you may be in a surprise, like, “We tried your way but this way is 30% better, so we’re going that way.”

Roger Martin
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that executive probably wouldn’t have articulated that in the corporate jet on the way to visit the retail outlet, “My model is to make sure they’re obeying and to chastise them if they’re not.” But, in fact, that’s what naturally flows because, in fact, that is his or her, probably his, managerial model.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you say that folks have a tendency to double down under existing models even if they’re not working. What’s behind that?

Roger Martin
It just seems to be, Pete, a human tendency from what I can tell, which is we like to have models because, otherwise, you have to think about everything from first principles. So, you have a way of doing things, so there’s affinity with the idea of a model. And then there’s sort of social adoption. So, if everybody else is doing it, if everybody else is doing stock-based compensation, and there are stock-based compensation consultants who come and tell you how to do it, and the board gets evaluated on the basis of whether it’s got stock-based compensation, all that stuff.

If that becomes the standard, it’s easiest, that’s because we’re sort of social human beings to say, “Having a model is better than thinking from first principles and I might as well adopt the model that’s the one that’s being used most because that’s probably a good idea.” And so, you’re a plumber in ancient Rome, and all the other plumbers are saying, “This great material, lead, is really malleable and makes for good water pipes and so let’s do that, too.” And because, boy, it seems to work, ten years later all the people die from lead poisoning, but at the time it seemed like a good idea.

So, I think those two things cause people to feel a certain level of concern, anxiousness, outright fear when they have to do something other than the existing model.

Pete Mockaitis
What you’re saying there is in contrast to first principles really resonates. I’m thinking about when I was just getting my start, I’m thinking, “Okay, you don’t want to do the speaker-author, guru biz in terms of, ‘Oh, yeah, you got to have Twitter, you got to have a blog.’ Okay, so this is what I do.” And I didn’t really find those to be especially effective tools, versus reasoning it from first principles would suggest, “Okay. Well, fundamentally, what is my offer?”

“How is it distinctive from alternatives and competitives available? Who is my customer? What do they want? What are their preferences? How can I make my prospective customers aware?” And so, that is a whole lot more work than, “Oh, you got to have a Twitter, you got to have a blog.”

Roger Martin
No, no, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
But it would’ve served me better.

Roger Martin
And that, if I can go on that, that makes for a very interesting case. What I’d say is you took something that maybe would’ve been a model that a consumer package goods company would utilize and ported it over to another domain rather than accepting the domain’s kind of model. And that I find is kind of interesting.

A similar story, as you may know, I was dean of a business school for 15 years, and that was my first academic. I was never dean before. And all the development people, the fundraising people came to me, and said, “Well, this is how you do it. Get a list made of all the rich people in the country, and rich graduates, and then you go ask them for money.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, “This is your job now.”

Roger Martin
And I was thinking, “Okay, like I know a lot of rich people, and let’s just put me in their shoes and say, ‘How appealing would that be to me?’ So, you’re going to come and see me because I’m rich, no other reason other than that, and because, apparently, I should want to give you money. All you have to do is ask and I’ll give it to you.”

And so, I said, “I guess you could do that but it doesn’t seem like a good idea. How about this as an idea? I find people who have means and have something that they’re really interested in that the school is also interested in, and let’s get them involved in that because they care about it and they want to be involved in that. And, in due course, they will say to us, ‘Can we support this cause in a greater way?’”

And all the fundraising people said, “Well, what does this guy know about fundraising? This guy is crazy.” Well, on the basis of that, we got the University of Toronto, which is a big gigantic university, have been running forever. University of Toronto is only a six-figure unsolicited gift ever, where it was not asked for. Its first seven-figure unsolicited gift and its first eight-figure unsolicited gift. Literally, one guy, he was into real estate and got involved…who didn’t think there was nearly enough good real estate courses producing the people, and Toronto is a big real estate town, producing the real estate folks. I said, “I agree. We need to serve the community. Would you be willing to teach a course if we got you the appropriate help?”

He did. He loved it. Students loved him. He started hiring all sorts of students from it. We hired other real estate professors. We got to a point where we were one of the best two or three business schools for real estate in North America. We then built a new building. And he came to me and said, “You probably need somebody to give you the cornerstone gift for this, the building, right?” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Here’s eight figures.”

So, that was a different model, a completely different model than the dominant model because, in that case, I wasn’t even prepared to sort of spend my time on the dominant model because it just seemed silly to me. But you’re right, that requires thinking from first principles, which is not as straightforward. And if my approach had failed miserably, rather than succeeded, they would’ve said, “Yeah, he is a nut.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think there’s one reason right there, is it’s riskier to do something novel and different. And I’m thinking the old saw, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” Like, “Yeah, that’s the thing. Yup, IBM, they make the business machines, that’s their name so buy them from there.” And so, I guess that’s one reason why folks might double down.

Roger Martin
It’s a perfect metaphor, “Nobody got fired, nobody ever got fired for using the dominant prevalent model of the day.” Full stop. So, absolutely. And that’s why I’m not saying to people in the book, “Whatever the dominant model is,” I don’t say reject it.

I say, “I could understand you trying it but just make sure you kind of write down, ‘What I expect to happen when I try this model,’ and then check what actually happened. And if there’s a big negative delta there, then here’s what I’d encourage you to do. Don’t just keep doing it because everybody else is doing it. That might be the time for you to think about, ‘Is there another way to think about it?’”

So, if the dominant model is working, keep doing it, is my view. It’s just when it doesn’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I was about to ask, how do we know if something isn’t working anymore? Are there any indicators or telltale signs it’s time to shift away? It sounds like one master key is simply write down in advance what you’re hoping the thing will do, and then check later, “Did it do the thing?”

Roger Martin
Yes. And that may sound kind of trivial but it doesn’t happy very often, Pete. And that leads to sort of…there are a bunch of human dynamics problems that you have to take into account. One human dynamic problem is human beings have an infinite capacity for expose rationalizing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Roger Martin
Right? You can expose rationalize anything. And we know this in a sad, sad, sad sort of way from war crimes trials, where often somebody is on the stand and who’s committed just a horrible, terrible crime that they know is horrible and terrible, but they rationalize it in saying, “Well, I had no choice.” So, you can rationalize anything.

And so, you have to help the mind not rationalize. And the only way I believe you can do that is by writing things out because, otherwise, if you say, “Oh, well, we’re going to build a new factory. And with that new factory, it’s going to cost $100 million but we’re going to increase sales by 50% within five years, and that will pay for the factory and a good return on our $100 million investment.”

If you don’t write that down, five years from now when sales are up 35%, you’re going to say, “Yeah, exactly. This is exactly what we said, sales increased 35%,” and you would never ask the question, “Hey, what didn’t go the way we thought that made it 35 rather than 50, which actually made it a return that’s below our cost of capital, not above our cost of capital?” You wouldn’t do that because it’s sort of lost in the mind’s mist of time what you actually thought your model was going to deliver for you.

So, I want you to write it down so that when it happens, you can compare what’s happened to that. And that will give you the information you need, “Did it perform the way I wanted it to perform, that I assumed it would perform when I used it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. Is that sort of like the master key or any other key questions or things to do there?

Roger Martin
That’s the master key.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got you. Well, so could you maybe tie this together for us with a story of someone who they had an outdated model, and then they made a shift to a new way of thinking and got some cool results?

Roger Martin
Sure. So, I could talk about customer loyalty. So, the dominant model is that the most important factor for you in kind of being profitable is having high customer loyalty. And what that is, customer loyalty, is a conscious act. So, that would be, I don’t know, what toothpaste do you use, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Colgate Total, paste not gel. Thanks for asking.

Roger Martin
Perfect. Colgate Total paste. And so, it’s worked for you in the past, and so you are consciously driven to show loyalty to that brand when you go to the toothpaste aisle. You sort of consciously say, “Hey, I’m loyal to that. It’s worked well. I will do that.” It turns out that all the behavioral science, all that research is telling us that, actually, the much stronger driver of that habit is unconscious.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You’re right.

Roger Martin
It’s actually your unconscious. So, literally, the way the mind works for you, since you’re a Total Colgate paste, if your hand reaches for Total Colgate, or Colgate Total gel, your subconscious starts yelling at you, saying, “What the hell are you doing? The paste. Paste works. Paste is most comfortable. Paste is most familiar. You’re asking me to do something new. I’m worried. I’m nervous.” So, it’s actually an unconscious driver. And Lord forbid that you reach for Pepsodent or something else, then you’ve gone completely off the rocker, “Oh, my God, cats and dogs sleeping together.” It’s going to be horrible.

So, it turns out, the subconscious loves comfort and familiarity more than anything. So, what you want to make sure that you’re kind of not messing with is habit. And so, one thing that companies can’t help doing is refreshing and redesigning. And it turns out that colors and shapes are really important visual cues before you actually can read the lettering on most things. And that would be the case in Amazon when you see the little chicklet there. We first see colors and shapes. And so, when you change the color of something, or change the name of something to, it’s a huge negative for habit.

And so, Procter & Gamble, Tide, unbelievably profitable and venerable brand, have been around for 70 plus years. And what it turns out is that people have a Tide habit more than they are loyal to Tide. And so, when Tide, 40, 50 years ago, when the transition was starting to be made from powdered detergents to liquids, the first liquids came into being, Procter & Gamble said, “Okay, Tide is the dominant detergent, the largest market share, but people see that as a powdered detergent. And so, to make sure we do best in the now nascent liquid detergent business, what we need to do is have a brand-new brand new, it’s called Era, and that will be our liquid and Tide will be our powder.”

The Era launch was an unmitigated disaster. It never got any traction, anything. And then some bright person at Procter & Gamble said, “Hmm, what if we launched Tide liquid? And why don’t we put it in an orange bottle with the same logo, the bullseye logo kind of on it, and call it Tide, and put a little Tide Liquid beneath it?” Blammo, it quickly became the dominant liquid detergent brand and has been ever since. Why? Because people had a Tide habit, and they had a habit of buying the laundry detergent that was in orange with a bullseye on it, with four letters on it, Tide.

Then, as time went on, Tide did smart things like when they figured out how to put bleach in the Tide itself, in the detergent itself, so you didn’t have to have a separate bottle. They had learned their lesson. And guess what they called it?

Pete Mockaitis
Tide with bleach.

Roger Martin
Yes, that’s very good.

Pete Mockaitis
And then a Tide Pod.

Roger Martin
And a Tide Pod. But, every once in a while, they forget. And so, when they came out with the innovation of how to have a Tide, a detergent wash as well in cold water as in warm water, forgetting the lessons that they learned, they said, “You know, orange is a warm color, perfect for Tide. But cold, we need a cool color for that.” And so, they came up with a cold-water Tide, in what? Blue bottles. Guess how that went?

Pete Mockaitis
Not well.

Roger Martin
Not well. Disastrously bad. What was their incredibly insightful fix for that?

Pete Mockaitis
Go back to the old color.

Roger Martin
Put it in orange bottles, then it became the dominant cold-water detergent. So, that would be an example of a company that began to really understand at a deep level the power of habit over loyalty. Does loyalty matter? Yes, it for sure does. Having a warm feeling, a conscious feeling about it is good. But if you interrupt habit, and interrupt the subconscious, it overwhelms loyalty. Like, think about it, it’s amazing, at least to me. When you think about it, everybody who loved Tide, when you come up with Tide in cold water, which is an added feature that should make your Tide better, it flops because it’s in blue bottles? Holy smokes.

So, the dominant model tends to be, with marketers, “Oh, we have to refresh. Our logo is looking dated. We have to have a new logo. We have to have a new modern color scheme. Maybe we’ll even change the name of it.” All of that stuff is bad, bad, bad, bad, bad but it’s done all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, in terms of if habit is driving your beautiful market share position, then, certainly. I guess if you’re an upstart and there’s not very many people who’ve got the habits, and your colors and shapes aren’t nailing it amongst the consumers, well, then sure, have at it. But, yeah, I could see how it’s costly to shift there.

Roger Martin
And can I give an example on that, Pete, because it’s good? Myspace versus Facebook. Myspace, of course, was the dominant first kind of social media site, and, actually, in its peak year had more traffic than any other site of any sort, Google, anything. But if you look at the history of Myspace, Myspace kept, from day one, completely changing its look and feel so that there was no consistency, no consistency in the way things were presented, new features that were put on it. It was referred to in the press as a dizzying array.

Think then about Facebook. Like, it has utterly consistent look and feel from the word go, even when they made their painful transition where there was the only real dip in Facebook’s history was when they made the transition to mobile. Mobile looked just like look, feel, everything. Facebook understands habit. Myspace didn’t. Myspace is gone. Facebook is worth a trillion. It is so important. If you’re a startup, you must establish a look and feel.

Netflix did a good job of that. They changed their underlying product entirely but they kept as many other things consistent as possible that helped people kind of feel comfortable. And, again, it’s an issue of you feeling comfortable and familiar, not being upset. And for what it’s worth, this relates directly to RTO, return to office, because, in essence, you could argue that COVID was the greatest force habit break since at least World War II and maybe the Great Depression, where lots of habits just had to be broken.

And one habit that was broken was, people like you and me, and tens of millions of others, waking up every morning, getting in the car, or getting on public transit, and commuting to an office, and working all day in an office, and then commuting back at night. That was the habit. And this was a habit that had a bunch of negatives to it, especially if you lived in the greater New York area, greater Chicago area, greater L.A. area, it would be a painful long commute, but it became the ingrained habit. It was just you did it unthinkingly.

And then what happened was a force majeure break of that habit. You couldn’t blame your company on the habit being broken. It was the government saying, “You must do this.” And so, you had to adopt a new habit, which was painful. For many people, they said, “Oh, my God. Kind of working from home, I had a setup, I had to seize the guest bedroom, or seize the sun porch, or the kid’s basement play area, and turn it into my kind of Zoom office, instead of I couldn’t talk face to face with my managers and my employees, and, dah, dah, dah.”

But what happened after probably six months? It was your habit. It was like, “Oh, roll out of bed, make your coffee, go to the guest room, sit in front of my computer and do Zoom calls.” So, that became the new habit. So, that was first called working remotely and then became the new habit. Then, two years on, companies say, “You must return to office.”

They thought of it, these companies thought and still think of it as getting back to where we were, going back to what is standard, you being at the office. That is not, at all, what the subconscious thinks. The subconscious says, “Oh, my God, they’re making me do a brand-new thing. They want me to work remotely.” The office is the new remotely, and can you see, what happens with the habit?

The way to think about habit is that whatever you’re doing, your habit, so for you it’s Colgate Total paste, that’s your habit, and the alternatives are Crest and Pepsodent and Colgate Total gel, which apparently is abhorrent to you. And so, every time you have a purchase occasion, there’s a race and it’s a hundred-yard dash, and Crest and Pepsodent and Colgate Total gel are at the starting line, and Colgate Total paste is on the 90-yard line. And the gun goes off, and guess who wins?

If, for some reason, Colgate were to say, “You know, we’re totally tired of that Total name. We’re going to call it Colgate Fantastimo, and we’re going to change the paste. That paste is dull and old. And we’re going to make it sort of something that’s a combination of paste and gel, like in a twirl.” What they’ve done for Pete is moved the thing he automatically bought from the 90-yard line to the zero-yard line along with all the other alternatives. And you’ll win some of them because it’s a fair race at that point, but it goes from being a profoundly unfair race in your favor, if you’re Colgate, to a fair race. That’s what’s happening with the return to work.

Your job, which you had comfort and familiarity going for, that was Zooming from home and not doing the commute, that was on the 90-yard line, just got back put back to the zero-yard line, to be compared with, “I’m going to quit for a year. I’m going to find a new job out here in the burbs, or I’m going to change to a company that continues to allow people to work from home.” And so, it’s just massively destructive for the companies asking you to return to work.

And they think it’s disloyalty, “Pete is not loyal enough to come back to the office.” No, it’s habit. It’s Pete just has this visceral thing that he can’t necessarily even understand fully that says, “You know, Pete, it’s time to think about doing something else.” So, this misunderstanding, loyalty versus habit, is going to cause big American employers who are asking you to come back to the office massive turnover. The stats are 67% of people who are being asked to go back to work are considering alternatives.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great metaphor with the race and having a huge head start because it’s like, “Huh. Okay, so I have to do something different. Do I want to do that? Well, let’s look at all the options.”

Roger Martin
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “Just keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t ask any of those difficult questions, employee, and don’t just rock the boat.” Okay.

Roger Martin
And I can give a personal example. So, I’m a big of a sportsaholic, and I had a go-to sports app. It was CBSSports.com. I don’t even know why I started using it but it was the one I went to. And I put up with CBSSports.com IT people deciding that they would do refreshes and updates to make the site better and work better and everything. But then they came up with a total redo that they were exceedingly proud of. They sent me messages about, “Hey, get ready for the brand-new site. This is going to be awesome. The navigation, everything, was completely different. The look and feel, completely different.”

And after it being, I don’t know, seven-year a constant user of it, I just said, “Oh, okay. Now is the time to test out all the sports sites and see which I like best.” And now, on the first page of my iPhone is ESPN.com, and CBSSports.com has lost me, not forever. They’ve lost me until such time as ESPN screws up in the same way as CBS Sports did.

For the subconscious, possession is way more than nine-tenths of the law. I am an ESPN.com sports app guy now. And that game is over, it’s on the 99th yard line.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, rest in peace. You’ve got a chapter I find intriguing when it comes to strategy. You say, “In strategy, what counts is what would have to be true, not what is true.” And that is one of my favorite things to teach, so I want to hear you take the floor. What do you mean by this question, “What would have to be true?” How do we apply that when we are doing decision-making effectively?

Roger Martin
Yeah, most of strategy is about analyzing, doing analyses to come up with your strategy, a very analytical exercise, and most people who are going to strategy are kind of analytically inclined. Kind of the problem is, by analyzing what is, you’re never going to find out what might be. You’re never going to create the future, lead the future.

And so, rather than focusing on that, “What is true?” which will direct you towards what is and focus your mind on what is, if you ask the question instead, “What would have to be true?” you can imagine possibilities. You can say, “Here, I’m going to imagine we do this rather than what we’re doing now.” Now, if you just do imagination, you’ll come up with all sorts of crazy things that are just dumb ideas. But if you say, “What I’m going to do is ask, ‘What would have to be true about the industry? What would have to be true about the customers? What would have to be true if there’s a distribution channel, about our capabilities, about our costs, about competitors, for that to be a great idea?’”

Then you can create a logic structure that says, “If those things were true, that would be a great idea.” Then you can imagine another possibility, and say, “What would have to be true for that one? Well, if these other set of things were true, that would be a great idea.” You can do another one, A, B, C, you’ve got a third one, “What would have to be true for that?” Then you can ask the question, “Of those things that would have to be true, which are we least confident are true?”

And then we can focus our efforts on saying, “Well, if those things would be necessary for this to be a good idea, but aren’t true today,” sort of like we’re Steve Jobs, and it’s like, “Here’s an idea. Why don’t we sell people an MP3 player that is three times the cost of price of the best MP3 player out there? We’re going to make it white and have a wheel on it. How about that for an idea?” What would have to be true is people want to kind of throw money away, like they get three times X for an MP3 player with no greater capability than anybody else’s new technology anymore.

What would have to be true though would be, “This would be of greater use because they would be able to more seamlessly download songs in a more user-friendly way onto that machine. They can’t now. But how about we do this? How about we go to all the record companies and arm-twist them into selling single songs for 99 cents rather than an album, and we’ll put it on a site called iTunes and make it super easy for them to pay and super easy for them to download?”

So, he asked, “What would have to be true?” You’d have to have something special, then you go and figure out, “Can you make it true?” You figure out that you can, then you go do it. And, sure enough, you start selling the dominant market share of MP3 players, expanding the MP3 player market dramatically, and doing it at 3X the price.

That’s the power of saying not what is true but, “What would have to be true? And can we make it true?” And by asking, “What would have to be true for it?” you can focus your efforts on the few things that aren’t true now that you’d have to make true to create a great strategy. So, that’s why, “What would have to be true?” is way more powerful than “What is true?”

