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Mindset Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

606: How to Learn Faster so Robots Can’t Steal Your Job with Edward Hess

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Edward Hess says: "If you want to stay relevant in the workplace going forward... you've got to be able to do tasks that technology can't do."

Edward Hess discusses how to stay relevant in the digital age via hyperlearning.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you need to rethink the way you work 
  2. The secret to achieving inner peace 
  3. How to redefine your ego 

 

About Edward

Edward Hess is a Professor of Business Administration, Batten Fellow and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business. He has spent twenty years in the business world as a Senior Executive and has spent the last 18 years in academia. He is the author of 13 books and over 140 articles and 60 Darden Case studies. His work has appeared in over 400 global media outlets including Fortune magazine, Forbes, Fast Company, and The Washington Post. 

His recent books and research has focused on “Human Excellence in the Digital Age: A New Way of Being; A New Way of Working; Humanizing the Workplace; and Hyper-Learning.” 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Edward Hess Transcript

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

Edward Hess
Well, thank you very much for having me. It’s wonderful being with you. I really admire what you do with your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, I admire what you do here and I’m excited to talk about hyper-learning which is something I think I’m into and so are the listeners. First, can you tell us, what is that and maybe open with a fun story about a professional doing hyper-learning to see some cool results?

Edward Hess
Well, hyper-learning is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn at a continuous high-level rate. It’s the skill that’s needed in the digital age where the digital age is going to, basically, technology is going to transform how we live and how we work, and the technology is going to produce so much new data and new knowledge so fast that basically whatever we think we know, and we probably don’t know what we think we know, but even if we did know what we think we know, the shelf life of that is going to be estimated to be two to three years.

So, we basically, have to become very, very adaptive. We basically have to be a continuous lifelong hyper-learner, and the big challenge to that is that we’re not wired to be a hyper-learner. And we’ll talk about that, but a good story, well, I’ve worked with a lot of people, a lot of companies that are embracing this. And I think one of the best stories was a company who got their leadership team together, and I spent a week with them, and we went into the details. I’m very granular on behaviors, as you know, and so we got into, “How do you be a hyper-learner and what’s the highest level of learning?” It means you’ve got to be a great listener. It means you’ve got to be a great collaborator. It means you’ve got to basically calm of what’s going on in your mind and body. So, we focused a day on how to listen.

And this guy was a senior executive and was sort of quiet. He was a technology guy. Quiet, but he was engaged. In the next morning, one of the practices of this company is have a check-in every morning, “Where are you? How are things fitting?” So, everyone went around the table and came to this guy’s time, and he said, “Well, can I share something personal?” “Of course. Of course.” He said, “I called home last night and I had the reflective listening checklist that Ed gave me with me and I put it by the phone, and I talked to my wife and talked to my kids, and the conversation kept going on and I kept looking at the checklist. And, really, it was sort of amazing. We talked like an hour and a half.” And he said, “That’s not usual.” And everyone said, “Oh, that’s good. That’s good.”

He says, “Well, my wife called me back after she put the kids together, and this is what she said. She says, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing at that meeting, but keep doing it because that was the best conversation you’ve had with me and our kids in a long time because you really listened.’” And the guy broke down crying in the meeting. That’s a wonderful story about how, if you will, changing one’s behavior so you can really be present and listen with a closed mind which is necessary to learn. Not only can it impact you in the workplace, but impact you in the home place.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful to kick us off, and I want to talk about, indeed, how was that done. I love your first chapter, which is “Achieving Inner Peace.” And we’re just getting started after that with a subsequent chapter. So, that is a key roadblock for great listening. So, yeah, how do we pull that off, first of all?

Edward Hess
Well, I think, if I can, let me lead into it this way. I think that people have to go and embrace hyper-learning come up with their own why, “Why should I be a hyper-leaner?” and that’s pretty easy. If you want to stay relevant in the workplace going forward, to have meaningful work, you’ve got to be able to basically do tasks that technology can’t do. So, everybody sort of knows what that is. The higher-level thinking, higher-level emotional engagement, etc., and so we can figure out the why.

But then the question comes down to, “Why do I need to change anything?” And this is the thing that’s the hardest for people to basically accept. And, basically, we’re all suboptimal learners. We are wired for efficiency, all right? We are wired for speed, right? We basically go out in the world and we process information which confirms what we already believe. We go into the world wired to confirm what we believe, to affirm our egos, and to basically validate our stories of how the world works. We basically see what we believe. That’s a scientific fact.

So, if you think about it, if everything is changing, new data, new knowledge is coming, new ways of doing things, and we’re going in the world looking for confirmation, we’re not going with an open mind, we’re not going to explore, wow! What are we going to do inside of ourselves to help us rewire? So, instead of seeking confirmation and affirmation and cohesiveness, instead of being a reflective thinker, if you will, as you know Daniel Kahneman called as lazy thinker, instead of being that, being an active, engaged thinker, what can we do to basically help us be that way? And it all begins with inner peace. And I finally got there. I’m sure you were wondering, “When is he going to get to inner peace?”

But inner peace is the answer or the pathway to beginning to take ownership of what’s going on inside of us, to take ownership of it. Ownership of our mind. Ownership of our emotions. Ownership of our behaviors. Not to be a reflexive reactive, so reflexive and reactive. And inner peace, I define it, if you will, as this state of inner stillness or calmness that enables you to go out into the world and embrace the world with your most non-judgmental fearless open mind with a lack of self-absorption.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great. I’d love some more of that. How do I do it?

Edward Hess
Well, inner peace has four blocks: quiet ego, quiet mind, quiet body, and positive emotional state. And it all starts out with the quiet ego and the quiet mind. And how do we do that? And the science is pretty compelling that the best way to start on this journey is mindfulness meditation. All right? And then as you advance to add, if you will, loving kindness, meditation or gratitude meditation.

It also quiets your mind. It allows us to basically learn, “We are not our thoughts. We are not our emotions. And there’s not an automatic link between our emotions and our behaviors.” I can remember early on, and understand I wasn’t born with inner peace, and it took me a long time to get to inner peace, okay? So, I’ve been a work in progress for decades. But I could remember in younger age, my wife and I were having a, I’d just say, a heated discussion, and she interrupted me, and she says, “Excuse me, do you understand that there’s not…because you feel emotional, you don’t have to behave in that way? Do you understand that your emotions are not hardwired into behaviors?” And I looked at her, and I said, “No, I didn’t know that.” And she says, “Well, I think you need to work on it because you have a choice.” And she was so right.

And so, inner peace is taking ownership and managing what’s going on. We have a choice. We are not our thoughts. We are not our emotions. So, how do you do it? I’d say start with meditation. That’s the best way to get there, and you’ve got to engage in daily practices: gratitude; visualization of how you want to behave; being very granular on coming up with “How do I want to go into the world? How do I want to behave today? How do I want to think? How do I want to listen?”

And the model is inner peace is the foundation. Then you need a hyper-learning mindset, the way to go and approach the world, then you’ve got to look at how you behave. And the book is really, the book plus a workbook, it’s an embedded workbook with lots of reflection times, with questions, and lots of workshops with deliverables. In fact, if people buy the book and they come to my website, the publisher will give everybody a free 140-page hyper-learning journal where you can take all the stuff, so it’s very action-oriented.

And so, there’s a whole chapter on hyper-learning behaviors, and there’s a diagnostic, and you would take…Pete, you’d take the diagnostic, the hyper-learning behaviors diagnostic, and grade yourself, and you would see, “Where am I the weakest?” And then you see how the behaviors fit into a format and to a pyramid, and you’d say, “What’s the building block I need to work on?” And the two building blocks that most people have, most males have to work on are quiet ego, and the second building block that everybody sort of has to work on is listening. Okay. Well, how do I listen?

Pete Mockaitis
If I may, just before we get in there, when you talk about mindfulness practice here, are you just talking about you sitting quietly at a relaxed and alert posture and focusing on your breath and returning your thoughts to your breath as they go elsewhere? Or what specifically are you thinking when you say mindfulness practice?

Edward Hess
Mindfulness meditation, yes. Mindfulness meditation, basically, focusing on your breathing, and, as you’re saying, when the thought comes into your mind, just let it go, don’t engage with it, and then take yourself back to focusing on your meeting. You can focus on your breath, you can focus on a body part, okay? Something that you’re basically, you bring yourself back to. So, mindfulness meditation, you can focus, if you wanted, on doing a meditation, a gratitude meditation, in effect, visualizing people that have helped you, etc. in expressing gratitude to them, or gratitude for people that are in your life that you’re thankful for. And then when your mind sort of wanders, you come back to that. But the key one is mindfulness meditation, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, let’s say we’re doing that, it’s great, we’re on our way…

Edward Hess
And I would recommend highly, when you do your mindfulness meditation, to also, at the same time, do deep breathing practices. And you can either do the coherent breathing practice, which comes out of Columbia University, or you can use, if you will, some people may not want to, but the Navy has got some good deep-breathing practices that, basically, you calm yourself, and then you basically do your breathing. But you basically try to get your breathing where you can breathe in very deeply and breathe out very slowly, and the number of breaths you take per minute. And the goal is to get to where you can basically breathe comfortably and get down to two breaths per minute.

Pete Mockaitis
So, two full inhales and outhales.

Edward Hess
That’s right, in a minute, okay? And five is good, five is very good. But if you work on it, yeah, it takes a year basically.

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to ask about sort of like the dosage or time. So, that, I’m sure, it varies quite a lot but, hey, inner peace, mindfulness meditation, how much do we got to do and for how long till we get there?

Edward Hess
Well, it’s sort of like this, becoming a hyper-learner is like becoming a world-class athlete, or a world-class painter, or a world-class dancer. You got to work at it every day. There is no easy pathway to transforming us once we get to the age we’re at. And so, you start out with meditation, two minutes, you try and do it two minutes a day, and it’s hard, but you keep working at it. The book is based on daily practices, which you do rigorously every day, and then there are some practices that you sort of alternate.

But if you want to succeed on this journey, and many people have, and it is hard to express the power of what we’re talking about. It’s life-changing. It’s life-changing because you have this peace and you’re just not reactive. You’re able to sense things. Your thinking improves so much. You’re not so emotionally reactive. You can become a better collaborator, all of these things, but it’s going to be an everyday practice.

In companies that I worked with, I worked with some public companies. I can’t say their names, where every day before every meeting, they do a two-, three-minute, up to a five-minute meditation. In one company, worldwide, it’s a company that has blue-collar, white-collar, etc. workers, the first thing, every day, worldwide, there’s a 15-minute silence. And you can meditate, or you can think about the people in your life that you love, or you can give thanks to whoever you want to give thanks to, but it’s embedded. It has to be embedded in your life and embedded in the workplace to work.

And, yes, it takes time, but I do it with…some of my MBA students get into this, and they reach out years later. I just had one reached out. This was four years ago. He reached out and was just saying, “I just want you to know I’m still meditating like you said every morning.” And he said, “It is just unbelievable.” He says, “I’m so much more effective at work, a family life. This stuff is magic.” So, we’re talking about if you want to…we’re fixing to go into an era that is going to be as disruptive for us or even greater than the industrial revolution was for our ancestors.

In fact, I believe the era we’re going into where technology is going to take us, this is going to be every analogous to our ancestors long time ago who had to leave, if you will, the jungles of Africa because of, basically, mother nature, and earthquakes, etc. and actually go out into the fields, the savannahs. Our primate ancestors had to leave the jungles and go into the fields. The good news is the fields had big animals so there was lots you could eat. The bad news is the big animals were fast and strong and could eat our ancestors. They had to learn an entire new way of living in order to, if you will, not become extinct.

To some extent, that’s where we are. In order to basically have meaningful work and meaningful relationships and a meaningful life going forward, because automation is going to invade all of professions. Degrees are not going to protect people anymore. Nobody knows but very smart people say that people coming out of college today probably have six different careers, five or six different careers. We will have to continually be an adaptive human being. You don’t get that way being raised the way we were in our culture, survival of the fittest, and you don’t get that way by basically being wired the way we are.

So, the answer is, no, this is not easy. It takes self-discipline and practice but it’s not magical. It’s not hard. All you need to do, I mean, really and truly, if you spent, in the beginning, if you spent two or three minutes, I believe it’s very important to work up my daily intentions. My daily intention is my list of how I want to be today, how I want to behave today, and, “Do you want to be kind? Do you want to be caring? Do you want to be open-minded? Do I want to slow down once I feel my body going faster and faster? Do I want to, before I go into a meeting, take four or five deep breaths?” Whatever it is, you read those every morning, you visualize yourself doing it, and you go out. And then at night, you come back and you grade yourself, “How did I do? Oh, wait a minute, I forgot to do this in this meeting.” Okay, write this down.

Same thing with your meditation. If you start out at two minutes, then you go to three minutes, then you go to five minutes. It varies so much per person, but you can get to 20 minutes within, say, two months. And if you did 20 to 30 minutes a day the rest of your life, you’d be in good shape. You don’t have to do four hours a day like the Dalai Lama. Twenty to thirty minutes a day you’d be in good shape. If you really want to take it to a higher level, you do it in the morning, and you also do it in the evening, and you do a different type of meditation, either the gratitude meditation or the heart meditation.

And the other aspects of it are basically you get to be very behavioral. What behaviors, in order to be a hyper-learner, do you need to excel at? Well, you need to have a quiet ego because you need not to be defensive. We’re working on that with meditation. But what does that mean? Well, I got to be a good listener. Well, how does a good listener do that? A good listener is totally quiet when you’re speaking. He or she is not making up their answers. They’re not thinking about the next meeting. They’re not thinking about the last meeting. They are totally silent, listening to what you’re saying, fully, fully present. Well, that takes a while to get there. So, how do you do that?

Well, the first thing is keep your devices away from you. We have a way. I’m going to sit at the meeting, and both my hands are going to be on the table or I’m going to be sitting in this way. And you start figuring out, “How am I going to concentrate on what that person is saying?” And your mind is going to wander. Bring it back, that’s the meditation training. So, I’m fully, fully present. I call it the three R…the goal is 3RP: really, really, really be present.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, really, really, really be present.

Edward Hess
Are you having fun? Hey, you having fun, man? Huh? Are you having fun with this? I’m serious. How does it sound?

Pete Mockaitis
Very much, I am. I didn’t if you were demonstrating listening or if you’re asking me, Pete Mockaitis, real time. Yeah, I’m quite fascinated so I want to hear. So, being really, really, really present, you’ve said that listening conversation checklist was game-changing for that gentleman in the session. What are the things on this list that we should be doing?

Edward Hess
Well, this is from memory. One, don’t multitask. Two, make eye contact. Three, calm what’s going on, calm yourself. If you’re thinking about something else, take deep breaths, calm yourself. Smile at the person talking, and they’ll smile back at you. That basically generates positive emotions. When there’s positive emotions between people, you’re more likely to learn. When things come into your mind, if you start making up your answer, immediately try to turn back to listening. When your mind starts to wander, recognize it, go back, listen.

Very important. When the person stops talking, do not advocate or state what you believe. Ask a question. If you hold yourself to asking questions, that’s going to help you listen because you want to ask questions for two reasons. To make sure you understand what the person was saying so that when you respond, your response has a higher probability of being effective. But the other thing is, the most important thing, as we go into this digital age is understanding the concept of otherness. No one can excel at thinking in ways the technology can think. No one can excel in basically higher-order emotional engagement by themselves. We need others. We need others.

And we need others, a special kind of others. Others that trust us and that we trust. And trust comes from people feeling cared about. And the number one way that a person feels cared about is when you show that you have listened by asking good questions, when you say that “I want to make sure I understand you,” it says, “I care about you, I respect you. I respect you as a distinct human being.” And then you can have a conversation, if you will, if you disagree or you don’t disagree, why, but that conversation should be data-based and respectful.

The workplace is going to change in this area. If you work in a workplace that is a survival of the fittest, highly-competitive workplace, well, that organization is going to become extinct because you can’t optimize collective intelligence and people leaning together at their optimal level in teams in a very competitive workplace. I tell people, “Listen to learn not to confirm.”

And so, you go through this process. It’s a whole approach that, “Okay, wait a minute. I’ve got to learn how to think differently. Instead of seeking confirmation, I got to seek novelty and exploration and discovery. I got to actively go look for disconfirming information to test what I think.” How many people when they believe something go out and look for disconfirming information? Not a lot. I got to basically defer judgment instead of “yes, but” “yes, and.” I got to embrace differences and try to make meaning of those differences because, again, we process a very small amount of the stimuli that can come through our body from the world, and no one can process…it’s like less than 0.1%.

And so, in the digital age, we’ve got to be able to excel at not knowing and knowing how to learn. We’ve got to excel at going into the unknown and figuring things out. And that happens best with other people because they will see things that we don’t see. And so, a whole new way of working and a new way of being is what this book is about. How do you go out there with that new way of being? How do you bring your better self, work on your best self? How do I come to the table, to the meeting, to be off to Zoom, to whatever? How do I bring that best self here and be the most open I can be in order to learn but also to be a good teammate showing respect, and respecting the human dignity of the people that I’m working with, and understanding I’m not competing with them?”

