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481: Easy Ways to Have More Fun at Work with Drew Tarvin

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Drew Tarvin says: "Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun? You're going to pick fun pretty much all the time."

Drew Tarvin shares how to bring more humor and fun into the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The power of humor on your work-life productivity
  2. How to craft good work humor that considers medium, audience, and purpose
  3. The 3 specific situations when NOT to use humor at work

About Drew

Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer, teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. Combining his background as a project manager at Procter & Gamble with his experience as a stand-up comedian, he reverse-engineers the skill of humor in a way that is practical, actionable, and gets results in the workplace. Through his company, Humor That Works, Drew has worked with more than 35,000 people at over 250 organizations, including Microsoft, the FBI, and the International Association of Canine Professionals. He is a bestselling author; has been featured in The Wall Street JournalForbes, and Fast Company; and his TEDx talk has been viewed more than four million times. He loves the color orange, is obsessed with chocolate, and can solve a Rubiks Cube (but it takes like 7 minutes).

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Drew Tarvin Interview Transcript

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

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on such a nicely-titled podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, I like the direct approach. I want to hear all sorts of things from you. But, first, I want to hear about how you’re left-handed except when it comes to shooting pool. What’s the story here?

Drew Tarvin
You know, I don’t know. Growing up, everything would go left-handed, which is not so great when you’re doing handwriting. And then I tried shooting pool and I could not shoot left-handed. It was just weird and awkward. So, then I switched to the right side and it worked, which is bizarre. So, everything, I write left-handed, I throw a baseball left-handed, I cut paper with left-handed scissors and all that, but shooting pool, it’s on the right side. I don’t know what that says about me. I don’t know what that means for coordination but that’s just a fun fact.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I wonder about like darts or bowling.

Drew Tarvin
Darts, yeah. You think of like the pool hall game, it’s mostly, yeah, darts is still left-handed. I try to act like I’m ambidextrous, that I can use right-handed, and, in fact, my handwriting is almost as good with my right hand as it is with my left hand, but that’s just because my left-handed writing is so terrible that whatever the right hand does isn’t that bad in comparison.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, handwriting was, I believe, my worst subject in my entire academic career.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, and people are like, “You’re going to need this for your entire rest of your life.” And now our computers are like, “No, no, actually.” I mean, I sign things but, aside from that, I don’t really do much handwriting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into your career. You are a humor engineer – intriguing – and you’ve studied humor in the workplace for many years. Can you share with us what’s perhaps one of the most fascinating and surprising discoveries you’ve made as you’ve dug into this topic?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that it’s a surprise for many people especially when they hear my background. So, they maybe see me speak, and like, “How did you get into this?” I’m like, “Well, I got a degree in computer science and engineering.” And they’re like, “That doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t seem like the background and then get into standup comedy and do speaking and all that for a living.”

But I think that’s part of what led me to one of the biggest realizations, is that humor is a skill. I think a lot of times we think of humor, making people laugh, being jovial in certain ways is kind of something that you’re born naturally able to do, and if you can do it, great, but if you can’t, you’re kind of out of luck. But that’s a big learning, is that it’s something that we can learn, that there’s an art and science to using humor, which means that we can teach this, the humor side, the science part of it, while also allowing people to practice the art side of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, I want to dig into the art and science and the skill-building, how we can all have more of it but I want to hear a little bit about the why first. So, you make an argument that humor is not just kind of, “Oh, nice to have. It’d be a little bit more fun if we could have it.” But, rather, like a must-have or a critical source of advantage. Can you share some of these benefits with us?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. And so, part of it comes from the realization that 83% of Americans are stressed out at work, that 55% are unsatisfied with their jobs, and that 47% struggle to stay happy. And so, it leads to this recognition that with 70% of the workforce being disengaged, it costs the US economy an estimated $500 billion in lost productivity every year.

If you do that math on that based on the number of people working and the estimated cost, that costs a $4,638 per disengaged employee. And so, to me, as an engineer looking at all that, what it’s saying is that the current way of working isn’t actually working. And, for me, I discovered that humor was a way for me to stay more engaged in my work. And when I use it, other people actually got into it as well. And so, there’s all these benefits to it that have been backed by research, case studies, real-world examples, so evidence-based examples of why humor is valuable.

So, it leads to things like an increase in productivity, a decrease in stress, an increase in happiness. At a company level, when organizations embrace it, you see an increase in positive workplace culture, an increase in engagement, a decrease in turnover, an increase in profit. There’s all these different benefits that are factually based that speak to the value of using humor in the workplace, and that’s why I say it’s a must-have.

And the way that we work today, where work-life balance is no longer is a thing, and it’s more about work-life integration, and the challenges that we have day-to-day of always feeling like this need to do more with less-type thing, humor is a skill that can help us with all of those, the changes that are happening in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued in that world of do more with less. Some might say, “Hey, Drew, we can’t burn all this time just joking around and being goofy. We got to produce some stuff.” So, how do you think about that?

Drew Tarvin
I would say, yeah, that’s 100% right. And if you were working with robots or cyborgs, yes, agree. But even something like, imagine running your phone down and being like, “All right. I need to be efficient with my phones so I refuse to charge it,” you would be great for about 24, maybe if you have a newer phone, maybe 48 hours, and then the phone is going to be burned out, it’s going to be dead, and it’s not going to work at all.

And that’s one of the things that I joke about is that, as an engineer, I’ve done a lot of research on productivity. I’m a huge fan of getting things done and thinking about that mentality and all that. But I’ve learned that it is very difficult to be productive if you are dead, or if you feel like you’re dead too, if you’re sick, if you’re tired, if you’re burned out, if you’re stressed out, if you’re worn out.

And so, recognizing that this was a huge aha for me in the workplace is that there’s a difference between being efficient and being effective. And you can be efficient with things like computers. You don’t need to motivate a computer to work, you don’t need to convince it to turn on, it doesn’t need a cup of coffee before it starts in the morning, right? But you can’t be efficient with humans because they have emotions and feelings, and because they have to eat and sleep, and because they get sick and tired. And so, instead of being efficient, we have to be effective and recognizing that humor is a way that we can be more effective.

So, you’re absolutely right. Maybe it’s not the most efficient thing in the moment, but it is long term more effective. And when you think about it, what’s efficient longer term, you explaining something once where people actually kind of get it, they remember it a little bit more, they understand it, or you having to explain it eight times down the road because you’re trying to do it as efficiently as possible?

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard, and maybe you can unpack this for me, Mr. Humor Engineer, that when we have recently laughed, our brain state, the neurochemical, biochemical situation is that you are more receptive to receive and hear and absorb information. Can you unpack that a bit?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of both physiological and psychological benefits of using humor. And part of that receptivity is you can kind of explain it more simply with a dumb question. And the dumb question is, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” It’s a dumb question, right? But you’re going to pick fun pretty much all the time. So, that means if you were to make your content a little bit more fun, do you think people would be a little bit more open to wanting to hear it?

And I see this all the time as a speaker. So, I speak to a lot of maybe sometimes dry or more conservative organizations, so engineering groups and accounting firms and things like that, and so they’re used to a certain type of speaker. And so, I might go up towards the end of the day, a lot of the times I’m a closing keynote speaker, they’ve had a lot of content, a lot of great content, but it’s been on the drier side.

So, when I first go up, you’ll see a lot of people kind of on their phones or looking through their notebook or whatever, and then I say a line and it makes a couple of people laugh, and you’ll see people look up from their phones and be like, “Wait, I want to laugh. Why did that guy laugh? Oh, I’m going to listen to this guy to see why he made people laugh. Oh, okay.”

As a great speaker named Tami Evans says, “Once you give people laughing, you get them listening. And once you get them listening, you get them learning, you get them taking action, whatever it is, because you’re making that process a little bit more fun.” And, yeah, there’s some science in some of this stuff too in terms of showing that getting people to laugh makes them less defensive, you’ve kind of lower their defenses, or they’re a little bit more likely to see things from a different angle, because part of humor is also changing perspective.

So, if you get people to look at things a different way. So, for example, maybe a silly example is I don’t like mint chocolate. Are you a mint chocolate fan?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I do. I very much like them.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, you’re a mint chocolate? Okay. See, I’ve never been eating chocolate, and then like, “You know what would great with this? Toothpaste, right?” And so, that’s not necessarily going to convince you to be like, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate anymore,” but it’s expressing that rather than me just saying, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate and it’s dumb,” right, it’s just giving you a slightly different angle that you now laugh about, and you’re like, “All right, well, I can at least kind of see that perspective,” right? So, it’s lowering your defenses because humor started it.

And that’s kind of one of the many benefits to using humor in the workplace is that, one, it gets people listening because they want to laugh, and then, two, once they’re listening, it helps them understand something a little bit more and maybe changes their perspective around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, Drew, I have to ask, what’s that line, not that it’s the end-all-be-all and applicable to all circumstances, but we want to hear it? I think one of my favorite humor moves, I saw that to start a speech was this speaker was being introduced and they were sharing all of the great accolades, like, “Featured in the Wall Street Journal,” and all these things. And he just said, “Oh, my, that’s impressive.” I thought that was awesome because, like, anytime you’re being introduced you can pull that schtick a little bit because they know you wrote the bio and it’s being read about you, and for you to pretend that you’re surprised and like, “Hmm?” it just made me chuckle. So, what was your line?

Drew Tarvin
So, I have in my bio, in my introduction, one of the ones that I like, and it’s maybe not necessarily super hilarious, but like I give my client list as Microsoft, the FBI, the International Association of Canine Professionals is kind of my comic trip which, because it’s one of the most interesting groups that I’ve ever presented for.

And, of course, kind of my joke about it is that, and it’s kind of I had that split second when I first got the emails, it’s like, “Is this an association for dogs who have jobs?” I was like, “Oh, no, it’s an association for people who are dog trainers.” And that’s one of the things that I love about speaking is that I get to work with all of these different groups that, “Oh, yeah, of course, canine professionals, one, have a title like Canine Professionals, and, two, they have a conference where they get together and get to know each other a little bit better.”

And so, yeah, anytime you can kind of incorporate those types of things it helps. The other thing that I’ve started doing is in the bottom of my bio, I include that I love the color orange, which is kind of a random aside, and I love chocolate. Because what I found is when I spoke in Europe for the first time, I shared, “Oh, he’s obsessed with chocolate,” I started getting chocolate as my speaker gift because sometimes people are like, oh, not that I’m expecting a speaker gift, but if people are going to be like, “Hey, here’s a bottle of wine,” or, “Here’s X, Y, or Z,” I love chocolate so I’d rather inform them to say, “Hey, here’s something that you can get me that if you present me with a box of chocolates, I’m going to be delighted by.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so there we go. We got some good benefits, and it’s possible for anyone to learn this art and skill. So, I guess, where do we start or how would you orient us to sort of the components of what makes humor work?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that the starting point is probably around the definition of humor and making sure that we’re kind of aligned on that because I think we have a certain mindset when it comes to what we think of with humor. And that definition is really important. I kind of relate it to—so I was recently in the UK, and it took me going to the UK for the very first time to realize that I don’t speak English, right? I speak American because British English is different than American English. There are certain words that they say versus what we say.

Like, we say in the US, we say elevator, they say lift, right? We say fries, they say chips, and chips is something different for us. We say, for the most part, we say like bathroom, they say toilets, right, or the loo. And so, when you’re out in the public, I think that that’s more accurate because if you are out in the public and you say, “Hey, where’s the bathroom?” there’s typically no bath in that room. And as an engineer, I’m like, “Okay, that’s more specific, that’s accurate.” So, I was like, “I’m going to start using that in my language.” I’m going to start asking, “Where are the toilets?” or refer to them as toilets.

So, I’m in a Starbucks here in New York City, and I go up to a barista, and I’m like, “Excuse me, where are the toilets?” And she was confused, she was like, “Ah, in the bathroom?” Right? And so, there’s just that idea that language and how we think about it is important. We want to make sure that we’re on the same page with language. And so, when it comes to defining humor, to make sure that we know what we’re talking about, humor is more broad than comedy, right?

Humor is defined as a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement. And so, so often people think laughter, they think standup comedy. They hear humor in the workplace and, suddenly, they’re like, “Oh, does that mean that I have to like start telling jokes? Does that mean that I have to try to become the class clown or a jester?” And that’s not at all what we’re talking about. Instead we’re talking about this broader definition where maybe it’s not about making the workplace funny, but about making it a little bit more fun.

Because the bar for comedy at work is much, much lower than, yeah, if you were trying to get up on stage and rock it at a standup comedy club or get a Netflix comedy special, the level of “funny” that you need to be is pretty high. You need to be getting four to seven laughs per minute, they need to be good laughs, solid chuckles, really kind of cohesive ideas, things that you’ve probably practiced many, many, many times before, versus if you’re just trying to get a little bit more humor into a meeting. Simply having an image behind you that isn’t just a wall full of text but is kind of an interesting image that you’re speaking to might be a simple way of getting a laugh.

Or, like you said, in your bio, having a quick line about, like, “Oh, that sounds impressive.” That’s not necessarily the funniest joke ever written, but it is something different, and in that context, it makes things a lot more interesting. And so, I think understanding that definition and recognizing when we’re talking humor in the workplace, we don’t mean about making the workplace funny, but more about making it more fun, I think, is a good starting point for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. Well, that’s great. That’s really reduces some of the pressure and lowers the bar and it’s true, I have seen certain contexts where someone tells a joke, there’s a whole lot of laughter, I’m thinking, “Boy, you know, if that person were not…whoever they were, or wherever we were, there wouldn’t be nearly that kind of response.” So, that’s great. Okay, so it’s not too hard. So, how shall we proceed?

Drew Tarvin
Yes, so the way that we kind of frame using and getting intentional about using humor in the workplace is around what we call a humor map. And the humor map stands for your medium, your audience, and your purpose. So, your medium is how are you going to execute that humor? Is it in an email? Is it in a phone call? Is it in a one-on-one situation? Because we know that your medium impacts your message.

Something like sarcasm or satire, you’ve maybe sent a text that’s meant to be a joke before, and you learned from the other person that they took it the wrong way, or they read into it a little bit more. So, sarcasm and satire are very difficult to do, say, in a text form because people, they can’t see that you are joking, they can’t see the paralanguage of the body language and the tone of voice and everything that  you’re saying it with, and so your medium impacts it, right? So, understanding what that’s going to be – email, phone call, one-on-one, live video, or life, or video version, or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
I have to chime in. Have you seen the Key & Peele sketch where they’re texting and have completely different interpretations of what’s going on?

Drew Tarvin
Exactly, yeah. And that’s a great – and Key & Peele, one, fantastic, a great place to kind of share things. And also, they’re sometimes a little bit not safe for work with language, but the other thing about understanding kind of what we can talk about this with the map is recognizing humor in the workplace, you don’t always have to be the creator of humor. But, instead, you can be the shepherd of humor, right? You can share funny things out.

So, if you wanted to make that point about the importance of medium, you can then share the Key & Peele sketch, right, share a link to it on YouTube or Comedy Central or wherever it resides, and then be like, “All right. You know, this is kind of a funny reminder how someone says something in text might be taken a different way.” And there you didn’t create the humor but you’re now leveraging it in this way to still get a specific kind of result. That’s it.

I forgot about that sketch. That’s a great sketch and really demonstrates that idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, we think about the medium and note that some things work well or not so well for them, such as, “Do we have the facial expressions and the gestures and the tone of voice or do we not?” Anything else to consider with regard to the medium?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think, and this is where things like memes or GIFs or things like that can help because they introduce a visual element to your message, and you’re seeing emojis come up even more. I was just reading an article recently that emojis are coming up in court cases as well, and judges don’t necessarily know what to do with them. But the whole point of emojis are to help you better convey a message because you can’t visually be there.

Now, does that mean you should, in a very formal email to all of your clients and your boss and all that, include a bunch of emojis after every sentence to make sure that they know what message you’re sharing? No, but in a more conversational kind of text, you might. If you’re making a joke, you might put a smiley face at the end of it, or you might put, kind of the wry kind of dry winky face or something. So, emojis can be part of the communication.

But a big thing is kind of really with GIFs and memes, you might also express humor maybe in that way. So, it’s really just understanding the medium and how it might be received, and recognizing that the safest is kind of in person. Because if someone does take something the wrong way, you can kind of react to that more in the moment, you can react to it. In text, it might be a little bit easier just to link to things, to reference other things as opposed. If you’re not a great joke writer, then maybe you’re not going to write your own jokes but, again, you can, as so and so said, boom, quote someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. So, we got the medium. And how about the audience?

Drew Tarvin
So, the audience is, who is the audience? What do they know? What do they need? What do they expect? Because part of using humor is not to replace the work, right? To borrow kind of from Office Space, if your boss is like, “Hey, do you have those TPS reports?” You don’t want to like make a quick joke, and then when they say, “No, seriously, do you have them?” you don’t want to be like, “Well, got to go. See you later.” Right?

So, it doesn’t replace the work. You still have to actually do the work. And so, you still have to deliver on what the person needs, but you might do it in a way that they don’t quite expect, right, that’s bringing some of the humor, some of the fun element to it. So, that’s what you need to understand about your audience, is, “Okay, what does this person need and then how can I do it in a way that deliver against it whether maybe not quite expecting it? Oh, they know they need this information, they’re going to hear a presentation about it, they know they’re going to see some slides, oh, but if I make those slides a little bit more interesting, now they’re going to be leaning forward a little bit more because they’re like, ‘Okay, how does this picture of a dog relate to what I’m going to talk about?’” And then you can think of connect how that interesting picture of a dog leads to what you’re talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And can you provide some more examples here?

Drew Tarvin
Another example, say, you want to build rapport with someone, and they need to get to know you a little bit more, right? So, they ask you a question. Think of maybe stereotypical networking questions of like, “What do you do?” So you could answer like, “What do you do?” with, for me, I could say, “Oh, I’m a speaker or I’m a trainer. But what I most I identify with is I’m a humor engineer. So, I used to be a computer science engineer, I used to solve problems in the workplace using things like technologies and computer-to-technology and computers. Now, I solve problems in the workplace using humor, so in that way I feel like I’m a humor engineer.”

And so, when people ask, “What do you do?” I say, “Oh, I’m a humor engineer.” That’s delivering kind of what they need in a way that they don’t expect it, and it usually leads to more questions. Because it’s a made-up term, they’re like, “Okay, what does that mean?” And that allows me to say, “Oh, well, I do a lot of speaking and training on the value of using humor to get better results.”

And so, it’s just something that stands out a little bit more, something that is a little bit more interesting. And then I might go into a story, right? So, stories, when people ask those questions like that, a story, or facts told in story form are 20 times more likely to be remembered than facts told in bullet point form. And so, if you’re at a networking event, if you want to stand out, rather than just being like, “Oh, yeah, I’m a speaker. I train on this,” giving a little bit more background, one, helps you remember things, but, two, it also builds connections.

So, I say, “I’ve always been an engineer. I’ve always been obsessed with efficiency ever since I can remember, really since before I can remember because I was born three weeks early, so apparently a human in the womb. I was like I don’t need a full nine months, I’m ready to go right now. So, then I went to The Ohio State University, got a degree in computer science and engineering. And after I graduated, I started working at Procter & Gamble, and that’s where I realized there was this difference between being efficient and effective.”

And, now, in that conversation, I’ve now answered the question, I’m getting to the point of, “Okay, how did I get to humor engineering?” And in that story, one, it’s a little bit more interesting than just kind of sharing “humor engineer,” or even just sharing “speaker-trainer,” but it also gives people a connecting point. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you’re trying to find ways to build rapport with that person. And in that story, I’ve now told them, “Oh, I’m an engineer.” If they’re an engineer as well, they’re like, “Oh, okay, I’m mechanical,” or, “I’m in civil engineering.” Now, we have a connection over engineering.

Or, I say, “I went to The Ohio State University.” They might be like, “Oh, I grew up in Ohio as well. What do you think of like Cincinnati versus Cleveland, or Greger’s ice cream versus Jeni’s Ice Cream?” Or, if they’re not from there, they might be like, “Why do you guys say The Ohio State University?” And the answer, “I don’t know. I just know that if we don’t say The Ohio State, then we get our degree taken away, I think,” right?

