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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Josh

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

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

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Josh Kaufman Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Congratulations.

Josh Kaufman
It’s fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh Kaufman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve all been there, Josh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, definitely.

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

Josh Kaufman
That’s absolutely the case.

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

Josh Kaufman
Fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh Kaufman
I’m right there with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Could you unpack that?

Josh Kaufman
Four levels of ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, some stringent criteria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
You find yourself in prison.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you.

Josh Kaufman
Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I have arrived at handiness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. How about a favorite tool?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, you sound amazing.

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

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh Kaufman
Thanks.

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

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

351: Bridging Skill Gaps through Strategic Learning with Andy Storch

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Andy

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Andy Storch Interview Transcript

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

Andy Storch

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Andy Storch

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Andy Storch

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Andy Storch

Absolutely. Yeah, it’s great.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Andy Storch

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Andy Storch

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis

Intrigued, what was that?

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis      

Now I know where you’re coming from.

Andy Storch           

That could be it.
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch

Right.

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

Yeah, and

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

Right.

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

Right.

Pete Mockaitis      

And so—

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis      

Those right? Is that—

Andy Storch           

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch

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

Pete Mockaitis      

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

Andy Storch           

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Doris

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Doris Savron Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris Savron
It is. Never a dull moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Are there some cons on the online side?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris Savron
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris Savron
Yup.

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

Doris Savron
absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris Savron
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite book?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Pat Lencioni.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris Savron
Thank you. I appreciate the time.

319: How to Never Stop Learning with Bradley R. Staats

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Bradley R. Staats discusses the essentials of dynamic learning, the best practices of a compelling learner, and the value of mistakes and asking questions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 4 elements of dynamic learning
  2. How we are our own worst enemy when learning
  3. How to reframe how you think about mistakes

About Bradley

Bradley R. Staats is the author of Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive, and is an associate professor of operations at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler Business School. His research examines how individuals, teams, and organizations can learn to improve their operational performance to build a competitive advantage, integrating work in operations management and organizational behavior to clarify how and under what conditions individuals, teams, and organizations can learn at their best.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Bradley R. Staats Interview Transcript

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

Brad R. Staats
Awesome. Thanks so much for having me as well. Excited to be here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I am too. I am too. I wanted to start by hearing a little bit about learning in a different environment. I understand that you spend a good bit of time coaching baseball teams for your kids and others, so how’s that and what’s that teach you about learning?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, it’s been a great experience. I have three sons who are 13, 11, and 9 now. A good way to spend time with them is out on the baseball field. I think baseball is a game, and probably coaching even more fundamentally, is an action that are both fantastic for learning.

The biggest thing for me is really around the process. Actually the book opened with a story from one of my son’s games, where he was facing a really hard pitcher, did everything right, and was a few years younger and unfortunately hit to a double play and came back kind of extraordinarily upset despite the fact that he did hit the ball incredibly hard. It all worked out. Yet, he was looking at it as failure.

I see so many things like that on the field of when we focus on the outcome, as an example, instead of what we actually did, the process, we fail to learn. There are those chances in working with the kids and helping them see kind of what’s going on around them that then import nicely over to other learning contexts.

I think the other big thing for me is that while I certainly played baseball as a kid, I’m by no means an expert, but thankfully surrounded by some head coaches that did a lot more than I did.

It’s a great reminder to me of the power of ‘I don’t know.’ Of getting asked questions that I could speculate as a coach, I could give them an answer, that they might nod their heads and believe that, but I realized there are other people that are more qualified.

It’s almost freeing that I don’t feel the need in that context to claim this is what you always do, but “I don’t know. Let’s talk to Coach John. Let’s talk to Coach Jim, Coach Tyler,” whomever and trying then to import that over to organizational contexts.

Pete Mockaitis
That is great. Particularly I think there could be some I don’t know if it’s context thing or an expectation thing or a macho thing in terms of “I’m a man and I’m a dad. These are my kids. I have the answers.” I think that that’s sort of an easy rut to fall into for some.

Brad R. Staats
I think you’re absolutely right. You certainly see it out in the field of people who playing games try to do that. The ironic thing of course is that eventually people catch on. Eventually you undercut your credibility in an attempt to stay important.

People are willing to accept. We don’t need to know all the answers. It’s a hard world. It’s uncertain. There’s a lot going on. You should know the basics. You know four balls get you a walk, that sort of thing.

But if there’s some nuance you don’t get, the same thing with umpires. It’s a great way to walk out, “I don’t know this,” and then having a really productive discussion around it, learning and moving forward to the next step.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Then let’s hear about some of this that you unpack and synthesize in your book, Never Stop Learning. What’s it all about?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, it’s getting at in many ways these sorts of behaviors. It’s a recognition that I think with learning we know a lot of the things we should do. We know the processes we should follow, that should we fail fast, we should ask questions, we should follow the process, learn from others, etcetera and yet we don’t.

It’s a question that’s really bugged me for a lot of years. Why don’t we learn? What I’ve come to appreciate is that learning is a science but in a lot of ways it’s a behavioral science that when it comes to learning, we are in fact our own worst enemy. That’s the challenge.

The good news is research from diverse fields, whether it’s operations, psychology, economics, neuroscience shows that we can be the problem, but we also can be the solution.

In the book, what I try to do is look at some of those practices that we should be following, explore why we don’t, why do we have those behavioral issues, and then importantly, how can we overcome it, what can we do in order to get to a better spot.

Pete Mockaitis
Then let’s dig into this. You use the term dynamic learner frequently. First, can you define that for us and well, we’ll start there?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, absolutely. When I think about dynamic learning, it’s in part a recognition that I would argue we live very much in a learning economy now, that I kind of grew up thinking of a knowledge economy, an information economy, this recognition of all that’s out there.

I think the shift to learning as the motivator there is important because recognition, it’s not what we know right now that will determine future success. It’s how quickly we ….

Dynamic learning is getting to that. It’s an appreciation that we need to be really four things with our learning. We need to be focused. We need to be able to pick the right topics, right as best we can define it at the moment. We need to be fast. Our acceleration matters. How quickly can we get up to speed on those chosen areas? We need to be frequent that it really is an ongoing process, not learn a little, stop.

It’s kind of a … of lifelong learning, but nevertheless it is a truth. It’s fact I would argue. Then finally we have to be flexible, that just because we picked an idea, we accelerated, we’ve learned it, it doesn’t mean that’s where we stay. We have to be able to adjust off of that.

As I think about dynamic learning, it’s capturing those four elements of how do we be focused, how do we be fast, how do we be frequent and how do we be flexible.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, lovely. I want to dig into that. What – I want to get your sense for a dynamic learner, sounds like a great thing to be, desirable. If you had to guesstimate or maybe you have some hard studies here, what proportion of people would say qualify as dynamic learners?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, it’s a great question. I don’t have hard numbers around that. I think – I would probably twist the question around a little bit and highlight what I think the literature shows us is that effectively none of us are dynamic learners all of the time, but basically all of us have the potential to do it.

That is part of the premise of the book and certainly it’s somewhat introspective for myself with the book of as a quote/unquote learning expert, I still feel and see myself fall short on these dimensions. I’ve yet to kind of see someone who always does these things right.

At the same time, research is really compelling in that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The dog just has to want to learn. I think that’s kind of the encouraging message of broader research and certainly the book as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then along those lines, you’ve said elsewhere – I saw it on your Twitter – that most of us are actually pretty bad at learning. Can you unpack that a little bit and share what’s the big evidence that points to that assertion?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. I think it gets back to this behavioral challenge that so often we feel the need to go down a certain path when it’s actually fairly problematic. Lots of examples jump to mind. I think the sport’s world often provides an easy one that folks would know.