The biggest competition in the digital age is Ed Hess, not Pete, not you, Pete, I got to compete. If I do my work on myself, I’ll be fine, and I know that I need you also, and I’ll help you work on yourself just like you help me work on it. No more is it Ed versus Pete. No more is it a zero-sum game. It all comes down to collective intelligence.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I love a lot of what you’re saying here in terms of, okay, so we start with the inner peace and the mindfulness, and we’re doing great listening and asking questions, and seeking dis-confirmatory evidence, and being curious and exploratory, and focusing on other people, and having sort of the multi-people intelligence enable the hyper-learning as opposed to digging deep on speed reading or memory tricks, the focus is on the human dimensions.

And so, I’m curious, so we’ve got “Chapter 8: Having High-Quality, Making Meaning Conversations.” So, we’ve already got a couple pro tips for the listening. Are there any sort of key questions or things that we should do in order to engage in these conversations that facilitate hyper-learning?

Edward Hess
Yes. So, let’s go back to the bases. First, we have the “come to the meeting with the right intentions about the meeting.” We have to come into the meeting as best we can with a quiet ego, a quiet mind, a calm body, not be stressful, and a positive emotional state. The highest levels of learning are enabled by a positive emotional environment.

The workplace people are going to need is, my good friend Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is a requirement. So, you got to ask yourself, “Okay, and if these not people that I work with all the time, how do I behave in such a way that Pete trusts me? Because psychological safety is built upon trust. I trust you’ll do me no harm. I trust that I can speak up, so it comes down.” And in the book, there’s workshops as to “If I want to basically engage in a caring manner with someone else, how do I behave that way?”

The book is very practical, “How do I have to behave so you care about me? How do I have to behave so you trust me? What would I do?” And when I do my work in this, I have teams of people that work together and they do exercises, such as “What does a person have to do for you to trust them?” And then you do the opposite, “If a person does X, how will that basically hurt trust?” And people have a conversation. So, they’re having a conversation, what caring means to them. How will they feel cared about? When would they trust somebody? And they’re learning from each other. And then they’re asking each other, “Okay, now how can I improve my behaviors? How can Jane improve her behaviors?”

Making meaning conversation is when people come together to learn from each other to basically make meaning of words which, in the workplace, we all take for granted. And so, for any conversation to make meaning together, you have to do what? You have to truly try to understand the other person’s point of view in a non-judgmental manner. You have to actually put yourself in their shoes. Then you have to evaluate their data, and they’ll evaluate your data. But the goal is to come to the best answer. And it sounds I know a little, I don’t know, soft. But you know what?

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s dead-on. I mean, Annie Duke, a professional poker player, talked about this.

Edward Hess
It is soft. And, basically, if you want to go out ten years from now and say, “What’s going to be the most important human skill or what’s going to be the thing that we add to the world that technology doesn’t add?” It’s going to be emotions, positive emotions. It’s going to be emotional engagement. Emotions are going to have to come into the workplace big time, and that’s going to challenge a lot of organizations, a lot of people, because people are going to have to be very cognizant of setting the right emotional environment. But also very important, cognitive or working on being emotionally the type of person that people want to help and want to collaborate, because I keep coming back to the words collective intelligence.

Collective intelligence is going to be the difference between winning and losing in the business world going forward for organizations. And that means it’s not any one person. It’s a group. So, am I the type of person that people are going to want to help? Do I want to be the type of person that people are going to help? Then I got to get down and I got to think about, “Okay, how do I come across? Am I consumed with myself?” And you learn real fast that in order to be your best self, you have to become selfless, and you have to define your ego in a different way.

Most of us, and that’s the concept of new smart in the book, most of us raised in the education system, and basically up to about age eight or ten, young kids are hyper-learners. They have no fears. If you remember how you learned how to ride a bicycle. Somebody may be holding, it may have wheels, but someone helps you on, or you get on, they say, “Move your feet,” and you fall off. What did you do as a kid? Most kids, somebody may cry, somebody may not, but it doesn’t matter. They get up, they dust themselves off, and they get on it again. And they keep getting on it till they move that bicycle a little bit. They basically have the courage to go into the unknown, they have the resilience to bounce back, and that courage is to figure out how to make this work. Well, that’s what we’re going to have to excel at doing.

But about eight to ten, it starts getting schooled out of us, and we all get focused on grades, all on grades. And I‘m sure you made the highest grades in your class, but in order to make the highest grades in your class, what did you have to do? You had to make the fewest mistakes. So, we were raised to avoid mistakes. We were raised on being smart, and our egos started being identified with smart. And once we identified, and the older we get, with being smart, and we go up in the hierarchy in companies, we think we know things. We’re smart, we got the big office, and we’re very protective of our ego, and the fact that we don’t want to be wrong. And we’ll argue to Timbuktu on anything.

Well, that’s a pathway to basically failure because, in the world we’re going into, the change in the philosophy, we need to redefine our ego from that definition of smart to new smart. And new smart has five principles, but I’ll just share one. The number one principle, I’m defined not by what I know or how much I know, but by the quality of my thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating. I just changed the definition from a “how much” and a “what” to the quality of my thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating.

And if people take that approach, it makes it far easier to be an effective collaborator. It makes it far easier to build caring, trusting relationships, which are caring, trusting relationships are the condition precedent to the highest levels of making meaning together. You can’t make meaning together unless you trust each other, and you believe that the other person is not going to harm you, or use your mistakes against you, or ridicule you to the boss, or whatever.

And so, what this really means is all the political gains in business is going to basically go out the door. Basically, you got to take all that stuff, you get a giant trash bag, and dump it all in, tie it up, very, very tight, don’t put it in the dumpster. Actually, take it to the trash place and watch it shredded.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s a powerful note there. And, yeah, I’d love to hear now if you could share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Edward Hess
I think so much of it goes back to the golden rule. I think the other thing, I think what’s so important, and I’m paraphrasing here, we have to accept the fact that no one, and this is from professor Barbara Fredrickson, no one achieves excellence by themselves. That, to me, is very powerful.

I think the other powerful quote that I keep in mind now is from Daniel Kahneman who predicted, I think it was in the summer of July 2019, that by 2030, there will be no cognitive function that a computer will not be able to do better than a human being. And the reason that’s such a powerful quote, it basically alerts all of us that we’re going to have to develop skills that are different than most of the skills that we’ve been developing in the past. And all of those skills are going to be the soft skills because the human part is going to be the part that becomes so very important in society.

And so, I think that I’m old enough that back when everybody served in the military, the quote, “Leaders eat last.” “Always take care of your team before you take care of yourself,” I think all of those are still valid. Leaders eat last. You don’t go to the head of the line. And some of the best leaders that I’ve ever had the privilege of working with were the most humble people who basically were other-centric.

Herb Kelleher with Southwest Air, Horst Schulze of Ritz-Carlton, the senior leadership team back when I was working with them at UPS, and Mr. Casey at UPS, it’s recognizing the human dignity of the people you work with, and that people are not just a cog in the machine. I think the other thing is that the industrial revolution model of humans being machines doing the same thing over and over again, technology is going to do all that type of work, and we basically have to get out of this machine mindset, and we need to basically figure out how we’re going to create the environment where people can flourish and have meaningful work and meaningful relationships that raises the big challenges for big companies that are basically focused on a model that’s command and control.

You cannot command and control somebody that thinks at their highest levels. I cannot say, “Pete, I command and control and direct you to be innovative. I command and control and direct you to be creative. I command and control you to think clearly.” That stuff doesn’t work. That doesn’t work. And so, for your viewers, and you’ve got a wonderful viewing group, the thing that I leave with them is I invite them to basically consider to become not just a hyper-learner but to become an awesome hyper-learner. Because I think, based on what I know from reading about your listenership, I think many of your people will embrace, if you will, the challenge that’s here, but also, they’ll have the right mindset, the right growth mindset, to go out there and say, “Let me try some of these things. Let’s try and see if it works.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Ed, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you all the best in your hyper-learning adventures.

Edward Hess
Thank you very much. Thank you for having me in. I wish you all the best and keep doing the good work you’re doing, man.

586: Insights on Working from Home’s Largest-Ever Experiment with Nicholas Bloom

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Nicholas Bloom says: "Working from home is going to be here for a long time... we're in the long haul."

Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom shares insights from the largest study on working from home to show how to adjust to the new world of work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four key findings from the largest study on working from home
  2. What the ideal work from home week looks like
  3. Why this isn’t the end of the office

 

About Nicholas

Nicholas (Nick) Bloom is a Professor of Economics at Stanford University, and a Co-Director of the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research focuses on management practices and uncertainty. He previously worked at the UK Treasury and McKinsey & Company. His work has been covered in a range of media including the New York TimesWall Street JournalBBCEconomist and Financial Times.

On the personal side he is English living with his Scottish Wife and American kids – a multi-lingual English household on Stanford campus.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nicholas Bloom Interview Transcript

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

Nicholas Bloom
Very happy to be here. Thank you for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to get into your wisdom in the world of working from home. And I understand that when you’re working from home, one issue that presents itself frequently is the bagpipe playing in the house. What’s the story here?

Nicholas Bloom
Well, before this podcast started, it was delayed by about 5 or 10 minutes as, Pete, I did not know just from trying to ask my older son who was practicing the bagpipe next door. My wife is Scottish. In fact, my mother is Scottish too, so there’s quite a lot of bagpipe activity going on in our house, and it’s just unbelievably noisy. You may think it’s romantic when you hear it outside the tower of London or something or Edinburgh Castle, but when it’s in your house and it’s over and over again, the same song being played repeatedly with like a different mistake each time.

So, yeah. And I live out in California and it’s a wood-built house because of the earthquake risk but, unfortunately, it has no sound insulation so I think it’s not just me that’s tortured by the bagpipe, I think most of my neighbors in the street can hear the same thing. But, you know, it does highlight, I think we’ll come onto it, the challenges of working from home right now with our kids in the house.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, it’s funny, I think with the bagpipes, I’m thinking about an episode of Better Call Saul in which he was trying to get himself fired one of the things he did was play the bagpipes in the law office, and it contributed to getting him fired. So, that’s a little take-home message for being awesome at your job is be careful about playing the bagpipes in the office if that were an issue for anybody, that’s covered.

Well, we’re talking about working from home. You did quite the study on working from home. I’d like it if we started there and then we fast-forward to the current situation where there’s a lot of working from home going on. It’s a little bit different. So, could you tell us the tale of your Ctrip study?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes. And I should say, actually, for anyone listening that has an intransigent manager or maybe other partners in your business that are anti working from home, you should feel free to forward on the TEDx Talk that I gave, it’s on YouTube, that I received many emails from people that’s saying, “You know, my manager, she didn’t believe working from home, and so I sent her.” So, I’ll tell you the story, and it’s really, this is the summary of the video.

So, back in 2010, I teach in Stanford University, I’m the professor there, and I had someone in the back of my class who turned out quite amazingly to be the co-founder of a huge Chinese multinational, Ctrip. It’s listed on NASDAQ. It’s worth about $15 billion. The guy was called James Liang, and he basically founded this company, and he was worth almost a billion dollars at this point. He decided to kind of step back and become the chairman and take a Ph.D.

But Ctrip had this big challenge which is they’re in Shanghai, their headquarters, and they were growing very fast but they were struggling to keep up with office space, so as they grew they didn’t want to have to spend huge amounts of money on very expensive Shanghai office space. So, working with them, he set up what’s called a randomized control trial on working from home. So, quite explicitly, they asked a thousand people in the firm who wanted to work from home four out of five days a week, 500 of them signed up, it’s already indicative that 500 people did not want to work from home.

And so, sticking with the 500, they then formally randomized them home to office over the next nine months. So, James on TV, in front of a huge crowd, pulled a ping-pong ball out of an urn and it said, “Even,” and everyone with an even birthday, so if you’re born on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, etc., tenth of the month, worked from home for the next nine months. And if you’re odd, so like me, I’m the fifth of May, you stayed in the office. And it was a way to scientifically evaluate the impact of working from home on these employees.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. So, I mean, that’s pretty thorough as far as exploring this phenomenon goes. I mean, it’s better than an office of eight people, said, “Hey, let’s give this a shot for a few weeks and see how it goes.” No, no, we’ve got some randomization, we got a large sample size. Tell us, what happened?

Nicholas Bloom
So, yes, on thorough. I mean, as far as I’m aware, it’s still, to date, the only large-scale scientific evaluation of this. My father actually does drugs testing, so it’s very much modeled on the way you would test a drug before you roll it out formally. The Federal Drug Administration requires formal randomized control trials.

So, what did we find? We found four key things. The first was, quite amazingly, working from home significantly improved performance. So, performance of home-based workers went up by 13% which is huge. That’s like almost an extra day a week, completely against what Ctrip expected.

Pete Mockaitis
I was thinking about, now, in Ctrip, this is a travel agency. And how are we measuring performance in that context?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. They’re not professionals in the sense that they’re not managers. They’re people that are making telephone calls, making bookings, so in that sense, it’s very easy to measure performance because you can look at the number of calls and bookings, they actually have quality metrics. The downside we’ll come on to later hopefully in the podcast is, of course, they’re not creating new content. And so, working from home is more challenging for that. In terms of executing, we had amazing performance data.

And so, in terms of basically total phone calls since the quality is unchanged and for the bookings, that was up 13% which is huge. And then you ask, “Where did this improvement come from?” Well, of the 13%, about a quarter, so 3.5%, came from the fact they were just more productive per minute. We did a lot of interviews and focus groups, the stories they would tell us is, “Look, it’s just quieter at home.” And the story that resonated with me in particular is this woman that said, “You know, in the office, in the cubicle next door to me, the woman, she, like, clips her toenails in the office and it’s disgusting.”

Pete Mockaitis
Every day? How much toenail have you got? Maybe weekly or bi-weekly.

Nicholas Bloom
And she has obviously very finely-clipped toenails. And the woman said, “She thinks I don’t notice but I tell you, I notice. I see her picking up that clipper and putting it below the desk,” or there’s a cake in the breakout, or a world cup sweepstakes. So, I’m sure, everyone listening has plenty of experience of why it’s noisy in the office. And, believe it or not, on average, people are actually focusing better at home.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a quarter of them just cranked out more work in the same per minute.

Nicholas Bloom
Yup, they were more efficient. So, that’s a quarter of that. And then you’re like, “Well, where did the other three got the uplift?” So, the majority is they’re actually working more minutes. So, I should be clear, for this group, it’s not that they used their commute time because they’re actually on shift work so they’re supposed to be 9:00 to 5:00 Mondays through Fridays. What you see is in the office, they don’t actually start work at 9:00, they often start working at 9:10 because the bus is late, or the motorcycle breaks down, or they take long lunch breaks, they take long tea breaks, they even take longer to get to the toilet. So, just quite practically at home, the toilet is in the room next door. In the office, you’ve got to walk a long distance.

And so, that explains about half of the uplift. So, they’re basically working more minutes per day, they’re working their full shifts. Then the remaining quarter is they’re working more days because they take less sick leave. And, again, when we interviewed people, they’d say, “You know, often, I wasn’t that sick when I took that day off. I just wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to come in and suddenly get worse, but when I was working from home, now, I actually just kept going.”

And sometimes they’d say, “By lunchtime, it got worse and so I’d stop, and other times I’d work the day.” Or, there were other stories we’ve heard about, they say things like, “I wasn’t sick at all but I needed to have the cable repair guy come, so I took a day off.” So, collectively, performance was just massively up 13%. It’s a huge increase. So, that was fact one.

Fact two, again, very positive was quit rates are halved. So, for Ctrip, quit rates and churn is a huge problem. They had 50% of their staff leave every year. So, for anyone that’s listening, ever recruited or trained somebody, you know how painful that process is, they then turn around and nine months later leave. So, their quit rate from 50% down to 25% from home-based workers. And the reason was, again, they just said, “We’re happier,” on average like working from home.

The third finding, which is the one negative piece, is promotion rates also dropped. They dropped to almost half, so that’s kind of worrying. And, in fact, we interviewed them and three different drivers came out. One was the most obvious, the most worrying, is that out of sight, out of mind, “I’m at home. My manager has forgotten about me. I’ve been passed over.”

A second version of that was we heard it more from managers actually, said, “Look, you kind of got to be in the office, to some extent, to pick up on the office culture, to know what’s going on, to know what your colleagues are doing, to understand the strategy.” And so, that time it may feel like wasted chatting and lunch and coffee, actually some of it is quite valuable and is an input into management.

And then the third possible story we heard a bit, the least of all, is occasionally people will tell us they actually turn down being promoted because they didn’t want to come back into the office, “I so enjoy working from home, I turned it down.”

Tips for people that are full-time working from home, or four out of five days a week, if the rest of the office is in the office, with COVID everyone is at home so we’re all on equal footing, but if you’re the only person full-time working from home, I think there is some risks of being passed over for promotion. And then, I should say the final finding, which again is very relevant to policy, was at the end of the nine-month experiment, Ctrip was incredibly happy. So, profits went up by $2,000 per person per year, so they were like, “This is great.” So, they rolled it out to the whole company but they also let everyone involved in the experiment to reoptimize.

