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771: How to Own Your Career and Build Your Dream Job with Ann Hiatt

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Ann Hiatt shares valuable lessons learned on career development from her 15 years working alongside Silicon Valley’s top CEOs.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top three things you can do to develop your career 
  2. How to deal with the pressures of big-impact opportunities
  3. How to carve out your path to promotion when there is none 

About Ann

Ann Hiatt is a best selling author, executive consultant, speaker, and investor. She is a Silicon Valley veteran with 15 years experience reporting directly to CEOs Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Eric Schmidt (Google/Alphabet). 

She has published articles in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fast Company and CNBC. She has also contributed to articles in The New York Times, Economic Times, The Financial Times and Forbes. Her first book, Bet On Yourself, was published by HarperCollins in 2021. 

Resources Mentioned

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Ann Hiatt Interview Transcript

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

Ann Hiatt
Thanks very much. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. And I’d love it if you could kick us off by sharing a story or two that was particularly instructive for you and career and being awesome at your job working with Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt, Marissa Mayer. Give us something that’s inside scoop.

Ann Hiatt
Absolutely it’s been the greatest privilege of my life to have been able to work so intimately and closely with some of the greatest business minds of our generation. I would say that that story actually started a little bit before my very first job working for Jeff Bezos.

So, my very first job at 16 years old, when my friends were working at Burger King and the library, I worked at a five-person startup founded by two brothers who had just graduated from Harvard Business School. So, that was my first taste of entrepreneurism and gave me some of my instincts. I made all of my very novice mistakes with them. And, yeah, my very first job after university was working directly for Jeff Bezos.

And we could talk literally for days and days and I wouldn’t run out of stories of the stories of these entrepreneurs. But I think the foundation really was set there in the beginning. Each of these environments taught me to be a bold risk-taker. Even though my nature is not bold and fearless, I was nurtured into that very much by this entrepreneurial environment that I found myself in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I bet there’s many, many stories but I’m going to put you on the spot for one. Are there words that reverberate in your head frequently as you’re making decisions, navigating your career, wondering which way to go, and you hear Jeff or Marissa or Eric in your mind’s ear, and say, “You know what, okay, yeah, we’ll do this thing”?

Ann Hiatt
That happens constantly, actually. Even though I left Google, let’s see, almost four years ago and Amazon much longer than that, more than a decade ago, but I can still very much hear them in my head. I think from Jeff, if I had to pick a single word, it is relentless. He is relentless in the pursuit of his passions. He’s relentless in his enthusiasm for his vision of where he wants to take the company. And, in fact, this is a little-known fact, if you go to Relentless.com, it redirects to Amazon. That is how much of a core value that is for the way he approaches his work and what he is doing or was doing at Amazon.

From Marissa, I really learned to focus on the people. It’s much more about the who than the what and the how. You need to be laser focused on exactly who your clients or your customers or users are, and understand not only the needs under their feet today but really anticipate the needs of the future. And understanding those needs of the people you’re trying to serve is important, but, equally, if not more important, is the people you have on the team. I really learned to hire the best possible talented team that you can find.

And from Eric, I really learned the value of insatiable curiosity. He is somebody who will ask about a hundred more questions than a normal person would about any given topic. And so that relentless pursuit of curiosity in new information and expanding his knowledge, those are key attributes that I call upon now as an entrepreneur myself and trying to instill in my CEO clients as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s beautiful. And so then, I imagine there are times when something seems harder than it should be.

Ann Hiatt
So many.

Pete Mockaitis
Can I just get a real-time cortisol monitor? Apparently, there is but they’re not commercially available for the public, so I’m going to have to hunt down some people who wrote some papers. So be it. There’s some relentlessness and curiosity at work as opposed to, “Oh, I guess I’ll just wait three years. Maybe it’ll be around them. Okay.”

Well, then let’s hear about your book. What’s the big idea or main message here Bet on Yourself: Recognize, Own, and Implement Breakthrough Opportunities? What’s the core idea here?

Ann Hiatt
So, this book is my attempt at creating a playlist, taking the best practices of these seemingly super performers that I’ve worked for and translating it for us “normal people.” I have felt such a privilege of working with these incredible minds and not only learning their best practices but experiencing things, moments in time that probably will never happen again.

The dawn of the internet will never happen again, Jeff inventing the gold standard of e-commerce will never happen again, the constant innovation cycles of Google. I really saw some things that were very privileged to experience and I felt a responsibility to pay that forward. So, my book Bet on Yourself is my attempt to give you that playbook of best practices that I think are applicable regardless of your growth stage, whether you’re an intrapreneur or an entrepreneur, regardless of industry, these are some of those gold standard best practices that everyone can benefit from.