You can think about something like if you follow the NBA, Sam Hinkie from the Philadelphia 76ers and the idea of ‘trust the process’ has been pounded over again and again with this idea that it’s hard to win in the NBA, so you take an approach, you make measured bets, you play the probabilities and in the long run it will work out.

As part of that it was a bunch of losing upfront in order to get high draft picks and trade away talent to assemble future resources. If you look from 2013 when he was hired to 2018, this year, the 6ers made a playoff run. They’re kind of rated number four I think by ESPN on their power rankings looking to the future.

But a couple years ago he was effectively pushed out of the organization. While he took this process focus, thinking about or getting to that future outcomes, at the end of the day ownership decided enough was enough and got rid of him more or less. Even though, thankfully, the model he put in place is largely been followed with a few missteps and played out directionally the way he’d expect.

I think we see that sort of thing.

There was another research study looking at on the process point right there, NBA coaches and looked at a couple thousand NBA games over multiple years.

You can think about when you play a game, the final score gives you some information about how the team did, but if you won a game by one point, lose a game by one point, it doesn’t really provide dramatically different information. That was an incredibly close game either way.

The study shows that if we look at changing the starting line up, so kind of this belief that something’s wrong, you’re much more likely to change it if you lose by a lot than if you win by a lot. Big shock there.

But if you get down to that plus or minute one point difference, the coaches that lost by one point were far more likely to change their starting lineup than the ones that won by a point. Back to this challenge of we obsess about the outcome.

The coaches were likely to do that even when they were expected to lose. The results carried through even when they just got lucky, their team shot a remarkably high free-throw percentage that day. But on average this plays out kind of across the entire NBA.

In study after study where we can pick a given practice and a whole lot of the time kind of we play it out the wrong way. If we’re going to do better, yes we have to know the practice, but we also have to have some idea of kind of what goes wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really intriguing.

I’m wondering if that is purely self-imposed, like the head coaches have the autonomy and flexibility and authority to say, “I have considered all of the parameters and our goals and this is what I truly believe is the answer to make this happen,” versus, do you think that it’s more a matter of sort of outside influences saying, “You’ve got to change things up,” and they’re kind of reacting to external pressures.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, I think it’s some of both. I think you’re right that the outside both pressure and impression management that we just feel like well, we need to be seen doing something.

There’s kind of a related study that I love looking at soccer goalies. Looks at soccer goalies on penalty kicks. I might get the numbers slightly wrong, but basically about – in this study these were professional goalies. 94% of the time the goalies dove to the left or the right. Player gets ready to kick it, they make their decision, they dive one way and then most of the time don’t stop it, but occasionally do.

The data suggested that if they were to stay in the middle, it would dramatically increase their likelihood of stopping the ball. About 30% of the time, the … kicks it back right up the middle. Yet, the goalie … to dive, 94% of the time.

The researchers went back and they asked the goalies, kind of, “Hey, here’s this information. Why don’t you stay in the middle?” Their response was basically along the lines of, “Well, I’d really regret it if I stayed in the middle and a goal was scored, but if I dive the wrong way, I have a face full of dirt. I can feel like I have done everything.”

I think there are times that even when it’s counterproductive, we want to be seen doing something just so we can feel good about it even if it turns out, stepping back and looking at the big picture, it was the wrong thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That is interesting. The same thing with the fans too. If you stay in the middle then a goal is scored, it’s like that lazy goalkeeper.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
What is he doing?

Brad R. Staats
I know. What the hell? Why didn’t he try something? I can stand in the middle.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s really – that’s worth chewing on for a little while in terms of my own life, business, work. What are those instances in which we’re metaphorically diving instead of staying in the middle when that’s appropriate? I imagine you already have some ideas, so I’ll let you unpack a few of them.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, no, absolutely. I think a lot of it is sometimes slowing down to go fast, that maybe we can look at some of the different things.

Take just the last one of not diving. Are we actually taking some time to think? Are we taking time to reflect? That if we look at research on learning, it turns out kind of we activate different parts of the brain when we learn by doing, kind of engaging in an activity versus learn by thinking about it.

As you would expect then, if we do the two of those together, we’re likely to learn more than anyone. But we’re so on, we’re so feeling a need to do things, that we don’t, in many cases, think enough about it.

We’ve done some research. We did a big field experiment with a technology company on their services organization. They were training workers, six-week training program. The end of it they took an exam to join kind of the firm fully, get off of provisional status and go start to serve customers.

In the middle two weeks of that program we did a 15- minute intervention every day of just at the end write about two things you’ve learned. Scribble down kind of two things you’ve learned that day. Then we had a control group. We randomly assigned participants to one versus the other.

What we found at the end of that six weeks that the group that reflected scored about 25% higher on that test that qualified them for the job. The first month on the job, they performed about 10% higher on their customer satisfaction scores. We’ve done a bunch of lab studies to follow up. Others have done work around this.

But actually blocking some time out for thinking, as simple as that sounds, somebody at the end of the day today take ten minutes, think about what you’ve learned that day, think about how you’re going to take it to deploy tomorrow. Getting in a regular habit of that, of slowing down just a little bit can be incredibly powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. You have the ten minutes, what a return on investment there. That’s huge. When it says, “Write about what you’ve learned,” is that sort of the entirety of the prompt or do you have some sort of juicy follow-up to help spark and provoke the good stuff to come forward?

Brad R. Staats
I think keeping it simple is a great place to start. In that experiment it was just write about two things you’ve learned. I think if we look we can see some ways, as you’re pointing out, to dig a little bit deeper.

One of those ways that’s important is thinking about when we failed, thinking about when we’ve tried something that didn’t work, thinking about how we need to push ourselves, taking more risk. That prompt can do two things.

One is it can open us up to the possibility of where we’ve already gone wrong but we sort of pretended it didn’t happen.

Back to the behavior getting in the way, one of those challenges is around failure, that sometimes we try something, it doesn’t work, but we just deny the failure. “Oh, that’s what I wanted all along,” or “No one would have been successful there.” That prompt to, “Hey, why might you have been responsible? What do you need to learn out of that?”

I think the other piece is sometimes for fear of failure, we end up holding back. We don’t actually try enough. If you’re forcing yourself to think about kind of when have you tried and not had it work out and you can’t come up with any examples, it’s a pretty good indication we need to elevate our failure rate a little bit.

That’s not saying take it to an extreme, but for most people pushing a little bit more on the risk front is likely to be productive, not everyone of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I guess it’s interesting in terms of like the stakes of the failure.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Crashing a commercial airliner is terrible.

Brad R. Staats
Yes, yes. Don’t do that. Yes, no, definitely not.

Pete Mockaitis
Never aim for a higher failure rate there.

Brad R. Staats
No.

Pete Mockaitis
But I guess maybe speaking up at a meeting in which you share an idea that might be dumb or wrong or bad in some way is probably a prime time to amp up a little bit of risk and see what happens because you might say, “Wow, Brad, we’ve been waiting for this brilliance from you.” Thank you so much. It’s well worth doing with low down side.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, I think you’re exactly right that we need to define kind of the space that we have to play in. Your comment about you’re flying an airplane, you’re working in the control room of a nuclear reactor, by all means we’re not going to experiment there.

But most of us in the bulk of our lives have plenty of room where we can try some slightly different things. We can speak up to someone. We can introduce ourselves to someone. We can ask a question is one of the key elements that often we think we kind of need to keep our head down, we don’t understand something.