So, all these people who have decided to work from home or not, they’ve been randomized. Basically, a year later, they said, “Well, look, it’s work, but you can change your mind every other day, but you can change your mind.” And as it turned out, around 60% of people actually changed their minds. There’s a huge number of people who previously wanted to work from home who’d told us, “Look, it gets very lonely, it gets very isolating,” or they fell victim to one of the three great enemies of working from home, which are the fridge, the bed, and the television. They came back into the office, and other people said, “Oh, I actually saw my colleagues work quite well at home and I’d like to instead come in and move home myself.”

So, there’s enormous churn. And what we saw in the data was when you let people choose, their performance uplift from working from home went up to over 20%. What’s going on is people that tried it out and it didn’t work that well, came back into the office, and people that tried it out and it really did work, they can deal with the loneliness and isolation and performed well, they stuck at home. So, the final lesson is choice really matters.

I’ll talk about it later, I’ve been running a lot of surveys currently on the COVID on people’s preferences in working from home, and there is a huge variation. So, younger people without kids tend to want to go in the office most days. Older people with kids tend to want to work from home most days. Very few people want to do all at home or all in the office, and people often change their minds. They just don’t know how they’re going to like it. So, choice is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ooh, well, thanks for giving us the rundown, and that’s interesting. That expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill,” it’s like, “The grass is greener 60% of the time on the other side of the hill according to this study.” And that’s really striking in terms of, yes, we’re in a bit of a different context now. Not as many people looking to have the evidence to make the pitch to be allowed to work from home, but tuck this away for when the time comes and you want more of it, we’ve got those evidence points.

So, let’s fast-forward to here, now, today. Choice isn’t so much something that’s working to our advantage anymore. Many of us are in a place where it’s like that is the only option is you will be working from home in the midst of the pandemic. So, tell us, what’s the latest you’re finding with your surveys, and how we’re dealing, and how maybe we can deal better?

Nicholas Bloom
Sure. So, right now, it’s just the total change from before. So, working from home, I think, there’s really three phases, and we’re in the middle phase. So, there was before COVID, and before COVID, around 5% of working days were full-time at home, so that’s pretty rare. In fact, only 15% of Americans even ever worked from home, so most people didn’t get to even have a single day working from home. So, 15% of us did and, on average, we were spending one in three days at home. So, pretty unusual.

If you look at who was doing it, it’s pretty varied by gender and age. They tended to be graduates, basically, managers, professionals, graduates. Now, under COVID, as everyone can appreciate, it’s very different now, 40% of working days are at home, so there’s an eightfold increase. In fact, if you look at the other 60% of the labor force, they’re roughly equally split between people working on business premises and those that are not working. So, actually, more than half of people that are currently working are actually working from home. The U.S. economy is like a working from home economy. But it’s very, very challenging. It’s not a great scenario.

So, the four big challenges right now, there’s kids. I have four kids myself and, as we discussed earlier, they’re playing instruments. My youngest, she’s four, she keeps bursting into the room. That’s really hard. Facilities, I’m actually in a spare room so I’m kind of lucky. I’m in the minority of Americans that have their own private room that isn’t a bedroom, but in survey data, 51% of people are basically sharing rooms or in a bedroom. Or another two-thirds of people have great internet. The remaining third have problems with internet, so facilities are a big issue.

The third issue right now is choice. So, basically, anyone working from home, they didn’t get the choice, “The office just closed and we’re going to send you home.” And it turns out, that’s a big issue because a lot of people really don’t like working from home. And then the final challenge right now is we’re doing it full-time, which, before COVID, it was really rare, so only 2% of people ever work from home full-time. Now, it’s 40%. It’s very isolating.

Interestingly enough, in China, in the Ctrip experience, the period we’re in now, which is about three months in, was actually the best period. It’s when people are the happiest. It’s like the euphoric honeymoon period. So, I’ve been talking to dozens of firms and individuals over the last two-three months because I basically spend about most of my time working on working from home. Firms are generally very positive, but I fear it’s going to wane a little bit as we roll on. So, that’s now very widespread, but it’s not great.

The sweet spot is looking ahead. So, right now, it’s funny you mentioned the evidence away of working from home. Right now, I’ve seen a number of companies that are thinking quite seriously about the long term. So, now, three months in, there’s major decisions. And you probably noticed, like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon have all made public statements about their long-run plans. And what’s by far the most common thing, which actually looks fantastic, is most firms have said, “Working from home is really great. We’ve very happy with it, and we’re going to extend it out even beyond the pandemic, and we are likely to let people do it part-time.”

So, the typical person, they get to work in the office Monday, Wednesday, Friday, be at home Tuesday, Thursday, which, for many people, is the best of both worlds. You save a couple of days on commute, a bit less hassle, you got peace and quiet, but you see your colleagues throughout five days a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s kind of my sense. I’ve been working from home for about a decade in my running my business here, and I do get lonely at times, and would like colleagues at times, and have been tempted to pay for co-working space just to see people. But then what it really comes down to, it’s like, “Oh, man, but then I’ve got to commute out there and they don’t have a napping space right there.”

So, anyway. But I’d love to get your view, well, you mentioned it. I guess choice matters and people have different perspectives. Is there an optimal with regard to the days, one day, two days, consecutive, non-consecutive?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. So, I’ll give you three broad tips, and then I’d drill into the one that you want to hear most about. So, the three broad tips I’ve been telling firms, repeating, I think it’s becoming like a consensus. Every firm I talk to kind of affirms the same view. So, the first is part-time. I have lots of survey data, I won’t go through in details, but basically most people want to work from home something like one to three days a week. Only 20% of people want to work from home full-time, only 25% of people want to be in the office full-time. So, the vast majority of us want a mix. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

So, the first thing is part-time. The second thing is make it optional. So, I would strongly advise against forcing anything on anyone. You’re probably going to have to have some mandatory days in the office, so I wouldn’t probably let, in the long run, anyone be at home five days a week, but you may say, “Look, you can do anything from two to five days a week in the office, and how you split it is your choice.” And then, finally, I think it’s a perk, not an entitlement, which means if people goof off, you give them a warning. And if they goof again, you haul them back into the office. So, those are the three key tips.

On the first, coming back to the number of days, there are broad advices, something like Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, Tuesday, Thursday at home, and the whole team does it. So, the reasons for that are, firstly, the whole team is in Monday, Wednesday, Friday, so if you’re going to have a client meeting, or a lunch, or a presentation, or some kind of training event, you know everyone is going to be there. And if you’re taking that Tuesday and Thursday off at home, you don’t feel like you’re missing out. So, I think it’s important to coordinate.

Also, to your question, “Which days?” I would avoid having the whole team at home on Monday or Friday. It tends to generate the extended weekend and, in fact, I’d also try to avoid them being consecutive days. So, Tuesday, Thursday is kind of the best two days because you’re in the office every other day, so if something comes up, you can easily say, “Hey, let’s talk about it in person tomorrow. Let’s have a meeting tomorrow.” So, that’s probably the most likely scenario I see firms gravitating towards Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, everyone does that Tuesdays, Thursdays. It’s really a personal choice. And I guess maybe Wednesdays, potentially, but I would avoid actually what was common before the pandemic, having Friday the working from home day. It’s not really ideal.

Before COVID, the big challenge working from home is the stigma, the whole thing of working from home, shirking from home, that’s basically gone. But, even so, working from home on Fridays is not kind of the best message. If you’re going to take one day off, take a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday off.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you think that there’s a higher probability of the shirking actually happening when it’s on a Friday or Monday?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes, and also the perception isn’t as good. So, if you’re a manager, it’s hard. Perception is reality, they kind of merge one into another. But I really want to encourage working from home in an adult way. I mean, very few jobs are basically…there are two ways to evaluate some sort of performance. There’s what’s called inputs and outputs. Mature, graduate types of jobs, I assume pretty much all your listeners are based on you want to be evaluated in outputs, what you do, but you don’t want to be evaluated in inputs, “I’m assessed on the fact that I sit on my desk and look at computer screen all day.” That’s not really great. I want to be treated as an adult and left to kind of get on with stuff and plan my own work.

And, as part of that, I have to build trust. And one of the things is trying to avoid things that maybe look a bit suspicious. So, I would work from home Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. There’s no real…it’s very hard to argue for a Friday except for the fact it’s next to the weekend, and it makes it easier to go away for long weekends, and that’s just not a good signal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now, I’d love to get your take on when we are in this environment where, like it or not, working from home is what you’re doing, what are your top do’s and don’ts for helping us do some great output as well as be recognized and promoted and all those good things?

Nicholas Bloom
I came to the realization about three-four weeks ago, this is going to be the long haul. So, just to explain, Stanford University, my employer, has just announced that, effectively, all online teaching, and it looks like all conferences and seminars, so all teachings and conferences and seminars are going to be online probably till next summer. It’s not certain but I see us, we’re going to be in this for another year or so. And, for me, at that point, it became clear it was worth thinking about logistics of working from home, and so I went out and spent $150 on a better microphone,

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say, when you booked this, you didn’t have that, and now you do.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I mean, we’re spending hours every day and our laptops are not designed for this. I actually dropped my main laptop. I’m on my old spare one.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean just ergonomically, like your hands and your neck and where you’re looking, is that what you mean?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, exactly. It’s like the working from home version of a nice suit, except it’s cheaper. I mean, $300 is cheaper than a nice suit and a pair of shoes so I would totally buy a webcam and microphone. I would also do a trial run on how you look on the camera. I was doing a TV interview and the woman on the…the reporter said, “You know, your glasses are reflecting a lot.” And it’s turned out I didn’t realize that. And I’d been fiddling around with this. It turned out, having a light source, you’re always told to look out the window so the light is shining onto your face rather than you’re like some dark shadowy silhouette. But there’s a second thing. So, that’s number one. Always, you want to have the light behind the camera so it lights you up.

But the second thing is trying to avoid it literally being directly behind the camera because then it reflects into your glasses back into the camera. You can’t see because I’m on a podcast, but I’m actually looking out a window but I put a cardboard screen that blocks light right behind the laptop, and I put lights on either side. So, I probably spent four or five hours a day on video. And in some sense, again, it’s creating positive touch. You want people to see your eyes, so if you’re wearing glasses, I don’t want to wear contact glasses. Pete has just taken off his glasses. He’s giving me very romantic looks over our video connection.

But I actually got a couple of lamps. Another thing I did is I tried, I put up a couple of pictures behind me. You know, there’s two ways to go I’ve noticed on video calls. One is to have a reasonably-looking background, in which case you have…you know, I had a messy room before, and this is a spare room, there’s a pile of junk in the background. So, I put up some pictures and tidied it up.

The alternative is to have a plain, like a white wall, or you can buy it. Just before the call, I was looking online on Amazon, and I think you can buy what’s called a green screen, just hang it up. That actually works much better for having one of those image backgrounds, say, on Zoom because Zoom finds it hard to tell it’s you versus a picture of you against a cluttered background. So, that’s another key thing.

There’s a bunch of other more minor tips for teams which is one of the downsides that comes up a lot on working from home is the lack of casual conversations. So, in particular, walking in and out of meetings, you know, I personally used to notice, I miss the lunches and coffees, also even just the meetings, the first couple of minutes I turn to colleagues and watercooler discussions. It’s hard to perfectly recreate that but the people have done this best, I’ve been trying to do this in my own research group, is to setup a time each week to talk to each member of my research. I do it for like 20 minutes. It’s a very deliberate one-on-one time. I’ve heard other managers, one manager I was talking to, said, “Look, I speak to every member of my team for five minutes at the beginning of each day just to check in on them. And if I need more time, I spend more time.”

And the upside about doing this online is it’s very easy to just have a scheduling talk, like Google Sheets, and you just say, “Write your name, and you sign the names up,” and they fill up, because it’s online, it’s easy to be punctual. And then in meetings, actually, I actually have my weekly meetings. Rather than have an hour discussion on work, we basically have 45 minutes. And the first 15 minutes, we go around the group of 12 of us. Each person talks briefly about something non-work-wise. Like, Cody, he’s been telling about his garden, and Anika has been telling me about he’s been doing puzzles, and B has been telling me about Netflix shows she’s been watching. It kind of brings it to life. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but I think we need to be more deliberate about fostering some sort of discussion casually.

The final thing I’ve heard about is it’s important just to be more scheduled and organized. So, particularly with kids at home right now, you have to think about it’s not just you but also many people in your teams are having struggles with spouses and schedules whoever looks after the kids, so it’s useful to have regular schedules. So, you have someone in your team, their husband and they have two young kids, it’s much better for her if she knows that she’s going to be working 9:00 till 12:00, and she can be more relaxed in the afternoon. So, actually being more organized because there are more conflicts for our time for those who have young kids is a final tip, and I’ve heard that discussed a lot.

And, in fact, being particular, avoiding sprawls of meetings and emails that can easily extend out. The fact they’re at home doesn’t mean we can easily, “We’ll happy to have a meeting at 7:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m.” We should try and stick to the working day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s an excellent lineup. I’d love to hear, is there anything that we…I guess I asked for do’s and don’ts. I heard a lot of great do’s. Are there some don’ts in terms of like you’re seeing a mistake appear again and again and again, or there’s sort of a hidden risk or peril or danger that folks don’t know that they are overlooking? For example, you mentioned, I think it’s a great example there with that sort of the watercooler type talk, those informal bits of conversation. Like, they can just disappear if you’re not sort of mindful and thoughtful and planful to get them in there. Is there anything else that you think people are overlooking?

Nicholas Bloom
I mean, a bigger thing is don’t get rid of the office. So, I’ve had so many senior managers say, “Hey, this is the end of the office,” or, “We’re going to shrink our office down just to go through the economics of this.” I’ve written it down. If anyone in particular fears that their boss is thinking of closing the office, the points to think about is, one, right now, we’re really in the euphoric phase. As I mentioned, three months is exactly the wrong time to be deciding office closes. It’s like planning your life after the first date. You’re incredibly happy but you haven’t seen the bad stuff, so I would wait.

In China, in Ctrip, we saw three months was literally the peak, so it’s literally the worst time to be evaluating long-run. And, in fact, from talking to firms, there are some major upsides about in-person meetings. The first is creativity. It actually turns out, it’s much harder to be creative remotely. The second is inspiration. You know, it’s hard to remain motivated and inspired sitting in our bedroom. And, finally, there’s an issue of loyalty, I think, if you’re at home month in, month out, you feel a weaker connection to your firm. So, I really think we do want to be in the office two or three days a week.

Now, you might think, “Well, we can shrink the office now. We’re only in it three days a week. Even if we’re on the same days, maybe we need less space per person.” But you have to remember, social distancing has actually dramatically increased the square footage per person. So, the firms I’ve been talking to are talking about two to three times space per person. So, I’ve just finished a survey around a thousand firms in the U.S. The forecasts are actually for a slight increase in demand in square footage of office space. So, sure, we’re going to spend less days per week in the office, probably something like 15% less days, I estimate, but we maybe need something like 50% more space per person. So, I think getting rid of the office would be a huge mistake right now. It really would limit your firm’s ability to, obviously, go back to part-time. In person, it would cause problems of loyalty. It causes all kinds of issues.

The other mistake, or the other piece of advice, I guess, is to location is going to remain as it is. There’s huge evidence to show we are shifting pretty radically out of skyscrapers into industrial parks. So, skyscrapers have a huge issue, which is, one, mass transit. How do you get to the front door? And the second is elevators. How do you get from the front door up to your desk? So, we think about a normal high-rise, it takes something like two-three square feet of space to put one person. In a crushed elevator, you basically, if you think of a person, they’re about a foot by two-foot. If we need six feet distance between us and the next person, that’s a circle of radius 6 foot. That’s about 100 square feet. So, that makes elevators just completely unfeasible.

So, from firms I’ve been talking to, there’s an enormous charge to think, “You know, we need all this space. What are we going to do? We’re going to think about moving out into industrial parks, maybe take over old leases of shops that have gone bankrupt, maybe gyms that have closed down, etc.” So, if you’re involved in that side of the office, the mistake would be to shutter the office. The advice is to think about actually where you want to be when you return to work six to nine months from now. And I think it could well be an industrial park where you can drive to or walk up a couple of stairs to get to your desk.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. Thanks. Well, now, can you share with us a few of your favorite things? Let’s start with a favorite quote. What’s something you find inspiring?

Nicholas Bloom
I heard a great quote the other day from Satya Nadella who’s the CEO of Microsoft. I had exactly the same thought, I was thinking, which is, he said, “You know, the thing I really miss in the office is those two minutes at the beginning and the two minutes at the end of every meeting when I get to turn to the person next to me, chat to them and say, ‘How are you doing?’” I feel the same thing. It’s not the meeting itself, it’s the before and after I miss, the personal interaction.

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

Nicholas Bloom
It’s hard to think of an individual one. Sticking to the topic of working from home. Upwork had a great survey came out recently showing how 90% of firms are actually very surprised that they’re very positive about working from home.

