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

596: The Six Skills of Proactive Professionals with Chrissy Scivicque

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Chrissy Scivicque says: "The more we manage the expected, the more capacity we have to deal with the unexpected."

Chrissy Scivicque discusses the crucial set of skills that keep you ahead in your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to become 5000% more effective at your job
  2. How to keep the unexpected from blindsiding you
  3. The one question that leads to astounding career growth

About Chrissy

Chrissy Scivicque believes that work can be a nourishing, enriching life experience—and she loves helping professionals discover exactly what that means for them and how to achieve it. Her popular website, EatYourCareer.com, is devoted to this mission. As an award-winning writer, certified career coach and experienced corporate trainer, Chrissy brings a unique perspective to the world of professional development. She is the proud author of The Proactive Professional and The Invisibility Cure.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Chrissy Scivicque Interview Transcript

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

Chrissy Scivicque
Well, thank you so much for having me, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig in, and I’m also excited that you share my fondness for true crime documentaries.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. I’m glad to hear that you also have this morbid interest.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I don’t know. I guess my favorite podcasts are in the true crime realm but they’re not about murder because that feels a little weird for me but, still, I think my wife and I watch like three JonBenét documentaries. Have you seen The Jinx?

Chrissy Scivicque
I haven’t but I’ve actually listened to a podcast about every single episode.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Chrissy Scivicque
That’s typically how I prefer to take in my true crime, so I just listen to podcasts. It really is very disturbing. My family is incredibly worried about me. But I think what I’m finding out is that when I disclose this information, so many people say, “Me too,” because we have this kind of morbid curiosity. I think it’s really…I tell myself it’s about problem-solving, that I love a good mystery, and I’m a little bit of an armchair detective, and I figure it’s a problem-solving exercise. That’s what it’s all about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, the mystery is intriguing. So, you listen to a podcast about every episode of the documentary The Jinx, but you haven’t listened to The Jinx, haven’t watched The Jinx.

Chrissy Scivicque
I did. True crime obsessed, my friends, because we’re all obsessed.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that was one of the most compelling ones. I can’t give away the spoiler but, like, I imagine, if you were a documentarian trying to cover a crime, this is like a unicorn dream come true for you.

Chrissy Scivicque
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Wow!”

Chrissy Scivicque
There’s nothing better.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll just leave it at that.

Chrissy Scivicque
I understand The Tiger King is the exact same though.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I haven’t actually watched it.

Chrissy Scivicque
I haven’t either but I’ve listened to a lot about it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, one of the mysteries that you’ve been working to solve is in the realm of being proactive. You’ve got a great book title, I’m digging it, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!) That’s an appealing promise. So, maybe to get terms clear, how do you define a proactive? And can you make that real for us in terms of, “Here’s what proactive looks like versus reactive”?

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. So, I define being proactive as doing the right things today to set yourself up for success tomorrow. So, there are so many great examples, and I’m just going to share the one that comes top of mind because I just heard from this individual recently. So, this gentleman reached out to me through LinkedIn, and he shared with me that he read the book last year, and he was happily employed, he was thinking he was going to stay at his company for the next few years, but the book inspired him to be proactive about his career management.

And so, he did things over the past few months. He updated his resume, he got on LinkedIn and he was nurturing his network. He got a professional certification. He did all of these things for, really, just the purpose of being proactive, a just in case sort of thing. And then, recently, 2020 hit, and he was laid off in May. So, he reached out to me, and the reason that he was contacting me, he said, “Chrissy, I’m not freaking out. Instead, I feel prepared for this. I did all of these things, not knowing what the future held, but now I’m ready to launch this job search where I’m looking at my colleagues, they’ve been laid off, and now they’re scrambling trying to update their resumes and do all of these things that I’ve been doing because I’ve been ahead of the game.” So, that’s just a perfect beautiful example of someone being proactive in their career.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, that is a great picture right there in terms of if anyone is feeling the stress and wishes that they didn’t, had been proactive, for one person there, got them out of that. So, I’m intrigued. Let’s talk a little bit about the why on a global scale. I couldn’t help myself when we’re talking about being proactive. I think of Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits, with habit one being “Be proactive,” because I had to grab the number. And I don’t actually know what his underlying research base is so maybe you can give us one. But I trust he has one, and this is not hyperbole, but he says, “The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who don’t is really the difference between night and day. I’m not talking about a 25% to 50% difference in effectiveness. I’m talking about a 5,000% plus difference particularly if they are smart, aware, and sensitive to others.” So, 5,000%, 50x, does that sound about right to you? Is that squaring with your research and experience? Unpack that for us.

Chrissy Scivicque
A thousand percent, I couldn’t agree more. I believe that this is the skillset that really differentiates the average professional from the exceptional one, and I see it over and over again. I have researched this for years. I literally started to read about what it means to be proactive 15 years ago. I was working as an executive assistant, and the executive I supported at the time, he used to say, “Be proactive,” I mean multiple times a day. He would say it so frequently that I remember at one point, I was like, “Oh, is he losing his mind? Is he senile? We’ve talked about this a million times.” But, obviously, he was telling me he needed me to improve in that area.

So, I started this research process and I found that Stephen Covey has some great material on this topic, but other than that it is quite limited what’s out there. What we find typically, and what disappointed me in the process, was that business experts and leadership experts and trainers and coaches, everyone was saying, “Be proactive. It’s especially important in the workplace. It’s necessary for success,” but then no one was following it up to say how you actually do that and put it in practical terms. And that’s what I need. When I’m learning, I need practical step-by-step actionable advice, and that’s really what I set out looking for. And I found that I needed to talk to people, and I needed to talk to people who were ahead of the game, they seem to be always two steps ahead of people, and I needed to ask them, “How do you do it?” and break that down.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s a nice way to phrase that, “Always two steps ahead of the game.” And, indeed, to stop playing catchup, which is not fun. It’s sort of an exhausting mental place to be day after day. So, yeah, being, so 50 times as effective and not being stressed and exhausted and feeling behind like you’re catching up sounds like a real big why to deliver on. And I’m glad we’re going to dig into the how there because, you’re right, I think “Be proactive,” I think it’s also sort of like, “Be strategic.”

Stacey Boyle was a guest we had who said, “I kept hearing that.” I was like, “What does that mean and how do I do it?” So, yeah, lay it on us. How does one be proactive? What are sort of the fundamental skills and steps?

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. Well, what I set out to do when I started this whole project was to create a framework. I’m a big believer in the step-by-step methodology. And so, what I came up with was basically a six-part framework. And so, as I’m digging into what it means to be proactive, I realized that we tend to think about it as being one single skill but, really, what it is, it’s this combination of six different skills.

So, it’s a blend of, I think of them really as cognitive skills and behavioral skills. So, it’s about how you think and it’s also about how you act. So, these six different skills all work together, and I can go through them at a really high level pretty quickly, and then we can dig in as you like from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. And I can’t help but think of Liam Neeson right now since we’re going to talk about a particular set of skills, and not for tracking down a kidnapped daughter, and hunting the criminals, but maybe we’ll prevent you from having to do that if you proactively apply these six things.

Chrissy Scivicque
I like the way you’re thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yes, please, lay it on us.

Chrissy Scivicque
Okay. So, we’ll start with the first one. The first one is big picture understanding. So, big picture understanding is really all about understanding your context, understanding the broad environment in which you’re operating. In the workplace, you need to think about, at the highest level, things like the economy, things that are happening in your industry, things that are happening in your professional field within your organization, within your team. You’ve got to keep an eye on all of that because that’s going to help you to make smart decisions for yourself and your career, and then also just on a day-to-day basis.

So, an example from my own career, I started my career in banking, and that was in the late ‘90s all the way up until 2008, which was just an incredibly turbulent time in the US economy. And it was really important for me to keep an eye on those things happening within our industry and the economy, and to watch that not only for my clients so I could be proactive on their behalf, but also for my own career. And, thankfully, I was able to kind of look out and make some decisions for myself that allowed me to leave the bank where I was working about three years before it became the largest bank failure in American history.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chrissy Scivicque
And, really fortunate, you know, to be able to take that kind of a proactive step where, unfortunately, so many of my former colleagues lost their livelihood in that process. It was a really disastrous situation. But that’s the importance of the big picture understanding.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m intrigued there. So, I don’t know if you’re like The Big Short, like you put all the pieces together in terms of this is what’s going to go down. Or, how did you pull that off? Did you know precisely, “Okay, we got a problem with these mortgage-backed securities, and the ratings on them aren’t being…”? What did you know? And how did you get to know it? And how was that enough to say, “Uh-ok, let’s look around elsewhere”?

Chrissy Scivicque
I think it was paying attention. And I don’t want to, in any way, imply that I had some sort of unique knowledge. I don’t think it was that. I think it was just paying attention and really thinking through the implications of some of the things we were seeing. We were seeing extremely low interest rates. We were seeing mortgage standards had been incredibly deteriorated. People were over-leveraged. It was just this confluence of things happening that made me feel uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Like, something bad may be happening soon-ish that’s going to tend to hurt.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yeah, it’s kind of instinct and paying attention to that, and just the broader environment. I think a lot of people probably did see but they didn’t take action soon enough, and they kind of were hoping for the best, and they saw those same things happening, but one of the biggest problems with people being proactive is that it’s risky. For me to leave a secured job where I was making a lot of money and go somewhere else is a risk and with no guarantee of a successful outcome, and a lot of people don’t want to take risks. They’re willing to kind of wait it out until action is forced upon them. So, that’s the opposite of being proactive though. Being proactive, you’re taking that intelligent risk. You’re taking the information that you glean and making some intelligent choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. So, there we go. First, big picture understanding. And then what?

Chrissy Scivicque
So, then, second, we have situational awareness. So, situational awareness is a term that we typically hear in things like self-defense classes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m thinking about FBI agents, being like, “Count how many lightbulbs there are in the room,” that kind of thing.

Chrissy Scivicque
Totally. Yes, exactly. It plays into our true crime stuff. But that’s exactly what it is, it’s being aware of your immediate surroundings. So, big-picture understanding is the high-level stuff, and then situational awareness kind of narrows it down to say that you’re paying close attention to the immediate things happening around you in the workplace. You’re not going on autopilot. You can’t be proactive if you’re on autopilot. You’ve got to be engaged. You need to be not only physically present but mentally present as well.

And sometimes it’s just really basic things, like you see that your boss is looking stressed out, and you know that he or she has a deadline coming up at 3:00 p.m. today, probably not a great time to barge in and say, “Hey, we got to talk about my career growth opportunities,” right? That’s just being aware of the situation and observing and listening with your eyes and your ears and your head and your heart. Being truly engaged in what you’re doing is a requirement to be proactive.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that’s great. And then I could see all kinds of proactive opportunities already being opened up there, it’s like, “Hey, can I take something off your plate? We’re going to work through lunch, do you want me to grab you something?” It’s like, “I love this person.”

Chrissy Scivicque
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “This is the kind of proactive team member that I want to promote. Or I don’t want to promote because I’ll lose him. I want to give more money to keep him or her.” Something good will happen.

Chrissy Scivicque
Right. When I was an executive assistant, I remember, at first when I was working, I was supporting this leader, and he was notorious for at about 2:30-3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, we used to call him Hurricane Herv because he was just a hurricane. And I would always joke, “Oh, we can downgrade him to a tropical storm.”

But I finally put two and two together, situational awareness, I started to realize, “If he doesn’t have some true breaktime away from his desk, away from just the mental strain of what he’s doing in the middle of the day, by that 2:30-3:00 o’clock time, he’s going to be a hurricane.” So, I started to be more proactive about, “I’m going to block that time on your schedule, I’m going to walk into your office and make sure that you’re taking care of yourself.” And that was something that was additional, that kind of takes me from being the average assistant to being that whatever it was Stephen Covey said, that 5,000% improved assistant.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so, now we started the story again. So, then that unfolded, what did Herv say? “Chrissy, you’re just the best ever, and I need to reward you for how wonderful you make my life”? How did that unfold?

Chrissy Scivicque
You know, I did pretty well in that role. I can honestly tell you that my title actually adapted over the time that I was there, and besides being an executive assistant, I also became the director of client communications because that was a key skill of mine that I was able to leverage in that role in kind of an unexpected way, and definitely earned some monetary rewards as well. I think that the biggest reward though is that that partnership that I was able to build with the person that I was supporting. It wasn’t just about checking the boxes and doing the tasks. It was about truly, “How am I helping you to be more valuable? How am I helping you to achieve your goals in unexpected ways, in ways that aren’t necessarily defined in my job description?”

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. So, we got the big-picture understanding, the situational awareness. And then what?

Chrissy Scivicque
And then the third one is future focus. So, this is just about keeping one eye on what’s coming up. So, while you are paying attention in the moment to what’s going on with your situational awareness, you’re also thinking about what’s coming next. So, what’s coming up tomorrow, next week, next month, even next quarter and next year? Thinking about not only the events and the deadlines and those types of things that you need to be managing backwards to figure out what you need to do today to be successful with those things, but also thinking about your own future, and what you want to be building for yourself.

So, if you’re keeping your eye on the future and thinking, “Next year, I’d really like to get a promotion,” well, great. So, that means that this year, there’s things that you should be doing to set yourself up for that. Perhaps getting some more professional development, and perhaps speaking with your manager and finding out what those opportunities might look like, and letting them know what your goals are. So, you’re constantly thinking about the future and working backwards to say, “What do I need to do now so that that future becomes a reality?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about the fourth skill?

Chrissy Scivicque
So, then the fourth one we go into is strategic foresight. So, this is where I think the magic happens. It’s really what connects the dots. So, we start with big picture understanding, big high level. We then go to situational awareness which is all about where we are, future focus is all about where we’re going, and strategic foresight says, “Well, how do I get from here to there?” It connects the dots. It fills in all of those steps.

So, it’s kind of where you’re thinking about what the possibilities of the future might look like, and saying, “Okay. Well, what steps can I take to avoid problems, to leverage opportunities, overcome obstacles?” It’s basically filling in those gaps. Our former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, used to tell leaders to look for people who can see around corners. And that’s what this is. This skill is seeing around corners and figuring out, “Okay, what’s coming next? And what can I do to prepare for that thing that’s coming next?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And the fifth skill?

Chrissy Scivicque
The fifth skill is intentional action. So, you’ve gone through all this, you can see what’s coming next, and you then take some action to go ahead and implement. You have more of a kind of a bias to action instead of waiting to have certainty about the future, instead of waiting for someone to direct you or instruct you, you go ahead and you do what you know needs to be done. So, that’s where Stephen Covey talks about taking initiative. That’s what this is, taking initiative, taking that intelligent risk even if it is you know uncertain but you go ahead and you do the right things to get yourself to that next step.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And sometimes the intelligent risk and the action-taking can be…it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I think with the risk, you say, “Hey, I noticed this and so I went ahead and took the liberty of doing that. Shall I order this thing I found, or should we book this?” As opposed to committing thousands of dollars to something that nobody asked for. You can invest a little bit of time identifying the thing and just asking for the approval.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. And sometimes the proactive thing that you can do is opening up the conversation, “I noticed this and I’m thinking that we can do this.” So, I don’t want to ever encourage anyone to take unnecessarily risky steps in the spirit of being proactive. Sometimes it really is just opening up that conversation, having a proactive conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And what’s the sixth and final skill?

Chrissy Scivicque
And then the final one is self-evaluation. So, this is where you look at how this is all working out for you, as Dr. Phil says, “How is it working out for you?” And asking yourself, “Am I staying ahead of things or are things catching me off guard?” And when things catch you off guard, asking, “Okay, was there something that I missed? Should I have seen this coming? Should I have done something different to prepare for this?” And in all of that, you develop these lessons and this new understanding that then goes right back into your big picture understanding. So, it’s all this wonderful beautiful cycle that continues.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is great stuff, and I kind of went a little bit quickly through the six skills, or asked you to go through them quickly, because I guess I want to see them all in action from one through six. And, in terms of an example, if I could, I might put you on the spot in terms of, okay, this podcast. You did your homework, and you may already have noticed some things that I should do or you could do, or you might recommend that I have somebody do. So, if I could, could I put you on the spot? And it’s okay if we get it wrong or you mis-assume. But could you maybe give us a demo from one through six, big picture understanding, “Hey, Pete and How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, what are some proactive stuff one might do?”

Chrissy Scivicque
Interesting, Pete. I like this little thought experiment. Okay. Well, I think that we’re in a really interesting time to think about big picture understanding, right? Thinking broadly about everything that’s going on, you might want to think about how all of this work-from-home stuff is potentially going to impact what it means to be awesome at your job, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Chrissy Scivicque
So, big picture, thinking about that and thinking about how perhaps the needs of your audience are changing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Chrissy Scivicque
Situational awareness would just be you’re continuing to look for immediate feedback from your audience, and interaction with them to find out what’s really speaking to them, especially right now in this time. Future focus, continuing to think about where you want your podcast to go for you and for your audience. And the strategic foresight piece would be connecting those dots, “Okay. Well, where we are right now and giving people what they need right now in this moment, how can we also be setting ourselves up for where we’re going in the future and how we’re expanding as a brand and our offerings?” Taking intentional action? Doing it, getting going, moving fast on it, so that you’re making moves. And then self-evaluation, always just looking back and thinking about, “Okay, what worked, what didn’t, what can we tweak for next time?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Great. Thank you. And so then, I’d love another example in terms of…that was one piece of listener feedback when you said, “I love it when you ask, ‘Can you give me another example?’”

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, here we’re doing it, we’re taking some intentional action.

Chrissy Scivicque
Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we heard about Hurricane Herv and the support you offered there. We heard about for me and the podcast and some proactive things to do. Could you tell us a fun story about someone who made the leap from, yeah, mostly reactive to mostly proactive and saw some great things happen through taking the six steps?

Chrissy Scivicque
Yeah, I have so many fun stories. I work a lot with support professionals and administrative professionals. As I said, I’m a very proud former executive assistant myself. So, last year, in fact, I worked with an executive assistant, she reached out to me when she had just been promoted to supporting someone in the C-suite at a global technology firm. It was her first time supporting at that level so she really wanted to set herself up for success, and really go in there with a strategic plan for how she was going to stay two steps ahead of this incredibly busy and very powerful woman she was going to be supporting.

And so, we developed together, essentially, kind of an interview list, some questions, again, that proactive piece being opening a conversation, some questions for her to ask and discuss with her new partner in the first few days of working together. And these were questions like, “What’s your preferred communication mode? What’s your communication style? How do you typically deal with stress? And how can I best support you when you’re under stress?” These great, high-level questions about how they can build this partnership.

And so, the new assistant had this conversation, and the executive was just floored by this approach and loved it so much that she said, “I want you to go and have this same conversation with these other executive leaders that you’re also going to be working with in this role, and do this exact same thing with them. And then let’s teach the other assistants to do this as well.” It’s a proactive approach to developing a relationship. You can apply the proactive approach to any aspect of your career: relationships, career management, tasks management, customer service. Everything.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that so much. And we had Mary Abbajay on the show talking about managing up, and this being sort of just a super powerful action that any professional can take. And in her experience, fewer than 1% do, to say, “Hey, what are your preferences in these ways?” And in so doing, I love it because a lot of people, when I suggested this, “Oh, that’s kind of weird.” It’s like, “It’s only weird because you haven’t done it, and it’s only weird because now you’ve been working with the person for two years, you feel like maybe you should’ve done it earlier. Now, why are we talking about this now?”