And I use my career as a case study in the book to show you that anyone with some ambition and clear goals in their mind can engineer serendipity and create opportunities for themselves. So, I kind of walked through some of these crazy moments in time and reverse-engineer a little bit of some of the luck and very, very hard work that went into those moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, I’m excited to dig into the particulars. But maybe to inspire the ordinary people like myself, is there a cool story you could share of maybe a client or a reader who took action on a particular principle and saw a pretty amazing breakthrough from it?

Ann Hiatt
I have a client now who’s working in the food tech space, he is incredibly talented. He was doing a PhD in chemistry and material sciences and discovered mycelium-based protein structure and learned to manipulate in a really unique way, so he’s creating this alternative meat product.

So, when I first met him and worked with him, it was a referral from a common friend of ours, and it was a very, very early growth-stage company of about 30 people. And now, today, he’s just close to Series C, and he’s got contracts literally all over the world for this incredible product that he’s invented. I think he is among my star examples of doing some big, bold risk-taking. He’s doing something that no one’s ever done before.

So, when you’re doing that, you don’t even have the dashboards or the metrics, you don’t even know what you should be measuring quite yet. He’d never produced a product like that before but he really has adopted these principles of insatiable curiosity, of humble leadership, of not only tolerating the demanding pushback and peer review from his employees, and he’s really been very focused on not only hiring the best talent he can find but hiring for passion and mission alignment above all else.

If you get really smart people in the door who are driven and determined to see your vision through, you can teach those people to do anything. And so, I think hiring for that value and mission alignment has been essential. I’m just incredibly proud of what he’s doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I like that there. You can teach them to do anything. I think that resonates. And I guess, there’s just a little bit of what you said in terms of like aptitude and different…I would not be the guy you want to hire to be your contractor even if I’m super fired up about building your dream home, Ann. I was like, “I’ll just learn drywall and plumbing and electrical. No problem, I’ll just learn it.”

Ann Hiatt
I don’t know, I believe you know. I think you can figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
I would need maybe four draft homes before I did the real one. But that said, people generally have strengths with, I don’t know, people or things or, what’s that world of work, or data or ideas. But within that, sure, that totally resonates. Okay. Well, let’s dig in then. So, us ordinary folks, can you lay it on us a few do’s and don’ts in terms of, as we’re kind of maybe in the middle of, say, medium to large organization, not at the top and not at the bottom, we’re just sort of making our way in terms of career, what are the top things you recommend people do and don’t do to really develop and move quickly?

Ann Hiatt
I love this question. I think three things come to mind. If you’re mid in your organization, there can be a really important mindset shift that you can make, and this is the way that you put yourself back in the driver seat of your career. A lot of us feel very disrupted coming out of the pandemic, opportunities might seem to have disappeared, everything got turned upside down, so these steps are particularly relevant for this moment in time.

And the first is to be very clear with yourself. What do you want out of this next stage in your career? What do you want to learn? What expertise do you want to become known for? What teams do you want to learn how to lead, or projects? What is your specialization? How are people going to recommend you for jobs in the future? And so, first, you have to have that conversation with yourself and be very clear on that.

And then, second is then share that with your mentors and sponsors within work. So, have that conversation with your manager, of, “This is where my skillset lies. My interests, my goals, my talents are here. I would love your idea of ways that I can utilize that or expand my influence on this team.” The way you get a yes to that is, one, expressing your interests and helping them know how you’re trying to evolve. And second is what I call creating a win-win-win.

The first part of that conversation you have with yourself of what you want in exchange for your very hard work every day. Two is look at your manager’s responsibilities and see what she or he has been tasked to do within the team on the big bet of the company. If you can allow her to delegate something to you, that frees her up to have bigger impact and look good in front of her boss, and that gives you an opportunity to grow into that area.

And the third element of that win-win-win is understanding “What are the primary goals and objectives of the company right now? And how can I align myself with where the company, the skillset, the reputation, the energy, the relentlessness that they might need? And how can I exemplify that?” When those three things are in place, you’re going to get yes every time. Even if the project you want to work on is outside your job description or your current seniority, that’s a great way to open the door for yourself.

So, that’s, I think, element number one for my fellow intrapreneurs out there. Number two, I think is seeking out leaders that you not only like but you want to become like. Now, not every manager is worthy of this. I can appreciate it, especially in your career, you might be working for someone whose leadership style you don’t want to emulate in the future. If that’s true, maybe look for an opportunity to have a cross-functional project or work on something outside your team.

Or, if that’s not even available to you within your organization, maybe volunteering in the community and seeking out a leader who is exemplifying the way you want to manage a team, or is really good under pressure, or is able to exemplify some of those habits that you hope to have in the future. So, surrounding yourself with the best people possible, especially among the leaders you’re working for.