But it turns out, research tells us that when we ask other people questions, it’s not that they thing we’re dumb, “I can’t believe Brad had to ask me a question,” they actually like it. It shows engagement with them and it also allows us to turn to who we all think the expert is going to be, which is ourselves. We engage that other person in the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes the questions just make you seem way smarter, in terms of, “Wow, that’s really insightful,” or it’s like, “I’ve never actually articulated my thinking on this matter now that you ask and I probably really should have a while ago for you and everybody else who’s doing this task many times over. Thank you. I’ll write that up,” or here is the response.

Yes, I think I would love it if folks, I’m thinking about sort of in management context, if people would ask me more often. It really isn’t a hassle.

Brad R. Staats
No, it’s not.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s kind of fun and it brings about good things. That’s a great tidbit in terms of in that moment when you’re sort of worried, “Oh, I wonder about this, but I don’t want to look dumb,” so go there.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely. I throw out one of the most powerful questions that I stumbled into kind of early on by accident and now as I watch I see great question askers will throw it out there, which is, “Is there anything I have not asked you about that I should have?”

What’s so powerful about that, frequently … conversation is we’re kind of giving the other person free reign of please teach me almost based on whatever the conversation has been about.

I’ve been stunned in all sorts of different contexts as an academic, before when I … as a student, on and on, of what comes out of people’s mouths when you kind of take the barrier down and it’s no longer transactional around these particular items, but let’s open it up. What should I know about this topic that I haven’t asked? Keep that one in our back pocket as we interact with others.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. I learned that in consulting with interviews of customers or for clients or employees or competitors. It really is amazing how often it’s toward the end that you get the goods. I have a variation of that Brad. I won’t spoil the fun, but one is coming your way.

Brad R. Staats
Okay, nice.

Pete Mockaitis
Build the suspense there.

Brad R. Staats
I like it. That’s good. Now I’m on the edge of my seat.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. You lay out a pretty comprehensive framework in terms of what one should do to become a more effective lifelong learner. We’ve already covered some good tidbits there. Maybe you could walk us through that in a quick overview pace and then maybe dig into a little bit more detail for some of the parts we haven’t gotten to touch upon yet.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, absolutely. As we kind of already pointed out in the book I lay out kind of eight different elements of things we should do for learning but we don’t and so kind of why is that. We’ve hit on a number of them. Things like value and failure.

That’s kind of learning 101 advice and yet I’ve really yet to work with a company that when we talk about that kind of … “Oh yeah, we’ve got that one covered here. No need to discuss. Move along.” There’s some real challenges there.

The second one is around focusing on the process as we kind of were discussing around the baseball coaching example, that we get so obsessed about the outcome that we don’t really dig into the process and keep our attention there.

Third is this point around asking questions that we end up being kind of so active. We feel the need to check a box, to do something when often that pull back, ask a question, and then get going, going slow to go fast is incredibly valuable.

The fourth is around the need for reflection and recharging, kind of contemplation that we live in a world of action. There’s been interesting research highlighting about kind of in the US at least, doing things that show you’re busy, that … you kind of on a Bluetooth headset suggesting you’re rushing around versus a corded phone or that you order groceries online versus at a store that give you higher status and some interesting experiments.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t know that gave you higher status, ordering groceries.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought that made me lazy that I order groceries.

Brad R. Staats
Well, I did too. Interestingly, the study looked at Italy and you did not get the same status there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I bet.

Brad R. Staats
There are differences in some of these factors around the world.

But that rushing, that kind of need for activity rather than real progress gets in the way of learning, so we have to take that time to step back, to reflect, and think about things.

A couple that we haven’t talked as much about are around really being ourselves, kind of to a pair of being yourself as opposed to fitting in and really playing the strengths not weaknesses.

I think, especially if we look at the latter one, so much of learning is built around in our minds what we’re doing wrong. If we think about kind of standard organizational feedback, advice is you give a feedback sandwich.

Thin veneer of positives, both to break the person down as they come in and kind of butter them up, get them ready to go, and then hopefully send them on their way, so they don’t feel as bad about themselves, but the bulk in the middle is laying out all the things that we did wrong and that need addressing.

The challenge with that approach is we’re not going to be good at anything, that every minute that we spend on a weakness is one that we’re not spending on building out our strengths.

As we work with organizations, as we think about how companies compete, lots of advice is given around play to your strengths, be focused, compete around those dimensions that you can win on, yet we often don’t do the same thing as individuals.

I would suggest for really compelling learning, we have to first identify those strengths, which is hard, and then really play to them, going back and filling in weaknesses as appropriate where there are critical weakness that would prevent us from succeeding at what we’re trying to do.

That’s a bit of a reorientation I think. While strengths are talked a lot about kind of on that learning side, appreciating why they’re so fundamental.

The last two are just around first how we build experience, that we often think about it as either become specialized, become an expert, very deep, or we think about kind of this value of variety as we switch moving across different elements. While each of those can be powerful tools for learning, they can work against us to.

I would suggest, what we find is that we really learn our best when we are both specialized and varied, so kind of a T shape in our portfolio of experiences, getting deep in something, but making sure we have enough breadth that we don’t end up missing the point.

That we’re so narrow in our approach that we have that problem of where the expert who’s got a hammer, so everything looks like a nail and we’re not able to deal with more complex problems.

The last one is appreciating that while individual learning, there are lots of things about us that matter and we need to dig into those, as I’ve been saying, that it’s not just an individual exercise, that others are incredibly important. Some of that is the value of the knowledge they bring and what we can learn from them.

But also, you hit on this earlier, the value for us of teaching others, when we get that question that makes us explain something, that makes us codify it, the real value that arises there.

We’ve done some research in a couple of different contexts looking at the power of learning from teaching. That when you teach someone else, hopefully you help them, but you actually help yourself interestingly enough. Really kind of seriously thinking about how others can help you in addition to how you can help them.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a nice lineup. Thank you.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
You can dig into a lot of things there. I guess I want to get your take on okay, value in failure is something that you say just about no organization says, “Got it. Yup. Covered.” I’d love to hear from you in terms of what are some of the best practices or what does it really look like in practice when a team or an organization truly does value failure? Because in some ways it’s just so hard to imagine.

What is that famous example? Is it – I think it was IBM. I’m so – I don’t have the details, but someone made a huge investment in a technology or business plan course of action that absolutely did not work and it may have cost a huge sum, like a billion dollars.

The executive is ready to tender his resignation, and the CEO famously said, “I refuse to accept this. We just invested a billion dollars in your education and we’re not about to let go of you.” That’s a nice little reframe, like, oh how kind and how sensible to think about it in that way. In smaller stakes situations, how does that unfold in real life?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. I’ve always heard that story told around I think it’s Thomas Watson Junior. It’s one of the Thomas Watsons in IBM and the threat of getting fired for that.

I think what’s important in the organizations that seem to have some more success with this is kind of two-fold. There’s one defining where is it a safe space to play. We’re back to avoiding that airplane problem or nuclear reactor problem. But also being open about it.

Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar talks about this in his book about we have to reframe how we think about mistakes, that mistakes aren’t unexpected, mistakes aren’t something rare. Mistakes are just a part of a process and that we have to sort of grow comfortable with them.

There’s a fast food company that I find really interesting called Pal’s Sudden Service. Pal’s is in the southeast, primarily Tennessee. The first restaurant to win the Malcolm Baldrige Quality award, a bunch of interesting kind of elements of the company.

But the CEO likes to tell people he’s very much out in front saying, “Look, as long as it’s not illegal, immoral or unethical, you’re allowed to make any mistake once, but you need to make sure your next mistake is a new one.”