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. That’s fun in a creative invention, being ahead of the game, sort of a way. I’ve often asked myself this question just in terms of, “What would have to be true for this option to be worth picking?” and then sort of list those out, and say, “Okay. And then how can I test that?” And it’s amazing how you can figure out things to do and not to do.

One time I was trying to promote a book and I saw this publication that was distributed to a bunch of producers for radio and TV shows, and it was kind of expensive to be included in this, but I thought, “Okay. Well, this would be really cool if I got on a few shows, get the word out. This is probably a worthwhile investment.”

It wasn’t, I regret spending that money. But then, months later, someone called me and said, “Hey, Pete, I noticed that you were advertised in this publication. How did that go for you? Was it worth it?” I was like, “Wow, if I had followed my own sort of teachings, I would’ve done exactly what you did. What would have to be true? It’d get you a lot of bookings and sell a lot of books. How can you test that? Call some people who bought it and see if it worked out that way for them.”

Roger Martin
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Of course.

Roger Martin
Yeah. And then this is what we did with the re-launch of Olay, creating this sort of masstige positioning of it, where you had a prestige, like a Nordstrom’s first floor or Macy’s, whatever, experience in your Walgreens or your Target. And it wasn’t true that there was such an experience, nor was it true that retailers would say, “Yes, that’s a great idea.” But we went to Target, did an arrangement with Target where we helped fund a transformation of some stores to test out the idea. The product flew, I mean, flew off the shelves in the test, and then the rest is history.

Target said, “How fast can we do all the rest of the stores?” and then everybody else said, “Why are you, bad people, just doing something with Target and not with us?” And we said, “Well, because they said they would do it. Are you saying you’ll do it?” “Yes.” And, blammo, it turns the seventh-, eighth-place skincare product into the number one skincare brand on the face of the planet massively profitable. But it was asking, “What would have to be true?” and then figuring out a way to test that.

You’re not going to test it by launching a product nationally everywhere where you don’t have the experience. You work and spend some money. You spend some money and time with Target to figure out if you could make it true. Would it succeed?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Well, Roger, tell me, anything else you want to put out there before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Roger Martin
No, I think you’ve done a really nice job of talking us through the core essence of the book, so, no thank you.

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

Roger Martin
I guess I would go all the way back to JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” because it is consistent with the advice that I give all my students and proteges, “I follow the doctrine of relentless utility. If you’re just relentlessly useful, good things will happen.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a particular favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Roger Martin
The favorite piece of research that I ever did in my entire career was in ’89 when I convinced somebody at Procter & Gamble to do a study that they didn’t want but that I knew there was something we would find.

The question was, “How should Procter & Gamble think about its customers?” Now, they consider you, Pete, although you don’t buy Crest, they consider you a consumer, and they consider Walmart, Walgreens, etc. customers. And at that point, they said, “Well, we’ve got mass merchers like Walmart and Target, drugstores like CBS and Walgreens, and supermarkets like Ralph’s, Kroger’s, Whiteman’s, etc. and we’ve got C stores.” And it just struck me that that wasn’t the right way to think about it.

And so, I just started looking at their top hundred customers, and trying to figure out whether there’d be a better way to think about it. And one day, it struck me that maybe a better way to think about it is, “What is the merchandising philosophy of the customer base?” because what was emerging then, because Walmart was still very small then but growing quickly, was this notion of EDLP, every day low pricing. And Walmart, and a bunch of other chains were doing EDLP, and everybody else was what was called high-low. They have things that are high price most of the time, and then have it on deals for part of the year.

And the entire CPG industry was set up, including Procter, was set up to support high-low.

The idea at P&G at the time was, “These high-low people are more like us, like Whiteman’s and Ralph’s, they’re differentiated. And these EDLP guys, like Walmart and Foodline and a few others at the time, they’re sort of these big brick warehouses and cinder block kind of warehouse look and places, and they’re down and dirty. And so, they’re not really like us.”

So, anyway, did the study and looked at those two segments, and came to the relatively stunning conclusion for Procter & Gamble, that the same store sales growth in high-low, all of their high-low customers together, the same store sales growth of their customers was zero. The same store sales growth in EDLP was 7% a year, compound. The growth in stores in high-low was net zero, and it was 7% compound annual for EDLP.

And then what I discovered was our market share, cutting category, I just added them all up, our market share in EDLP was higher than our market share in high-low.

And on the basis of that, and probably other stuff, Procter & Gamble was the first CPG company to flip and orient all of their systems to serve EDLP, and that got them a jump in their north American sales growth in the ‘90s, which was, especially the first half. It was phenomenal because, while everybody else was sticking with their sort of high-low focus, they were EDLP, and that’s when they created the Walmart team that put a whole bunch of people that enabled to kind of work closely with them.

So, that’s my favorite piece of analysis I ever did because it helped transform the way Procter thought about its customers in a way that it almost benefitted them for a while. Now, everybody else figured it out in due course. They had to move on to what the next thing that’s going to move the needle but I always liked that and I liked it because it was so hard to convince anybody there to let me do the study.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Roger Martin
They’re sort of nerdly but probably John Dewey’s Art as Experience. That was life changing for me. If you’re less nerdly, Lord of the Flies, my favorite fiction book, William Golding. And the best I’ve read recently, though it’s an old book that just came to my attention recently was the Social Limits to Growth by a guy named Fred Hirsch. Fantastic book.

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

Roger Martin
I guess it’s my relatively new MacBook Pro 13 inch.

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

Roger Martin
To my website. All my writing is organized on that, and that’s www.RogerLMartin.com. And you got put the L in or it’ll take you to a real estate broker in Houston, who’s very nice. Roger Martin is a very nice guy. He sends me all sorts of emails that come his way. I send him my books. He likes my books and reads them, and so we have a good friendship but it is strained by the number of people who forget the L. So, RogerLMartin.com or @RogerLMartin is my Twitter handle.

And I write a, web is increasingly popular, weekly piece on Medium, if you’re a Medium person, called Playing to Win Practitioner Insights series, 89-long, 90th the coming Monday. So, those would be the places to find me.

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

Roger Martin
Yeah, relentless utility. Think first about, “Am I being useful? Can I say from other people’s perspective I am providing utility?” And if you do that, good things will happen to you. Don’t sweat anything else. Just be relentlessly useful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Roger, thank you. it’s been a treat. I wish you much fun and interesting new ways to think.

Roger Martin
Terrific. Thanks for having me.

774: How to Make Yourself Promotable with Amii Barnard-Bahn

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Amii Barnard-Bahn shows you how to assess your unique strengths and opportunities to advance your career with her Promotability Index.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five elements of the promotability index 
  2. The 4 steps to developing strategic thinking
  3. The one question to get the feedback that you need

About Amii

Amii is a former Fortune Global 50 executive and a current C-Suite consultant to global companies like Bank of the West, Adobe and The Gap. She’s been recognized by Forbes as one of the top coaches for legal and compliance executives. Amii also contributes to the Harvard Business Review, guest lectures at Stanford and UC Berkeley, and is a Fellow at the Harvard Institute of Coaching. She speaks regularly on workplace culture, leadership effectiveness and corporate governance. She is the creator of The Promotability Index® and author of the companion PI Guidebook. 

Amii earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and her BA from Tufts. Amii is a lifelong diversity advocate who  testified for the successful passage of first laws in the U.S. requiring corporate boards to include women. 

Resources Mentioned

Amii Barnard-Bahn Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Amii, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about the promotability index but, first, I think we need to hear about your passion for opera.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, I love it and it’s been something I’ve missed quite a bit, as you can imagine, over the last two years, and I think it’s kind of like heavy metal for grownups. So, I describe it for people who haven’t maybe been exposed. It’s a little bit of symphony. It’s a little bit of ballet. There’s a lot of singing. It’s costumes. It’s crazy plots and drama. It’s got a little bit of everything, and it’s usually over the top and has remarkable history for some of the older pieces but there’s a lot of new works that are being done. I’m on a board that specifically does a lot of really challenging, interesting cool stuff in really unusual locations. So, it’s bringing opera to the masses, so that’s been fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. And I’ve always wondered, when it comes to opera, when they’re in other languages, you still love it? Or how does that work for you?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Two ways. One is supertitles has changed everything. They came in in the ‘80s. and so, I was just talking to a friend of mine who works at the San Francisco Opera, I stayed with him this weekend, and he reminded me that when supertitles, which were fought vociferously by all true artists, or in the early days, and then fought equally by people who said, “No, people don’t understand what they’re saying. This is impacting the performance. We need to make this accessible.”

Supertitles won out at least in the United States, and it changed everything for the performers. People started laughing at jokes. People started crying when people died. It was an entirely…the singers were just blown away because they’ve been used to performing and then polite clapping at the end. So, it was remarkable in that sense.

Some small houses may not always be able to afford them all over the world, so that’s where I keep the caveat. Sometimes I’ve gone to the opera, or some opera houses who are purists, they don’t believe in them. And, for me, that’s almost like going to a foreign film and kind of checking one part of my brain out for a little while, and watching visually and just enjoying and figuring out what’s happening without words, and understanding you don’t actually always need words to know what’s going on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now let’s talk about the promotability index. You are the creator. Tell us, what is it, who should use it, and how does it make things better?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Well, one of the healthiest things I think anybody can do for their career is to work on what’s under your control. And so, I created the promotability index based on all of my work as a former Fortune Global 50 executive, chief human resources executive, and attorney, and personally just kind of worked my way up to the top, and saw how people got promoted or fired or stuck or let go, and reverse-engineered it into five key elements, which I’m happy to talk about.

And so, I created an assessment first, which anybody can take, and I made it free on my website. Accessibility to moving up the ladder is one of my values, and it’s an 82-question assessment that can let you know how you’re doing on the five key elements. And then the five key elements are things that decision-makers use when they look at promoting or elevating people to higher levels in the company, or who they’re going to invest in as potential leaders.

And so, in my experience, the five key elements are self-awareness, external awareness, strategic thinking, executive presence, and thought leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m excited to dig into each of these five. Maybe to start though, could you share is there a particular finding in your work and putting this together that has been particularly surprising to folks in terms of, “Huh, so that’s a big deal, eh?”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I think people underestimate external awareness the most. I wrote a Harvard Business Review article on it, titled “Promotions Are Not Just About Your Credentials — They’re About Your Relationships,” because there comes a point in time in everyone’s career where their credentials, to a certain extent, become irrelevant, and I don’t think we’re told that very early on, certainly not when we’re paying grad student loans, potentially.

And it’s really a ticket to the game and it becomes about, “Can you work with people? Do they want to work with you?” You may ace your job but in terms of getting to the C suite, it’s going to depend on the mix of people, whether they trust and like and know you. And that can come as a real shock to some people around mid-career, and that’s often where people get stuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I want to hear about this. Okay. So, can you share with us an example of someone who worked through some of the pieces of the promotability index and saw some really cool results from doing so?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Sure. Well, we know that promotions aren’t always fair or rational. I’m sure you can think of a couple of examples in your own life and anyone on the call. And so, of course, you need to be good at what you do but it’s relationships and working with other people that are going to get you that promotion. So, one client that I had about a year ago was an absolute rock star in terms of their performance in sales, and they were the number one salesperson of the year, which is a pretty objective criteria, selling stuff. You can measure that. Some jobs are harder to measure in terms of what you accomplish and your goals but sales are pretty straightforward.

This person was not getting promoted and they had been there several years, and was getting very frustrated at this. And then after working together for about six months in coaching, part of what I found out was that, two levels up, my client was being blocked for promotion because of a perception that he was a lone wolf and that he needed to be the star.

And so, all of his hard work that he was always putting in every day, day after day just going out there getting the client, hitting the numbers, but that actually was getting to a point where it was working against him because he wasn’t demonstrating in terms of external awareness. People were not seeing the other side of him, that he was a good mentor, that he cared about people, that he could lead a team, that he could achieve through others.

So, once I found out that that was the perception of him, we started working on those things, and he showed up very, very differently. And it wasn’t easy for him because he’d worked really hard to get where he’d gotten. To quote Marshall here, “What got you here won’t get you there.” So, the same behaviors that made him fairly successful as an independent contributor were holding him back from moving forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’m curious then, how does one get that gem of insight that, “Hey, a couple of levels above you, this is the perception of you”? I mean, did you just sort of go ask around? And what do you recommend for individuals who don’t have a coach to do that work for them?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
That’s a great question because I think he would’ve left. He’s very close to leaving and he was a superstar so that would’ve been a loss for the company. Three-sixty reviews are what they’re commonly called and it is going and asking around, is the casual way to put it. It’s confidential and coaches, or your internal HR department, may do it, and you get perceptions and themes together, and that is how I found that out for him, or he would not have known.

People don’t, unfortunately, feel comfortable giving people the feedback they need to improve most of the time. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, you did a great job, Pete, on that. That was awesome,” but it’s harder if it’s like, “Well, Pete, can I talk to you for a minute about how that meeting went? Got some feedback for you. You may or may not be open to that.”

If they may not want an argument, they may not have the time, they may fear conflict, they may not be very talented at giving feedback in a way that others can hear it. They may be too blunt. You may not trust them even if it’s true. There are so many things that can go wrong with feedback. So, having a trained coach or HR person can be great.

But I’ll tell you my number one tip if you don’t have a coach that you can get feedback that can help you if you think you’re stuck or if you just want to get better at your job. My number one tip is to ask your boss and/or a couple of other colleagues that are close to you that you trust, that will be direct with you, especially people that will be direct. Ask them, “What’s one thing I can do to be more effective in my job?” and just wait. The trick is to stay silent and not to say anything.

And 99% of the time, people will say, “Well, thank you for asking. Let me think for a minute.” They’ll say, “Well, one thing could be this.” You’re being very specific and you’re not asking them for the moon. That’s where people get in trouble, is they say, “Hey, how can I be better?” It’s too vague. So, if you’re really, really specific, usually people will pick one thing.

It might be a little thing, like, “In that meeting, you could’ve talked louder. I couldn’t hear you sometimes,” or, “You seem to not like X person and it’s stressful for the rest of us in the meeting. we don’t even know if it’s true that you don’t, but I don’t know if you’re aware, but you act a certain way with this,” and that can be helpful feedback.

The trick is not to get defensive, to thank the person for the feedback so that you can get it again, and then to act on it and circle back ideally, and say, “Hey, thanks so much for that feedback. I’ve been working on it, and I’d love to know if you’ve noticed. So, if you could catch me doing good, that’s great. If you catch me slipping back, privately tell me. That could really help me. I’d appreciate it.” So, that’s a great example if you’re a leader for your direct reports.

When my leaders have started doing this, it’s opened up more of a speak-up atmosphere where people feel more comfortable being vulnerable and getting better together. It could be a real bonding experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That brings back memories at Bain. I remember we all had our professional development plans, and I go, “Hey, here’s what I’m working on, dah, dah, dah,” and I shared that with them. And then the manager said, “Okay, cool. And here’s what I’m working on,” and it was like, “What? This is eye-opening. Okay, cool. Thank you.” And it really does, it sets that vibe in a real positive way.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then can you tell us the genesis of the promotability index? And when I hear the word index, I started thinking about research and validity. Do you have any of that stuff to share as well?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I wanted to engage the creative and the positive side of development. Having been forced to you, there’s many, many types of instruments as an HR person and an employee, I found that most of them sucked all the joy out of career development, which should be an exciting thing, “What do I want to create? Who do I want to be? What do I want to learn?”

Think of yourself as a five-year-old kid and getting excited about learning new skills, and, “Okay, I’m not so good at this but that’s okay. I’m not going to hang my entire ego on that. I’m going to work on this kind of thing.” So, I did not make it a psychometric Harvard-validated assessment because I think there are plenty out there and I use those in my practice.

I wanted something that was easy for anybody to use and that, simultaneously, simply by considering or contemplating the question, raise the consciousness of people reading it, that, “Oh, that’s something that should be on my radar.” That’s something that people grade you on even if they’re not telling you that.

A lot of promotions, and having been in the room where it happens, it’s not obvious always who and what, who gets promoted and why. And so, I wanted to create greater access. I wanted to create a language that managers who otherwise might have difficulty actually pinpointing what it is that’s holding the person back. Sometimes managers just don’t…they know it when they see it but they don’t know how to articulate it. And so, I wanted to help with that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that’s often true when I’m looking at writing, it’s like, “This is good. This is bad. But why?” And I’d really have to think for a while, and say, “Oh, okay. Okay. Structure, elements of style. These sentences are just kind of too long. They don’t need to be like that. Just kind of clunky and less clear,” or, “We’re using some vague language. I’d like to make that a little bit more real in terms of…” or, “That’s not interesting or exciting. I don’t think anyone cares about that thing. We need to hook it into what people are really after, what they value.”

But you’re right, it takes a lot of time sometimes for me to articulate why is something good or bad, or why is someone promotable or not promotable. And I got a kick out of doing it, the five categories, and then up to 82-sort of yes or no responses. It’s like, “Oh, maybe I don’t actually read news associated with my industry all that regularly. Huh, how about that?”

I mean, I learn a lot of stuff from a lot of people but it’s somewhat rare that I pull out the Association of Talent Development’s report on such and such, and that’d probably be a good thing to do, and we’re free to be promoted. Although, I guess if I’m the owner, promotion more so looks like my listeners and customers say, “This guy is super awesome. We should pay him more or hire more, refer more,” or whatever.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
It’s written around Fortune 500 companies since that’s where I’ve cut my teeth, and I’ve heard in my pilot testing and thousands of people have taken it now, even independent contractors or people who don’t manage others, that’s another thing that’s assumed in there. Just ignore those questions. My whole point is don’t get caught up in the score, and that’s why I made it 82 and not 100.

I didn’t want our little weird brains from college to be like, “Is that an A? Is that a letter B?” Like, no, no, no. I did a little scoring just to hijack the part of ourselves that is competitive with ourselves, but the whole idea is to be competitive with yourself. And the guidebook, the companion guidebook to the assessment, which I only wrote after clients asked me to, they said, “This is great. Now what? What else do you have?”

And I said, “What do you mean? Just work on the stuff that you didn’t check, whatever. Move towards what brings you joy, like what’s exciting to you that you didn’t check, that you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe I should be doing others. Maybe I should speak at my professional association events. Maybe I have something to say or write about.’” And some people wanted a book, so I wrote the book and that’s been out now for exactly one year, and that’s been fun and that’s generated a number of conversations, and given a lot of companies and groups that have adopted it a common language for this.

The ideal way to do it, I think, because in the performance review process can be really painful because most of it is a backward look. Most of it is, “Do you get a raise? Am I getting a promotion? How much money are you giving me? And what did you think of the work that I did?” Well, that’s all backwards. This is all intended to be, again, the creative look forward around, “Who do I want to be? Where do I wish I was better? What jobs are exciting to me now?” I believe in a growth mindset and that we can continually be learning, and continually are changing in terms of what our priorities, desires, needs might be.

And so, this is designed to kind of be a choose your own adventure kind of a book with your managers as a powerful way to do it because you can sit down and say, “Hey, these are the five things I think I could work on.” They might say, “Actually, I think you’re really good at that.” That’s happened too. There’d been some amazing conversations I had.

A colleague who adapted her case study is on my website, for her credit union, and the young woman had taken it, and said, “I don’t want to get promoted.” And about a third of the people that have taken it so far don’t want to be promoted, which is another great thing to know because then you just need to say, “Okay, how do I give them lateral assignments? How do I keep them engaged?” As a manager, it’s really helpful to know that, as opposed to people who do want to get promoted and might leave if they don’t feel like they’re moving forward. Different needs, different people.

And this young woman came back a week later, and said, “You know, I thought about it and I decided, after taking the promotability index, that I never thought about it before. I’m the first one in my family to go to college, like I just already felt like I’ve made it. I’m so lucky to have this job. But if you think I can do better, I’d be interested.” And they got into this wonderful, beautiful conversation, and I said, “Yeah, we’d completely support you. You need to do this. You need to work on this. And let’s do it together. Let’s take off and bite off a chunk every year.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Beautiful. All right. Well, let’s cover a big more depth here, the five elements. And could you give us perhaps a definition and maybe a top tip for boosting it? So, let’s roll through them.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, okay. Well, so for self-awareness, it’s around knowing your why, knowing your how, knowing your what, really why you do what you do, how you show up, and what makes you special in terms of what you bring to the party in the organization. And so, it means knowing your values, motivators, and preferences would be a more technical way to describe it.