As I mentioned, I just caution about swinging from one extreme to the other. It feels a bit like if you have kids, you know how kids just they go so extreme, they’re like, particularly young kids. My four-year old goes from like unbelievably happy to minutes later in tears and floods. It feels like that’s a bit like the journey of working from home. So, now, we’re loving it. I think that’s great. There’s lots of evidence on that. I would caution on loving it too much.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Nicholas Bloom
I saw this in preparation for the podcast. I have to say, embarrassingly, I don’t really read books that much. So, I devour the media. I read a lot. If you talk about media, I talk about the BBC, I read the New York Times. Such a devotion, I love the BBC. You can hear from my accent I’m a Brit, but it feels a bit more impartial to me and it has my…it keeps track of my sports, my Tottenham Hotspur, my UK football team. So, I don’t know what it is, but I don’t really read books anymore, I’m afraid. I know that is not the correct answer to give but I guess it’s the only…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I mean, you shared the favorite things you read, and we’ll take it. And how about a favorite tool?

Nicholas Bloom
Right now, I’m really excited, as nerdy lame as it seems, by my new webcam.

Pete Mockaitis
It looks good.

Nicholas Bloom
My old laptop is kind of this grainy, crabby picture, and it got damaged. It wasn’t quite as bad. I have a hall of shame, which is just kind of a running joke with my colleagues and grad students. There’s a guy that has a webcam so bad he looks like some kind of ghost from Harry Potter. Isn’t quite there though. I was so excited just to finally get a clean crisp image. I always wondered how other people did it. I thought they just looked clean and crisp, but maybe that’s part of the story. I think they also have better technology.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, we got to know, do you know the make, the model?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, it’s Logi…and if I look…oh, geez, it’s about $180. I know it is now sold out. Something like a CD920 maybe. What is it called?

Pete Mockaitis
Logitech CD920-ish.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I think it was the CD920 high definition. And, also, the microphone is the Blue Yeti.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

Nicholas Bloom
That’s about $140. Both of them I searched around online, and there was a bunch of reviews. The Blue Yeti was reviewed by someone in the Wall Street Journal as the best mic. That was it. They interviewed a sound guy that did the voices for the new Avengers stuff and various other movies, and he said, “Look, this is the best cheap serious microphone out there.”

Pete Mockaitis
I agree that the Blue Yeti is excellent so long as it’s not an empty echo-y room, and yours is working for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Nicholas Bloom
I picked up a lockdown habit which is juggling a soccer ball, a football as I call it. So, my 11-year old daughter plays in a soccer team, and she’s been told by her coach, because they’re not playing anymore because of the lockdown, to try and juggle, like kick it up easy, keep the ball kicking in the air. So, I couldn’t do that at all, I have to say, until about four months ago, but I can do like a hundred which is very therapeutic because you’re entirely concentrating on it. There’s no email, no phones, no kids actually, because everyone knows to avoid dad where he’s obsessively juggling the soccer ball, but I quite like it.

I wouldn’t say it’s high exercise but after 20 minutes of it, I feel refreshed and energized. So, if I have too many Zoom meetings in a row, and I have a half-hour break, I may go out into the garden. There’s a bit of fresh air. I may go out and try and juggle a soccer ball one. It’s something like that, something kind of absorbing. But I used to find mowing the lawn was similar like that, I’ve a very good lawn. But no one would come near me because you’ve got this large heavy piece of equipment making huge amounts of noise, so there was no phone, no email, no children. But, yeah, that’s my favorite hobby right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, it resonates with people, and they quote it back to you a lot?

Nicholas Bloom
You know, I have become the working from home guy just because the TEDx Talk, coming back to the beginning of the podcast, is very pro working from home. And so, it’s useful if you have a manager that’s skeptical, or an owner that says, “Oh, as soon as the pandemic is over, we’re going back to full-time in the office.” And because of that, I’m kind of known for being pro working from home.

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

Nicholas Bloom
To my website. The easiest thing to do is just to type Nicholas Bloom into Google and it should come up as the top hit. I’m at Stanford University. So, if you type Nick Bloom Stanford, it will come up.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any challenges or calls to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Nicholas Bloom
I think just stick with it in the sense that I think working from home is going to be here for a long time. So, just the realization we’re in the long haul, and investing in equipment, investing in setting things up, and your schedule. We can make this work as society is actually part of the fight against COVID. One of the most effective and important things is we can work from home because the economy can keep going while we socially isolate. And it does need everyone, I guess, to give it their best shot and help other people in your firm do the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Nick, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all your adventures.

Nicholas Bloom
Hey, Pete, thanks very much for having me on the show.

585: How to Boost Your Motivation by Using the Joy Mindset with John O’Leary

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Bestselling author John O’Leary discusses how embracing the joy mindset can help you find more purpose and drive at work–and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three questions to jumpstart your day
  2. How to spark your motivation with an ignition statement
  3. How to use “compound interest” to advance your career

 

About John

In 1987, John O’Leary was a curious nine-year-old boy. Playing with fire and gasoline, John created a massive explosion in his home and was burned on 100% of his body. He was given less than a 1% chance to live. John‘s story, perspective and inspiration have inspired millions of people and 2,000 clients over the last decade.

John is the author of the instant #1 National Bestselling book ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life, host of the top-rated Live Inspired Podcast and inspirational speaker teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. His second national bestselling book, IN AWE: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning and Joy, published May 2020 and its immediate success led many to say “it’s exactly what we all need right now.”

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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John O'Leary Interview Transcript

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

John O’Leary
Hey, Pete, great to be with you and your followers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your story and some of the takeaways in your book and life experience to help folks be all the more awesome at their jobs. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? When you were nine, you had a life changing experience. Can you tell us the shorter version of the story?

John O’Leary
Yeah. I’m going to begin with a longer version at first because I did not know that the story you were asking about right now had any meaning toward my professional life, personal life, relational life, or any other aspect of life until I was 27 and a half years old. And that is the first time that I can remember where I would’ve been able to answer the question that you just asked. We can talk about that if you’d like in a moment. But the simple answer to your question is this. At age nine, I was burned in a housefire on 100% of my body, and 87% of those burns were third degree.

I found myself at age nine in a hospital bed, in the emergency room, dying, looking down at my hands that were changed, my arms that were burned, and my legs that were burned, and just freaking out, wondering, “What possibly could I do to go forward in my life in a positive direction?” And, yet, my dad came in and he wasn’t at home when I got burned, Pete, but he walked in, and he was at his job actually. He was at his job. He left. Came home. Saw the house on fire and went to the hospital. Saw me, walked right over to me, and I’ll never forget it because I was afraid my dad would, for some reason, be mad at me, because I was part of the reason why the house was on fire in the first place. I was playing with matches and gasoline and had no idea what was going to happen. But I’m a nine-year old little boy, I’ve burned myself by accident, I burned down his house.

He’s walking toward me, I know he’s going to kill me, he’s left his job, he’s got a big meeting on Monday, and I’ll never forget, he says, “John, look at me when I’m talking to you,” which is, in our family, Pete, the kiss of death so I know I’m done. And then he goes, “I have never been so proud of anybody in my entire life, and I just love you. I love you. I love you.” And I remember thinking, “Oh, my gosh, nobody told my dad what happened. He doesn’t know what went down here, man. He doesn’t know I’m the culprit of this thing.” And yet I think he did know.

I also think he recognized what actually matters. And it’s important, as we live out and strive to be awesome at our jobs, that we also recognize that it’s just part of our overall lives, and we want to be awesome at all of it, and we want to start, ultimately, I think, at home. And the best way we’re going to be effective in that is to do so in love. And I know this sounds soft, but it’s not soft. It’s really hard. It’s really forcing you to be excellent at whatever it is you strive to do. It will change your life, which is awesome. That’s called success. But it’s also going to change the life of every single person that you interact with as you move forward in your business and in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Well, there’s so much there. Well, first, congratulations. I mean, you’ve come a long way and you…well, you look great for one thing.

John O’Leary
You wear blue well, O’Leary.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s that.

John O’Leary
You know, for those who are listening rather than viewing, it’s odd to think that right now, Pete and I are looking at each other, and he sees my face and I see his, and when he looks at me, he doesn’t really see any scars. The wild thing, and I just consider it a miracle. You can call it, “Well, it sounds like dumb luck to me.” Fine. You call it dumb luck. I’ll call it a miracle. I have a 100% burn, that’s the entire body, 87% of those burns are third degree, meaning you have thick skin, thick red scars over your entire body from the point of the event all the way until you die. That’s just your life going forward.

And so, for me, Pete, I have burns, scars, from my neck all the way to my toes, it covers every inch of my body. My hands, my fingers, are amputated so I’ve got some real struggles going on, but yet my face, you don’t see any scars. And so, you can look at your life and see everything that’s wrong with it, and I think that’s very popular these days to see everything that we don’t have, and everything we wish we had, and the way we wish we had been raised, and the scars we wish we did not bear, and all those other stuff. It’s very common to talk about, “How crummy my life is,” “How brutal my boss is,” “How lousy my job is.” It’s commonplace and I think it’s a fool’s errand.

When I look in the mirror, I see the scars too. You can’t miss them but I just give thanks that part of me wasn’t burned, and I’m really grateful. And I’m grateful that I still have my life, and I still have joy, and I’m still happy. So, when you say, “John, you’re doing great,” I feel like I am doing great. I really feel like I’m incredibly supremely blessed coming through the storm.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. And, you know, I’m thinking about, I lost my dad when I was in high school, I was a freshman, and the perspective I had, in a way it was kind of similar, is that I was sad. I mean, we were close, I was bummed, it was a tragedy. And, at the same time, I was grateful that we had those 14 and a half years there together. And I remember thinking, like, “Boy, if I lost him a few years prior to that, I’m not so sure I’d be on a good path.” You know? I mean, I think there’s a lot of temptations in teen, pre-teen times, and I thought, “Okay, getting hammered looks kind of interesting.” Like all these sorts of things. But, no, I had a good strong influence and I was grateful that I had that time. And I almost felt like, “Whew! That was close. Had I lost him three or four years earlier, I might be on a very different trajectory.”

John O’Leary
So, Pete, we talked before we hit record, and I did quite a bit of research on you, so I feel like I know you a little bit. And yet when you shared that story about losing your dad, my heart sank a little bit, I loosened up a little bit, it got real for a little bit, and I just think that’s incredible what can happen when we’d be real with one another, not tell like one-up them, or not to say like, “Hey, me too.” Like, just to be real and authentic and vulnerable and connect with another human being. I think that’s amazing. And I also think it’s really remarkable because, for me, after being burned at nine, it took me two decades to come around and be grateful for the story.

For you to go through the storm of losing a parent when you’re just beginning adolescence, and you’re just beginning high school, and you’re just really beginning to journey through life, and even in the midst of it, to recognize, “Wow! At least I had him 13, 14 years. What a gift that was. At least I didn’t lose him when I was 11. That would’ve been hard, man.” Well, I would suggest, when you lost when you did, is unbelievable, almost unbearably hard and yet he must’ve instilled in you an incredible sense of self and grit and determination that, in spite of what you might face later on in life, that you’re up for the task at hand.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And I think that a lot of that does resonate and particularly this podcast and we’re talking about your book. He got me started in going to the library, reading books, and getting excited about the power of learning stuff to make you better in whatever domain, whether it’s being awesome at your job or whatever you’re up to. So, let’s talk about how you’ve put this wisdom to work. Your latest book, it’s called In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy. Well, that sounds pretty cool. What’s the big idea here?

John O’Leary
As a speaker, I go around the world sharing for organizations like Southwest Airlines or Microsoft or Apple how they can become better versions of themselves. And I have the honor of hopping on these flights and flying to fancy places and checking in and doing great work and loving these organizations. But as I go through the day, I see a lot of adults who are beat down by it, “Work is hard. And family is hard. And, oh, damn, the headlines, did you see them today? They’re bad.” Everything is kind of a struggle, and we’re just enduring. We’re enduring these days.

And I make it a habit when I’m on the road, once I leave the client’s conversation, I always go to schools. I love giving my time away to kids. And when I walk into the school building, man, the first thing you notice in a school is these kids are always smiling. You may not see it all the time when you’re in a lecture seminar, when you’re in an airport, of all places, but when you’re with kids, you see it. And you don’t always see it with your eyes. You see it with your ears. It’s like this radiant joy. And then as they get called from one class into the lecture hall with Mr. O’Leary, they go into that room skipping. Like, I don’t know when the last time your adult listeners skipped anywhere. Kids skip everywhere.

And so, I saw within these children joy, and like passion for life, and not taking the things for granted, and enthusiasm, believing that tomorrow is going to be better than today. They have it. They ask great questions. And I wonder, “What is it that they have, these children, about the way they do work?” Because they’re in work, man, in school. The way they play, they way they do life that we adults have lost sight of. And if we chose to return to it, what might happen in our lives? And it’s there for all of us. You don’t need to be under the age of five to grab it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now, it’s funny when I ask this question, but I’m going to. So, childlike awe, wonder, that sounds fun, I’d like some more inspiration, meaning, and joy. Can you draw the connection for us in how that can help professionals be more awesome at their jobs if they have that? I mean, yeah, “Happiness is all great and all, John, but can we stay on message?”

John O’Leary
You know what, I’m so glad, I have a very pragmatic wife, an incredibly cynical neighbor, and so anytime I come up with my great happiness projects, these are the first two people who immediately try to squelch it with as much water as they possibly can, and they haven’t been able to yet, so I’m not sure this question will either, or those in the room who are crossing their arms, saying, “This won’t work for me. This won’t work for me.”

At the end of the day, our work is about frequently the relationships are those that we are doing it with. At the end of the day. Whether you are working in retail and you’re checking people out, whether you are collaboratively building on projects, now virtually, whatever it might be, it’s, “How do we connect with the people around us, with the task at hand, with the mission that guides us forward, in a way that allows us to be as effective as possible in doing so?”

So, then your question is, “Well, how do you do that stuff better?” Really, that all sounds good. How do we connect with people, and purpose, and task? Well, it all goes back to meaning and inspiration and joy. You used the word happiness a moment ago to describe it. I’m not a happy guy actually. I think happiness is highly overrated. I think happiness is an ice cream cone. I give my kids ice cream cones all the time, and about 30 seconds later on a July day in St. Louis, Missouri as it’s melting, my kids have lost their happiness. So, my $5 investment in happy melts 30 seconds in. Happiness is when I give them my new iPhone. Sadness is two minutes later when I take it away or it runs out of batteries.

So, happiness is this emotion that is incredibly fleeting. We strive for it but I, ultimately, don’t think is what we’re longing for. What we long for is satisfaction. We long for contentment. We long to do a job well. We long for joy. And we can have joy regardless of the set of circumstances in front of us. So, if you want to be effective at your job, if you want to be truly awesome, okay, awesome at your job, I would suggest to you, foundationally and fundamentally, one of the very first things you ought to try to embrace is joy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about definitions for a moment. So, if happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes and maybe based on the stimuli kind of right there, what is joy?

John O’Leary
Joy is more on a determination. It’s a mindset. And I think a mindset can grow, Pete, when you own into it by asking questions around, “How do I get more of this thing?” So, if you want to get awesome at your job, ideally, you’re asking questions around, “Well, how do I get better at this? How do I become better in whatever work I strive to do?” If you want to own this mindset, and today we’re talking about right now is the mindset of joy, I would encourage you strongly, and this is going to sound soft, and I’m telling you it ain’t. This is hard business. It’s transformational if you take the O’Leary challenge.

I strongly encourage your listeners to ask three questions throughout the day, and to do them sequentially. So, the first question, it ought to be asked about an hour before your day normally begins. So, if you are waking up at 7:00 and you feel like the day already got ahead of you, we might want to wake up a little bit earlier. And I recommend, usually, get up about an hour earlier than you currently are if you feel like you’re already behind the day when it goes. We can do this.

And so, I wake up a couple of hours earlier than I really need to. But I go outside after taking a shower, I make a tall glass of water, hot cup of coffee, I sit outside in the darkness. I know this sounds odd. But if I grab my phone first, I realize that there are challenges in the news, there’s challenges with borders, there’s challenge with economics, “Oh, I got all these work emails I got to respond to, and I’m already behind. Not only am I behind, I’m beat down.”

2018, Harvard ran a business story on this, and 94.5% of news stories were negative. So, two years ago, when the markets were at a historic high, and unemployment at historic lows, and COVID-18 wasn’t even invented, let alone COVID-19, there were no stress points, man. Well, during that phase, 94.5% of the news stories were negative. So, I challenge you to go right past the headlines, go outside, grab a journal, watch the sunrise, and ask the question, “Why me?” and take an inventory, before the day unfolds in front of you, what you’re grateful for. If you want more joy, opt in. It’s a choice.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the “Why me?” question is I think there are so many ways to take that “Why me?” but you said the gratitude is the angle you’re putting on there.