So, it’s just weird because it’s different but it doesn’t mean it’s bad. And so, in fact, being on the receiving end of that, I can tell you I just love it as a manager/leader. And you’re telling, with that story, that this senior executive loved it so much, she said, “Please spread this far and wide. This is fantastic.” And then other senior leaders made the time to do that with delight as opposed to, “Oh, why are we doing this? I’m too busy.” It’s all positive when you go there.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes, absolutely. It sets you up for success, and that’s what I think is also important when you’re framing the conversation is that you’re letting them know that, “This is about designing the partnership that’s going to work for both of us, that’s going to allow me to be a better support for you.” And so, if they understand the value of taking that time, they’re much more willing to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then, tell us, if we’re trying to get going with our proactive selves and practicing these six skills, are there some top best practices and worst practices we should keep in mind to maximize our progress in building these skills?

Chrissy Scivicque
Absolutely. Yes. So, I would say the best and easiest thing you can do right now, aside from anything else we’ve talked about, if you’d just only do one thing, start asking yourself with everything you do, “What’s next? What else? What’s the next question? What’s the next need?” And then go ahead and answer that question or provide for that need before it is specifically asked for or requested.

So, I’ll give you a quick example of this because I look for it everywhere I go, and once I give this example, I’m betting you will too. So, customer service is a really easy place to see this. A lot of customer service people, unfortunately, they end up being very reactive, they only answer the specific question you ask, they are order-takers. And when they are more proactive and do this answering the next question thing, it’s very powerful and you notice it right away.

So, last year, I was in a hotel in Las Vegas, and I woke up at 5:00 in the morning, called down to the front desk, and I said, “Hey, do you have a Starbucks in the lobby?” And the front desk agent said, “Yes, we do.” And I was getting ready to say, “Great. Thanks,” and hang up the phone and head downstairs in my PJs to get my coffee, and then he stopped, and he said, “And it doesn’t open until 6:00.” So, he gave me this additional information that I didn’t think to ask. It was 5:00 a.m. in the morning, I’m not thinking about that. I’m just asking, “If you’ve got the Starbucks,” but he gave me the information that I really needed before I even thought to ask for it myself. And thank goodness because I didn’t want to be walking down there in my PJs for it to be closed.

And so, when you start to see that, and you go, “That was really proactive.” It’s a super small teeny tiny little thing, but thank goodness. And we can do that for our clients, we can do that for our managers, we can do that for our colleagues, even if they aren’t asking the direct question, even if they aren’t saying the direct thing they need, we know it a lot of the times. We have to own our own expertise, and say, “I know what it is that you aren’t thinking to ask. Let me go ahead and give you the information you need, and let me go ahead and get you that thing that you aren’t thinking of that you need.” We can do that.

And all it is, it’s that simple shift of starting to think about, “What else? What next?”

Pete Mockaitis
What’s so great about that example is, you’re right, anyone can do it, and there’s situational awareness in terms of, “Oh, I have a feeling I know what you’re driving at, it’s that you would like to have caffeine inside of you.” And then that’s so simple, “And it doesn’t open until 6:00.” And I guess, boy, this is a continuum. You can go all the way the distance in terms of, “However, there’s one across the street which is open right now.” And it’s like, “Okay.” Or you can take it even further in terms of, “You know, our staff is happy to acquire that for you and bring it up to your room. What would you prefer?”

And you can sort of then choose for yourself in terms of, “Hey, given my availability and my bandwidth and my boundaries and what’s appropriate, I can sort of draw the best line as opposed to just sort of defaulting to question answered. We are done now.”

Chrissy Scivicque
Right. It really puts you in a very powerful place of being, of true service to people. This is a skill that is trained at the Disney University. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story that the most common question that Disney cast members at Disneyland hear is, “What time is the 3:00 o’clock parade?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Where is the bathroom?”

Chrissy Scivicque
“Where is the bathroom?” is probably pretty common too. But, “What time is the 3:00 o’clock parade?” They don’t really mean that. The 3:00 o’clock parade is at 3:00 o’clock. Duh. But they’re frazzled and they’re pulled in a million directions, and, really, they want to know, “What’s the best place to watch the parade? What time will the parade get to me where I’m standing right now?” They’ve been standing in the hot sun in lines for hours so they’re not thinking clearly.

And Disney guest service people are taught to anticipate the true need. Don’t just answer that the 3:00 o’clock parade is at 3:00 o’clock. Give them what they really need and find that out. Inquire. Have some proactive conversations with them and anticipate their needs, “Well, right around here, if you watch from here, it passes by at 3:15 but I’d go over there by the ice cream shop.” Give them what they really need. You know what they need. They don’t know. They’re frazzled.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s great about that example is that your knee-jerk reaction, “That’s 3:00 o’clock, idiot,” in terms of, it’s like, “Why are you bothering me with this?” You can very much take an indignance sort of selfish knee-jerk reaction to it. But I think it’s also it just feels better from a humanity, happiness, energy experience in terms of thinking and operating that way, not so much, “How can I get through this interaction as quickly as possible because I have too much to do and I’m exhausted and frazzled to, ‘Oh, this person has a need, and I have an opportunity to delight them’?”

And I don’t want to seem too, I don’t know, Pollyanna or unrealistic, but I really did, with my first job, it was at Kmart, my first job like with the normal I delivered newspapers and did lawn stuff, but in terms of like a paycheck was at Kmart. They called me Pantry Pete because I worked in the pantry, that’s why.

Chrissy Scivicque
It’s good to have a nickname. Always good.

Pete Mockaitis
And I remember, they said in one of our training videos that we had the power to please, which meant like doing substitutions in terms of, “Oh, we’re all out of the 24-pack of Pepsi, that sale, but we can give them two 12 packs at the 24-pack price.” So, I just thought that was the coolest thing, one, because I’m 17 and I don’t have a lot of authority in a lot of ways, and that was just kind of cool, like, “Oh, I could do that. Yeah, power.” And, two, it was really nifty that it kind of got my creative service juices flowing, and it really was fun in terms of, “Oh, how could I delight someone?” It’s like, “Oh, we don’t have that, but you know what, there’s this other brand of thing which is almost really it’s the same thing. It’s nuts and caramel corn in a bag.” I could define that it’s just about what you’re after, it’s like, “Oh, I never heard of that. Okay. I guess Poppycock, Fiddle Faddle, Cracker Jack.”

Chrissy Scivicque
Same difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Pretty close.

Chrissy Scivicque
It’s great though. It brings us back to that big picture understanding, right, because it reminds you of your big picture purpose in your role. Pantry Pete is there to help delight customers and get them what they need. And so, you’re then given the power to proactively prevent a customer from being dissatisfied, so I love that. I think Disney does the same thing, right? It reminds their employees, “Big picture, we’re here to make magic, and these people have paid a ridiculous sum of money to be here. So, any opportunity you have to make magic, let’s do it even in super small ways. Answering the 3:00 o’clock parade question, you can make magic.” So, I think companies get it right when they empower their employees to do those kinds of things.

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

Chrissy Scivicque
I think I’ll just add that one of the things I hear frequently from people when they go through my training or they read the book, they come back and they tell me about the moment that it happens, that finally their boss or whoever finally says, “You read my mind,” because it’s such a powerful moment when you’re able to proactively anticipate someone’s needs and you come off looking like a mind reader. And I think that’s one of the coolest things about learning to be proactive is that you start to get that kind of reputation, “Oh, I’m a mind reader. I can figure out what you need before you even know you need it.”

And the first time that happens, it feels so good. And I’m not suggesting that I’m really teaching you how to be psychic. We never really know what the future holds, but we can always take some proactive steps to set ourselves up for success. So, I love that. And if you get that, anyone listening, if you get that moment when somebody tells you, “You read my mind,” and it feels great, let me know about it. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And, boy, that’s just powerful in so many domains in terms of what’s up with your colleagues as well as I’m thinking about marketing now in terms of, well, the term mind reading makes me think of I took Ramit Sethi’s copywriting course, and there’s some useful stuff. And he talked about trying to understand people’s hopes and dreams, fears and pains, and barriers and obstacles. And, sure enough, once you get some of that, it’s like, “Oh, hey, I made content that’s quite relevant to you.” And that is really fun when you get those emails, like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted.”

And then even when you’re making a landing page or a marketing communication or whatever, it’s just so much more resonant in terms of, “Yes, that is what I need. You, you get me. You read my mind.” And so, whether you’re collaborating, you’re marketing, you’re selling, you’re just being a great partner and friend.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes, personal life as well, absolutely. Yes, we can be proactive for one another. We’re on the bus and we see somebody who needs a seat, we can stand up before they have to ask or beg for it. We can be proactive in literally every single aspect of our lives.

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

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. So, the biggest one that I rely on, this comes from Nelson Mandela, and he says, “Let your choices come from your hopes, not your fears.” And I hope to live my life like that. I don’t want to ever look back and regret that I didn’t do something because I was afraid. And I always encourage my coaching clients to do the same. Aim for what you hope for.

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

Chrissy Scivicque
I love the marshmallow study…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Chrissy Scivicque
…where there’s kids and they’re given the option, “If you can not eat this one marshmallow, when I come back in 15 minutes, I’ll give you two.” And it’s all about the ability to delay gratification and self-manage. They followed the kids and what we find is that, with these skills, you have more success in life. The kids who were able to not eat the one marshmallow, and they earned the two marshmallows, they scored better on their SATs, and they were better at stress management. So, those are really important skills, they’re learnable skills, but they’re really great requirements for success in life and at work.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Chrissy Scivicque
The newest one that’s been added to my list is called Work Clean by Dan Charnas, I believe is the last name. And it’s such a fresh perspective on the topic of organization. He basically talks to and researches with world-renowned chefs, and talks about them working in these incredibly busy restaurant kitchens and how they manage the physical environment and create systems to be able to do that. So, it’s a really new idea, new way of looking at cleanliness and organization, and he applies it to the corporate world, which is really cool.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Chrissy Scivicque
I’m going to go old school on you, and I’m going to say good ole paper and pen, the Bullet Journal method. Ryder Carroll just did a book on this recently, and I’m loving it. Right now, I use a lot of tech systems, obviously, for just running my business, and sometimes I don’t want to look at another screen. I just love having my Bullet Journal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Chrissy Scivicque
I’m going to give you probably an unusual one. I am a doodler, and I think that doodling is…I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. Every piece of paper, literally, that I’m looking at in front of me right now is covered in doodles. It’s a very relaxing habit. I know that it helps me to concentrate and listen more, particularly if I’m in a learning environment. So, as a trainer, whenever I see somebody doodling, I don’t mind it. I know it’s a really helpful way to kind of distract one part of the brain to concentrate on something else.

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

Chrissy Scivicque
Yeah, probably the one that I hear repeated most is that the more we manage the expected, the more capacity we have to deal with the unexpected. So, it gets back to the idea that certain things in the workplace are absolutely expected and predictable, and we want to manage those things as much as possible because crazy, unexpected things are going to come up. And when they do, we need to have capacity to deal with them. So, go ahead and manage anything that’s expected so that you can have that capacity to deal with the unexpected.

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

Chrissy Scivicque
I would love it if they would go to EatYourCareer.com. And you can check out my blog, you can join me for free training webinars, Q&A sessions, all sorts of great materials there for you.

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

Chrissy Scivicque
Final call to action is to trust yourself and trust your experience and your expertise, and realize that much of the time you know what to do. You don’t need to wait for anyone to give you permission or instruction. You have the figure-it-out skill, so trust yourself and be proactive, and just do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Chrissy, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all the ways you’re proactive.

Chrissy Scivicque
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been great to be here with you.

551: How to Save Massive Time, Energy, and Frustration by Solving Problems Before They Happen with Dan Heath

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Dan Heath discusses how upstream-thinking can help solve problems before they even show up.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The power of “upstream thinking”
  2. How to get to the root of the problem
  3. How to avoid the blame game at work

About Dan:

Dan Heath and his brother, Chip, have written four New York Times bestselling books: Made to Stick, SwitchDecisive, and The Power of Moments. Heath is a senior fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, which supports entrepreneurs fighting for social good. He lives in Durham, North Carolina. The Heath brothers’ books have sold more than three million copies worldwide and have been translated into thirty-three languages.

Items Mentioned in the Show

Thank you, sponsors!

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Dan Heath Interview Transcript

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

Dan Heath
Hey, thanks for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am so excited to speak to you in person and digging into the wisdom of your book here “Upstream.” And so, I want to maybe hear from you on the personal side, talking about preventing problems instead of reacting to them, is there an area in your own life where you’ve applied some “Upstream” mindset principles to get some good results?

Dan Heath
Yeah, there actually is one, and it’s so utterly mundane, I’m almost embarrassed to share it, but here was my epiphany. And, keep in mind, this was while I was writing a book on upstream thinking, and by upstream, I mean the quest to solve a problem before it happens. So, anyway, as you know, I’m a writer and, for whatever reason, I tend to do my best writing in coffee shops. So, I had this coffee shop I go to every morning, and I sit in the same place, and I order the same thing. And so, as a result of that, I’m constantly shuffling my laptop back and forth. I have a proper office that stays largely abandoned, and then I go to this coffee shop to write.

And so, I go to the coffee shop, I plug in the laptop, and then when it’s time to go, I pack everything up, I pack up the power cord, I get back to the office, I unwind the power cord, plug it in there, and it’s just a lot of power cord shuffling, and it’s just like an everyday annoyance. And I’ve been doing this for years. I mean, for years, I’m packing up, unpacking my power cord a couple of times a day. And then, in the course of this research, it occurs to me, “Hey, what if I bought a second power cord, and one of them could stay in my backpack when I go to the coffee shop, and one of them could stay permanently wired on my desk, so when I get back and I put my laptop down, I just easily plug it in.

And it was like this great relief where this little everyday annoyance was just gone forever. And then I started kicking myself, like, “How could I get in this mode where for years…?” I mean, it’s not like this was some major hardship obviously, but it was an annoyance, and it never needed to be one. And that’s the spirit of “Upstream” the book, in a very mundane personal story.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I actually totally connect and relate to that. And I think about travel in terms of I’m always sort of reassembling my toiletry bag 3-1-1 and just get two of the things, and just leave the thing in the suitcase forever.

Dan Heath
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So, lessons learned.

Dan Heath
And I think this is also true in relationships. Like, every couple has something that they bicker about, “Oh, you left the toilet seat lid up again,” there’s just some recurring irritant, maybe many, depending on your relationship. And so, I also got to talk to some people who’d figured out how to solve those kinds of problems. I met this guy named Ritch Marissa, and he and his wife, their thing was the hallway light. So, Ritch would go outside, often just to take the dog out or something, and he would flip the hallway light on. He’d come back in and he would inevitably forget to turn the hallway light off, and that bugged his wife, and so this was just like a little nagging problem for them.

And one day, Ritch Marissa has this epiphany, and realizes, “Hey, we don’t ever have to do this again. I’ve got it. I know how to crack this.” And so, the next day, he filed for divorce. No, I’m kidding. That is just a cheap joke. No, what he did was he went to Home Depot and he bought something I didn’t even know existed, which is called a light switch timer, and this is like a little panel that goes where your light switch is, and there’s buttons on it with different timestamps, so he can just press the five-minute button, the light comes on, and after five minutes, it turns itself off.

What is just so profound to me about this, I know these are little things, but it’s just a signal that, in our lives, it’s so easy to get into these patterns where we can fight the same problem again and again, and it’s like it takes a miracle for us to snap awake and realize, “Hey, with the right intervention, this could be gone forever.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s resonant and it’s exciting, and I think it really just, even for the relationship itself, that’s a loving action. That’s going to say, “Hey, honey, I heard you, I listened to you, and I’m doing something about it,” and so not only do we have that irritant gone, but we have kind of, “Oh, that was really nice of you. Thank you,” going for you.

Dan Heath
If only more of our relationship problems could be addressed with a $10 gizmo from Home Depot, the world would be a better place.

Pete Mockaitis
Home Depot on Valentine’s Day is a peak day for them. Well, cool. So, then we talk about upstream and this notion of solving problems before they happen. I’d love to hear, have you made any particularly surprising counterintuitive discoveries about our human nature while digging into this stuff?

Dan Heath
I think what really captured me about this topic, because I’ve been thinking about this, I checked the other day, and literally my first Word file where I started taking notes on this upstream topic, was in 2009, so this has been on my mind a long time. And what kept me with it really involved the definition of a hero. So, when I say hero, what associations start popping to mind? It’s probably a policeman, or a firefighter, or a first responder, or a lifeguard who saves someone. It’s people who save the day, that’s a hero.

And it occurred to me at a certain point that there’s a whole another class of people who keep the day from needing to be saved. Someone invented a smarter building code that reduced the incidents of fires in buildings. And someone else consulted with lifeguards at public pools and taught them how to scan the pool in a better way and to position their chair in a smarter place. And a high school coach who’s mentoring teenagers in a way that keeps them out of trouble with the law. And these are upstream heroes.

These are people who stop emergencies from happening, and yet they hardly ever get any glory. In fact, their work may be largely invisible. We may have no idea what they did. I mean, how would we? How would we know that the consultant at the swimming pool kept a child from drowning one day? And so, that idea just captured me that there’s this whole invisible set of heroes whose identity we may never know even though they’re having a profound influence on us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is powerful. And so, you’ve got a number of excellent tales that you’ve got some of the best story teasers on the back of your book that I’ve ever encountered, so well done. Well done.

Dan Heath
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
You and editor and team for those. So, maybe let’s just bring this to life with a little couple of those. So, tell us, all right, so there’s a school district, they had an issue with dropouts, and they did something upstream to prevent a whole lot of dropping out. How’s that story unfold?

Dan Heath
Oh, this is one of my favorites in the book. So, this is the Chicago Public School district, massive school district, I mean, this district has a $6 billion budget which is the same as the city of Seattle. So, when you talk about a difficult change environment, I mean, this is it. and if you want to hear a depressing stat, back in 1997, the graduation rate at CPS, Chicago Public Schools, was 52%. Like, if you were a student at CPS, you basically had a coin-flip’s chance of graduating. And it had been true for years.

And in a situation like that, people start to habituate to that level of success. If you were a teacher, or an administrator in this system, you’d certainly bemoan the fact that you’ve got a poor graduation rate, you regret it, but it almost comes to seem inevitable that, “Well, it’s a shame, but this is a complicated world. These kids come from difficult environments. Their K through 8 education didn’t serve them very well. And so, what are we going to do about it?”

Well, there was a point that came when they realized, “Maybe we can do something.” So, some academics, including Elaine Allensworth, figured out that there was a test they could perform in the ninth-grade year that could predict with 80% accuracy which students would graduate and which wouldn’t. And the test, I don’t mean like the SAT. All I mean is the test was, “Did the student take five full-year course credits and passed them successfully?” and, “Did they fail more than one core course?” Core course like Math or English. And if they received five full-year credits, and they didn’t fail more than one course, one was okay, but two was a real warning flag, then that meant they were off track for graduation.

And so, for the first time, it’s like they had a kind of smoke detector for dropouts, they advanced warning, they had time to do something about it. And so, this becomes a way of opening the door to changing the way the system worked. And some of the things they did, I’ll give you two examples, one was they realized some of their own policies were sabotaging kids. So, this was like the “get tough on discipline” era in schools, and it was routine at the time. For a couple of kids who shoved each other in the hallway, they’d get a two-week suspension. They just doled those out like candy.

But the research shows if you take a kid who’s kind of on the borderline, and you kick him out of school for two weeks, what happens is they come back, they’re lost, they feel bad that they’re lost, they end up failing the course, and then if they fail a couple of courses, they’re off track for graduation. It’s this absurd situation where nobody realized that by handing out a two-week suspension, they might well be dooming them to dropping out of high school, but that’s what the research showed.

The other thing is they reorganized the way that they worked. So, all of the freshmen teachers, traditionally, they would just stick to their own within the discipline. The Math teachers would meet with Math, and English with English, and so forth. Now, they formed what they called freshmen success teams where they met across departments and they would go student by student. I mean, they would be sitting around the table, literally saying, “Okay, Michael. How are his grades and his subjects right now? How has his attendance been the last couple of weeks? Have we been calling his home when he’s missing school? Can we get him some extra tutoring?” And they’re figuring out, on the fly, how to take these kids who are at the risk of being off track and getting them back on track.