Usually, when a tip I would give you for self-awareness is if you’re unhappy or unsettled in your work, it’s often because your values are being challenged or are under stress. Now, big picture, that could mean a mismatch with the organization. Smaller picture, it could mean a conversation you had recently, a decision that’s been made by the company that you don’t agree with, but it’s helpful to know your values and think about it, in that way you can say, “Oh, okay, this is why I’m feeling the way I do,” and that’s just helpful because you may have the power to change it. You may realize it’s a really big deal, and it actually is a deal-breaker for you, and you might need to make some changes. So, that’s one on self-awareness, Pete, that I would share.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, any perspectives on the finest ways to zero in on what’s one’s core values are?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Well, I use deep assessments that get to it really quickly. If you don’t have that, I would think about what brings you joy, what brings you pain, how do you make your decisions. There are plenty of lists actually on the internet around these things, which is about 33. StrengthFinders is a very common one that’s used by some companies. It can be very helpful, and I believe they have a free version where you can get your top 10, and that can be a really good start.

Pete Mockaitis
And tell us, if we do have the access or the budget, what are the deep assessments you love?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
The one that I like best is the Hogan assessment, and it’s work-related and it’s been around for a very, very long time, and we leverage it in coaching to, let’s say, there’s something we find that your boss is saying, “You need to work on this,” and it’s not something that you’re really that motivated to do, like public speaking. Let’s say, he says, “I want you to present the next board report,” and that’s just something you’d rather kill yourself than do that.

We would look at your motivators, and, for example, let’s say you had a motivator for great performance and you’re a high achiever, we’d say, “Okay, Pete, I know you don’t like this but this is something that you need to do to achieve high performance. Your boss just basically said that. Let’s leverage your value there, high performance, that you’re high performing, high achieving, and then we’ll figure out how we’re going to get there.” But that would be your motivator to get around “I don’t want to.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, how about executive presence?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Executive presence has been thrown around a lot and I love a definition by Coqual that they created based on a study actually that divides executive presence up into three elements. The first element is gravitas, which is grace under pressure is one way of defining that. The second is presentation skills and communication. And the third is appearance. And they found that 70% of executive presence could be attributed to gravitas, meaning that you have some backbone, you take a stand when you need to, you’re calm in an emergency, people come to you for guidance and advice.

For presentation and communication skills, that was about 20%. So, being able to present well, to speak well, and enunciate, good eye contact, all those good things, no quirks or tics when you’re presenting, that kind of thing, ideally getting rid of those depending on your abilities. And then the last being appearance.

Appearances surprises people at being only 10%, and I would say appearance has a dwindling impact. I think when you first meet someone, appearance can be very impactful. It can either make or break a first impression. But as we know, appearances can also be deceiving. And so, over time, it fades, and I think gravitas and presentation skills and communication come to the forefront much more so.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a favorite approach to improving one’s gravitas?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Well, we find out the triggers that are preventing people from staying calm and centered in the times that they need them to be. There’s usually a pattern, and so we keep an acknowledgement journal of what’s happened over the prior week or two weeks, what’s triggering it. Is it a person? Is it an issue?  There’s usually circumstances or things that are happening around that time that are making you stress that then trigger you to act a certain way, which could be withdrawal, could be aggression, could be a number of reactions, could be caving when you really need to be taking a stand, things that may not serve you in the long run as a leader, depending on what the situation is.

So, once we figure out what the triggers are and you’re aware of them, then you can start making an active choice to choose differently and to choose what you know is the right thing to do, and it just takes practice.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’m thinking about gravitas. If someone, so caving or freaking out, could you maybe give us a demonstration of a high gravitas and low gravitas response to, let’s say, that I am requesting budget for an important initiative, and they told me no, and I want it bad and it’s genuinely important, and I’m going to take a stand for it? So, low gravitas, that sounds like you’re craving, like, “Oh, okay,” or flipping out, like, “This is ridiculous. What are you thinking?” So, what would be a high gravitas response?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
You have your facts together because you already have your business case to begin with to make the request but you would say, “I appreciate costs are at an all-time high. I appreciate that we’re looking at everything. I’d like to reiterate that the reason for this request is X, and the benefits to the organization are Y. And it’s very important, because if we don’t do this, then the costs will be Z, and we’ll be actually paying more next year for the same thing if we don’t make that choice now.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
That would be an example. You stay in your rational brain. You’ve done your homework, I’m assuming that already, which wasn’t in this hypo, and you go back to your facts and, especially for a cost, an ask of a cost for money or raise. I have some videos on this. It’s very important how you ask, and you need to have your ducks in a row, and you need to have your data. You need to have thought it through and you need to have thought it through from the perspective of the person that you’re asking if you want the highest likelihood of getting a yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then the thinking then is, in terms of promotability, that sort of persistence is not an annoyance; that would be a knock on promotability, like, “Oh, Amii is just not a team player. She just won’t let it go,” but rather it is a pro in terms of, “Hmm, Amii has really got this gravitas.”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Right. And you just don’t make it a no, but you just hit on exactly you want to be thinking about what feeling…I always tell people this. For critical conversation, start with, the meeting is over, you’re walking out of the room, what do people think of you, what perception are you leaving behind because that’s what’s critical as a leader and will determine your future success as much as anything. And there’s a perception as, “Ugh, what a hothead!” or, “Oh, they don’t understand how this business works. They have no idea how we are just losing money hand-over-fist right now. Have they heard of the war? Have they heard of COVID?”

There are so many things that can go on in the room after you leave. You want them to say, “Okay. Well, that was a well-measured request. They did their research. They understand the financial situation and the crunch that we’re in. I’ll give them some snaps because they still went for it even though we said no, and they handled it with grace, and I won’t mind having that conversation with them the next time.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now let’s hear about the next area – strategic thinking.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Strategic thinking is an interesting one because I found, through my career, that it’s the hardest one to get without getting experience. It’s like when I first tried to get my first retail job, and they said, “Well, you’d have to have experience in retail,” and I was like, “But no one will give me that first job.” Strategic thinking is the same way. You need to have a certain amount of responsibility before an access to all the pieces of the puzzle in the business, to be able to think strategically, to understand how if you take this piece out, how that affects these other pieces, almost like a puzzle.

So, what I advise people for promotability is to, what’s really critical and what I’ve seen, is you need to be able to demonstrate to decision-makers that you are a strategic thinker. And the ways that you do that are visibly asking questions that are smart but not obnoxious questions. No one wants a show-off. But show that you’ve done your research.

There’s a way to ask a question, and there’s a way to ask a question that demonstrates that you’ve been thinking, that you’ve been reading up on your industry, that you have been maybe talking to others in your field, and that you know what is important and kind what’s hot now. That’s why I always advise people, as well as it gets into thought leadership, or some of the other ones, but thought leadership can help you with strategic thinking.

And I don’t know if you want to jump to that one, too, but strategic thinking, some people ask questions and they’re face-palm questions in a room. We used to all be in a room together, and they’d ask a question that, just by asking the question on its own, you could tell they’ve not done their research.

Pete Mockaitis
“Why don’t we just go viral?”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, that they haven’t been talking to their peers, that they only care about their little silo, that they’re asking for X, and it’s clear it’s going to affect IT or HR or supply chain, and they didn’t have the meeting before the meeting to say, “Hey, is this cool with you? I’m going to propose this. I know this impacts you guys. Do you have the resources to help us? Or, what are you seeing? Is this a good idea? This is what we’d like to do in marketing. We’d like to market this. Is this okay? Have you checked it with legal before bringing it to the board?” That’s a classic one for like a new drug or clinical trial stuff, that kind of thing in some of the bio firms that I worked with.

So, checking in and demonstrating that you have seen the whole system, you’ve talked to the system, or you’re aware of the system and anything that could go sideways or impact it or that needs to be considered before you make a proposal or make a comment, question a colleague. That can make or break also not only how you’re viewed as a strategic thinker but relationships, which overly everything that you and I have been talking about today.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then I guess if you’re just getting started with strategic thinking, what do you recommend as some of the first steps? Like, “I don’t even know what I don’t know. Like, it would not have occurred to me…”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
And that is where everybody starts.

Pete Mockaitis
“It would not have occurred to me to ask about the legal stuff.” And so, I don’t know, is there like a book, like Strategy 101, or just sort of like a process, like, “Okay, here’s the org chart, let’s think about finance, let’s think about marketing, let’s think about legal”? Or, how do you recommend we get started?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
There are books. There are ten million books on every business topic out there. But in terms of just how to start in a grassroots way, number one, just know how you make your money, how your business makes you money. Number two, understand how your function fits into that greater whole so that you know what piece of that makes the engine run. Third, read up on your industry. Fourth, join professional associations, get involved, educate yourself, steep yourself in the issues of the day for your business, for your organization.

Be ahead of the curve in terms of what’s coming down. Many businesses are being impacted by AI. If yours is one of them, you should know that and you should know whether that’s a positive or negative, and what chain reaction that’s expected to have five, ten years from now. Talk to your boss, find out what they read, how do they stay up to date.

Reach your 10-K if you’re a publicly traded company. 10-Ks have amazing information in there. If you’re required to disclose to the SEC in terms of the litigation that is pending, in terms of any other disclosures that are required, super helpful. Before I joined a company, that was always proud of my due diligence and I’m amazed at employees and execs that don’t necessarily always do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Or listen to the earnings calls if they’re publicly traded.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Right. Oh, yeah, amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes, even when I’m an investor, sometimes there is a unique level of boredom that I’d get from listening to earnings calls, and I think maybe it’s because that’s just the medium in terms of it’s not flashy TED Talks.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
They try. I think that they’re quite dry, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Nonetheless, dry but informative, like, “Okay, this is what’s really on the CEO’s mind and the CFO’s mind, and the stuff that they’re worried about, and that the investors are caring about, so now you know.” All right. And so, then we talked a bit about the external awareness. Anything else you want to add there?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Gosh, the question I gave earlier is a good one for external awareness, that “What one thing could I do that would make me more effective in my job?” Because when you’re asking someone else that, then you’re getting their perception of what would make you more effective at your job. You may not agree. You may think, “That’s a terrible idea,” but you don’t show it. There’s your opportunity to show gravitas and executive presence, and you say, “Thank you.”

And at least you know that that’s the perception they have of you. You may get some really great information from that, Pete. You might get information like, “Oh, my gosh, they think my job is this, but it’s really this. I need to step it up. And how am I going to do that? What data do I give to them? Where could they have gotten that impression? How often do I see them? Do I have enough time with them? Was it just one event? Did they hear it from someone else?”

The advantage to a lot of this is if you understand perceptions and, as one of my heroes, Carla Harris, says, “Perception is the co-pilot to reality.” If you know perception, you have an opportunity to change it. If you don’t know, it’s sitting out there as a potential blind spot, and those could be landmines that can kill your career over the long term if there are enough of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Let’s hear about thought leadership now.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Thought leadership is usually the last. If I had to put them in order, they’re overlapping and they’re each of the five key elements. But I would say that when people are the most senior in their careers is when they have, number one, the most to say, that’s particularly unique and interesting, and they have a little bit more time and more pressure to be unique, especially if they want to, say, go to a corporate board, do a lot of work with corporate boards and board governance. And often, after you finish an executive career, a great way to leverage your expertise is to serve on corporate boards after there’s no conflict of interests potentially for your industry.

So, thought leadership, you can start with baby steps. So, you can start again by being involved in your associations, your organizations. They always need content, Pete, so writing for a journal, I’ve got five of them back here that I write for on various legal and compliance and ethics and HR spheres. You can speak, they always need free content and speakers. You make great relationships that way, which are beneficial in terms of having a powerful network on so many levels. You can gain a mentor, you can gain a sponsor, you might find your next job, you might just find a great friend that loves what you do. So, thought leadership is around being known for your expertise both inside and outside your organization.

Some organizations are restrictive and conservative with how much they will let you share outside the organizations. If you’re in one of them, and those tend to be highly regulated organizations, like healthcare, pharma companies, things like that, then look for opportunities inside to lead a project that’s maybe outside your area, or to write for the intranet, or to be part of a white paper project on a potential initiative that’s being proposed. Those are ways.

But outside, if you don’t have a lot of restrictions, there are so much you can do. As you know, it’s never been easier to publish content. It costs nothing. You publish for free on the internet. And many, many people have become famous and known for that, and that increases your promotability because others know of you. You build an audience. You build a following. More information comes to you. It’s a generous terrarium, basically, that you’re creating of information. If you’re giving, inevitably you’re also getting. That’s what I found with contributing to organizations like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And we had a podcast guest, Kirstin Berndt, who, she was in a completely different industry but she had a passion for airline baggage, which is a unique passion. And she just started a blog and I don’t think there were very many on the subject. And so, sure enough, she’s like, “Hey, here’s the latest lost baggage statistics from the airlines. This airline has really made some improvements probably based on their initiatives with X, Y, Z, dah, dah, dah.”

And so, sure enough, that made her very distinctive when the opportunity finally arose for her to interview for such a role, they’re like, “Okay. Well, nobody has this. Okay, yeah, you got the job.” So, it’s powerful.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
That’s great. That’s a great story.

Pete Mockaitis
Even for more junior levels. Okay. Cool. Well, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Just that I think everyone has the potential, if they’re willing to put in the work, to learn a new role, to get better at their existing role, to move ahead, and I hope that the promotability index has, in some small way, helped that, and there are a lot of other great resources out there as well. Not everyone has a mentor. Not everyone has a coach. Not everyone has a great boss or someone that’s helped them along the way.

And so, I would just encourage people to go for it regardless and to never assume that simply because you don’t have a strong start, that you can’t get there. We can think of many, many amazing entrepreneurs and successful people out there who have done it with nothing. And so, I would just want to be really positive and optimistic for all of your listeners out there.

Pete Mockaitis
And not to squash positivity and your optimism, but this does trigger something. If we’re in an environment where it seems like our manager is toxic or severely dislikes us, or the forces of meritocracy aren’t really operational, and that might be perception, that might be reality as their co-pilots, what do you recommend then? It’s like, “Hey, I’m doing the work. I’m making progress. No one seems to care or notice,” how do you think about when it’s time to exit versus persevere?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I think that’s a great question and I’ve talked about it on several shows as well recently with the Great Resignation, and I think that’s when you decide whether you have the talk. And the talk, to me, depends on how financially comfortable you are with either taking a big risk or what your savings looks like. But having the talk is going to your manager and saying, or your leader and saying, “Hey, I’d really like this promotion. What are the chances? Or, what do I need to do? This is what I’ve been doing. I feel like I’m in sync but I’m still not there yet. What would the timeline be?”

And if they can’t really give you a committed answer, then you have to decide whether it’s time to leave. Now, sometimes people may say, “Okay, I don’t have quite so much money in the bank so I’m going to eat crow for a year, and I’m going to job search while I’m doing this.” Right now, over the past year at least, I don’t know if the window is closing a bit with return to work, but there has been an unprecedented opportunity to have those conversations and to negotiate with the powers that be around what the timeline looks like, what the job looks like.

If you love half your job and you don’t love the other half, can you trade? Can you morph it? There’s been a lot of great conversations that have been going on over the past year, I would say.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Sure. My favorite quote would be from Peter Drucker, which is, “You should not change yourself but create yourself.” That means build around your strengths and remove your bad habits.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
One recently, I’m always getting caught up in stuff that I then enjoy writing about, and one that I’ve been focused on lately is a study that we don’t like people who deliver bad news. We all know it as just “Shoot the messenger” implicitly. But for someone like me who works in corporate governance, corporate ethics, healthy workplace cultures, the implications of that are pretty severe.

And so, I’m fascinated how to reverse-engineer delivering bad news so to equip people who frequently have to deliver it so that they can be heard, that better decisions can be made so that people aren’t afraid of speaking up because, unfortunately, the universe is rife with situations and huge costs when people don’t speak up when they need to, when they know something important. And so, I’d like to try to help change that dynamic.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
The two that I’m sticking with right now are, one called BS Leadership by my friend and colleague and Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, which is just fascinating. I wished I had read it 20 years ago. And my fiction, I’m reading my favorite, one I think is by the greatest living author, Joyce Carol Oates, it’s The Accursed, based in Princeton at the turn of the 19th century.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I dictate constantly both on my Mac and on my iPhone, and I have probably a thousand draft emails right now sitting in my computer. They’re snippets of ideas, ideas for articles, conversations, things I need to do, prep for you, for your podcast, prep for clients next week, or a really cool article I read that I want to share. I love that. And then in terms of literally a tool-tool, I use ClickUp with my assistant and my team to manage all the different projects and things that we have going on all the time in the cloud, so that’s been super helpful. That’s been a game changer.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say dictation, is there a software you’re using?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
No, it’s literally Apple. I’m just pushing the button on the Mac. It’s the control button. You hit it twice, it starts typing out everything you say.

Pete Mockaitis
And is that sufficiently accurate?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Enough. I go back and I have to watch sometimes. I can’t speak too fast. It’s forced me to slow down a little. I can talk really fast, so it’s punished me for that. So, I’ve had to slow down and be like, “Okay, I’m dictating now. I need to speak more slowly so it gets handled correctly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Let’s see. Work or life?

Pete Mockaitis
Work.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
For work, I would say, at the end of each day, writing down my intention for the following morning, and then closing my door and having the ritual of being finished with work.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
The one that we talked about already a little bit was that at a certain point your credentials are irrelevant, and that it’s all about your relationships. That’s been a gamechanger for a lot of people. And then the other one that I’ll tell people that I think is important to keep in mind is that every job is temporary. And that if you think about it that way, you’ll think about your career. It really opens up a different way of thinking, I think, about what you’re doing day to day and what you want to be doing and where you want to be getting better and where you want to be focusing your precious attention.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
They are welcome to find me on my website, which is BarnardBahn.com. And also, to connect with me on LinkedIn, and I’m on Twitter @amiibb.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, I’d say get really good at receiving, giving, and acting on feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amii, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Thank you. You, too, Pete.

704: How to Achieve Lasting Success by Thinking Long-Term with Dorie Clark

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Dorie Clark says: "The things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you're going to be successful, you need to stop."

Dorie Clark reveals the critical skills that help us think long-term and set ourselves up for future success.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three barriers to long-term strategic thinking
  2. The top two skills that make you indispensable
  3. What to do when you’re stuck in a rut

 

About Dorie

Dorie Clark helps individuals and companies get their best ideas heard in a crowded, noisy world. She has been named one of the Top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50, and was honored as the #1 Communication Coach in the world at the Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Awards. She is a keynote speaker and teaches for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, which was named one of Forbes’ Top 5 Business Books of the Year, as well as Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of the Year by Inc. magazine.

A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, Clark has been described by the New York Times as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” She is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and consults and speaks for clients such as Google, Yale University, and the World Bank. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, a producer of a multiple Grammy-winning jazz album, and a Broadway investor.

 

Resources Mentioned

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Dorie Clark Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dorie, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Dorie Clark
Hey, Pete, it’s so good to be back with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom once again. And one exciting thing that you’ve mentioned I think the world needs to hear is that you have written a musical.

Dorie Clark
Yes, I have.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the story here?

Dorie Clark
Well, this is a process that started about five years ago. I actually write about this in my new book The Long Game. I’m a big fan of long-term goals, ten-year plans. And so, in 2016, I decided that my ten-year goal was going to be that I would write a show that would make it onto Broadway. And so, I have been assiduously pursuing this. I was literally starting from zero because I had no training or experience in writing Broadway or musical theater-type shows.

And so, since then, as I was mentioning earlier, I was…well, first, I applied and was rejected, and then I applied and was finally accepted into a training program, a kind of a prestigious training program that BMI, the music publishing company, runs. And so, I’ve been through that, I’m part of their advanced workshop now, have learned to write musical theater, and, in fact, have written one, which I am now shopping around to produce into regional theaters.