Or if it’s like, “Oh, I work at P&G.” “Oh, I used to know someone that worked at P&G.” There’s all these small things that they can now connect to that build rapport that they’re getting from me, that they won’t even get if I just said, “Oh, I’m a speaker-trainer.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. And then did we hit the purpose part here?

Drew Tarvin
Yes. And then the last piece, well, the other thing that I would say about the audience piece is that your relationship to that person matters as well because a joke that you would say with someone that you’ve known for 10 years is very different than something that you might say with someone that you’ve met for the very first time.

And so, understanding what is your relationship with this person, and recognizing that when you’re first meeting someone, or if you’re doing it in front of a large group of people, if you’re using humor in front of a large group of people, you’re probably going to be a little bit more broad, a little bit more, safer kind of with your humor versus someone that you know very, very well, where it’s like, “Oh, okay, this person likes this type of humor. I know that I can say this, and I know that they know that I’m joking, that we have that rapport, we have that relationship kind of built up.” So, that relationship piece with the audience is really important as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Drew Tarvin
And then the last piece, yeah, is the purpose. And this is the most important one, and this is, “Why do you want to use humor?” Because, humor, for the sake of humor is fine, I guess. But as an engineer, what I love about it is that we can use it for a specific result. And so, we kind of frame this around it’s my general belief that there are five skills at work. No matter who you are or what you do, it kind of comes down to five things.

Any thoughts on from your perspective? What do you think is included in kind of—if you have a job, what types of things are you doing?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thinking, communicating, creating stuff.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. Right. So, you have to be able to think, right? You’re creating strategic plans, you’re being critical, you’re also being creative kind of in that thinking mode. Like, you said, communicating. You articulate the intelligence that you have. You’re sharing the ideas that are in your head. Actually, creating stuff, right, so in a way I would call it, kind of execution, you’re actually completing tasks, you’re getting things done for sure. Any others come to mind?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think about how you do it with regard to just your own self-management, care, and energy, and attentiveness.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, right. Kind of a component, a little bit of that, the thinking side of things, of actually creating the plan of, “Okay, what do I actually need to work on? How do I prioritize these things? And how do I actually get it done? What’s my motivation for it?” And then I would add also like you have to be able to connect with people, right? You have to understand emotional intelligence.

We recognize that emotional intelligence is one of the strongest predictors of career success. People who, I think it’s something like 90% of top performers have high EQ, high emotional intelligence. Where less than 20% of low performers do, so it is one of those skills that does tend to stand out. Because we work with humans, we have to be able to connect with them on a human level and understand how they work.

And then you also have to be able to lead. You have to be able to influence people to some type of goal to kind of move them in. In every job is what we would say is those five things of executing, actually completing tasks, thinking, right, strategically creating a plan, critically and creatively, communicating, connecting, and leading. And so, every job kind of comes to some percentage of those five things.

And so, what we say is using humor in the workplace isn’t going to change those five, right? They’re all still going to exist. It’s simply how you do those five, kind of what you’re talking about, the motivation and things like that. So, humor can be a how across those five. And so, the purpose piece is maybe you want to use humor as a way to increase your execution, right, to execute faster. So, you might use humor as a way to increase your efficiency.

And so, one way to do that, one strategy is to play-work, is to find ways to add gamification in your work so that it’s more enjoyable. Back to that question of, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” Well, if you make your work a little bit more fun, you’re more willing to engage, and you’re more willing to do it.

And so, this might be something as simple as listening to music while you’re doing kind of a mundane task. One of the things that I like to do is I’ll start to read emails in a different accent in my head. This is way to kind of stay engaged with emails that I’m going through. You might decide to do a task with a friend and compete with them. Be like, “Hey, we both got to do our expense reports right now, so let’s set a timer and see who can get through the most expense reports in 15 minutes.”

And, again, it’s not the funniest thing, it’s not a Netflix comedy special, but it’s making the work a little bit more fun, changing your perspective around it so that you’re a little bit more engaged with it and willing to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I would love it if you could share all the more of these. I do this when I am, I guess, proofreading. I’ve written something and I find, boy, when you read it out loud you just find stuff that reading it in your head doesn’t. So, I don’t know what character I’m assuming when I read things out loud but it’s kind of almost like a very earnest broadcaster who’s also talking very fast because it’s like, “Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer teaching people how to get better results while having more fun.”

And so, I don’t know, I guess, and again, it doesn’t make me sort of laugh out loud, like, “This is ridiculously hilarious.” But if it gets the job done, I am proofreading by reading aloud, and I’m having a little bit more fun with it than if I were just reading the words like a school child is reading a book aloud.

Drew Tarvin
Exactly. And I think that’s exactly that makes it a little bit more interesting. And this is where I encourage in a lot of ways, you know, bringing things that are an outside passion in your work as well. Or maybe, yeah, if you were a kid and you always wanted to grow up to be a broadcaster, absolutely, proofread things kind of as a broadcaster. If you love doing accents for whatever reason, read it in a different accent and see what it would kind of sound like. Whatever it is, it’s just small tweaks.

And this is a form of humor called self-enhancing humor. And it’s kind of epitomized by, there’s a great quote from Kurt Vonnegut that said “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration.” I, myself, prefer to laugh because there’s less cleaning up to do afterwards.

And so, it’s this idea of, hey, you have to do the proofreading anyway. You could choose to say, “Hey, this is annoying and I hate it. Ugh, God, this is just the worst.” Or I can be like, “All right. I’m going to do it anyway. Yeah, let me put on a broadcaster voice to make it a little bit more fun. Or let me try to be an auctioneer and see how fast I can get through it. Or let me try some of these accents that I think are kind of fun. Or let me do it to music.”

In fact, I’ve just started doing this, because I have a bit of a nasal voice, getting over a sore throat, so it’s a little bit deeper now. And at times it is a little bit monotone. And so, someone was saying, “Oh, when you’re practicing your speeches, practice it to inspirational music.” Like, put on an inspirational instrumental behind you, and that’s going to automatically, kind of, you’re going to start to add musicality almost to your voice.

So, these are just small things that you can do to make the process a little bit more fun. And the other beautiful thing about these as examples is that no one can stop you from doing them. So there’s all these benefits to humor in the workplace, but not everyone was using humor. And so, I wanted to understand why.

And the number one reason why people don’t use humor, at least according to the survey that we ran through our site, was that they didn’t think their boss or coworkers would approve, right? They didn’t see that as a culture in the workplace. And the reality is that 98% of CEOs prefer job candidates with a sense of humor and 81% of employees said that a fun workplace would make them more productive.

Most people want it but they haven’t necessarily created a culture of it and so people think that it’s not welcome. And a lot of times it’s just because people haven’t tried, so a lot of times you can start out and it’s usually received pretty well. But even if you’re in an organization where like, “No, my manager has like explicitly told me no fun whatsoever. If you’re laughing it means you’re not working hard enough. They call it work because it’s work not because it’s play, and it has to feel like it.”

Like if you work in an environment like that, well, maybe consider kind of why you’re continuing to go to that, but also recognize that no one can control how you think. No one can stop you from if you’re proofreading these things to yourself, changing the voice in which you do them. If you have a commute that you have to go through, no one can stop you from listening to a comedy podcast, or making it a regular thing of, “Hey, every day or every Monday or whatever, I’m going to make sure that I’m listening to the Awesome at Your Job podcast because it puts me in a good mood, and I have a good time, and I’m going to relieve some stress to show up more presence for my family when I get there,” right? No one can stop you from doing that in your car.

And so, these are all things that you could choose to do no matter the work environment, and that’s why it’s a starting kind of first strategy that we share is that it is something that you are entirely in control of.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear when it comes to we’re worried about it may be unwelcome, what are some of the easiest little baby steps for, “Okay, I’m entering a meeting, I’m doing a presentation, like, here are some safe things you can do that will make it a little bit more fun and have extremely low risk of folks flipping out about it”?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think going back to if you’re clear on the map piece, because I think that when people tend to get in trouble with humor in the workplace, it’s usually one of two reasons. One, it’s inappropriate humor. So, it is important to understand there is a difference, say, bad humor and inappropriate humor.

Pete Mockaitis
The joke which is not funny versus, “What? Why are you discussing these lewd sexual acts?” Not the place.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, a bad joke, yeah. And they’ve done studies where if you share a joke that is appropriate but people don’t laugh, there’s no real negative gain to a person, there’s no like perception change or anything like that, especially if it’s a positive-inclusive and a positive-inclusive joke that doesn’t get a laugh just becomes a positive-inclusive statement, so it tends to be okay.

However, an inappropriate joke, even if it’s successful, even if it makes people laugh, can have a negative impact on people’s perception of your competency in the workplace. It doesn’t affect their confidence in you, but it does affect their perception of your competence, right? And so, inappropriate humor is typically inappropriate for one of three reasons.

One, it’s an inappropriate topic, exactly what you were talking about. Using humor is not an excuse to talk about sex or drugs or rock and roll in the workplace. It’s not going to be, “Hey, this is typically a taboo subject, but because I’m saying a joke about it, it’s okay.” That’s not true. It could be inappropriate because it has an inappropriate target. So, some humor has a target that is someone else. And so, if you’re using humor as a way to make fun of someone, or if it’s a racist joke, or a sexist joke, right, that’s still very much inappropriate in general, but particularly in the workplace.

And then the third time is that it could in an inappropriate time, right? So, humor is just one tool of many tools that we can use in the workplace, and it’s not to say it’s always going to be the best tool to use so you do have to recognize that there might be inappropriate times. So, if you’re firing someone, that’s not the time to like bust out your “Frozen” parody and be like, “I’ve got to let you go, let you go. I’m not going to pay you back anymore,” right? Like, I can’t sing at all. But it’s not like, “Oh, this is going to make it more fun.” That’s an inappropriate time.

So, I think understanding that is one way to make sure that we keep things appropriate and that we don’t run into trouble, to make sure it’s more positive-inclusive. And then I think the other thing is going back to the map piece and specific to that purpose piece, that it’s not just, “Hey, I want to be fun to be just so I’m seen as funny.”

So, sometimes people ask me about, “Okay, but what about Michael Scott in The Office? He was always trying to have fun.” And the problem is that Michael Scott, you know, he’s a fictional character, his primary motivation of humor seems to be validation, right? He just wanted to be liked by everyone, and he wanted everyone to see him as a funny person, and that’s not a great starting reason for using humor. You want to be more specific about it, like, “Okay, I want to use humor in this meeting to keep people engaged in the content and help them understand it better.” That’s going to change the type of humor you use over, “I want people to see me as really funny.”
And so, some simple ways around to do that is I’m a big believer in if you’re doing presentations, rather than having a wall-full of texts, do include more images because the images themselves can be part of the punchline and you don’t have to be the one that created the humor. If you go to, like, Flickr.com and do a Creative Commons search for, hey, if you’re talking about new initiatives in the workplace around stress management, go in and do some searching for stress. Or if you recognize, “Oh, yeah,” and smiling is something that can kind of help in the workplace, find a picture of a dog that’s smiling and it makes people laugh.

Or, in my TEDx Talk, I share a picture of – I say that I work with some pretty conservative organizations and will admit that sometimes when I’m talking about the benefits of humor, they are a little bit skeptical. And when I say skeptical, as I click to the next slide, and it’s a dog that kind of looks skeptical. And so, people are now laughing, and goes, “Oh, yeah, that is kind of funny. That dog kind of looks like it has that expression that it is a skeptical-looking dog.” And so now they’re laughing, and it’s just an additional kind of punchline, and I didn’t have to put the word skeptical behind me. I didn’t need to put all the research and everything there. It was just kind of one way to keep it, and make it a little bit more engaging. So, I think images can be a great way to do that.

I think activities is another way to incorporate some humor in a way that everyone is included. And so, another form of humor, so we talked about self-enhancing humor. Another form of humor is affiliative humor, and this is positive-inclusive where everyone is part of the end group of that humor. So, I think of kind of Ellen DeGeneres.

And so, when you’re starting a meeting, as a project manager, I used to start meetings with a simple question that people could answer pretty quickly to go around the room, if it’s a group of like eight people or so, to be like, “All right. Just before we get started, I want to…” and I’ve set this up before but, like, “We’re doing these questions as a way to get to know each other a little bit better, remind ourselves that we work with fellow humans and not just resources. So, today’s question is, very quickly, go around the table and reply with the first thing you remember buying with your own money.” Or something that you think is, “What’s something that you think is true for you that you don’t think is true for anyone else in the room?” Or just these kinds of specific questions that get people to kind of share a little bit more about them because it goes back to this resource piece.

Like, as a project manager, I labeled people as resources, and most workplaces label people as resources. And, over time, you start to forget that the other person on the other side of an email, or the other side of a phone call, or the other side of a conference desk, is a fellow human being with human lives and human emotions and, maybe, just maybe, the reason that they’re email is late to you is not because they secretly hate you, but because they have a sick kid at home.

And that’s part of what humor is doing, is it’s reminding us kind of our humanity in the workplace, and saying, “Hey, we’re all in this together as people.” And so, small things that we can do that can remind people, that can be a great way to kind of introduce humor in a safer and easier way.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve also talked a bit about how to use humor to diffuse conflict. How does that work? Can you give us a demonstration?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so a lot of times it’s just kind of becoming a reminder of that situation of kind of what the situation is and creating a pattern to interrupt. Because so often our conflict is we get so kind of narrowed in on a focus, or a problem that is coming up, or a conversation that’s happening, and we need to be just kind of interrupted from that to kind of take a break and step back. And sometimes just observing, kind of giving an observation or sharing an observation about the room can help or the situation.

For example, I was at a meeting at P&G and it was getting pretty intense, we were a little bit behind on a project and so there are some kind of blame, kind of calling out and blaming people and things like that. And my manager, at one point, was like, “All right. Everyone, listen. We need to remember that at the end of the day, we sell soap.” And that wasn’t to discount P&G’s mission, it wasn’t to say what we were working on wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things, but it was to remind us, “Hey, we’re in this very intense argument about selling soap. This isn’t World War II, this isn’t the Civil War. We can take a step back, we can take a breath,” and that was enough to make us laugh and for us to kind of recharge.

And so, sometimes it’s like to say, okay, you use a comment, or get people to take a break, and then say, “Okay, maybe let’s take five. Let’s take five minutes, let’s relieve some stress, let’s use some humor, whether it’s watching comedy video, or do a quick activity, or everyone just go for a walk and then come back,” because you need that kind of space between the stimulus and the action that you create, and humor can help you create that space.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Drew, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we talk about some of your favorite things?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so I would say there’s two quick things that I would say. One, kind of given the audience that I know is listening, recognizing that there is a difference sometimes in how humor is received between men and women. So, in one study they found that when men use humor, now, I’m going to mess up the percentages but they’re kind of close. When men use humor, it was met with a positive response 80% of the time, I think. When women use humor, it was met with a positive response 20% of the time.

In that same study they found that 90% of the humor that men use was off-the-cup humor, kind of conversationally in the moment, and 70% of the humor that women use was self-defeating humor or self-deprecating humor. And so, that brings me to a third style of humor. So, we have affiliative humor, we have self-enhancing humor, there is a self-defeating humor. And self-defeating humor is where you kind of poke fun at yourself. It’s a negative form of humor that you poke fun at yourself which can be great in a high-status position but it’s not great, one, if you’re low-status position.

And so, there’s obviously some challenges certainly with women in the workplace in terms of how status is sometimes perceived that something that we, as a society, need to work on, but it’s something that people should be conscious of. And, two, self-defeating humor works when it is used sparingly. Like, if you constantly always use it, so the women that were using self-defeating humor 70% of the time, the problem is that people stop laughing at it, because they’re like, “Ah, does this person have kind of self-esteem issues or is this a pity party? I don’t think that I should laugh.”

And so, recognizing just the style of humor that you’re using and who you are, how it’s perceived, it is an important thing to keep in mind. So, that’s just one thing that I want to say. So, stick to typically more affiliative and self-enhancing humor is going to be a little bit more helpful for you.

And the last thing that I’ll say before we get to the five questions is if people are feeling a little bit overwhelmed, like this seems like a lot, it seems like there’s a lot to go into, the last strategy, so we have 10 humor strategies that we talk about in the book, the last bonus strategy is to simply practice or strive for one smile per hour. Just try to think about one thing that you can do each hour of the day that brings a smile to your face or the face of someone else and that gets to a starting point, right?

Just think about, “Okay, I’m going into this meeting. How can I elicit one smile?” Or, “I’m getting ready to have my commute home, what’s one thing that I can do to make myself smile?” And that starts to help you develop your humor habit, then you can get into some of the more complex details stuff that we talked about a little bit later and that we talked about today, but it really starts with kind of that choice and choosing to kind of practice one thing each hour.

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

Drew Tarvin
Sure. So, a favorite quote I would say, I heard this many, many years ago, and it’s a cliché but it’s the best career advice that I’ve ever been given, which is that, “It is better to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”

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

Drew Tarvin
So, there’s a great humor and problem-solving study that, they took three groups of kids. One group of kids watched a comedy video, one group of kids watched a math video, one group of kids watched no video whatsoever. They then had to do a pretty known problem called the candlestick problem, and the kids who watched a comedy video were nearly four times more likely to solve the problem than the kids who watched the math video or no video at all. So, it just kind of showed that, one, comedy is a way to warm up the brain. It helps you see different solutions and different ideas, and it introduced me to the candlestick problem which I think is kind of a fun problem.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite book? My favorite book of all time is The Complete Anthology of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

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

Drew Tarvin
Evernote. One of the big things for being a humorist is to keep a humor notebook. Anytime you’re going throughout the world, and something kind of piques your curiosity, write that down in a notebook somewhere. And I personally use Evernote so that it’s always on me whether I’m on my computer or on my phone.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite habit? I would say if I can complete it in five minutes, I actually do the task rather than putting it on the to-do list or waiting to save it to do it later.

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

Drew Tarvin
The one smile per hour, I think, is sometimes popular and I think the idea that, again, that humor isn’t about making the workplace funny. It’s about making the workplace more fun.

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

Drew Tarvin
If they want to learn more about humor in the workplace, they can go to HumorThatWorks.com. We’ve got plenty of free blog articles and resources there, free newsletter they can sign up for, also access to the book, the online course, some of the workshops that we offer. If they want to connect with me, if they like puns, I like tweeting out puns and things like that, so if they want to connect with me on social media, if they have specific questions, they can find me @drewtarvin on any of the social media.

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

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I would say just start, right? You choose every single day how you’re going to do your work, so why not choose to be more productive, less stressed and happier, why not choose to get better results and have more fun, why not choose humor that works?

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Drew, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and laughter in all you’re up to.

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

476: How to Create Courageous Change with Ryan Berman

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Ryan Berman says: "Either you drive change or change drives you."

Ryan Berman offers his tips and tricks for building your courage muscle to make exciting changes.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three elements of the courage equation
  2. One simple trick to boost your courage
  3. How to convince your boss to make a courageous change

About Ryan:

Ryan Berman is the founder of Courageous, a change consultancy that develops Courage Brands® and trains companies how to operationalize courage through Courage Bootcamp.

He has spent a career developing meaningful stories for household brands—like Caesars Entertainment, Major League Baseball, New Era, Subway, and UNICEF—and he believes that courage is the ultimate competitive advantage for any willing business, being or brand.

Ryan Berman used the courage methodology detailed in the book to launch his own Courage Brand called Sock Problems, a charitable sock company that socks different problems in the world.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

Ryan Berman Interview Transcript

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

Ryan Berman
Thanks, man. Thanks for having me. How is it going?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s going well. It’s going well. Well, we’re going to talk about courage a lot. And I want to start us off by hearing about a time that you had to dig deep to find some professional courage. What happened?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, I think that’s a really fair question and a good place to start. I actually talk about, right now, being like I’m in it. The irony here is when you write a book about courage, you kind of have to live it. So, I’m in it right now. I actually, I don’t know how much of my story that you know, but I was running a 70-person creative agency and, to be very honest, I felt the bigger we got the less happy I became.