And what happens is, as the years go by, and as they learned how to get ahead of these problems, how to encourage attendance, how to get extra resources for the students who need it, they start moving the needle. They start moving the needle at the freshman level. More and more students are now on track versus off track. And then, four years later, when it comes time to graduate, this early warning system pays off. And, now, the graduation rate in CPS is something like 78% or 79%. I mean, I can’t overstate the magnitude of a change that has to happen in a system like CPS to move the graduation rate by 25 points. It’s just astonishing work.

And for every student that graduates that, in an alternate reality probably would’ve dropped out without this work, their lifetime income is going to go up by $300,000 to $400,000. I mean, this is a massive, massive effort that started with the upstream notion to think, “Hey, what if we could prevent some of these kids from dropping out?”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. So, that’s so powerful right there. It’s like, “What is the smoke detector, or the early warning system, which then, in turn, lets us prioritize and wisely concentrate resources or interventions to prevent the issue from occurring there?” So, I think that can have all kinds of applications in all kinds of settings, professionally and personally, in terms of, “What might make high-performing, high-potential employees want to drop out or exit the organization? What are some of those tests you can run?”

Dan Heath
That’s actually a great example. And I think a lot of organizations, we constantly hear about the big data revolution, and I think in many cases it’s overblown. But I think this is one case where it’s not, where what data is so powerful at doing is figuring out ways to detect that problems are coming. And I’ve spoken with a number of HR leaders that have figured out very diagnostic tests for knowing when employees are in trouble, when they’re at the risk of leaving.

I’ll give you another example on the customer side. So, LinkedIn, we all know LinkedIn, they sell a very expensive package to employers who are doing a lot of recruiting on the site, and it’s a subscription. What they figured out years ago is the way it would work is the employers would subscribe to an annual thing, and then about month 11, the sales reps would start really putting the full-court press on the customers just to make sure that they were going to renew because that’s how everybody was measured, is what’s the retention rate. And, churn, as most of you probably know, churn is a measure of how many people are not renewing. And so, churn is always what you’re fighting in a subscription business.

And so, they would send in the rescue troops in month 11 to make sure these customers are going to renew. And somebody started digging through the data, and they made a curious discovery that they could predict as early as the first four weeks of a customer’s subscription who was likely to renew and who wasn’t. And, at first, they were puzzled, they’re like, “How could we possibly know from the very start who’s going to renew and who’s not?” You would think that it would take time to figure that out. And they dug in and they realized the deal was people either got value from LinkedIn almost immediately or they never did.

So, they realized, “Aha, we’ve got to get out of the business of rescuing customers, and we’ve got to get in the business of making sure customers have a bang out first month.” And so, they put a lot of resources into onboarding customers, and they would do a lot of handholding where if you’re hiring a developer in Atlanta, they would get on the phone with you and walk you through step by step, “Okay, here’s how to define your target profile. And I’ve actually written some copy for you for emails that you can send out to prospects.”

And the effect of this work is, over a period of four or five years, if memory serves, churn rate was cut in half, even as the company’s revenue absolutely exploded. And that is an intervention that’s probably worth tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in value, simply by paying attention to, “How can we see problems before they happen?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s huge and it totally makes sense in terms of you’re getting the value or you’re not getting the value, and you can know that pretty early. So, Dan, hey, keep it coming with these stories. So, you also mentioned that there’s an online travel website, and they were able to cut 21 million customer service calls by doing something a little different with their website. What was that?

Dan Heath
This story is almost hard to believe. So, this is a story about Expedia, and in 2012, there’s a guy named Ryan O’Neill that was digging through a bunch of data, and he found something that even today I find hard to believe, which is that, at that time, for every hundred customers who booked travel, a flight, or a hotel, or rental car, whatever, 58 of the hundred would end up calling the customer support center for some kind of help.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Dan Heath
Which would seem to nullify the whole point of the online travel model. It’s sort of like if you went to a gas station where you could swipe your credit card at the pump, and then 58 out of 100 times something went wrong where you had to go inside. Like, you’d be pretty irritated with that business. And so, he starts to dig in, “Well, what in the world is going on? Why are so many people calling us?” He figures out the number one reason that people are calling is to get a copy of their itinerary. That’s it. Number one. Twenty million calls were placed in 2012 of people asking for a copy of their travel itinerary, and he’s just kind of slapping himself in the forehead, and he’s thinking, “How could this happen?”

Well, there’s a good reason why it happened. I mean, Expedia is a big profitable business. It’s not like these people were ignorant or unskilled. What happened was they were organized to neglect this problem. So, there was a whole set of people whose job it was to get customers to the site, and then there’s a whole another set of people whose job it was to make sure that people who came to the site, ended up booking something, and there’s a whole another set of people whose job was to keep the website running smoothly, and a whole another set of people whose job it was to take the customers’ calls and resolve them quickly.

But if you look across this whole ecosystem and you ask, “Whose job is it to make sure customers never need to call us?” The answer was, “Nobody.” It was nobody’s job. And if that goes even worse than that, that nobody would even benefit if that were true. And so, the top executives at Expedia realized they’ve got a problem, and they formed a special taskforce and put them in a war room, and they challenged them, “Hey, let’s keep these customers from needing to call us.” That’s the shift upstream. “Rather than get more efficient at handling customer calls,” which had been the way they’ve measured themselves to-date, “let’s just keep these calls from happening.”

And the solutions came very quickly, as you’d well imagine. They gave customers ways to get their own itinerary, and they added different trees to the IVR, “Press 2 if you need a copy of your itinerary,” and they changed the way they sent the emails with itineraries so they wouldn’t get in the Spam folder. And what happens is those 20 million calls essentially vanished, they go to zero over a very short period of time.

And I think what this tells us is something interesting, which is organizations always push for specialization. We’re divided into silos, we’re pressed to specialize, and there’s good reason for that. It makes things more efficient. It makes us more productive. But it can also be a deterrent to solving really thorny complex issues because we stay in our silos, and those silos create blinders. And so, all of a sudden, really obvious questions like, “Hey, why do all these customers need to call us if we’re an online website?” It’s like it gets purged from our existence because of the way we’re organized.

And I think that’s the promise. If you’re listening right now, and you’re in a big organization, let me promise you, there are issues just like this, these silos-spanning issues, that are waiting for someone to discover them and organize a response, and that’s the upstream mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
And those are great opportunities to bring your career upstream or up the hierarchy when you identify and you get proactive, and then you make some real value happen by tackling it. That’s huge.

Dan Heath
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then we’ve heard some fun stories. Now, I want to get your view on kind of what are the fundamental principles or key questions to ask to surface these opportunities all the more readily and to not let them just sit under the radar for months and years?

Dan Heath
Yeah, let me identify, I’ve got a couple of skills that I think people can consciously build that will make them better upstream-thinkers. And the first is anytime you’re trying to prevent a problem before it happens, you’re going to be dealing with complicated systems, and you’ve got to understand the system, and, in particular, you’ve got to find some point of leverage, somewhere you can tinker with the system to get a different result.

So, in the case of Chicago Public Schools, they had this discovery that, “Hey, ninth grade is the critical time when we can take a student who’s off track and get them back on track.” So, one way to get closer to problems to identify a point of leverage is to immerse yourself in the specifics of the problem. So, I’ll give you an example. There’s an organization called the Crime Lab that’s associated with the University of Chicago, and they do a lot of research on, “What policies could potentially help reduce the crime rate?”

And so, years ago, during the forming of the Crime Lab, they were asked to work on the problem of gang violence, which is a recurring problem in Chicago. The problem there has to work on was homicide, and the lore was that the homicides were the result of gang violence.

And so, they started by questioning that premise and tried to get closer to the problem. And the way they did it was they went to the medical examiner who always writes a report on why young people died, or why anybody died, and they went through the last 200 reports of homicides of young people and they just read through the situations to train their intuition. And, yes, there were some that were the result of gangs jockeying for power or what have you, but what was far more common was a situation where some teenagers got in a fight over something stupid.

One example was a couple of groups of guys, one of the groups accused one of the guys on the other group of stealing someone’s bike, and the fight escalated. And in some places, a fight like that might’ve ended in throwing some fists. In this case, one of the kids had access to a gun and somebody got shot. And that became, what they discovered in these medical examiner reports, as they got closer to the problem, they saw this is not fundamentally about gang violence, that if they wanted to intervene to reduce the number of homicides, we got to somehow be able to speak to these situations that are normal teenage disagreements that escalate out of control.

And what they eventually did is they created a program that trained young men in high schools how to resist that urge to go nuclear when you get mad or when you get in a disagreement, to build a little bit of self-control and reflectivity in situations like that. But the way they discovered that point of leverage, which turned out to be quite successful, was by getting closer to the problem.

Another example, the same thing, that I write about in the book is there were some architects that helped design big public spaces like airports, and they’ve been asked to think about how to make those spaces more convenient and more accessible to older adults, and these were young architects. So, how do you get closer to an issue like that when you’re not in the target population? And they discovered something that’s called an age simulation suit, which is something you can wear to help you feel, not just learn about it, not just hear about it, but feel for yourself what it’s like to be older.

So, there are elbow braces that mimicked the reduced movement you get in your elbow joint. And as you age, you lose dexterity in your fingers, so they have these gloves that simulate the loss of dexterity. And they wear something called overshoes which simulate nerve loss in your feet, which makes it a little bit harder for you to perceive where the ground is. And so, they wear these age simulation suits, and they walk around DFW just to feel what it’s like to be old. And any business traveler listening to this knows DFW will make you feel old, just in general, much less without an age simulation suit.

But they start figuring out, “Hey, we need another step on the escalator because it’s really hard to get your balance when it’s moving as quickly as it is.” And they realized that there aren’t enough opportunities to take a rest, that these big hallways are intended to help people get where they need to get quickly, but older people need breaks, and there just aren’t good spots where they can put their hand on a railing or take a seat for a moment, and they realized they need some rest stops.

So, just to zoom out to the bigger issue here, what I’m saying is whatever industry you’re in, whatever role you have, there’s always going to be recurring problems in your organization. And one systematic way that you can get better at helping your organization solve those problems is to be the person who has the instinct to get closer to the problem, to go through those medical examiner reports, to put on an age simulation suit to give yourself a better instinct about what it’s like to navigate these spaces. I think that’s an upstream skill that we can all cultivate.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I imagine the hang-up and the reason people don’t do that is they might say, “Oh, my gosh, who has time to look at 200 of these reports or to find this special suit and to go through it?” And so, I guess, in the moment, I would imagine that can feel like, “Where will I find the time?” But if you zoom out, boy, I imagine there’s huge multiples of time saved associated with doing this stuff.

Dan Heath
You have put your finger on what may be the fundamental tension of upstream thinking. And I want to tell you about a study that I think really brings this tension to life. So, a woman named Anita Tucker, who’s just a fascinating thinker, at one time she ran a frosting plant for General Mills, I believe. And now she is an organizational researcher, and, at one point, for her dissertation at Harvard, she followed around nurses. So, she shadowed them during their day, and she figured out that nurses are basically professional problem-solvers. There’s always something weird popping up that they had to deal with, and sometimes it’s small stuff, like they ran out of towels, and they had to figure out where to get a towel for a patient.

Sometimes it’s bigger stuff. Like, Anita Tucker tells a story of a nurse who was trying to check out a new mother from the hospital ready to take her baby home, but the security anklet that they put on babies had fallen off and so you can’t check out the mom without that, so they went on this frantic search, “Where is the anklet?” It turns out it was just in the baby’s bassinet. So, easy, they checked out the mother and were done.

Three hours later, the same thing happens again with a different mother, and this time they do another search, they can’t find it, and so they have to go through another set of protocols to resolve the situation, but they managed to get the mother out. And so, when Anita Tucker first encountered this story, she thought, “Hey, these are nurses being really resourceful. They’re scrappy, they manage to work around problems, they don’t let things stand in their way, they don’t go running to the boss every time something goes wrong. It’s an inspiring portrait.”

Pete Mockaitis
These were the heroes.

Dan Heath
Until you realized that what she’s describing is an environment that never learns, that never improves, because when you work around problems, and when you heroicized people who work around problems, what you’re guaranteeing is that those problems will recur.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you get glory by addressing them.

Dan Heath
Exactly. And it didn’t occur to the nurse who check out two mothers in three hours that had problems with the anklet falling off to ask, “Hey, why is this happening? What can we do to stop this from happening? What’s the root cause? How can we make sure we never have to solve this problem again?” And I want to be clear here, I’m not throwing stones at nurses. I think that this study could’ve been done on any profession that it would’ve come down to the same conclusion, which is our lives are so busy and so full of emergencies and issues to be dealt with that we get in this trap of, “Let’s just get through it. Let’s just work around. Let’s figure out how to get by.” But what we have to realize is that is a trap. When we work around problems every day, we guarantee ourselves to have to deal with them again tomorrow.

And so, when you said, what it feels like in the moment is, “Oh, my God, where am I going to find time to go through to 200 medical examiner reports?” that’s exactly the issue, is in the short term, it is extra work, it is stepping outside of that cycle of workarounds, but it’s basically the only ticket out of that self-perpetuating cycle of firefighting. And that’s something, that trap of firefighting, is something that I call in the book tunneling. It’s actually a term from some psychologist in a book called “Scarcity.”

But I love that mental image of tunneling, that that’s the trap we get in where we kind of lose our peripheral vision and all we’re doing is making our way forward, “How can I get through these problems as quickly as possible to get onto the next set?” And we start to lose sight of the big questions, which is, “Is this tunnel going the right way? Is there an easier way to get where we’re trying to go? Are we even pursuing the right goals?” When you’re in the tunnel, the only real direction is forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and that totally connects and resonates. Like, even just biochemically, it seems like, “Okay, all right, my back against the wall. We got to hustle. We got to hurry. Let’s do, do, do, go, go, go,” and then it’s that vicious cycle.

Dan Heath
It is. And I empathize with the nurses because what are they suppose to do? I mean, honestly. So, the mother is trying to get checked out, they can’t find the anklet. What would we advise of the nurse in that moment? Is she suppose to conduct a root-cause analysis of the circumference of the anklets and contact the manufacturer and talk about product improvements? It seems absurd. It’s almost like we can’t envision another reality other than the tunneling reality.

But just to give you a feel for a way out of the tunnel, what many health systems have done is start to hold standing meetings, sometimes called safety huddles, where a bunch of nurses and doctors and staffers get together in the morning, it might be a 20-minute meeting, and they talk about, “Okay, what near misses did we have yesterday where someone was almost hurt or we almost gave somebody the wrong medication? What can we learn from that? How can we improve our processes to make sure it doesn’t happen again?” And then they look forward to that day, “What’s coming today that’s more complex than usual that we should think through?”

And I think that’s a perfect example of how you can escape the tunnel, even if it’s just for a 20-minute meeting, because that’s the forum where that nurse could’ve said, “You know, something weird happened yesterday. We had two mothers with the same problem happened to.” And that’s a meeting where you could deputize a subgroup to work on that and figure out what was going on and solve it. So, I think it may be too much to ask of humanity to figure out how to get out of our tunnels because it’s such a powerful instinct. But if we can even escape them for short periods, we can make much smarter choices.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love that. And so, maybe while we’re just sort of imagining workplaces at large and recurring problems that may have the potential to be solved once and for all, what are a couple of things that just leap to mind for you that we should have our eyes open toward as professionals?

Dan Heath
One thing, I think, has to do with a sense of ownership. So, in the book I talk about what’s curious about downstream actions is that they’re often obligatory. If someone shows up at the hospital having a heart attack, the surgeon can’t opt out of that work. Or if a preschooler has an accident, the daycare worker can’t opt out of the diaper change, right? When there’s a problem that presents, we have to deal with it. Versus, upstream problems, curiously, are sometimes voluntary. People have to step up and say, “This problem, it wasn’t something that I created but I’m going to be the one to fix it.” And that’s something that relates to accountability.

I’ll give you an example from the work world. I talked to an administrator named Jeanie Forrest who works in the Yale Law School. And when I talked with her, she was having this staff issue that she was dealing with. So, there were two staffers, these are disguised for obvious reasons. The boss, let’s call her Barbara, and the director, we’ll call Dawn. So, Dawn had filed a complaint about Barbara, her boss, for belittling her and kind of undermining her in certain situations, and this had landed on Jeanie Forrest’s desk. So, she asked the two women to come in, and Jeanie Forrest said, “You know, this situation is my fault. I had heard rumors that you two weren’t getting along, and I sensed it myself. And you know what I did? I just stuck my head in the sand and I thought, ‘Well, maybe this will go away.’ So, that’s on me. This is my fault.”

And then she turned it around and she said, “I want each of you to tell the story of this situation as if you’re the only one in the world responsible.” And at first, the women had a hard time honoring the spirit of that request, so Barbara, the boss, said, “Well, every time I ask something of you, you shut me down and you give me weird body language.” And Jeanie Forrest said, “Barbara, that sounded awful lot like you’re blaming Dawn. Can you try that again?” And Barbara said, “Well, you know, I could’ve done a better job explaining. I thought that you should just accept what I said and I dismissed your questions. But I could’ve done a better job being patient.”

And Dawn, for her part, said, “Well, I just accepted your huffing and puffing, but the truth was I just really didn’t understand, and I should’ve made it clear. Hey, I‘m not being resistant. I just don’t understand what you want. Can you help me?” And so, they end the meeting on this kind of detente and they tried to change their relationship. And I emailed Jeanie Forrest six weeks later just to see what have happened with this, and she wrote back and said, “They’re working together productively and cheerfully, it’s a little insane.”

And what I want to highlight about this is I think it’s a kind of metaphor that so many times in life, we have the sense that the problems are happening to us, that we are the inheritors or the victims of problems, but this reframing thing that Jeanie Forrest did of telling the story as if we’re the only ones responsible, it helped all three of the people involved realize, “Hey, we have agency here. Like, we could’ve made different choices, and we can make different choices going forward. We have influence here. We have power.” And I think what that means for upstream efforts is, often, we may find ourselves voluntarily taking charge of something that we had nothing to do with causing.

I was talking to some people from a large software company who were organizing a taskforce on sexual harassment. And it wasn’t a problem of their making. They weren’t the harassers, they had nothing to do with the environment. But they said, “This is a problem that needs solving. What if we sign up to be the people who try to solve it?” And that kind of enlightened volunteerism is something I find very, very inspiring about upstream work, and it goes back to that notion of upstream heroes, the people whose work can be invisible even though it has profound impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Dan, this is so much good stuff. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dan Heath
The final thing I might mention is, and this is something I feel you could carry through with you your whole career, is to be cognizant of the downside of measurement and metrics. We live in a measurement-obsessed culture, especially in business these days. And measurement is wonderful, it makes us more efficient, it gives us clear targets, but there’s always a downside to measurement, and much of that downside has to do with gaming and the way that measurement alters our behaviors in ways that are sometimes good and sometimes bad.

So, as a concrete example of the bad side, there was a policy passed in the UK for hospitals where they required hospitals to see patients in emergency rooms within four hours of their arrival, so enlightened intent, “We want to make sure that patients are seen, that these crazy wait times, 12 hours, 16 hours, would go away forever, and that we force hospitals to reinvent their processes.” So, very enlightened. What happens is a lot of hospitals started doing this thing where ambulances would bring patients and stay in the parking lot until they thought the patients were within four hours of being seen, and then they would rush them inside so that they can meet the four-hour rule, right? A perversion of the intent of the policy even though they technically met the statistical definition of it.