I think in my mind that’s just so extraordinarily powerful that he is out there sharing what’s happening, how he’s trying things. It’s not, “Hey, be careless,” “Do whatever the hell you want,” but rather be comfortable that if you’re taking the right actions, where right actions is about the process, not about getting everything correct, that “I’m okay with that and I know in the long run the organization is going to be much better off for that as a result.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Brad tell me, is there anything else you really think is important to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of you favorite things?

Brad R. Staats
No, I think we’ve dug into the elements. Obviously these are things that I think we’re both pretty excited about. I can spend lots of time talking about each one.

I think that the – probably if I were encouraging folks what would you do right now, part of it would be take that time to think about wherever you are, what you’ve learned. I’m sure there are a lot of folks that listen to your podcast as they’re commuting to or from work.

We did a field experiment around commuters. We were interested in a couple things. We were interested in how to help them learn, but we were also interested in how to help them enjoy their commute a little bit more. It turns out kind of our morning commute tends to be our least favorite part of the day.

What we did across a few studies, but the biggest one was we randomized folks into three conditions. We had a control group. We had a group that was kind of the fun treatment and then a group that was the reflection.

We tracked them for a while. We sent them texts to take some surveys from them. But in the middle over a stretch of time, we texted the fun group and just said, “Hey, engage in some fun right now please.” We texted that reflection group and we asked them, “Think about your day. Think about what you have to do today and how you can tackle those tasks.”

Again, we followed them over an extended period of time. What we found is those folks that we nudged to think about their day, to think about learning, that interestingly they were happier, they were more engaged at work, they reported higher performance, and they reported enjoying their commute more.

I think some of these processes are hard to get us going in the right direction sometimes, but as we can build out those habits, we really can help ourselves in some neat ways.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. The text nudge occurred during the commute time?

Brad R. Staats
It did. Yup. They shared with us kind of when they were commuting, so then we would text them at the start of the commute or early on in their commute.

Pete Mockaitis
So you’ve engaged in texting while driving?

Brad R. Staats
We’re using a third-party provider and yes, this was much more about public transportation to be clear, not hopefully catching people behind the wheel of a car and running into trouble that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Just had to give you a hard time there.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. Again, with reflection, were there any particular prompts?

Brad R. Staats
It was think about your day and what you have going on. I think what’s interesting is there’s no one magic word. It really is forcing the discipline on yourself to take a few minutes and to focus, that our minds can easily wander to other things, so see what happens if you spend even five minutes.

Whether it’s in the morning, “Okay, what am I going to do today? How will today be a great learning day?” or at the end of the day, “What did I learn? What did I try that didn’t work that I can learn from?” that sort of thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well to do a little bit of reflection and to go meta here right now. The question I asked you earlier that was a variant of what’s something I should have asked but didn’t ask was is there anything else you think is important to mention before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?
I would value your feedback on that question that I sort of have routinely in the interviews prior to shifting gears to the next segment and say are there pros and cons to asking it the way I asked versus are there any things that I should have asked but didn’t ask?

Brad R. Staats
No. I think I like that question a lot. As a general rule with questions, and you know this as a great interviewer, less is more. Once we get into the follow up after the follow up, there comes a point where you need to narrow someone in. But on that one, keeping it like you did as simple and open as possible, “Hey, what else,” is almost the best way, but I like it a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true when it comes – I think I’m learning that myself. It takes about 300 episodes to get-

Brad R. Staats
Learning curves matter, right? We see it in all contexts.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that – I am because sometimes, and maybe it’s just the fear of dead air or whatever, even though we can edit it.

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, exactly. ….

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, Hm, I need to be speaking, although I’m not yet done formulating what my question is.”

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, it’s true. It’s funny, I hate to give away one of my favorite jokes, which isn’t necessarily all that funny, but it works exceptionally well when I teach.

That I’ll have dead time in class early on in a day perhaps. I’ve grown more comfortable because I’ve come to appreciate, like you were saying, sometimes we’re formulating whether it’s me asking a question or them.

I’ll typically when that happens, I’m looking at them and I’ll tell them, “Hey look, you need to know at my core I am an operations professor, so staring awkwardly at people in silence describes every cocktail party I’ve ever been to, so I’m quite comfortable here. Take your time thinking.”

It breaks the ice and lets people appreciate, “Hey, I don’t have to always be talking.” Talking and saying nothing isn’t actually helping the conversation here. But let’s pause, think about what’s going on, and then get moving to the next thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That reminds me. One of my favorite work moments, it was so short, but I remember I was working on a consulting engagement and then someone said something. I don’t remember what they said. Then the manager said, “Hm,” and then there was just like silence for about ten seconds. Then they prompted her like, “Steph?” She’s like, “I’m thinking.”

I thought it was awesome because it just created permission for everybody to slow down and think. It made me think that she was more brilliant as a leader than less brilliant.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely. That’s the Franklin quote. Isn’t it Franklin about “Better to stay silent rather than reveal our ignorance,” basically? Staying silent gives us a chance to think and the often avoid ignorance in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. One that jumped out at me from a young age and has stuck with me. It’s actually the quote I use in the conclusion. It’s a long one, but it’s from Merlin in The Once and Future King. It’s basically him kind of reflecting on the power of learning. I apologize for the length, but I think it’s worth it.

He says that, “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds, there’s only one thing for it then, to learn.

Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Brad R. Staats
Absolutely. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
We talked about a couple studies and experiments, but any other pieces of research that are among your faves?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. One, I think it was the one that was probably the most pleasantly surprising to me that it worked frankly. I joke about this with Francesca Gino at Harvard and Dan Cable, who is at London Business School now, although all three of us were at University of North Carolina at the time.

I had been spending the day in India, where I did for a bit of research, with a chief quality officer, a gentleman by the name of …. At the end of the day we had been talking about learning and this and that, asked him the same question, did he have any questions for me.

He said, “Well, Brad, do you know what could reduce our attrition, reduce our turnover?” and kind of went on a little bit about how he was interested in keeping people around, helping them learn more.

At the time a bunch of my work had been kind of learning by doing, experimental learning. It was clear that that wasn’t going to move the needle enough, so I kind of gave a, “Well, hold on. Let me think about it. We’ll go back.” I spent that 20 hour flight back reflecting. Dan and Fran and I kind of came together to brainstorm.

This is what led to the work for us around the power of the individual because we came back to them with an idea where we said, “Let’s come up with something that we don’t think they’ll do. We think would be really impactful, but is a big enough change that they’ll tell us no and see what happens.” We said “What we want to do is have you all give us an hour on day one for employee.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. We had Dan Cable. Keep going.

Brad R. Staats
Yup, yup. “With that hour, we’re going to change the onboarding process.”

We had kind of three approaches. We had a control group. We had an organizational intervention and an individual one.

With the individual one we did things like think about when you’ve been at your best, hear from a star employee about how they can be their best self at work, and then introduce yourself to everyone around this highlight reel that you’ve created for yourself.

For the organizational group it was how great this employer is, which it was highly ranked in India, great stats, employee coming in talking about how great the organization was, introducing yourself around kind of why you were excited to be here.

Then we gave the individual folks a fleece sweatshirt with their name on it and the organizational folks a fleece sweatshirt with the company name. Basically, the idea of promoting the individual versus prompting the organization.

What was so cool about that one we then tracked them for six months. Dan was back in town. Fran hadn’t moved yet, so the three of us kind of gathered in my office. Often we run these studies that take a long time to analyze. It’s kind of anti-climactic at the end bit the time you finally work your way through it. But this one was pretty straight forward.

We collected the data, kind of we gathered around my desk and there was finally that moment of hitting the enter button and seeing what popped up on the computer. We did that and the numbers popped up and it was one of those that all three of us were just in stunned silence because we saw folks who were in that individual condition were dramatically less likely to leave the firm, about 25% less.