John O’Leary
And, occasionally, if I’m speaking, like if I’m at a seminar, sometimes I’ll be a little bit more playful in this, and I’ll walk through the questions that you should ask if you want to have a lousy day, “So, you want to have a lousy day? You want to be miserable at your work? You want a lousy marriage, a horrible singleness? You want to be more addicted to whatever that thing is that brought you down yesterday? Ask these three questions. And the three questions are ‘Why me?’ because it’ll even make you feel worse about your life; ‘Who cares?’ because, ultimately, you don’t, clearly, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it; and, ‘What more can I do?’ And I’m just one. It’s a huge problem. The headwind is too strong. I can’t change the environment, I can’t change the economy, I can’t change my business, I can’t even change my spouse or my kids. I certainly can’t change my life. What more can I do?”

So, I walk them down the path of those three questions and then, the original point, I say, “There are three questions that I’m begging you today to begin asking, and here are these three. ‘Why me?’ A question around gratitude. ‘Who cares?’ A question around mission and meaning and values and purposefulness in your life. It’s going to spark joy. And, thirdly, ‘What more can I do?’ And asked in the light of victory, asked in the light of the mindset that allows you to spark joy, it’s going to lead to engagement. It’s going to lead to creativity and collaboration. It’s going to lead to you living not only your best job yet, but your best life yet.”

And the second question, the first one is easy, it’s gratitude. Spend three minutes on it, or 45 minutes, but all research around gratitude is that it’s a muscle we all have, many of us choose not to stretch, but when we do, it leads to vitality in the way we attack the day, and also vibrancy in the way we feel about our life around us. According to a study that came out just yesterday, 12% of Americans are pretty happy with their lives. I think the word they used is very happy with their lives. Very happy. 12%. Do you want to become a little bit closer to being very happy with your life? Start with gratitude. It’s an important muscle that must be stretched in order to be enjoyed.

The second question is, “Who cares?” And the way I would encourage your listeners to answer this is, “I choose to care. I choose to care. It’s a choice. And I choose to thrive in work and in life because…” so don’t try to buck it up, “I’m going to do well at work but whatever in life, whatever in health, whatever in money, or faith, or whatever. If I get around to that stuff, I’ll be fine then.” Bull. If you are only successful professionally, you would get to the top of the ladder and you will realize that you climbed the ladder and it was leaning up against the wrong wall. I’m not saying don’t climb high. I’m not saying don’t sprint, don’t run, don’t track topline revenue and bottom-line profitability, don’t get better at your work. I’m saying do all those things, but also recognize this is being done in the context of a holistic life.

So, we want to make sure that we, as we live out our mission, are living it out now, not only organizationally in our job, but also in our life as a whole sum. So, who cares? The answer is “I choose to thrive at work and in life because…” This becomes your ignition statement. We used to call these mission statements. In mine, and I have it on the wall in my office, mine, “I choose to thrive because,” and this is personal, “God demands it, my family deserves it, and the world is starved for it.” Let’s go. Let’s go.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Those are good reasons.

John O’Leary
Those are weak reasons. Aim higher, man.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s not like, you know, “Because I should,” or, “My parents spent a lot of money in my college education.” Like, you can have weak reasons and you can have killer reasons, and that makes all the difference.

John O’Leary
So, you can be led from a place of fear or a place of love. And, again, this sounds soft until you apply this thing up and down your life and your work, and you recognize it’s not soft. It’s foundationally transformational. It leads to excellence. It leads to a high level of accountability. It impacts not only the work you’re doing but the way you’re elevating everybody else in your teams to do better work in their lives as well. So, it really is.

As you are all getting ready to say, “This is too soft,” I’m telling you, I’ve grown three different businesses using these models. It’s not soft. It’s actually…it’ll set you apart from everybody else that looks alike. and the third and final question, we could say there’s a lot more, and there are a lot more questions to ask, but the third question that I’m encouraging you to ask daily is, “What more can I do?” and this is how you grab compound interest professionally.

We all know about compound interest, man. Open a bank account and, boom, baby, it starts growing. Compound interest. Free money. How do you do that at your job though? How do you do it in your relationships, in your spiritual journey, in your health, in your creativity, knowing you’re becoming better each day? How do you do this?

The easiest way I’ve learned to do this is to ask a question every night, and I have a journal next to my toothbrush, and when I’m on the road, this journal comes with me, and on that journal I ask a question every single night, the question is, “What more can I do?” And then, before I go to bed, I have a mandate that it must be answered. And the full question is, “What more can I do to ensure that tomorrow will be even better than today?”

And sometimes, Pete, that’s directed toward being a better husband. Sometimes it’s directed toward…you know, my dad has got Parkinson’s disease, he’s struggling. My mom has got her challenges. The world is busted right now. There’s a lot going on. But others, for those of you who are just worried about being awesome at your job, “What more can I do to be awesome at my job?” Every single day, choosing one thing that you will do tomorrow that you did not do today that will allow you to become even more effective, even more awesome. If you did that for a week, you would see immediate results. If you took the challenge for a month, I think it would transform the way you show up every single day. It’ll change what you say no to and it will elevate what you’re saying yes to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, so as you’ve shared this message with many people, what are some of the answers that tend to come back, like frequently neglected, omitted, what-can-I-do responses that are high leverage?

John O’Leary
So, I’ll just share a couple personal examples. My relationship with my wife, I think, is one of the most important ones to at least try to get right. And, in 2016, we wrote a book called On Fire, and it went on fire. It became instant number one national bestseller. It was translated into a dozen languages. And, overnight, a guy who was kind of busy, became extraordinarily busy, on the road all the time. And as we ended that year, I realized, “Wow! I got awesome at my job but I was losing track of the things, four little kids, and the individual who gave me those four little kids, my wife, that maybe should matter most.”

And so, I have a cool process on New Year’s Eve that I’m always running through individually, but I wanted to become a much better spouse in the following year. I still wanted to be awesome at my job, I still wanted to touch lives organizationally, I still wanted to grow topline revenue, but not at the expense of losing my wife. And so, I asked the question, “What more can I do?” And as I got clear on it, “Well, what if I tracked all the things she does that are good without telling her.” I kept a journal entry.

And so, on January 1, 2017, I began a leather-bound journal with the words “Dear Beth, Jan. 1, 2017.” And then I told her in writing what I was going to do this year, and then I shut the book and went to bed. And the following day, I did it again, January 2, tracked one thing she did really beautifully, something maybe with our kids, maybe something she wore, something she did for a neighbor up in our community, whatever it was. Just tracking the good, tracking the success story.

A couple cool things came up out of that. Number one is we had been married at that point for 13 years and that was, that year 2017, our best year of marriage yet. I think, Pete, frequently in life, we say, “I do” maybe to a person on an altar, at the park, you make the commitment, but then you get bored with it. It just gets hard. It becomes kind of monotonous and we grow tired, and we stop doing, we stop courting the one in front of us. We say, “I do,” when it’s our first day on the job. Like, we really want to grow, we really want to expand, but then we realize our boss is a pain, the customers are snobs, and we really don’t do it anymore, we don’t really care that much anymore.

I wanted to care deeply in this relationship with my wife, and so I tracked the good of her. I noted it on a piece of paper, and I wanted to reflect that goodness back to her through my actions, through my words. And on Christmas day 2017, I handed her a poorly-wrapped present, she opened it, and it was this leather, stains, wine stains, lousy, beat down journal with 360 journal entries with her husband tracking her beauty. And it’s the first present I think I’ve ever gave her that led her to tears. In fact, last night, she was reading this in our bedroom, laughing sometimes, crying sometimes, emotionally being brought back to this autobiography that is our life. It’s our journey together, and we missed it for a while but we didn’t miss it in 2017, and neither of us have missed it since.

So, that’s one way to ask the question, “What more can I do?” and actually take tactical action to move you. We could also talk about how this has impacted our business, who we’ve hired, who we’ve let go, what we’ve done with the community, what we say yes to, what we say no to. It influences the way you show up every single day by asking the question, “What more can I do?” and then you write it down, you go, you track your progress, you make your changes along the way, you track the course, and you see how you can become even better going forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I like is that, you know, it could be a very small thing in terms of I don’t know how long it takes you to write down a good thing that your wife did, or I’m thinking, “What can I do to make tomorrow better than today in my work life? I could tidy this desk.”

John O’Leary
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And that would, I mean, it just put me in a little better mood, a little bit more positive, a little bit more energetic, a little bit more able to reach my favorite paper and pens, etc. when the moment calls for it. And so, I hear you about that compound interest because the next day, it’s like, “Well, hey, the desk is clean, so what else can I do?”

John O’Leary
And then you start adding those on top of each other. Pages equal chapters, chapters equal books. I see the library behind you, I mean, you’re loaded back there. Books lead to libraries. It’s just compound interest. Word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, book by book, library by library. You start moving this into relationships though and you’re on relationship capital. Compound interest, I think, Einstein said that it is the eighth wonder of the world. Those who understand it get it. Those who don’t pay it. So, if you understand compound interest, you’re collecting it every day in your bank account.

Can you write down the question, “What more can I do?” Can you answer it? And the following day when you wake up groggy, can you take action? Because if you do, it’s going to change that day, and those pieces of paper stacked, it’s going to change a life. And so, it really is, like I’ve told you before, we’ve grown three different businesses simply by asking that simple question, “What more can I do?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk about this notion sort of in workplaces and relationships. I guess what are some of the top do’s and don’ts that make a world of difference in making those relationships compound into a wonderful wealthy relationship as opposed to getting in severe indebtedness?

John O’Leary
Right, man. Let’s deal with the math all the way up and down. So, one of the most important things to recognize as we go through this process is it’s not so you can collect interest, it’s so you can pay it, it’s so you can make a profound difference in the lives of those that you choose to serve. An example of this, as COVID-19 was spreading, as I’m a motivational speaker, a leadership speaker, I travel the world giving seminars, 94% of that revenue disappeared overnight starting March 6, so our whole year blew up and imploded, and I have a whole team here that supports our efforts. We try to make a bigger difference in the community.

And so, I was going home, kind of feeling a little bit sluggish about the work, and, “How can I be awesome at my job when I can’t even keep this job?” and all the things we kind of go through when we’re having a pity party. And I asked the question that night, “What more I can do?” and this is, I don’t know, late March, “What more can I do? What more can I do?” Well, we’ve a book coming out called In Awe, and was coming out early in May, and we’d already pre-sold thousands and thousands of copies, and the press was about to take this thing and run with it.

And the way I answered that question that night is, “What if we gave it all away? What if we took everything, everything that we’re going to make from this book?” And instead of being self-focused, “What can O’Leary get out of it? How can I collect more? How can I get my interest, baby, my compound payment?” What if, instead, we could give it all away?

And so, I asked the question, “What more can I do?” I ran up on my wife, that’s always a good idea if you’re married or with a partner, before you make a big decision like this. She agreed. We ran it by my four kids. They agreed it would be cool. And with that, we decided to give 100% of the profits away to an organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters. And so, in the first two weeks alone, we were able to write this organization that makes a profound cultural difference in our community. One by one is how you change the world, by the way. One by one, that’s how you do it.

We were able to write them a cheque for $30,000 because a question came in front of us, “What more can I do?” It was not asked necessarily selfishly. It was asked selflessly. It was not asked only out of success, “How can I grow myself?” but out of significance, “How can I impact those around us with the resources that we still have, with the ability to influence that we still possess?” I did that to give. I do it to give. It has led to this incredible response from the media, from social media, from other organizations saying that they wanted to match what we gave. It led to a couple organizations saying, “Man, we want to bring you in to speak virtually to our organization. We want to learn more about this compound interest, this idea of being generous even during difficult days.”

I wasn’t giving to get at all. We gave because it’s the right thing to do in any climate. And yet, in doing so, the wealth comes back into your world. And so, as you ask that question, I strongly encourage you to ask it through the lens of love not fear, the lens of abundance not entitlement, or not like thinking small, and, “How do I get more of the pie to come toward me?” There’s plenty of pie to go around. Have a piece and then pass it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Okay. Well, so then, with that said, we’re asking it in the right way, what are some sort of maybe sparks or inspirational starter actions that tend to pop up frequently?

John O’Leary
So, one of the other things I learned in leadership is to be as focused as possible in providing people questions rather than specific answers. I want people to come up with solutions for themselves. I’ll give you, though, some answers that I think will be most effective answers that have worked well for me, our team, and those that have run through this in the past.

When they ask the question, “What more can I do?” what we’ve almost always found is the question is almost always focused, first, with a reflection in the mirror. Almost always. They want to know what more they can do to become a better version of themselves, to become a little bit more safe financially, to be able to give a little bit more in the community. And then they begin building the bridge a little bit farther, now that they have some of their own needs met. They’re able to look beyond themselves, beyond the reflection, and start saying, “Gosh, what more can I do for my spouse, my partner? This addiction, man, whatever this thing is that I’m struggling with, a dream that I’m longing, the ability to influence in our life, my own children, my aging parents?” And then it keeps expanding forward from there.

And so, as people ask this question, they’ll frequently begin asking, with the universe closest to them, “What more can I do?” And that’s healthy. It’s an appropriate way to begin the conversation. As you move farther down the path of not only success but also tying and tethering to that significance, the ability to influence and impact those around us, it begins shifting, in my own world, visiting kids in hospitals, taking the first fruits of the book In Awe and giving it away to an organization that I believe will make a far greater impact with that money than I possibly ever could if it was mine. And so, it begins moving from self-focus into other focus over time.

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

John O’Leary
We’ve had a whole lot of folks respond, they’ve gone in for their executive MBA because they realized, “What is holding me back? What is holding me back? I always wanted to do this.”

So, it can lead to you saying, “Man, I want a promotion. I want a new job. I’m going to tell my boss specifically how I feel and how I need to be spoken to so I could be more effective working with her.” It can lead to a whole different level of cascading effects in your life, but it’s highly personal. Highly personal. So, the way you get the information that ultimately you need, you desire, that will improve you, that will make you awesome is to simply start with the question mark, “What more can I do?” And then to pivot forward with the answer.

The hardest part, Pete, actually, part of it is answering is just simply taking the time to answer. It’s going to take a long time. It’ll probably take you 30 seconds each day, so that’s how long it takes. Then the real hardest part, the following day. Will you do it? Will you email your boss and say, “You know, we need to have a conversation”? Will you reach out to the local community college or the local university, and say, “You know what, I think not having this education is holding me back from being who I know I can be”? So, taking the action is the trickiest piece, and yet in doing so, it will set you apart. It will put you in a new direction in life.

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

John O’Leary
So, one of my favorite quotes is from Viktor Frankl, and it’s been attributed to Nietzsche as well, it’s, “When you know your why, you can endure any ‘how.’” And, for me, whatever your job might be, if we don’t have laser focus and, ultimately, why we choose to do that job at a high level in the first place, I think we’ll fail in time in whatever that task is.

It’s a compelling statement in my life that guides me through difficult days physically, because I struggle physically many days, but also professionally with my job and other facets.

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

John O’Leary
Man, so my dad has Parkinson’s disease, he’s had it for, gosh, 29 years, and that’s a long time to be alive, let along have Parkinson’s disease. So, he’s struggling mightily, he’s lost his job, he’s also the most grateful guy I’ve ever met. He’s just happy everywhere he goes. The word you and I were using earlier – joy.

Years ago, I asked him how could he be so grateful when he’s got so little seemingly. And he said, “How can I not when I’ve got the world. I’ve got everything.” So, I had him share, “Dad, what are you grateful for because of Parkinson’s disease?” And he went through this list, and I said, “Dad, could you give me three things, just three things?” And he said the very first thing is, “I’m grateful it wasn’t a more serious disease,” and then he said, “I’m grateful I used to be so busy, now I have nothing but time to reflect on who really matters and what really matters in my life. I’m grateful for this time. And then, thirdly, I’m grateful for your mom.” He says, “Everyone else is pushing me farther away but your mother, my wife, keeps stepping closer and closer, and I’m incredibly profoundly grateful.”

And then I’m ready to give him a hug, Pete, and then he says, “Sit down. I’m not done. I’m not done.” And he went on and on and on. And, by the end of this conversation, he had 17 things that he was grateful for as a result, specifically, to Parkinson’s disease. So, I shared that as the backstory because I’ve done a lot of research on gratitude. And one of my favorite studies on gratitude is called the nun study. You can Google this later on. I think it was done from the University of Minnesota on a group of nuns from the Notre Dame province, I believe.

They collected all the journals from these ladies, and they said, “Did it matter how these women viewed their days?” Could you think of a better controlled group to study? “Did it matter how they viewed their days?” They wore the same clothes. They have the same faith. They eat the same food. They teach in the same schools. Did it really matter how they viewed their days? And the way they tracked it was by how optimistic or how negative they were about the day they had. They all kept journals, so they kept all the journals.

And then the remarkable aspect of that research is it said that those who are most negative about their days were alive at age 85, I believe, the number is 31% of the time, and those who were most optimistic and positive about the day they just experienced, the same day that those others experienced, but they saw it through a different lens, they were grateful for the lens they had, were alive 87% of the time. It’s almost a three-fold increase in longevity.

I challenge your listeners to research gratitude, and everywhere you turn, you’re going to find more remarkable things that gratitude will lead to in your vibrancy, in your longevity, in your health, in your life, and in your effectiveness at work. So, it’s one of my favorite studies.