And that’s something that you’re going to see in your career again and again and again and again every time there is a sales incentive or a bonus offered. You can bet it’s going to do some good and some bad. But I’ll tell you, most of your colleagues are going to be woefully naïve and think only about the good side, and you can be the one that says, “Hey, let’s kick the tires a little bit here.” One test you can run is what I call the lazy bureaucrat test, and that is if someone wanted to ace the measures or incentives that we’re setting out with the least effort possible, what would that look like?

Or another one you might call the defiling the mission test, which is imagine that we ace all of these measures that we’re setting, and yet our work ends up harming the mission, the reason we’re all here. What would that look like? Like, in the case of the ambulances waiting in the parking lot is a great example of defiling the mission. You’ve aced the measures but defiled the point of healthcare which is to pay attention to patients and their needs. So, I just want to leave that as a provocation that you can be the person whose attention to the dark side of measurement keeps your organization out of a lot of nasty traps.

[39:03]

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, Dan, I can’t resist now. You dropped a couple test on us and those were so good. Do you have more that you can reveal?

Dan Heath
Yeah, actually, there’s another one that I’ll steal from Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, and that is he said, “Any time you’ve got a quantity measurement”’ so you’re paying people, maybe you’re paying the janitorial crew based on square footage cleaned, or you’re paying your data-entry people based on the quantity of documents entered.” He said, “Any time you got a quantity measurement, you’ve got to counterbalance it with a quality measurement,” because what you’ve got to realize is if you incentivized people to clean more floors, what comes part and parcel with that is they’re going to do a worse job per square foot in the service of getting to a larger area.

Or they’re going to go so fast on the data entry that they’re making lots of mistakes for the sake of getting through more documents. So, the way to balance the scales is to combine quantity with quality, where quality might be some kind of spot checking of how good the rooms looked after they’re cleaned, or with data entry, to make sure that there’s some metric that specifies how good the precision was between the entry and the original document.

And ever since I became aware of that test from Andy Grove, I’ve started seeing situations where really smart people put it into place. Like, even in the police force in L.A. For years, police were adopting these metrics of reduce crime, reduce crime, reduce crime, and that leads to things like stop and frisk. Stop and frisk is effective at reducing crime but it has this just grotesque side consequence of subjecting a lot of innocent people to abusive treatment. And so, they’ve learned to counterbalance the focus on reducing crime with a measure of community trust, “How much do you trust the police? Do you feel like they’re doing a good job looking out for safety?” And that’s a beautiful way to kind of restore order or a sense of balance to the work. So, that’s another one I would add to the quiver.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.
Well, then could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dan Heath
My favorite quote, this is from a guy named Paul Batalden, who’s a healthcare expert, he said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” And that quote has become just like a brain worm for me. It’s so enlightening because it tells you in situations like Chicago Public Schools that at one time failed 48% of its students. It tells you the way CPS is setup is designed to fail half its students. So, if we’re going to get different results, we have to change the system.

But I think it’s also true in our own lives. I think that’s what’s so powerful about this quote, is if you find yourself perpetually dealing with the same dissatisfactions or the same frustrations, it’s a sign that the system is setup wrong. How do you change the system? We can’t just hope our way to a different result.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dan Heath
This is definitely not my favorite book but I thought, in the wake of Clay Christensen’s recent passing, he wrote a wonderful book called “How Will You Measure Your Life?” that I think is a great excuse for all of us, just to be self-referential here in this podcast, to step out of the tunnel and think about the big picture and where we’re headed, and “Are we making the right micro choices to get the kind of macro results we want in our lives?”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Dan Heath
Let me give you a small one. There’s an online tool called Toggl, and it has turned me into a time-tracker, and that’s what it is, it’s a time-tracking software that allows you to just see how you’re spending your time and devoted to categories. And I’ll tell you, I am not like a natural personal productivity person, okay? I am not the kind of person who puts labels on file folders, so this was unnatural for me. So, take heart if you’re a naturally-unorganized person. And it has really changed my day-to-day work. It’s made me much more cognizant of how I spend my time, and I’ve gotten strategic about it. Like, I’ll actually, from time to time, just do a check-in and see, “Am I putting hours against the things that are most important to me?” And that little tool made it a lot easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Dan Heath
I’m going to throw out my coffee shop habit. And, look, I know everybody’s going to have a different one. But something about going to the same environment really brings out the best work for me, and I think it’s because it’s just like everything in the environment at the coffee shop now is a trigger or a cue to me to get into writing mode. It’s like it helps me get over that hump because I have so many associations with the look of the place, and the smell of the place, and the taste of the coffee, and it’s like my sensory environment is helping me replicate that state of getting into thoughtful writing mode.

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

Dan Heath
With this new book, what I found that resonates with people is this idea that the need for heroism is usually evidence of systems failure. If you think about we celebrate a lifeguard who jumped into the pool at the YMCA and saved a drowning child, obviously we want to celebrate that lifeguard, he may saved a life, but the need for them to jump in the pool and do the saving, maybe evidence that something was wrong with the way things were operated. Was the lifeguard chair too far from the pool and they have blind spots? Or was the lifeguard on their phone? Or was the lifeguard looking at something interesting happening in the pool and they had dropped their discipline of scanning the pool every 10 seconds? So, I think we should distrust heroics in a way, that if we’re repeatedly relying on heroics to get the job done, then maybe something bigger is at stake.

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

Dan Heath
Come visit me at UpstreamBook.com and there’s resources on the site that are free, there’s a lot more about the book if you’re interested, so, yeah, come there.

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

Dan Heath
I would say in the next week, let me challenge you to find a way to get out of the tunnel that you’re in, whether that is just taking an hour off of work and going and sitting in a coffee shop with your phone off and thinking about the big picture. Whatever that looks like for you, escape the tunnel and think about how you might knock down some of those recurring problems and irritants in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Dan, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you tons of luck with “Upstream” and all your adventures.

Dan Heath
Thanks so much, Pete. It’s been a real interesting conversation.

539: Preparing for the Future of Leadership with Jacob Morgan

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Jacob Morgan discusses what professionals need to succeed in future workplaces.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How professionals must change in the future
  2. The five skills of future leaders
  3. The surprising weakness of present-day leaders

About Jacob:

Jacob Morgan is a 4x best-selling author, speaker, and futurist. His new book, The Future Leader, looks at the skills and mindsets people need to have if they wish to be successful leaders over the next decade and beyond. He is also the founder of The Future Of Work University and can be reached at TheFutureOrganization.com.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jacob Morgan Interview Transcript

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

Jacob Morgan
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so intrigued about much of your work. You studied the future of work a whole lot. And, maybe to kick it off, could you share what do you think is one of the wildest predictions you’ve encountered about the future of work that you think actually might come true?

Jacob Morgan
You know, it’s tough because there’s been a lot of predictions that have been made, and I’m sure some of your listeners have heard of these, right? One of the predictions is that we’re not going to have any jobs in the future, and it’s sort of going to be like an episode from The Walking Dead, we’re all going to walk around with pitchforks and shotguns. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I’m more of an optimist, so the prediction that I believe is that there will be some disruptions with technology and automation and all these things that we’re starting to see happen, but I think we’re also going to create a lot of new jobs, we’re going to focus more on the creative aspect of work. So, I’m an optimist, that’s kind of the prediction that I believe in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I want to hear a lot about your research. So, you went ahead and interviewed 140 CEOs trying to learn what’s the future leader look, sound, feel like. Can you share with us a bit about your research and some of the most striking discoveries you made there?

Jacob Morgan
Sure. One of the things that I wanted to understand, and why I even wrote this book, is because I started to get a lot of questions from people not on present-day leadership but on what’s coming in the future. To use a famous quote from Wayne Gretzky, he always used to say, “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.”

And so, I kept getting these questions, “Hey, Jacob, you know, we get it. We understand where we are now. What should we be prepared for in the future? What’s coming in the next 10 years? What should we be training our employees on? What kind of leaders should we be focusing on creating?” And I had my ideas, and I’m sure everyone has their ideas on this, but I wasn’t really able to find any concrete data and the research on this. And so, I decided to go out and create it myself.
And it was really cool because, basically, I got to grill all of these people for around 45 to 60 minutes, and I asked them about skills, and mindsets, and challenges, all sorts of different things. And so, that was the first aspect of the research.

The second part of this was I teamed up with LinkedIn, and they were very gracious enough to partner with me on this, and we surveyed almost 14,000 employees around the world to see how the perspectives of the workforce align with the insights that these world’s top CEOs are telling me. And that is, basically, the background about the research. So, let me stop there and see if you have any questions, then I can share some of the things that I learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yup. I hear it how you did it. So, what did you learn?

Jacob Morgan
So, there are a couple interesting things that I learned. So, the first is what are the most important skills and mindsets that we need to possess? And, by the way, the focus is all around the future leader, but we need to remember that anybody can be a leader. Even if you’re a leader of yourself, you’re still a leader in some capacity. So, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be managing people. These are just skills and mindsets that anybody needs to possess.

So, the number one mindset that the CEOs identified as being the most relevant in the future is, well, there were two of them that were very, very close, neck and neck. The first one was the mindset of the explorer. And the explorer includes things like curiosity, it includes things like being a perpetual or lifelong learner, things like being able to be agile and nimble in your thinking.

And the second mindset which was the most crucial was the mindset of the chef. And the mindset of the chef is about balancing ingredients. And the two ingredients that leaders of the future need to balance are being purpose-driven and caring and technology. So, how do you balance these two components of wanting to use technology, automation, artificial intelligence, to be productive and efficient, but at the same time balancing the ingredient of making sure that the organization stays human, that you are still focused on a greater purpose, that you actually care about your people?

So, those were the two biggest mindsets. Now, there were others in there. I talked about the mindset of the servant, the mindset of the global citizen are two others, and just to give one sentence about each one of those. The mindset of the servant is about believing that, as a leader, your job is to help make other people more successful than you. And the mindset of the global citizen is about embracing and actively seeking out diversity, and it is about thinking big picture, thinking globally, not just paying attention to what’s right in front of you.

So, those are some of the most crucial mindsets that future leaders, that we, as individuals, need to have if we want to be successful over the next 10 years and beyond. Then I also talked about skills which we can get into if you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s maybe hear about the opposite of those things because, I mean, that sounds like it’d be great to do some exploring, it’d be great to be mixing some important ingredients. And so, what’s the opposite of that that is destructive and will make us bad leaders in the future?

Jacob Morgan
So, the opposite of having the explorer mindset is consistently believing that what worked in the past will work in the future, it’s consistently just focusing on what’s right in front of you, on doing what  you know, on staying in your comfort zone, on picking a single path and going down that path. It’s what we see in a lot of organizations today. We don’t have that explorer mindset. So, the exact opposite is doing things the way you’ve always been doing them.

And for the mindset of the chef. The opposite of that would be, first of all, not understanding that these are the two main ingredients that you have to play with, being purpose-driven and caring and technology. And the opposite of this would also be just focusing purely on technology because we are all so obsessed with automation, and with technology, and with the pace of change, that we ultimately forget that organizations are still about people.

Business is still done when you go out to lunch with somebody, when you shake somebody’s hand, when you look at them in the eye. Your business exists because of how you treat people, the experiences that you create for your employees. So, as much as we like to think about technology, we need to ultimately remember that business is still about people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Thank you. Well, so then that sets up the mindset piece. And then let’s hear about some of the big skills.

Jacob Morgan
So, the skills I grouped into five categories, and I’ll just go over some of the most popular ones then I can give you a sentence about some of the others. So, interestingly enough, the number one skill that these 140 CEOs told me that’s going to be most relevant for future leaders is the skill of thinking like a futurist. And, basically, thinking like a futurist, so I play a lot of chess. I’m kind of obsessed with chess. And if anybody has ever played a game of chess, you know that what separates high-level players is their ability to think in terms of scenarios and possibilities. In other words, you don’t just make a move on the chessboard and only look at that move. You look at multiple moves. You look at multiple moves that your opponent might make. And you look at how all these things kind of play together.

Thinking like a futurist means that you’re not seeing around the corner but you are thinking in terms of possibilities and scenarios so that when one of these other things happen, you’re going to be prepared for it.

A lot of people think, for example, that the role of a futurist is help to predict the future but that’s not true. A futurist helps make sure that people in organizations are not surprised by what the future might bring. And the only way that you can keep from getting surprised is you constantly look at different options and scenarios and possibilities. And so, that’s the number one skill that CEOs told me is going to be most essential, and it’s because things are changing so quickly that you need to be able to constantly play around with these different scenarios and options in your head.

The second most important skill that came out of this was, well, there was quite a bit that were very close together on this. So, there was the skill of a coach, and the coach is about the motivating, engaging, and inspiring people, about helping create other people who are more successful than you, and those last two words there are very important, more successful than you. There was a skill of Yoda, and Yoda is all about emotional intelligence, specifically empathy and self-awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Now, Yoda was really pretty hard on Luke at times.

Jacob Morgan
He was.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear more about this empathy and Yoda.

Jacob Morgan
Yes, I mean, as you can probably tell, I’ve tried to create these unique personas for these different mindsets and skills. And so, I was really struggling trying to figure out what represents emotional intelligence, specifically empathy and self-awareness. Ultimately, I thought that Yoda was, I mean, many people consider him to be the most emotionally intelligent character who’s ever been created because he’s always giving advice to Luke about emotions and feelings and getting in touch with himself. And so, I thought that Yoda would be a very good representation of emotional intelligence. And, you know, I had a little bit of fun with it so that’s why I went with Yoda on that one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Go ahead.

Jacob Morgan
And then, so the last two are the skill of the technology teenager. And technology teenager just means you’re tech savvy, and that you are digitally fluent. It doesn’t mean you need to be a coder. It doesn’t mean you need to know how to build things. It just means to know, it just means that you, as a leader, need to understand what are these different technologies that are out there, and what are the potential implications they might have on your business and on your company.

And I’m amazed how many times from a lot of these leaders that I’m speaking with, when these technology questions came up, many of them would say, “Oh, you know, IT handles that. I got to talk to my CTO about that.” But in the future, that’s not going to be good enough. You, as a leader, need to be aware of what’s happening in the realm of technology and what these potential implications might have.

And the last skill was the skill of the translator which went down to listening and communication, which have been timeless but at the same time these are also the two skills that are changing more than ever because we have so many different channels at our disposal that allows us to listen and communicate in different ways. I mean, there’s just a lot happening in that space. So, those are some of the most important skills for future leaders.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’d love to get your view in terms of the translator, the listening and the communicating, so there’s a bunch of channels. What should we do to build those skills and, in specific, the translator skill, and be excellent at that listening and communicating?

Jacob Morgan
So, there had been a lot of really good studies that have been done on this. So, Zenger Folkman is a research firm, and they put together a list of a series of six steps. And I don’t remember all of them off the top of my head in order, but these included things like, first, just paying attention to somebody if you’re listening to them. It looked at things like creating psychological safety, how to create a collaborative conversation with somebody instead of just letting somebody else talk, focusing on your body language, putting away any distractions. So, this is some of the in-person stuff.

But if you think about it, there’s a very big difference between listening and hearing. And I think a lot of us are very used to this very act of hearing. You go into a meeting, you go into a performance review, in fact, somebody very close to me, a couple of years ago, she went to a performance review, and the lady was simultaneously running a meeting while she was trying to give this person a performance review.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Jacob Morgan
Because we’re very focused on this hearing aspect. And hearing, by the way, is just the unconscious act of letting sound enter your ear. Listening is about really putting the conscious time and effort and attention into something.

And you can imagine, as a leader, if somebody comes to you wanting to have a conversation with you, and the person who comes to you perceives that you are not truly listening to them, the repercussions of that are going to be damaging. So, as a leader, it is essential for you to understand the difference between listening and hearing, and to make sure that when you are having dialogue, when you are engaging with your people, with your coworkers, with your peers, that they genuinely feel like you are putting in the time and effort and attention in trying to understand what it is that they’re telling you.

And same thing for communication. One CEO that I interviewed, he’s the CEO of a company called Tokio Marine. I think he has around 32,000 employees. His name is Nick Nagano. And he was telling me that, on average, an employee might only see or him live 20 minutes a year, okay, because he has a massive workforce. So, during that 20 minutes when he gets to be face to face with a particular employee, he said, “I’d better make sure that whatever I’m trying to get across comes across.” And whether you are texting somebody, emailing somebody, having an in-person conversation, presenting in a meeting, using something like Slack internally, whatever it is, as a leader, and just as an employee, as anybody, you need to make sure that your message gets across regardless of the channel that you’re using.

And we’ve also experienced this, right? I mean, how many times, people listening to this, and you got an email from somebody that looked like a letter that should be written to a therapist? How many times has somebody on your team sent you a text that’s like five-paragraphs long and were asking you for a project update? And then you got to sit there and respond and write a white paper with your thumbs.

You need to understand the channels that you have at your disposal and how to best get your message across during those channels, or on those channels, which means if you’re going to have a serious conversation with somebody about promoting them or firing them, don’t send them like a frowny emoji or a happy face. You need to understand how these different platforms out there can be used to make sure that your message gets across.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, I also want to get a sense of with your LinkedIn study with those 14,000 professionals. What did you discover there?

Jacob Morgan
So, there were a lot of really interesting insights from this. So, from these 14,000 employees, we actually broke things up by seniority level. And so, in the survey, we looked at individual contributors on mid-level leaders and on senior-level leaders.

And what’s really crazy is that when we compared these responses, we found massive, massive gaps.

So, so imagine you’re a mid-level or senior-level leader in your company, and I would ask you, “How well are you practicing these skills and mindsets today?” A lot of leaders would say, “We’re doing pretty good. We’re not amazing but, you know, we’re doing pretty good.” Like, 60%, 70% of them were in the reasonably well or very well category. And so, I thought that, yeah, it’s pretty good, they’re self-assessing themselves on being pretty adept at these things.

And then I would ask the people who work for these leaders. I would say, “How well do you think your leaders are practicing these skills and mindsets?” And they had the exact opposite story. So, if 70% of leaders say that they are doing reasonably well or very well, 70% of people who work for these leaders would say that they’re not doing well or they’re doing just somewhat well. So, it was almost a complete 180 in responses between the leaders versus people who work for these leaders. And this is a bit scary because it speaks to a lot of the common things that we keep hearing about, right?

And, by the way, the more senior you become, I found that the more disconnected you become. In other words, the bigger this gap becomes between you and everybody else.

And perception is reality. So, if you’re a leader, and you’re listening to this, and you’re thinking, “Oh, you know what, I’m practicing the explorer, the futurist, the tech teenager, like I’m good.” If the people who work for you say you’re not, then you’re not. This is one of those things where like, as a leader, it doesn’t necessarily matter how you evaluate yourself, it’s how the people who work for you evaluate you, it’s how your peers evaluate for you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then I guess from all of this, I’d love it if you could share sort of what are some kind of basic, like absolutely critical prescriptions you’d write for us in terms of everyday actions, behaviors that professionals should be taking, and maybe some things that we need to start doing, some things we need to stop doing, some things we need to make sure we continue doing so that we’re in great shape?

Jacob Morgan
Sure. So, for starters, let me ask you this. I’m very curious to hear what you think. What do you think the average age is for somebody who enters a leadership development program in a company?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I think I know that it’s atrociously high because companies under-invest in them.

Jacob Morgan
It is atrociously high. You are correct.

Pete Mockaitis
So, well let’s just say 46.

Jacob Morgan
You’re actually very close. It is in the mid-40s in a lot of organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
For 46 years old, I’m not saying you’re atrociously old. I’m just saying that, you know…

Jacob Morgan
Yeah, good disclaimer.

Pete Mockaitis
We should start developing leaders earlier than halfway into their career.