And I got further and further away from the things that I was most passionate about, which was doing the work. And so, the irony here is that I wrote this book to position that company, and they pretty much gave me the courage to fire myself and to start over. And so, I’m in it right now where I’m actually back.

I’m passionate about what I’m doing but you go from having all these resources to a startup. And when I described Courageous, which is more of like Special Forces, like reinvention company, where we help companies reinvent themselves. I’m back. I feel like I’m back living the premise of the book and it’s terrifying. As it is, I’m also much happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s cool. So, then the courage there was, “Are you going to take that leap and to part from reliable income and all that sort of thing?”

Ryan Berman
Yeah, but it’s more than that. I never thought I’d be a guy with a method, and here I am. You go through this thousand-day listening tour, and I still can’t explain why people at Apple and Google and Method and Dominos let me into their lives. It wasn’t like I paid them, and it wasn’t like they were clients. And the leaders of these companies let me in, and I was fascinated by how some of the biggest companies on the planet are also the ones that are the most agile, which doesn’t seem to make sense.

And so, the more I got to dissect those companies, and realized how important being aligned with the values of the company and the leaders were. And when I really look back at like the problems that we had setup in my last company, it just set me up to be ineffective at the level that I wanted to be effective. And it doesn’t mean like my way was the right way all the time, or my two partners who was there, their way or the highway. In order for me to scale and change, and I think if we’re not working on our tomorrow, if we’re not working on sustained relevance, what are do you really working on?

And so, when I looked at it, it was like, “Okay, how do I setup a company, really, to be calculated with our courage, but help us stay ahead of the curve with everybody else?” And when I really looked at that method, it made it easy for me to leave, or easier. It’s never easy but easier to leave, because I just wasn’t aligned with who I was and what my values were.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. And so, can you tell us, if we’re kind of zooming into the typical “professional” who is working a job, how is courage helpful for them? Like, where are some of the key ways that we can chicken out to our detriment?

Ryan Berman
So, first of all, I think we have the wrong idea, or some people have the wrong idea of what courage is. So, I always wondered if it makes more sense to share, when you look at the dictionary definition of courage, the dictionary definition is the ability to do something that  And imagine devoting a hearty amount of your time exploring the topic that’s going into a book, and you’re vehemently disagreeing with the dictionary. By the way, not a good place to be. Like, the last thing I want to do is to be on the wrong side of the dictionary.

But when I looked at that definition, I didn’t see any utilitarian value to it. I’m like, “How does being frightened really help me in the  So, a lot of my early research was just seeing if I can come up with a definition that can help people incorporate, unlock their courage, and do it in a calculated fashion.

And you go up through these interviews. I call the interview process the 3Bs. There was the brave, which are like Navy Seals and tornado chasers, firefighters, the ER operating chiefs. It’s like I was really fascinated by that process. They didn’t know who was coming through the door but, yet, their job is to save lives.

Then there was the bullish. So, leaders at those companies I mentioned. And then the brainiac was the third B, so just clinical psychologists, Cambridge PhDs, immunologists, just to study our brain and the way that we’re wired. And I came out the other side with this definition of courage that I think plays well for corporate which is quite out rad. It’s just it’s knowledge plus faith plus action

And, look, in business, you’re never going to have every snippet of knowledge you need to make a call. And, by the way, data is not knowledge. Data is a means to knowledge but it still takes those synthesizers to look at the data to get to your knowledge. And you can wait and hope to collect all the knowledge in the world but you’re probably going to get passed from a competitor

And when I talk about faith, we’re not talking about religion. We’re talking about inner belief. Like, what do you feel? Like, what do you really feel? The more your knowledge goes up, hopefully, your faith is going up. And then comes the hard

Two or three in any direction is not courage. So, if I listen to this, and I’m in a workplace setting, and you’re working on something that needs courage, and I do think courage is a journey word, meaning you need it for these tough decisions. Think about it this way. Like, do you have the knowledge to make a call? Do you feel it’s right? And then you take an

So, knowledge and faith with no action is paralysis. You know what you should do, you feel it’s right, and for whatever reason you can’t pull the trigger. Faith and action with no knowledge is reckless. So, I think if some people think that jumping without a parachute, that’s one of my six courage myths, by the way. I think that’s that definition, faith and

And then knowledge and action without faith. Like, if you’re on the inside and you’re going through the motions and you’re working on a project, and you don’t feel like any friction whatsoever, or any little voice inside going, “This is a little crazy.” My sense is, it’s knowledge plus action without faith is status quo. You’re working on safe. And when your idea hits the market, and you’re not there to defend it, it’s just going to blend in with a thousand of other messages or

So, it has to be all three – knowledge plus faith plus action equals courage. And that’s how you know you’re

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what’s intriguing there is like it’s almost like if there’s not a degree of, “I don’t know about this,” then there’s less, I don’t know, juice, opportunity, differentiation, power in that thing that you’re up to.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, it’s like if you don’t feel just that little voice going, “This is a little crazy. This is crazy. Oh, my gosh, we’re going to get fired if we do this.” These are on emotional datapoints actually but you’re actually on the right path to doing something courageous, that’s going to break through.

And I come out of the courageous idea space. So, I always say, “You’re not trying to make a courageous idea that when people see it the first time, they’re like, “Wow!” You want to create this idea when someone sees it at the eighth time, like, “Gosh, I wish I did that.” And that’s sort of the tell of a courageous concept.

Pete Mockaitis
So, can you just give us examples here of some courageous concepts that kind of fit this?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, for your listeners out West, one of the things we helped is Harrah’s, which is a casino. You think, “Oh, casino. Where is this going?” And all of our research showed that people look at it as a destination. But what if we can actually turn that destination into a real destination – a city?

And so, we actually came up with a concept of Funner, California, and how awesome would it be if we made a real-life city. And the good news about Harrah’s in southern California is it’s on sacred land, so we actually went to the Council of the Tribe with the leadership team at Harrah’s, and that just tells you the level of trust we have with the leadership team, and convinced them to change the property to Funner, California. So, literally, the proximity of the property is now a real legal city called Funner.

And once we got the smiles on the face of the team, well, if you’re going to have a city, you have to have a mayor, right, because what city doesn’t have a mayor? So, who would be the perfect mayor of Funner, California? Our first mayor was Mayor Hoff, Mayor David Hasselhoff.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Ryan Berman
Yeah. And so, next thing you know our commercials were with Mr. Hasselhoff, I mean, Mayor Hoff, who, of course, had keys to the city and rules to his city. And the irony here is not only did it move the needle for their business, but when you talk about holistic change, this was an example of once we got it right on the outside, we then started to talk about, “Well, what about behind the curtain of the company, the employees? How would the employees of Funner behave if there were burrows? What should a pit boss look like in Funner, California?” You know what’s not Funner? A pit boss with a suit with his arms crossed trying to take your money.

So, we started to like take this concept of Funner and really blow it out inside and outside. And I think that’s the big idea here, it’s like, “How do you come up with ideas? There is no curtain anywhere.” If there’s a curtain between internal and external, you’ve got a problem. And I think Funner was a great example of them having the courage to go, “We are a destination. Let’s do it for Funner.” And once that was their marketing communication, then we started to work inside to make the organization more fun in all directions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, yes. And it is kind of different, so I hear what you’re saying with regard to that faith bit. But, at the same time, that there is distinction there which is kind of meaningfully unique in terms of the innovation and being appealing to folks, like, “Oh, I don’t want to go to the one that’s less fun.”

Ryan Berman
Right, right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I want the one that’s funner.”

Ryan Berman
“Yeah, let’s go to Funner.” Yeah, I think we actually call out, we sign off, like, “It’s not a word, it’s a place.” And to some people, like, “Funner is not a word.” And so, you know, the big insight for me also, and permission to give a quick shameless plug on the book, but the true insight was every single time in my career where we have presented the most courageous idea, and our partners chose them, the return on courage was higher, and their staffs were happier.

And every time, you know, because sometimes you’d present multiple ideas, every time we’d present the safer idea, or our partners went with the safer idea, the return on courage wasn’t even half. And, by the way, our staff was less than happy. They knew it wasn’t going to work at the level it could. So, you have this really courageous idea that makes sense for the business, by the way. Next thing you know, you’re talking about like peer through reinvention.

We weren’t just reinventing their communication. We were reinventing their culture. We’re reinventing new innovation opportunities for them. Yeah, go for it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you say you’re comparing a return on courage for values. What’s the numerator, denominator here on this formula?

Ryan Berman
For return on courage?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Ryan Berman
Well, again, it’s less algebraic than the first time around. But I think the number one is in involving relevant business that’s sidestepping stasis or death. The return on courage is like you’re back into a relevant position. You’re building internal believers and external believers, and you’re building your courage muscle which breeds more courage, which keeps you ahead of your competition, ultimately try reinvention. So, helping these companies reinvent themselves and stay relevant.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I think you said that when you took the bolder path, the return on courage was like more than double that of the safer path. What is the number we’re talking about?

Ryan Berman
Yeah. I don’t have like the actual EBITDA number for here but, to me, almost every single time we’ve actually have a client pick the courageous idea, and obviously we’re playing off, “Here’s how you maximize your ROI,” but I don’t have like lock-me-down number on, “Oh, every time we do this, it’ll be 8x or 4x or 10x.” I wish I had more time. Maybe that’s something we can explore.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s more than double, you said.

Ryan Berman
Oh, yeah, there’s no question. Yeah, there’s no question.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so that’s encouraging right there. I think that’s a shot in the arm, a boost to the faith right there in terms of thinking, “Oh, okay. Well, this might be a little nuts, but Ryan said that when you do something that’s a little nuts, that makes sense and there’s a lot of energy behind it. More often than not, it’s at least twice as effective.” So, that’s pretty cool.

You made a reference to some myths when it comes to courage. Could you share a couple of those? Like, what’s the most pervasive or damaging and how should we think about these courage myths correctly?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, so there’s six courage myths that were sort of uncovered in the interview process, and some of them were obvious, like courage jumping out of a plane sans parachute, or courage is activated on impulse. I think courage can’t be taught, and I think those are critical. But when I really think of what’s the most debilitating one, I think it’s that courage describes other people, or courage doesn’t have a role

And I truly believe if that’s what you think, then of course it doesn’t have a role in our daily life. But if you look at courage like a muscle, and you can start to build that muscle and train for it, then you start to look for courageous opportunities inside your organization. We’re just not built that way. When you talk to leaders of companies, they see courage as a peripheral thing

And so, to me, that’s just an opportunity waiting to be unlocked. And if you can get your whole organization prepped and trained to look for courageous opportunities, I do believe those start to appear. And, again, if courage breeds courage, then you’re looking for those moments where we can be courageous to push forward those ideas that really change the game for your

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, let’s hear some more myths.

Ryan Berman
You know, again, I think courage is a solo risky journey. I don’t think it’s a solo. I definitely think it’s a journey but I don’t think it’s as risky as people think and I certainly  Again, especially in a corporate setting, we’re all dealing with stuff on our own, our demons on the inside, but to me that’s part of the problems. Like, how do we get out of our own way and properly communicate what we’re afraid of?

There’s a famous proverb that fear and courage are brothers, that you actually can’t get to the courageous choice without first channeling it through fear. But most of us, we suppress those things that we’re afraid of versus  And so, part of this is like, “Let’s look out what we’re afraid of. Let’s actually talk about what those fears look like. Is there a product fear we’ve got? What’s the perception fear? Which is what I would call like the marketing fear. What personal fears are you bringing to the job?” Like, “Hey, if I pick this idea, am I going to be on an island all by myself? Am I going to get fired?” We don’t talk about this stuff.

And so, as leaders, my hope is that people will empower their teams to bring this to the forefront and like I always say FOMF, Fear Of Missing Fear. Like, if you don’t have a fear, go find one and smoke out that fear, and then start to

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s get to a little bit of the how of fear. So, let’s say you’ve zeroed in on a fear, how do you go about doing the shrinking of it?

Ryan Berman
Yes. So, like I mentioned a little bit earlier, I never thought I’d be a guy with a method, and here I am. So, what I wanted to do was almost take the courage out of courage and give people the tools they need to make faster decision-making but do so in a calculated way.

So, if your audience has an opportunity and the book, Return on Courage, the back half of the book is the how. Like, how do you actually know the knowledge to follow, how to build internal and external faith, and then where to take action. And the back of the book is basically the five steps to becoming what I call a courage brand. And there’s a price. There’s a price to becoming a courage brand. And price is an acronym. It stands for Prioritize, Rally, Identify, Commit,

And Prioritize is prioritize through value. So, it’s almost going all the way back to the beginning and really looking at the  And, unfortunately, most of us have, like the values are on a wall somewhere, they’re collecting dust in an employee manual, but they’re not really being operationalized and activated.

Or maybe a company has nine values or 11 values, and I can just speak for myself. Like, I can barely remember four. So, if I’m the leader of a company, and I’ve got a thousand people working for me, how do I make this clean and simple, have less values, have each value be more valuable? And then, how am I rewarding my staff on these values?

And when I say core values, they’re not eyerolls, they’re the exceptional role. Again, this is just for me going out and seeing how these companies, the most relevant companies in the world are operating. Now, are all of them like playing by these rules? No. Amazon, I think, has 16 values. That’s unfathomable to me. But, obviously, it’s working for them.

So, it talks about, “What are the values of a company?” and then, let’s say you’re just on the team, like, “Do you actually mirror those values? Are you a believer of those values?” Which brings us to the second step, which is rally,  And I think organizations even make believers or fake believers. And the funny thing about fake believers is they’re hidden in the organization. They don’t exactly wear a T-shirt that says, “Fake believer.” They don a smile and collect the paycheck but deep down, like conviction is dropped, there’s the eyerolls and productivity isn’t what it could be.

And so, I really do believe that belief is the ultimate currency in an organization. So, when people believe, they’re in, and when people don’t believe, they’re out, and that comes straight down to leadership. So, that leadership team is responsible for creating believers, which starts with the values. And then, again, are you making believers? Are you caring about your team? I think there’s four ways

And so, respecting makes believers, caring makes believers, I would say repeating makes believers, which is really annoying sometimes for the leadership team but you need to be playing on the same playbook and say the same thing over and over again. And then seeing is believing. So, if you say something, and your staff doesn’t see something, that’s a problem, right? If you say something,

And, again, these two steps are organizational health steps. It’s as simple as galvanizing your people and creating conviction. And the number one problem that I see today is this misalignment between leadership and the next-generation workforce where the leadership team can’t wrap their heads around why you don’t want to stick around for  And the next generation is like, “I don’t need a watch. I have a watch on my phone. Like, I need skills. I need to be challenged.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s my thing. It’s like, “Because you’re going to fire me as soon as there’s a downturn.”

Ryan Berman
Right. And so, there’s this recalibration that’s needed. Both sides need to understand each other and that means talking about it. Like you said, “Hey, if I speak up, am I going to get fired?” Okay, that’s a personal fear that needs to be discussed. It should be discussed. We don’t discuss it. So, again, I think these two steps are just about organizational health, it’s about finding people with conviction that have the right intention, that are on the metaphor of co-rocket ship.

And then we move into the I, which is identify fears, so you have to do that. And the way I try to break down fears is looking at industry fears, what’s the industry fear for your vertical, like what could take down the entire industry. Are you the

And I imagine going to an offsite and thinking through these things. By the way, this concept only came up because I was so frustrated with SWOT. You know, remember the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats? And the more times I did that, my strength ended up on my opportunity, and my weakness ended up on my opportunity, and my weakness also ended up on my threats. And so, I just wanted to come up with a better way to SWOT, which has somehow survived as the standard for the last six decades.

And so, I think an art of fear is a better way to SWOT where you can get really clear about what could take your vertical down or where’s the problems with your product, which is product fears, or service fears, and I guess that perception fears which is marketing. And, again, if you don’t know what can take you down, you can’t put a plan in place and you’re reacting. Usually, it’s a little too late by the time the thing comes to get you. So, the idea is to smoke out what could take your business down and take your vertical down, and then you have a decision to make on if you want to double-down and

The C is “Commit to a purpose.” Again, I think this is a hard thing for current leadership teams to recognize but the next-generation workforce believes that we have an obligation as a business to be purpose-driven, to make the world better,  And so, I think there’s a study where 50% of millennials felt that way, that the point of this was to make the world better not just to make money.

So, if I’m a leader, you can even roll your eyes at that or just sort of accept the obligation that comes with being a business leader. And so, that means committing to an authentic purpose, a truthful purpose. Simon Sinek has spent so much of his career playing in this space. I agree with him that we got to find our why. I think the only sort of addon is, now, I think you need to have a rally cry in that why. What’s the rally cry? Why and how are people

You look at a company like SpaceX, and there’s not a ton of proof that they’re going to be successful on their rally cry purpose, which is life on another planet. But if you work there, you’re committed. You’ll give 20 hours a day to push that boulder up the mountain on what you’re trying to achieve. And I know not every company can be SpaceX, but you’ve got to find that rally cry.

You look at Method Soap, that soap company, and their rally cry and their why was the people against dirty. And what I love about it is they had a clear enemy that they chose to take down which was dirty. Are you for clean or are you for dirty? The people against dirty. By the way, I think they have a 100 million annual sales as a target, and it’s soap, it’s a commodity. So, what I love about it is it doesn’t matter if you’re a commodity or a rocket ship. You can find a purpose and get clear on that purpose and galvanize people behind it.

And then, finally, we get down to E of PRICE which is execute your action. So, knowledge, faith and action, right? It’s go time on the execute  And, again, it just depends on what type of action you’re jumping into. But the book talks about, it’s a little bit of a choose your own adventure on, “Are you reinventing your product? Are you reinventing your story? Or are you reinventing like a new offering?”

And, again, this is the hard part. The hard part is you know what you’re doing and you feel it’s right. Now you have

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I want to zero in on some of the values pieces here because I think you’re right that a lot of organizations, they have values, maybe there’s nine, maybe there’s 16, but they’re not really alive in the sense that they’re sort of hanging out on some materials, in a file cabinet, or on some walls. So, could you maybe give us some examples of company, value, and how that gets lived for real? Because I think a lot of listeners might find themselves as like, “I don’t think I can recite our company values and I don’t think any of them are leaping to mind as I look at how we do business.”

Ryan Berman
Yeah, again, I think this goes all the way back to the basics, right? You would think that we would honor the values of the company. And the problem I think is many companies are honoring the founder’s values which may not mirror what the next generation demands, or what you demand of that next-generation workforce because, to me, that’s what values were made for. They’re supposed to be guardrails to help you make decisions. It’s to drive behavior. And if you have multiple offices and thousands of people, they all should be playing on the

So, one company that comes to mind is Zappos. They do have 10 values but their number one value is, “Deliver wow through service.” The way that comes to life, I mean, from the second you walk into their office, yes, it is wall art, but I just love this idea that they have on the wall, “We’re a service company that happens to sell blank.”

Which I love that fact. And you can go in there and what they’re selling, they see themselves as a customer service company first. It doesn’t matter what your title is, you’re the first one that you’re at the office, you’re working the call center. Their CEO, Tony Hsieh, still works the call center during the holidays and people are sort of floored when he tells them, “By the way, I’m Tony Hsieh, I’m the CEO.” It’s like he’s taking calls so they don’t believe him.

And so, he is operationalizing the values. They also have a reward system. It’s almost like when you go to like one of those game rooms where you get your tickets and you can turn your tickets in for different rewards. They basically have that where other people can give you points on service and you can redeem those points for schwag. So, there’s actual science in Jonah Berger’s book Contagious that says, “We cannot imitate things we don’t see.” Which is why it’s “Monkey see, monkey do,” not “Monkey hear, monkey do.”

And so, Tony, recognizing that, he visualized this everywhere. You see it everywhere. Everywhere you go in that office, you can’t not see something on the wall reminding you of how you’re supposed to behave. I think the military also does a really good job of this. So, the Army does a really good job of this. And leadership is their acronym, and the recognize that everybody coming in through their system is coming from different walks of life, right?