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

John O’Leary
A favorite book. Man, so one of my favorite go-to is called The Return of the Prodigal Son. And it’s written by a guy born in northern Europe, he taught in Canada for a while, his name was Henri Nouwen.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Thank you. And, tell me, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

John O’Leary
If you go to ReadInAwe.com, on that website, we have a link to all of our social media links, we have a link to our Live Inspired podcast, we’ve got a link to our books, so all that stuff is there for you. You can learn about John O’Leary speaking and his story leading up to this.

There’s a 21-day challenge free that people can go through, and recognize why they ought to be optimistic that their best days remain in front of them. With so much negativity, I want to give some practical optimism and hope for today that tomorrow is going to be even better.

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

John O’Leary
Wake up early tomorrow. Don’t let the day tackle you. You tackle it. Get up about an hour early. I know that’s a lot. I know you love your beauty sleep but it’s where you’re going to get your best work done. Begin that day in silence, reflect, fully in gratitude, maybe with a journal in hand, asking the question “Why me?” What are you grateful for? Take inventory. Start there.

Then, “Who cares?” That’s your mission statement. And if you can design your mission statement, we called it an ignition statement.

Why do you choose to thrive? Why do you choose to be awesome at your job? And then, thirdly, and finally, we spent quite a bit of time on this one so I hope it was heard loud and clear. Tonight, not tomorrow night, tonight, ask the question before you go to bed, “What more can I do?” And then answer it.

If you’re looking for one specific takeaway, ask the question tonight, “What more can I do?” Grab your compound interest and take action.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. John, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish lots of luck and many more moments of awe.

John O’Leary
I’m living it, Pete. Thank you for letting me join you on your show. And thank you for the great work that you do.

580: How to Stop Overthinking and Become More Decisive with Anne Bogel

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Anne Bogel says: "Any moment you spend overthinking something that doesn't deserve that time, energy, and attention is a minute you can't spend on something that really deserves it."

Anne Bogel discusses how to stop second-guessing yourself and make decision-making easier.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What we lose when we overthink
  2. Telltale signs you’re overthinking
  3. How to stop overthinking in three to eight minutes

About Anne

Anne Bogel is the author of Reading People and I’d Rather Be Reading and creator of the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy and the podcasts What Should I Read Next? and One Great Book. Bogel has been featured in O, the Oprah MagazineReal SimpleBustleRefinery 29The Washington Post and more. Bogel’s popular book lists and reading guides have established her as a tastemaker among readers, authors, and publishers. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Anne Bogel Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. Well, so tell me, you’ve got another book out. It’s about making decisions, and I thought that was kind of meta in a way because your podcast is called What Should I Read Next? which is a decision that you’re making again and again and again. So, maybe to tee it up, could you tell us, how do you, in fact, decide what to read next?

Anne Bogel
Well, this is true about my podcast but I have to tell you, I did not understand the connection between the podcast and the book until I think, I don’t know, a week or two before my first book tour event for this book. And one of my team members said, “Well, the podcast is tailor-made to help people know everything about their reading life, so just talk about how you put together the show and why it works.” And I was like, “It is? Oh, it is, isn’t it?”

Well, the secrets there are go to a trusted source, get a couple of options but not too many, and know that there is always another book because you don’t get all caught up in perfectionism and second-guessing if you know that there’s always going to be another book after the one you finished. Also, as a podcast host, it’s easy not to be like overcome with regret and second-guessing because I know there’s always going to be another episode.

So, if I remember in the shower the next morning, “Oh, now I know the perfect book for that guest that I talked to yesterday, and that ship has sailed, I can’t change my recommendations now,” because every episode I recommend three books live on the fly that I think will be good for the guest based on our conversation. It’s helpful to know, “Well, I could always put that in the newsletter. I could always put that in the bonus episode, or I can always save that for another guest that it just might be perfect for.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s how you’re helping folks with those decisions. Your book is called Don’t Overthink It. So, maybe you could start by telling us, why not overthink it? What’s the problem with the cost associated with, in fact, overthinking it?

Anne Bogel
Oh, well, okay. At the best, it’s a distraction. But, at the worst, I mean, I used to think that this was more a nuisance than a massive huge deal for many people but I’ve really come to believe that overthinking, it always comes with an opportunity cost that isn’t worth paying. Because when you’re spending your life overthinking things, any moment you spend overthinking something that doesn’t deserve that time, energy, and attention is a minute you can’t spend on something that really deserves it.

And when I talk about overthinking, I’m talking about those thoughts that are repetitive, unhealthy, unhelpful. It’s when your brain is working really hard but it’s not taking you anywhere. Nobody wants that. Those thoughts are exhausting. They make you feel miserable. So, just so we know what we’re talking about, and why you really don’t want that in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s handy. So, you’re defining overthinking perhaps a bit more broadly than some might assume. It’s not just you’re spending too much time on a given decision or a plan of action, but just overthinking in places that don’t need those thoughts at all, eh?

Anne Bogel
I am. Some books about overthinking do restrict it to just rumination, where that word comes from the oh-so-flattering image of a cow chewing its cud, returning to the same food again and again for digestive purposes. But if you’re a person who’s overthinking, thinking about whatever that is over and over again, it doesn’t help you reach a decision. It’s a loop that takes conscious intervention to get out of.

And, yeah, I believe that we’re all happier and healthier, and can spend more of our resources, our time, energy, and attention on the things that really matter when we give decisions and other things in our lives the amount of energy they deserve and not more. I mean, it’s not overthinking if you give something the amount of thought you want it to, even if your choice may look hard to believe for some people.

Like, if you know someone who really genuinely enjoys researching. Oh, wow, Pete, I was about to use a travel analogy. Okay, let’s go for it.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m in.

Anne Bogel
Let’s go for it and hope those days will come again. If you have a friend who really enjoys researching, like, 40 different places they may visit to camp on spring break because that is fun for them, that is part of the adventure, that is part of the experience, that’s not overthinking for them. It might be overthinking for you because that’s not fun for you. That’s perfectionism-driven research looking for just, you know, “I’ll just check one more site, one more site, one more site.” But if you’re giving something the amount of attention you want to, that’s just fine.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that because it really just opens it up a whole lot in that it may indeed be shocking or overwhelming and surprising to some people, when you’re just like, I guess, sort of nerding out and doing what you’re doing. I was thinking recently about, I might do this, I’ve been playing a little bit of Fortnite, the smash hit sensation game which I guess is for 12-year old boys but I play it too.

And I’ve been thinking about, like the trigonometry associated with when you jump out of the Battle Bus and how you might optimize the timing of it so you hit exactly the spot you want to hit as fast as possible. In a way, I mean, it’s just a silly game. I’m never going to go pro and it’s just sort of amusing to be. But I love that definition because it’s like, “Well, no, if I’m having a hoot just figuring that out for the sheer fun of figuring it out, I’m not overthinking it,” versus, if someone who has more fun just playing the game and blasting people away, then they would be overthinking it. It’s very subjective and individual-dependent.

Anne Bogel
Yeah. If you’re enjoying your trig exercising with Fortnite, have at it.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Okay. Cool.

Anne Bogel
Actually, you know what? If you do find yourself caught in an overthinking loop, when your brain is like the hamster on the wheel and you can’t stop talking, it sounds like what you’re describing is a really excellent potential distraction for your mind. It gives it a puzzle to work on that requires a kind of creative mental energy that forces out the things you don’t want to be thinking about. Because all your attention is required to focus on this problem you’ve created for yourself because you enjoy it and because it’s fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that just kind of makes me think it’d be great just to have a list of those at the ready for when you’re caught in a loop, it’s like, “Oh, I need to escape. Oh, here’s my handy list of fun puzzles I can go and solve.” And I find that a little bit even with, I guess there’s research on this, like knitting or crafts. Like, I’ve experienced that when I’m doing that sort of thing, it’s like, “Oh, this is very soothing because my brain is focused on that thing instead of many, many, many thoughts, issues, questions I’m trying to nail down.”

Anne Bogel
Yes. I don’t know if you or someone who turns to stress baking when you’re feeling overwhelmed, but this is a real thing, and it serves the same purpose. If you’re following a recipe for the first time, or one you’re not familiar with, your hands are occupied, your brain is occupied, it’s tactile, and it requires all your concentration, or you’re going to screw it up, so there’s not room for that mental loop to play. Also, it goes, “Did I say the wrong thing? Did I say the wrong thing? Why won’t they call? What’s happening? Why are they running late?” because your brain is completely occupied. You don’t have the bandwidth to entertain those thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m digging this. So, overthinking is giving more thought than something deserves. It’s problematic because there is an opportunity cost that you could be spending your time, energy, attention, thinking on something that’s more fun and joyful. Maybe could you help us identify when we’re overthinking faster, in terms of what are sort of the canaries-in-the-coal-mine, the telltale signs, or maybe even just frequent categories of stuff subject to overthought?

Anne Bogel
That’s a great question, and it’s almost hard to give a list because overthinking, more than I realized when I launched into this personal project, is insidious. Like, it’s the river that’s a mile wide and of varying depths for some people. But it’s a good question because the first step to overcome any kind of overthinking is to realize you’re doing it. Because if you don’t realize your behavior is problematic or impacting your life in negative ways, then you wouldn’t even think about changing it. You wouldn’t feel like you had a reason to.

I would say that noticing when you feel tired, noticing when you feel crabby, noticing when you feel stressed about making certain decisions or uncertain moments. Some people, if you ask them, “Are you an overthinker?” they can immediately say, “Oh, my gosh, yes. Like, I was up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning worrying what might happen if…” fill in the blank. I won’t give you any scenarios. The people who do that can certainly come up with them on their own. I know there have been times when I certainly could.

But, also, it may help to review a list of things that are known triggers for a lot of people, even those who don’t typically characterize themselves as constant overthinkers. Relationship is a big one. Work is a big one for a lot of people. Also, money trips up a lot of people who don’t consider themselves to be chronic overthinkers. And we could be talking about tiny purchases, like, “Why would I buy G2s when the big sticks are so much cheaper?” I mean, some people will find themselves paralyzed by these small questions. Ghirardelli instead of Hershey’s.

Pete Mockaitis
Trying to ride on experiences, luxurious and joyful is my answer, Anne.

Anne Bogel
Exactly. Or it could be justifying a splurge, like a nice dinner out, or a vacation that’s outside the bounds of what you would typically spend for a vacation in the summer. These are things that are big triggers for a lot of people.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. And now I’m really feeling what you’re saying with regard to how it can be a thief of joy there in terms of if you’re agonizing, or it’s like, “Oh, that seems like such a cool vacation. Oh, but it cost so much money.” So, I think you can just really go back and forth and put yourself in a tough spot which is unpleasant. As opposed to, I guess, if you just knew, “Well, hey, the vacation budget is this, greater than, less than. Okay, I guess we can move on,” or, “This seems like an exceptional opportunity. Hey, spouse, or travel companions, what do we think about shifting some budget from one place to another?” That’s excellent in terms of just the angst, “I’m feeling it,” that can come when you’re doing that.

Anne Bogel
You know what you just did though was you cut out the inclination to maximize that so many people who struggle with overthinking do on a regular basis. Because, sure, if it’s in budget, that’s great. And if it’s not, that’s a problem. But what if you could get a little more for your money? What if you might be like more meaningfully fulfilled if you went to one place or another? Maybe you just really need to stay home I mean, there are so many options to consider that, without having a clear idea of what you want and where you’re going, it’s easy to succumb to.

Also, another big trigger of overthinking in a lot of people is shopping. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to the grocery, or oh, my gosh, if you’re buying jeans, or school supplies for your kids. Any situation where you have to make a lot of decisions really quickly can really take a toll on your mental stamina.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about the stamina piece for a bit. So, decision fatigue is a real thing. Can you tell us, what is it and how do we deal with it?

Anne Bogel
Decision fatigue has become quite a buzzword. I find that most people know what this is now but not everybody. We’re talking about that state when your brain is tired from making many decisions, and you simply reached the point where you can’t make any more effectively. And this is because, when it comes to making decisions, we don’t have an endless capacity to do so. We can only handle so many decisions in a day but we make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions every day depending on what we do.

And so, how we allocate our energy to make those decisions, and how we can structure our lives to make fewer of them, really matters. And if you want to nerd out about this, there’s all kinds of interesting research on everything from kids in the classroom to judges sitting on a court bench.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right.

Anne Bogel
Officers making parole decisions that show, oh, you want to be in front of whoever is deciding something on your behalf when they are fresh.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Anne Bogel
Because, yeah, if you come at the end of the day, or the last cases before lunch, you are screwed. When people don’t know what to do, they default to the status quo, or they decide nothing at all because it takes less brain power.

Pete Mockaitis
You gotta ring on the stickers when you’re on trial, “Your Honor, would you please…?”

Anne Bogel
If you can’t be on the docket before 8:00, that probably is your next best bet. But, truly, this matters. Like, we don’t want to think we live in a world where the fates of people are determined by where you fall on the docket. But being aware of how these human limitations affect your life, whether you want them to or not, helps you do something about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, decision fatigue, it happens. We have a finite capacity to make decisions over the course of the day. It becomes depleted and we’re sleepy. So, what should we do about it? Schedule big decisions for when we’re fresh. Or what are sort of the top practices to address this?

Anne Bogel
That’s a good question. Okay, I’m going to zoom out a little bit. So, I found that when it comes to overthinking, so many of us start by thinking, like, “Okay, I’m standing at the kitchen counter, I’m looking for my friend to pull into the driveway because they’re supposed to be here any minute but they’re running late. Are they in a ditch? Is there something wrong? Do they actually hate me and they’re not coming? What is happening now?”

We think like, “Okay, I need to do something in this moment to fix the problem so it doesn’t happen again.” But, really, so much overthinking doesn’t start in the moment. We lay the foundation by how we treat our bodies. Studies show that we don’t overthink when we’re well-rested. We don’t overthink when we’re peaceful. We overthink when we eat Doritos for dinner, when we’re tired, when we stayed up too late. We overthink when we’re not taking care of our bodies. We overthink when our shoulder hurts because we’ve been sitting hunched over our desk all day.

So, the first thing we can do is really set ourselves up for success by taking care of those really simple boring adult human maintenance things that we know we should do but we don’t always make time for because they don’t seem so productive in the moment. And, Pete, I got to tell you, I was really disappointed to read this research because it’s not fun. Like, it’s not sexy like a good productivity hack is.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it doesn’t get you the clicks on social media.

Anne Bogel
No. No, but…

Pete Mockaitis
Not a weird trick.

Anne Bogel
I don’t know who needs to hear this but, truly, like going to bed when you know you should will make it so much easier to make decisions at 2:00 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think when it comes to a lot of this, this boring but helpful and true information, I think what helps get me fired up about it, and I talked to this mindfulness thought leader Rasmus Hougaard, and I loved that he brought a lot of sort of numbers and facts and research to bear in terms of like, “Okay, sure enough, there’s a great ROI associated with sort of sitting and breathing and mindfulness practice.”

So, maybe can you share, did you find anything striking with regard to, “Wow, if you spend just a couple of minutes doing this thing, it yields a whole lot of minutes of not overthinking”? In terms of like, when I see huge ROI or bang for the buck, I get excited. And sleep, I just love sleeping, but sometimes I think, “Well…”

Anne Bogel
I don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
I was like, “Well, okay, sure, six hours versus eight hours is going to make a big difference but that’s two whole freaking hours. Is there anything I can do that’ll take me like four minutes that’s going to yield 12 minutes of benefit on the other side?” That’s how I overthink things, Anne. Welcome to my brain.

Anne Bogel
I love that I said I hate that this is true because you can’t hack your way out of it, and now you’re asking for a hack.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s what I want.

Anne Bogel
I see what you’re doing. Something that did help me truly was to hear a productivity expert, a friend of mine, Lauran Vanderkam, say, we could point to these studies, but that, “Sleep and exercise truly, they don’t take time, they make time. When you invest the time in getting the sleep you know you need, and stopping to exercise, you think better all day long.”

And she really recommends getting your exercise before 3:00 p.m. for that reason, not that it won’t help you more globally for the long term but on a daily basis your attention is sharper after you exercise. Oh, but after that, that makes me think of a research that shows that if we, this is going to sound like a funny word in this context, if we invest 15 minutes in overthinking, if we’re prone to overthinking, or in worrying, if we’re prone to worrying, and schedule it on our calendars for a certain time each day, and concentrate on getting it all in then, it’s almost like David Allen.

The brain wants a system it can trust. If your brain knows that its overthinking concerns will be heard from 3:45 to 4:00 p.m. every day, your brain is truly more likely to leave you alone the rest of the time because it knows, “3:45, we’re going to hit my issues, the system is in place, we got it handled.” So, it’s possible that consciously, not possible. Studies show that consciously deciding to overthink for those 15 minutes really can ease the burden the rest of the day.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s true and I’ve done that a couple of times. And when I have, I found that it’s almost fun. Like, the worrying or the overthinking is like, “Argh, I’ve been holding it in, and here we go.” It’s just like a frenzy, and it’s sort of enjoyable. Like, for me, sometimes it’s sort of like there’s all these creative thoughts that I really want to go explore and, in some ways, that might not technically qualify for definition because I’m having fun with it. But, nonetheless, they’re distracting from the matter at hand which is more pressing and urgent and important.