Jacob Morgan
Yup. And so, if you think about that, that number is just mindbogglingly insane, because most people inside of organizations actually become leaders in their 20s in some form, in some capacity. And so, what this means is that a lot of people inside of organizations go almost 20 years, right, two decades without having any formal leadership training or development, yet they are responsible for others.

And the reason why we don’t do this is because we all subscribe to the traditional climbing the corporate ladder mentality. In other words, “We will teach you how to become a leader after you’re at the company for 10 years, 15 years, after you’ve ascended the ranks.” And that is a completely outdated way of thinking about leadership inside of an organization. I mean, everybody needs to know these skills and mindsets whether you’ve been at the company for three days or 30 years. So, that’s the first thing we need to do is start these things early.

The second thing that we need to do, and I was also very surprised to learn this, the hardest question for CEOs to answer, was, “How do you define leader and leadership?” And if you think about it, and for those of you listening, think about how you would define that. Imagine somebody comes from another planet and they have no idea about the concept of leader or leadership. How would you explain it to them?

And what I realized, it’s sort of like trying to explain and define water to somebody who’s never seen it. I mean, you can’t say it’s a clear tasteless liquid because lots of liquids fall into that category. We don’t define water because, well, we all know what water is, we all know what air is, so we don’t actually really have to explain it. And so, what I realized is that we are surrounded by leadership in some capacity every day many times a day, you see and experience leadership in some form everywhere you go.

And because of that, we all assume that we know what good leadership is and what bad leadership is. But the problem is that because we, as leaders, don’t actually define this, it means our organizations don’t define this. and if our organizations don’t define this, then we don’t have the right filters in place that we use to promote leaders.

So, this is why it’s so crucial for leaders to really take a step back and to, first, define and explain what is leadership and who is a leader at your company. Because once you do that, then you’re going to have the filters in place so that only people who match those filters and those criteria will get into those leadership positions. So, that’s another thing that I think we need to do is to really take a step back and just define those things.

Another important aspect, and something that we don’t do enough of, is we need to look at ourselves today. And I was trying to figure out how to actually do this, and so I created an assessment, and it’s in the book, and it’s online. People can go to Future Leaders Survey if you’re interested in taking it, and it basically looks at, “How well are you practicing these skills and mindsets today?” And as bonus points, send this to your team members and ask them to evaluate you. So, really take a step back and ask yourself, “How well are you practicing these skills and mindsets today?”

Another crucial aspect of this is we actually need to practice these things. And unless we practice these things, if you do, if you improve 1% a day, by the end of the year, you will be 37 times better. So, 1% a day, these are small things. This means next time somebody comes into your office and they’re panicking and freaking out, and they want to have a conversation with you, instead of just responding, take a deep breath for 10 seconds, try to put yourself in their perspective, in their shoes, practice empathy, that emotional intelligence component, and then respond.

These aren’t complicated insane things that I’m asking people to do. I just want everybody to improve 1% a day, and by the end of the year, you will be 37 times more effective, 37 times better. And maybe one more piece of advice I’ll give, the visual, the image that I give in the book, and this is what’s on the cover of The Future Leader is an image of a lighthouse.

And the whole purpose of a lighthouse is to guide mariners and explorers to help them find their way home, and to help make sure that they can reach their destination safely. A lighthouse is useless if there are no ships in the water. So, as a leader, you need to build yourself up to become this lighthouse but you also need to remember that you have to shine your light onto others and onto this sea of uncertainty that we’re all a part of, because if you just do this for yourself and you’re not guiding the ships then, ultimately, a lot of the work that you’re doing has no meaning, so you have to remember to guide others. So, I’d say those are some of the best of pieces of advices I can give.

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

Jacob Morgan
Oh, man. I think that there is tremendous opportunity. And from the research, from all of the work that was done for this, it’s very clear that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. And I don’t want to make it sound like there are no good leaders out there. There are a lot. There are a lot of wonderful leaders out there. The problem is we don’t have enough of them.

And so, I don’t want this to sound like it’s doom and gloom, “We don’t have any good leaders out there. Everything is terrible.” That’s not the case. I want to paint this as a picture of opportunity. I think there is so much potential for us as individuals, for leaders out there to do better. And I want people to just visualize and understand the impact that it would have if leaders around the world practiced these skills and mindsets.

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

Jacob Morgan
When I was younger, my dad always used to say, “Be a leader, not a follower.”

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

Jacob Morgan
I’m probably going to be selfish on this and I’m going to go with the one that I did for this book just because I’m very proud of it and it was probably the hardest piece of research that I’ve ever done.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jacob Morgan
A favorite book. I’m a big fan of science fiction, so one of my favorite books is actually a series of books by Isaac Asimov, it’s the Foundation Series and also I, Robot.” I also really like Ender’s Game, and Ready, Player One was a good book but a terrible movie.

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

Jacob Morgan
It’s not a tool in the sense of like a piece of software or an actual tool, but one of the things that I always try to do with my team, is I always ask them what I could do better. I always ask them to be very transparent and open with me. And so, I think that’s a very, very useful tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jacob Morgan
I play a lot of chess. So, I’m always doing chess puzzles and watching chess games and stuff like that. That’s something a favorite of mine.

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

Jacob Morgan
I always say that, “If you don’t think about and plan for the future of work, then you and your organization are not going to have a future.” So, really, what that means is you have to take things into your own hands, don’t wait for the future to happen to you, the future is something that you build and shape and create and design, and you got to be a more active participant in it.

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

Jacob Morgan
So, I’m pretty easy to find. My website is TheFutureOrganization.com. and for anybody interested in the book, you can just go to GetFutureLeaderBook.com.

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

Jacob Morgan
Yeah, it’s to be 1% better a day. Ask yourself, “What can you do to be just 1% better a day? What small improvement and tweak can you make?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jacob, thank you and I wish you lots of luck as you become a future leader.

Jacob Morgan
Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

423: Becoming Free to Focus with Michael Hyatt

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Michael Hyatt says: "What I'm after is... the double win. I want to win at work, but I want to succeed at life. I'm not willing to compromise either."

Michael Hyatt offers useful concepts to upgrade your productivity and focus, including the  freedom compass, the zones of desire and drudgery, and more.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to do more of what you want with the “yes, no, yes” formula
  2. Three beliefs that prevent you from delegating your tasks effectively
  3. How to feel like you’re winning each day with the daily big three

About Michael

Michael Hyatt is the founder and CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company, a leadership coaching and development firm twice listed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing US companies. A longtime publishing executive, Michael is the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson, now part of HarperCollins. He is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of several books, including Your Best Year Ever, Living Forward, and Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.
Michael is the creator of the Full Focus Planner, which combines quarterly goal-tracking and daily productivity in a proven system for personal and professional achievement. His blog and weekly podcast, Lead to Win, are go-to resources for hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, executives, and aspiring leaders. He has been featured by Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, Fast Companyand Wall Street Journal. Michael and his wife of 40 years, Gail, have five daughters, three sons-in-law, and eight grandchildren. They live just outside of Nashville, Tenn.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael Hyatt Interview Transcript

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

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate being on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy. I think we’ll have a ton of fun. But first I want to hear about something fun in your life. You mention your dog, Winston, is exceptional in your About page and I want to know why.

Michael Hyatt
He’s the perfect dog. His temperament is fantastic. He’s just so easygoing. He always obeys. I don’t know. I feel like we won the lottery with him. He’s an amazing dog.

Pete Mockaitis
How did you get him?

Michael Hyatt
Well, we found out about a breeder in Indiana, who bred Australian Labradoodles. We got the dog from her. Then we sent him to a trainer in Indiana, a lady who actually is a Russian immigrant, who trains dogs for the federal government and for state agencies and therapy dogs and all that. She had him for about six weeks. I don’t know what she did, but some kind of Russian thing, but it’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh Michael, I just love that so much because it’s like you eat, sleep, breathe people, development, and now even dog development. We’re going to find the best trainer in the world. We’re going to spend some deep focus time immersed and come back a renewed dog.

Michael Hyatt
Dog hacks. What can I say?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fantastic. You’re unveiling some more wisdom in your latest book, Free to Focus. What’s the main idea or thesis behind this one?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the main thesis behind this is you can actually achieve more by doing less if you have the right productivity system. The problem with most productivity systems today is that they’re designed to make you more productive. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, what’s wrong with that?” Here’s the problem.

People start out working a 12-hour day, they get some productivity hacks, adopt a few apps, they reduce it to eight hours and then they fill it up with more work. They try to be productive so they can be more productive.

I say productivity is a means to an end. You’ve got to be very clear about what the end is otherwise you’re just going to fill your life with work, you’re going to be overwhelmed, you’re going to be burned out, and you’re not going to get the kind of work-life balance that makes life rich and meaningful.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about defining the end, can you give us a couple of examples of how that gets articulated?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, absolutely. In the first part of the book I talk about stopping and kind of taking stock. Get off that hamster wheel and ask, “Where’s this hamster wheel going? Why am I running this race? What’s it all about?” I say the end game needs to be about freedom. More productivity should lead to greater freedom and specifically freedom in four areas.

I talk about the freedom to focus. Focus is a super power today in our distraction economy. If you want to move the needle in your business and in your life, if you want your business to grow, if you want to get ahead in your career, you’ve got to be able to focus and do the deep work, the creative work that really creates the breakthroughs in your business and in your personal life. The freedom to focus.

You also need the freedom to be present so that when you’re at your son’s Little League game, you’re not on your phone thinking about work or you’re out for a day with your spouse or you’re significant other, you’re not thinking about work or when you’re at work, you’re not thinking about something that’s going off the rails at home. The freedom to be present.

Then third, the freedom to be spontaneous so that your life’s not so managed and not every last second is so planned that you just can’t stop and enjoy life, smell the roses so to speak.

Then finally, the freedom – and this is really underrated, but the freedom to do nothing at all. All the brain research says that we’re the most creative, we experience the biggest breakthroughs when our minds are the most relaxed. That means we’ve got to intentionally have that white space where we do nothing.

I learned this when I was in Italy a few years ago. They have a saying in fact. They talk about a dolce far niente, which means the sweetness of doing nothing. It’s true. You think about when you have the breakthrough ideas, the most creative ideas, often it’s in the shower or out for a walk or doing something that amounts to nothing. That’s what I’m after is freedom. I think productivity should lead to that.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a lovely turn of a phrase, the sweetness of doing nothing. I’m reminded maybe when you said Italy, it brings about images. I’m just thinking about just sort of strolling, just walking with a good friend, catching up and chatting. It’s like I enjoy doing nothing in those moments so much. It’s like I don’t even want to be burdened with having to think about where we’re going and where the restaurant is, just having faith that a good eatery will appear if that’s kind of what we’re up to. It’s much more fun.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, and I don’t think they have bad food in Italy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, in Italy you’re covered. Sure.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Everything I ate there was phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. That’s cool. That’s the process in terms of the steps as we’re stopping. We’re taking stock. We’re pointing to greater freedom and a few kind of particular forms of freedom. What comes next?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, in that same section, under Stop, talk about formulate, so formulate a clear vision for what your productivity, you want to accomplish with it. Then secondly, evaluate. This means taking stock of our workflow, our work style. I talk about a concept there called the freedom compass, which I think is really a big paradigm shift and a way to think about your work that makes it possible for you to focus on your highest and greatest work because not all work is created equal.

I talk about kind of a two-by-two matrix, where you have passion intersecting with proficiency. There’s some tasks – and imagine this rotated 45 degrees and you’ve got a compass, where true north is where your passion and your proficiency come together, the things you love, the things that you are deeply satisfying, that you enjoy, plus proficiency, the things that you’re good at.

Not just proficiency in your subjective opinion, but in an objective reality, where people are willing to pay you to do this. That I call the desire zone. That’s where you want to focus the bulk of your time and the bulk of your energy.

Directly south, directly below that is what I call the drudgery zone, things that you hate, you don’t have any passion around it and you’re not very good at. It’s going to be different for everybody, but for me it’s things that look like administrative kinds of activities, like managing my email inbox, managing my calendar, booking travel, even finding the FedEx box, just running errands. All that’s in my drudgery zone. It’s kind of a grind when I have to do that.

Then there’s also the disinterest zone, where you don’t have any passion, but you might be pretty good at it. A lot of people get trapped in this because maybe they were good at something, they lost the passion and they keep doing it because it keeps making them money, keeps bringing home the bacon.

For me, when I started out as an entrepreneur this was accounting. I did it because I didn’t want to pay somebody else to do it and I was really good at it, but I didn’t have any passion and that leads to boredom.

Then on the opposite side of the freedom compass from there, due west, would be what I call the distraction zone, where you like doing it, but you’re not very good at it and you end up escaping there and then it wasted a lot of time.

Again, the key, and it leads to the next part of the book, but the key is to eliminate everything that’s not in your desire zone, the things that you’re passionate about and proficient at, because that’s where you’re going to see the biggest growth, the biggest progress, the most results. That’s the chapter on evaluation.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a nice two-by-two matrix and a clever rotation that makes it a compass. When you talk about doing more of the good stuff and less of the drudgery, what are some of the best ways that we can accomplish that? You have some things about saying no and some things about outsourcing. How do we systematically get our proportions more and more in the desire space?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. One of the things is I think to set ourselves up for success. That’s actually that third chapter in that first section before we get to the Cut section, which is about rejuvenation. This is one of those things that’s easy to overlook because we live in the hustle economy. We’re encouraged to burn the candle at both ends, to work evenings and weekends. Elon Musk said unless you’re working 80 to 100 hours a week, you’re not going to make the progress you need to.

One of the most important things you can do is take care of yourself if you want to be more productive. Getting a good night’s sleep, something as simple as that, can make the difference between whether you’re focused or productive the next day. I talk about sleep, nutrition, exercise, relationships. Those have a lot to do with how productive we are. That’s all the rejuvenation chapter.

But then moving into that second section, the section called Cut. The first one’s Stop. The second part of the framework is Cut. How do we prune all that stuff that’s not in our desire zone? It really does start with elimination. We’ve got to eliminate the stuff that doesn’t need to be done and the best way to do that is to head it off at the beginning by getting better at saying no.

Warren Buffet once said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything,” but how do we do that without being a jerk? In the book, I talk about how to do that. I talk about how to give a graceful no. I talk about it using a formula called Yes No Yes. It’s the positive no that William Ury talks about in his book, The Power of a Positive No.

Let me illustrate. I spent most of my career in the book publishing industry. I still to this day get a lot of requests from aspiring authors, who would like me to review their book proposal before they send it to an agent or a publisher. Now, I don’t really have time to do that. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I don’t have time to do that. I have an email template that I use. I respond with that formula, yes, no, yes.

Here’s what it looks like. First of all, I start with an affirmation. I start off not resenting the fact that they asked me to review this proposal. But I’ll say something like, “Hey, congratulations. You’ve done what 97% of most aspiring authors will never do and that is create a written book proposal. That is a phenomenal first step. It’s a foundational step and an important one. Way to go.”

Then I move from the yes to the no. Here I want to give a very firm, unambiguous no, so there’s no misunderstanding. I’ll say something like this, “Unfortunately, in order to be faithful to my prior commitments, I have to say no.” I’ve made it very clear that I’m a person of integrity in terms of trying to be faithful to my other commitments, but I give them a firm no.

I don’t say, “Check back with me in a month. I’m a little busy right now,” because in a month it’s going to be the same story, so I might as well cut it off right now.

Then I end with a positive with a yes so that I leave a good taste in their mouth. I’ll say something like, “Best of luck with your publishing product. Let me know when it comes out. Can’t wait to pick up a copy. All the best. Thanks for honoring me with your request,” something like that.

I’ve never gotten a negative response when I follow up with an email like that. For the most part, people are just glad that they heard back from me because so often we send a request like that and we don’t hear because the person is procrastinating because they don’t know how to respond. They want to say no, but they don’t know how. I make it very clear.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. I find that when you talk about we don’t know how to respond and we procrastinate, I find that I get a lot of requests, it’s sort of like someone’s presenting me with an opportunity, but I don’t think that they’ve given me nearly enough information to even evaluate if it’s worth talking for 15 minutes about the thing.

I’m trying to craft my TextExpander, generic response, which says, “I will need to know more before I can tell you whether or not I can talk to you about this,” which feels a little bit like, “Oh well, someone’s really busy,” but that’s really how I feel. It’s like “You know your product/service/offer better than I do. What you’re saying might be cool, but I really have no idea what this is supposed to be. Where’s the value here? Could you explain that so that I could tell you if we can find 15 minutes?”

Michael Hyatt
See, that’s a perfect example of what I talk about in the next chapter on automation, where you take something like TextExpander or you could use your email apps signature capability, but come up with a list of email templates so that you can respond to the most common kinds of requests so that you don’t have to create it from scratch every time.

I’ve tried to develop sort of this template mentality, where I ask myself if this task I’m about to do if I think I’m going to have to do it again in the future, why not take a few extra minutes now, do it right, save it as a template or a TextExpander snippet so that I can reuse it in the future and not have to reinvent the wheel every time.

For that example, a great way to deal with that using the Yes, No, Yes framework would be to say, “Hey, thanks for thinking of me for your podcast. I’m honored. I would be happy to consider it, but I need just a little bit more information.” Then you’d go through the information that you need and then let it go from there.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. That is a nice sentence. “I’d be happy to consider it. I need some more information.” Tell me, what are some other top templates you find yourself using again and again?

Michael Hyatt
Well, here’s what I did, how I started this. This is probably about 15 years ago. I noticed that there was sort of a limited range of requests that I was getting. I would get requests from people who wanted me to consider a speaking engagement or wanted me to consider serving on a non-profit board or make a charitable contribution or just have coffee with me so they could pick my brain. There were about 40 or 50 of these as I catalogued them.

Then what I tried to do – I didn’t sit down and write all these templates at once – instead what I began to do is incrementally populate a template database. At the time I was using email signatures to do this. Now TextExpander makes it even cooler. But to write these one at a time until I had a library of templates.

Every time one of those requests comes in now, I look for the template where I can respond, very rare that I don’t have a template. Instead of taking 10 or 20 minutes, now it just takes a few seconds.

But it’s not just email. For example, I use Apple Keynote for creating slide decks. If I public speech that I’m going to give or a webinar that I have to give, I always start with a template, like with a webinar. I’ve got seven main parts to all my webinars. They always start the same way. They’ve got the same transitions and the same pivots and the same ending and all that.

It’s kind of like paint by numbers, but again, I’m starting with sort of that template mentality of if I’m going to do this again, how can I do it right the first time so I can reuse it, polish it, improve it, and get better at this and take less time as I do it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s so much good stuff here. I want to dig in in all kinds of places, but it would be too scattered. First, let’s chat a little bit in the realm of going back to stopping for a moment. You mentioned rejuvenation. I think that we’ve heard from a few sleep doctors, a lot of good tips there and I’m a huge advocate for that. It’s so important.

But I want to get your take on when it comes to nutrition and exercise, boy, there’s a lot of advice out there. What have you found ultimately really yields good quality rejuvenation, energy, and freedoms?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, disclaimer, I’m not a physiologist or a doctor or a fitness trainer or any of that. What I do know is what works for me and I have studied a little bit.

But with regard to nutrition, I found that one of the best things to do is to really take it easy on the carbs. A high-carbohydrate diet creates a lot of problems in terms of focus and productivity. It’s why when we eat lot-quality carbs and we eat a lot of these kind of carbs like at lunch, like I’m talking about white bread, pizza, mashed potatoes, pasta, that’s why we kind of go into that funk in the afternoon and get sleepy because that turns to sugar very quickly. It burns up fast and it just doesn’t keep our blood sugar level at a level where we could be really productive.

One of the things I’ve done, and this is – I may lose some of your listeners here – but one of the things I’ve done for several months now is I’ve been on the keto diet. That’s a high fat moderate diet, a moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet. One of the things I had no idea about was how much brain fog I had until I started doing this diet.