So, the Army officer has a massive advantage that they get 16 weeks of bootcamp here. They really get to train their people. And most of us in the workforce, we get like 48 hours and then we get the metaphorical weapon to go out into the workplace and try to do our job. But if you’ve ever studied Fort Knox, you’ll see, again, written on the walls, it’s leadership. It’s all those values. You get it on the dog tags. They ingrain it in you. They’re training their people.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I see there that we skipped the E and the A. We got loyalty, duty, respect, and selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage, and these things mean something for real to them.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, it’s everything to them. By the way, you talk to people that are Army infantry men, they talk about how those values play off the field as much as on the field for them. So, they’re making it real. They’re operationalizing their values.

And so, a lot of the work I’m doing now is you kind of have to go back to the beginning, and go, “Hey, the way you communicate to your team, the way you’re driving behavior, it’s like Pavlov are you actually rewarding your team off of the values. And often I’ll get from a leadership team, like, “Are we talking about internal values or external values?” And my response is, “Well, that’s exactly the problem. There’s plenty of words for us to choose from. Let’s figure out the ones that work for both and stand there.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I think it gets you thinking right there because when these things are real, it stirs the heart, you know. And when they’re not, it’s sort of like, “Sure,” and they’re just trudging along.

Ryan Berman
Yeah, you can see why value. That’s where the eyeroll comes from versus, “Are you really using them to create the desired results for your company and your people.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Well, so I’d love to hear, when it comes to sort of individuals, would you recommend any sort of small practices or daily activities to help boost the courageousness or courage, if you will?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, I think it starts by recognizing that it can be for you. So, let’s assume we’re past that willingness part. Look, I think, by far, the hardest part of this is the action part. It’s hard. You know what to do. Sometime you feel it’s right. It’s just articulating like, “Okay, we’ve got to experiment, we’ve  And so, I love that word, by the way, in the corporate setting of experimenting. It’s like, “How do you help people just experiment?” Well, that means you’ve got to create a process and a budget for that.

So, let’s say I’m at a company and you’re responsible for budgeting. I would actually create an experimental budget. Like, just throw it away. It’s a failed budget. It can work but you’re literally creating little experiments to learn something new. Or, let’s say you’re not. This isn’t about work, and say this is at home, that I would create

So, one of my favorite things that I like to do is I set different calendar just for myself. I block off time for myself. Sometimes it’s monthly, sometimes it’s quarterly where I’ll send myself actionable messages. So, you can actually go in and you can custom your labels and your alarms, so I actually see things that I need to see in my alarms when they go off that basically . And I think this is a great use for me in controlling technology versus technology controlling me.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give some examples for alarms and labels that you use in there?

Ryan Berman
Yeah, so one of the things that I had to get over when I was writing the book was, okay, we have this thing called our central nervous system that calls all the shots. And let’s break that down for one sec. So, central, the core of you. System, an operating system and computer, basically a computer. Nervous, don’t say that. Don’t think that. Don’t try that. Like, we’re rooted, we have archaic systems that are basically rooted in nervousness and it’s hard to shake that.

So, one of the ideas I’ve come up with was, “Oh, that’s interesting. I wonder if I can develop a central courage system to combat the realities of our central nervous system?” So, PRICE, that five-step process is basically building your central courage system. But when I first came up with the idea, I felt like an impostor talking about this thing.

And so, for me, the way I got over it was by every morning my alarm went off, I saw, “Build strong central courage systems.” And by the 12th time I saw it, or the 18th time I saw it, or the 36th time I saw it, it was building that muscle for me that I needed to see to keep me on my path for writing the book. And so now, I say, yeah, I help companies or leaders build strong central courage systems. It’s second nature for me. But when I first said it, it was hard for me to say. I’m building that muscle.

And so, I think that’s creating these ritualized triggers and using your alarms to do that. So, if you wanted to write that blog, or start that podcast, I would literally schedule time on your calendar, maybe it’s once a week where you’re like, “Today is the day.” And you see that every week at the same time and start to ritualize that process so you can build that muscle. And that makes it easier to do it again and

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Very good. And I also want to get your take, we talked about this sort of a whole organization level. If an employee finds themselves in the midst of their organization, they want to do some courageous changes, but they get resistance from teammates and bosses. Do you have any tips on how they can get more influential persuasive and get things moving even though their kind of authority is limited?

Ryan Berman
And, again, I feel this is going to sound like a promotion for the book, but I think whether it’s my book or someone else’s book, just by giving something tangible to somebody, when you gift knowledge, so when someone gives them, “Hey, do you have a minute? I thought about you while I was reading this book. Can we talk about it when you’re done with it?” Gifting knowledge is an easy way to

A hard way to start a conversation is, “Do you have five minutes?” When they don’t have five minutes, they’re not sure what you really want. And so, what I’ve learned is just by gifting knowledge and gifting the book to someone is an easy way to talk about the process of

Another is, and a lot of this statistics are in the book. Statistics are tough because people don’t think that statistics have anything to do with them. They think statistics are for other people, right? But if you actually look at the statistics, you’ve got a 52% of the Fortune 500s since 2000 that are gone. That number is going to hold. John Chambers predicts that 40% of all companies will be .

You’re going to have 9,000 brands that carousels on and off the Fortune 500 over the next six decades. I can do this for a while. The life expectancy of a Fortune 500 brand 50 years ago is 75 years. So, once you made it onto the list, you can coast for a while. Today, it’s anywhere between 12 and 15 years. So, the numbers are there. Like, this is the problem. We have to shake the leaders of the company and go, “Look, if we don’t change, someone is going to change us whether we like it or not.” And I think even you drive change or change drives you, and if you’re not careful,

So, there are house-on-fire moments. It’s just how do you shake the leaders? And, again, a lot of this content, I just mention this in the book, I talk about like, “What’s going on and why is this happening? Why is this business apocalypse really happening?” And my hope is to do that is to help companies start to deal with this and have the conversation that it’s possible for them to change.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that really hammers it home with regard to you just don’t have the option to coast anymore. You’ve got take a moment to rejuvenate for you and rest and all that stuff, but you just can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing for years at a time because the outside world will not do the same.

Ryan Berman
No, and that’s the thing. You got this iterative strategy and, actually, you will get caught, and incremental growth has nothing on exponential growth. And somewhere, there’s probably five guys in a garage that are trying to figure out a way to take you down. That’s not on your radar yet, and they’re working 19 hours a day to figure out a way to disrupt your category. So, it’s a very real thing and it’s happening all over the country and beyond.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ryan, tell me, anything else you want to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Ryan Berman
No, man, just obviously I love talking about this stuff. I really do enjoy helping companies reinvent. I think courage is a competitive advantage for anyone that chooses to learn how to do it. And I think you can unlock it in your teams. And a lot of my time right now is being able to go inspire groups and speak in different companies and try to get them to see that courage is for them. And, hopefully, once they do, then we can start working on a plan for tomorrow.

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

Ryan Berman
Yeah, my favorite quote is by a German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer who said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it’s ridicule. Second, it’s wild. It’s violently opposed. And, third, it’s accepted as being self-evident.” So, I just love that because I think that is the process of courage. That is the friction that comes with this lot of change where, first, it’s like, “Really? Like, no, this is a silly idea.” Two, “Absolutely not.” And then, third, “Well, anyone could’ve come up with a Google, right?” Like, there’s no period for joy to celebrate. It’s just sort of, “Oh.” By the way, this quote is like evidently 250 years old and still remains true today.

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

Ryan Berman
Being able to sit with Steve Wilhite, who was hired by Steve Jobs to run marketing, was probably my favorite interview. And I love all my children equally, but to be able to sit with Steve and hear his story of how he was hired and what sort of test Steve Jobs gave him to make sure he wasn’t just a yes man so he would actually stand up to him, was pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

 Berman
I would say Essentialism is right there by Greg McKeown in just helping you decide what is essential because once you know that, you’ve got the clarity you need to stay on the path of what you follow and leave everything else by the wayside.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Ryan Berman
Today it’s Slack and Zoom because my company Courageous is virtual, so thank goodness for those tools because it allows us to stay connected in real time and see each other.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ryan Berman
Right now, it’s the one I explained where I’m setting my alarm with different labels to remind myself of what’s important, so these triggers. And so, even for me, after studying these for three years, I want to see those triggers.

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

Ryan Berman
You know what, a lot of people seem to be resonating with the knowledge plus faith plus action equals courage, which is cool. It’s like, “What do I think about this? How does it make me feel? And what am I going to do about it?”

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

Ryan Berman
Well, they’ll learn more about the book, I would go to ReturnOnCourage.com. And if you wanted to get to know my consulting practice a little more, I’d go to CourageBrands.com. And you could probably find me through the ReturnOnCourage.com website.

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

Ryan Berman
If you’re unhappy, you’ve got take your life into your control. And I really do think that’s sort of the aha moment for me, is that it didn’t matter we were getting bigger, I was getting less happy. And so, same thing, either you drive change or change drives you. And if it’s your life, then how are you to take it by being in the driver’s seat of it and make the most of it, and have the courage to drive where you want?

And, again, maybe internally, change starts with one, it starts with you and then find somebody else that’s your real raft mate who can help you make change and then go get another and another and another. And if you like challenges, I’d recommend that.

Pete Mockaitis
Ryan, thanks for taking the time and keep up the good work.

Ryan Berman
Thanks, Pete. Appreciate you having me on.

468: Upgrading Your Confidence and Courage at Work with Bill Treasurer

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Bill Treasurer says: "Boredome is a clue that it's time to move back out into discomfort."

Bill Treasurer shares practical wisdom for conquering fear, taking risks, and finding your courage.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key first step to finding courage
  2. Approaches for taking on more wise risks
  3. How to fill up each of the Three Buckets of Courage

About Bill:

In the past two decades, thousands of executives across the globe have attended Bill’s keynotes and workshops. Benefiting from the concepts first introduced in Bill’s bestselling books, participants come away with stronger leadership skills, improved team performance, and more career backbone.

Among others, Bill has led workshops for NASA, Accenture, Lenovo, CNN, Hugo Boss, SPANX, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bill’s insights about courage and risk-taking have been featured in over 100 newspapers and magazines, including the Washington Post, NY Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Boston Herald, and more.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Bill Treasurer Interview Transcript

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

Bill Treasurer
Pete, I’m really delighted to be here and I’m looking forward to our time together.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. And I want to go back in time a little bit to hear the story of you were invited to join the Metropolitan Opera in New York when you were 11 for singing. That’s impressive. What’s the story here?

Bill Treasurer
You know, I don’t know that I’ve ever spoken to anybody else about this. I mean, my mom knows it. But when I was 11 years old, I had a buddy who was already in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera and he was a good singer, and he and I would sing like John Denver songs together and such. And he said, “You know, you ought to come with me down to the Met because they’re looking to put people in their chorus for a Russian play that was going to be on Broadway or at the Met.” And so, I was like, “All right. Why not?”

So, I took the train down and I did a test run with the person playing piano there with him and the other people in the chorus, and got word, afterwards they called and said that they wanted me to be in the chorus. And then it became a decision, like, “Do I want this as my track? Do I want to sort of pursue singing operatically or do I want to go outside and play baseball with my buddies, and stickball and run around in the dirt like we had been doing up until that point?” So, I had a decision to make and, ultimately, I decided that the showbiz life, at least the operatic showbiz life, probably isn’t for me. So, I declined the opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, imagine you must be pretty darn good at singing. I imagine they’re pretty selective even amongst 11-year-olds.

Bill Treasurer
I got some girlfriends in college.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you also play the guitar, that seems to be key?

Bill Treasurer
No, it’s interesting, I would sing when other people were playing guitar, but what’s really kind of, it truly is interesting, is that by the time I was 11 and a little bit later, I literally would sing John Denver songs with my buddies, and the most popular John Denver song that we would sing back then was the sing-a-long “Country Roads,” right? “Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong, West Virginia.”

And then, fast forward a little bit later, it’s actually where I ended up going to college. And I’m not from West Virginia, I’m from the suburbs of New York, but somehow singing that song so many times ended up plopping me into West Virginia. And, in fact, the very first football game at West Virginia University that I attended that fall, it was the opening of a new stadium. And who comes ala helicopter, lands at the stadium, and sings “Country Roads” but John Denver. So, it’s a nice sort of closure to the story.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s quite poetic. It’s all meant to be. Well, so I want to talk a little bit about courage with you. And you’ve been working with this for a long time so much so that you’ve updated your book Courage Goes to Work after over 10 years. So, tell us, what do we need to know about courage going to work?

Bill Treasurer
Well, you know, the interesting thing is if you look at courage and you start studying it, as I did when I started writing the book, and I’ve started birthing my own business, and then it gave birth to the book, is this idea that courage is a virtue. And I’m not the first one to say that. In fact, if you rewind far enough, Aristotle called courage the first virtue because it makes all the other virtues

And throughout history, other great giants have talked about courage as being one of the premier, if not the premier of virtues. In fact, the Catholic Church calls it one of the four cardinal virtues. So, outside of work, courage has always been a preeminent virtue. And my question became, “Why would it be any different in the workplace?” Because a lot of workplaces are bastions of fear, but fear is the primary means of motivating people to get things done, sadly still, even in the 21st

And so, that becomes the right opportunity for the demonstration of  So, my whole contemplation in the book Courage Goes to Work was, “How do we take courage and apply it in the workplace not just outside as a virtue, but as the premier virtue of business and leadership?” So, if you think about it, Pete, to be a great business developer or salespeople, salesperson, means to knock on hundreds of doors in the face of rejection over and over again. That takes courage.

To be an innovator means to draw outside of the lines, experiment, make some mistakes, forward falling, to be an innovator. The greatest innovations almost always start out as blasphemy to what was before. So, to be an innovator takes courage. And then, finally, to be a leader means to render bold decisions that some people are going to disagree with and you’ve got to withstand the turbulence of that disagreement. Leadership takes courage. So, courage is essential to so many of the operating systems that make organizational life work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, certainly. So, it’s critical. And then, tell us, why is it often missing?

Bill Treasurer
I think that for many of the reasons it’s missing outside in the world and so much of it has to do with fear and what do we do when we face, or fail to face, more accurately, fearful situations. What’s interesting in the things that I’ve learned and research about courage is that courage isn’
t the absence of  In fact, John McCain wrote a book called Why Courage Matters. It became an international bestseller.

And in the book, he says, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s acting despite the fact that you’re afraid.” So, if you think about that, it means that courage is fear-full, not fearless. You’ll see these bumper stickers on the back of trucks “No Fear. No Fear.” You know, no brains. That’s not courage. Courage, in fact, is fear-full but it’s acting despite the fact that you’re afraid, and moving through it with that

So, I think a lot of people walk away when they’re fearful, they get paralyzed, or they fight, flight or freeze. But what my work is suggesting, and a few others like John McCain, is that if you work through your fear, that’s the discovery of courage. In fact, you can’t be courageous unless the presence of fear is there. But the trick is to not run away from it, it’s learn how to contend

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what are your top tips for learning how to contend with it?

Bill Treasurer
Well, the first thing is, know what you want. I know that you’re based in Chicago. There’s a playwright in Chicago, his name is Ambrose Redmoon. He’s got another one of these quotes, he says, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s the decision that you’ve got something more important than fear to get done.” So, the first thing is what I call the contemplation of the holy question. The four most important words that you’ll ever learn in the English language, “What do you want?” What do you want?

If you can answer that with precision, and it may start with first identifying what you don’t want, but figuring out the condition that you want, that you don’t yet have, in other words, identify a worthwhile goal, then that sublimates fear when the goal becomes more

And so, the first thing you’ve got to do is decide is, “What is that thing that is so important, that I don’t yet have, that courage will become the activation that will sort of help me take the steps forward to get that condition that I don’t have.” So,

So, it’s critically important that you have a goal that is really compelling that motivates you to move forward, and courage becomes the activation that sort of helps you close the gap between where you are today and that important goal that you want to get to. So, the first thing to do to activate your own courage is have a worthwhile goal to put your mojo, your courage mojo, to work

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure. So, once you got a worthwhile goal, what’s next?

Bill Treasurer
Well, the other thing is it helps to understand what I call the theory of least regrets. Understand that any risk, any big move that you’re considering comes with two risks. There’s the risk of action, but then there’s also the risk of inaction. And sometimes the risk of inaction is more dangerous but it happens over a lengthy period of time so it’s harder to

So, one key question to ask yourself is, “What will I regret the least? Taking this risk, doing this courageous thing, and maybe wiping out, or not taking this risk, and never knowing if I could’ve been successful had I done  You know, a lot of bar stools are warmed by the seat of a person, right now, everywhere in the country, who’s staring at the TV screen and yelling at the bartender, talking about how they could’ve been a contender, but they didn’t. They didn’t contend.

So, the idea is that the risk we regret the most are very often the ones that we didn’t  So, as you’re getting ready for a risk, to contemplate, “What is the thing that I will regret the least, maybe wiping out and trying it, or not wiping out but not trying it and never knowing if I could’ve been successful?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, we got the theory of least regret. And what next?

Bill Treasurer
Sometimes it’s good to objectify the subject of experience of a risk. So, a lot of times we’ll do this  We’ll do the pro and con list, and, “Hey, here’s the credit column. I might get this if I do this thing, and here’s the debit column,” and whichever one has the most on it we sort of go with.

But a better way to do it is what I call the worst-case grid. And you simply draw an X-axis and Y-axis and a scale ranging from 1 to 10 on both axes, and then say, “If this big move, this giant leap that I’m considering, doesn’t work out, what is the degree of badness? On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is

So, for example, I decided at one point to leave Accenture. Accenture is a great company. I had a six-figure job, I was well networked. If I had stayed there long enough, I would’ve moved into a senior executive, at the time partner role. But there was something unsatisfying about the experience of staying there. So, I decided to leave and start my own business, Giant Leap Consulting.

The degree of badness, had it not worked out for me, it’s not going to be death, right? For most people, whatever the big bad move, the big scary thing that you’re considering doing, that’s requiring courage, generally, is not going to be death. And death would be a

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess I’m thinking my scale is bigger. I’m just thinking like the annihilation of humanity because it’s just your death, right? You’re just one life. I mean, if you’re working in a field like military, law enforcement, even food service, or transportation, you know, you can kill hundreds or thousands with your poor decisions.

Bill Treasurer
You know, I suppose if your big risk is that you’re going to put a new drug on the market that hasn’t been well-tested, I think that could be the case. Actually, it’s my understanding, this may be mythology, but it’s my understanding that Jonas Salk, who gave us the polio vaccine, that he first injected it to himself and to his own children, right? So, had that not worked out, people wouldn’t call him the hero that he ultimately became for helping eradicate polio largely.
So, the degree of badness in my case, had I left Accenture and had it not worked out, my wipeout would’ve been I would’ve had to have lived with my in-laws, right? So, my wife and I. I wouldn’t be in a soup kitchen, but if my business hadn’t worked out, for a little period of time, we would’ve had to go and live with my in-laws, and that’s not a 10, right? Like, that’s probably a 7.

So, as you consider the big bold move that you’re thinking about, first of all, identify what is the degree of badness. In my case, it was a 7, having to potentially live at my in-laws’ house. But then you also have to factor in the  And so, I looked at it, and said, “Okay, had I left Accenture and my business didn’t work out, the truth is I had worked with other entrepreneurs, I had taken night classes at Emory University, I already had a graduate degree, I had been in the workforce for over 10 years. All of those things lowered my metaphor to go high dive,” so I was able to look at it and say, “You know, the probability is probably a 2 or 3.”

So, then you just times your degree of badness, in this case 7, times your probability grid 3, and then you come up with a numeric value. For me, if it’s going to be below 50, as a numeric, as a number, I’m probably going to do the thing. If it’s above 50, I’m going to be at least more hesitant and more calculated, but probably I may not even do whatever the thing is. But the cool thing about the worst-case grid is it gives people an actual way of rationalizing and objectifying a subject of experience of taking a

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I suppose is there a corresponding sort of positive tone that you’re bouncing that against?

Bill Treasurer
Thank you for saying that. So, oftentimes, in my workshop, so in my courageous leadership workshop, I’ll have participants think about what is the next courageous move that they might be wanting to take. A good way to think about is to ask yourself, “Where am I playing it too safe in my career?” And that starts to point in the direction of their next courageous move. And then, after they do that, I’ll have them work through the worst-case grid. Most people like it because it’s a way to be very thoughtful and objective about it.