And then I would say the third that comes to mind is proactively disrupting yourself. Now, this probably is not something that many people are seeking out right now because we feel like we’ve had enough disruption, and I can definitely sympathize with that feeling. But what I mean by this is create a checklist for yourself where you’re expanding your skills, your expertise, and you’re up-leveling very consistently before the market or your team or your manager can do it for you.

And that goes back to point number one, which is knowing exactly what you want out of this phase in your career, and finding a place where your team, your company’s goals are in aligned with that. If you think of those three things are in place, intrapreneurs can feel extremely empowered rather than passive and reactive to these items I’ve given, and that feels really, really good, especially in this moment in time when we’re all craving that feeling again.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’d love it if you could give us some example articulations of being precise with what you want because I’m imagining, “I want to kind of be better at Excel,” may not be quite what you’re imagining or suggesting when you say, “Be really clear on what you want.” Can we hear some sample articulations?

Ann Hiatt
So true. So, I actually did this exercise for myself when I left Google after 12 years, and decided to found my own company. I sat down to write my mission, vision, and value statements, as many do, as part of your business planning. And I found that exercise to be a little bit exhausting. In fact, I created a free download on my website, on the book’s website BetonYourselfBook.com, to download it because I found it so hard to do myself. I think it’s a 14-page download but I walk you through how to create meaningful value statements.

I learned this from Jeff Bezos, actually. I started working for Jeff in 2002 in the very early years of the company. He’d officially founded it in 1994 but he was just getting traction right about the time that I started. If you can imagine a time when Amazon was not yet profitable, they had had a single profitable quarter but not yet a profitable year, so that’s the moment in time I’m talking about. I know it feels like a wild money-printing machine right now.

But Jeff really doubled down on creating very clear leadership principles for his entire team because really important decisions were being made in rooms that he no longer could be in. He just had to replicate his thought process across the company as fast as possible. So, I saw him work with three of his SVPs to draft the now-famous Amazon leadership principles. At the time there were 10, then it became 14, and now there are 16 with Andy Jassy as the CEO.

And I encourage you to do that even as an intrapreneur. You don’t have to be in your garage starting something with your computer or going to Silicon Valley and looking for venture capital funds. I really encourage you to do this for your own life and career. And first, it starts with that mission statement, “What is the reputation or the living legacy I want to be leaving right now?” Now, whenever I propose that to a client, they feel a little overwhelmed, especially if they’re early in their career, thinking about legacy, but I think it’s a nice clarifying question, to be like, “What do I want in exchange for this?”

My career in tech has been intense. I’ve definitely worked really long days. There were periods of time I was working 18 hours a day and every weekend, and I didn’t burn out because one thing was true. I knew exactly what I wanted in exchange for my very hard work. I was willing to have that be a very high bar. I worked incredibly hard but I knew what I wanted in return. So, that’s what I wanted to learn, who I wanted to become, and the stages on which I wanted to stand in the future.

And so, I think, in writing your mission statement, think about that. Who do you want to be serving? Why is that you? What about your background, your talents, your desires, your drive makes you uniquely qualified to get there? And then surround yourself with the very best people who can supplement any weaknesses or lack of experience that you might have. Does that answer it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear the importance, like, “Yeah, that makes sense.” If you got that kind of clarity there, then you can have that sense of purpose, that mojo, that motivation, that inspiration to persist in those intense times. So, that totally checks out. I guess, so the articulation then is not merely one sentence but rather pretty detailed in terms of we got a mission, we got a vision, we got some values. Can you give us some examples of what those could sound like?

Ann Hiatt
Sure. So, mine has taken me quite a while to put together, and I am allowing to be a living, breathing thing that will evolve with me and my work. So, at the moment, my mission statement is that I am here to discover and empower underrepresented entrepreneurs through actionable education and mentorship.

Now, the first word in that statement was the last one I added because, at first, it was just to empower underrepresented entrepreneurs through actionable education and mentorship. But I realized that a lot of people were not yet self-identifying as an entrepreneur. They’re like, “Well, I’m early in my career,” or, “I’m a mid-level manager,” and so I really wanted to wake that up in people and help them discover it. I wanted to seek them out where they were right now as someone trying to get that big first promotion or own the dream client. I wanted to wake that up in them.

Now, the reason that mission statement was important for me to evolve, it really took quite a lot of like heads-down work and testing it, but it’s important because it helps me know what projects to say yes to now. It helps me if I have a limited number of time. I know I’m going to prioritize an underrepresented entrepreneur over someone that I feel is already well served. If it’s an opportunity to help someone discover their inner entrepreneur, I’m going to say yes to that, for example. Maybe university that has a lower-speaking fee than somewhere else, I’m going to prioritize that over maybe people who are already in a privileged position as an entrepreneur, for example.

So, what you really want is your mission statement to be specific and time-bound, like, “What do I want to deliver right now?” And I think that’s really helped me show up in the right way. When I first started my company, I had to try on a bunch of things and learned the hard way of what I was and wasn’t good at, what excited me, who I was best suited to serve, what did that look like, what stage in their growth are they. So, it took a lot of experimentation.