It was actually developed back in the 1930s to help epileptic children deal with seizures. There’s a cognitive relationship between this diet, high fat, and your cognitive function. That’s been helpful to me.

I’m very careful about taking supplements, about checking my blood a couple times a week with my physical – or a couple times a week, a couple times a year with my physician, just making sure that my markers are right so that can serve as an early warning sign to head off problems before they happen.

Then I work out five to six days a week usually about an hour, three days of cardio, three days of strength training. All that just keeps my energy level up. It’s important to move in some way like that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you do the cardio or the strength training, what kind of intensity are you shooting for?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I would say moderate intensity. I’m kind of an achiever, so I’m always trying to beat my personal best. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life that I’ve ever been in. I do work with a trainer, who prescribes a program for me. We get together once a month and reevaluate the program and see where I want to go from there.

I was training for a half marathon this spring, but I injured my foot, so I’m going to back that off till this fall. But typically what I’ll do on the cardio before I had the injury is that I’ll run about 30 minutes of interval training twice a week and then I’ll do a long run and a progressively longer run on Saturdays. Yeah, it depends on what I’m training for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Well, so now, talk about cutting again. You mentioned that there’s something that we should permanently remove from our to-do list, what is this?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, you should remove the drudgeries of stuff. That’s where you really start is with the drudgery zone activities. Those are not the best and highest use of you. They’re not going to create leverage in your business or your personal life. You’ve got to really focus on those desire zone activities.

Again, that begins with elimination and it goes to automation, and then that final chapter there is all about delegation, which one of the things I found with people that have businesses or leaders, until you can scale yourself, you can’t scale your business.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. All right, so when it comes to that delegation, any particular tips in terms of where to get started if you’re having trouble letting go of anything?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I think the first thing that we’ve got to do, Pete, is confront sort of the limiting beliefs or the way that we think about delegation. In my experience with coaching now hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs there’s usually three sentences that rattle around in their head. The first one is “If I want it done right, I have to do it,” what?

Pete Mockaitis
Myself.

Michael Hyatt
Right. Or here’s another sentence that they have. This would be a second sentence. “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself.” Or they say, “I can’t really afford additional help right now. I guess I’m going to have to do it myself.” As long as yourself is at the center of all this, you’re not going to be able to grow, you’re not going to develop additional capacity, you’re not going to be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Let’s look at those one at a time. To the person who says “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself,” it’s true. It does take longer to explain it the first time, but once you explain it the first time and give people an opportunity to do it so that they can be trained, then you save yourself all the time because you never have to touch it again.

“In terms of if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” here’s the beauty of the freedom compass. What’s in your drudgery zone, might be in somebody else’s desire zone. If you hire right so that you have compatible people that offset what’s in your drudgery zone with what’s in their desire zone, then not only can they do it as well as you could do it, they can do it better than you could imagine doing it.

That’s basically how I’ve grown my entire business. I have 35 full-time people. Last year we grew 62%. I hire specifically for people that are doing their desire zone activities so that everybody’s functioning in their strengths and doing the things that they love and the things that they’re proficient at. That’s a real key.

Then the whole thing about affording, “I can’t afford somebody to do it,” you can take baby steps. I’m not advocating going out and hiring a big staff or even hiring somebody full time. You can start as a solopreneur or as a leader just with a part time virtual assistant. That’s how I started.

Back in 2011 when I left the big corporate world, where I was managing a large company where we were doing a quarter of a billion dollars a year and then I stepped into a solopreneur job, where I couldn’t even find a FedEx box. I had to start small. I hired a virtual executive assistant, who worked five hours a week. I did that for a couple of weeks. I saw the value of it. Then I upped their time to about 10 hours a week, then 15 hours, and 20 hours.

But here’s how the conversation often goes. I had a client by the name of Greg. Greg said, “Look, I’ve got a business where I have to have a web presence. I know just kind of enough about web design and web development to do it myself. It’s probably not the best use of my time, but I really don’t feel like I can afford somebody else to do it now.”

I said, “Well, let me ask you a question, Greg. How much do you bill for? What’s your hourly rate?” He said “150 dollars an hour.” I said, “Okay.” I said, “What would it cost you to get a WordPress developer, somebody that was really good that knew what they were doing? They could do a little bit of design work too.” He said, “Probably 50 dollars an hour.” I said, “Then why are you paying somebody 150 dollars an hour that you admit isn’t that good?”

The lights went on. He went, “Wow.” I said, “If you hired somebody at 50 dollars an hour, it would free you up to bill for that additional time and you’d come out ahead 100 dollars an hour.” That’s how we have to think about delegation. It requires an investment first, but boy, that’s when we begin to reap the rewards and that’s when we begin to clone ourselves in a sense because we’ve got other people that are helping us.

Pete Mockaitis
For folks who are professionals and not business owners, what are some key things you’d recommend they delegate?

Michael Hyatt
I think the same thing. Go back to the freedom compass. Start with the drudgery zone because your company is probably not paying you to do those things that you don’t love and those things that you’re not proficient at. If they are, you’re in the wrong job. Get rid of those things because it’s not the best and highest use of you.

Then go to the disinterest zone, then the distraction zone. Again, focus on those few things that really create the leverage, the things that your employer thinks the results you ought to be delivering. That’s where you’re going to see the advance in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. When it comes to cutting, how do you recommend we cut distractions?

Michael Hyatt
Well, you’ve got to have an offensive plan to begin with. I talk in the book about how to design your quarter, how to design your week and how to design your day. Once you have a good offensive plan, then you’ve got to come up with a defensive plan for the interruptions. I distinguish between interruptions and distractions, two different things.

Interruptions are the external things. It’s people dropping by to visit. It’s that text message you get. It’s people interrupting you. I often talk to leaders who say, “I can’t get my own work done because I’ve got so many people interrupting me to help them with their work.” I think one of the best strategies is to have an offense on those two.

First of all, schedule time to get your most important work done. Make it a commitment and put it on your calendar. What gets scheduled is what gets done.

Then, preempt those interruptions by going to the people who are most likely to interrupt you, and you know how they are, go to those people and say, “Hey, look, I’m about to do some really important, focused work. It’s important that I don’t get interrupted, but I want to be available to serve you, so are there any questions you have, anything I can help you with before I go into this session?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Hyatt
This is awesome because, now all of the sudden, you’ve put them on notice and you’ve also not been a jerk about it. You’ve communicated that you want to help them, but you kind of want to do it on your terms.

Then you’ve got distractions. Now distractions are all the stuff that look external, but are really a problem with ourselves with self-control. This could be jumping over to Facebook. The problem is we’ve got multi-billion dollar-social media companies, who are doing a tremendous amount of research and whose entire business model is built on high jacking our psychology and manipulating our dopamine.

They want us to spend as much time on those platforms as possible. Why? Because they’re repackaging our attention and they’re selling it to the highest bidder in the form of advertisers. We have to combat that. The best way to do it, I think, is to use technology to fight technology.

For example, my smartphone, it looks like a really cool device. It does a gazillion things. I’ve got an iPhone XS Max. It does a bazillion things, but it’s a very sophisticated distraction device if I’m not careful. On my phone, I’ve removed email. I’ve removed Slack, which is our internal communication program. And I’ve removed all social media with the exception of Instagram because I’m trying to build my Instagram following.

But even there I’ve used the technology to fight technology. I go into settings, screen time, and I limit my use of Instagram to 30 minutes a day. Even better, I gave my phone to my wife and I said “Set a passcode for that so that I can’t cheat and don’t tell me the passcode.” When my time is up on Instagram, my time is up.

There’s a great app for the desktop that works on Windows or Mac or any platform called Freedom. You can find it at Freedom.to. I don’t have any relationship with them except that I use this program and love it. But it allows you to selectively turn off apps and websites for a specific period of time, which allows you to stay focused when you do your most creative breakthrough kind of work.

The only way to defeat Freedom is to completely reboot your computer. That gives me just friction so that I can remember my intention that I’m trying to get focused work done. It enables me to avoid the distraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. What do you think about mindfulness practice when it comes to building the capacity to resist distraction?

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s really important. I meditate every morning for 15 minutes. It just gives me the opportunity to collect my thoughts, to kind of get centered, to get focused, to get re-connected with my most important priorities. Again, it kind of goes back to the freedom that I talked about before, the freedom to do nothing. It’s often underrated.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’d love to dig in for a moment now. When you say meditation, are you referring to more of a mind training exercise or more of a prayer exercise?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I actually do both. I do pray. I also do just straight up meditation. I use an app called 1 Giant Mind. Are you familiar with that?

Pete Mockaitis
I know a couple. I don’t know that one.

Michael Hyatt
It’s awesome. If you’re familiar with Headspace-

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael Hyatt
It’s kind of similar to that, but I actually like it better and it’s free. But 1 Giant Mind. It has 12 initial lessons and then you can go into a 30-day challenge, but the instruction is fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh lovely. Well, thank you. I’ve enjoyed a little bit of all of them in terms of Calm, Simple Habit, Headspace. They all give me a little bit of a different perspective. I go, oh yeah, that’s a really good one. Thank you. Much appreciated. We’ll check out another one. Cool.

Michael Hyatt
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so we talked about stopping. We talked about cutting. Now what?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, so now we get to that third section of the book, which is called Act. It’s a little bit counterintuitive because you’d think that Act ought to come first, but I find that you’ve got to stop, kind of reflect where you want to go, then you need to cut or prune because anything that’s healthy has to be pruned from time to time, but now it’s time to act.

Now, hopefully, you’ve gotten rid of all the stuff that’s in your drudgery zone, a lot of the stuff in your disinterest and distractions zones and now we’re going to focus on how to get more done in your desire zone, the things that you love and the things that you’re good at. That begins with a chapter called consolidate. This is all about designing your ideal week.

The idea is that you want to design a week as if you were in 100% control of your time and resources. What would that look like? If you really wanted to give it some intelligent design and not just be reactive to what came over the transom and schedule those things, but actually we’re very proactive about it.

Here’s how mine works for example. First of all, I’m going to start with on Mondays is when I have my internal team meetings. I batch all these together for one simple reason. It’s the concept of context switching.

In other words, anytime I switch a context, for example, I go from a meeting to I go to some time where I’m working on a project to maybe I’m going to record some video, anytime I go to a different context, there’s a certain amount of ramp up time, a certain amount of time to kind of get into the groove, find my equilibrium and get into flow. Well, the less you can do that, the more momentum you can build.

When I get into that space in my head of meetings and I’m in meeting mode, then I just batch them altogether. Internal meetings are all on Monday.

Tuesday, is all about what I call backstage time. This is my time for preparation on the front stage. Everybody’s front stage is going to look different, but the front stage is what your employer or your clients are paying you, that’s what you’re delivering, but there’s always some backstage work that has to be done in order to do that.

If you’re a lawyer, for example, your front stage might be arguing a case before a court or negotiating a contract on behalf of a client, but there’s a lot of research in the backstage that has to go into that preparation. For me, Tuesday is all about that preparation.

Wednesday and Thursday for me are front stage activities. For example, when I record my podcast, I do that in a day and a half once a quarter and I record 13 episodes in a row. It takes me a day and a half, but then I don’t think about it for another quarter. I get into that headspace and I stay focused and knock it out.

Then on Friday is when I try to consolidate my external meetings. If anybody wants to meet with me, they come in from out of town or a vendor or a client or whatever, I try to move those to Friday. Why? Because I don’t want those meetings interrupting my progress on my front stage days or my back stage days.

Then, of course, I have – and a lot of people don’t know about this – but there’s actually an offstage. All of life doesn’t have to be work. On the weekends, on Saturday and Sunday for me, I’m not thinking about work. I don’t talk about work. I don’t read about work. I don’t do work. Why? Because I want to get back in on Monday morning totally rejuvenated and ready to hit the ground running.

That for me is my ideal week. This could be a game changer for people to begin to get some sense of control back. I would say, Pete, probably in any given week, I’ll probably approximate that about 80%. Things are going to happen. I don’t try to be legalistic about it. But boy, going into the week with a plan is a whole lot better than just reacting to what comes over the transom. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Yes. What do you think about in terms of total hours of work in a day and a week, energy levels and optimizing that?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I keep my work to 40 hours a week. I can tell you that the science and I quote it in the book, but once you get past about 55 hours a week, there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of time you work and the level of productivity you have. It actually goes backwards after you give 55 hours. There’s been a lot of study done on this.

But the average person is buying into what I call the hustle fallacy, where you’ve got to work 80 hours, you’ve got to work 100 hours. That’s a recipe for burnout. It’s also a recipe for screwing up your life, screwing up your health, screwing up your most important relationships.

What I’m after, personally, is what I call the double win. I want to win at work, but I want to succeed at life. I’m not willing to compromise either for the sake of the other one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to get your take, I don’t know if you would liken yourself to this, but I think of, hey, Michael Hyatt, Elon Musk, two titans, very different perspectives. I guess, when it comes to Elon Musk it’s like I cannot deny that is one successful dude, who has made a lot of things happen and he espouses very much the hustle mentality.

Michael Hyatt
He does.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we reconcile that?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think it depends on you define success. He’s blown through a couple marriages. He, by his own admission, doesn’t talk to his kids hardly. He’s sleeping at the factory so much so that his fans started a Kickstarter page to buy him a new couch, kind of as a joke, so he’d have something better to sleep on. He’s appeared in the media and said some crazy things, which have led even to fines from the SEC and other federal agencies.

I think it depends on how you define success. Look, I’m not holding myself up as a paragon of virtue, but here’s the thing. Here’s what’s possible. Last year I took off 160 days, now that counts weekends, so 160 days including a one-month sabbatical, which I’ve done every year for the last eight years and my business grew 62%.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Michael Hyatt
I really think this idea of achieving more by doing less – the hustle fallacy, I want to keep my health. I’d like to live a long time. I’ve been married for 40 years, almost 41 years. I have 5 grown daughters, who I adore and who like me. This doesn’t just happen by chance. It’s not because I’m lucky, but I’ve tried to focus on those things.

Again, I’m not trying to hold myself up as the paragon of virtue, but I’m just saying that there’s a different model for success than the one that Elon Musk espouses. I’m not trying to judge him, but just look at the fruit, look at the results.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well done. Thank you. Well, tell me before we sort of shift gears and do your favorite things, any sort of key mistakes folks make when they’re trying to say, “Heck yes, I want to get free to focus and do these things.” What are some roadblocks or some fumbles folks make along the way as they’re trying to enact this stuff?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think the biggest tip I can give people is to get a plan for your day. This is where you’re going to get the biggest leap forward. I advocate something called the daily big three. Here’s how it goes for most people. They start the day – if they have a to-do list, and not everybody works with a to-do list, which is also a guarantee for being reactive, but let’s say you have a to-do list. The average person’s going to have somewhere between 20 and 25 items on that list.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Before they begin the day, they’re already feeling overwhelmed, like there’s no way that I can accomplish what’s on my list. They get to the end of the day and even if they’ve done half of it, where do they focus? On the half they didn’t get done. They go to bed defeated. This becomes a vicious cycle. It creates a lot of dissatisfaction, a lot of frustration and ultimately leads to burnout.

But the problem is they’ve created a game, they’ve set themselves up to fail by creating a game that they can’t possibly win. What I suggest is instead of that, go ahead and identify the three highest leveraged tasks that you can do today. Not all tasks are created equal. We know from the Pareto principle that 20% of the effort drives 80% of the results.

Let’s just go ahead on the front end and say “What are the three most important things that I can do today?” Now all of the sudden that seems manageable. At the end of the day when I accomplish those three things, even if I didn’t do all the other trivial things, at least I got the most important things done.

You do three important tasks like that a day, you do it 250 days a year, which is the average number of workdays people have, that’s 750 important things per year. That, more than anything else, will give you a sense of control and give you a sense that you’re winning. When you feel like you’re winning, it builds your confidence and it builds your momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I like feeling like I’m winning. Well said.

Michael Hyatt
Me too. Me too.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. I think one of my most favorite quotes is one by Warren Buffet. He said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

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

Michael Hyatt
I would say the research that I’ve done into sleep has been probably the most rewarding, especially into naps because I sort of knew intuitively that napping was a powerful way to rejuvenate and kind of reboot in the middle of the day. I’ve faithfully practiced it for about 30 years.

I took a nap today, so between interviews I laid down for 20 minutes, fell to sleep – I trained myself to fall to sleep quickly – I wake up and I’m a little bit groggy maybe for about ten minutes or so, drink a cup of coffee, and then it’s like I’m rebooted.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to know, how do you train yourself to fall asleep quickly?

Michael Hyatt
It’s not unlike training yourself to meditate. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself to fall asleep. What I do is kind of try to focus on my breathing and focus on relaxing. If you do that and do it routinely, you’ll find yourself falling asleep. If you don’t fall asleep, it’s still rejuvenating, even if you do nothing but put your feet up and relax.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Michael Hyatt
I’m one of those guys, I read a ton. I tend to focus on the books that I’ve read most recently. The book that I love that I just finished here about two weeks ago was Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Have you read that?

Pete Mockaitis
I have perused it. Can you tell me maybe a takeaway that was particularly valuable for you?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the biggest one was on the value of high-quality leisure, so really being intentional about your leisure time and how it correlates to our work, it makes us more productive at work. But that was really challenging and really exciting to think about.

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

Michael Hyatt
Let me think here for a second. I would say the tool that I’m enjoying the most right now is a tool called Notion. Have you heard of it?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Michael Hyatt
Notion is kind of like a personal Wiki. It could be. A lot of people are using it as an Evernote replacement. I’m still using Evernote, but only as a digital junk drawer. Notion is where I put structured information, information I want to get back to. It’s a whole lot of fun. It’s an outstanding tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting, thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Michael Hyatt
A favorite habit without question is my morning routine, just going through my drill every morning, setting myself up for high performance. Again, I learned this from the world of athletics, where the world’s best athletes have a pre-game ritual. I think of my morning time as a pre-game ritual. That’s the time when I’m going to pray, the time I’m going to meditate, the time I’m going to exercise and get fueled for the day.

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

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s that one about winning at work and succeeding at life. I think that with my clients, that’s just captivated their imagination and gets them really excited because I think most people have kind of fallen into this idea that you’ve got to give up one or the other. You can’t have both. I think when people are given a model, and that’s what I try to do in the book, Free to Focus, for how that can be done, it resonates with people.

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

Michael Hyatt
Well, in terms of the book, I would go to FreeToFocusBook.com. It has links to all the places where you can buy the book, but more importantly, it also has 500 dollars’ worth of free bonus material related to the book that you can get just by turning in your receipt. That’s all you’ve got to do. Turn in your receipt, claim the free bonuses. It has some amazing stuff including the audio version of the book for free. Then for all things related to me, just MichaelHyatt – Hyatt with a Y, not an I – MichaelHyatt.com.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I would say that in this kind of distraction economy where people are so sidetracked and there’s so much sideways energy and so much fake working going on, if you can learn to focus, that could become a super power.

I would just encourage people to differentiate themselves from their competitors and from their peers by being the person that really can deliver the highly creative, deeply important work that moves their business forward, that moves their personal work forward because so many people are sidetracked and distracted. You can differentiate yourself and make a real difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Michael, this has been a ton of fun. Thanks so much for taking the time.

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. Appreciate it.

392: Getting Your Dream Job by Illustrating Your Value with Austin Belcak

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Austin Belcak says: "You should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want."

Austin Belcak explains how deep research, cold emailing, and solving one of your dream company’s problems upfront accelerates job hunting–while building your skills.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two common themes to successful job searches
  2. How to do cold outreach that gets responses
  3. Two ways to effectively illustrate your value

About Austin

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he teaches people how to land jobs they love without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online.