But then I’ll make sure that they close it by doing the other. Let’s flip it upside down and say, “Hey, what if this actually works out? What if I start my own business and I get to work with really cool clients and talk to really cool podcasters like Pete, and get to write books and such? That would be ideal. That’s—What’s the best case?” And that becomes, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 10 is sort of the life of my own design. What’s the probability? Same thing, I’ve got to put it through a probability factor and say, “You know, how much do I believe in myself?” So, it’s worthwhile to do it as a positive instead of worst 0-case grid, a best-case

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. So, I want to hear about a term you use, “comfeartable.” What does that mean and how should we think about it?

Bill Treasurer
So, I talk about it in the book that I think that sometimes we get into a low-level condition of dissatisfaction, a sort of a low-level dissatisfaction and, over time, we become tolerant of it. And, frankly, I think that many people get a low-level toleration of living in a constant state of fear and we become used to it, and we become a bit numb to it, we become comfortable with our fear, what I call

And when you’re a leader of people who have sort of grown apathetic and are no longer challenging themselves, and no longer willing to experience discomfort, then stagnation happens, and individual and organizational growth is thwarted. So, this idea that one of the enemies of management, in my opinion, is being “comfeartable” and having a number of employees around you who may have grown comfortable being in a low-level fear situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, if you find yourself in such a spot, how do you shake it up?

Bill Treasurer
Well, I think that leaders can do a couple of things to sort of shake it up. The first thing is they’ve got to jump first. They’ve got to be role models of courageous behavior themselves. They’ve got to show their workforce that they can be the first one up and off whatever high-dive platform they’re asking other people to jump off of. So, being a role model, and ask yourself as a leader, “When’s the last time you had sweaty palms and did something that was exciting and scary at the same

The second thing is that you’ve got to create safety as a leader. Create safety. Physical safety, of course, right? We all want to work in a work environment where we don’t think that our lives are going to be threatened. But we also, as leaders, have to create psychological safety where people feel that they can voice their true opinions about things without you chopping their head

The third thing is a leader has to help people learn how to harness fear. So, the whole discussion that you and I had about moving through fear instead of running away from it, and learning to become comfortable with  Ginni Rometty is the CEO of IBM. She has a wonderful quote that she said at Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit. She said, “Comfort and growth don’t co-exist.”

So, you, as a leader, have to ensure that people recognize that, “Look, discomfort is part of it. It’s part of how we grow and progress, so learning and acquiring new skills and taking on new challenges that, in fact, make us uncomfortable is how you’re going to grow as an individual but how the organization is going to grow

And then the fourth thing, as a leader, to be modulating between comfort and discomfort. You’ve got to nudge people out into discomfort where they start getting their own sweaty palms, but you’ve got to let them stay there long enough to acquire new skills and then, as they start to acquire those skills and become too comfortable with them, you’ve got to move them back out into

As it relates to modulating discomfort, if you’re up for it, Pete, I can share with you a story about how that worked in my own life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Yeah.

Bill Treasurer
And it becomes actually the genesis of my business, and it became the genesis of my exploration into the whole idea of courage and why I think courage is so important. But if you rewind far enough back in my own career, before all of it, like I was not a great athlete growing up. I wasn’t a great runner. I’m not very tall. I’m 5’7 1/2”. I’m not built for football. But I found springboard diving. Some friends were jumping around the pool one day, doing back dives and back jumps, and girls were looking at them, and I thought, “Whew, figure I’ll try that.”

And I did a back dive, and I pulled my leg around, and I did a back somersault, and none of my friends could do it. So, I got good on the low board as a one-meter springboard diver. Fast forward, colleges started to dangle scholarships in front of me. I grew up in Westchester, New York and I won the Westchester County diving championships three times, so colleges took an interest in me. But all those college coaches would say, “Bill, you’re a great low-board diver. We’re very interested in you. We do have some scholarship money, but tell us about your high-board list of dives.” I never bothered to learn high-board list of dives because I was, and am, petrified of heights.

So, I had a coach who said, “Look, do you want to try to get a scholarship?” I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” So, he would take me down to Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.

Pete Mockaitis
I have been there. I had spoken there.

Bill Treasurer
Had you been there? Have you?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s lovely. The gals.

Bill Treasurer
Yeah, you’re right. It is the gals.They’ve got a lot of Irish there in that part of New York. And so, Iona, to this day, it’s the only place that I know of that has a diving board, even to this day, built on a hydraulic lift. So, he could take the diving board and move it from one meter to one and a half meter. Now, I’m really uncomfortable, and I’m doing screaming belly whoppers, and I don’t want to go to practice, and I’m upset with him for making me do this. I’d get welts on the back of my legs.

But after a hundred dives, my heart starts to stop racing, and after 200 dives and 50 practices, it starts to get better. After like 300 dives, I started to get, oh, bored. Boredom’s a great clue. Boredom is a clue that it’s time to move people back out into discomfort. And what do you think my coach did at that point?

Pete Mockaitis
He gives the handy hydraulic lift to increase the height.

Bill Treasurer
You are a smart podcaster, my friend. Exactly. He moved it to two meters, and now I’m back to the heart racing, I’m upset with him, welts on my legs, etc. But through this process of modulating between comfort and discomfort, he would push me out into discomfort long enough where I could acquire new skills. And once I acquired the skills, I’d settle to that place, and I’d start to, eventually, become even bored, and that became the clue to move it

So, the long arc of the story is I ended up getting a full scholarship to West Virginia University. But, after that, I became a world-class high-diver and a member of the U.S. High-Diving Team, diving from heights that scaled to over 100 feet, travelling at speeds in excess of 50 miles an hour, into a small pool that was 10 feet deep, and I’m a high diver who, I already told you, is afraid of heights. So, this was the discovery of my courage.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. Well, that is a nice metaphor there because you can see kind of very mathematically, as well as viscerally, “Oh, a little bit higher. Ooh, I feel that. A little higher. Oh, I feel that more.” And so, that’s there. And I suppose you could think about your own courage challenges in that kind of a way with regard to what’s a tiny step versus a big step, and all the steps in between? And maybe you can give us an example there. So, let’s say not sales because I think it’s almost too easy. I want to make you work for it, Bill. Let’s say in the workplace, it’s a common thing that people fear. And what would be the equivalent of the one meter, the one and a half meters, and then the 30 meters?

Bill Treasurer
Yeah, so good question and you’re right, by the way, this metaphor. It actually became the metaphor in my business Giant Leap Consulting. But now the whole business is about, “What high-dive are you facing and how can we help you take whatever personal or professional high-dive will move you forward?” And so, an example that I can think of is I did a 360-degree feedback with a group of leaders that I was working for. It was a cohort of about 25 people. And one of these leaders got some terribly harsh feedback, that he was a hothead, that he was ill-tempered, that he was dictatorial, like really scathing stuff.

And it slapped him upside the head as a 360-degree feedback will sometimes do with some people. And some people reject the feedback, they’re like, “Well, this is a bad time,” or, “You don’t understand I inherited the worst team,” and come up with excuses. But this leader really took it to heart. There’s an old saying that Gandhi said, he said, “The truth only hurts if it should.” And it did hurt him.

And it became, “What are we going to do? You just got all of this feedback about your leadership. You want to be a better leader. The company is investing in you, putting you in this leadership program. You’re managing huge consequential projects, some of it $50 to $100 million worth of project revenue that you’re managing. What are you going to do?”

And so, working, we decided with his boss that this person would get sort of extra attention, and we did a lot of one-on-one coaching together. And what it came down to was he was so fixated on production that he wasn’t making one-on-one time with his own direct reports, not about giving them direction for their jobs, but he wasn’t making any relationship-building time at all.

He was atypical, and I don’t mean to be stereotypical, but he was sort of engineering minded. It was all about production, it was all about the work schedule, it was all about the work breakdown structure, it was all about the P&L, and it had very little to do with the building strong relationships and interpersonal chemistry of his team so that he would have some goodwill and loyalty around him. He didn’t. He had people who wanted to go work for other people.

So, he had to sort of take emotional risks of being willing to focus on his own people and treating them in a more respectful and humane way, and worry less about production, and worry more about investing in emotional relationship. I know that sounds squishy but here’s how I know that it worked. It’s about five years later, I was leading a similar leadership program, in fact it’s the very same leadership program, but it was a different cohort going through it. And three of those people, out of the 25, were people who reported to him now.

And to a person, they were telling me what a great leader he was, what a great mentor, how much he developed them, how much he was so interested in his fair treatment of them. It was like an entirely different person. But the courage for him was the willingness to be uncomfortable in terms of not being fixated on P&L and production, that stuff was always going to be there, but to invest the time in the development and the attention-giving of his own people and building relationships with them. And it made all the difference. It made him whole. It made him sort of more emotionally-attuned and aware.

Pete Mockaitis
And the fear there it could show up in terms of, “Oh, my gosh, if I spent this time talking about this mushy relationship stuff, it’s like we’re not spending time making it happen, churning out production,” so it’s kind of scary. Or, “Boy, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Are they going to cry even if I really start listening to what’s going on with their lives? And I don’t know what to do with that.” So, that can be fearful there.

Bill Treasurer
Exactly. If I invested time, and I become interested in this person’s career and what they want to get out of their career, and what they want to get out of my time being their leader, and, hey, maybe even what’s going on in their own life if they want to share any of that. I might actually have to care about this person. They’re no longer just a “resource.” It’s a human being that I’m in relationship with, and now I care about, oh, man, if I care about them, I’m going to be obliged to them in a different way than I am if I’m just their “boss.” So, you’re right, it comes with a certain risk.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s hard to fire them, too, when you care.

Bill Treasurer
It’s hard to be hard, right. It’s hard to be tough. But I think what it does is it changes the equation. So many people in leadership roles it’s all about results, right? Like, if you don’t get results, you’re not going to stay a leader. We see it with professional coaches, for example. If you have enough of a losing streak, you’re going to get replaced. So, I get it, results matter.

But I think that we have to put the equation and make sure that it’s the treatment of people as the means to the ends of getting the result. But too many people, like this person, focused on the result, the result, the result, the ends, “Give me the ends. Give me the golden egg. Give me the golden egg. Give me the golden egg,” and cutting open that goose to get the golden egg instead of the treatment of people which is the means to getting the better production.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And when you treat them you want to be clear that they don’t feel like they are means to the end alone, and that’s sort of like what they are to you. But, yeah, understood in terms of people are that which make it happen, so folks need to be treated well in order to see that occur. Now, I want to make sure we have a moment to talk about you’ve got a concept called three buckets of courage, and I know those are pretty interesting. Can you tell us about this?

Bill Treasurer
Sure. I think that when we think of courage as this big ambiguous topic, and we think, “Oh, man, courage. That’s huge. That’s for heroes. That’s for people with the machine guns charging up the hill in the theater of war. That’s for the person standing on the moon. That’s the person saving somebody’s life, or running into a burning building.” And that’s true. Courage has its place for heroics. But I believe that there’s a more tempered everyday experience of courage that’s accessible to all of us, and it helps to break down the idea of courage so that it’s not so ambiguous. And I break it down into three different behavioral buckets that I call the three buckets of

The first bucket of courage is the courage to try something you’ve not done before. It’s the courage of first attempts. It’s the courage of action. It’s the courage of initiative to cross this threshold and do this thing that other people may be doing, but for you it’s the first time. And because it’s the first time, there’s a degree of unknown across the threshold. So, I call this

You can think of the first time you drove a car, for example, when other people are on the road driving a car. But, for you, it was a petrifying experience. Or, the first time you moved into management, and you now had direct reports reporting to you, and it’s a foreign experience to you. You can draw from the experiences of others, but for you it’s the first time.

That’s different than the second bucket of courage. The second bucket of courage is the courage of vulnerability, emotional exposure, the courage of relationships, and I call this trust courage. It’s the courage entrust others and assume some degree of risk that they may betray you. Because when you entrust somebody, there’s always a chance that they could betray you, and then your judgment gets

So, for example, in the workplace, delegating a consequential, meaningful, substantial task to somebody, without pulling it back from them, and without hovering over them like a helicopter parent, but building up their skills and entrusting them so that they can be self-sufficient and self-reliant to do this task. There’s always a chance that they mess up and it becomes a reflection on your judgment. But this is the courage it takes to build relationships. And I find that the higher you go up in the organization, the less often you see the trust courage that’d be because I think that we become jaded over time because of betrayal.

The third bucket of courage is the one that we often think of when we talk about courage in the workplace. We think of the person with the shaky voice, standing up to authority, or getting the direct message when it’s really hard for them to do so. We call this the courage of the truthteller and the bucket, as the third bucket of courage, is tell courage. It’s the voice of assertiveness and truth-telling. We want people and we want leaders, especially, to be honest. But, as you know, Pete, we do a lot of socially-appropriate

When your spouse says, “Do I look fat in this dress?” Honesty, we say we want it but it’s kind of hard to give. Somebody raises their hand at a townhall meeting, “Are there going to be more layoffs?” And we’re told we’re not allowed to say. Honesty is a hard thing, so it takes courage to be the honest truthteller, knowing that the risk you assume is if you tell the truth, you might be excluded from the group and no longer belong.

So, each one of these buckets – try, trust, and tell – has some risks attached to it which is why it involves courage.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I like that because they really are different phenomenon in terms of you may well find that you are ready to try anything, but you really are slow to trust. Or, you’ve got the audacity to sort of tell people what you think, no problem, but you’re worried about kind of doing something totally different outside of your world. So, I think that’s a really handy way to think about it in terms of what they share is this notion of courage and breaking out of the comfort to do something. But they all also have their own sort of nuances or flavors. So, tell me, do you have any pro tips in terms of each of these three? Like, if you want to be more courageous in each of the three buckets, what should you do?

Bill Treasurer
Yeah, that’s a good question, and you’re very perceptive. You’re right that each one of these, you can see the distinction between them, but you also see the reinforcement. And you’re also right that we tend to be stronger in one of those buckets than the others, and that’s great. That’s the area where you could give people mentorship, for example. But if your bucket is low in any of those areas, you’re likely to give people advice that comes from fear because your own bucket isn’t full in that particular  And each one has strengths and weaknesses.

So, in terms of advice, whatever advice that I would give people, would be to start small, right? Like, no high-diver goes up and does a 100-foot jump one time without doing a thousand jumps from one foot. So, I call these leadups, so start  So, for example, if you wanted to demonstrate try courage. A small way to do that, so doing something that breaks routine, breaks habit, a willingness to go to a different restaurant at lunch. Don’t go to the same haunt that you go to all the time. Take a different route to work. Break up your routines in small ways and it would give yourself mental permission to do so in larger more substantial

Trust. When it comes to trust courage, one thing you can do is sort of fill in the blank to this question, “I will trust you when…” When is it? What is the criteria with which you give a person  Some people are like, “I’ll trust you right off the bat. I always presume trust. And then if you screw up, then I will have a hard time trusting you.” Other people are like, “I will trust you after you prove to me you can be trusted.” And they’re sort of they’ll prove it, people need evidence.

But at least be conscious to know what is the criteria with which you will give people trust or withhold trust because it allows you to understand, “Is your standard too high? And would you maybe need to lower that standard so that you can build relationships quicker with

And then, for tell courage, to have the courage or voice or assertiveness, one thing I often suggest for people in lower-level positions who are struggling with a boss who might be dominant, is to go to your boss, or maybe even during your annual review, and say, “Boss, I just need to know. Do you need me to sort of agree with everything that you say? Do you need me to be a yes person? Do you need me to be a brownnoser?” And I’m telling you, 95% of bosses are going to be like, “No, I don’t want you to. Do not. You absolutely need to push

Pete Mockaitis
Bill, thank you so much for asking. Yes, please. Not all of these disagreements and critical thinking I have to do everywhere, it’d be so refreshing if you can just tell me what I want to hear constantly. Ah, that’d be nice.

Bill Treasurer
Right. So, this tip is all about establishing a ground rule with your boss that you won’t be a butt-kisser, and a brownnoser, and a yes person, because they don’t want you to be. They’ve, in fact, clarified that but then you’ve got to go a step further and say, “Great, boss. I’ll tell you what, I will honor this commitment. Can you do me a favor? Give me some coaching right now. When I need to disagree with you, how can I do that in a way that would be receptive to your

And then that person will give them advice, “Listen, don’t do it when I’m getting ready to walk into the board meeting. Don’t do it when you see 50 items in my inbox,” and they’ll give you some coaching so that when you fast forward six months from now, and you actually have to disagree with your boss, you can say, “Hey, boss, remember when we agreed during my performance review that you didn’t want me to be a yes person, and you gave me some coaching on how to give you feedback that you might need to hear, I’ve got some things to say to you right now that will honor the commitment that we made to each other.” So, it’s basically setting a ground rule where you’ve got permission to tell the truth to your

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, tell me, Bill, any key things you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Bill Treasurer
I think, for the listener, there are a couple of good old tiny questions to ask yourself, “When’s the last time you did something for the first time?” It’s a good question and it’ll allow you to think, “Hey, am I extending myself enough?” The other one, of course, is, “Where am I playing it too safe?” So, sometimes it’s like the thought experiments, there’s a few key questions like that that can help your listeners orient themselves to are they extending themselves enough.

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

Bill Treasurer
Well, I do like that quote from Gandhi, right, “The truth only hurts if it should.” I like that because it keeps me accountable to giving harder messages that I might need to deliver to my clients and/or to myself, right? Like, sometimes somebody will give me feedback, and my instant response is wanting to defend myself or to find something wrong with that person who gave me that feedback. But if I just sort of sit with that quote from Gandhi, “Yeah, you know, that hurt. Why did that hurt?” And then I start to think about, “What is the truth of what they said and why does it hurt me?” So, I like that quote. That’s a good quote for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Bill Treasurer
I’ll tell you one of my favorite books of all time. So, I do a lot of leadership development, designing, developing, and delivering comprehensive leadership programs. Some of them are two years long, these leadership programs. And I think that a lot of people in the practice of leadership development deify leadership too much. They put it on a pedestal. And I think it’s really important that practitioners of leadership development also be heads up about the dangers of leadership put in the wrong hands.

And one of my favorite books on this is by Stanley Milgram who did the famous Milgram studies, the shock studies, I’m sure you’re familiar with them. And he wrote a book called Obedience to Authority, and it shows you how willing people are to capitulate to authority figures with very small actual authority over them. They’re willing to sort of cede control to a person who tells them to do something if they’re wearing a lab coat, and don’t actually have leadership authority over them. It’s just a fascinating book about how quickly people will capitulate to authority figures.

And a quote in there about the banality of evil, or the topic of the banality of evil, that evil often is not acting courageously. And it’s sort of a yawn, it’s the sin of omission, right, that they don’t do the things they ought to do because somebody’s telling them not do it. They’re just following orders from somebody who doesn’t actually have any control over them.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Bill Treasurer
Well, I was going to say the worst-case grid. I also like the five Ps. And the five Ps allow you to contemplate, “Should I, shouldn’t I take this risk?” And, again, rather than a pro and con list, it looks at five different things. The first is passion, “Am I passionate about it? Does it give me energy to think about this? Does it give me positive energy to think about this big bold move that I’m contemplating this courageous action?” So, passion is the

The second P is purpose, “If I take this risk, is it going to move me forward? That a big bold move shouldn’t be about compensation, what will this risk get me?” It should be about destination, “Where will this risk carry me or take

Then the third P is principles, “If by doing this thing, am I embodying or upholding some principles or virtues that I hold dear and say that I’m all about? If I take this risk, is it, in fact, a demonstration of this principle put to

The fourth P is prerogative, “Am I going to take this because other people are telling me to, because my dad was a dentist and he wants me to become a dentist? Or am I going to take this risk because I’ve thought about it, and it moves my life forward, it’s an exercise of my own free will, this decision, should I, shouldn’t I get off this

And then the fifth P is profit, “Do I stand to get something? If I do this thing, what is the potential or reward for my life that could be redeeming somehow?” So, if I put something through the five Ps – passion, purpose, principles, prerogative, and profit – I’m in a much higher probability of having a successful outcome to this courage action than if I don’t, or that if I only put it through a pro and con

And notice, by the way, Pete, that I put profit last. If you put that first, it skews your thinking on everything and you make the risk all about, “What can I gain?” and you start chasing the shiny

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your audiences and readers?