So, it’s just working the network and getting it out there. But I have written a sexy, lesbian, spy musical called Absolute Zero. So, you heard it here first. God willing, 2026 Broadway season.

Pete Mockaitis
I just have so many follow-up questions in terms of how that’s going to unfold but I’ll just wait to see it in theaters.

Dorie Clark
You’re going to love it. It’s going to create a whole new genre.

Pete Mockaitis
I appreciate in and of itself when things cannot be easily defined. Original genres, appreciated. All right. Cool. Well, now something that you have a bit more experience writing is nonfiction books that help people be awesome at their jobs, and it sounds like you got another hit on your hands with The Long Game. Tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Dorie Clark
Thank you, my man. Yes, this is my fourth so I have been flexing my muscles for a while with business and career books. So, the new book is called The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, and, basically, it’s about how to apply the principles of strategic thinking to your life and your career so that you can get better results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that sounds super helpful. And tell us, long-term thinking, is that something that professionals have a shortage of these days? Or, how would you assess the health of the long-term thinking game these days?

Dorie Clark
The broad state of affairs is not great, partly, of course, that’s human nature. Everybody likes a little bit of instant gratification if you get down to it, but, also, things have become harder for a couple of reasons. One is just in our society, in general, even pre-COVID, I think most of us recognize that there are a lot of forces conspiring to encourage short-term thinking.

We have at the corporate level, you have the push for quarterly earnings and how that trickles down to everybody about trying to get results sometimes with really negative consequences and corners being cut in the Volkswagen or the Wells Fargo type of situation. And in our personal lives, we’re 10, 20 years into our social media era, and a factor that has always impacted people, which is looking around and comparing yourself to other people, we always had that but now we’re comparing ourselves literally to the whole world. And that can be a little demoralizing sometimes, so there’s a push towards short-term thinking.

And then you take that and you put COVID on top of it where all of our plans got blown up suddenly. All we can do is react and be short-term because we don’t know what’s coming down the pike. So, it’s a lot of pressure in that direction. And so, it is my hope that this book, in some ways, can actually help us overcome that and put a stake in the ground because when we have been in reactive mode for so long, of course, it’s a good skill. You want to be agile, you want to pivot, you know how to, you want to know how to be able to respond to change, but, also, that can’t be the only thing you do.

We need to start making plans again. We need to be reclaiming our lives and coming up with the visions of where we want to go so that we are driving the train, not just responding to external stimuli. And, for me, that’s what playing the long game really is about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, playing the long game seems like the prudent, wise thing to do when I’m thinking about reading some Aesop’s Fables type things to my children. And so, we’ve got those stories about the ant and the   grasshopper and storing things for the winter, and the tortoise and the hare, and kind of sticking with it over the long haul.

So, I think that I’m guessing the milieu is that, “Oh, yeah. Hey, long-term thinking is probably a good and virtuous thing I should be doing.” But could you lay it on us in terms of some of the benefits for people’s careers, like, “No, seriously, if you do this, you can expect these fabulous results to come to you, and if you don’t, here’s what you’re risking”?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. Well, let me give you one example. I could ask sometimes, like, “Who is an example of someone who’s a good long-term thinker?” And one person who, honestly, stands out, of course, he has his own challenges in terms of his, essentially, world domination. But leaving that aside, Jeff Bezos is actually a really remarkable example of a long-term thinker.

And I think back in 2011, he did an interview with Wired magazine that I think was very telling. They asked him, “Okay, what is the secret to your success? What is the secret to Amazon’s success?” And, of course, this was 10 years ago, this was before Amazon became…it was successful but it was before it became the behemoth that it is today. And what he said was, “What makes Amazon special is that our competitors are only willing to plan on a three-year horizon. We are willing to plan on a seven-year horizon, and invest in a seven-year horizon. Because of that, we are able to take on bigger, more monumental, more potentially game-changing projects than they are. And that is the difference.”

And so, we go a decade out, and we see, oh, my goodness, Amazon Web Services. We see Amazon Prime. These were bets that they laid years ago, and they took time to pay off but now it’s created a massive competitive moat between Amazon and other players. And it’s the same thing for our own lives and our own careers. If you are willing to invest now and you keep at it assiduously while everybody else is just saying, “Ahh, that doesn’t make any sense. Oh, what a waste of time,” by the time they actually figure out the value of what you’ve done, they really can’t even catch up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that a lot and I think, and, Dorie, I don’t know, I read so much of the stuff you’ve written, and this might be from you, that with that Amazon example, I think Bezos is also said to have commented that he really tries to focus on things that he does not expect to change in terms of, he said, “Well, ten years from now, will people want to pay less? Yes, I think that will not change. People still like low prices. And, like, ten years from now, will people still want things faster or will that change in terms of, ‘You know what, I’d rather have it in five days’? Like, no.”

And so, with that sort of confidence, they said, “All right. Well, we’re pretty sure that people will want the prices low and will want it fast ten years from now, thusly, we can invest big on doing what it takes to make that happen.” So, yeah, that’s really resonant. So, maybe can you bring it into like careers then? If we’re playing the long game with our careers, what are some things that we can bank on as employers and the marketplace will really want from us years from now?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. So, one of the sections that I have in The Long Game is actually talking about, again, to take a corporate example, but bring it down to the granular of how we apply it in our own lives, most of your listeners are probably familiar with Google and their famous 20%-time policy. And this is the idea that Google pioneered and, well, to be fair, 3M, the Post-It company actually came up with it originally as 15% time. Google adopted it, they even expanded it, made it 20% time, but it really came to public prominence with Google.

And their concept is that employees should be able to spend up to a fifth of their time working on, essentially, speculative projects outside the scope of their regular job, but it should be things that they find interesting, obviously, but things that they believe would help the company. And that is how some of Google’s biggest innovations, like Google News and Gmail, got created.

Now, the caveat, the asterisk on all of this, interestingly enough, even most Google employees don’t do this. About 10% of Google employees actually do 20% time, which is this very low statistic. You might say, “Oh, well, that’s ridiculous. Why should we even take seriously this thing if the company that’s preaching it doesn’t do it?” But actually, I think it’s an important point for us to plumb. We know that it is not easy to carve out 20% time. You have to really be forceful in creating a fence around it. It is always easier to just lean into doing your existing job, “Oh, I’ve got meetings. Oh, I’ve got emails to answer.” And so, you allocate that time accordingly. I get it.

But if you are fencing off time for, essentially, your own professional development, for learning things, trying things, where you are developing new skills and exploring new areas, this becomes your insurance policy for the future. COVID showed us that we have no freaking idea what is going to happen. We just don’t know.

And so, we can make educated guesses and we can plan for the future, but, really, the best thing that all of us can be doing is turning ourselves into Swiss Army knives where we are not overly optimized for one task because that task could change, the company could change, it might not need it anymore. What we need to do, and 20% time is a really good vehicle to do it, is to allocate part of our time to proactive professional development so we’re learning new things and have new skills that we can fall back on if we need to. And it’ll also open up new opportunities as well. So, I think that’s one clear takeaway that can be very useful for people in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I like the notion of becoming a Swiss Army knife, and proactive professional development, and being kind of a bullet proof, invincible, depending on the winds of change and sway and stuff. And so, I guess I’m thinking what are some of the top skills, or I’m actually visualizing literally a Swiss Army knife, the bottle opener, the screwdriver, the tweezers, the scissors?

Dorie Clark
Everybody’s going to love you if you can open bottles. I say go for that one.

Pete Mockaitis
And then the hook, the little hook. I always found that tricky. Apparently, it’s for when you’re carrying boxes wrapped in twine. Okay, now you know if you were curious. You can also pull out stakes with fishing wire. Anyway, Swiss Army knife has a lot of tools. What do you think are some of the top tool skills that professionals should work to be developing that are timeless? Because, on the one hand, I’m thinking, “Well, hey, a lot of sort of artificial intelligence stuff, for example, is hot.” And then a coding language like Python or something is something that you say, “Oh, maybe that’d be good to know, but then, again, maybe that’ll be irrelevant in six years.” So, help us, Dorie, how do we think through what are the skills are really worth investing and building?

Dorie Clark
That’s right, Pete. Absolutely. I’m going to answer it in a couple different ways. So, the first one, props to you, my man, is a really simple starting point that people can do is actually LinkedIn Learning courses. And I’m an instructor, you’re an instructor, and, in fact, both of us are fortunate enough that some of our courses were among the top 20 most popular of the year. So, actually just diving in and immersing yourself in that is a really good simple way.

These courses are not long. This is something you can do on your lunch break but that’s a good regular way that you can begin to just take time that often might’ve been deployed for other purposes, maybe just messing around, maybe answering emails. Actually, really investing in learning. So, that’s one low-hanging fruit.

But, also, I think it is true, of course, we can all kind of envision that, “Oh, I should learn about 3D printing or something like that. What are the things of the future?” If you are interested in those things, then, Godspeed, go do it. That’s great. I also want to argue that there is merit in learning about things that might seem completely irrelevant. And my example, in fact, I consider musical theater to be my 20%-time activity. And it might sound frivolous in some ways, like, “Well, what does that have to do with being a business author?”

And on the surface, hmm, I don’t really know but what I do know is I am not only learning skills about how to do a particular thing, lyric writing, book writing, whatever. Those are really powerful and you can argue that there are some overlays in terms of story arcs and narrative and how it applies to my book, but, also, from a networking perspective, I am meeting massively different types of people. There’s a lot of interesting development of who I’m connecting with and what I know, and it’s giving me access to a whole new canon of knowledge.

And so, I can tell you that it’s been…there are examples where I’m meeting people in the business world and I’m able to connect with them better because I have additional knowledge that I can bring to bear about theater if that is, in fact, one of their interests. So, even something that seems really like, “Oh, why would you do that?” There actually can be a lot of surprise hidden value in it. It’s sort of the equivalent of the well-worn example of Steve Jobs studying calligraphy. Like, “Well, what did that matter?” Well, it turns out, it can create a design orientation that actually can be very influential but we couldn’t have predicted it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is cool. Okay. Well, so then in terms of the 20% time, it’s like it’s a combo then of, “What do you find really fascinating? Go for it,” and then, “What do you think you just can’t see any connection whatsoever? Don’t let that stop you.” And then LinkedIn Learning is one quick and easy and fun resource to get in there.

And so, I’m curious then, are there any – and I’m sure this will vary as the years unfold or maybe it won’t at all, and that’s the point – what will be some like the top skills you think, boy, every professional can really benefit from sharpening these skills?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. Again, with the purview so that, honestly, if you want to keep yourself motivated, the most important thing is that it should be interesting to you. But I would say, in my own experience, things that are super valuable, one, probably the biggest that I’ve put at the top of the list, is public speaking. And part of the reason that I do this is there are some very interesting research that was done a few years ago by The Center for Talent Innovation, which is a think-tank in New York. And they were studying the concept of executive presence, which is, essentially, this idea, this very poorly-defined idea of somebody looking like a leader, or seeming like a leader. Like, what does that mean?

And so, they wanted to break that down because a lot of people talk about, “Oh, he’s got executive presence but he doesn’t.” And so, okay, what are they talking about? And one of the key components that it turned out people were implicitly referring to is people’s public speaking ability. And it kind of makes sense because if we think about, for instance, how our country, how countries, in general, elect leaders, what are the trials that we put them through? Well, it’s usually debates, it’s townhall meetings, it’s rallies, it’s all about your public speaking, so a very low-hanging fruit where someone can get a dramatic ROI from investing time and effort is actually becoming a better public speaker. So, I would put that at the top of the list.

I’m also, you know, I’m partially communications in general, given that I started my career as a marketing strategy consultant, but I would say that effective copywriting, persuasive sales writing is one of the most important skills, whether you’re literally selling something or whether you are a regular professional trying to sell your boss on an idea, or trying to get a client to take a concept and let you run with it. Sales copy, which is different than regular writing, persuasive sales copy is an incredibly valuable skill to have. So, I would probably put those two at the top of the list.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. And so then, beyond just simply learning, training, skills development, what are some other ways that you recommend we can shift our thinking away from the short term and to the long term? Are there any sorts of key questions, or prompts, or exercises you recommend folks go through to get more in the long-term zone?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, I love that question. So, when we think about, “How do we kind of reorient ourselves?” One of the most important starting points is actually just, at a very basic level, creating the white space necessary to be able to have those conversations, whether it’s literally a conversation with a colleague or just an internal reckoning with yourself. It is not that it takes a huge amount of time to do strategic thinking. It does not. But it takes some time.

And one of the problems that I see with a lot of the clients that I worked with and colleagues around me is that they literally have no time for this because they are so packed to the gills with their scheduling. They’re constantly racing around. They don’t have a moment to breathe. And, therefore, they really don’t have a moment to ask very fundamental questions about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, if it’s the right thing to be doing. Nobody wants to be the person that is optimizing perfectly for the wrong goal, for the wrong outcome.

So, I think that one of the very best things we can do to begin to give ourselves the space to ask these questions is to actually just create a little room on our calendar. Obviously, it’s easier said than done, but I think we need to start becoming a lot more ruthless in terms of what we accept. Something that doesn’t get talked about, this is a skill you need to develop, although no one will tell you this, the things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you’re going to be successful, you need to stop. You need to regularly re-evaluate and create tighter and tighter criteria for what actually gets on your schedule. And this is an essential part of being a strategic and long-term thinker.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I find that actually pretty inspiring, Dorie, and I don’t know if that’s the reaction you get very often, “Tighter and tighter criteria. Ooh, boy.” But I think it’s true in that I‘m thinking about just, hey, this podcast, 700 episodes in, that’s exactly what’s happened in terms of criteria get tighter and tighter and tighter with regard to what guest gets in, which parts of the interview stay versus get edited out. And then, likewise, just as a function, I think the percentage of incoming pitches that are thumbs up gets smaller and smaller as well.

Dorie Clark
Yeah, when you were first starting, you probably would’ve interviewed my cat. That’s what it’s like when you start.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I might make a case for that in terms of, “Well, cute animal photos have been shown to reduce stress.”

Dorie Clark
It could go viral.

Pete Mockaitis
“Cats have been known to go viral.” So, then can you make that all the more real and specific for us in terms of maybe in your own schedule or others that you’ve coached or worked with and how you’ve seen, “Hey, this used to be okay, and now it’s not. And here are some particular filters or rules or criteria I’m using now that determine what gets the yes”?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. And I actually go into a lot of detail about this in The Long Game because I think your question points to something important, which is specifics actually really matter here because you can say all you want, “Oh, you should just say no more often,” and that’s great but people are like, “Okay, you jerk, like how do I do it?” So, you need to really understand the mechanics and the scripts and how do you draw these criteria.

Just to give you an example. When I first started my business, I’ve been working for myself for 15 years, I kind of didn’t know anybody. Like, when you’re starting any career, or you’re starting at a job, you don’t know anybody and so, therefore, you don’t even know who’s worth your time. And at that moment, it’s actually good to say yes to everybody because it’s not like you have so many other important things to do, and it’s not like there are so many people fighting to spend time with you. if you have an opportunity for a networking engagement, you should probably do it, right?

So, early on, the filter should be very wide. But, over time, people do begin to seek you out more, and so you’ve got to narrow it. So, some examples. Early on, I was so happy that anyone would like talk to me. I would immediately offer to go to them, “Oh, where do you want to meet? When do you want to meet?” And so, I would accept these things where I’d be taking like a 45-minute train ride into the city to go see somebody at some inconvenient place. I’d be coming back. I would literally have spent half a day in a networking meeting with someone.

Now, a half a day is extraordinarily valuable. I think about how much revenue or all the things I could be doing but, back in the day, I would say yes to that. So, over time, I slowly tightened it and say, “Okay. Well, maybe I’d meet with them but I’m not going to just offer to go to them. I would either make them come to me and meet near me, or I would only do it if I was already going to be in their neighborhood.” Also, I used to meet with people, “Hey, let’s have a networking meeting,” for like pretty much no reason. It could be, “Oh, somebody suggested we might like each other,” something like that.

Now, I actually need a pretty compelling reason, like, “Well, what do you want to talk about? Like, what’s the goal? Why is it that we should connect?” because, oftentimes, what I would discover, that I didn’t know, is that people actually had an agenda. They just wouldn’t state it. It was often to sell something to you. And so, it’s important to kind of understand what’s behind all of that. So, that’s a piece of it.

You can also, if you want, if you want to do the meeting, you’re not sure if you can say no, another strategy that I use is find a way that you can downgrade it but still say yes. So, you might say, “Oh, Dorie, can we have coffee? Can we have lunch?” and if I want to be careful, I don’t want to offend you or something, or I feel like I should say yes, I might say, “Oh, thank you, Pete. I’d love to do it. That would be great. My schedule is super crazy. I can’t do lunch but how about a call? Can we do a call next week?” And so, that way, instead of lunch, which might be two hours, two and a half hours, like getting there and then a lunch, the call is a tight 30 and then you can log off. So, you have, essentially, found a way to still say yes but save yourself 90 minutes, and all of that adds up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Dorie, I like this so much. It’s funny, just recently, I think I was getting a new insurance quote, and they proposed…because sometimes this is very easy to do, they said, “Oh, hey, when’s a good timing and we can hop on a call for me to walk you through a point-by-point all the elements of this plan?” I was like, “Wow, I never want to do that,” and maybe that might be prudent depending on the nature of the insurance product and what’s at stake and if there’s a lot of points of differentiation between that insurance product and the competition. Maybe that might be well worth your time. But for me, it wasn’t. It was sort of small potatoes insurance and I thought, “Wow, do people really say yes to this?

And so, I was able to say, “Oh, would it be possible for, instead, for you to email me the policy and share with me the key points and the price?”

Dorie Clark
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think I know what they’re doing. I think from like a sales process, I’m sure the studies have shown, you get a higher conversion rate if you have like a relationship and some engagement and some conversation, but I probably just wanted to kind of say yes, thank you, get some insurance, and move onto something else.

So, sometimes it’s easy but for me it’s kind of rare. And it’s funny, as you share those things, I’ve had those thoughts. Let’s just get real about sort of emotions here. And sometimes I will also have thoughts to be like, “Pete, who the heck do you think you are? Oh, now you’re big time, huh? Oh, you’re so important now that you can’t be bothered to have lunch.” So, I’ve got some internal dialogues in terms of just like, “Well, no, I can have a spreadsheet I can show you that time it better placed somewhere else from a business development perspective. Like, that’s a fact.”

But sometimes it’s more fuzzy, like, “Well, I don’t even know what’s going to make a bigger impact. Hard to say.” But then there’s also a little bit of the, “Oh, so now I’m too good.” And it’s like I don’t want to become, I don’t know what the anti-hero I’m looking for here, the villain I’m trying to paint here, not Scrooge McDuck swimming in money, or like Scrooge…help me out here. Like, I still want to be a generous person who is not corrupted by success as I grow but I guess that’s part of the long game as our time will become increasingly more valuable. We will need to say no more often. How do we deal with that?

Dorie Clark
Right. Well, I think you’re pointing to something important, which is that there’s a lot of layers to this. It’s not just a strictly rational ROI calculator, essentially. But I think there’s a few ways to think about this. And, also, of course, it depends who’s asking. I think sometimes, again, when we are less experienced, we often, at least me, I would essentially fall prey to people, just anyone who’d be like, “Hey, want to have coffee?” and I would just assume like the correct answer is yes, “Okay, yes.”

And then, meanwhile, you come and it’s some kind of a sales pitch or something where it’s almost like you’ve been kind of tricked or strong-armed into it, or if it’s not a sales pitch, maybe it’s they want something, “Oh, hey, Dorie, I hear you write for so and so. Can you introduce me to blah, blah, blah?” And it’s like, “Oh, now I get it. Like, oh, you want a thing that’s why you want to connect.” And so, those are things I do not feel bad screening out. I don’t want some user who is taking advantage, and so I think, partly, it’s about learning how to be more mindful if you feel like that vibe is coming off of someone.