Austin’s created a community of over 30,000 job seekers who have leveraged his strategies to land jobs at places like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Austin Belcak Interview Transcript

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

Austin Belcak
Pete, I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. You talk a lot about the career hunt and how it’s done better, but you’ve got a pretty dramatic story yourself of coming from a pretty miserable place it sounds like in your career to a much better one. Could you tell us the tale?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, absolutely. Just to give some people context around where we’re at now before we rewind. I work full time at Microsoft. I work in sales there on the advertising side of our business in New York City.

But on the side of that full time job, I run a site called CultivatedCulture.com, where I basically teach people to leverage some unconventional strategies to land jobs they love without traditional experience, without prior connections, and without applying online.

I started that about three years ago and since then we’ve grown the community to – there’s about 12,000 people in it now. About 30,000 people have come through the doors total. Many of them have gone on to land jobs at places like Google and Microsoft and Facebook, Apple, Amazon and many, many other industries as well. That’s basically where I am now, but to your point, it has not always been that way.

If we rewind the clock back to high school for me, which is now more years ago than I’d like to admit, I was dead set on being a doctor. I had taken all these classes in high school and biology really resonated with me and chemistry did as well. I thought this would be cool and doctors make a lot of money. They’re well regarded in society. Mom and dad would be happy.

I set my sights on that and I kind of tailored my whole strategy around getting into a college with a good premed track. I sort of made that happen. I ended up at Wake Forest University, which given the grades that I had and their programs, that was a good fit for me.

But I had gone to boarding school for high school and boarding school was awesome. It was a great experience, but it was a bit sheltered in the fact that while we had some freedoms on campus, there wasn’t that same level of exposure that you may get at a regular day high school where you have to drive there and you can go to people’s houses on the weekends and things like that.

I got to Wake Forest and the social scene was I guess we could say much more robust than it was in boarding school.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk about a robust social scene makes me imagine you doing keg stands. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by that, but-

Austin Belcak
That’s exactly what I mean by that, Pete. That’s exactly what happened. The first night literally we moved into the dorms and the first night I remember walking out with my new roommate and a couple of guys we met that day.

This car pulls up in front of us and they’re like, “Hey, you want to go to a party?” Alarm bells going off in your head and your mom’s like, “Austin, don’t talk to strangers. Don’t get into weird cars.” We’re like, “No, that’s fine.” Then we look behind him and there’s just this whole line of cars.

The next guy pulls up and says, “You want to go to a party?” We’re like, “Is this a thing?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, this is what happens.” Basically these cars pull up, you hop in one and they take you to a party. That was kind of the beginning of the end of my medical career as far as being a doctor goes.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you were just partying so much, you weren’t focusing on the grades or what happened exactly at this party?

Austin Belcak
Pretty much. All these freedoms that you never had at home are suddenly available.

That was way more interesting to me than class was, so I immediately failed chemistry my first semester. Then I went ahead and failed French the next semester. I rounded out my freshman year with a 1.99 GPA, which is not great. I don’t know too many med schools these days that are accepting kids with that sort of GPA. My dreams were kind of shattered.

I wasn’t too upset about it, but I kind of had this choice, I could continue to explore and try and find a new passion or I could continue enjoying this new social scene that was exciting and fun. I decided to do that. Basically, that carried me through. I kept my biology major.

That carried me through to junior year when my roommate’s dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, he kind of plopped an internship in my lap with a medical device sales company. They were a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.

I worked there during the summer. They gave me a job offer at the end of the summer. They said, “It’s yours if you want it.” I thought that was awesome because that meant that I could totally slack off senior year and I had my job and I was good to go.

That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I didn’t interview anywhere else. Then I graduated from college and I kind of got slapped in the face.

I hadn’t taken into account anything like cost of living, racked up about 10,000 bucks for the credit card debt in the first three months out of college literally just trying to make ends meet.

Then my boss was just terrible.
Then finally the job itself, I was getting up some days at 2:30 – 3 in the morning to drive two and a half hours to get to the hospital by 6 AM. That really was not super fun.

One day my boss told me in a very condescending fashion, “Maybe you should think about another career.” I actually said, “That’s pretty good advice at this point.”

I assumed that going to a four-year undergraduate college and getting degree would at least get me my foot in the door somewhere. It would give me a chance. Why else did I pay all this money for this degree? I set my sights on technology.

I set my sights on one of these leading tech companies and I applied to them. I got rejected pretty quickly.

I figured I needed to go get some advice. I stopped by my career counselor’s office at Wake Forest. I talked to my parents. I talked to my friends, who had landed jobs. I kind of tried to consolidate all of their advice. The common theme was that I should basically find jobs online, Tweet my resume for them, personalize my resume and my cover letter, apply for them and then kind of cross my fingers and hope that somebody got back to me.

If nobody got back to me, then the next step was to basically rinse and repeat until somebody did. I was told pretty frequently that it was a numbers game, so the more stuff I threw up against the wall, the better chance I had of something sticking and landing that job offer. I continued down that path.

I took a step back and I started applying to companies in the mid-tier startup range and didn’t hear anything from them. I started with early stage startups and didn’t hear anything from them. Then I was applying to companies that just had the word tech somewhere on their site. I still didn’t hear anything from them.

At this point I was really frustrated because I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I just had gotten this quarter of a million dollar education that’s supposed to get me a job. That’s the whole point of it. Here I was with nothing. I was incredibly, incredibly angry, but I didn’t know what else to do.

About that same time I was reaching out to some alumni at Wake and somebody I had a conversation with basically gave me a light bulb moment. They told me that I was taking advice from the wrong people. I thought that was crazy because throughout our lives when we grow up, the people that we look to for advice are our parents and our friends and our teachers and the people that we look up to.

I was like, “I don’t understand. What exactly do you mean?” He said you should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want.” That really resonated with me because while my parents were successful in their own right and my friends had been successful out of college in their own right, none of them had come out with a terrible GPA and a biology degree and a job in medicine with three months of professional experience, and now I had aspirations to work at Microsoft or Google.

I realized that I needed to go out and find people who had done that and had done it successfully and quickly and who were around my age.

I immediately drove home and I wrote down criteria for my job search or my dream job, rather. Those were – there were four criteria. The first was to be working at a leading company like a Google or a Microsoft or Facebook; to be making over $100,000 a year; to be working in a major city like New York, San Francisco, and LA; and finally, to be doing that all before the age of 26 because I didn’t want to wait until I was 40 for all this to come to fruition.

I took my list of my criteria and I went out on LinkedIn and I found people who matched that criteria as best as I possibly could. I tried to find these young folks who are working at those amazing companies. I looked at their salaries on Glassdoor to make sure that they were in the range. Then I just started reaching out cold. I probably reached out to about 50 or 60 people. Roughly 10 to 15 got back to me. I started having-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a decent ratio.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. I was very, very surprised, especially for the first pass. I think it was more beginners’ luck than anything because when I started my full outreach for the job search later on, the ratio was not so good and I had to do a little bit of learning to improve that. But for whatever reason it seemed to work out.

I had conversations with these people. I tried to learn as much as I could about their stories and the strategies that they used and how they approached this job search. There were a couple of common themes.

The first was that all of them had gotten in via a referral of some kind, which is really interesting to me. The second was that they all found creative ways to illustrate their value. They stepped outside of the box, the traditional box, of a resume and a cover letter and some interview answers to illustrate their value. That was also really interesting to me.

I took what I learned and I did a bunch of research. I basically made it my mission to turn the hiring process into a game and try to figure out how I could create some shortcuts. A lot of my time was spent learning how to build relationships with people I’d never met before, finding ways to understand the challenges they were facing, the challenges their companies were facing, new initiatives and projects that they were releasing, basically any way that I could add value.

Then I would go back and I would research those problems and I would come up with creative ways to highlight what I brought to the table and the tangible value that I offered if they took a chance on me. I basically spun those up over the next couple of years to land offers at Microsoft and Google and Twitter and a whole bunch of other places. The rest is history, so here I am.

But after I started working at Microsoft, I had a bunch of people from Wake Forest reach out to me and they were like, “Aren’t you the kid who graduated with like a 2.5 GPA? How the heck are you working at Microsoft?” When the 20th person asked me that I thought I’m having the same conversation with all these people, maybe I could find a way to write this down in a scalable fashion.

I started up my site. I came up with my name pretty off the cuff. I really just wanted to get this blog post out there. I wrote it all up. I did some promotion. It got an incredibly positive response from friends and family but also from strangers on the internet. That’s really how this whole thing started. Now we’ve been going strong from about three years.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into the particulars on these tactics, so the creative ways of demonstrating your value and acquiring these referrals. How did you do it and how have you seen other people do it successfully?

Austin Belcak
Definitely. The overarching theme here is find people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision for the role that you want, number one. Number two is to build a relationship with them regardless of whether you’ve met them or not.

I was talking to somebody earlier on the phone today and she was like, “You mean reach out to total strangers?” I was like, “Yeah, we’ve got to reach out to total strangers.” It’s overcoming that barrier as well. Then finally, those creative ways to illustrate your values.

If we start with the first piece there, when we talk about locating or identifying people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision, it really comes down to somebody who would be your manager if you got hired or would be your colleague sitting at the desk next to you.

I think a lot of people feel like reaching out to recruiters is something that is really important and needs to be done, but I personally don’t recommend it. Recruiters – it’s no knock against recruiters because what they do is really important, but they are inundated with emails and it is so hard to stand out.

Even if you do get the opportunity to stand out and they reply to you, their influence ends when they refer you in for an interview. They’re not going to be able to advocate for you through the hiring process. They’re not going to be in the room where the hiring decision is made.

But if you get in touch with somebody who would be sitting at the desk next to you on your team or would be your manager, they can also refer you in, but then they can also kind of be your champion internally and coach you through the interview process. They can advocate for you in the room where the actual hiring decision is being made. That is so critical.

But on top of that, they’re not getting bombarded with emails from potential candidates. It’s also a lot easier to get in touch with them using the right outreach strategies. That’s the first step is kind of getting yourself in the mindset of who to reach out to, why, and then we have to go out and find them.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell me in terms of the who, I guess how do you know that the person from the outside looking in, that the person you’re reaching out to would in fact be your manager or your colleague in the desk next to you?

I suppose in some ways if they have pretty specific titles, you can be like, “Oh yes, that’s dead on,” but other times the title might be something – I thinking of Microsoft, thousands of people might have the same title in terms of what they’re doing. How do you get clear on these would be the nine people that would be the influencers on what I’m really after?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, Pete. You’re never going to be able to – that’s not true. Never say never. You may get a tip on who the hiring manager is and that’s great. But in the majority of cases, you’re not going to be able to pinpoint the exact hiring manager. The best thing that you can do is take an educated guess. That’s exactly what you mentioned.

Let’s say I want a job at Microsoft in New York as an account manager. I can go look up all the account managers that currently work at Microsoft in New York. That’s probably going to be my best target base. I do know that if I reach out to all of them that I will hit somebody who will be on the team I’m being hired for because I reach out to literally everybody. That’s one way to cover it.

I also recommend reaching out to as many people as you can. A lot of people ask me, “Is it weird if I reach out to multiple people at the same company? What if they start talking about me? What if my name gets out there? Is that going to hurt my chances?” At the end of the day, no. That’s not what I’ve seen.

My background is in sales and I’m in sales now. There’s a nice little anecdote that sales people like to throw around where a lot of the deals get done or big steps or breakthroughs happen on the seventh touch point. It’s really about that familiarity. You kind of have to get – the more that you get in front of somebody rather, the more familiar you become and the more likely they are to then take that action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking in a way I imagine if they do talk about you. Then it’s conceivably possible that they’d say, “Oh my gosh, why is this guy wasting our time? I already gave him the answers, so he’s talking to three other people who give him the same answers,” but I think it might be more likely that the response is, “Whoa, we almost never see candidates who are so committed as to go to this length to get in. That’s interesting. We should take a closer look at this guy.”

Austin Belcak
100%. That is – the majority of the times that I’ve gone through this and when I’ve coached people and gotten feedback, and even talked to the hiring managers themselves, that is the exact feedback we’ve gotten. People are typically – they typically see that as a sign of persistence and a sign of enthusiasm and motivation and a differentiator from all these other candidates who are just relying on the baseline or the minimum required to kind of get their foot in the door.

But on top of that, some of the other tactics we’re going to talk about in a second here are going to make it so that even if there was a doubt, even if they are kind of around the water cooler and they’re like, “Who’s this Pete person? His name’s come up. I don’t know. He’s kind of weird. He’s reaching out to all of us.”

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely weird.

Austin Belcak
The next step is going to wipe that off the table, which is once you’re able to – this is kind of two-fold. When we think about creating something valuable that illustrates our value and it is compelling to the person, there’s two ways to get it. We can either get it from the contacts themselves or we can get it through our own research.

One of the most important things you can do is put in as much time researching this company as you possibly can. If you do that ahead of time, if you do that before you reach out to people, you’re going to be that much more prepared when you are reaching out. You’re going to have better outreach, but also a lot of times somebody will – people will be surprised.

If you’ve never done cold outreach before, you never know when somebody is going to hit you back up and say, “Hey, I have time in two hours. Can we talk then?” Then the fear and the stress set in if you’re not prepared and you scramble to think of questions and you don’t know what to talk to them about.

But if you spent this time researching the company and you understand the challenges they’re facing, how they’re addressing them, the wins that they’ve had, what’s their current status on X, Y, and Z projects or X, Y, and Z brands, then you come to the table with that much more ammunition to start and drive the conversation. Doing some of this research ahead of time is really, really powerful, but it also allows you to come up with some value-add angles ahead of time.

Then you can either – basically the conversations that you have, you can flush those out. You can kind of validate them. You can tease them out with questions or posing different ideas or statements that relate to the thing you’ve come up with and you can gauge the response.

If the person on the other side says, “That’s actually something that we’re working on,” then great you kind of have something to work off of. But if they’re like, “Oh yeah, we tried that. It was terrible. Totally failed,” then you know that you kind of need to pivot. Getting that research in ahead of time is really, really critical.

When we’re talking about public companies, they tend to be a little bit easier to research than private companies. But just two of my favorite ways to kind of understand where things are going at a high level for those companies are one to listen to their earnings calls.

Every publicly traded company out there, every quarter they have an earnings call and they’ll share it publicly. If you just type in the company name and investor relations on Google, that page should pop up and they should have the most recent webcast.

Basically what they do is – the calls are typically about anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long. If you’re pressed for time you can kind of find the MP3, and download it and then speed it up in iTunes, 2x, and save yourself some minutes.

But basically what they talk about is – it’s their presentation to the shareholders as to why the company is in the current state that it is and what they’re doing to make it better. If there’s a challenge, they’re going to address it. If there’s a win, they’re going to call it out. Then they’re going to talk about the future, “What are we doing to capitalize on the momentum of the win? How are we thinking about addressing or fixing the challenge that we saw, which caused numbers to drop?”

That’s a great way to get a high level overview of what happened recently and what the company is driving towards in the future. Then I like to go to a site called SeekingAlpha.com, which is basically-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a financial blog, where all these analysts kind of come together and they write pieces on different companies. You can go in and you can punch in the stock ticker for a company. There’s two columns. There’s a news column, which is basically your objective stuff like the “Dow dropped 460 points today,” “This stock was impacted X amount,” very objective.

But on the other side there’s analysis, which is where those analysts come in and they basically give their opinion. It’s really helpful because you can pretty much find five different angles on the same topic.

Somebody will tell you why Facebook’s handling of private data is going to be the demise of their company. Then the next article is how some guy is talking about Facebook’s handing of private data is going to help them learn and help all of us learn and it’s going to cause their stock to skyrocket in the future.

Regardless of which position you agree with, you get a sense of all the different angles that you could potentially approach this subject from. That is going to give you a lot of ammunition to have these conversations, but also come up with unique ways to add value.

I was just talking to one of the people that I coach. He was looking for a job at Apple. He couldn’t think of a way to add value. We went on the site and the third article down was Here’s Six Things Apple Isn’t Doing Right Now That Could be Making Them Millions of Dollars. They literally listed out six things and they had specific arguments for their ideas. We grabbed a couple of them and we threw them in the deck and put his spin on them and leveraged that as our value-add project.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting when you say throw them in the deck and value add project, can we talk about when in the course of this relationship building do you trot that out? My hunch is it might be a little different. You say, “Hey, I’d love to chat with you about X, Y, Z.” They go, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ve got 15 minutes to chat in two hours.” You say, “Great.” Then you’re on the phone. It’s like, “Please open up to slide three.” How do you kind of time and sequence that?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, most definitely. It actually – the best answer that I can give is that it depends on the situation. If you’re reaching out and you can’t even get anybody on the phone and you can’t even get any replies, then you may need to trot it out at that point to add enough value to get a response, to trigger a response from somebody.

But let’s say that you are getting replies, things are working well, you’re getting people to set up meetings with you, typically what I like to do is have a few meetings first. I like to as soon as I start outreach, I want to have a general idea of the type of value that I could potentially add. My hope is that the conversation that I have with this person is going to one validate my idea in some fashion. Maybe give me some pieces of the greater picture or puzzle that I can then bake into the project itself.

Then I like to have a couple of these questions, so I get all these different perspectives or a couple of these conversations. Then once I’ve had a few of those, I’m sort of in this place where I’ve talked to the first round of people and I’m teed up for the second round of people. Then I like to approach it by following up. I like to use the value validation project as a means to follow up and drive the relationship with the people I’ve had conversations with.

Let’s say Pete, I reach out to you and we had a conversation, I’m going to go back and finish my project and then I’m going to send you an email. I’m going to say, “Pete, thank you so much for taking 30 minutes to chat with me last week. I really enjoyed our conversation, especially the piece around this challenge that you’re having about getting more new customers.

I’ve actually done some thinking about it and I’ve put together a few ideas around how I think you guys could leverage your existing audience to drive more customers through referrals. I’ve attached that here. Would love to get your thoughts. Email is fine, but if you time for another call, great.” Then I’ll email that off to them.

Basically what that does is one it allows me to follow up the first time. It provides value that showcases my skills, my experience, what I bring to the table, but it also opens up the door for a second follow up because if that person doesn’t reply, I can email them again and say, “Hey, did you get what I sent?”

But if they do reply then the conversation is going. Now maybe they give me feedback over email and now we’re going back and forth. They’re getting more invested in me with each email and with each suggestion or better yet we get on the phone and we build more of that personal rapport. We’re talking instead of typing. Maybe it’s even face-to-face in person. But we’re kind of building that relationship and I’m adding value that directly relates to that person’s team, that person’s company, a role that’s open.

That’s typically when I like to trot it out, usually about five business days or so after we had the call. Then when it comes time to interview, I usually like to bring it with me into the interview. Then we’ll have the interview as planned.

Then at the very end when the interviewer is like, “All right, thanks so much for stopping by. Is there anything else?”  I’ll usually say, “Yeah, there’s one more thing. I talked to a few people at the company here on your team and they told me that your biggest challenge is X,” or “You have this new initiative coming up called Y and I put together some thoughts around that.”

Then I’ll slide it across the table to them and I’ll just say, “No need to look at it right now. I know you’re really busy. I appreciate the time, but if you do have a minute to look at it over the next day or two, please do. Definitely let me know if you have feedback. Thanks so much.”

Again that opens the door for you to follow up with your interviewer and a lot of people struggle with that. Following up is key to making sure that you’re staying top of mind and that they are driving the interviewing process and the hiring process on their end. Those are kind of the two times that I like to bring it out and leverage it most. I think that’s a good segue into what exactly does that project look like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. This reminds me, I think Ramit Sethi calls this the briefcase technique in terms of there’s a very kind of a dramatic moment. It’s like, “What? Nobody else has ever extracted a document and handed it to me. What’s going on here? Oh,” ….