Bill Treasurer
I guess one nugget is it’s a quick story from a person that I got to work with on four occasions. She actually wrote the foreword to the original version of “Courage Goes to Work,” and her name is Sara Blakely, the founder of SPANX. And Sara tells the story of when she was a little kid, her dad used to sit down at the dinner table with her and her brother, she was about 10 or 11 years old, her brother was a little younger. Her dad used to ask her a simple question at the end of every week, he’d say, “Okay, kids, what have you failed at this week? What have you failed at this week?”

And she learned at an early age that if you’re not extending yourself, even occasionally to the point of failure, then it’s going to be hard for you to be successful. And I think that’s sort of a good golden nugget again about the importance, the wiliness to move and to discomfort because that’s where the growth happens.

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

Bill Treasurer
I’d point them to a couple of the websites. One is BillTreasurer.com, another is GiantLeapConsulting.com. And since we’re talking about Courage Goes to Work, guess where they can go to find that?

Pete Mockaitis
CourageGoestoWork.com.

Bill Treasurer
You are a smart man, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, Bill, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best and much courageous adventures in your future.

Bill Treasurer
Awesome. Well, thanks so much for having me on. I hope that your readers drew some value from it and I really enjoyed talking to you.

459: How to Make Work More Sustainable Through Reinvention with Diana Wu David

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Diana Wu David says: "We really have to take agency over our own careers and our own job, and think about how to constantly improve it... the value it provides to us."

Diana Wu David shares how to future-proof your work-life with approaches for reinvention and re-framing.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Approaches for taking agency over your own career
  2. How to recognize the “treadmill of self-sacrifice” and get off it
  3. The right way to ask for what you want at work

About Diana 

Diana Wu David is a strategist, innovator, entrepreneur, and the founder of Sarana Capital and Sarana Labs. Her companies transform how executives work and prepare companies for the future of work, invest in Edtech and HRtech, and support innovative education initiatives across public and private sectors. Her diverse, global career includes assisting Henry Kissinger and leading executive education initiatives for Financial Times. A superconnector of people and a sought-after speaker, Diana lives in Hong Kong with her husband and their three children.  

Resources Mentioned in this Show:

Thank you sponsors!

Diana Wu David Interview Transcript

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

Diana Wu David
Thank you, Peter.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve done a lot of research on you and I’ve seen you’ve had a cool variety of experiences. But I want to go way back to your youth where you did some barrel racing and rodeo parading. What’s the story here?

Diana Wu David
So, it’s not an interesting story for where I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, but now that I’ve spent 20 years living abroad, most people can’t believe that I was in the rodeo parade and I used to ride horses and do barrel racing. In Hong Kong here, now, I’m surrounded by a lot of people who like horses but are very much into dressage and show horses, so it’s a very unusual thing to be a rodeo queen in Hong Kong.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is funny to just imagine. And just so we’re on the same page, what precisely does barrel racing refer to?

Diana Wu David
You get on your horse and they have actual barrels, and it’s like a slalom. You race around the barrels as fast as you can on horseback.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds a lot of fun to me.

Diana Wu David
It is. It’s very fast, and I have had some brush ups against the fence and so it’s dangerous, but it was super fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like a good time. I grew up in Danville, Illinois, which is the central part of the state, and it was quite common that I would have friends showing cattle for these kinds of things, a fair, so respect.

Diana Wu David
I’m glad I have your respect. It’s a good way to start the podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve reminisced about our past, so let’s segue into the future. Your book Future Proof has a lot of good stuff in there. Maybe, could you start us off to get the intrigue flowing? What was, maybe your most surprising and fascinating discovery as you were researching and putting this together?

Diana Wu David
I think that the most surprising discovery is that I was thinking people who I interviewed were looking for some kind of work-life balance, but instead what I found is that they were incredibly ambitious to live life on their terms. So, many of them went off to do something a little bit offbeat or entrepreneurial. Many of them started side hustles. A lot of them are still in their jobs but just approaching things a bit differently. So, they’re super ambitious, they’re not taking a step down, or really focused on balance so much as living life on their own terms.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, it sounds like if they weren’t pursuing balance, then they were going after something with gusto and experiencing some imbalance and being fine with it.

Diana Wu David
Oh, they were just so excited to be successful on a broad basis, and oftentimes that meant learning, that’s sort of insatiable curiosity.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so that’s surprising. And what would you say is sort of like the main theme or big idea within the book Future Proof?

Diana Wu David
I think the main idea is that we really have to take agency over our own careers and our own job, and think about how to constantly improve it, not just the job as it relates to the value it provides to the company, of course that’s important, but even the value it provides to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And so then, what are some things that we tend to overlook when we’re not looking at things that way?

Diana Wu David
Well, I think there’s a sense that we’re sort of narrowly-focused, so we’re looking for companies or positions to provide for us and we’re dumbing from one to the other, looking for things, but just re-focusing on yourself as a person. One of the huge drivers of this has been the idea of disruption but also longevity.

So, if you’re looking at a career over a hundred-year life, you’re definitely going to outlast your job function. You’re probably going to have multiple careers. And based on the SMP lifespan of a company now being 12 years, you’ll probably outlast your own company. So, it’s about looking at yourself and thinking about, “What are the narratives? What do I need to learn next? What do I need to do to be flexible to build my skills? How can I frame this in a way to learn from it and still be super excited and add value?”

That’s something that I think has been lost a little bit. There’s a sense of going to a company, “Oh, we give them our blood, sweat, and tears. And they give us money and they should be giving us more.”

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So then, it sounds like there’s a little bit more kind of onus and responsibility upon the individual worker to really take stock of what’s most important and to proactively assess and evaluate whether a given opportunity is going to deliver on those means and with an eye toward the future as well.

Diana Wu David
Absolutely. And those change all time. I think sometimes it will be balanced. And I remember in my own life when I had super little kids, I wasn’t insanely ambitious to spend all my time at work and progressing, but as that changed, my priorities changed. So, it’s a longer life, pace yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. And so, you got a great turn of a phrase, which I guess would be the counterpoint to that, you say we’re pacing. You used the phrase, “The treadmill of self-sacrifice.” Can you unpack that a little bit in terms of what does that look like in practice and how do you know when you’re on it and it’s a problem?

Diana Wu David
That’s a great question. I think that you can feel it when you’re treading along. And it was the basis of my TED Talk, and also a sort of personal genesis for the book that after many years at my company I just felt like I wasn’t learning, and just going in every day, and you just feel that weighty sense of burden. And I think it was a turning point for me when it was maybe the third restructure at my company, and I just felt a little bit lost and sort of a “What’s the point?” feeling.

And I remember also that the HR director had said after we had to let some people go, I had to let some people go, and she said, “Well, you know, it’s really up to you.” And I was incredibly offended that this family feeling in our company had been disrupted by somebody telling me I needed to sort of pull my pants up and take care of myself.

And she got me a coach and I told my coach about all the injustices that had been foisted upon me, and how much I had invested, and how I just needed to have her help me find a new job. And the coach said…

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m being paid by the company.”

Diana Wu David
Well, you know, that’s in a separate conversation. I do think that the coaches, who are really good, can help you find a different way and help you be happy and awesome at your job. And this coach did that. She was like, “Look, you’re not going to quit, and I’m not going to help you. You’re going to turn this situation around.”

And I hated her. I’m still not sure I like her to this day. But she said, “If you’re really at that point, if you’re ready to just quit,” she said, “A, you have an opportunity to turn this around, to really learn from this, to figure out what you want and advocate for it. And the reality is, if you still want to quit, you’re still in the same place. Nothing to lose.”

She said, “And, furthermore, you’ve got such a bad attitude that nobody is going to hire you anyway. They’re going to see it. They’re going to smell it.” So, I think, you know, you see engagement scores at companies, I think people get that, and it’s not just the sort of bad day that everybody has at work. It’s that sense of just, “Ugh.” So, that’s a treadmill of self-sacrifice.

And the reality is that, oftentimes, it’s just about a manner of re-framing and also learning, which I think, as women, we’re particularly bad at learning what we are, one, advocating. And the company doesn’t foist things upon you so much. It’s a negotiation. And if you’ve never had the conversation, then it’s really, you know, the onus is on you to figure out what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful in so many ways. Like, when you said, “Ugh,” like I really know exactly what you mean. And I’m thinking about our transcriptionist, Jane, how she’s going to handle that one because it’s such an important word that we’re sharing here that makes all the difference. Because I know that sensation and I think that’s wise. It’s almost like, I guess I’m wondering, why do we put up with that? Why do we get there?

It’s almost like you’re making some assumptions that this is just what’s necessary, or, “I just have to,” or, “It’s right,” or, “It’s appropriate in order to be hard worker.” Could you go there for us maybe? Like, what are the assumptions or the inaccurate self-talk that’s going on that get us to assume, like, “Oh, this is just how it is and what I have to deal with”?

Diana Wu David
Well, I think in the case of a lot of the people I spoke to, they were very successful and we’ve done a lot of the right things, managed to get into a position. And, oftentimes, things start out well, but then they start to, I guess, misalign. So, I do know, for instance, that when I was growing up that my father used to say, in the very early years, “You can work harder than anybody else. Like, that’ll be the way you get ahead.”

And, often, there is that sense of status almost, we’re busy, “Oh, my job is so intense. Oh, I have to do all these calls.” There is definitely an aspect to that which, if you can let go is fantastic because you can actually put some boundaries in that make your life livable. I think that some of it is that aspect.

There is a story in the book, though, of Lale Kesebi who was a Globalcom’s head for a company called Li & Fung. They basically started out as a sourcing company and probably sourced, at one point, 80% of the things in your house for huge brands in the U.S. And she loved her job, as did I after the coach beat me up a little bit, and she said, “I love it. I definitely have so much that I put into it. It’s been great for experimenting, but I just feel like I have so much more to give.” And I think that’s sort of a better way to think of it. And figuring out for yourself how you can give all that you can, and also be recognized for it.

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that. I have so much more to give. And then that notion of, “Oh, boy, I’m really swamped. I’m working. I’m doing all this stuff.” It reminds me we had a previous conversation with Rahaf Harfoush who termed this kind of umbrella of statements, “performative suffering,” which I thought was a good turn of a phrase.

Diana Wu David
Oh, I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of, it’s like, “Oh, boy, I’m really swamped. Oh, I’m going to burn the midnight oil again.” And like that sort of a badge of honor or something that you should be praised and rewarded for, where there’s some sort of camaraderie effect, I don’t know, “Hey, we’re all doing this suffering together.”

So, I like what you’ve shared there with regard to just really having some thought to the situation and identifying what’s really important to you and taking a stand. So, could you maybe give us some examples of particular things that people that they need, and they kind of forget to ask for, and how they ask for them with great results?

Diana Wu David
So, yes, absolutely. After my coach told me that I was being a big, fat baby about my situation, she, herself, said, “Okay, write down all the things you want and what title do you want. Obviously, there’s a lot of volatility in the company. What kind of things would make your life more palatable? Is it less travel? Is it more? Is it a seat at the strategy table? Is it new projects? Within reason, I mean, start with the big brainstorm and then go from there, and think about how you can frame them in a way that’s attractive to the company.”

And that’s something that I did, and I was so surprised by how willing they were to negotiate and to open-minded it and think about those things. And I positioned it all from the benefits that they would get, but I completely transformed my position, did some of the things I knew needed to be done as well, and left thinking that it was the best job ever, and I still work there part-time. So, it really does come down to the individual.

I think that time boundaries are one. I think we foist that on ourselves, “Oh, I just have to do it.” You never say no. For example, me living in Asia, you never say, “Gee, I have three kids and I like to put them to bed at night. Can we do the call in a slightly different time?” And sometimes you can’t, but if you never ask, you’ll never get it.

So, Lale Kesebi, likewise, she was working in this huge position, and she decided that she would ask for a couple of interesting projects. And so, she had started to work on a case with a business school on some of their innovations, and that opened up all kinds of interesting opportunities to speak about the innovation they were doing across the world. And those are some of the little things that, they either allow you to set some boundaries, or allow you to continue learning and progressing, and just experiment a little bit so that you can, in that longer life and longer career, find what’s interesting, what inspires you, and new ways to progress.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s a lot of good stuff there. And I really like how you won’t get it if you don’t ask for it. And when you ask for it, you did so wisely and strategically with regard to framing it in the benefits for the organization. So, could you give us a couple of examples of, “Okay, here’s a need, and here’s how you ask for it with the frame of how that would be beneficial for the organization”?

Diana Wu David
Well, I don’t want to talk all about myself, so let me talk about one of the folks in the book. Steve Stine was a very senior executive search person. And, likewise, he was doing an executive search. He really wanted to have his girls go to a place in Bali, which is in Indonesia, called the Green School. So, he and his wife decided that’s what they wanted. He was living in Singapore, which is maybe four hours away, and Bali is kind of like moving to a fabulous resort that is not particularly your any executives.

And so, it was an ask, but he basically said, “Look, this is important to me, and I will do the travel to ensure there is no problem. I will ensure the Wi-Fi is fantastic.” And they said, “Sure. You’ve put in some time. Your relationships are great. And we’ll try it for a six-month period, and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll have to find something else, or you’ll have to live in Singapore, and your family can live there, and you can commute, or whatever it is.”

So, now, you really can be creative about it. He also later decided that his love for storytelling would be well-served by doing a podcast. So, he went off, A, did a course in mythology and storytelling, and then, B, launched an Asia Inside podcast based on all of his incredibly senior relationships, and it was great because he’s an executive recruiter, and he could have conversations with people that he wanted to keep in touch within his network without necessarily there being an active search going on. So, he also negotiated to have that with his company so that they understood the benefit it had both to him personally but also to the job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s really cool, and I like that notion of, “Hey, we’re going to try it out for six months and see how it goes,” and you’ve actually delineated a few particular tools of experimentation, collaboration, reinvention and recalibrating success to improve careers. Could you maybe give us an example or a pro tip for each of these tools?

Diana Wu David
So, experiment is really about learning, and I think that people find themselves kind of locked into whatever they’re doing and feel like an experiment is either, “I have to quit my job,” or, “Move to a new town.” But I think that working the muscle of experimentation, on taking small bets, and understanding the feedback that you get, and using it to learn, is really an important thing for future of work. You have to be constantly trying things out.

And as a corporate entrepreneur, and somebody who’s been doing disruption work since 1995, it’s an innovation tool. It’s sort of taking the small bet, seeing where it goes, pivoting, going on. And you can do that in your own career like Steve did and like Lale did.

And reinventing is really about thinking about what your story is and what kind of adjacencies you can have. So, if you look at companies, Netflix started as a company where you would have a VHS tape, and it would be sort of mailed to you, or a DVD mailed to you through the mail. And now, look at them, they’re a content producer, they’re streaming.

So, thinking about how you can take all of your core assets, and skills, and talents, and character, and think about adjacencies, “How could I reinvent? What if my job changes or my company changes, what else could I do?” And this is very much about also thinking, “I am not an accountant. I am Diana, and I’m good with numbers, but I’m good with people. And what else could I do with those unique things? I live in Asia, so I have Asia experience.” It’s sort of collecting all of your assets, and thinking about how you can package them for new things.

Collaboration is something I feel strongly about because I think that people are not trained in this, and we’re all about our network now, being strategic, being culturally sensitive. And I say that from outside of America where I have spent the last 20 years running teams of people with two people in Singapore, and somebody in China, and somebody in Japan, and different countries, and my boss in the U.K., and my other boss in the U.S., so virtual cultural networks and working.

And, finally, focus, which is sort of the fourth key in terms of the actions in the book “Future Proof” is just, what’s your story? What’s your priority? And really making time for that.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear a little bit more about collaboration. You say we’re not really trained in it, but it’s really important. What are some of the key things when it comes to collaborating that most of us could do better?

Diana Wu David
Well, I think that many of the people on your podcast are in the U.S., and I think that a lot of times it’s an assumption that everybody on is sort of coming from the same place. And I found over the years that that can be very different. And so, a lot of it is taking our social graces and applying them online, or on teleconference, you know, conference calls, or Zoom, or video conference, so part of it is just getting to know people.

I’ve studied a lot of teams and companies, and many of them have tried to make time for watercooler chat, or one-on-one getting to know you, or “What’s the rhythm of your life?” And that’s something that’s becoming ever more present. And I find, as an American living abroad and working abroad, that we tend to be very efficient and very direct.

And so, in my early years, not to apply my foibles to my entire nation, but this drive for efficiency was always about, “Okay, who’s next and what do we do? And, okay, are we done? Can we check that off?” And I do a lot of work with boards now, and I see the same thing where we’re just rushed and we don’t make time to form some of those personal relationships with our teammates, think about walking a mile in their shoes, setting clear expectations, and really putting effort into bringing everyone together in a team to get something done.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Well, do you have any particular, I don’t know, icebreaker questions? But are there any kind of particular questions or conversations or activities or things that just are really great for getting to know people in that way to boost collaboration down the line?

Diana Wu David
I think asking, “What are you excited about right now?” is a good one. Because, at this point, for instance, if you’re calling a business process outsource center in India, and you ask somebody, “So, I just went to Hawaii, I had this great trip. Where is your next vacation?” Maybe they don’t have a vacation. There’s sort of a lot of things that take a step away from your own experience.

And so, that one I feel like allows people to really talk about what their passion is, and it could be anything. And I use that in person as well because I think that the perpetual networking, “What do you do?” which implies work is all.

Pete Mockaitis
Are you useful to me?

Diana Wu David
“How can you be useful to me?” is maybe less interesting than what people are excited about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. What are you excited about right now, Diana?

Diana Wu David
Turning the tables! I am really excited about the course that we’re about to pilot. A lot of people, I mean, this book is me having 80 coffees with people saying, “What should I do, Diana?” And me thinking, “I don’t know. Let me ask some other people, and I’ll put it in a book, and I’ll send it to you.” And the next one is people saying, “Okay, so I see the book, but I don’t know how to get started. Can we sort of get online together and really go forward, and work some of these things through in a collaborative manner?” And so, we have a beta course for future proofing coming up soon. And I’m having a great time putting things together and working with people to find out what’s useful to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you.

Diana Wu David
Yeah. What are you excited about?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so funny. I guess I’m just thinking about the short term. As we speak, I’ve got a Sufi steak going right now. My wife and I, we’re going to celebrate that we found a great nanny when my wife returns to work after her maternity leave period, and that was quite a search. And we’re thrilled and we have chosen to celebrate in this way. So, we’re going to, short term, that’s what I’m excited about.

Diana Wu David
So, you can smell the steak you’re cooking.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s that, you know, and I’m excited about just the growth of the podcast in terms of it’s really going places. And we’ve got a survey going out at AwesomeAtYourJob.com/advice to get all the more useful feedback on who would be the best guest in episodes to be even more on target for people. And I’m excited to reach out to former guests, so you’ll be getting an email from me, Diana. Like, “Hey, who’s really a great person to interview?” I’m excited about we have more staff to be able to process all the thousands of incoming pitches and really find the true and the best fits.

Diana Wu David
I think what you’re doing is amazing. I wish you started this earlier.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too.

Diana Wu David
It’s great. I mean, really, nobody teaches you in school, and I think that’s part of the issue is sort of they teach you how to be awesome at specific tasks, math or even coding. But nobody teaches you how to be awesome at your job, and that is a totally different thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, thank you. I’m honored and I appreciate it. So, yeah. Well, another great thing about that question is it just puts me in a great mood, right, because I’m thinking about those things. And then you can relate to some of those things and so we are more bonded as a result. And it’s a heck a lot more fun than, “What do you do?” It’s like, “I run a small research training company called How to be Awesome at Your Job that helps develop the universal skills required to flourish at work.” It’s like, “Okay, that’s cool. We might talk about that a little bit.”

Diana Wu David
Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
But there’s more of an emotional visceral stuff going on with like the steak and the nanny and the growth trajectory.