I think, also, the truth is I don’t feel bad about saying no to people that are coming at you, or coming at me, in ways that are a little inappropriate. I think that, for me, when I was 22, when we’re all 22, we would have the college career counselors, they’d be like, “Oh, you should reach out to people and pick their brain.” And many people, again, when you’re 22, fine, but many people just kept with that, and that’s still their approach, and it should not be the approach of a seasoned professional.

If you are dealing with someone, you want to be showing empathy for their situation. And if you know that that person is, and you got to think about it, but if you actually, when you rationally think about it, realize, “This person is probably getting 10, 20, 50 emails per week with people asking for something,” you have to be mindful of what your ask is and contextualize it properly. And so, if you’re just sort of blithely saying, “Oh, can I have, for no reason at all, an undifferentiated amount of your time?” that’s actually not really being a sophisticated consumer. And so, I think that we need to…we all need to be more thoughtful in terms of how we approach people.

I actually did an analysis of the emails that I received a while back, and I discovered that, in the course of a week, I got somewhere between 10 and 11 requests per day for something. Now, sometimes it was a coffee or a meal, sometimes it was a, “Hey, will you share this on social media?” Sometimes it was a, “Will you blurb my book?” or, “Will you do this?” And many of them were from great friends, and I would be glad to do it. That’s totally fine.

But we all have to recognize for ourselves and when we’re dealing with others, if someone is getting 70 requests in a week, it is just foolish for that person to say yes to all of them. You have to triage and protect it so that I can say yes to you, Pete, and not some random person who is sort of barging in with inappropriate request.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Was it Jim Carrey where he says yes? Is it Yes Man? With all the chaos that ensues with the yes to everything. Yes, that’s helpful and thought-provoking both in terms of as the requester and the potential grantor of requests, like how to do that well. Well, thanks, Dorie. We went really deep there.

Dorie Clark
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s zoom out for a bit. Any other critical ideas from The Long Game that you think folks looking to be awesome at their jobs should know about?

Dorie Clark
Yeah. Well, I’ll just add one piece to where we were going before, which is, ultimately, if you want to actually be true to your vision, if you actually want to accomplish whatever your long-term goal is, it is not just about the people around you and saying no. We often fail to think about the opportunity costs when some requests or something is coming at us, some opportunity. We often think, “Should I do this thing or not?” And that’s not really the right question. It is actually, what we should be asking, is, “Should I be doing this thing or any other thing in the world that would take approximately that amount of time?”

And so, we have to contextualize it because if there’s a goal that you truly care about, that needs to be a north star in your mind so that you are carving out time so you can really do that and fulfilling your agenda rather than everyone else’s agenda for you. So, just connecting with that point, one area that I talk about that’s related in The Long Game is a concept that I call being willing to say no to good things.

Of course, we understand that we should say no to the bad things. It might be hard or that you worry that you might be hurting people’s feelings or something like that, but, ultimately, we get it. But where we really develop the kind of ninja-level skill, and this is very hard for all of us, is that if we want to leave room to pursue what actually is great, what is a great opportunity or a really important thing for us, if something is nearly good, we also need to be willing to say no to that. And the discipline to do that is really what can set us apart and make us extraordinary.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Boy, Dorie, we’re two peas in a pod here when you talk about saying no and sort of the alternative is like everything else that you could be doing. And I remember the first time I learned about the concept of opportunity costs in an economics high school course, it freaked me out. I’m just like, “Holy crap, so you’re saying in choosing to do one thing I’m saying no to everything else on the planet every time. Whoa!”

It kind of shook me up actually for a few weeks. It’s like a random day in economics class, a day in high school. But it’s the reality of the matter with regard to where you can funnel your time, and that’s really powerful when you’re thinking about those long-term objectives that you’re shooting for and how to get there.

I guess I want to hear your take in terms of the…well, if it’s diet or exercise or smoking or video games, anyway there’s a whole host of ways we humans have a knack for going after that instant gratification at the expense of long-term stuff. So, do you have any tips or perspectives or reframes that could help people when they’re in the heat of battle and they have a temptation to do something that maybe feel good or short term when they’d be better to do something more long-term oriented?

Dorie Clark
Oh, as someone who ate a large ice cream sundae last night, I can totally speak to this. But to be fair, I planned. I planned that sundae. I saved up for that sundae but, nonetheless. I think there’s a couple of things that we can keep in mind. And one of them, in The Long Game I tell the story of a woman named Kim Cantergiani who was a busy mom, a busy wife, had a great job as she was a C-suite executive at a nonprofit. And the thing that always fell through the cracks was her health, and she had gained weight that she wanted to lose, and she just had not been able to do it.

And, ultimately, for her, what proved successful is she created a pound-a-thon campaign where she publicly pledged to all her friends, and she got them signed up, that for every pound she lost, that they would donate X amount of money to the local Battered Women Shelter. And so, at that point, it became about something bigger than herself. She was going to be letting down other people if she did not lose weight.

And so, she told me, she said, “After that, I really couldn’t be seen walking around with chips and a Diet Pepper after that.” So, I think sometimes it’s about external accountability and tapping into the bigger picture of a cause outside yourself. And the third point that I’ll make is that oftentimes it’s really about committing to a date certain for something, because humans, we love to kind of blur the lines or make exceptions or, “Oh, I could do this a little later.”

But I tell a story of a woman named Sam Horn who was a very successful speaker, author, just running herself ragged in the pre-COVID world, traveling everywhere, giving these talks. And she decided that what she really wanted to do, it’d been a longstanding goal, is she wanted to move near the water, and actually not just one place. Not like get a lake house, but she wanted to spend an entire year as kind of a digital nomad, living by the water in beautiful places, like Florida and Hawaii. And she ended up doing it but she said the only reason was that she just forced herself to commit. She circled October 1st on her calendar and she made herself happen. And she said, “If I didn’t have a date, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, Dorie, tell me, any final thoughts about the long game before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dorie Clark
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete. I will just mention, for anybody that wants to dive in further to strategic thinking and creating a long-term vision, that I have a free resource, which is a Long Game Strategic Thinking Self-Assessment, and folks can get it for free at DorieClark.com/thelonggame.

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

Dorie Clark
One of my favorite quotes is actually one from Theodore Roosevelt, and I love it because, fundamentally, to me, long-term planning is important but it’s acting toward those long-term goals. It’s about the action. And his quote is, “In any moment of uncertainty, the best thing to do is the right thing. The next best thing to do is the wrong thing. And the worst thing to do is nothing.” And so, I think we learn by taking action, and, to me, that quote exemplifies it.

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

Dorie Clark
So, I have to pick a sentimental favorite. I actually talk a lot about this in The Long Game as well, is the famous marshmallow study by Walter Mischel, talking about, “Do you take one marshmallow now or two if you wait 15 minutes?” If we can figure out how to crack that code, that’s the ultimate in long-term thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Dorie Clark
One of the things that was most inspiring to me as I was starting my business and my business career was the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Pete Mockaitis
Had him on the show. So amazing.

Dorie Clark
He is. It’s so beautifully written. It is so engaging. And I think it just taught me so much about life, so I really respect the work that he’s done.

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

Dorie Clark
Yes, a favorite tool that I use, actually all the time, is Google Translate. I feel like these days, I’m working with so many people internationally, and where I can, at least learn a few phrases or say something as kind of a tip of the hat for them and their culture, I try to do that. So, I enjoy using that tool for connecting with people across borders.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you’ve been sharing that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Dorie Clark
Well, one of the things that I feel like seems to be resonating for people a lot, perhaps especially coming out of COVID, is a concept that I talk about in The Long Game called thinking in waves. And the basic idea is that, oftentimes, when we feel stuck, we feel like we’re in a rut, the problem is that we are, essentially, trying to just keep doing more of the same thing, and it’s the same thing that we’re good at, or the same thing that we’ve gotten results at. And, unfortunately, one of the things about being a successful human and a successful professional is that we actually have to do different things and we have to shift into a different wave.

And so, one of the most important things, I believe, is that we need to recognize, “Okay, which wave are we in? And where are we in the cycle? And how can we shift?” So, as just one example, for a lot of people, many of whom, frankly, have been kind of hard on themselves about this, they may have had a lot of extra home responsibilities or family responsibilities during COVID, and it’s not like you had a lot of choice in that. That’s sort of what the situation called for. We can’t beat ourselves up about it. But the important thing is to recognize that if we are playing the long game legitimately, then we need to lengthen the time that we’re looking at, and realize that it’s not necessarily about having perfect work-life balance, let’s say, during a set period of time.

During the past 18 months, you probably didn’t have very good work-life balance, but what you can do is actually make a choice to over-index in other areas. And once you are able to re-allocate some of that energy toward work, or toward non-family relationships, like friends, and deepening connections, and things like that, or if you’ve been going crazy with work, working way too hard, that’s fine in the short term. Sometimes you need to do that in order to be successful, but the problem comes when you do that always.

And so, it’s just understanding what wave are you in and how can you transition successfully so that over a long-enough period of time, you are getting the balance that you need.

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

Dorie Clark
One of the final challenges that I will suggest to people is in The Long Game I talk about a concept that I call optimize for interesting. And we all know that in our culture, oftentimes, things are a little bit polarized. It’s either, according to conversations, it’s either that we’re optimizing for our passion or we’re just making money, “Okay, let’s get some money.” I feel like those are fine options. They all have their limitations.

But because not all of us necessarily even know what our passion is, or it might change over time, or maybe your passion isn’t something that you can or that you want to monetize, what I like to suggest that we have as one potential orientation is the idea of optimizing for interesting. Because even if you don’t know what your passion is, for sure, you know what you find interesting. There’s hobbies, there’s things, you know what, some people really like birds. Guess what? If you like birds, you know it. If you’re not into birds, you also know that.

Some people are into wine, some people are into golf, some people are into football, some people are into theater. Optimize and try to direct your discretionary time and learning and knowledge and effort toward things that you find interesting. And you really can’t go wrong because you will enjoy the process, you will get more data, and you will learn things about yourself. And if it stops being interesting, no problem. Just pivot to something else.

Pete Mockaitis
Dorie, thank you. It’s always a treat. I wish you much success in the long game.

Dorie Clark
Pete, thank you. Always a pleasure to be here with you.

695: How to Take Risks Confidently with Sukhinder Singh Cassidy

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Sukhinder Singh Cassidy says: "When nothing is sure, everything is possible."

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy shares valuable insight on how to take smarter, more calculated risks with confidence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two easy ways to build your risk-taking muscle 
  2. How to stop the fear of failure from holding you back 
  3. One question to help you make smarter, more calculated risks

About Sukhinder

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy is a leading technology executive and entrepreneur, board member, and investor with twenty-five years of experience founding and helping to scale companies, including Google and Amazon. She served as president of StubHub and as a member of eBay’s executive leadership team. Sukhinder is the founder and chairman of theBoardlist, a premium talent marketplace that helps diverse leaders get discovered for board and executive opportunities, and the author of CHOOSE POSSIBILITY. 

Resources Mentioned

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Sukhinder Singh Cassidy Interview Transcript

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

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your perspectives associated with your book Choose Possibility. Can you tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
The big idea is that we all have a rather terrible relationship with risk-taking and a rather kind of, I would say, ill-conceived view of what risk really looks like. And so, the book was written to help us reframe risk for what it is, really the pursuit of possibility, and offer really pragmatic ways to rethink how you approach risk-taking in order for you to be able to unlock more of its benefits.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ll take right away the pursuit of possibility feels a lot better than the word risk just in the gut, as you sort of feel the words side by side and their valance. So, very cool. Now, your own career has had some interesting possibilities and risks and wild successes and disappointments. Can you give us a little bit of view for some of the wildest rides and how you’ve thought about risk and what happened for you?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Sure. Sure. Well, as you noted, I consider myself someone who’s taken hundreds of risks in my career. I have been at large companies when they were growing, like Amazon and Google. I’ve been a CEO of large companies like StubHub, but I’ve also started three of my own, been an early-stage investor, a mid-stage investor, a late-stage investor, a board member at startups, a board member at large public companies, and so I feel like I’ve navigated and traversed risk-taking throughout my career.

And if you said sort of, “What are some of the wildest rides?” Well, they include quitting my job as a president at Google when I was arguably among the top 15 executives in the company, and going to a startup as a CEO, and, honestly, having it fail ferociously as a career move within six months, only to have to figure out how to recover and navigate my way to my next career choice and, ultimately, find the unlock for myself in terms of the rewards I took for the risks I took. As you can imagine, that career left me feeling like risk-taking is not what people think it is, and the reward relationship with risk is anything but linear, which is how we tend to conceive it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I absolutely want to ask about that specific point, so let’s roll with it. So, the risk-reward relationship is not linear. What does it look like?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
I think of the relationship between risk-taking and reward is not only non-linear but, in some ways, very circuitous. And so, let me explain what I mean. When we make a move, any move, or take any choice, I bet you we’re looking for not just one reward but multiple rewards. We might be making a career choice that we’re hoping will fulfill us financially, that we’re hoping will unlock some outsized career, win like a title change, or step up in responsibilities, and maybe brings us a lot of personal happiness. So, we’re making a move that has effectively three choices within it that we’re trying to optimize for.

Yet, when it comes to sort of how things unfold, as we execute our way through a choice we’d made, the reality is we’re measuring it on these three different choices or goals we have, and we won’t get the results all at the same time. We maybe figure out if it’s going to be a financial win for several years. We may figure out if it’s a happiness win within a year. We may or may not achieve the career ambition we wanted in terms of title.

And so, when you think about all the reasons we take the risk to begin with, the rewards don’t unfold in sequence, they don’t unfold at the same time, and each reward may have its own relationship to our execution or to the factors that are entirely outside of our control on whether or not we sort of achieve we originally intended against that specific goal.

So, when I say it’s non-linear, I mean it unfolds at various points in time, big and little risks don’t correlate to the size of the ultimate reward, and so you look at the whole thing, and you say, “Gosh.” Whatever you imagine going in, you may or may not achieve it going out, but I bet you that you will still be able to collect the benefits of risks even if they don’t look like the rewards you originally imagined.

And I think that is the key, how you take risks and make sure that if it’s a non-linear and circuitous relationship, you can still gain benefit from the risk you take and understand what the relationships and the benefits might be every time you take a risk even if it’s not the ones you originally imagined.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, I think you could chew on that for a while and really get to some great places. It’s funny, when I was thinking about a non-linear relationship doing risk and reward, I was just thinking from a strictly kind of a finance thing, it’s like, “As there is a higher standard deviation and the returns of the given asset class, risk, there is a higher reward, like percent, money, return.”

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Yeah, percent return. Right. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But as you sort of zoom out and think about kind of the long game and your life and time and how things unfold, it doesn’t look like that at all.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting. So, actually, let’s back away, let’s look at your asset, my view versus your view, and back way. First of all, there is a thesis that I have in the book that if you actually look over the extent of your lifetime, you will actually find maybe that linear relationship but through multiple choices and multiple cycles.

So, if people were to chart my career, they’d say, “Wow, Sukhinder, there’s a pretty linear relationship between risk and reward because you started at one place and you took a risk and, gosh, look where you ended up.” So, it looks like a straight line over your lifetime but, really, what you’re doing is mapping through a bunch of cycles of choices and individual risks and individual rewards, each of which may or may not have worked out.

So, to your point, it’s like a stock pick. Any given stock pick may or may not work out. You and I would agree. When you’re building a stock portfolio, what are you trying to do? You try and actually make multiple choices. You’re diversifying your risks in order to maximize your overall return. By the way, as you keep picking stocks and watch pattern matching, I bet you become a more calculated stock picker over time.

And over the course of a long timeframe, let’s say 10 years, in which you are managing a stock portfolio, you’re getting better and better, though never perfect, at picking stocks, diversifying risks, taking parallel risks at the same time. And over the course of that entire period, you may say, “Wow, there was a relationship between starting to be a stock picker in my ultimate value of my portfolio.” But that doesn’t mean every individual stock you picked worked out.

And I think therein is the opportunity, and therein is the miscalculation of how most people think about risk. Most people think about risk as one mighty choice for one mighty reward. And I think, to take your analogy further, you will see the compounding benefits over a long period of time, but it will be an amalgamation of many individual choices or risks taken, each of which may or may not have worked out. And that’s why I think risk-taking has to become a skill rather than a single event we imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when we think about risk-taking as a skill, how do you recommend we go about getting better at this skill of risk-taking?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
First and foremost, it’s probably no surprise, I think about starting early and often. I will say to people, you imagine and look at the biggest risk-takers in the world, and we somehow celebrate their biggest choices and we act like that’s the only choice they ever made and that’s why they’re such a mighty risk-taker when, in fact, most started taking risks long before we knew it, and they took risks of different sizes.

So, if I were to say to you, “How did you become good at managing your portfolio?” or whatever it is you’re doing, I bet that it started by doing it early and often. So, I say to people, first and foremost, find reasons to take risks in your everyday life, in your everyday career. And most people will say, “Well, I took a risk. I made this choice to go into this career. I took a right turn and decided to join a startup.” Okay, well, that’s one risk but we have opportunities to take risks every day.

I always say to people you could take the risk to learn something new. You could take the risk to discover more opportunities. You could take the risk certainly to achieve an outsized ambition, or you could take a risk to avoid harm. Like, those are four different reasons we might have to take risks every day. And so, I say to people, early and often is the way to really build your risk-taking muscle.

The second thing I talk about with people is many people believe that risk-taking first requires a lot of planning. I don’t know. Have you ever seen this, Pete, the person who plans a lot, and plans judiciously, and plans in great detail before they ever take a risk? Because we think the more perfect our plans, the better our risk-taking will be and the more we can control the outcome.

And one of the other pieces of advice I say to people when they’re trying to get going and just start to take risks is, “Hey, as oppose to the perfect plan from afar, spend less time planning, create a rough plan, and then the most important thing you can do is get proximate to the choices you’re thinking about making, or the risks you’re thinking about taking.”

If you’re thinking about taking a risk to be an entrepreneur in a big company, one of the best ways to do it might, first and foremost, be proximate to people who are entrepreneurs. Learn what it looks like to be an entrepreneur. Get proximate by joining a startup. Become an apprentice before you make a final choice.

And so, I think people presume that risk-taking requires a perfect plan. And, instead, I kind of advocate for a rough plan, what I call a whiteboard plan, “What’s the direction in which you want to head?” And before you make your choice, take the little risks to get proximate and closer to the opportunities you seek, and learn before making your final choice.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, we’re using the phrase take risk a lot, so let’s get clear with definition, shall we? When you say, “Take a risk,” what precisely do we mean by that?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Well, I think of a risk is anything that has an uncertain outcome in pursuit of a goal. So, if you look at the standard definition of risk in Merriam-Webster, it’s to avoid injury or harm. That’s the kind of risk-taking we all imagine that keeps us from ever acting. If you look at the definition of risk-taking, it talks about literally entering an uncertain situation for the pursuit of a goal.

So, for me, a risk could be speaking up in a meeting. That’s ego risk. That’s psychological risk. It’s not financial risk but why don’t people speak in meetings? It’s because there’s a risk involved to their psyche or to their sense of what others think of them. And then risk-taking obviously follows more classic definitions if you know. You might decide to, as we said, empty the money from your bank account and put it in your first startup. That’s a bigger risk but it’s still a risk.

So, I think of risks as micro-actions, medium-sized actions, and larger-sized actions, all of which are uncertain but they’re decisions you make to try and unlock more impact. And what keeps you from doing it is obviously these fears we have, whether they’re related to our ego, financial, or kind of personal risks.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, so let’s talk about the fear. And maybe we’ll zoom out for a moment and get to a conceptual or theoretical optimal relationship to risk. Like, is your take that we should neither be fearful and take zero risks nor reckless and just do every nutty thing that we think about? Or, what does optimal look like in the realm of risk-taking?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Sure. Well, let’s start with what I call the universal risk-taking equation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
So, I want you to imagine two phrases, they’re pretty simple. One is FOMO, fear of missing out. I’m sure you know FOMO. The other of FOF, fear of failure. So, many people have fear of failure, many people have FOMO. So, I think of the universal risk-taking equation, put this in your head, the one that guides us all.