So, don’t think that just sitting down for 30 minutes is going to be one and done with this mission statement. But you know you have an effective one when it allows you to make much clearer decisions and show up in the right way that is rewarding and exciting to you rather than draining and diminishing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s the mission piece. How about vision?

Ann Hiatt
So, my vision is more about “What am I putting into the world? Am I going to say yes to just the highest-paying project?” For me, I really want to be mission-aligned with you. I want to be working with, for me and my consulting business, I want to work for entrepreneurs who are making a change, I, too, want to see in the world. I’m very attracted to anything around climate change, anything about empowering new generations of entrepreneurs, or expanding education opportunities.

So, that gives me kind of a checklist in my head. There’s just a lot of places you can show up in the world, and I really am value-aligned with that, and I find it if I’m working on a project. For example, I have a friend who started an incredible SaaS company, software-as-a-service company, and I think he’s amazing, and I’ve done a little bit of like helpful advice and coffee chats with him, but it doesn’t wake me up. I’m much more excited to be working on mycelium-based protein alternatives because I think that’s important for the future world that I want to create.

So, it’s often the decisions choosing between good and good are, I think, a lot harder than the good and bad, and having a really clear purpose statement helps me show up in ways that are most meaningful to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And let’s hear some values.

Ann Hiatt
So, my values are who I want to be and who I want to surround myself with. So, for me, especially coming out of Silicon Valley, I really drank the Kool-Aid. I am excited by people who are big thinkers and big dreamers. My values are people who want to live up to what is now a cliché of Silicon Valley, of making the world a better place.

I value being around people who are insatiably curious and smart and collaborative and kind, who aren’t competitive in the negative sense but showing up in a very resilient passionate way. And so, my values really come around…circle around the types of people I want to surround myself with through my work and through my consulting.

Pete Mockaitis
You said the word resilient, and I did want to zoom in on this a little bit. I had a podcast guest, I love it, Liz Fosslien is her name. She had a few great posts about “Just be resilient.” It’s really a cop-out when organizations throw that your way. But I guess, as I’m imagining a world in which you are zeroing in on sort of big-impact opportunities and going after them, there’s a lot of fun and excitement associated with that but then there’s also going to be a lot of pressure and expectation that comes with that, and potentially long hours and some exhaustion.

So, tell us, is there anything in the realm of resilience or self-care or support systems that you recommend that can make all the difference when you’re playing a bigger game with bigger set of pressures on you?

Ann Hiatt
I’m going to answer that in two different ways but I promise they’re connected. So, in order for me, as a, by nature, a timid, cautious, perfectionist person, that is the nature with which I was born, I am a perfectionist, all the negative definitions of that. Like, I’m afraid of starting something without being 100% sure that I can do it perfectly. That would’ve led to a very small life had I not been nurtured out of that by this crazy environment I found myself in in tech.

One of the most pivotal moments in my life, a sliding door moment for me was discovering Carol Dweck’s book called Mindset, and even if you only read the introduction, I think it could change a lot of people’s lives. In the introduction, she introduces the premise that there are two different mindsets. There’s the learning mindset and there’s the performance mindset.

As a perfectionist, I was in the performance mindset. I was not consciously thinking this but I was assuming that I was born with a certain set of skills and abilities, and anything that went beyond that would just discover and out me for all my imperfections. That’s a performance mindset. You want to know you can get a 100% on everything you tried.

Now, if you’re in a learning mindset, you have the mindset that you, with extra effort and time and practice, can increase your abilities, that if you try something, the first time you get 80 out of a 100, then the next time you’ll be better informed and learned from your mistakes, you’ll get 85 and progressively can increase your skills.

I don’t know, that was such a lightbulb moment for me, to be like, “Oh, if I am uncovered…” this is where impostor syndrome comes from, and you hold yourself back if you’re aware that, “If they discovered that I can’t yet do this, that means I never can and they won’t trust me anymore.” So, being nurtured out of that, really helped me with that resilience of, because I failed now, I am equipped with tools that I did not have in my toolbelt before and I want to be able to show up smarter, stronger, and better for it after that.

And so, I think resilience is much more is first about your internal mindset. And then the second way I’m going to answer this is in seeking out those teams. I was very privileged to work in companies that not only rewarded that behavior; they demanded it. So, I want to acknowledge that not all families, not all communities, not all companies are embracing of this. But if you can seek out a community of like-minded people where you have that psychological safety to experiment and to try some things and learn to trust yourself, that’s when work gets really, really fun.

In fact, I’m training for a half marathon right now. I’ve ran a few before but that was pre-pandemic and I’m not the same person I was then. So, I’ve got this Peloton trainer I listen to while I’m running, and she just said on my run yesterday something that super resonates around this resilience. She said, “You can’t push yourself until you trust yourself.”