And so, when I schedule like sort of creative frenzy thought time, it’s so fun to go there, and it’s so liberating that I don’t feel as much of the thug just knowing I see it visually in color on the calendar. It’s going to land there and it’s fine.

Anne Bogel
Yeah, it’s handled.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. All right then, let’s hear some more takes on changing negative thought patterns. How do we go about making that happen?

Anne Bogel
Ooh, okay. Well, again, the first step is to notice they’re happening, but it’s so true. I don’t know your experiences. In my experience, I talked to so many women, friends, or even just blog readers who say, like, “Ugh, I’m just an overthinker. Like, It’s who I am, I’ve always done it,” and they assume there’s nothing they can do about it. But what happens is that we get really good at anything we practice, and so many of us have put in a lot of almost deliberate practice over the years into developing these patterns of overthinking.

And I just want to say for anyone who needs to hear that if you feel like you’re a champion overthinker, yeah, it’s because you’ve been practicing for a long time. But when you practice more positive thought patterns, it’s hard at first but that’s not because you’re not a natural. You weren’t a natural overthinker either. Although it is true that some people are more inclined to overthink than others, but over time, slowly learning how to interrupt those overthinking moments when they happen, and learning to lay a better foundation the rest of the time really can help you train your brain to go in a healthier direction on a regular basis.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we talked a bit about the foundations in terms of like sleep and exercise and nutrition. How do you recommend we execute an interruption in the heat of the moment?

Anne Bogel
So, when you find yourself in an overthinking moment, it may be helpful to think of it as riding out a craving. You don’t have to resist that overthinking moment forever. Like, the typical food craving abates in three to eight minutes. So, if you can give yourself a meaningful distraction for three to eight minutes, then you are likely to be A-Okay for a little while. But the meaningful distraction is important.

Scrolling Instagram on your phone doesn’t count. That’s way too passive. You need to do something that uses different areas of your brain, and demands a lot of your attention. So, for some people they like the combination of working jigsaw puzzles and listening to audiobooks or music at the same time, so your brain is working on two different puzzles. Basically, one is you’re decoding the book and you’re decoding the puzzle.

Tetris is actually a remarkably effective game for those who don’t like Fortnite because it does also fire up your brain in all kinds of different regions. We already talked about stress baking. Exercise is a really effective strategy for a lot of people which combines several different ways to overcome overthinking. But it depends, of course, on what you do.

Somebody who was raving to me recently how trying to do their double-unders with their jump rope was really effective because they had to concentrate to not whack themselves in the knees. But I’m a runner, but if I want to not overthink, I can’t just like run on the loop at the park when nobody is there because it’s easy for my brain to wander. But if I’m running trails, I have to pay attention or I’m going to trip on the tree roots, and that is really distracting. That’s a hardcore distraction because I would have to like change my clothes, and we’re talking about a 45-minute run. But even small things like calling your mom, talking to a friend, can be really helpful, which is three to eight minutes. That’s all you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, that’s very helpful to know. You can sort of set a timer and then not let it go too long. I’m reminded now of one time I was at a date at a coffee shop, and then this dude showed up, and he sat down with his cup of coffee, his headphones, and his knitting needles, and just went to town. And I just thought it was kind of funny that he chose this time and place in close proximity to us to do that, but it looks like he was onto something. He was taking a strategic break that makes a world of difference with that combo there.

Anne Bogel
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Now, you had a great teaser on the back on the back of your book, and I can’t resist. What are the three things we should do for a healthier thought life?

Anne Bogel
Well, we already talked about how you can set yourself up for success. So much overthinking doesn’t start in the moment. It starts well before that because of the foundation you laid. You know what we didn’t talk about? So, we haven’t talked about perfectionism yet. Like, identifying and consciously thinking of ways to overcome perfectionism is a huge thing for tons of people.

I did not understand the connection between perfectionism and overthinking until just in the past couple of years, and I’ve been living with both for a long time. And, truly, just seeing how they’re linked has really helped me put more overthinking aside because I know perfectionism is unhealthy and that it doesn’t take me to good places. And I know that when I recognize that thought pattern in myself, I need to put it aside, and I, more or less, know how to do that.

But perfectionism, like overthinking, is sneaky. And when I don’t realize that the issue I’m overthinking is driven by perfectionism, I can be looking at the question on the table like it’s completely reasonable. But when I realize, “Anne, you’re being a perfectionist,” like then it’s easy to put it aside. And, Pete, let me give you an example because I find when it’s abstract, you think, “Oh, that sounds great in theory, but what the heck are you talking about?”

I’m thinking about things like figuring out the best way to drive across town during rush hour because you have to do it, because you need to be at that thing. Like, I could make myself crazy trying to figure out, “What if I left earlier? Could we just move the meeting 15 minutes? But is there a better way? What if someone rode with a friend? Could we work this out in a different way?” But realizing, like, “You’re trying to maximize this situation and make it the most efficient it can possibly be,” and it’s not worth the mental gymnastics you’re doing. Like, you’ve not spent more time solving the problem than it would take you to just get in the car and drive. Like, that’s perfectionism, just put it aside. Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to follow up on that. I think that’s excellent in terms of the awareness and the catching of it, and what perfectionism sounds like there. And I think I’ve done that with maybe Amazon.com purchases in terms of, like, “What’s the absolute best plumber’s wrench, or whatever, that I can acquire?” And then you come to realize, “Well, Pete, if you spend half an hour on that, then that far exceeds the cost difference of these wrenches. Like, you can just get them all and see for yourself.”

Anne Bogel
Now, maybe you’re a craftsman who really enjoys looking at all the specs.

Pete Mockaitis
Good point. If that’s fun for you, hey, enjoy it. But if it’s not, yeah, move on.

Anne Bogel
But that wouldn’t be how I would choose to spend my leisure time, which we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you. Thinking about something like an hourly rate has really helped me make some of those decisions because, oh, my gosh, I hear you. Barnes & Noble has these three-for-two sales if you walk into their store. They’ll have these tables full of paperbacks that are three for the price of two.

And I tell you what, those first two come to me immediately. Like, I know exactly what I want. But then I could spend 20 minutes, like staring at all the books, thinking, “Well, I don’t really love any of these, and, oh.” I mean, retailers are not on your side when it comes to overthinking. The longer you spend looking, the more you buy. I guess they’re not considering that you may just throw up your hands in frustration and leave, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess not enough of us do that.

Anne Bogel
Clearly not.

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

Anne Bogel
For a long time, I knew that we overthought things. I mean, I could see myself thinking my way out of happiness because it made me miserable in the moment. But I never really realized until these past few years how often I would actually talk myself out of small joys I feel now like I’m losing twice when I do that. So, I’m spending this time debating something that doesn’t deserve my time and energy, and also I lose out in the process.

And we talked about pens earlier. Like, pens are a good example. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “Well, I don’t really need the uni-ball VISION because I have a pen from the bank. That’s not great. It’s not a great tool. I’m a writer. But, still, like do I really need to spend an extra $1.80 on a uni-ball VISION?”

Anne Bogel
They cost a little more than the baseline to get a nice pen, and so I’d be like, “Well, is it worth it? Well, is it the most efficient? Well, can I justify it?” Well, Pete, I finally realized, like, “What am I debating here? Like, it’s a tool. I’m a writer. But even if I wasn’t, the pleasure you get for like six months of writing with a pen that cost a little bit more that’s actually decent, like it’s a small joy every time you pick it up, if you’re a total pen dork, which I am.” And so, why would I talk myself out of that?

And by talk myself out of it, I don’t just mean in the moment. I mean, lots of concentrated thought about what kind of pen I want to buy. So, I realized that I was just cutting myself off from these small simple joys. Like, there’s flowers on the front of the book, and the reason there’s flowers on the front of the book is, for years, I would drive myself just bananas at Trader Joe’s, thinking, “Well, can I justify getting the flowers? I don’t really need the flowers.” I really love flowers on my kitchen counter but they’re not like an essential to live a good life. And I finally realized, like, “Anne, you have $4. You can just buy the flowers, you can put them on your kitchen counter, and you can enjoy them all week.”

So, I would just hope that listeners would think about how, not only is overthinking something that you can stop doing because it’s making you miserable, but when you put it aside, you really can open the door to bringing these simple life pleasures into your life in a more abundant way.

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

Anne Bogel
“I dwell in Possibility,” Emily Dickinson.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite tool, maybe it’s a pen, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Anne Bogel
I like this thing, it’s called a Lettermate, I think. It calls itself a handy tool to write in a straight line for those who have terrible handwriting, which I do. So, I keep it on my desk and I use it to write in a straight line in my blank journal, and it makes me happy.

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

Anne Bogel
Ooh, walking the dog in the morning before it gets hot.

Pete Mockaitis
And a particular nugget you share that you’re known for?

Anne Bogel
Reading is not a competition. Quality over quantity. Also, don’t apologize for not reading Jane Austen. It really is okay. People may not say that to you but my blog is named after Jane Austen’s character so I get that all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
I just think that’s funny that that’s your life.

Anne Bogel
Every day.

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

Anne Bogel
My hub on the web is my blog ModernMrsDarcy.com or the podcast What Should I Read Next? is in your favorite podcast app.

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

Anne Bogel
Ooh, yeah. Put your butt in the chair and do the work. I mean, you probably know what to do. Make yourself some coffee, or grab whatever you love instead, and do the thing instead of talking how much you wish you could.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Anne, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you might be tempted to overthink it.

Anne Bogel
Well, thank you. I appreciate that. And it was great to be back.

579: How to Grow Your Influence and Lead Without Authority with Keith Ferrazzi

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Keith Ferrazzi says: "You do not have to control more. You have to influence more. You have to co-create more."

Keith Ferrazzi discusses how to turn colleagues into teammates by changing how we lead and collaborate.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How leaders (unknowingly) alienate their teams
  2. How silos came to be—and how we can break them down 
  3. An exercise for creating authentic connections with your team 

About Keith

Keith Ferrazzi is the founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a management consulting and team coaching company that works with many of the world’s biggest corporations. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Ferrazzi rose to become the youngest CMO of a Fortune 500 company during his career at Deloitte, and later became CMO of Starwood Hotels. He is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business ReviewForbes, and Fortune and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who’s Got Your Back and Never Eat Alone. His mission is to transform teams to help them transform the world. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

  • Miro. Boost your collaborations with the ultimate online whiteboard at miro.com/awesome

Keith Ferrazzi Interview Transcript

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, I am looking forward to helping people be awesome and learning something too.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Well, so you are renowned as a connector. And I’d love to hear, do you have a particularly favorite story associated with how a connection came to be?

Keith Ferrazzi
Wow, oddly-enough, in 53 years, I’ve never been asked that question.

Pete Mockaitis
I love you, man.

Keith Ferrazzi
So, look, and I don’t know this is a great story or not, but it’s so important that you get intentionality in your life around what you’re trying to achieve, and then start asking yourself who would you want to get to know in order to try to achieve that and co-create things with them. A number of years ago, I was just out with Never Eat Alone, Oprah was, of course, the best thing since sliced bread in terms of advancing book sales, and I had been wracking my brain about how I could get to Oprah. I was not a well-known dude at that time. I was well-known in the business world but not in the general world.

And I was just passing by at a marketing desk, and I had said something to her about how important it would be to really just think about getting on Oprah. And an intern, who was only with us for about a month, often in the corner, piped up and said, “Oh, well, I don’t know if it helps, but my aunt is Gayle King.” And I go, “That might be helpful.” It’s amazing. It’s like the point is if you don’t get clear and you don’t put it out there with abundance, then you’re going to be missing opportunities because you never can know who knows who.

I’ve also been in situations where I had mentioned on a podcast, “I wanted to get to know so and so.” And a high school kid reached out to me and did the work. He did the work in his network. He found his friends who had parents, and blah, blah, blah, and ultimately I’d gotten introduced to the CEO of Johnson & Johnson which was the thing that I put out there. So, again, you put it out there, it has a chance to manifest.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool. That’s really cool. And for those who have not watched Oprah, Gayle King is her best friend that she references frequently, “My best friend Gayle,” and that’s wild. So, thank you. So, now, your latest here is called Leading Without Authority. Can you kick us off by sharing the case for why that’s important for professionals these days?

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, look, the world has really changed a lot in business, and it’s interesting, in the last two to three months, there’s been more solidification of the way we work, and the future of work has happened in the last two to three months than it happened in the last 20 years, no question in my mind. And the ability today for anybody in an organization to be a transformation agent, an agent of transformation, is more available today than ever before.

Now, I’ve always believed that anybody with a vision and audacity and a willingness to serve the people around them could achieve extraordinary things. I tell the story in Never Eat Alone about me in my 20s becoming the chief marketing officer of all of Deloitte, right? And that was ridiculous, and it had to do with, I didn’t know it back then, it had to do with my capacity to lead without authority, to lead through a strong vision and a willingness to share the stage with other people who I co-created with until they named me the chief marketing officer because I had the vision that we wanted and needed to do that.

Today, it’s not only possible, it’s mandatory. Most organizations are in real dire need of innovation, transformation, constant adaptability, and anybody who’s listening to this, you can be the tipping point for transformation. Gandhi, one dude was the tipping point of transformation. Martin Luther King, one dude, the tipping point of transformation. It is absolutely possible to be the tipping point of transformation but you’ve got to lead a movement. And this book Leading Without Authority teaches you exactly how to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s exciting. Well, so you mentioned a few examples, yourself and some leaders of renowned history.

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, I’m not putting myself at par with Harriet Tubman. Not at all. I’m just saying no matter what kind of a movement you want to lead, whether it’s a meager movement inside of your organization to transform the way you do business, or it’s a social movement, it’s all borne on the same principles.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a story of someone who perhaps was frustrated, they were banging their head against the wall, not getting much results in terms of trying to lead because they didn’t have authority and things weren’t going anywhere, and how they turned it around?

Keith Ferrazzi
In chapter one of the book, we meet Sandy. And Sandy is a lovely woman, a well-intentioned HR leader, she’s not the top leader. In fact, she’s kind of pissed off at the top leader because the top leader has said to her, “Sandy, I want you to design a compensation system for the company as a whole. And, by the way, the sales folks over here, they are running their own play and trying to create a compensation system unique to sales. Would you head that off for me please,” and then he disappears like the coward that he was, because he, in reality, knew that he couldn’t stop it.

The head of sales in that company was more powerful than the head of HR, and the head of sales had created, like a lot of sales organizations do, a shadow HR function, and a lot of them do pretty much what they wanted to do. So, Sandy walks into the head of sales operations, a woman named Jane, and says, “Jane, I just want to let you know I’m creating this compensation system. Let’s sit down so we can reconcile what you’re doing with what I’m doing, and I can basically tell you how you should be doing it differently.”

And Jane is like, “Oh, thank you very much,” and never invited her to any of Jane’s meetings. And Sandy was like, “Well, wait a second. I’ve been ordained as the head of compensation. Why aren’t they letting me in these meetings?” Because they didn’t have to, because Sandy didn’t approach it in the right way.

When I ultimately got a chance to talk to Sandy, I met her at a conference that she had hounded me, and said, “I really want to meet you. I really want to have coffee with you.” And I said, “Sure, sure, sure. Let’s do it.” So, we had coffee, and she’s like, “Oh, I’m so exhausted. I think I came to the wrong company. I was very successful in where I was before.” And I said, “What’s going on?” She goes, “Well…” she told me the whole story about Jane and all of her frustrations. And I said, “Well, how’s your team?” And she says, “Well, they’re exhausted too. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to keep them.” “How’s your team?” And she looked at me, she goes, “Well, I thought I just answered that question.”

And I ultimately got to the point, I said, “Sandy, Jane is trying to build a compensation system. She’s responsible for all of sales. Whether you like it or not, she’s on your damn team and you’re being a really crappy leader.” And it was not in Sandy’s framework that this person who she vilified and was obstinate and not compliant was actually a team member that she had to serve and had to work with and she had to co-create with. Once she got herself pivoted around the fact that she was being indulgent and lazy, and she needed to actually work with this person differently, she approached this person, and this person not only came around but they ended up being great partners.

And what we found out, subsequently, was Jane was also embarrassed because the sales organization was not really playing ball with Jane, wasn’t showing up to meetings either, and Jane was embarrassed. She needed a friend, she needed a partner, but the way that Sandy bound in there with policy and compliance at the forefront just alienated her. So, it’s a very important story, and I think it’s one we’ve all faced at some level or another. And her taking a very different mindset toward somebody that she had previously thought of as an adversary, ultimately yielded extraordinary outcomes for both of them and the company.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a great shift in mindset that can make a world of difference. And I guess you don’t need to go into all the particulars of this individual example, but I’m really curious. Like, salespeople, you know, they want their fat commissions and their bonuses, and I don’t even know how that squares with a kind of global compensation system for a company. How did they crack it?