It’s goes something like this. If our fear of missing out on something is greater than our fear of failure, we’ll likely act, we’ll likely move in the direction of a choice we’re contemplating that has some uncertainty. If our fear of failure is greater than our FOMO, we’ll likely fail to act, it will equal inaction. So, let’s imagine risk-taking framework that looks like that.

First of all, you’ll notice two things. In that universal risk-taking equation, there isn’t the absence of fear. There are actually two fears that we are managing at any point in time – our fear of missing out, which is kind of what we would all think of as a positive fear, it’s the fear that induces us to act, and this fear of failure.

So, if you think about that concept, I think the world largely tells you that if you want to act, you just have to visualize the positive. Keep visualizing the positive because we’re going to ramp our FOMO. Makes sense. It’ll be like, “Hey, if you want to get that risk-taking equation working in your favor to act, just ramp your FOMO.” That doesn’t really do much for the way most people live, which is with a lot of fear.

So, just visualizing the positive doesn’t really do anything to help shrink the denominator in the equation, which is fear of failure. So, you could have a lot of FOMO, like you could have a lot of positive visualization, but if you can’t conquer or find a way to shrink your fear, you just won’t act, even though you know intellectually that there are all these things you’re excited about.

So, I often say to people, first of all, embrace both fears. I have an executive coach that I’ve worked with for 10 years through a number of my career choices, and he says to me, that I think is absolutely right, most people have a rather immature relationship with what he calls our inner risk manager, that voice inside of us that is, on the one hand, sometimes goading us forward, but more often our risk manager is trying to keep us from acting by sort of signaling all the dangers that’s going to happen to us, they’re trying to keep us safe.

So, he always talks about this immature relationship with our risk manager, and managing that formula I just talked about is about having a more mature relationship with your risk manager. And so, while it’s all good to kind of visualize the positive and ramp your FOMO, and I certainly recommend it when you’re creating goals, or when you’ve made a big choice and you’re trying to keep yourself motivated every day. What I often say to people is, “Let’s work actively on reducing our fear of failure,” and, “What are the strategies we can use that would help us reduce our fear of failure and allow us to act also?”

And there are a couple that I strongly recommend. One comes from our favorite risk-taker of all time, Jeff Bezos. Bezos wrote in his very famous shareholder letter to investors when he was going public, that most decisions Amazon makes, and he says that, “Most decisions we make, as people, are what we call decisions with two-way doors.” We often imagine that we make a decision and it’s a one-way door, there’s no way back. But the vast majority of things we do or try, there’s a way back. If you say something in a meeting that it doesn’t work out the way you want, it’s not like you can never say anything again.

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re fired.”

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Yeah, “You’re fired. Are you kidding? You said that terrible thing. Nobody thought you were smart.” Like, that’s absolutely ridiculous. If we said, “Hey,” you want to take a new job opportunity and it’s at a startup. If you’re very employable, and your current company lets you, it’s not like there’s not a way back if you go and it doesn’t work out.

So, the vast majority of things we think about are not one-way doors; they’re two-way doors. And so, I often advocate, and I advocate certainly in the book, that if you want to have a good relationship with your fear of failure, let’s start by not avoiding what those risks are. Let’s name them. Let’s size them. And they get sized as big if they’re one-way doors. If they’re two-way doors, they’re likely smaller, medium-sized risks, and go one step further.

I say, like, imagine the choice after the choice. Imagine you say that thing in a meeting and it doesn’t work out. Well, what’s the very next thing you would do? Imagine you go to that startup and you hate the job. What’s the very next move you would make? And the minute you can imagine the choices after the choice, and if you can come up with several, well, that’s probably not as large a risk as you think it is. And imagining what you would do actually helps us confront those fears of failure as opposed to avoiding them.

So, I often think about that universal risk-taking equation, and while I’m all for FOMO, I actually believe that we own each strategy to sort of look and shrink our fear of failure in order to get us into action. And those are some of the things I think about a lot and talk about a lot when I advocate for people to take more risks.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you say you advocate for people to take more risks, is it fair to say that most of us don’t take enough risks and relatively few of us are wild and reckless? Or, what’s your take about the breakdown of the…we’ll just say United States professionals?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Well, you’re asking a question that’s near and dear to my heart. If you want to go to the website for the book called ChoosePossibility.com, you can take a risk quiz, interestingly, to figure out what your natural risk-taking style is because I wanted to know the answer to the same questions as I was writing the book and certainly bringing it to market as we launch it.

And so, we actually created a simple risk survey, and then we surveyed the US population, obviously not the entire population but a sample, before putting the risk quiz on LinkedIn and on the site where you can take it. And to your point, what we found is that we sort of named four archetypes for risks, and we found that the vast majority of people taking the risk quiz, like 60%, are what we call contemplators, which is very good at being calculated and measured in laying out the pros and cons of any decision.

But where they self-identify is having challenge is in actually making a decision. And these people self-identify saying, “Hey, I can look back and I have a decent amount of regret about choices I didn’t make and actions I failed to take.” So, the majority of the population in our risk quiz are contemplators. And then let’s think about what comes on either side of a contemplator.

A contemplator who is more negative, who sees more easily the cons of any given situation, who’s always trying to keep safe and keep away from harm, we call a critic. On the other side of being a contemplator is what we call the calculator, the person who also does the analysis of pros and cons in any big decision, and certainly probably does a faster analysis or more efficient analysis on smaller decisions, but is comfortable making a decision within a given time period. So, they’re always calculating and kind of biased towards making a decision more than the contemplator.

And then the last archetype we identified is what we call the change seeker. And you and I probably know lots of change seekers, which are people who are so easy to see opportunity that, in fact, they may move very spontaneously. Some would call them reckless, some wouldn’t. Some would say that they’re the life of the party and the people who never miss an opportunity even if it costs them overcommitting or, in some ways, moving rashly.

And so, when we look at these four archetypes, and as I said, you can identify which you are by taking the quiz on the site, I think the majority of people certainly are comfortable with the idea of a pros and cons list, but when it comes to action, they maybe sit on the sidelines a little bit more than they wish they would. And, obviously, that’s what prompted me to write the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s talk about some particular strategies and tactics when it comes to doing some decision-making. So, I liked how you discussed how we can shrink our fear of failure by thinking through, “Hey, is this a two-way door? If this went south, what would be the very next step?” What are some of your other favorite approaches? Or, do you have a master framework when you sit down and say, “Okay, Sukhinder, decision time”? How do you get to your answers?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Well, let’s put it this way. First of all, in our risk quiz, I’m a calculator, which means I’m never without my own spreadsheet. Make no mistake, I think of my own relationship with risks as, “Yes, here’s that formula.” But to answer your question, I do believe that for smaller choices, it’s about doing the rapid formula and moving yourself to action because as soon as you realize that a risk is of rather small size, hopefully you can get into action fairly quickly without needing a gigantic spreadsheet.

But, believe me, when it comes to bigger choices in my own life, I have a pretty gigantic spreadsheet too. And some of the things that you would find on it might surprise you. So, in my frameworks for taking risks and making bigger choices, there are probably two things that I do, and I weigh in my framework that most people don’t weigh.

When most people create a framework for making a bigger choice, they really do a pros and cons of like what we might think about like how they will execute, they say, “Gosh, this could go right and this could go wrong.” But they really act as if the entire risk and thing worth rating are like their own execution ability. Like you say, “Oh, this could go right or this could go wrong if I do this or I fail to do this.”

In my own risk-taking frameworks, actually, I not only look at how something compares to my goals or my own skills and capabilities, like, “Gosh, am I likely to succeed or fail in my efforts?” But I have two dimensions that I think most people fail to add. Number one is what I call the people factor. So, most people try and make a choice sort of on the what of the thing they’re pursuing.

So, let’s put it this way. I want to go to a startup. I’m thinking about the what that that startup does and is that startup likely to be successful or not? Is that a winning idea? I often, and this has certainly been something I’ve learned the hard way in my career, but I’ve also had the benefit of, I’ve really, in all of my frameworks, I overweight the people I am going to join in any new choice or endeavors. So, I call that the “I put the who over the what,” and that’s one big piece of advice I have for people when creating around framework and doing your own pros and cons list. You have to add and rate the people factor of any dimension.

And people say, “Well, why is that important?” I think it’s important because many of us have been told to take risks in the direction of our passions, as an example. Like, “Hey, go overweight moving towards something that’s in the direction of things you enjoy.” That’s great. But 99% of our careers and how successful we are on the job are done in collaboration with others, with peers, with a boss, with a CEO who might be guiding the direction of the company, so with people who share or don’t share our values, let alone complement our strengths.

And so, when I overweight the people, what I’m really overweighting is, like, “Hey, I’ll get to have fun in my job or do the things I’m passionate about or good at dependent on the people I go to work with every day. And if I go to work with extraordinary people, people who have skills I seek to acquire, or people whose values fit my own, there’s a far better chance that I’m going to enjoy the day-to-day of my job and do my best work.”

And, yes, all the better if it’s in the direction of my, let’s say, stated passions in terms of topic area. So, putting the who over the what is one big factor in my frameworks that most people don’t really rate enough or rate highly enough when they make their choices. And the other one that I often tell people is missing from their frameworks, and I would add to any framework or pro-con choice, is what I call the things that aren’t in your control, the headwinds and tailwinds of any situation.

We tend to believe that we go into any situation, and what I call the neutral state, like it’s just waiting there for our immense and amazing execution in order for us to be successful as if that is the only factor at play in things that work and don’t work. But if we take the time to rate the situation we’re entering, as it’s like, “Does it have momentum and tailwinds?” People often give me a lot of credit for my choices, but my friend, I came to Silicon Valley in 1997. Ahh, that was a good time to come to Silicon Valley.

Let me tell you, there are so many tailwinds that if I made a bad choice, I could still pivot into good choices. And, in fact, that happened to me in my first job in the Valley. I quit in six months but there was so much opportunity that I could pivot into and so many companies that had tailwinds, that I had plenty of what we call room to fail and still be successful.

And so, I think objectively rating the situation you’re entering, “Does it have headwinds or tailwinds? And what does that mean for your ability to execute?” is a huge other factor in the frameworks I build around any big choice.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that concept right there, room to fail. I guess I could just flip it around. As I was contemplating, “Should I launch this podcast? Oh, it’s going to be a lot of work. And, hey, I’ve tried a lot of business initiatives that didn’t work out.” And one of the things I loved about this, as a concept, was that there were just so many ways to win, financially. I already knew it was going to be fun talking to people like you about stuff I love.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Of course, right?

Pete Mockaitis
But I thought that there are so many ways that this can win, whether it’s just from sponsorship, or selling courses, coaching and training, licensing and monetizing. Like, there’s a lot of ways. As opposed to a lot of businesses are like, “Well, hopefully people like this thing,” whether a product or service, and if they don’t, then that’s kind of all there is to it.

So, room to fail or many ways to win is a cool parameter to embrace and to value and to consider.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
I love it. This comes into like embrace your inner calculator. Like, lay out all of these things because sometimes, as you know, like one of the things I found in the book is if you look at the research, people often make decisions quickly because uncertainty feels so uncomfortable.

But when you lay out all of these paths, as you said, all the ways your podcast could monetize, like you’re not only ramping your FOMO, you’re also, in many ways, like dealing your fear of failure. You’re saying, “Oh, my goodness, here are like the three ways. If this one doesn’t work, this one could work. If this one doesn’t work, this one could work.” So, I bet you, that thought process got you into action by confronting all of these thoughts early and being calculated in taking this risk, not just like a hope and a prayer, but laying it out in order to get yourself into action.

And so, I mean, I love it. Yes, room to fail all the time. But room to fail means you take the time to confront the things that not only you would love about doing this, but the things that you fear, and laying out all the possible paths you could pursue. That’s what gets me into action, it’s not just sort of dreaming in the abstract.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s a really compelling point right there about folks moving quickly because they don’t want to linger in the discomfort of those, the moments of uncertainty.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I think there’s some real wisdom there. And so, any pro tips with regard to if folks are in a position, like, “Ah, I’ve just been thinking about this too long. Aargh!” How do you recommend sort of calming the system, or, maybe just in general, like when emotions are running hot, like to get back to a place of calm, wise rationality?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Well, I’ll tell you what I do because I certainly love to act and I’m somebody who makes decisions, relatively speaking, fast. But when it is a weighty decision, or when there is something bothering me, the first thing I do when something is like I’m prompted to act quickly, almost too quickly, and I feel myself becoming reckless, is I try and step back and ask myself, “What am I trying to solve?”

And, often, what reveals itself is that there is not a one-stepper but a two-stepper. So, first of all, when we’re feeling anxious, it’s because something in our current situation is maybe feeling threatening or negative to us. You know people who are like, let’s say, take the first job offer they get. And you say, “Well, why are you going to jump into that job? Like, just step back. What are you trying to solve?”

And when you ask yourself the question, “What are you trying to solve in making the decision now?” usually, what you find is you’re trying to solve in a one-stepper something that’s effectively of two-stepper. So, what do I mean by that? Let’s say your current job sucks. Like, you’re fighting with your boss. So, the first job that comes up, you feel like, “I’m going to take that. That’s the one. I’m saying yes on Monday.”

I would say, “Okay, figure out why you want to say yes on Monday. Before you say yes on Monday, figure out what you’re trying to solve.” So, first of all, you’re trying to solve your current discomfort at work. That might involve going in on Monday and having an honest conversation with your boss about something that’s not going right. That is a distinct decision and risk to take from the risk of what job to go to next. That’s the two-per. Like, number one, solve the current discomfort. Number two, then decide if you were in “a neutral state” and try and pick the best possible job choice, “Would you pick this one? Or, would you now take the time, having solved your immediate discomfort, to go lay out five job choices because maybe you’re going to find one that’s even better?”

And, certainly, I say to people, like, “Step back. Forget what you’re trying to solve. And if it’s a two-per, lay out your two independent goals because they may be solved separately. And that allows you then, my friend, to setup the next choice, that next possibility, and I’m not like, “Hey, go live forever in uncertainty,” then I’m more in there like, “Hey, if you were in a neutral place, maybe you would have the time to go figure out the three jobs that would be your dream job. Go have two more conversations and set yourself a timeframe to still make the decision but it doesn’t need to be yesterday.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that is an insight that’s applicable in many circumstances, that this isn’t a one giant leap but rather maybe two or three or four steps and components. And in asking that question, “What are you trying to solve?” you can see that and take appropriate action. And what’s fun is that you may feel all the more empowered and emboldened and equipped to have that conversation with boss because, like, “I don’t know if this is going to go well.” It’s like, “Well, hey, if it’s horrible, at least I have something.”

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Yeah, I have something. I have a bird in the hand. Yes, absolutely. But it’s just about forcing those things apart when we’re feeling reckless. So, the point is that I think our relationship with risk tends to be risk is for the risk-takers among us. Okay, not true. Risk is a skill that anyone can build, point one. And then, number two, on this point of like, “Okay. Well, if you want to build those risk-taking muscles, think about these choices in increments.” You’re often not making, as you said, one choice. You often have the opportunity to make two, three, four choices.

And you know what that does for us when we know we have the ability to make two, three, or four choices? It frees us from the pressure of one big choice, which is what people think it needs to be – one big choice. I call this the myth of the single choice, “I’m going to make one big choice and it’s going to be either a raging success or an abject failure,” and then there’s so much pressure on that one choice. The minute you say, like, “I have multiple choices and risks to take or choices to make,” it really frees us up from this myth of the single choice. And, in fact, we can get the compounding benefits of choosing again and again and again.

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

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Well, I think mostly it’s what I said. If you think that risk-taking is for the risky among us, reframe your thinking about what risk really is. It’s a small or big choice that you can make multiples times a day, a week, a month, a year that get you into action now and sort of unlock your learnings so you can choose again. And it’s about this freedom to choose and choose and choose again that really helps us create compounding benefit to the risks we take.

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

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
My favorite quote is probably one from the book, which is, “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” And so, we often think about, as I said, this idea that uncertainty is daunting, but let’s just remember, like, uncertainty is literally the definition of possibility. When nothing is sure, everything is possible. So, that’s a pretty awesome place to dwell, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
And we don’t tend to think of it that way.

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

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Well, one of my favorites is actually, I don’t know about, but have you ever read the book Good to Great from Jim Collins?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
So, that’s one my favorite older books, but one of my favorite newer books, in fact, I had it in our book club at StubHub. I made the entire leadership team read it, it was this book Growth Beyond the Hockey Stick from a set of McKinsey partners. It’s one of my favorites. It’s a 30-year study of companies that non-linearly outperform over time.

And what it really finds, which I think is so fun, is it sorts of reinforces or validates through data the research that the companies most prone to failure over a long period of time are companies that fail to take any move rather than companies that made multiple moves, some of which were wrong, actually have a much better chance of what they call, what McKinsey calls moving up the power curve to become non-linear, you know, outsize successes over time in terms of shareholder returns. So, failing to move is far more likely to have you, what we call go, whereas making multiple moves, imperfectly, is far more likely to get you to grow. Very neat analogy, obviously, to the book.

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

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
My favorite tool to be awesome at my job, you would laugh, but it’s my iPhone notes. Like, when people talk about having, like, “I always have a plan,” but I’m moving all the time, so although I’d love to have a whiteboard. The reality is my iPhone notes is my whiteboard. If you went into it, you would see notes on everything from business ideas, to what I need to get done today, to my grocery list, to tips for what are the things I want to remember to mention on this podcast. So, I would say one of my favorite tools is a pretty simple one – iPhone notes. All the time. Goes with me all the time. I can erase it, modify it, but it’s always there.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
These days it’s tennis. I don’t know what your favorite COVID habit is but I have become much more regular as a tennis player, and I’m loving it.

Pete Mockaitis
And it sounds like you may have already shared a couple of these, but is there a particular nugget that you articulate that gets quoted back to you frequently and people are loving?

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
I have a quote I often give people that does get played back to me all the time. It’s called, “You manage me or I manage you. Which would you prefer?” And when people are like, “What do you mean by that?” I often say in leadership talks, “Okay, like literally, if you’re a leader, you have a choice, you can say to your people, ‘You manage me or I manage you. What would you prefer?’”

And most people presume that the right answer is, “Well, gee, like I would prefer to manage others.” And I say to folks all the time, I’m like, “Really? I prefer for somebody to manage me.” They’re like, “What do you mean?” I’m like, “No, no, I really prefer that they manage me. Like, I’m a CEO, so if you walk into my office and expect to be managed, and I’m an opinionated person, there’s a pretty good chance I’m just going to spit out whatever is in my head and tell you to do it. That doesn’t mean it’s the right answer. It’s also not a super empowering place to be.” So, if you presume that my job is to manage you, that’s not a particularly fun place to be.

Now, let’s reverse it. Now, if I say, like, “Gosh, your job is to manage me. That means you’re likely to walk into a meeting with me with an agenda of your own. You take control of the conversation. You probably have a problem and a solution you’d like to propose. You’ve thought it out. You lay it out.” Now, guess what that means for me as your leader and manager? It means that I get to have a really highly leveraged interaction with you where you’ve clearly thought it through. You get to lay out your vision. I get to respond to it and add to it my vision and my insights. And then you leave out my office in 10 minutes versus an hour. You’re feeling super empowered. And guess what? I’m feeling pretty leveraged and we both go on to have a better day.

So, I always say to people, like, reverse your thinking on management. If you think the purpose of management is for you to manage down to others, imagine what life looks like when you ask people to manage up to you, what it looks like for them and what it looks like for you. That, to me, feels like real leverage for both parties.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a beautiful perspective. And one of my mentors, Victor Cheng, in episode 500, he said that that’s how he would approach his conversations with new direct reports. So, he’s the boss, he’d say, “I work for you and here’s how it works. You tell me what you need, what resources, what decisions I need to provide to you so that you can do your best work. And then that’s what I want to with them, and get out of your way, and we’re going to have great things happen.”

It’s sort of a reframe but it is lovely. I could tell you, with employees, it is refreshing and wonderful for all of us when they say, “Hey, Pete, here’s what I need from you.” I was like, “Okay, cool. Well, hey, you’ve got it. Is that it? That was quick.”

