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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Annie

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Annie Duke Interview Transcript

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

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

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

Annie Duke
Nice.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so…

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Cheating robots.

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

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

Annie Duke
Well, we just did.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Annie Duke
But maybe that’s a bad assumption.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
“I also agree.” Conversation over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Masterful. Good work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Ergonomic. Convenient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

Pete Mockaitis
About five pounds.

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

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

Annie Duke
Okay. Could it weigh 200 pounds?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.