They had learned more. They were about 10% higher in terms of their customer satisfaction scores early on in the job. It was literally that hour of the first day is all we changed and gave them that fleece with their name on it. Then everything else was the same.

But I think what was so exciting to all three of us was unlocking the individual is such an incredible opportunity. It really becomes a win/win both for the employee, but also for the organization as each can get more out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that story. That is how an award winning academic paper is made. Kudos again for-

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
-it’s one of my favorites. So cool. How about a favorite book?

Brad R. Staats
That’s a good question. The – let’s see, what – as I was quoting from it earlier, I really enjoy Ed Catmull book. I think he does a great job in Creativity Inc. as he tells his experiences of kind of moving through computer graphics and eventually Pixar and hitting on a lot of these themes of learning in an innovative environment.

Bringing up this role of failure, mistakes, talking about the importance of how do you have discussions with people and kind of data as a great equalizer as something that’s neutral that then we can really have a discussion around in my mind kind of translating to the process. That’s one that I certainly really enjoy.

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

Brad R. Staats
I think for me there’s probably two I would highlight. One is the reflection point of trying to do it, I do it a little bit more at the end of the day than at the beginning, but carving out just a few minutes at the beginning to think about what’s going on.

Often it’s on the move. It’s not kind of sitting there with a tomb, but rather five minutes of, “Okay, what’s happening today? What’s my priority? How do I get this done?” At the end of the day, “What did I learn?”

Ideally that’s around the dinner table with family as we go around with our kids and we all talk about what made us happy today, what made us sad, what we learn, what we fail at, those sorts of things, incredibly powerful.

The other one that I’ve certainly known the research for a long time. I’ve done a lousy job of practicing it. I think unfortunately, certainly in the US we often do a lousy job of practicing it, is taking a real vacation. That ability to disconnect and do whatever it is individually you need to recharge.

It likely looks different at various stages of life. What recharging meant pre-kids was far more active than post-kids, but has been, over the last few years as my wife and I have done a better job of incorporating in life, has definitely made a big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget that you share in your work with teams and folks that really seems to connect and resonate and gets them sort of quoting yourself back to you?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah. The one that I probably get quoted the most back is something that Dave Upton told me. Dave was a great mentor. One day I was going to meet with him. We had 30 minutes. Time was tight. I probably had an hour and a half of material that I wanted to cover with him. As an operations scholar I could do the math there. Clearly the way to solve that problem was just to talk three times as fast.

I was trying to fly through things, doing pretty well about ten minutes in before Dave put his hand on my shoulder as I was taking a rare breath, looked me in the eye and said, “Brad, don’t avoid thinking by being busy.”

I think kind of advice has really stuck with me, that it’s easy for us to avoid hard problems. It’s easy for us to avoid some of that discipline by being busy, but it’s certainly not productive in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good stuff. Brad, tell me, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, my email, excuse me, my website is www.BradleyStaats.com or just check out Never Stop Learning. Hit me up as well on LinkedIn or whatever. I love to engage with folks.

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

Brad R. Staats
Yeah, I think it’s to take this mantra of never stop learning seriously. We’ve known that it’s out there. We appreciate at a high level that we need to do it, but asking yourself what’s getting in the way of me learning on a daily basis.

I would say just odds are it’s us. The enemy is us. How can we pick one thing out of the eight I discussed or if something else resonates more strongly with you, how do you pick that one thing to start working on today.

Pete Mockaitis
Brad, thank you for this. This has been so fun and interesting. I wish you and Never Stop Learning and your work all the success and luck in the world.

Brad R. Staats
Well, thanks so much. I really appreciate you making the time for me. Thanks again.

316: Maximizing Your Learning and Growth with Eduardo Briceño

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Eduardo Briceño discusses how to cultivate a growth mindset and maximize your learning.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The tremendous impact of growth vs. fixed mindsets
  2. Common misconceptions about improving your skills
  3. The best practices for operating at peak performance

About Eduardo

Eduardo is the Co-Founder & CEO of Mindset Works, the leading provider of growth mindset training services and programs.  He started it in 2007 with Carol Dweck and others to help organizations develop learning-oriented cultures and systems. Eduardo regularly speaks at conferences and trainings for professionals and leaders.  His TEDx talks have been viewed by millions of people. He studied engineering, business and education at Penn and Stanford, but most importantly, he continues to enjoy lifelong learning every day.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Eduardo Briceño Interview Transcript

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

Eduardo Briceño
It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into some of your wisdom here. First, you shared something that’s near and dear to my heart. You said you consider yourself a master spreadsheet ninja. Tell us how that came to be and maybe some of your favorite Excel moves.

Eduardo Briceño
Sure, happy to share that. Why is that near your heart? I’m sure your listeners would love to hear that about you as well also.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in strategy consulting at Bain, I did plenty of Excel spreadsheets. I really enjoyed learning the sort of ninja tricks in terms of all the shortcuts. It’s kind of like a little bit of a badge of honor if you never have to touch the mouse using all the shortcut keys.

One time I remember I met another consultant at A.T. Kearney at a party. It was funny. Her name is Kristen, shout out. She said she was a consultant. I said, “So, what’s your favorite Excel shortcut?” kind of like… flirtatiously. We ended up dating for almost a year.

Eduardo Briceño
That’s hilarious. That’s awesome.

I have a similar story. I studied finance in undergrad and the two biggest industries that people would go into are either consulting … data or investment banking. I went into investment banking and a similar thing.

It was very important to become really fast with the spreadsheet because we would spend lots of all-nighters in the office or we would go home and sleep for like three hours or less, so being fast was very important.

I also learned a lot of the shortcut keys and there are a lot of very simple things like for me, Ctrl + down arrow or ways to navigate the spreadsheet is important.

But when I was working in investment banking sometimes I would create macros. I taught myself how to program macros. Sometimes I would have to leave my computer on for like 30 minutes just you would see a screen doing all kinds of things, so people would walk into my office and see the computer working by itself and that’s kind of weird. But yeah, it was really helpful for me.

But for me the biggest tip for Excel and I think applies for other programs also that I think is helpful and I see some people not doing and it’s been helpful to me is starting with an already formatted document rather than kind of starting with a unformatted document and then needing to format it later because starting with a template that’s already kind of with the visuals that I like saves me a lot of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is good. Yes. I think my favorite shortcut combination was Ctrl + Shift + 8 or Ctrl + * which would highlight a contiguous block of cells, which immediately preceded me pushing Alt + D P P for make pivot table and since I switched to a Mac it’s like – it’s just not the same.

Eduardo Briceño
Yeah, yeah.  I have a friend who the only reason he didn’t switch to Mac is because of Excel and the shortcut keys. I didn’t know that shortcut key though, so thank you for teaching me because what I would have done is Ctrl + Alt + left arrow + Shift + right + left, so that’s a lot longer than just Ctrl + Shift + F8, so thank you for teaching me that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh anytime, yes. It sounds like you have really adopted a growth mindset when it comes to learning Excel and all matters. Could you orient us a little bit? You’re the co-founder and CEO of MindsetWorks. What’s the story behind the company and Carol Dweck and how it got to be and what you’re doing now?

Eduardo Briceño
Sure. Our mission is to help create a more learning-oriented world. The way the company got started was through the research of one of the co-founders, whom you mentioned, Carol Dweck and also another colleague of hers, Lisa Blackwell.

Carol has been doing research for decades on psychology and on what leads people to react differently to challenges and to mistakes. What she discovered is that people tend to see abilities or human qualities in one of two different ways or somewhere in the middle.

But she has now – she used to call that incremental theory of intelligence and to this theory of intelligence right now she has coined the term growth mindset and fixed mindset, which has sort of taken off.