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Isn’t nice? It’s awesome, right? It’s quick and efficient. Now, make no mistake, your friend sounds pretty graceful and patient. My problem is I’m actually impatient and fairly opinionated. So, I always say to people, “The problem is if you walk in with a blank sheet, you’re far more likely to walk out with my sheet, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. It may or may not be but the problem is I always have something to say, so I would much rather you come in with what you have to say because that is a fun place for me to be as well.”

And sometimes personalities like mine, you definitely don’t want to be walking out just presuming that because I have an opinion, it’s always the right one. What I’d really love to do is get into an interaction with someone, which is quick, efficient, highly leveraged, and fun because we’re both learning something from it.

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

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Well, you can always find me on LinkedIn, just at Sukhinder Singh Cassidy. You can find me on Twitter but, honestly, I hang out more on LinkedIn because it’s a fun place to have career conversations with folks. And, certainly, you can, if you are so inspired, you can always preorder the book Choose Possibility on the website, and it comes out August 17th.

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

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
I would say my call to action is take the risk quiz but, more importantly, understand that it doesn’t matter what your natural style is. Every single one of us can be what I call a chooser. And so, my call to action is be a chooser versus kicking the can down the road. Make the little choices today that unlock incremental possibility.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Sukhinder, thank you for this. This is a real treat. And I wish you lots of luck in all your possibilities.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Well, thanks so much. Thanks for having me.

614: Making Smarter Decisions When You Can’t Know Everything with Annie Duke

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Annie Duke says: "All decision-making is forecasting of the future."

Poker champion Annie Duke shares tools to improve your decision-making process and your ability to predict the future.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why your decisions still matter, even when you don’t call the shots
  2. The shift in language that leads to more open conversations
  3. How a pros and cons list tricks us into making worse decisions

About Annie

Annie Duke is an author, corporate speaker, and consultant in the decision-making space. Annie’s latest book, How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices, is available on October 15, 2020 from Portfolio, a Penguin Random House imprint. Her previous book, Thinking in Bets, is a national bestseller. As a former professional poker player, Annie won more than $4 million in tournament poker before retiring from the game in 2012. Prior to becoming a professional player, Annie was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship to study Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Annie is the co-founder of The Alliance for Decision Education, a non-profit whose mission is to improve lives by empowering students through decision skills education. She is also a member of the National Board of After-School All-Stars and the Board of Directors of the Franklin Institute. In 2020, she joined the board of the Renew Democracy Initiative. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Annie Duke Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Annie, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Annie Duke
I’m excited to be back. It’s been a while.

Pete Mockaitis
It has. Well, yeah, just looking at that, it’s been over two years. Wow, time is flying, because I still remember many of the things you said kind of closely, like, “Want to make a bet?”

Annie Duke
Nice.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it seemed closer. So, yeah, I’m excited to dig into some wisdom you’ve formulated in your latest book How to Decide. But, first, I think we need to hear, we know about you being a poker champion, but I just recently learned that you’re also a Rock Paper Scissors Champion and I want to hear the whole story.

Annie Duke
Oh, my gosh. There’s, like, literally so little story to this. It sounds much more amazing and glamorous than it actually is. At the World Series of Poker one year, some friends of mine, like, they organized a Rock Paper Scissors World Championship which was designed like March Madness. And I quickly went over and asked my friend for some rock paper scissors advice, which he gave me, and I ended up winning.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good advice. So, what’s the trick?

Annie Duke
Well, first of all, a lot of luck. Well, the trick that he told me and, listen, I’m not certifying this advice, it happened to have worked for me, is that you should be thinking about how you can tie with the person. So, it’s a little bit like anything else that you’re playing that’s like that. You want to try to get into the other person’s head and think about what they might be throwing. So, if they’re throwing scissors, you should be trying to throw scissors back.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so…

Annie Duke
And I think the reason for that is that if they were thinking about you being able to predict them, which is where people’s heads go, so if I’m thinking about throwing scissors, I’m worried about you throwing rock. So, if I changed my mind, I’m going to go to paper, but scissors beat paper. So, I think that’s what it is. It’s sort of you’re going those levels deep, that “The person is thinking I’m throwing scissors but what if they know?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Annie Duke
“And if they know, then I want to figure out something that’s going to beat that.” And so, when you’re shifting off of your original intention, you’ll lose to the tie.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, there are so many layers here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve looked a little bit in the world of championship rock paper scissors play, and I understand some people will just pre-memorize a script, like, “I’m going to go rock and then scissors,” and then just roll with it regardless of what you’re doing.

Annie Duke
Yeah. So, I’ve used that strategy before. So, basically, what you’re saying there is, “I don’t want to be predictable,” so you would do this if you thought that your opponent was actually quite good. In other words, so you felt like you couldn’t predict your opponent then you would want to go to, essentially, a random number generator. So, that’s basically what they’re doing. They just write down a script in advance, and they’re just saying, “If I’m not reacting to what they’re doing or reacting, whatever, then you can’t predict me.” So, the way that I did that, there was one…I don’t know if it was in that tournament, it might have been another one. I took out a dollar bill.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s multiple Rock Paper Scissors tournaments under your belt.

Annie Duke
Two. So, what I did, I think I came against somebody who I thought was actually quite good at rock paper scissors, and so I took out a bill. I just had like a stack of bills, like dollar bills, and basically that would give me a serial number, it’s like 10 numbers or something. That would give me 10 throws. So, I had like, if it was zero, one or two, I would throw rock. If it was three, four, five, I would throw scissors. And if it was six, seven, eight, I would throw paper. And then I ignored nine and moved one. So, it was that kind of thing, so that ends up accomplishing the exact same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, you’re champion in the one. And how did the other one go?

Annie Duke
I think I got to like the semifinals maybe.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s what I find so intriguing. It suggests that if it’s repeatable that you’re doing well, then it seems like there’s more than pure chance at work here.

Annie Duke
Well, I think it’s probably just, you know, I played a lot of poker so I sort of crawl into people’s heads a lot. And so, I think that I’m probably maybe better than the average Joe of figuring out what your patterns are, what you’re likely to be doing. And if you can do that, obviously, you can defend against it. But then you also have to have this kind of second-order knowledge of, “What if I’m against somebody who might be better than me at that?” then you can go to a random strategy.

And I think what happened was, I think I lost in the semifinals or the finals, but it was starting in the semifinals, or the round before that, that I used the random strategy. And I know I won one or two rounds with the random strategy where I felt like I’d come across somebody who was really good. And then, by the way, it really frustrates your opponent because they want to be able to apply their skill. And so, if they’re really good, then you take out a dollar bill, they realized that you’ve completely unarmed them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s intriguing. And I read that they made a robot that can win rock paper scissors every time but it’s cheating. It’s like it catches what you’re going to do like a split second.

Annie Duke
Well, that’s not really winning now, is it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it could cheat at rock paper scissors perfectly.

Annie Duke
Great. Yeah, a cheating robot. You know what we really need to add to this dystopia right now? Cheating robots.

Pete Mockaitis
Cheating robots.

Annie Duke
We could just add cheating robots into the mix.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, more headlines. More headlines to trigger anxiety. Okay. Cool. Well, that was fun. Let’s talk about decision-making when there’s more than…

Annie Duke
Well, we just did.

Pete Mockaitis
We did, how to win rock paper scissors under different circumstances. Well, so I love dorking out about decision-making tools. And I’d love it if, hey, there are some listeners who are not yet as enthused as you and I, can you make the case for the benefits professionals can enjoy with enhanced decision-making skills? And maybe, specifically, or particularly, for those who think that, “You know, I don’t have a lot of decision-making authority at my role. I kind of got to do what I’m told,” what are the benefits to be had by being excellent at decision-making?

Annie Duke
Let me give you just sort of the broader point, which is there’s only two things that determine how your life turns out, and it’s left in the quality of your decision-making. That’s it. So, there’s a whole bunch of luck that happens in your life, like, “What year are you born in?” It matters that I was not born in 1600 for the outcome of my life. And, obviously, from my perspective or from your perspective, coronavirus is a matter of luck. I assume you did not create the virus and distribute it.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Annie Duke
But maybe that’s a bad assumption.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I guess there’s decisions you make associated with how much you’re going to go out, what measure you’re taking.

Annie Duke
Right. Exactly. So, that’s a good example, the two things that matter. There’s a whole bunch of luck that has to do with coronavirus, like the wrong human, to steal that line from Contagion. Then there are decisions that you can make given that that luck has occurred, and that’s the only thing that you have control over. And the better that your decisions are, the better your life is going to turn out.

So, I mean, that’s literally the simplest argument, which is it’s the one thing that you have control over that will actually have an actual real impact on the way that your life is going to turn out. Now, I understand that someone may, in a business setting, not be the ultimate decider, but the better your decisions, the more likely that you’re going to accomplish your goals within that environment. And there’s a few ways that you can think about it.

One is, of course, that you’re responsible for your own decisions. And one would hope that the better your decisions are, the more it maps onto your ability to actually move up the ladder or accomplish the goals that you’re trying to get to professionally. And you want to become more educated, and you want to implement a better process just literally for yourself. That’s number one.

Number two, there are certain things, there are certain behaviors that you can engage in that actually will start to get implemented in the people around you. In other words, you do have some influence even if you’re not the ultimate decider. You have some influence over the people around you that you can start to sort of get some of these really good decision-making skills and tools into a group setting.

And the last thing is, honestly, like, let’s say that I’m in a crappy situation with a bad boss, and they don’t really listen to anybody, and I don’t like the situation I’m in, that’s actually, in some ways, a more important time to be a good decision-maker because you need to be able to navigate those situations well. You need to decide when you want to stay or when you want to go, “Do I want to quit? Do I not want to quit? What can I do about this to make my situation better and actually to be able to thrive in an environment that’s an unhappy environment?”

Because, in a variety of ways, we can all end up in environments that are really unhappy where there are external forces that are making it very hard for us to thrive. And, while that is true and we want to be able to work to be able to change the situation that we’re in as much as we can, sometimes we have very little control over that, so you want to sort of grab onto like, “What are the things that I do actually have control over and improve those?” because those little changes will compound over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s exciting. And so then, it sounds about as important as it could get in terms of what we can control that will impact everything in life, in career and happiness, decision-making enhances. So, could you maybe inspire us? Could you share a story of someone who, they thought their decision-making was fine, but then they adopted some of your tools and approaches and, boy, they saw some awesome results with their enhanced decision-making?

Annie Duke
If I were to think about this from prior to getting into a business setting, from a poker setting, the fact is that in order for me to improve my poker playing, what I have to do is to be able to think about, “What kind of were my predictions of the world?” and then try to figure out, “How did the actual outcomes that I got mapped onto my predictions of the world, what were the other ways that I might’ve thought about the hand?” And then I need to be able to talk to people in a way that’s going to expose to me the ways in which they may have differences of opinion with me, because the differences of opinion are where things get really interesting, right? Like, if you and I believe the earth is round, that’s pretty interesting, like, “Okay, the earth is round.” You’ll find that out.

Pete Mockaitis
“I also agree.” Conversation over.

Annie Duke
Yeah. But if I found that you think it’s flat, and I think it’s round, that’s like a humongous opportunity. And your listeners may be saying, like, “Well, how is that an opportunity for the person who believes that the earth is round?” which is a very common response for that. Isn’t that only an opportunity for the person who thinks the earth is flat? And I have a couple of answers to that.

Number one is things aren’t usually as clear as “We know that the earth is round, not flat.” We’re usually talking about things that are much more subjective, like which candidate to hire. And you believe we should hire candidate B, and I think I should hire candidate A, and we don’t know what the truth is, right? Not in the same way of round and flat, and so we need to have that discussion in order to get to the discovery that the earth is round. That’s the first piece.

But the second piece is that even when we hold opinions that are generally maybe are even true, it’s actually helpful for me to actually have to defend those against somebody that believes that the earth is flat. I don’t know about you but my arguments for why the earth is round would be super weak, like, things like, “Scientists say so, and I saw the pictures,” which are not particularly good arguments.

So, by having to actually be able to explain it to you, I’m actually going to know my own position better. So, what I was trying to do as a poker player was actually find out where there are areas of disagreement. So, when I actually work with teams, most of what I’m trying to do is that, and that’s how we’re improving decisions because what we’re doing is we have processes that are in place by which we can talk about, which allow for you to surface the dispersion of opinion as opposed to linger over the agreement.

Now, I’m sure you’ve been in lots of meetings where basically what happens is somebody says something and then everybody goes around the room and says, “I just want to double-click on what Pete said because I have my own reasons for believing the thing that he said, and I also would like to reiterate the same reasons that he said those things.” And you sort of go around the room, and then I guess everybody feels pretty good about themselves. But what you’ve really done is said, “I think the earth is round,” “I think the earth is round,” “I think the earth is round,” “I think the earth is round,” which is not particularly good for informing a group. It’s not good for informing a decision. It’s not going to actually improve decision-making at all.

So, what I’m trying to do with groups is get them to surface the areas where they disagree, where there’s actual dispersion of opinion, and then spend most of their time on that, really exploring that. By the way, not with the goal that they end up agreeing because when you’re talking about subjective things, like candidate A or candidate B, you actually shouldn’t expect agreement. And if you do get to agreement, probably somebody is actually not agreeing, they’re giving in, which is a really different thing. But we want those different viewpoints to collide, and then that really improves the decision-making.

Now, it turns out that when you really do a good job of surfacing the dispersion in the first place, you also create this amazing record of why you think what you do, why you want the decision that you want, what you think is going to be true of the world in the future. And this, then, has a huge impact on your decision-making because, after the world starts to unfold, as it does, like after the future starts to happen and become the present, you’ll have like an evidentiary record that you can go back and look at. And this now allows us to actually create really nice closed feedback loops where we actually know what we’re supposed to be looking for in order to become better calibrated in our decisions.

So, what I can tell you is that the groups that I work with, when we actually get these kinds of processes implemented, the quality of the conversation shoots through the roof, meetings are shorter, but more informative, which I think everybody would really like. And then the way that they’re actually thinking about dispersion, like, “What does it mean for somebody to disagree with you?” moves out of sort of the defensive world into the open-minded world because it really reinforces these ideas that the goal of a meeting is to inform not to agree. And then it actually helps them to much more quickly to recalibrate if their calibration is off because you can close these feedback loops really quickly, and actually more accurately.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that point you brought up about defensiveness there, and even the phrase dispersion of opinion, you know, feels emotionally a lot more comfortable than disagreement or conflicts.

Annie Duke
Well, that’s why I’m using that term actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Masterful. Good work.

Annie Duke
Yeah. So, it’s in my book, and I really recommend that people start to use this term, dispersion or divergence. Both of those words, I think, are really good. Where do we diverge? And where do we converge? Because I think disagreement has such a negative connotation. It sounds so combative. And when I feel like you disagree with me, it gets translated for us sort of just cognitively into like you’re attacking my identity as opposed to just like, “Oh, we have a disagreement about these things.” It feels like an attack on my identity.

And, generally, what happens is that when I view it through the lens of disagreement, I’m going to tend to shift into convince mode as opposed to convey mode. In other words, I’m going to want to bring you over to my side of the argument in order to certify my beliefs and certify my identity, and so the way that I’m speaking to you is going to be meant to convince. It’s going to create a lot of interrupting, me saying, “Well, have you thought about this? So, you weren’t thinking about this data, or I think you’re wrong about this,” and so on and so forth. As opposed to like a real honest exploration of me trying to understand why you believe what you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, it’s funny, this reminds me of a time when it was way back, I think maybe in high school, in which I was arguing with somebody, and we had some friends and we just decided that they were going to be the jury, and we would make our case and advocate for our perspective. And it was kind of funny, it was kind of a joke, but it got a bit heated actually. And then when the jury left, it was just the two of us, and we just sort of chatted out with a completely different intention of, “Well, let’s sort of really see what kind of went on there and what we should do about it.” And it was just sort of like night and day in terms of “Are we trying to convince to win the argument as opposed to kind of collaboratively jointly discover what’s as accurate as possible?”

Annie Duke
Right. Yeah, exactly. And I think that the other thing that we need to realize when we’re dealing with things that are in the subjective world, so we’re not talking about “2+2=4” or, “The earth is round.” For most of the decisions we’re making in our lives and in a business setting, by the way, we’re talking about things where we’re trying to discover what is subjectively true, but what is subjectively true is not known so we’re having to go through the discovery process in order to get there.

And so, the idea that you somehow know the truth and you need to convince other people of your side is really, really unproductive, and it’s going to create that kind of thing. It actually makes more sense that the two of you convey why you believe what you do, and then you can walk away not agreeing. And that’s okay because you don’t need to.

If you think about, for example, if you and I are in a hiring committee, and I really care about whether I think the person is going to be a generous team member, like cooperative, generous, someone who doesn’t take credit for themselves but likes to share credit and things like that, and you care, all you care about is what their sales production is, right? Literally, you’re just a numbers person, right? That’s okay.

I don’t need to convince you of what my values are and you don’t need to convince me of what your values are because, by allowing those two perspectives to just sort of live and breathe, and for me to express why I believe what I do and why I think that’s important, and you can express what you believe and why you think that’s important, we’re probably going to hire a better candidate, because what’s going to happen is that’s now going to get expressed in our hiring rubric and who we actually end up bringing in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. Well, so we’ve already covered some great tools and perspectives associated with in-group settings, how we can view it as a dispersion of opinion or divergence as oppose to a disagreement, and how we’re not trying to convince but to convey, and we’re all enriched as a result of having engaged in that.

I’d love to zoom into if it’s sort of an individual and it’s sort of I’ve got one person making decisions for himself or herself, and doing the research, and there’s not so much a collaborative exercise going on, what are some of the best tools in this context to make better individual decisions?

Annie Duke
Well, first of all, not a pros and cons list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Annie Duke
Which I think most people might find kind of surprising, I know that. So, the thing about a really good decision tool, like if we were to think about what’s a great tool, decision tool or otherwise, like, if we think about a screwdriver, right, it should be accomplishing the purpose that it’s meant to accomplish. So, like if I want to get a screw to actually go in the wall in a way that’s going to be safe and actually accomplish the job…

Pete Mockaitis
Ergonomic. Convenient.

Annie Duke
Yes. Which is why I want to be able to use a screwdriver as opposed to a hammer or a jack hammer. So I want the right tool for the right purpose. But here’s also the really important thing about a tool is that I need to be able to repeat the use in a way that’s going to create really high fidelity. And then I also need to be able to hand it to somebody else and then explain it to them so that they could actually use that tool in the exact same way.

So, when we sort of understand that we see where decision tools really go awry. So, like, “Your gut is not a decision tool.” “Well, why?” “Because I can’t actually look at it and explain it to you, right?” That’s where we’ll go. “Well, my gut told me so,” and you’re like, “Okay, but that doesn’t really…I can’t use your gut.” Right? But you know what I mean. It’s like, “Okay, but I can’t actually examine to see whether you screwed that in well, and then you can’t explain to me exactly how you got that screw in the wall, or what you were doing. And I can’t actually repeat that process because it’s a black box.”

So, a pros and cons list, in some sense, certainly is a tool in the sense that we know its purpose is to get you to decide about whether you want to proceed with an option. And I could actually sort of teach you it in a structural sense. So, that’s all okay. So, we’re getting part of the way there. It’s certainly better than gut. But here’s what that tool lacks that will actually reveal what the kinds of tools are that we actually want to be using.

So, the first thing that it lacks is that it’s a list, literally a list, which means that it’s flat. So, what do I mean by flat? It’s flat in two ways. One is that when we think about something that’s on the pro side or something on the con side, we don’t have a sense of the magnitude. So, it could be like I could get a hangnail and I could die. So, those are both there, because all I sort of have is this list.

And so, that’s one of the first problems is that sort of the magnitude of how positive the things on the pro side are, in terms of achieving your goals, is not actually anywhere explicit in the list, and the magnitude of how negative the cons are, it’s also not existing in the list. So, that gives us hint number one, is that we want to have an idea of this magnitude if we’re going to have a really good decision tool.