Diana Wu David
And it’s like the exchange.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Fun. Well, thank you for that. Well, let’s see, so you have a boatload of tools and suggestions for transforming your career for the better and being future proof. But if you haven’t already covered, I’d love to make sure that we do get your take on what do you think are some of the actions, the practices, the tactics that really offer the greatest bang for your buck in terms of career satisfaction and future proofing per, I guess, minute of thought, attention, and effort?

Diana Wu David
I think that most of what I have distilled I put into a checklist from the book. So, I think that that gives you a huge amount because thinking about all the things you could do can be quite daunting, and this allows you to focus. So, I have that on my website at DianaWuDavid.com.

And going in to ask yourself questions about, “Now, where am I lacking? And what do I already have? And what are some of the things that I could do to kind of close that gap?” I think is probably the best bang for the buck. So, it really does go through and talk about your family life, and your relationships, and what kind of professional relationships you have that you could either go to in a crisis or with a problem, or to celebrate. I think that that kind of audit is just quite useful to take on a yearly or a quarterly basis, and then the tools that you might use can follow.

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

Diana Wu David
I think that people can really change the way that they approach work by just reframing what the opportunity is, and by really finding the things in their job that may not be part of the job description, but that really jazz them, and that may change over time. So, even though the strategic part of my job had changed and become little bit old, before, I remember one of the evolutions was realizing, “What is it?”

Ask yourself, “What is it that gets me out of bed in the morning?” And for this particular moment in time, it was my team. And even though my big job description said, you know, X15% growth, topline operations, etc. for the P&L, I thought, “Yeah, the team is it. Making sure they progress in their lives and professionally for the next 12 months, or six months even, that’s going to be my focus. And the other stuff I know I can do, but my job now is to help them grow.”

And then when that is something that’s sort of taken care of, or we’ve progressed enough, maybe it’ll be something else. So, I think that reframing can allow you to perpetually reinvent within the same function, or same team, or same job. It’s not always about progress up a ladder.

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

Diana Wu David
So, this was from one of the interviewees, Emma Sherrard, who is CEO of Quintessentially Lifestyle concierge, and now has progressed into being the global chair person. And she said, “Yeah, all you’re saying is about don’t settle for the life you’ve been given. Work hard for the life you want.” And that’s like a motto now for me. It’s a mantra when I think, “Oh, I’m working so hard.” And I’ll go back and say, “Yeah, this is what you wanted. You got to work hard for it.”

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

Diana Wu David
One of the books that had the most impact on my thinking was The 100-Year Life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we interviewed Lynda on the show.

Diana Wu David
Yeah, I thought that totally changed the way I viewed my career, what I did, in what time sequence, etc. It really changed. And I referenced it quite a bit in my book Future Proof.

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

Diana Wu David
My favorite tool is SaneLater. I believe deeply in sanity and SaneLater basically delivers all of your emails at a preset time so that you don’t spend your entire day checking your email. So, at 3:00 p.m. every day, I get all my emails delivered, I go through them, and there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I also use the SaneBox and I am an enthusiast just because there are so many newsletters that though they’re genuinely interesting and like I would enjoy reading them, but in a way that’s too tempting. I don’t want them popping up into my inbox because then I’m going to jump in and take a read, and then, it’s like, “Oh, shoot, I meant to be doing something totally different during this moment.” And so, now they’re kind boxed over to the side. Much appreciated.

Diana Wu David
It’s like having a giant bowl of M&Ms on your desk, all those emails.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And, now, instead I have a butler bring me the M&Ms at the appointed time.

Diana Wu David
There you go. In a small bowl.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And how about a favorite habit?

Diana Wu David
My favorite habit is writing. I think the good, the bad, and the ugly, it all gets resolved with a few minutes with pen and paper or on the keyboard. It’s just been throughout my life every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers, listeners, folks you’re working with?

Diana Wu David
Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of fear about the future. And so, one of the quotes in the book that seems to get highlighted a bit is “The future of work is not a clarion call for our demise. It’s a magic portal to more balance and rhythm in our lives.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Diana Wu David
People like magic portals, what can I say?

Pete Mockaitis
You’re bringing back a lot of video game memories for me when you shared those. And, Diana, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Diana Wu David
On my website, DianaWuDavid.com, and they have the checklist up there, and also Future Proof, /futureproof has the information on the book, and two chapters that people can download for free.

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

Diana Wu David
Yeah. Based on that, conquer your fear of the future, be awesome at your job, and live your dreams.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Diana, this has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you tons of luck with the book, Future Proof, and all of your globetrotting adventures.

Diana Wu David
Well, Pete, it’s I think 13 hours ahead, so I’m already in the future. It’s already Friday morning. So, thank you. And I wish you a fabulous dinner, steak dinner, with your wife and a wonderful celebration.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Diana Wu David
You’re welcome.

452: Adopting the Habits of Elite Performers with Nick Hays

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Nick Hays says: "If you are intimidated by something, that is an excellent indicator that it's exactly what you should be doing."

Former Navy SEAL Nick Hays shares practical advice on how to elevate your performance and push yourself to unlock your maximum potential.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to conquer large goals by celebrating the tiniest of victories
  2. How to find gratitude in the most unpleasant circumstances
  3. How to tune out the “yeah, but…” voice in your head

About Nick

Nick Hays is former a Navy SEAL. His operating days came to an end when he ruptured a disk while preparing for an operation in Afghanistan. Disillusioned, broken, and without means to provide for his family, Nick was left without a purpose in life. After recovery, his training kicked in, and he remembered the lessons learned from the SEAL teams and put them to the test with professional athletes. He’s helped train the Miami Heat and helped the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl. Nick holds a BA from the University of Maryland, a Masters in Business from the University of San Diego, and a post-graduate degree from Harvard Business School. He now resides in California with his wife, Ivy, and their three children.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Nick Hays Interview Transcript

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

Nick Hays
Pete, thanks for having me, man. I’m excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’m excited too. Well, could we get started, perhaps, with a thrilling tale of your adventures in the Navy SEALS? And feel free to anonymize anything you need to.

Nick Hays
Yeah, there’s a lot of interesting stuff that happened, some high points and some low points, I think. One of the most impactful things that happened while I was in the SEAL teams was—and it was in my first platoon—I was one of those guys that needed an extra little bit of love, right? I don’t think that a young frogman is anywhere as cocky as he is right after he’s gotten out of training, and has done nothing yet. It’s the most cocky you’ll ever be, and I was no exception.

It’s a funny story. But I showed up to a morning meeting one time, we’re training for this mission, and everything is pretty locked tight as far as the schedule, and I show up a couple of minutes late. It didn’t sound like a big deal, but when you’re a new guy in the teams, if you’re 15 minutes early, you’re late, that’s kind of the rule, and I had broken that.

So, my platoon chief at the time, now a platoon chief is somebody who has the most experience in the group, he’s the person everybody listens to. Well, he told me, “Hey, stick around after this. It’s not a big deal, but I need to talk to you.” So, we wrapped up the morning meeting, it’s like 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and he tells me, “Hey, man, it’s not a big deal but, obviously, you’ve got to pay the man, a little bit of a punishment.” He goes, “I’m not mad but just make sure that you make up for it by grabbing a rucksack,” which is military speak for backpack, right, “and fill it full at 50 pounds, and run up the paraloft tower,” which is a five-story building. And he says, “Do that one time for every guy in the platoon because you made them late, so I think it’s just a good way to pay it back.”

Now, I’m thinking about this, I’m like, “There’s no way this guy is being real with me. That’s a tremendous amount of work. Punishment doesn’t really fit the crime.” I was angry. But kept my mouth shut, and I went downstairs and grabbed a rucksack, and put 50 pounds in it. And he knew I was doing it, he followed me down, and he was like, “Nick, you can’t do that right now, man, in place of your workout. You’ve got to do it after work. It’s not even a punishment.” And he was like, “Come on, let’s go hit chest.”

So, we actually went to worked out together, never brought it up again. The day goes on. At the time I was working with the SDV, it’s a miniature submarine so it’s incredibly technical work. There’s a lot to do before you ever even do your training mission, so it’s a full day of dive rigs and technical stuff. We, finally splashed in the water, the sun is going down, it’s like 7:00 or 8:00 o’clock at night because we’re training for a night dive. I’m piloting the SDV, cold, wet, miserable, all that stuff, thinking about this punishment that I have in front of me the entire time.

It was similar to like when your child gets in trouble and you tell him, “Hey, go wait in your room.” That was me waiting in the room just thinking about it. So, we recover, it’s probably midnight. Insult to injury, it’s raining. Just miserable. Now, I have to get all my gear ready to go, I have to freshwater rinse the dive rigs. We’re talking about another hour of work. Finally, I go and I grab my rucksack and I’m walking over to the paraloft tower, steaming mad. I could not have been more angry than I was in that moment.

And I saw something that I didn’t know what to take. I saw my chief, Jim, sitting over there by the door of the tower. So, now, I’m thinking, “Okay, does he not trust me? Is this an integrity thing? Is he going to be sitting here with a stopwatch, saying, ‘Hey, go faster’? Is this a beat session? What’s about to happen?” and I was livid, man. But as I got closer, I saw that he actually had a rucksack sitting next to him.

When I walked up to him, he throws the rucksack on his back, and he was like, “All right, man, are you ready to hit this thing?” And I said, “Jim, what are you doing, man?” And he said, “Oh, dude, we’re in this together. I’m your leader. Like, we’re in it together. Your successes are my successes, your failures are my failures, so let’s get this done.” And he takes off up the tower.

Now, I’m sprinting to catch up to him, mind completely blown about what had just happened. He never brought it up again. That was the only thing he said about it, and he ran every single flight of stairs with me that night. It took a very long time. When we were done with it, I gave him a hug, and I just told him how much he meant to me.

And, for me, that was the course correction that I needed. And what he did in that moment was he grabbed a hold of me. It wasn’t about being two minutes late, it wasn’t about some operational military plus or minus a minute, on time every time kind of stuff, that’s not what he was doing. He grabbed a hold of me and he said, “Nick, your mine. I’m going to mentor you.”

For the rest of that platoon, I made my gear look exactly like his gear. I kept my magazines in the same place. I kept my medical equipment in the same place. I emulated everything about him because I figured, “Hey, this guy has like seven deployments. Maybe I can save some time if I just listened to him.” And I had the value of a mentor moving forward.

Now, we went onto get medals together to do some pretty amazing stuff, like even before going up to doing a mission, he and I just kind of stepped aside, said a quick prayer, and we were still in it together that entire time. To me, that was the difference between being a good SEAL or a bad SEAL. Like, I needed a mentor to grab a hold of me, and say, “Hey, we’re running full speed and we’re doing it together.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s amazing because, well, one, just sort of makes a self-sacrifice and like on top of all the stuff to do that and, two, to sort of the intuition. Like, he clearly figured out that’s what you needed, and delivered in a powerful way.

Nick Hays
A hundred percent. Yeah, a hundred percent. We’re still close friends to this day. I still run stuff past him. And, you know, what I learned in that moment wasn’t necessarily… it was bigger than needing a mentor then. It was a process that I knew I needed in my life. I knew that I was going to need a mentor moving forward. So, when I separated from the military, I was looking at this new mission, this new thing, I’m looking at business, I’m looking at all this stuff that’s coming my way. And I thought to myself, I was like, “You know what, I need a mentor.”

So, the first thing I did was reach out to as many people as I could. And I had some criteria. I wanted people that didn’t mind having hard conversations, people that would keep me in check. I knew what I liked about a mentor. I like someone that can push back and isn’t going to tell me, “Atta boy,” but instead is going to tell me how to be better. Like, it’s something I get from the special operations mindset, but you don’t want to be right, you want to be better.

It’s not, “Hey, this is the way we’ve always done it.” It’s, “How can we do it better?” So, I needed that in my life as I made that transition. And because of that, man, I have the same story, I saved a lot of learning curve costs, I had support when I needed it, there were multiple times when something that now in hindsight looks like I must’ve done something right, but really it was just my mentor, or somebody who loves me and cares about me, opening doors and making something happen, right?

I think it convicts me. Like, at any given point, you have to have a mentor and you have to be a mentor. You have to be a mentor at the same time, you have to give it back. And a lot of people say, “Hey, no, I’m too young. I don’t know enough,” all these disqualifying statements. But, man, I see my seven-year old daughter mentor my five-year old son all the time. All the time. And he needs it. It helps me out.

So, it might be somebody who’s just behind you. You might be in high school, in college, you might be a project manager on the job, or you might be C-suite. It doesn’t matter. You need to be mentoring people, and you need a mentor in your life. It’s a valuable lesson that I learned early, and I’m so thankful for that, man, because it’s helped me out tremendously.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in your book Elite: High Performance Lessons and Habits from a Former Navy SEAL it sounds like you share a number of these high-performance lessons. And I’d love to hear kind of is there a central theme or thesis that ties them all together?

Nick Hays
Right. Like, “What is it to be elite?” I named the book after a reason. We think about the SEAL teams and we think elite. It’s synonymous with it. We think about Harvard Business School, we think elite. We think about some of these professional sports teams, we think elite. So, what are some of the things that I’ve seen at all of those venues that everybody has in common?

And I think the central theme is this, like when you look up and out your window right now, every organism that you’re looking at, in fact, every organism on this planet is either growing or dying. There is no status quo. There is no staying the same. It can’t be done in nature. You’re either growing or dying. And the people who are committed to growing, to being better tomorrow than they are today, are the elite.

It’s not about having arrived, it’s about the process. It’s about the desire to be uncomfortable, to try new things, to push yourself, right? We consider ourselves kind of rock, we’re like the stone, and the only way that we’re going to become a statue, something that we would call elite, is to allow the hammer and chisel to strip away the rough edges, to strip away the stuff that doesn’t matter.

Now, that can come in the form of efficiency. It can come in the form of structure in your life and how you structure your relationships. It can come through being thankful instead of afraid. All these concepts are certainly within the book, but it all ties back to that central theme which is you must be committed to growing. And it’s going to be painful. Growing is always painful but it is better than dying.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an interesting turn of a phrase there – growing is painful, but it’s better than dying. And that’s the only alternative. So, then I’d love to get your take on this. So, our natural inclination is to avoid discomfort, that discomfort is not something we desire, naturally speaking, for the most part. So, how does one make that shift, either globally or in one particular context or project?

Nick Hays
Right. That’s a great way to say it. You can’t play guitar without callouses on your fingers, right? If you want to get strong, you go to the gym. If you want to learn how to play a guitar, you need to build the callouses because that’s the only way that your fingers can withstand the pressure of the strings. It always starts with something small, but the small things lead to something big.

Kind of a common buzzword phrase out there is that thoughts become beliefs, beliefs become actions, and then actions become habits. So, we can’t start by looking at the habits. Yes, we want these things to be imprinted in our life, right? We want to be comfortable being uncomfortable, but the only way to get there is to start with a thought. You got to be thinking it. You got be looking for ways to challenge yourself.

Now, I tell you right now, man, if you’re intimidated by something, that is an excellent indicator that it’s exactly what you should be doing. If you’re a little bit scared, if you’re a little bit intimidated, that’s a great indicator that that’s something that’s going to lead to personal growth. That thought is going to become a belief, and that belief will eventually become actions. It’s something that I am constantly trying to push myself with every day. It’s never over. And I’m a young guy. I’ve accomplished a few things at this stage of life but, man, I’m young. I’m just getting started. So, when I look at them, I go, “Okay, what’s intimidating me right now?”

So, here’s me putting my money where my mouth is. The book is obviously an example of this, and I could speak to that as well coming out with the book and what that means, how challenging that is, especially coming from a special operations background, and it definitely makes you uncomfortable. But, now, the book is out, everything is fun, it’s good doing podcasts, I’m like, “I’m comfortable. I’m good. So, I’m like check. What can I do right now? What can I do today that’s going to make me better tomorrow?”

One thing that I started thinking, with the help of a buddy, he was walking me through this, he’s like, “Why do you like doing what you’re doing? What do you enjoy about being a public speaker?” And I said, “Two things. One, getting on stage is a way for me to kind of supplement the feeling I used to have when I was jumping out of airplanes, so I like that. It’s exciting. It gives me purpose and passion and all that. But, man, I always gauge the audience by how much I can make them laugh. It’s like the only feedback that you can get when you’re speaking, right? You can’t see the impact on someone’s face but you can definitely get their laughter.”

Pete Mockaitis
Especially if the bright stage light is going.

Nick Hays
Yes, exactly, and you can’t see anything and you’re hot. So, I’m looking at this, and he goes, “Dude, why don’t you do a standup comedy set? You like making people laugh.” When he said that, I got so scared, just the mere mention of that, grabbing a microphone, getting up in front of people with the sole purpose of being funny. Because I can fall back to motivation and structure and practices, and the fact that I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know the material, right? But this is something entirely different. And it set me off kilter, I was intimidated. And I said, “You know what, that’s a great indicator that this is exactly what I should do.”

So, I reached out to a buddy of mine who’s connected with a comedy club, and a really prestigious comedy club too, actually The Comedy Store in Beverly Hills. It’s like top notch, right? And this guy is a young comic, he’s just getting started, really great guy, and I hit him up on direct message, and I was like, “Hey, man, I want to do a set. What do I need to do here?” And he goes, “Oh, meet my buddy. He does the booking for the store.” I was like, “Okay. Well, I was expecting Poughkeepsie, not L.A.” But I reached out to the guy, and he was like, “Yeah, we’d love to have you on, this and that,” so I went ahead and booked my first standup comedy special, not special, like I’m going to get up there for 10 minutes.

But I had it booked within like 15 minutes of coming up with the idea, and now I’m on the hook. Now, I have to prepare, now I have to get out there and perform, and now I’m excited again. It just injects passion back into the routine. So, that’s me putting my money where my mouth is right there. And it’s tough, man. I’m nervous. I’m scared of it but, like I said, it’s an indicator that it’s exactly what I need to be doing for personal growth. I’m going to grow as a speaker. I’m going to grow as a person. I could bomb. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because my thoughts are becoming beliefs, and those beliefs are becoming actions.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s an interesting point you brought up there with regard to if you’re scared it’s a good indicator that it’s something worth doing because the scariness, the discomfort is associated with that growth territory unfolding. So, I’m wondering, is there any distinction between the type of fear or scary sensation that means, “Oh, yes, let’s do that,” versus, “No, this is wise, prudent, show caution, that you should not do that”?

Nick Hays
I love that. Yeah, you have to say it, right, because I always ask people, like, “Is fear good or bad? Is fear a good thing or a bad thing?” And most people will say, “Well, it depends,” and that’s the only appropriate answer. It depends. You consider the cavemen back in the day, and they’re looking around, like if you’re not afraid of the saber-toothed tiger—now, I don’t know if there’s saber-toothed back then—but, you know, the threat. If you’re not afraid of that, then maybe you’re not going to sleep in the cave, maybe you’re not going to roll a rock in front of it, maybe you’re not going to take precautions in your life and contingencies in your plan that are going to keep you from being destroyed.

Fear is good when it leads to positive action. But what if that same caveman was so petrified from the fear of outside that he stays in the cave and refuses to eat? Now, you have 30 days to live. Fear is bad when it leads to you being stagnant, stale, and immobilized. That’s when fear is a bad thing. Fear is a good thing when it causes you to build contingencies into your plan, and to hedge against possible threats. There’s a duality to it. It is both good and bad. And that’s something that you should always weigh when you’re trying to make these decisions, right?

“Am I improving my situation, or is my situation in decline? Am I growing or dying? Is this going to lead to an improvement or not?” And it’s that simple. So, when you’re afraid of something, ask yourself that, “Am I afraid of having this hard conversation with someone at work simply because I don’t like conflict? Or is there another implication here, something I need to be concerned of? Is there more to the story? What is the source of that fear?” And it’s simply because you don’t want conflict. Guess what? You got to do it. You have to have that conversation. The person is going to thank you for it. The relationship is going to grow. The company is going to benefit, right?