So, start with that internal work first and know, like, “I can do that one more step. I will be stronger tomorrow than I was today because I showed up in this way.” And so, I think those two elements need to be there. Trusting yourself and then being in an environment that rewards, supports, and encourages that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then, it sounds like a lot of the work is kind of just foundational in establishing, okay, the mission, the vision, the values, what strengths, what am I good at, what am I going for, what specifically do I want in this role. And then, thinking about some of like the daily habits and practices, what do you recommend when we zoom in at that level to be some key do’s and don’ts for professionals?

Ann Hiatt
I think my first thought is around this element of curiosity. So, all of the incredible super performing CEOs I worked for displayed this in kind of Olympic levels of curiosity. For Jeff Bezos, he did a quarterly thinking retreat. Not all of us have the freedom to do what I’m about to describe but I will translate this for us normal people.

But what he did was, for one week every single quarter, he would lock himself into a hotel room away from his family, from work, from everything, and removed all external stimulus – no newspapers, no phone, no conversations, no nothing – and he would just starve himself of external influences. And then the second half of the week, the only thing he brought with him was a blank Moleskine notebook, and those notebooks are full of ideas. I literally see them launching today. That’s how forward-thinking he was in those moments.

Now, most of us don’t have the freedom to take an entire week off just to think and sit in a room and dream of the future. So, the way that I’ve tried to adapt that for myself is, in the middle of my career, when I was already working very, very long days, I realized that I needed to take good care of my mental and my physical health, to be able to not only survive. But thrive in those very intense environments, it was important to prioritize that.

So, I started having non-negotiables with my teams or with my boss. And so, for example, I started working out with a trainer for the first time in my whole life. It was so hard in the beginning but I had this protected hour from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. every single day, my phone was not with me. Now, I was working at Google at the time so my gym was literally in the first floor of the building that I worked in.

And so, I said, “Okay, if you actually need me, send my assistant down to get me.” And in the nine years that I kept that practice of taking care of my physical health first before I got to my desk, there were only three times when my assistant had to come down and ask me to come up. So, that really showed me that I can give myself permission to do this hour. The world is not going to fall apart if I take care of myself first.

And I think building in that type of resilience and prioritizing, and especially now, as an entrepreneur, I’m really trying to focus also on my mental health, of giving myself that space to think. And that’s another way I’ve translated what Jeff’s practice of this thinking retreats and being really curious, is now I have these protected hours every day where I’m just reading, reflecting, writing, consuming, because so much of consulting is give, give, giving and I need to replenish my expertise and my knowledge, and just give my brain that space to be creative and to be a connector. So, that’s one of many, many, like Olympic practices that I’ve tried to translate into my work and life.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, whether we are spending an hour or a week in this rampant ideation – this sounds like a blast to me, I like it – creative zone, well, one practice is blocking out stuff, although it sounds like, in your world, you are letting in particular things. So, maybe zoom in a little bit, like what are we doing? Are we just sort of sitting there, like, “Hmm” write, write, write? Are there any key question prompts or initial fodder or reading materials that get things going here?

Ann Hiatt
I think your instinct is right. This absolutely needs to be dialed in for each individual. So, the way in which you kind of fill yourself back up in order to give, give, and give, what’s required at home and like your family and at work, I think that’s unique to the individual. So, for me, because my work is in giving advice, and also having this international breadth of understanding of where tech is moving in the world right now, my clients really need me to have that kind of global perspective.

I can’t do that without having time to consume all the information. So, one for me is just, personally, I love to read, I love to listen to podcasts, I love hearing and being exposed to some of the greatest thinkers in the world. So, in and of itself, even if that wasn’t directly demanded of me for my job, I would be doing that anyway.

So, that’s something that fills me up. Even if I’m not reading something for work, I just know that makes me happy. The second thing is I know I need sunshine.

I grew up in Seattle. Most of my life, I did not have that daily dose of sunshine. The second I moved to California for grad school, and now I live in Spain, I know that it’s just like instant happiness for me. So, if I get outside in fresh air and get some sunshine on my face, that’s an instant mood boost for me. Each person is going to be a little bit different. I know I’ll have a good day if I’ve moved my body, if I filled my mind, and if I go outside in nature.

For each person, that’s different. Like, maybe it’s playing with your kids or your dog. Maybe it is in a creative pursuit. You need to paint or create something with your hands. So, ask yourself, “What, for me, even when I am working on it really, really hard and I remain far away from the finish line of whatever goal it is I’m working on, I finish the day feeling like I have been filled up rather than drained?”