What it means is when we see human qualities or abilities as fixed, as things that people are either good at or not good at and you can’t do anything about it, now what’s what we call a fixed mindset. When we see it as malleable, as changeable, as things that we can develop, that’s what we call a growth mindset.

That has a lot of technological implications about how we think, what we pay attention to, what goals we set for ourselves, how we react to challenges, how we speak with each other.

Our work is about helping people understand these two mindsets and how we’re thinking, what our own self-awareness is, and then how we build growth mindsets and learning orientation in ourselves and in our environment, like in our work environment or in our school environment.

The way that the company started is Carol had done lots of research and then she started working with Lisa on could we teach a growth mindset to kids, to kids in middle school is where they started.

They created different studies to see whether if you taught kids that the brain’s malleable and can change, it can become stronger and be able to think better, whether that would have a difference in the motivation and in the grades. They found that it did.

They started wanting to create products and services for schools to be able to foster a growth mindset in the students and the teachers and their cultures. They started looking for somebody with a business background to co-found a company with. I was introduced to them and we started MindsetWorks ten years ago. That’s how we got started.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great.

Eduardo Briceño
Today we serve schools, but we also serve companies to help them build more learning-oriented cultures.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Well, could you maybe unpack a little bit more the distinction in terms of what it looks, sounds, feels like when you’re operating in a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset?

Eduardo Briceño
Yeah. First of all, here’s an example of how this research is done because I think it’s kind of interesting.

In this particular set of research studies what the researchers did is they asked people through a simple survey, people of different ages, whether they thought that people could become smarter or whether they thought that some people were smart or not smart and that was that.

What they were trying to assess is whether people were in a growth mindset or in a fixed mindset about intelligence, whether they thought intelligence was something people either had or did or whether people could become smarter.

Then they put these people into a brain scan machine, a functional MRI machine, that looked at their brain activity while they were solving problems. These people were actually solving problems inside of the FMRI machine, while researchers were imaging their brains.

What they found is that the people who thought that intelligence was fixed, that people couldn’t become smarter, their brain was most attentive when they were getting information about whether they got the problems right or wrong. But the brain was in most attention or doing much thinking when they were getting information about what mistakes they made.

That was really interesting because the people who thought they could become smarter, their brain was most active and paying the most attention when they were getting information about what mistakes they made. They were most interested in “Okay, what did I do wrong? What can I learn from this?”

As a result of that, those people solved problems more effectively and more successfully for the subsequent problems. They actually learned something useful. They became better at problem solving. The difference between these two groups is one of them thought that intelligence was fixed and the other one thought that intelligence was malleable.

That’s one example of how this research is done and through research like that researchers have realized that people in a fixed mindset tend to have a goal of looking smart and talented in front of other people. They’re saying, “Okay, people are either smart or not or talented or not. I want to be in the smart and talented category. I want people to see me that way.”

The way they go about doing that is by doing the things that they’re already very comfortable with, that they do very well, quickly, perfectly, without mistakes, without effort. They keep doing that over and over again.

Versus the people in the growth mindset, they can become bored if they’re not being challenged. If they’re doing the same thing over and over again, they can become bored and unmotivated because what they want to do is do something that they’re going to learn from or they can get better at. That’s a different goal.

They see effort in a different way. People in a fixed mindset tend to see effort as a negative thing, something that only people with low ability need to put effort into things, people with high ability don’t need to put effort into things. As a result of that, when they need to put effort into something, it makes them feel badly about themselves. It makes them feel incapable.

Versus people in a growth mindset understand the best people in their field who become the most skilled, they work really hard to get there and they continue to work hard to get even better.

There are Olympic gold medalists, they continue – even though they’re the best in the world, they continue to work really hard to get even better. They see effort as something that’s good, something that we can all benefit from.

The people in the fixed mindset avoid challenges versus seeking challenges for those in a growth mindset.

When we make mistakes or face failure or setbacks, if we’re in a fixed mindset, we interpret that as saying, “Okay, this means that I don’t have the necessary ability and so I’m going to go do something else. This is not for me. I’m not meant to do this,” so they give up. There’s less resilience.

Versus people in a growth mindset understand that if we’re working on what we haven’t mastered yet, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to have setbacks. That’s part of the learning process. We’re going to learn from that. We’re going to try different strategies. We’re going to ask for help. We’re going to look for resources. They’re a lot more resilient as a result of that.

When we receive feedback we react differently. If we’re in a fixed mindset, we say, we act defensively, like we say, “This person doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” or “They’re just trying to hurt me.” Versus if we’re in a growth mindset we listen. We say, “What is this person saying? Can I learn from this? Is there some truth to this that I can learn from about what they think or how I can get better?”

When other people succeed we see it as a threat versus an opportunity. There are other differences between a growth and fixed mindset that affects how much we improve in our performance and also how we interact with each other, our relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm.

Eduardo Briceño
Those are some examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s – thank you for laying it out there.

It’s so intriguing when I was checking out your TED-X talks, you mentioned that brain scan piece about how we’re most engaged when we see how we’re doing if you’re in a fixed mindset.

That was a little bit of an alarm for me because I was – I’m familiar with this stuff a little bit. I thought, “Uh oh, growth mindset is where you want to be,” and I find that indeed like, let’s say I’m sending out an email to all the subscribers and I’m so darn curious I’ll click refresh, refresh, refresh. What’s the open rate? What’s the click rate? How did I do? Am I doing good at sending these emails or not so much?

It’s intriguing that I suppose even maybe how you approach it can tell you something is it’s like, I want to hear how well I did primarily in order to feel awesome about how great I am or because I’m using that as an indicator, a piece of feedback information to point to me doing better.

I think it’s intriguing how even how you receive the information about your performance is telling of what is going to happen to you in terms of your growth and learning.

Eduardo Briceño
Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. In a growth mindset, it doesn’t mean we’re not paying attention to the scores or to our performance. The brain is also active for people in the growth mindset at that time. It is also active if it’s relevant information, right? Whether what we did worked or didn’t work is useful. We learn from that also, especially if we got the wrong answer. But even if we got the right answer, we know that what we did worked.

Also, when we have a great performance, when we do something really well, that’s motivating. Sometimes it gives us the motivation to continue to improve, to continue to experience that in the future at greater levels. It’s not like in a growth mindset we’re not – we don’t care about performance or those outcome metrics, but we’re more aware of the process and how kind of what the difference is between working to improve versus working to perform and that we need to do both of those things in order to do things and have a positive effect in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. Understood. What’s been really encouraging as well as I think about – it kind of changes the way in a way see everything in terms of daily interactions.

I recently bought a home, so I’m a home owner. There’s not – I’m not super handy. Oh, that sounded like a fixed mindset sentence, eh? But I have not yet developed a lot of those skills.

I’ve been so encouraged because I’ve been seeing contractors and others actually crack open the instruction manual for the things. It’s like, oh, even this person who knows all about how to install a reverse osmosis machine or a TV mount or whatever it may be, are actually learning, getting better and it’s not like looking at the instructions is something for losers or those who don’t really know what they’re doing.

Eduardo Briceño
Right. Yeah. That makes sense. What you say resonates because I grew up in Venezuela in an apartment building where all the walls are cement. People are – homeowners are not usually working to improve their home. That’s not as common. That never happened in my home. I’m also – … learned any of that stuff. Living in the US, I’ve learned a lot more of it.

But what you’re saying is interesting that it’s – for me it changed – thinking about this stuff changes what we perceive, like you’re perceiving that person looking at the manual. You’re noticing it and then you’re interpreting it in certain ways. All of these kind of thinking and … that we’re talking about helps us kind of change our perspectives and our interpretations of the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. If you find yourself in a growth, I’m sorry, in a fixed mindset, can that be changed either in terms of internally in how you’re thinking and working on your own thoughts or externally? How is that in and of itself malleable?