Keith Ferrazzi
How did they reconcile it? Well, it was interesting. First of all, one of the things that the relationship made Sandy recognize is, you’re exactly right, it couldn’t be a global compensation system. There had to be a local compensation system, there had to be both global and local at the same time. And what they ended up doing is created a beautiful model that had some basic principles that ended up being utilized by sales and, at the same time, cascaded out throughout the whole company.

So, this ended up being a model for all divisions to be able to use so that people could localize their needs. And, look, all the head of HR wanted was to save money on a centralized HR compensation program system, and he did that. He saved money and everybody sort of got their tweaks that they needed to make the program work.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, so let’s talk a little bit about silos. I understand that that is sort of a big obstacle at times to pulling this off effectively, or at least we perceive it as such. I’m thinking about Dan Heath’s book Upstream you quoted repeatedly, “Every system is perfectly engineered to get the result that it gets.” So, can you orient us as to what is the value of silos and how do they come to be and what do they serve?

Keith Ferrazzi
By the way, these are such smart questions. So, silos came to be in the industrial era where everybody gets something, you pass on to the next person who did something, and you pass it on to the next person, sort of the conveyor belt of business, and that worked until the ‘80s. And then in the ‘80s, IT systems came along. I don’t know if you actually wanted this history.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Keith Ferrazzi
The IT systems came along like SAP, and they started to create what’s called the matrix where in the olden days Italy had everything they needed. They had their HR systems, they had their banking, they had their marketing, they had their budgets, everything happened in Italy, and they sold the products in Italy. And then, periodically, all the money would get scraped back from Italy and given to central headquarters which would create the very small central functions.

Well, when you had technology that could scrape the money every day, you had a more powerful CFO and a CFO function, you gained a more powerful chief marketing officer function. Policies, global policies sprung up, and you had HR systems, and supply chain systems, and people in Italy couldn’t even order their damn pencils anymore. Everything was a matrix. There was the vertical P&L and then there was the functional matrix.

The reality was everyone talked about the matrix, but matrix back then was nothing more than silos right on their side so people still clung to who’s got control. At every interface, the question was, “Who’s accountable and who’s got control?” and they fought for it, they scraped for it. This is where I screwed up when I went to Starwood Hotels so I served my way using Leading Without Authority. I served my way into a beautiful chief marketing officer job at Deloitte.

Then I go over to Starwood, and I’m given this amazing global job, and I walk in thinking that I’m the next best thing since sliced bread, and I think that I’m going to design this amazing global brand, and I didn’t give respect to the head of Europe who was running a very solid European marketing plan, but I scraped their dollars back and thought that it would be better to re-allocate. Now, look, I wanted to create a global consistent brand and all these things, but I could’ve co-created with him. Instead, I clung and I leveraged the power and the authority I had in my matrix.

Well, the long and short of it was we were both right and we should’ve been working together. And the head of Europe ended up becoming the CEO and just totally took my budget away as global head of marketing, and I decided this isn’t the place that I wanted to work anymore. So, the important lesson in all of this was that we’ve been fighting for too long, and the reality is you wake up today, and work is done in a very different way. It’s not even done in a matrix. It’s done in a network.

So, everything that your listeners are trying to do in their lives professionally, they have a goal, it’s a fuzzy vision, maybe it’s a distinct goal, and then they have a set of people, a network of people that they have to work with to get it done. That’s a team. That is a team. And that’s chapter one, “Who is your team?” And that was what I was trying to tell Sandy, “Who’s your team?” We need to redefine certain things. There are mindsets that have been guided since the industrial era that even though matrix happened, we’ve been clinging to old mindsets that, “For me, to be transformational, I’ve got to control more.”

You do not have to control more. You have to influence more. You have to co-create more. And I believe very much in diversity inclusion because I believe the diverse opinions inclusively offered will yield higher-performing outcomes. It yields innovation. And so, if you’re leading a network of people, and you’re boldly getting their input, and you’re boldly making big decisions with diverse and challenging insights, you’re going to be transformational, which is a different way of leading. Your team doesn’t exist in the way you thought of it anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so it sounds like it all starts with changing a couple of your perspectives in terms of who’s on the team and how you engage and lead. Tell us…

Keith Ferrazzi
Can I challenge that for a second?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Keith Ferrazzi
So at Ferrazzi Greenlight, we study a bunch of stuff. We study how people and leaders should act. And what I’m saying is leaders and people should act to manage in a network not lead without authority. But how to get them to do it is another thing we study. How do you actually change behavior? And you don’t change behavior by changing mindsets. I know that that sounds odd.

There’s a wonderful phrase I learned from AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. “You don’t think your way into a new way of acting. You act your way into a new way of thinking.”

So, if I want somebody to change their mindset, I change their practices. And, one day at a time, we’ll wake up, and like, “That works. That works,” and the mindset changes. So, you start with the practices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then let’s chat about some of those practices in terms of where would you recommend we start first, then second, then third?

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. Chapter one is “Who is your team?” so there’s a very distinct practice where you need to do what’s called a relationship action plan. A relationship action plan literally walks through, “What are we trying to achieve? Who do we need to achieve it with?” And then I even give details about how do you manage that on an ongoing basis with relationship quality scores, etc. So, really, number one is the practice of putting relationship action plans together.

The second practice is earning permission to lead. And I define the metric that I call porosity. Now porosity, it’s a word that exists. It doesn’t exist in the way I use it. Porousness means how porous, how absorptive. A sponge is very porous, right? A glass is less porous.

Leaders have to make people porous. Leaders, in the old day, if you led with authority, you don’t have to worry about porosity. You just said you’re a boss, you told somebody something. They absorb it. That was their job, “My job is to tell you. Your job was to absorb it,” right? So, in the new world where you may or may not be telling somebody something that they have the interest or the desire to absorb, you got to work at getting it absorbed, and that’s leadership. And there’s a whole strategy I called serve, share, and care.

How do you let people know that your job is to serve them? How do you let people know that you are authentically a good human trying to be of service? The vulnerability, the openness, a lot of Brene Brown’s work, a lot of Amy Edmondson’s work, our own research institute has gone into this stuff very deep. And then how do you really land that somebody believes you care about their success?

And there are practices and conversational tips and tactics and tools on moving that forward. There’s also lots of tactics around, “How do you co-create? How do you collaborate?” I think old-school collaboration is broken. Old-school collaboration is like there’s really more buy-in which meant, “I came up with an idea and I’m going to sell you one.” That’s buy-in. Co-creation is, “I have a vision. Let’s, you and I, wrestle this until we make it extraordinary.” Right? That’s the world of innovation that we live in today, and that’s what we need.

So, anyway, there’s tons of chapters and each one has very distinct practices about how do you lead in a network, how do you lead when you don’t have that authority. And, by the way, that doesn’t mean you’re not a leader. You could be the president of a company and still need to lead without authority because there’s always a set of individuals that will resist your idea if you try to foist it upon them with the traditional control and authority mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, let’s dig into some of these little tools, tips, tactics associated with how you really get across that you care about someone and you are trying to serve them and their interests.

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. Empathy is critical. Creating empathy between two people is really critical. And think of empathy as a bridge from where you are now to a productive relationship. But what is the key that opens up empathy in its most accelerated path? Like, what’s the thing that would create empathy between the two of us in the most accelerated fashion? You want to take a stab at it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m listening well.

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. By the way, great one. The fastest path to activating empathy is vulnerability because vulnerability creates us. Where you sit and where I sit, how do we create us? I’ll give you a little practice. I’d be curious if you want to do this with me. There is a practice that I use at the beginning of meetings called sweet and sour. Sweet and sour. What’s going on right now in your life that’s sweet? And what’s going on right now in your life that’s sour?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot more than happy and crappy for the record. It sounds a lot more professional and enjoyable.

Keith Ferrazzi
Did you come up with that or did you read that, happy and crappy?

Pete Mockaitis
My buddy Connor shared that with me. I think it’s from camp or something.

Keith Ferrazzi
That’s funny. What’s happy and what’s crappy? I don’t know. I kind of…I might even adopt that one, what’s happy and crappy. By the way, I love that actually. I love happy and crappy. Okay, I totally take it back. I don’t like sweet and sour. It’s happy and crappy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. We’re going to switch then. We’ll trade.

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah, so happy and crappy. I win. So, what I’m happy about is I’m happy about the book. I’m also happy that we had the book release is over and the exhaustion of 4:00 o’clock a.m. podcast, not that this is exhausting and a 4:00 o’clock a.m. podcast but I was doing those, right? So, that I’m all happy about. Sour is my son. I have two boys, got one at 12, one at 16. They’re very long protracted pregnancies. No, I’m just kidding.

They were foster children. And the 16-year old, you know, he’s turned a corner in many ways but he’s making very bad choices, economic choices. And at a time when he doesn’t have a job, he’s not making good choices. And that would typically lead me to want to hold him accountable and restrict funding from him because of his very bad choices. And, unfortunately, we’re at a time when we’re in a crisis, and he has no sources of income so I’m struggling to set boundaries and still be supportive, and it’s very difficult for me, and I don’t think I’m being a very good father. So, that’s my sour.

What’s yours?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, I’ll tell you. Well, I guess the sweet and sour, alright? So, I think sweet, actually, hey, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a surge of enthusiasm for online learning so I’m seeing some actually pretty excellent growth in revenue and such, so that’s pretty sweet. What’s sour is, well, I’ll say what first came to mind and then we’ll discuss this afterwards. Well, at this moment, there is in the U.S. a whole lot of unrest, protests, riots associated with the murder of George Floyd, and conversations about racism and police brutality. And it just makes me sad when I read and I observe and I see the state of where we are and how difficult it can be to heal and transform. It just makes me sad. And I’m feeling hopeless in terms of I don’t quite know for me what I can do.

Now, I think I might know what you’re about to say, Keith, but you tell me. We were talking about vulnerability, what I just shared is sour but it’s not particularly vulnerable to me. That’s just something that I think all of us are kind of dealing with right now. Is that fair to say?

Keith Ferrazzi
It’s cool. First of all, when you asked for this, different people have different natural proclivity of their own openness. So, this is like when we ask somebody, “What are you really struggling with at work?” and your boss asks you that. “Well, I just work too hard.” So, your answer was authentic. It’s something you’re struggling with. How you’re internalizing it could be more vulnerable. You could be talking about a level of depression that you’re having, difficult concentrating, etc. That could be more vulnerable.

But, yeah, I mean, the window of vulnerability is open to how you want to be. The reason I went to personal, and went more deeply personal, is because I wanted to set a tone, and I could’ve gone more, right? If I’m doing this with a group of my friends that know me for years, I would go more vulnerable on things. And sometimes in certain environments you don’t but it’s a start, right? That was a start, and it does breed empathy. It does breed empathy. And then you move from there.

But we help teams create this kind of relational connection as one of the elements. There are eight elements. We coach team through eight elements of transformation. And we believe right now there is a very important opportunity for any member of a team or any leader of a team to re-contract with a team, to reboot how a team’s social contracts exist.

So, for instance, is there a social contract where we care about each other? Is there a social contract where I feel responsible for your success as I do my own? And that’s a contract. Now what’s the practice that follows that contract up? Is there a contract that we’re going to tell the truth in meetings? Or is there a contract we aren’t going to talk on each other’s backs? Many teams have contracts that talk behind each other’s backs. It’s not written on some value statement on the wall but it’s what happens.

I wrote all these up and we’ve done $2 million worth of research on how to apply these methodologies in a remote world. In a remote world, we find that you get a real degradation of trust, and you get a degradation of vulnerability, and you become much more transactional, so a lot of this has to be more intentional.

I put a website when all this happened. I put the $2 million worth of research studies up there. It’s called VirtualTeamsWin.com. And it has been very effective for people, and a part of it is a free contract that you can use to re-contract with your team and do a set of social norms. Now, I do that for a living with teams. I go in and I re-contract teams’ social norms, and I coach them to adopt these behaviors. But I wanted to write a book to help anybody be able to do that. And that was the intention of Leading Without Authority. How do you go into a group of people and help them rewrite their social contracts so you can achieve extraordinary things together?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’m starting to see the pieces are coming together a little bit here. I see that vulnerability led to empathy powerfully as you demonstrated. I guess I know what you’re dealing with, and I feel a closer connection to you as a result but I don’t yet know that you give a hoot about me and what I’m trying to achieve from that alone. What comes next?

Keith Ferrazzi
So, people are always talking about, “How do we get higher degrees of engagement in the workforce?” Well, have them co-create with you. Most old leaders would just dictate. I love reaching out to people and saying, like I said earlier, “Hey, I got an idea but let’s wrestle this together because I think together we can come up with a solution that’ll really kick butt, right?”

So, you got to get into a co-creation. Through the co-creation together, then you’ll have even more time. You’ll have more time to become deeper connected, right? Continue to lead with that authenticity, lead with that sincerity, that generosity, be of service, but along the way you have an opportunity to celebrate somebody in front of another person, “Hey, I’ve been working with so and so. Gosh, she’s just amazing. She’s so smart.” That is another way to show generosity.

So, I think of it as a DNA strand where being of service and being authentic keep intertwining with each other, because the more vulnerable and authentic you are, the more people will open to you authentically and vulnerably back, the more you can learn about them, the more you can be of service, the more you be of service, the more time they give you. And, together, the relationship creates loyalty. And I think this is true of all relationships, not even just work relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Well I’m curious, if you’re going about doing this sort of thing and you hit some roadblocks and people just don’t seem to be jiving with what you’re trying to do, what are means of diagnosing and correcting what’s going on?

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, lots of advice in the book on this. One of the whole chapters is called, “It’s all on you,” where I come up with six deadly excuses that we use to not work with people collaboratively. And a lot of it is because you bump up against the wall and someone’s difficult or obstinate or distracted. And you’re just like, “Oh they should cooperate with me. They should collaborate with me.” It’s like all on your terms. And so I twist it and I say it’s all on you.

Sometimes, you have to go 99.9% of the way to engage somebody before they start to move halfway toward you. Like with my son, when he first came into my house, I couldn’t say, “When you start acting like my son, I’ll be your father.” He’d be like, “Well screw you. I don’t want you to be my father. anyway” And so I had to work 99.9% harder and on the way, I had to stay there and be vulnerable and try to be the best dad I could be while he was saying, “You will never be my father.” And sometimes we have to do that at the workplace if we want to be high integrity leaders.

Keith Ferrazzi
What I think is most important is that we decide sometimes also when we need to walk away if you can walk away. A lot of energy gets eroded when you are working your butt off to try to convert somebody that is a resistor when you should be working to create outcomes with people who are desirous of getting outcomes with you. Because often the momentum of working with people who are desirous of getting outcomes with you will actually be the thing that you need to convert the naysayer, so don’t spend too much time trying to intellectually convert the naysayer. You should be focusing as well on actually getting results. So, a lot of the methodology of Leading Without Authority is take some small wins and get them over the line as well.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
No. Look, I mean, this was an eight-year passion project. And now I’m creating books, and, just like yourself, I’m creating leadership courses, and I really do want people to be able to be extraordinary in this new world.

I also just started a foundation called Go Forward to Work. And the principle of it is we’ve done a lot of transformation in the last couple of months, I want people to go forward to work, not back to work. I want us to define what the future of work is because I think it’s alive and living right now in this time of crisis, and I want to document it. And I’m working with about 80 CHROs of some of the biggest companies in the world to define what the practices of the future of work are today.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Oh, yeah. I think it was “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” I think it was Emerson. But the principle is sticking to your guns too long is foolish particularly if you get more data and you get a better argument.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, I just started using technology in very different ways. I’m using Slack, I’m using Asana. I think it’s so important. Of course, Zoom has been extraordinary. I think it’s so important for us to begin to be much more rigorous in our use of tools to support our business, and that’s not traditionally been done. Even in big organizations, I don’t see some of these tools being used for communications, for program management, for knowledge management, for process redefinition and management. They’re great tools so I would start using some of them.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
I think it’s the definition of all the work that I’ve done, it’s always ask, “Who?” When you figure out where you want to go, you’re trying to think about what you want to do, how you want to get there, there’s a question that we under-curate, and that question is, “Who?” Right? “Who do I need to do it with?” And then all of our science and research helps you be extraordinary, and it helps you be awesome at your job, relative to that question “Who?” from a relational and collaborative standpoint.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
KeithFerrazzi.com is probably the best. I’m very proud of a leadership course we just created there. You can get the book everywhere, but KeithFerrazzi.com is a great place to start. I check my own Instagram too if anybody wants to say hi.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. Have a vision for something that could be transformative in your workplace, and identify the first person to bring into the team to co-create that vision. And the wonderful thing about the first person you bring into your team, you’re actually bringing them into their team, meaning this is a real co-creation. Don’t hold this idea up as yours. It’s yours and theirs. Go kick some butt and go be transformative. The next thing you know, you might end up rising up to be an executive at the company because of your transformation.

Pete Mockaitis
Keith, this has been a treat. Thanks so much and keep on rocking.

Keith Ferrazzi
Pete, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it. It’s an honor.