So, I think those types of pursuits are always things you want to be seeking out. Like, even if you’re not perfect at it, maybe you’re training for a marathon like I am right now, and trust me, I’m horrible. I’m not doing this because I have any hope of winning anything. Hopefully, maybe hope you are. But just think about that, of what fills you up and fills you with joy regardless of the outcome, that you don’t want to be measuring those rejuvenation periods on the same scale as you are with your work or performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’m curious, so let’s say you’re doing all these things and you’re just rocking and rolling, delivering value all over the place, and it seems like, unfortunately, the meritocratic forces in your organization are broken. It’s like, “Oh, you can’t be promoted until someone dies or moves to another role, and they’re probably not going to do that for six years.” How do you think about that when you’re there?

Ann Hiatt
Been there, done that. I absolutely know that struggle intimately. As I mentioned, I worked at Google for 12 years so it was really on me to have to reinvent myself, and I tended to do it in kind of three-year cycles. I would be challenged in the beginning and learning a lot, then I get into my zone of genius and start doing it really well, and then, after that, I would start to get the itch of like, “What’s next?”

And nobody, even at a company as innovative and driven as Google, nobody ever came to me once and said, “Oh, Ann, I’ve noticed you’ve had this untapped talent or interest, and I’ve been thinking about how to apply it.” That just doesn’t happen. That’s your job. So, I think it comes back to having that conversation with yourself and knowing exactly what you want to go for.

So, after about, let’s see, six years at Google, so halfway through my tenure there, I had this idea for a role that I think would really elevate not only my work but the work of my manager who, at the time, was Eric Schmidt, the CEO. And I had seen, we were doing a lot of policy work at the time, and I had seen this role of chief of staff in government, at the White House, in military, for example, and I thought, “That is what he needs.”

I had been this business partner for him, I’d been kind of a thought leader with him, I was kind of that safe space for him to debate ideas, and I thought, “If I could take my job to the next level, it would look like chief of staff.” Eric thought it was a good idea, had me brainstorm, write the job description. I took it to HR and it literally took me three years to fully realize what I wanted in that job.

And so, in the end, I was the very first chief of staff at Google ever, and now it’s pervasive throughout tech and now moving beyond that. But I can tell you right now, I had a conversation, in fact, with my HR rep the day I left for Christmas holidays and it made cry because she, basically, just squashed it and said, “If you want that type of thing, you might want to consider looking elsewhere,” and I wasn’t ready to do that yet but then, eventually, I moved on.

So, I’ve had those really hard conversations but I think it comes back to that knowing what you want, seeing how that solves a problem for your manager, and proving how that’s best for the company. In the end, either you’re going to get it, which I did after a couple of year’s fight, and then, eventually, I needed to move on in order to have the kind of growth that I wanted. So, you can feel both of that. Sometimes it’s wait and work really and prove yourself, and then eventually, sometimes, the answer is that growth opportunity might lay elsewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And not to dig too much into the minutiae of your story, but I think it will be resonant for folks who encounter resistance. Okay, so the CEO wants it, you want it, what’s HR’s problem?

Ann Hiatt
Thank you. I literally said that to him after I got the “No, no, no,” and he kind of…he shrugged, and he’s like, “Gosh, we’re truly a big company now.” But what it was, the part that made sense to me, a lot of it did not, but the part that made sense to me was Google, by then, had had to operationalize, stream-wise, and make sure everything was done with ultimate efficiency. That means that everything was done now on a specific job ladder.

I was trying to create a brand-new job ladder. So, I was trying to kind of merge a lot of this support structure, this skillset in communications and policy and project management, and create this hybrid role, and HR did not want to create a whole new job ladder or this hybrid role that they thought would be really nebulous, hard to write job descriptions, how do you measure for that, how would I be evaluated, how would you be compensated for that.

And so, it took years, and, rightfully, probably in the first year, I didn’t have a clear enough understanding of what the delegated authority level of that job would be, what are the delegated tasks, how would we measure and quantify the success and impact of that work. It’s a very, very data-driven company I did need to dig into the hard work and really make the case. And, eventually, I did but much slower than I had anticipated.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s a nice perspective. It may take some time or it may be hopeless. Any tips on how we can tell the difference sooner rather than later?

Ann Hiatt
I think I pursued it for three years because I did see progress and I became more and more convinced of the value of it. What I ended up doing that sealed the deal in the end was I said, “How about we do an experiment? Let’s not make it official but of the job description that I’d outlined, with this delegated authority level, with this type of responsibilities, with this skillset, I’m going to act like I already have this title and this job,” which took a bit of buy-in from my peers because a big part of being chief of staff is acting as a surrogate, as a delegate of your executive.

And for me to represent Eric Schmidt in rooms he wasn’t in is a big deal and I needed his senior reports to kind of treat me accordingly even without formal title authority. Luckily, I had worked with all of them for more than a decade and I had that trust factor with them already. They knew that time with me would make their jobs better, and so I got that kind of peer buy-in that was essential. Had I not had that, those relationships of trust already established, I don’t think I could’ve converted on it.