Austin Belcak
And they all use that voice too. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if they’re saying this out loud, but they’re thinking it to themselves hopefully because it’s just a huge differentiator. I guess a real key is that you in those conversations you’ve done a good job of zeroing in on, yes, this is their biggest challenge and yes, these are some ideas that might be workable.

You’re also kind of getting some useful feedback in terms of “Oh no, they really hate podcast advertising,” I don’t know. But nobody hates podcast advertising. It’s so effective and been proven many times.

Austin Belcak
Speaking of.

Pete Mockaitis
For example if they’re trying to acquire new customers and you’ve got these ideas and you’re having conversations and they say, “Oh no, they are totally against this,” because, I don’t know, it’s not measurable, it’s very visual, whatever their excuse is. Okay, now you know, so you’ve something that is sort of new and distinctive and feels innovative, like you’re smart, but also not just sort of way crazy out there or disgusting to them for whatever reasons or bias they have against them.

You’ve sort of fine-tuned something that’s pretty excellent by the time you’re in the interview. That’s cool and it’s exciting. I imagine just about nobody does this because it’s too much effort and they don’t want to risk it when there’s no guarantee, but on the flip side if you think about the time you spend blasting applications to hundreds or thousands of opportunities, it’s probably more time effective than the alternative.

Austin Belcak
Most definitely. I’m actually going back a few minutes here. I’m really glad you brought up Ramit because that’s actually where this idea kind of came from. I watched that briefcase technique video.

One of the ways that I built the experience to be able to even be considered for some of these roles at Microsoft and Google was starting up my own freelance consulting firm for digital marketing. The briefcase technique was something that I used to land clients. When I started applying for some of these jobs, I thought why not do something similar for these companies. That’s exactly what it was born out of.

But I’m also really glad that you brought up the point of it taking a lot of effort. Two objections that I typically get are that it takes a lot of effort and what if a company just takes my work and runs with it. I totally understand where people are coming from with both of those. But first for the ‘it takes a lot of work’ piece, it definitely does. But to your point, how much work are you spending applying online every day and is that making you happy? Also is it bettering you?

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. You’re learning a ton as you do this. Maybe it’s not applicable for Microsoft, but hey, Adobe is doing similar stuff.

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. It even goes beyond that. There aren’t too many transferable skills from applying online, but if you train your brain to get into this mode of consuming information with a lens of identifying problems and coming up with solutions quickly, that’s a pretty valuable skill to have anywhere in your career, whether you’re job searching, whether you’re trying to increase revenue or drive against goals that your boss gave you or come up with ideas to make a case for a promotion or a raise or starting your own company or business in pitching people.

No matter what you’re doing business-wise having a mindset of knowing where to find the right information, knowing how to tease out problems, that’s really, really valuable. This is kind of the first step there.

It definitely does take work, but you’re going to be that much better for it as a professional and as a person. That’s something I’ve seen direct benefits from even starting the business here and within my career at Microsoft.

Then the second objection is always what if the company steals my work and runs with it. I get what people are saying. There’s something that I’ve heard from a lot of people who advocate for the traditional job search and traditional business practices, which is basically if you’re good at something you should never do it for free.

I think that that’s changed in our world today because it’s so competitive. Whether you’re starting a business or searching for a job, there’s so much competition out there. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, a lot of people are still abiding by that methodology of not giving anything away for free and they’re the ones who are going to lose out.

If you really think about it, sure, you’re putting in a lot of time, but how much is a new job worth? When I got my job at Microsoft, I got a $60,000 raise. That’s by no means the norm, but the job before that I got a $20,000 raise, so let’s call that closer to even.

I think I spent probably maybe 20 hours coming with a value validation project for them and doing some research and putting it all together and then presenting it. If I think about it from that lens, I basically got paid 1,000 bucks an hour to come up with that project. I’ll take that hourly rate any day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Austin Belcak
That’s awesome. When people are worried about putting in the work and also companies stealing their work, I think you need to think of it more as the long-term strategy, a long-term investment. if a company is going to steal your ideas and just run with it, that’s a great litmus test for whether or not that’s a company you want to work for.

Pete Mockaitis
And if they steal your idea and you learn about that in the future, that goes on your resume.

Austin Belcak
Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
….

Austin Belcak
You have the proof. You can show when they executed it and when you came up with it and sent it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
That goes on your resume. They did almost all the work.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
You did 20 hours’ worth. They did 3,000 hours’ worth.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome. That’s basically, it’s a short-sighted business strategy. All the great companies that I know, they want to invest in people who are going to bring great ideas to the table every day and they’re going to constantly be innovating and thinking of new ways to solve problems and be willing to roll up their sleeves.

On top of that, if I have an idea and I give you the framework, you’re probably not going to execute it the same way that I had in mind, whether or not it’s better or worse is up in the air. But if I’m a company I want to – I don’t want to just take this one idea.

I want to invest in the person who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard enough without even being employed at my company to come up with an idea like this because I know that once I bring them into the fold and give them all the inside information and the resources and all of that, they’re going to 10x those ideas and they’re going to be so, so impactful to the business.

If a company does steal your ideas, to me that’s a company that I don’t want to work for. Imagine what happens when they’re paying you and now that your manager is stealing all of your ideas the same way that they did when you applied for the job. That’s just a situation that you don’t want to be in. The great companies out there recognize that the person who is coming up with the ideas is far more valuable than the specific idea itself.

Then finally on that topic, how badly do you want the job? If you’re worried about a company stealing your project, just think about what you’re doing now. Is it working? Because if it’s not, if you’re applying online, if you’re trying to network and you’re doing this stuff and it’s just not working, you need to try something else.

If you’re so worried about a company stealing your project, but what you’re doing right now isn’t working, something has to give one way or the other. I’d much rather put in some time bettering myself, like honing my analytical thinking, my problem solving skills to come up with this idea that even if the company takes it and runs with it, like you said Pete, you can take the credit for it, you can put it on your resume, but you can also take that knowledge and the skills that you learned from going through that process and you can move on to the next company.

That’s how I typically handle both of those objections with people. But I’m happy to also give examples of specific projects that people have put together if you think that would be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, let’s hear examples of the projects and sort of the deliverable. It sounds like you’re working with PowerPoint slides and kind of what makes it great? Is there kind of a rough range of slides and what is the stuff that really makes you seem brilliant as opposed to like, “Yeah, okay. You Googled something. I’m not impressed.”

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. Right off the bat, I’d say that this is all about getting creative and focusing in on two things. One, what is valuable to the company, so what do they care about. Then also, what medium will help you best get that value across.

I mentioned PowerPoint decks because that’s what was easiest for me and that’s what was natural for me. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are into video or maybe they’re developers and they know how to code things and build things.

There’s so many different mediums that you can get the value across with that anything that you can do to stand out is great and anything you feel comfortable with is also great. A lot of people aren’t writers out there, but maybe they’re videographers. A video is great. But if you are more of a writer than a videographer, a blog post is great. Again, whatever you feel comfortable with.

Just to give a few examples. There are a couple that I really like. The first one is from a student named Cam. She was at Northeastern and she wanted a job at Airbnb. She had applied online and didn’t hear anything. She reached out to a bunch of the people who worked there. She also didn’t hear anything from her outreach.

We got to talking and I was like, “What do you want to do? Do you want to try and come up with something else? Do you want to move on?” She said, “I haven’t done everything I could possibly do to get my foot in the door here.”

She went out and she actually combed through social media to find pain points that real Airbnb customers had about the business. She screenshotted the pain points that people had. She consolidated them and she kind of analyzed them to find two that really stood out.

Those two were the lack of a keyword filter. Basically if I wanted to rent an apartment in Chicago for the night that had a hot tub and I could look right down into Wrigley, I don’t think that’s possible, but regardless, if I wanted that, I wouldn’t be able to search for that specifically. I would basically have to search for listings in Wrigleyville and then click on each individual one and see if it had a hot tub and a view.

That’s not a great user experience because it requires a lot of effort on the user’s end. Naturally people were upset about that. The second piece was getting in touch with their customer service. Apparently, Airbnb’s customer service is like notoriously bad. Cam came up with ideas for both of those.

For the first, she went out and she found people and she asked them to go through this task of finding listings with specific criteria and asked them for their feedback and how they would improve it. She took all of their feedback and the recommendations and she mocked it up into an actual flow of what it would like within Airbnb’s app. That was one solution.

Then the second was she went out and did a bunch of research on the benefits of live chat, so basically having a little widget on your site that would allow people to interact with the site immediately and get the help they need immediately without a huge cost or overhead to Airbnb itself.

Basically she went out and she found all these benefits that showed that having live chat increased customer retention and increased satisfaction, increased revenue, all these metrics that any company wants to continue to improve.

What she did was she put together a deck, where she basically teed up the – she had screenshots from all these people on social media complaining about the thing. Then she went through and talked about the methodology of how she got the results. Then she showcased the solution.

That was about an eight-slide deck. It wasn’t anything crazy. It wasn’t professionally designed or anything. Anybody listening to this could have put it together. But then she sent it out to the same contact that she had reached out to before and she got a reply the next day. She was in their office for an interview the next week. That’s a great, great example.

Pete Mockaitis
But did she get the job Austin? We’ve got to get closure.

Austin Belcak
She did. She did. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Hooray.

Austin Belcak
Yes, yes, yes. Of course, of course. I mean how could you not hire somebody who was doing that? Then that’s the whole point.

She went out and she found this tangible problem. She wasn’t like, “Hey, I think that your customers are having this issue.” She said, “Your customers are having this issue. Here’s how you fix it. I’m the person who has these kinds of ideas and will help you execute on that.”

Of course, they’re not – who’s going to hire somebody who’s just coming up with a resume and a cover letter, black and white ink, all of that, over somebody who went out and did marketplace research, customer research, and came up with actual tangible value for the company? That’s the type of thing that we’re talking about.

Just to give one more example that’s a very different end of the spectrum. There’s a guy named Tristan who he wanted job at Foursquare. This is about six – seven years ago when Foursquare was really booming. They were releasing an ad product. They had all these advertisers currently on the platform. They were looking to grow.

Tristan saw that they had an opening on their sales team and he really wanted it. Instead of just applying online, he went out and he basically mapped – he made a map of all the companies that were currently advertising on Foursquare. Then he went out and created a list of companies that were sort of lookalike, who matched the same criteria. Then he went and started reaching out to them. He generated about ten leads.

He got in touch with people, had conversations, positioned himself as a supporter of Foursquare. Then he sent an email to the CEO of Foursquare. He said, “Hey, you guys have an opening on your sales team. I’m really, really interested in it. I didn’t apply online. I didn’t do anything else, but I have ten people at companies who are ready to advertise with you today. I’m happy to give you their names and I’m happy to put you in touch with them. When can we meet?”

The CEO replied to him. They onboarded those ten companies. Tristan got hired not just as a regular salesperson, but actually as the director of sales.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. That’s another great example of thinking outside the box. He could have easily said – somebody who’s able to convince ten people to try a product for a company they don’t even work for has a good track record in sales ahead of time.

He could have easily said on his resume, “Over attainer, averaging 150% quota at my company,” but then he’d sound like exactly every other salesperson applying for the job. But by actually going out there and sourcing leads, which is exactly what they’re hiring this person to do and then bringing them to the CEO, again, same story as Cam from Airbnb. Why would they hire anybody else because they know that this person can do exactly what they’re asking for?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that because when we talk about value, which can be a nebulous word at times, it’s so precise in terms of okay, these are real companies, who are quite likely to give us real money real soon. That’s great.

Then that also gets you thinking in terms of the value you’re creating doesn’t just have to be thoughts, ideas, input from users or customers, but it could be real precise in terms of generating revenue like, “These are leads we might buy from you right now,” or slashing cost in terms of providing actual vendors.

It’s like, “I’ve spoken with three people who have experience in automating manufacturing packaging lines and can totally handle doing box-dried macaroni,” I’m just inventing a totally new example, “and are happy to chat.”

If you’ve already validated that “Yes, sure enough they’re looking to slash manufacturing cost and there’s a lot of waste showing up in packaging. It’s very manual to figure out where the problems are coming from and how to address them,” then that could really resonate. Then it’s like, “Wow, we’ve never heard of these companies before and we should,” or, “Yeah, we’ve talked to one of them but haven’t heard of the other two. You’re bringing in new stuff that we hadn’t even considered.”

You can only be perceived positively unless you did a really shoddy job in terms of “This isn’t a real problem that we’re worried abbot. This thing that you’re proposing is completely farfetched and unworkable.” Assuming that you’ve got a reasonable quality, it’s huge in terms of showing what you can do.

Austin Belcak
Yup, absolutely. That’s basically the overarching strategy there. The best way that people can get started is to just start reaching out to people who are in a position to help them get hired. I know that that can be somewhat of a daunting task for people who have never reached out cold before. I have plenty of resources on my site to help people with that. I have templates of scripts and all that.

But the best thing that I can recommend is just start with one person per day. You can even do one person a weekday, so just five emails a week. Just find somebody on LinkedIn. You can look up their professional email using a tool like Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert, V-O-I-L-ANorbert.

You get their email, you just shoot them a note and you say, “Hey, I’m really impressed with your experience and I’d love to learn more about how you were able to achieve and accomplish all the things that you have in your career. Can we talk more about it?” Definitely probably go into a little more detail and personalization than that, but something along those lines.

Just start sending one email a day and I promise you, you will get responses. When you start getting responses and you start having these conversations, everything else is going to kind of fall into place. That’s the best next step that I can recommend. Yeah, Pete, I really, really appreciate the opportunity and you having me on here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, this was fun, definitely. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Austin Belcak
Yes. It’s not necessarily job search related, but it could be. But for me something that’s resonated and I’ve been trying to focus on is that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think that is a Teddy Roosevelt quote.

I don’t know if you’ve run into this building your business, but it’s very easy to go on LinkedIn or somebody else’s blog and be like, “Man, they have so many more visitors than I do,” or “so many more likes and they’re doing so much better. That’s something that I really struggle with personally. I have that quote written up on our chalkboard in our kitchen here. I’m trying my best to kind of abide by it every day and just focus on me.

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

Austin Belcak
Oh, I can relate this one to the job search. Interviews are very fascinating environments for me because I am a big psychology fan. One of the things that I always recommend to people – I have two. I don’t know if we have time.

But the first one I’d recommend is basically in a series of events, people are most likely to remember the first thing, the first event and the last event.

When we think about that in the context of interviews, interviews all sort of follow the same progression. There’s the intro and the small talk kind of before you sit down at the table. Then you dive into the questions. There’s some soft balls. Then maybe you get into behavioral, maybe technical, case study questions. Then towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asks you if you have any questions for them.

[51:00]

For the majority of interviewers out there, a lot of the answers are to the middle section are going to be the same. “Tell me about a time you failed. Tell me about your greatest weakness. Tell me about a time you succeeded,” all that stuff. The answers are all going to be sort of in the same ball park. But if we think about that principle where people remember the first and last event in the series, those happen to be the two events in the interview that we actually have the most control over.

You can drive the small talk at the beginning of an interview. If you do some research on your interviewer, you looked them up on Google, you looked them up on LinkedIn, maybe you find their Facebook profile, they have Twitter feed, and you try and find some piece of information that you can bring up at the beginning of the conversation that sort of sparks more personal talks so the formal barrier comes down.

That’s a great way to start the interview and that’s something that they’re going to be likely to remember.

Then at the very end if you can ask great questions. I also have an article on my site about – I just have a set of five questions. I know a lot of the articles I read give you like a million questions out there and tell you they’re all great, but I did a bunch of research using a lot of those questions and these are the five that I found to be the most effective.

But if you ask a great question that kind of incite a conversation and are a little bit on the unique side versus what everybody else might be asking, that’s also going to be very, very memorable. Doing both of these things will typically open up or give you some ammunition for a follow up.

Maybe that personal conversation – maybe this person tells you, “Hey, I’m getting married. I’m going on my honeymoon,” or “We had this vacation planned,” or “Hey, I just started brewing my own craft beer,” or “meditating,” or whatever. All of that is great ammunition for you to then go and follow up.

Ask them “What beers have you brewed? Where can I find a recipe?” “I love that book that you mentioned. Who’s the author again?” Then you can say – you can send them a follow up and say, “I read the book. My favorite point was X, Y, and Z. I totally understand why you said X about it.” It really opens the door to continue the conversation and continue building the relationship.

But that is a long-winded answer to your question, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Certainly. How about a favorite book?

Austin Belcak
That’s a good one. I think my favorite book is probably recently probably The Power of Habit. That’s one that my wife and I both love. I think habits are so critical to success in any capacity. They really drive – once you read that book you realize just how much habits drive most of your life. If you can build the right ones, you’re definitely going to set yourself up for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Austin Belcak
My favorite tool would probably have to be one of the ones I mentioned before, which would be Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really amazing ….

Austin Belcak
Yeah, they were a total game changer to me. But since I already mentioned them, for people wondering what they are, they basically allow you to look up anyone’s professional email address.

[54:00]

A related tool that should go hand-in-hand and I recommend to all my job seekers is it’s called Yesware, Y-E-S-W-A-R-E. It’s essentially an email tracker. This is a little bit creepy to be transparent, but it will allow you to basically see the activity on all the emails you sent.

You can when people open your email, how many times, how often, where, when, and if they engage with it. If there’s a link in it, it will tell you if they clicked on the link. It will tell you what device they opened it on. It’s pretty wild.

But the reason it’s so helpful is because when you’re reaching out cold to a lot of these people, you need to understand that a random email from a total stranger is probably low on their priority list no matter how badly they want to help you. Just because you don’t get a response, doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t want to help you or isn’t interested.

I gauge interest using email tracker. If somebody opens my email multiple times, then to me that is indicative that they’re thinking about it, they’re interested in it, they’re just very, very busy. I’m going to follow up five business days later. If they only open it once or they don’t open at all, then that means it’s time to move on to the next person.

Pairing using Hunter to find people’s emails and then using email tracker to gauge the engagement on their end, those are two of the most powerful tools you can use for finding strangers and reaching out to them and starting to build a relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Austin Belcak
I think my favorite habit, which I haven’t done enough of recently is getting up early and working out. It doesn’t have to be – one of the things that – I’m pretty much an all or nothing type of person. I’m either completely bought into something and probably investing too much time and energy into it or I’m not doing it at all.

Something that I realized recently was that even just going and running on the treadmill for ten minutes makes a huge difference in my ability to focus and manage my emotions for the rest of the day.

Then also getting up early. A lot of people ask me how I run my business while having a full time job and getting up at 5:00 in the morning, 5:30 in the morning, working out and then coming back, I still have two hours before work to write some blog posts or do some outreach or whatever it is that I need to do. I think both of those combined are probably the thing that’s had the biggest impact on my life recently.

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

Austin Belcak
Definitely. I always leave with anybody is welcome to reach out and email me. I can’t be the person to tell you to cold email strangers and then not be the guy replies. My email is Austin@CultivatedCulture.com.

[57:00]

Then if people want to take the next step kind of and dive into some deeper material, if people listening go to CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome, there are two resources there. First, I keep a lot of data on the strategies that I recommend to people. I don’t recommend anything that I haven’t tested out myself or with the audience. I consolidated the five most effective strategies that I found from coaching thousands of people for the last few years. Those are available there.

Then I also have a course that I call Resume Revamp. It’s my approach to writing an effective resume. Hundreds and hundreds of people have used it to transform their resume and land jobs at the places we mentioned before, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etcetera. Again, that’s CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome. Yes, please feel free to reach out to me if you guys have any questions at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Austin, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for doing what you’re doing and keep it up.

Austin Belcak
Thank you, Pete, likewise. I’m a huge fan of the podcast. For everybody listening, if you haven’t already, please go and leave a review for Pete because those are a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thanks.

Austin Belcak
No problem.