The second piece is that we also don’t have a sense of the probability of those things occurring.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Annie Duke
So, if we have a con, that’s like, “Well, I could lose $10,000,” you would want to know, “But how likely is that to occur?” Right? So, you could have a pro, which is like, “I could win a million dollars.” You could do this with the lottery, right? But the con could be, “I’m going to lose a dollar or two dollars,” and the pro is, “I could win the jackpot, so maybe that looks pretty good.” But what we need to understand is, “What’s the probability of winning the jackpot?” which is de minimis, versus “What’s the probability of me losing the two dollars?” which is basically every time.

And if we don’t have that information, it’s also incredibly hard to compare. So, when we see that, what happens is it becomes very hard to understand whether an option is good or not, and then we get into the problem of how on earth would you compare options. Like, if I had one option that had 10 cons and 2 pros, would that be worse than an option that had 5 cons and 4 pros? Well, I don’t know because I don’t know what the magnitude of those pros are and cons, and I don’t know the probability of those things occurring is, so it’s hard for me to compare.

And then we have this added issue, which is that it’s basically, literally, a tool for expressing your bias, like your cognitive bias, because you can imagine that you can take something that could sort of be one pro or one con, and you could divide it up into its little bits in order to create ten ways to express that. So, the con could be like, “Well, I might end up like really unhappy,” so that would be one, but it could also be like…

Pete Mockaitis
“I could be anxious. I could be stressed. I could be disappointed.”

Annie Duke
Exactly. Right. And now, all of a sudden, it’s ten things, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Annie Duke
So, what ends up happening is that as we’re sort of exploring those pros and cons, generally, as we’re entering into a decision, we’re already sort of somewhere in our head kind of know what our opinion is and know what we would like to be true, and then we do the pro and con list, and all it’s doing is kind of like expressing whatever that opinion already is, but it’s certifying it as objective when it’s not actually objectively. And that’s actually a super bad combination.

And you can see how this is a problem, like particularly if we’re trying to compare options because we’re going to do it just by list. And so, the option we don’t want to do, we can just create a lot of cons for. The option that we do want to do, we want to create a lot of pros for. So, that’s sort of through the negative frame of like, “Here’s a tool that everybody really understands,” that turns out to be sort of the equivalent of taking a jack hammer to get a screw in the wall. Okay, so we don’t want to do that. We’re going to ruin the wall.

So, that tells us, “Okay, so what does a good decision process going to do?” Well, it’s going to solve this problem of sort of dimensionality. So, for any option we’re considering, we want to think about what the likely outcomes of that option are. But then we want to think about how much is that option going to advance us toward our goal or way. So, that gets that idea of the payoff, what’s the magnitude of how good or bad we consider that option is for us. But then we want to take a stab at what the likelihood of those things occurring is.

And what that allows us to do is understand, for example, like in the startup world, you may have a really high likelihood of failure but the payoff is so large that if that payoff is likely enough, you would still do it despite the fact that mostly it’s going to be bad outcomes. But that’s okay because we’ve added this likelihood piece in, and we’ve added sort of like what does the payoff look, and we can start to bring that into our decision-making. And you can see that that now gives us a real way to compare our two options, because now we have a pretty clear sense of what’s the upside potential and the downside potential, and, “Does the upside outweigh the downside given whatever I’m willing to risk?” And then I can now compare those two things.

So, like a simple example would be, like let’s say that I have two candidates that I’m thinking about hiring, A and B, and I really, really care about retention, like my recruitment costs are out of control and I’ve got all these employee turnover, so this is something that I happen to be focusing on. And so, what I can do is I can say, “I want to think about kind of these three buckets that the person that I’m hiring is going to be with the company between zero to six months, six months to 18 months, beyond 18 months. Let’s say that we set those three things up.

And then, basically, what I can do is just have anybody on the hiring committee, for any candidate that we see, to say, “What do you think the probability of those three buckets is?” because that’s what I really care about, right? And now I actually have an apples-to-apples comparison. So, I’ve thought about, “What are my values? What are the payoffs that I’m trying to get? I want this person to stay here a long time. And I’m looking for the person who is going to stay here the longest. That’s what I care about.” And now I have a way to actually compare options.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so we covered some of the shortcomings of the pro-con list, we got it captured very clearly the magnitude of things, and the probability of those things occurring. And so then, I’m imagining kind of just a spreadsheet by this point in terms of I’ve got a few things, I’ve got some magnitude, I’ve got some probabilities. And I guess it gets a little tricky if it’s not just money in terms of like, “How do I put a number on my stress?” How do you do that?

Annie Duke
Well, so I think that it’s really interesting. When we get into things that we feel are more subjective, we think that we actually don’t know anything and so, therefore, we shouldn’t try, “What’s the probability I’m going to be stressed?” Or it doesn’t even have to be something that’s like so clearly subjective like stress, but like what’s the probability a candidate is going to be with a company, is going to leave within six months? Well, we don’t know. We’ve never hired that candidate before.

So, in the sense of, “Can I be exact?” or if I’m releasing a software feature and I want to know, like, “Oh, of the people who use my product, how many of them are going to start adopting this, like, the daily users of this new feature within the first month?” Obviously, these aren’t things that are like 2+2=4, and they’re not things like if I flipped a coin, it’s going to land heads 50% of the time where like I know for sure what the answer is because we have enough information.

What people end up doing in that case is very often just saying, “Well, I’m not going to try because I can’t come up with ‘the right answer.’”

And the problem with that is that then we just sort of get we get mired in the limitations of our own sort of lack of knowledge instead of thinking about, “Well, I want to be an educated guesser, and my goal as a decision-maker is actually to get more educated because I have all these uncertainty in trying to forecast the future?” which is really what we’re doing when we’re saying, “What are the possibilities or the probabilities and things like that?”

There’s all this uncertainty in my ability to forecast the future, but the more educated I am, while I may never get perfect, I’m going to get closer to the range of what is objectively true if I were omniscient, and that’s actually going to improve my decision-making. So, I can do an example of this with you. My computer is sitting on a stack of books. Now, obviously, you can’t see the books because it’s what my computer is sitting on. I’m on the computer looking at each other, so you don’t know how high the books are and you don’t know what type and you don’t know what number, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Annie Duke
Okay. So, how much does the stack of books weigh?

Pete Mockaitis
About five pounds.

Annie Duke
Okay. And what do you think the lowest amount of the stack of books weighs is? Do you think it’s possible this stack of books that it’s sitting on could weigh a pound?

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’d be improbable that a stack, implying multiple books, weighs less than one pound.

Annie Duke
Okay. Could it weigh 200 pounds?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Annie Duke
Okay. So, I think this is really good, right? So, what we discovered is that you could’ve said, “I don’t know.” But what I just did was I said, “Well, but you know things about books.” And so, while you may not get the exact answer, you’re going to get an answer that eliminates a huge number of possibilities. In other words, it’s going to get you somewhere closer to what’s actually true of the stack of books that my computer is sitting on. And that’s a really important exercise and it’s a really important exercise for three reasons that I hinted at.

Reason number one is that the more accurately you’re thinking about the future, in other words, “Can you get in a target range?” Like, if you think about it like an archer. And, in fact, in the book I talk about like the archer’s mindset, right? Yes, you’d like to hit the bullseye but you get points for hitting the target. And the closer that you can get to hitting that bullseye the better off you are, but you’re still getting points. It’s like you still get points for showing your work, right?

So, even if you hit the outer edge of the target, you still get points because all the stuff that isn’t on the target, like you know that these books don’t weigh 200 pounds, is going to help you to actually have better decision quality because you’re eliminating all these different possibilities that the answer could be that’s going to clarify your decision and get you better at sort of calculating, really, in the end what’s the expected value of the decision. Like, how much upside potential compared to downside potential do I really think there is? So, that’s number one is that you’re going to be creating a more accurate view of the future even if it’s not perfect, and that’s good.

The second thing is that, which I had hinted at before, is that we have this problem as decision-makers, which is, generally, the stuff that we know is like so tiny it could fit on the head of a pin compared to the stuff we don’t know, which is like the size of the universe. Obviously, if you have the ideal decision tool, which I think would be a crystal ball, you would be set because that universe stuff that you didn’t know would be revealed to you in this psychic instrument that you have that caused an omniscience and an ability to foresee the future, but we don’t have a crystal ball. So, what we’re really trying to do is, “How can we create a set of tools that will allow us to cobble together something that is crystal ball-like?” And part of that is dealing with this problem that there’s this whole universe of stuff that I don’t know.

And by forcing yourself to guess, I made you think about that. I made you think, “What do I know about books?” so you’re exploring that world of things that you do know in order to try to make yourself get the educated into the guess, and then you may, in other cases, start thinking, “Well, what is the universe of stuff that I don’t know? And maybe that would actually help me with my guess.” So, like if we went back to something as simple as a hiring example. One of the things that we might do is say, “Well, maybe I could go find out how many candidates, like when companies hire into this particular position, what the average retention in the industry is.” That’s called a base rate. And that would be incredibly helpful for me to go find out as I’m trying to estimate what I think any candidate that I might see is.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the candidates I see are going to be right there on the base rate, but it’s going to give me a place to anchor to about kind of what’s true of the world in general that’s really going to help me. The other thing that I might do is to go ask for somebody else’s perspective where we know that two people can be looking at the exact same data and come to very different conclusions about it, right? So, I could ask one person, “What do you think these books weigh?” and then I could ask somebody else, “What do you think these books weigh?” And maybe you said five pounds, maybe they say 20 pounds. Great. Now, we go back to that earth is round and flat thing, and now I get Pete who’s the five-pound person and Susan who’s the 20-pound person to have a discussion about why they have that dispersion of opinion that’s probably going to get me closer to what the most educated answer would be, closer to what’s objectively true of the world. And that actually like incredibly important.

So, whether you’re forecasting, like, “What’s my stress level going to be?” or, “How long is someone going to be with the company?” or, “How many users are going to adopt this on a daily basis within the first month?” all of these things, which we’re lacking information about, not allowing yourself, “Well, how could I ever know that?” and not accepting that as an answer, is actually really crucial to a good decision process.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I think that’s a great perspective in terms of you don’t know it exactly but knowing it’s more than one pound and less than 20 pounds is way, way more narrow than it could be anything.

Annie Duke
Oh, my gosh. Right. And I think I make the point in the book that this is part of the reason why we want to communicate with precision.

So, I think I make the point that if I say 2+2 is a small number, I’m technically correct but it’s going to be harder for you to tell me things that might help correct my inaccuracy is because the target area is kind of broad that I’ve given you, and it’s going to be hard for me to get better at math. Now, I’m going to get somewhat better because if I say 2+2 is a very large number, you’re going to be able to correct that. So, it’s not that I can’t improve, but it’s going to slow down my improvement that I’m not willing to give an exact answer, like 4, right? And there’s ways, obviously, if I’m not being precise that I can game it because I can say 2+2 is somewhere between minus infinity and positive infinity and, okay, I’m technically right. But what is that value of the information there in terms of actually improving my decision-making because, if you think about it, this is the reason why a crystal ball would be such an amazing decision tool is because all decision-making is forecasting of the future.

When I make a choice, when I pick an option, what I’m saying is that, “I think that given whatever goals I have and what my values are and my resources are that this option is going to be the most likely to create the type of future that I would like to unfold, and so I am being like a soothsayer in that sense. I’m making a prediction about the future.” And what we’re trying to do is make those predictions higher quality.

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

Annie Duke
Yeah, I think I’d like to just say, like, just one really important decision tool, when we’re thinking about, “How are we actually getting a better view of the future? How do we actually become better fortune tellers?” Those are what we’re trying to do. And I just want to give a real pitch for a decision tool that I think is somewhat counterintuitive, at least in popular culture, which is the power of negative thinking as opposed to the power of positive thinking.

So, the power of positive thinking is like so incredibly powerful in the literature from Napoleon Hill.

We know about The Power of Positive Thinking, and it’s very popular which is you imagine a destination that you’d like to get to, and then you imagine success along the way. And I think that that’s a really bad decision tool, and I’m not saying that people should not imagine positive goals. Of course, you should. But the whole key to unlocking decision-making is to imagine the obstacles, the ways in which you might fail along the way. Why? Because that is the only way you can avoid them.

So, the way that I kind of think about it is the difference between a paper map and Waze. A paper map, you look at the destination you want to get to and then its clear roads. And I think about that as the power of positive thinking, right? Like, “Here are the clear roads, and now I’m just going to go along my merry way along those roads.” But what does Waze do? Waze says, “Here’s the destination you want to get to. And, by the way, there’s a road closure over here, and there’s like an accident on this one, and there’s heavy traffic over here, and so I’m going to reroute you so that you can actually successfully get to your destination.”

And I think the problem with the positive thinking literature is that sometimes it’s explicitly stated when you get into some sort of cookier versions of it, like The Secret, but it’s certainly implied in all of it that if you imagine failure, that it’ll actually create failure. But what an app like Waze tells us is that if you imagine failure, it actually creates success because that is the only way that you can get out ahead of it. And the more that you can identify the obstacles that might lie in your path, the better off you’re going to be because you’re going to have a clear view of the future, and you’re going to have a clear view of the kinds of things that you might want to avoid, the kind of things that might get in your way.

So, one of the best decision tools that you can use is called a premortem. And it was originally developed by Gary Kline. I have an adapted version of it in the book. And, essentially, what it asks you to do is to imagine a goal or a decision that you’re making which has an implied goal that it will work out, and imagine that it’s however long it would take for you to know whether you’ve reached a goal. So, let’s say that you have a goal to increase sales by 10% in the next year. And so, you imagine it, a year and a date from now, and you failed to reach that goal, and you ask yourself, “Okay, why did that happen? Why did I fail?” And you divide it into two categories: matters of your own decision-making, “What are the decisions that I made that may have led to this failure?” and then matters of luck.

And, as I recommend with everything, you try to figure out how likely those things are, and then you can actually figure out what to do about it. You may say, “Maybe I should change my goal,” or you may keep your goal, and you say, “Well, here are a bunch of decisions that I might make that really would cause me to fail, so let me try to figure out how not to make those so that I don’t actually engage in these kinds of behaviors.” If I want to lose weight, I have to figure out a way, because I know a point of failure is people bringing in cupcakes for their birthday. I need to figure out a way to not eat the cupcakes when that happens. I need to see that that’s on the horizon, and actually try to figure out how to avoid it.

And then with matters of luck, you can think about, “Are there ways, are there decisions that I can make that can reduce the probability of these bad things happening?” I can’t control the luck but I might be able to reduce the probability of those things occurring. And even if I can’t, maybe I can have a plan for it so that I’m not just running around like a chicken with my head cut off and so I can figure out what those are. And maybe I can find a hedge which is just like buying stocks and bonds at the same time. And if you don’t actually think about, “How can I instantiate this idea of sort plan positive, think negative?” into your decision process, you’re going to be constantly surprised by the world. You’re going to be using a paper map when everybody else is using really solid GPS. And we know that people who use paper maps have a disadvantage in terms of getting to destinations on time than people who use Waze, so don’t be the person still using a paper map as it applies to your own decision-making.

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

Annie Duke
My favorite quote from Feynman just has to do with him saying, “If you can’t explain it to a child, you don’t actually know it yourself.” And this is a paraphrase of the quote obviously. But the reason why I like that so much is that it kind of really has to do with this idea of what makes for a really good tool, is I have to be able to explain it to you, and I have to explain it in simple terms.

And what I really love about that sort of second piece of not just, “Do I need to be able to hand you the screwdriver so that you can use it, but if I can’t explain it to you, I don’t really understand how to use a screwdriver.” And if I can’t do that, I butt up against the limits of what I know in a way that when we talk about that universal stuff we don’t know that we really want to be exploring, it makes me go look in that universe, and then I think it expands my knowledge, and everybody is better off for it because I explained to you how to use a screwdriver, and then I understand screwdrivers much better for having had to go through that process. And that’s why I love that Feynman quote so much.

Pete Mockaitis
And you might think I already know to screw nails on, or screw a screw, but sure enough you say, “You may have better experiences in terms of stripping them less often, giving them straight the first time, not having to redo stuff.”

Annie Duke
Right. When people are having success doing something, and they don’t start thinking about “What are the limits of my knowledge? And what are the limitations of the way that I’m thinking about this and my perspectives on the world?” what happens is that they get disrupted from without, and you’d rather be disrupted from within. So, you can look at IBM in the 1980s versus a Microsoft or Apple, and this is a big danger when you’re doing things pretty well, and your models of the world are pretty good.

But just as we talked about with things that are subjective, your model can be pretty good and it can be working, but that doesn’t mean that you have the objective truth. Like, you want to be exploring different ways that people could be looking at the problem, and always seeking new knowledge, and always sort of testing your ideas to see if there isn’t a better way, and also, sort of back to the idea of negative thinking and that causes you to have to sort of explore the limits of your own knowledge and your own ideas in a way that’s actually going to help you to improve them and disrupt your own ideas instead of allowing someone else to come in and disrupt you, which is something that we’re all trying to avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Annie Duke
I’m just going to answer it by recent, right? So, I’m going to give you two favorite books right now, and then two that you should be looking out on the horizon. My two favorite books right now are Maria Konnikova, which is The Biggest Bluff which is amazing. It’s like a marriage of memoir and exploration of the influence of luck in your life. So, Maria decided she wanted to explore luck because she had just sort of stuff happened to her. Like, her husband lost his job, she got sick, I think one of her grandparents died, sort of like all at once, and she’s like, “Whoa,” and she wanted to explore it. So, she said she’s going to learn how to play poker from being a total novice.

She ended up really doing well. She won a huge poker tournament, and, it’s this really wonderful book. It’s really beautifully written and it’s a great exploration of just sort of the influence of luck in your life.

The other book that I’m really recommending right now is The Psychology of Money, which is by Morgan Housel, he’s so good with just kind of like taking really complex concepts and making them very understandable through really, really fun narrative. And he’s really just talking about, like, “What are the different ways that we think about money?” Like, what is money? It’s sort of an object that we can sort of explore and understand, like, “What is its purpose in our life? And how do we think about it? And what should we do about it and do with it?” It’s just a really fun book. I really think that everybody should be reading that book.

In terms of books on the horizon to have, to be on the lookout for. Katie Milkman, who’s a professor at Wharton, and has a book coming out in the spring called How to Change, which is incredible on just if you want to create better habits in your life, just understanding, “When does habit change occur? Why? What are the ways that you can sort of make that happen for yourself?” It’s a really wonderful book. It’s really fun.

And then Noise is going to be coming out soon from Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, Oliver Sibony, and I’m really excited about that. It’s like a contrast to Thinking, Fast and Slow which is more about cognitive bias, and this is just more about sort of noisiness in the system, and it’s a really good book. So, those are two for the horizon. And even winnowing it down, I gave you four, so I’m…

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Annie Duke
I would like people to practice, when soliciting opinions or feedback from somebody else, to try to not offer their own opinion first and see what happens. So, there’s this really big problem, like when we’re talking in the meeting sense about we all think that the goal of a meeting is to agree. That’s true one-on-one as well. It feels really to agree with people that you’re talking to, that’s why we end up in echo chambers.

So, your opinions are contagious. So, if I want to know what you think about like Perry Mason, which is on HBO, if I really want to know what you think, I should just say, “What do you think about Perry Mason?” But what we do is we say, “Oh, I watch Perry Mason. I thought it was really cool and interesting, and I think it was really fun to see his journey from detective to lawyer, and I like it that he was a flawed character as opposed to the Raymond Burr version. What do you think?” And that’s obviously something simple about a TV show that probably isn’t very impactful. But think about that in terms of when you’re really trying to get somebody’s help, is I’m not actually going to get your true perspective.

When we talked about surfacing the dispersion of opinion, how am I going to surface the dispersion of opinion if I offer you mine first? So, I really challenge people to start trying to implement that into their own life, and I think they’ll find that it really changes the communication, and how much you sort of get to what people really believe that can really spur these interesting conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, Annie, I wish you lots of luck with your book How to Decide and all your decision adventures.

Annie Duke
Well, thank you very much. I’m so happy that we got to talk again.