But agreeing to do that six-month trial and then inviting extreme critique from all of those people I had worked for and got a 360-performance evaluation from them was the proof that they needed that this actually did, I think one of them described, 10x-ing our output by having me be able to represent him in more rooms.

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

Ann Hiatt
No, I am so excited for your listeners to really create this playlist for themselves, and then to be brave enough to say it out loud. Honestly, I think that’s the hardest part is just the first time you have that conversation with your manager, it’s awkward. I remember trying to expand the confines of my job description when I was working with Marissa Mayer, who was my first manager at Google.

She was employee number 20, first female engineer ever hired at Google, tough as nails, insanely smart. And I remember suggesting a couple of projects that were far outside the confines of my job description, and it was met with awkward silence at first. She literally did not respond. She didn’t even acknowledge she’d heard the words coming out of my mouth. But it was processing, that was kind of her thing.

So, I just wanted to put it out there. Sometimes it does, at first, be met with that silence because you’re trying to teach people to treat you and think of you in a different way so don’t let that deter you but be very clear and show the value of not only for yourself but for your manager and your team as a whole. I found it works pretty consistently.

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

Ann Hiatt
So, there’s two that come to mind, if I can cheat and choose two. One is from Maya Angelou. It is very apropos to what we were just discussing, where she says, “People may forget what you said, they might forget what you did, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel.” And I think that absolutely resonates for me in my life, in general, and definitely in my career. I have worked for very driven dedicated sometimes terrifying people but they made me feel valued, they made me feel like they wanted to invest in me, and I’ve really tried to pay that forward now in this next part of my career.

And that leads into the second quote that I really liked that’s by Diane von Furstenberg, one of the first self-made female billionaires. And Diane said, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew the woman I wanted to become.” And I think a lot of people who have natural ambition and just feel like they were made for more sometimes can opt out because they don’t know what that looks like yet.

And I don’t want people to be deterred. That quote has inspired me because the woman I want to be has always been very clear to me. How I accomplished that came in very unexpected packages, and so I find that very inspiring.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ann Hiatt
There’s two I find myself constantly quoting to my clients and to just my friends that we talk about careers is. There’s one by Ben Horowitz called The Hard Thing About Hard Things. My favorite line in that book is full of so much wisdom. My favorite line is saying that, “As an entrepreneur, there are only two emotions: terror and euphoria.” And I find that to be very true in my work.

And another one that I find myself recommending nearly on a daily basis is one that’s written by John Doerr called Measure What Matters. It’s about the goal-setting moonshot system that is used both at Amazon and at Google for innovative thinking, and it’s very applicable to individual careers, not just those trying to become the next Amazon and Google, but it’s really about leading an ambitious life and pushing through the boundaries of your capabilities.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And can you share a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Ann Hiatt
Well, the first response that comes to mind is just all the things I’ve used to stay connected across the pandemic, especially since I moved to Spain and started my own company just before the pandemic happened, so I’d already set myself up for a bit of a learning curve. To be connected with global entrepreneurs while not face to face with them is tricky.

So, if I really had to choose something, it’ll probably be this little green light here on my laptop, like being able to be connected on these different platforms, these video platforms is 100% how I do my job now. So, if I had to pick one, it would be Zoom or Zoom-like features is how I’ve really stayed connected.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with clients; they quote it back to you frequently?

Ann Hiatt
Probably the most quoted line from my book that people send me on Twitter or Instagram or otherwise, is “No life is too small and no dream is too big to be worthy of investment.” I really believe in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you. I’m going to chew on that for a while. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Ann Hiatt
So, the best single stop is the book’s website, which is BetonYourselfBook.com. There you got links to all my social media and all the places you can buy it. I’ve got some nice free downloads there. And very active on LinkedIn. I post articles three or four times a week, and so you get little bite-size pieces of the wisdom from the book and things that I’m sharing consistently with my clients there, so you can find me there.

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

Ann Hiatt
My call to action is start today. As you’ve been listening to this episode, an idea that you’ve been afraid to say out loud has come to mind. Take one little baby step towards that today. And if I could pick one for you, it would be say it out loud to somebody that is a nice sponsor for you that will keep you accountable and support you in taking those first brave baby steps forward. So, start today.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ann, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all your bets.

Ann Hiatt
Thank you very much to you, too.