Eduardo Briceño
Yeah, that’s great. Mindset can definitely be changed. There’s a lot of research that manipulates mindset. That is definitely something that – it can be changed and it’s what our work is about.

I would say that a really important kind of early step is not even try to change it too quickly almost, it’s just kind of sit in a fixed mindset and just notice it and just acknowledge it and become more self-aware, kind of try to catch ourselves when we are in a fixed mindset and how it’s affecting us, how it is affecting the way we think and what we do.

Because then we use that opportunity to learn more about mindsets and to really develop a deeper understanding of why they matter, how they’re affecting us, and then we become more motivated to take on the journey to shift our mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm, absolutely. Well, I also got a kick out of some of the research associated with the children doing puzzles and the external encouragement. Can you share that story?

Eduardo Briceño
Yeah, sure. One of the kind of surprising things about this research is that we’ve discovered that praise that we often as a society tend to see as positive can have really negative unintended consequences.

In this particular set of studies, children of about kind of fifth grade were asked to work on a set of puzzles. They’re kind of non-verbalized … tests and they’re puzzles. They work on them. They’re about an appropriate level difficulty for them.

Then after they work on them they were randomly split to receive one of two different types of praise. One type of praise is what we call process praise. They were told, “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.” The other half were told intelligence praise. They were told, “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must be really smart.”

It turns out that the students who heard, “You must be really smart,” that the next thing that happened in the study is that the children were asked, “Okay, now we’re going to do a second set of puzzles. Do you want to do an easy one or a hard one?”

It turned out that more than 90% of the students who were praised for working hard, who heard, “Wow, you must be so smart. You must have worked really hard,” more than 90% of them wanted to do the hard set of puzzles, but less than half of the ones who heard, “You must be so smart,” chose to do the hard set of puzzles. The majority wanted to do the easy set of puzzles.

We tell kids, “You’re so smart,” and we do it with the best intentions and they feel good about themselves in the short term because they’re saying, “Wow, I am smart,” but the deeper message that we’re communicating is that people are either smart of not smart and that’s why they succeed and that’s what allows them to be effective and to solve problems.

Then what they want after that is to feel smart and to have people think that they’re smart. They know that the way to do that is to do things perfectly and without mistakes. That’s what they end up thinking that that will let people know that they’re smart, so they don’t want to take on challenges after that.

In the same study what the children were then told was, “Okay, we’re going to do a second set of puzzles. It’s going to be hard, but we’re going to learn from them.” They all did that puzzle.

Then they did a third set of puzzles that was of equal difficulty to the first one. Because researchers were trying to figure out would this different sentence that the children heard affect their performance between the first set of puzzles and the third set of puzzles, which were equivalent.

It turned out the students who heard, “You must be so smart,” actually performed worse in the third set of puzzles than they had originally. Their performance went down.

The children who heard, “You must have worked really hard,” their performance went up. They learned something useful about problem solving when they were working on those hard problems and they were able to become better problem solvers in the third set of puzzles.

Versus the first group was worried about what this person was thinking about them. They were kind of struggling in that second set, so they were thinking, “Oh, I must not be so smart after all,” and that actually kind of affected their performance.

… to how we speak with children. Instead of speaking about them being for example smart or natural leaders or natural anything, what we can do instead is focus on their behaviors, their choices, their strategies, ask them questions for them to reflect and share their experiences, focus on what they can control, and what they can do as opposed to labels of what they are and aren’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. I also want to get your take because we chatted with the CEO of Korn Ferry, Gary Burnison, earlier. Episode 273 I think. He shared that – they did all sorts of research associated with competencies and which ones are relatively easier or harder to develop.

I asked him to get a little bit of sense of the scale for how much easier, how much harder. He said that it was something on the order of 200 times harder to learn and grow and improve on the most challenging to grow competencies than the easiest competencies.

I would just like to get your take since you’re looking all about people learning and growing and developing in anything. How do you wrestle with that one when it comes to certain things being way harder than others to master.

Eduardo Briceño
Well, that’s interesting. I haven’t listened to that episode and I will. Thank you for pointing me to it. I look forward to learning about that. I’m not familiar with that research. But a couple of things that come to mind.

First of all in a sense of what’s hard or easy to learn, it tends to be easier to learn something when we are novices. We can learn faster and with not as advanced learning strategies as when we are experts. Like so if you’re in the top ten tennis players in the world, it take a lot of hard work to improve a little bit, yet that’s really important at that level to keep on that journey. That’s one thing.

Another thing is that there are domains where there’s a lot of knowledge about how people can improve and there are domains where that’s a lot fuzzier.

For example, in chess or in ballet or classical music, there are coaches and teachers who have done this for a long time and have learned from other coaches and there’s very established practices about the best techniques that each kind of learner needs at any level. Then there’s lots of fields where there’s a lot less of a tie in.

It seems to me that in those fields where we know more about how people improve in that field, it seems it would be easier for somebody working with a great coach to improve than in other fields.

If you think about medicine 200 years ago, George Washington died because they bled him. They thought that was a good thing. To improve as a doctor then, you would learn from a doctor who would teach you how to kill people. People didn’t know how to get better as a doctor. Now we know a lot more about that for example.

Also there’s a lot things that people care about and want to get better at that are not skills. If you ask a lot of people what do you want to get better at, some people will answer, “Well, I want to become famous,” or, “I want to become rich.” The correlation between being famous or rich and being skilled or an expert at something is very, very weak. Versus there are things that are more skill-based.

That’s a – not to say, I mean there are very skilled like, Warren Buffet is an incredible investor and he’s so skilled at it, so I’m not saying that there’s no correlation. But people who study the development of expertise don’t study things like being famous or rich because it’s not well correlated. Those are some of the things that come to my mind.

The other thing that I would say is that it’s not that in a growth mindset we should get good at everything. Like, you gave the example of becoming handy as an example. You can be in a growth mindset about the ability to be handy, meaning that if you took on that journey and you made the time to learn and to practice, you believe you could get better at that.

But yet you could make a choice of saying, “I’m not going to spend all this time learning to be handy because there’s only so much time in the day. Here’s where I want to focus my time. Here are my priorities and I can’t get great at everything. Even though I could become great at anything; I’m going to choose my battles and I’m going to become great at these things.”

As part of that thinking process we can think about how much work and resources would it take for me to get better at something and that can be part of the – and what are my goals. What do I want out of life? What do I want in my work? And all of that goes into that equation of where do I put my effort in terms of improving it.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. That’s good. You talk about the lack of correlation between fame and skills. I was just thinking about some certain I guess, very popular music that isn’t very skillful in … together so. That’s sort of what … there.

Eduardo Briceño
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. That’s really cool. Then what are some of your perspectives when it comes to if we do want to get better at some things, what are the top things we should do in order to fast track that learning growth development?

Eduardo Briceño
I think first of all, we tend to have this kind of vague notion that the way to get better at something is to work hard and to spend a lot of time doing it. That is I think kind of a misconception.

For example, if you look at studies of chess or the serious chess players, the more time they spent playing games of chess, the worse they are as chess players and the lower their ranking as chess players. The more time they spent playing games of chess, the lower the ranking.

The reason is when they were playing the game of chess we are performing. We are trying to do things as best as we can. We’re trying to minimize mistakes. We’re trying to win the game. Versus – that’s a different activity than an improvement oriented activities.