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yes. So, I dig what you had to say with regard to the thoughts become actions, become habits, become character, become destiny, or maybe I’m mixing from other sources. So, you’ve got a couple of little teasers in your book about how we can take control of our thoughts, become and to be tough, guard our mind. So, let’s just focus in on that. So, you’ve shared a couple tips there with regard to just one, recognizing and reinterpreting fear and being scared, so that’s great. What are some of your other best practices that you suggest for professionals who are looking to gain some additional control over their thoughts?

Nick Hays
Yeah, that’s really good. Intimidation, I think, can be a bad deal. Sometimes we want something professionally that we’re not quite there. Like, if I want to be a powerlifter and I want to jump under 300 pounds on the bench press, and I haven’t trained for it, I will be crushed by the 300 pounds. That’s the business professional who wants to be CEO, like, dude, you’ve got a long way to go. Don’t focus on the end, right?

One thing that helped me get through some of our training, SEAL training, there’s this portion of it, the selection process, it’s called Hell Week. So, in Hell Week, it’s a tremendous goal. You want to get through this week, it’s by far the biggest crucible on the road to becoming a Navy SEAL. And during that week, you don’t sleep for like five and a half days, you’re putting on somewhere close to 200 miles, you’re lifting logs with your buddies, running with boats on your head, getting like close to hypothermia by sitting in the water until you’re just freezing cold, and people quit all the time. People quit all the time.

And sometimes I’ll ask people, “Hey, what day do you think? If it starts on Sunday and ends on Friday, what day do you think they’re going to quit?” And a lot of people say, “Oh, like Thursday.” But, no, man, I mean, it’s upfront. On Monday, when you’re looking at Friday, that’s too far away. You’re already too miserable. You’re going to start telling yourself that you can’t make it. If you focus on the end, the outcome, instead of the process of how you’re going to get there, it will undermine you.

So, one of the tricks that they actually taught us while we were there, they actually gave us the answers, which was cool, was to make bigger things small, right? So, if I’m looking at the end of the week, it’s not going to work for me, but how can I break that down into smaller more attainable segments that I can actually deal with mentally? One of those tricks was, “Hey, think about your next hot meal.” They feed you really well in that program. They feed you really well because you’re burning so many calories. So, if I can just think, “Hey, I just got to the next meal.” Now, it’s going to be nice and warm in there, I’m with my buddies, we’re telling jokes, get a little bit of reprieve from the action, right?

But there’s times when that next meal is too far away. It’s too far away. I need something better. Like, if I’m sitting there in the water and I’m just feel like I’m dying in the water, I could tell myself, “Hey, I just have to get to the next evolution. If I can just get to back on land when we’re running around and everything else, then I’ll warm up. My body is going to warm up.” And it works.

But sometimes, still, it’s just not enough. Like, log PT is a portion where you’re lifting telephone poles up over your head and stuff and it’s pretty crazy. Well, at times, your shoulders are so full of lactic acid and you’re just dying, and you’re thinking, “Man, I can’t lift this thing one other time.” Well, you can break it down even smaller, and say, “Hey, they can’t work shoulders forever. They’re going to have to work legs soon or we’re going to experience casualties, right? All I have to do is get to legs. Get to legs.”

You could break that all the way down to, if you’ve ever done an intense mountain climb, like one more step, one more step. Break it down to a level that you can actually accomplish than what you’re trying to accomplish, because then, mentally, you get a win, and then you get a win, and then you get a win, and now you’re a winner.

It doesn’t matter how far away this goal is anymore. Man, you’re a winner and you’re crushing this thing, right? I think that’s one of the best things that you can do. So, how do you apply that to your professional life, right? Kind of like, okay, you’re writing a book, “I want to be a published author, so how do I accomplish that?” It’s too much. It’s too much to look at. If you look at the end, at the outcome, instead of the process, it’s going to lead to fear and you’re never going to put pen to paper. You can’t do it. You have to break that down, and say, “Hey, here’s what I can do today that’s going to ultimately get me to my goal.” Break it down in smaller and more attainable goals.

Like, “Hey, all I need today is to write for an hour. That’s all I have to do.” That’s like taking one more step, right? And then you get a win. You made a mental contract with yourself, and you kept it. If I said, “Hey, I’m going to write for eight hours a day,” and then I learn a thing or two, and I’m like, “That’s not how inspiration works,” I can readjust. It’s important. Stay there for eight hours, don’t lie to yourself. But once you check that box, say, “Okay, I’ve got to reassess. I think at three hours I felt pretty good, so I think I can accomplish three hours.” So, you adjust that goal. But now you’re still moving towards…

Like, I didn’t know how painful it would be to go through a developmental editor during the writing process when I started writing, and I’m glad that I didn’t know that because that was, by far, the most painful part of the process. When you develop this baby, and then hand it over to someone, and their entire job is to rip it apart, it’s painful. It hurts your pride. You’re going to try to get the person fired. It’s rough, man, but that’s exactly what the book needs. That’s taking the stone, putting hammer to chisel to the stone and removing the rough edges. That’s exactly what’s going to create the statue that you’re looking for, the elite image that you’re looking for.

But you can’t think about that when you’re freewriting. You just have to free-write. And then once you’re in the developmental editing process, check, I can break that down into smaller and more attainable goals and just chuck up a win after win after win. We could apply that to any scenario in business or in your home life, in your professional development, in your personal development, in your physical development. It just works.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s really inspiring and transformational, I think, if you can really digest and internalize that. And so, I guess what I’m thinking, in order to make that really count such that, okay, you took one more step, therefore you are a winner, like you have accomplished the goal of one more step. I think that there’s also a mental thing that can occur, it’s like, “Well, yeah, but that wasn’t really much of anything. It was just one more step.” So, how do you like genuinely, I guess, celebrate, or commemorate, or make real and present to yourself on the inside that, “Yeah, that was a real victory and it’s worth something, and I’m more of a winner as a result of that even though it was tiny”?

Nick Hays
I’m so glad that you said that, that is the perfect question, especially for me because that’s something I struggle with daily. I don’t have that figured out. I do it to myself all the time and here’s kind of how that thought process works for me. I’ll be like, “Yeah, I made it through SEAL training but I got rolled back. I couldn’t even swim. Yeah, I became a Navy SEAL, but I didn’t really get to do exactly what I wanted to do, so I ended up contracting and doing more of that.”

“Yeah, I contract but then I got hurt pretty quick, ended up busting my back up and had to get a surgery. But, yeah, I went to business school, but at the same time it was kind of a hybrid, didn’t even have to take my GMATH, no big deal. Yeah, I worked with a professional sports team, they went to the Super Bowl, but they didn’t even win. I mean, they didn’t, you know. Yeah, I went to Harvard but, I mean, really, come on, you know. I don’t even know how they let me in there. Yeah, I wrote a book.”

And by the end of it, and you start looking at it, like, “Dude, I did a lot of amazing things. Why am I disqualifying everything that I’ve done mentally? Like, how do I just sit back and resonate in the fact that none of those things came easy between every bullet point on that resume. The resume looks sick, right? But I just know myself so well, and between every single one of those bold bullet points came a thousand failures, a thousand setbacks, me talking trash to myself and listening to that little demon sitting on my shoulder, right? All these things.”

And I can take joy and pride in the fact that I didn’t let that stop me, and I just kept moving forward. See, that’s taking a process that resulted in the success and celebrating the process. And, now, I can apply that process further in my life. I’m pretty much quoting Carol Dweck right now in that book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I know I’m not supposed to talk about other people’s books when I’m talking about mine, but I’m a reader and so I do it all the time.

But, yeah, she’s talking about the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset. When you can celebrate a process instead of the outcome, then your identity is built around finding new ways to do things, not having done everything a certain way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig that. And I think what’s so fun for listeners, if they’re hearing the, “Yeah, but…” and just laughing at how absurd it sounds, it’s great because I recognize some of myself in that. I remember I did a triathlon and, first, it was like, “Yeah, but it’s just a sprint, it’s not a triathlon. It’s not a real triathlon.” And then I did a full Olympic distance triathlon, I was like, “Yeah, but my ITB Band was hurting so I was walking during part of the run, so I didn’t really do a triathlon if a part of it was walking.” And it’s just like, “Well, time out, like that’s nuts.”

Nick Hays
It is nuts.

Pete Mockaitis
I did all that prep, or it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I wrote two books but I self-published them, so that doesn’t really count,” and all these things, “Yeah, my podcast has 7 million downloads, but I just had lucky break randomly getting some iTunes rankings for no discernible reason early on.” And it’s sort of like it’s nuts, and I’m trying to kind of pinpoint the specific absurdity or fallaciousness, if that’s a word, of it. And I think it’s kind of like it sort of discounts all of your efforts and attention and labor and gives 100% of the credit to the opportunity or the exception, like you didn’t have to take the GMATH, whatever. I’m sure that the program that you did assumed that you were super awesome already and, thus, the GMATH was unnecessary, so it still counts. So, I don’t know, I’m just thinking real time here, how’s that rubbing you?

Nick Hays
Yeah, I’m thinking about it too, and I think it’s important to recognize that any given moment in time, we kind of have two selves, there’s two selves. There’s your experiencing self and your remembering self. The experiencing self is always reading and reacting and moving forward. That’s the person that’s looking out the windshield, driving the vehicle, “I see red lights in front of me, I break.” It’s constantly reading, reacting, and moving forward. And then you have your remembering self, essentially the rear-view mirror, right?

For some reason, when we’re experiencing something, we’re constantly taking information on board because it’s necessary for survival, and then we put it into action immediately. But then, when that moment gets categorized into the remembering self, we go back and we pull out the information again that’s going to lead to our ultimate survival.

So, for some reason, that can lean us to go negative with some things because we want to learn, we want to grow, we want to challenge ourselves. And I think, one, knowing that that’s what’s happening I think can set you free, and then, two, figuring out how to combat the specific enemy there and that little disqualifier that says, “Yeah, but, yeah, but.” If you know that that’s coming, you can take proactive stance in your mind, like, “No, I refuse that. This was something that worked out well.” And say it to yourself and practice it, right? Practice that and, eventually, that thought will become a habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that, “No, I refuse that.” That’s a good one. And we also had a great tip from this Stanford psychologist, BJ Fogg, who was talking about tiny habits, and how it’s so important when you’re doing little something to celebrate. One way or another, you’d just be like it could be dorky, or cheesy, or corny, give yourself a high five. Sometimes I will say, “Flawless victory” like on a Mortal Kombat video game,” and to just take a moment to feel good about what happened, just reinforces that so you’re all the more likely to do it as opposed to beating  yourself up for, “I said I was going to write for an hour, but it’s really only 56 minutes because I had an urgent phone call.” It’s like, I don’t know, to whoever beats himself up, I encourage you to be forgiving. The science is there that you’re better off that way.

Nick Hays
Yeah, the world’s mean enough, you don’t have to be mean to yourself. Like, you deserve better. You deserve better. And I think thankfulness is really, really the key. Like, going back to when I was in Hell Week, I remember using that as a tool to where the sun is going down, and you’re sitting there in the cold water, knowing it’s going to be a long night, well, I wanted to be a SEAL my entire life. And I remember smelling the air and feeling the wind and just thinking, “Man, I’m finally here. I’ve been trying to get here for so long, I’m so thankful, man.”

I was so thankful that I didn’t have room for the negativity to creep in. It made me resilient. And I think that’s something that we can practice for the rest of our lives, is when you start feeling those disqualifiers, instead maybe look at it through a different lens, and say, “Man, I’m so thankful that I have that experience. I’m thankful that that person stood up for me when I needed it. I’m thankful that my body didn’t fail me and I was able to get that done. I’m thankful that my ITB Band gave me some trouble because now I can adjust my training and be better. Like, good, I’m glad that happened. Let’s move on.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, I’m particularly struck by your ability to summon the gratitude and thankfulness right there in the moment. That’s pretty cool in terms of you saying, “I’m finally here.” And so, that’s really nifty to hit that, and I wonder how you can sort of systematize that. I’ve heard one person suggest you ask the question, “What’s great about this?” when you’re in a pickle, and that can sort of reorient your attention to things that you can be grateful for like “You’re finally there.”

And I guess you could say that even if, geez, I’m imagining terrible scenarios, like what if my kids were in the hospital like fighting for their lives, right? I guess you could be grateful that you have those children, that you have formed such a loving bond, that this matters a lot to you. And I guess it also speaks to the power of the imagination and visualization right now because I’m kind of tearing up because this is completely fictitious scenario that I am dreaming up. But you can find that gratitude just about anywhere.

Nick Hays
Well, I love your level of empathy there to where you put a face on it, and there’s someone out there who’s going through exactly that, and who needs to hear it. So, yeah, it’s good to understand the gravity of a situation, and, “Hey, if this works.” We’re talking about beating ourselves up even when things are going good. But, yeah, what if legitimately life happens to you? What if you’re on your back and you don’t know how to get up? What works then? If it’s this hard when everything is good when you’re in the meadow, how do you handle the mountain top? How do you handle the climb? How do you handle the brutality of the environment?

And I went through a situation that made me really think about some stuff, man. When I was contracting, working overseas, I loved it. I loved it. I was having a great time with it. I was exactly where I wanted to be. My schedule was pretty ridiculous. I was doing my two months on, two months off. So, me and my wife bought a 35-foot RV and we started cruising around, just everything was good, man. And then life happened to me, and I hurt my back. I ended up having to get a L5S1 fusion and I would never work in that capacity again.

I came home, the doctor told me that things were changing, and I had to go into surgery, and it took a solid two years to recover. They advertised six months; they’re lying to you. I lost my physicality. I didn’t want to be addicted to opioids so I got off those within a few weeks. But then I started drinking, so I was masking it with drinking. Now, nothing bad happened, I was able to pull away from that too, but, still, I’m sitting here. I lost my physicality. I looked terrible. I lost my purpose in life. I lost my passion. I had no vision moving forward, and I had to completely redefine myself.

Life gave me a couple of heavies. And there were some other stuff, that I won’t get into, at the time that fortunately didn’t involve my family. That probably would’ve been the kick to the groin that could’ve taken me to the floor, but my wife was there for me, and there with me, and we kind of suffered together. And I didn’t know what to do, and that’s kind of the best thing that ever happened to me.

Like, now when I’m looking back, it’s kind of like when I talk a lot about mountain climbing obviously. But when you’re climbing up a trail and there’s all these switchbacks, sometimes you can talk trash that you won’t make it. Like, “What are you doing? It’s right there. Why don’t we just go right there?” And you’re following these bends and switchbacks, you’re like, “Man, I don’t get it.” And then you get to the top, and you look back, and you see where the trail had made mud, you see that that switchback kept you from that chasm, you’re about to walk off a cliff, and it saved you time and pain.

That’s how it is for me looking back at that scenario specifically because there’s a saying, right, like, “That which I love will destroy me.” I think it applies really well to veterans because it’s a lot of fun belonging to a tribe, having a brotherhood, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. It goes a long way. And I don’t think that I would’ve seen it. I think I would’ve stayed with it. But because it was taken away from me, I have a better relationship with my wife, around more for my kids, enable to imprint on them. I’ve started going a different direction professionally that is really next level. I’m starting to see, like, “What can I actually accomplish? What can I do even if my identity has changed?” It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

And I was fortunate that I was able to redefine that purpose, and said, “Okay, what was it that kept me going? What was it that I enjoyed about what I was doing?” And it always came back to this, to empathy, the desire to help others be better, the desire to teach. I actually loved being an instructor. When I was an instructor for a little while in the military, I always really enjoyed that stuff, and I said, “Okay, well, that’s something that I can look forward with. How do I develop that?” And then a buddy of mine actually reached out to me and was like, “Hey, do you want to join me on this? Let’s go talk to a company.”

So, I went and talked to a company. Like, four weeks later, I was working with the Miami Heat basketball team. And I was like, “Wow, I can actually do this. This is something.” And it injected me with that passion, with that fire. I was able to redefine my identity but stayed true to the purpose that had been consistent the whole time. Life happened to me, and I said, “You know what, I’m done with that. I’m going to start happening to life. This is my turn now.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Nick, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we hear about your favorite things?

Nick Hays
Man, I don’t know, I feel good. This is fun. I like the authenticity. This is great.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Nick Hays
Let’s see. Speaking of authenticity, I love John Madden, a great coach, John Madden. He used to say that “If you want longevity in this league, first you have to be authentic.” Now, he was talking about football but I think that works in any context. If you want longevity, if you want to play the long game, you have to be authentic. That’s where you need to start. Man, there’s more to it, right? But that’s where you need to start is that authenticity.

And, for me, I’ve really taken that to heart because now that I’m kind of getting more in public and stuff, keep in mind, my job used to be the silent professional. I used to lie to my neighbors about what I do for a living and now, all of a sudden, I’m in the public eye, doing talks, like writing books, and all the stuff. It’s weird for me. And that’s my commitment is to be authentic and to tell the truth, to be myself, and not try to paint up an image that I should do because it worked for somebody else. I think that’s something that we can all take and put into our lives. Like, “How do I discover my authentic self and then how do I unleash that out in the world?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And how about a favorite book?

Nick Hays
I have a lot of favorite books. That’s probably the hardest question you could’ve asked me. I think one of the books that’s had the most impact in my life was Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. He writes about the Spartans at the hot gates of Thermopylae, and how the 300 Spartans and their support were able to stop a Persian army of about two million for long enough for the country to unite. Obviously, spoiler alert here, but we’ve all seen “300.” Leonidas actually, the king, gave his life and that rallied the rest of the city states to join up and go to war together, and they crippled one of the most powerful empires in all of history.

And the way that Steven Pressfield writes it, it really shows what brotherhood looks like. It shows what a team should be. The fact that when you’re sitting there in the failings, which was their alignment when they would meet the enemy, the shield of the person next to you is what’s protecting you. Your shield is protecting the person next to you. Your shield isn’t for you. Your shield is for your brothers and sisters, for your teammates. That’s such an impactful lesson that you see time and time in that book. I highly recommend that read.

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

Nick Hays
My AirPods.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good.

Nick Hays
Seriously, I’ve been plagued by wires. I spend a majority of my time, professionally communicating, and so a lot of it is on the phone and having the ability to be somewhat mobile with that. We’re so lucky to live in a time that you and I can connect from other sides of the world. You can keep people close to you regardless of the proximity, and I take full advantage of that. I’m one of those people where you can text me, sure, but I’m probably going to call you back. I like discussing. I like speaking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your audiences?

Nick Hays
You know, going back to the mentorship piece, I think that’s something that everyone can see upfront. The story opens them up and they see it and practice at the highest level, and this is a great opportunity for me to kind of hit that again, and say like mentorship, you’ve got to find one, you’ve got to be one. In addition to that, I’ll take it even one step further, but the way you organize your relationships and your friends really does matter.

And one thing that I highly recommend is, yes, you have your close circle of friends, right? That group needs to be small. It’s a small group. But then, of course, you have your network, your expanding circle, right? But there’s this circle in between, that somewhere in between, or I like to call that as my personal board of advisors.

So, what I’ve done is I’ve looked for people that are as different than me as possible, and then a few people that are very similar to me, different sexes, races, anything that could be a potential silo, international, whatever it is. Like, people that I really trust and connect with that are operating at a really high level, and I ask them, I make it formal, and I’ve built this cabinet. If the president needs one, then maybe I should be doing it, too, right?

And I built this cabinet so when I’m working through something, I can bounce ideas off of people that’s going to give me a 360-degree approach to it, and it always illuminates stuff that I don’t see. Different than mentorship, but having a cabinet, having a personal board of advisors that is as diverse as possible in every sense of the word takes your game to the next level, a hundred percent.

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

Nick Hays
Yes, so on all social media, I’m NickHaysLife, EliteTeams.com that’s my company, I’m available for speaking and all that stuff. So, yeah, feel free to reach out. You can DM me too, I’ll get back to you.

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

Nick Hays
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Right now, in this moment, there’s something that you could do that’s going to make you a little bit more resilient. I don’t know what that looks like, but whatever is intimidating you, whatever you’ve been holding back from, embrace that truth today. Get out there and make that happen so that you can celebrate a win. And then move into tomorrow looking for another win.

Pete Mockaitis
Nick, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing the good word and good luck on your adventures.

Nick Hays
Pete, thank you so much, man. This is fun.