For example, in chess, and example of that would be to take a chess board position that happened in a game between grand masters and picking what move we would make. Then going back to what the grand master made and saying, “Okay, why did they make this move instead of the move I chose?” You might spend like 30 minutes trying to figure that out. That activity is a very different activity than just playing a game of chess.

We think about playing tennis or golf. If we think that the way to improve at those things is to go out and play tennis or play golf, what usually happens is we get better at the beginning when we’re novices because we’re so bad, anything we do will make us better. But then we stagnate and we don’t continue getting better if all we’re doing is playing games.

Instead what we need to do to improve in those things is to usually work with a coach and have them observe us and have them give us feedback on what to work on. Then we can kind of narrow down and say, “Okay, I’m having trouble with my top spin serve so that’s what I’m going to work on right now.” You do the top spin serve and you’re working on that and getting feedback from where the ball goes and adjusting your movement.

What Anders Ericsson calls deliberate practice, which is being clear about what sub-skill we’re working on, having repetition and feedback from what we’re doing at high … level. It’s something that we do focusing 100% of the time or 100% kind of our attention on that high-level of challenge and that activity, ideally with the help of a coach.

Those are examples of something – an activity that’s improvement related versus an improvement that is performance related.

What often happens at work is that we are so busy, we have so many things to do that we spend all of our time just performing, just executing, just trying to get the job done, focusing on trying to minimize mistakes and that if we are not spending any time in what we call the learning zone, being deliberate about improvement, then it leads to stagnation and we don’t improve further.

The way to improve – then the specific activities vary by what it is you’re trying to improve, but I think what’s common is a) kind of being clear about what you want to improve, so are each of us clear on what it is that we want to get better at. Perhaps, you can consider that doing that with our teams, like is each team clear on what we’re trying to improve.

Then how we’re going to go about improving that. In the workplace it can include things like first like listening from people who have thought a lot about this stuff and done research. Your listeners in this podcast have learned lots of lots of people’s perspectives and look at different parts of improvement. That’s an example of that.

Experimenting, trying different things, not just doing the same thing with it yesterday, today, but doing something different and learning from that, consulting with colleagues, asking for feedback, reflecting, especially reflecting on our mistakes or what was surprising to us, what went well, what didn’t go well.

Those are examples of activities that are not just about getting the job done. I think it’s important to think about how improvement requires activities that are different from just pure execution.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. Is there a sort of an optimal ratio, if you will? If we are sort of segmenting and clearly delineating performance zone versus learning zone, and you mentioned the best players got worse if they just played more, more, and more games. Is there a kind of a 60/40 or is it 80/20 kind of a balance or split that often seems to be about the sweet spot?

Eduardo Briceño
If you look at domains performance can be effectively measured and where people have one specific thing that they’re trying to become really great at, like chess, ballet, classical music, those types of things.

If you look at those types of fields, the people who become top world performers in those fields engage in deliberate practice anywhere between two and five hours per day, which is – so depending on the field.

That is a little surprising because one quick could think, well the person who spends eight or ten hours a day doing deliberate practice is going to become the best in the world, but that is actually not the case. These people spend between two and five hours a day doing deliberate practice.

The reason – and usually they do it in the morning when the brain has much more energy. They usually don’t do it for more than about an hour at a time before taking a break and doing something else. A couple of reasons for that.

First, when we’re engaged in deliberate practice, trying to do something beyond what we’re comfortable, where it’s requiring full concentration, our brain is getting tired. It requires a lot of concentration and then the brain needs to rest.

Also when we rest when we do something else, like we go play music or listen to music or go for a walk or do something else, our brain is working in the background. It’s making connections in the background while the mind is wandering or thinking about something else.

Also while we’re doing other thing or going about other things, that fosters creativity. Then we start making connections between things that are usually not connected and that leads to improvement in performance as well.

Also, what we see is that these people who become top in the world also sleep more than other people. First because their brain isn’t stressed, but also because while we sleep we are actually learning. Our neurons are making new connections. They’re disconnecting things that shouldn’t be connected together. They’re removing toxins from the brain. Sleep is also really important.

When we think back about – these are people who play violin for a living. They can afford to spend two to five hours a day doing deliberate practice.

In the workplace, for most of us, we usually can’t afford to do that. We have to produce. We have to get things done. We have a lot of things on our plate. We need to spend most of our time in the performing zone.

But for me kind of the most important thing is are we regularly spending time in the learning zone. Is that a habit that we regularly engage in? For me, especially kind of for people in the workplace, the habit of doing it regularly is more important than how much time we spend on it.

There’s a lot of kind of good performers in business like Zuckerberg and Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, and Opera. They have the five-hour rule. It’s that they spend at least five hours a week in the learning zone, deliberately learning something. That gives you a little bit of a measure of how much great performer in business spend time in the learning zone.

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

Eduardo Briceño
No, nothing particular.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure. Well then could you start us off by sharing a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Eduardo Briceño
Sure. Favorite quote for me is “Between stimulus and response there’s a space. In that space there is the freedom to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” That is a quote by Viktor Frankl, who is a psychiatrist and also a Holocaust survivor.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite particular study or experiment?

Eduardo Briceño
I think the study I described about the functional MRI machine, brain scan machine and how people in a growth or fixed mindset attend to mistakes or not. That’s a favorite study for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, how about a favorite book?

Eduardo Briceño
The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. That was very impactful for me.

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

Eduardo Briceño
I love Poll Everywhere when I do kind of things or talks to engage people in reflection and interact with them. It’s a great kind of poll tool. Personally, I also love using kind of flashcard applications to help me remember and learn things that I want to remember and have in mind all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, how about a favorite habit?

Eduardo Briceño
Oh, my morning habit. The first thing I do every day, it’s like sacred for me, I do several things when I wake up. They include meditating, which I actually do upside down, in an inversion table hanging from my ankles.

Then – so I do a kind of a hanging routine and then when I get to the computer I do several things priming my day and setting the priorities for the day and reminding myself of, for example, what I want to be working on so that every morning before I get started I have, what they call a keystone habit, which is a habit that helps other habits form.

I have a way to remind myself of what it is that I want to be working on or what new habits I want to be building. That’s sacred for me. Throughout that whole period, I don’t turn on my phone. I don’t look at emails. I start my day by just internally generated thoughts and not by looking at the news or email anything like that because then that can derail me.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate when you’re sharing this stuff?

Eduardo Briceño
Yeah, one that people sometimes quote is “Real confidence is about modeling ongoing learning.”

Sometimes we think of confidence as something that means that you know a lot of stuff and you’re sure that you know. But I think that it takes a higher degree of confidence to model learning and to really not be sure that we know, to be open to what other people are thinking and saying and to consider the possibility that we might not be right.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. And do you have a preferred way if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Eduardo Briceño
Sure. We have our website, MindsetWorks.com. You can contact us through our website or I’m also on Twitter at EBriceño8.

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

Eduardo Briceño
Sure. I would encourage people who don’t have a keystone habit to consider developing one. Again, a keystone habit is a habit that enables other habits to form.

It could be as simple as setting up in your calendar a recurring reminder a recurring appointment with yourself once a week, 15 minutes, to think about what it is that you’re working to improve, how it’s going, whether you want to change anything in your approach. That can be an example.

For me, is the example of what I do first thing in the morning. It could be what you do when you get to work or when you get into your car. That is something to think about.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Eduardo, thanks so much for taking this time and sharing the goods here. I wish you and MindsetWorks tons of luck and success in helping young people learn and older people learn and all that you’re doing.

Eduardo Briceño
Thanks Pete. I enjoyed the conversation. Thank you for your work with How to Be Awesome At Your Job. It is so awesome to have a learning-oriented space that we can learn from lots of other people and from you as well. Thank you for what you do and keep it coming.