755: How to Market Yourself to Maximize Career Opportunities with Diana Chan

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Diana Chan outlines best practices for improving your career prospects by marketing yourself well.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest networking mistakes professionals make  
  2. The real first step to any successful job hunt
  3. The right way to answer, “Tell me more about yourself”

About Diana

Diana YK Chan is a former Recruiter turned Executive Career Coach, Speaker and Trainer at My Marketability. Her mission is to empower you to own your greatness with confidence to shine and thrive in your career. She’s recognized as LinkedIn Top Voice in 2022 for Job Search & Careers, where she’s known for differentiating your personal brand, building strong relationships, and communicating with confidence. Diana is the Creator of Top Talent Academy, where she’s coached thousands of clients globally on how to stand out, get hired and earn more. She’s the host of the “Dare to Differentiate” live show on LinkedIn and YouTube.

Resources Mentioned

Diana Chan Interview Transcript

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

Diana Chan
Hey, Pete, I’m so delighted to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, I’m delighted to have you and I thought it was really fun that you mentioned that you were a listener in 2018 and my producers found you now, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Diana Chan
Yeah, I’m super excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, so we’re talking about job search stuff. Could you maybe kick us off with maybe a particularly surprising or counterintuitive or extra fascinating discovery you’ve made over the years about just what does it take to win in this job search world?

Diana Chan
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’ve been helping thousands of job seekers, and since the pandemic, I’ve been seeing a lot of people pivoting. And one of the things that I really noticed is that it’s not about being the most qualified candidate, it’s about how you connect and communicate with the interviewer to convince them why you’re the ideal candidate with confidence. So, it’s not just about your qualifications but how do you show up to showcase that you are the one and how you can help them?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that makes sense in terms of many people have probably had the experience of, “Oh, I’ve got all the right stuff. I’m checking the boxes, the skills, the experience, the knowledge,” and they may even be angry at the injustice, like, “I should have been selected but I wasn’t.” So, connection, we’re going to dig into that. But, while we’re here, anything, any top do’s or don’ts when it comes to connecting well?

Diana Chan
Yeah, I love that question. So, one of my networking tips I love to share is always my ABC’s. Always be connecting, always be curious, always be cultivating. And the way I look at the connection piece is that a lot of times, people neglect the networking piece until they need to look for a job, but you really want to look at connecting with people anytime because you just never know what opportunities may unfold along the way.

So, some of my best tips is really asking questions, getting curious, showcasing the curiosity that you’re really interested in them, showcase warmth as well, like this sincerity and authenticity to really connect, finding common interests. It really helps as well to build that trust and rapport instantly there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And I guess I’d also love your take in terms of maybe zooming out a bit. Right now, allegedly, The Great Resignation is upon us, and we’re recording this in March of 2022, and it seems as though it is the employee’s market or more so than it has been before. First of all, is that a fair assessment or am I just repeating talking points that are false?

Diana Chan
You’re absolutely correct because millions of people have quit their jobs which means that employers are having a hard time to fill the vacant roles and the new roles there, so it is a candidate’s market right now. However, it’s also a very competitive market, meaning that not only, yes, there are these vacancies but this is where the whole personal branding comes in, that you need to really elevate your personal brand to differentiate and stand out and showcase not just your qualifications but what it is that you can really do for the employer.

How can you help them solve their problems? How can you really help them achieve their goals? One of the biggest or I guess newer things that I’ve been seeing right now, because I tend to work with a lot more seasonal professionals who have at least 10 to 20 years of experience and they’ve been in the same company for a long time. And what I’m seeing right now is that there are more new jobs being created that never existed before.

So, it is so important to be able to diversify your skillset to showcase the potential that you have to offer. So, for example, I’ve seen people, like I had a client who was a director in operations at a hospital in the ICU, and she made a pivot to work in long-term care. And she had a newly created role for her from the CEO where it was a combination of operations, strategic partnerships, and quality. So, it’s leveraging her background but also the need of the business of working for heading of how she can add value there.

Pete Mockaitis
What do we call that title?

Diana Chan
It’s like a combination of multiple traits.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Cool.

Diana Chan
It’s a newly created role. And I think when we look at it, there’s this need of your ability to be able to think strategically and work cross-functionally, understand multiple different areas of the businesses there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. We’re already getting into some juicy how’s and tips and tricks. Maybe to kick us off though, could you share a why in terms of why do we want to always be connecting if we feel like, “Hey, this job is working out okay”? Could you give us a story or some research, some inspiration that can get us in the mode of, indeed, always be connecting and branding and doing this stuff?

Diana Chan
Yeah, absolutely. So, the way I like to think about it, and I’ll tie this connecting and branding together, I talk about the importance of personal branding. It’s really going to help. It’s all about who you are, how you’re perceived, and what’s your promise in terms of your value proposition. When you have a strong brand and you also add that with connecting with people, it’s going to add more credibility. And when you have more credibility, it’s also going to increase your marketability which is a result that’s going to help you get more opportunities as well.

And so, when you connect with more people, and when I think of connecting with people, it’s not just about you getting something from them, but I talk a lot about give, give, give before you get. So, the more you add value and help others, people are going to remember you. So, I’ll just give an example is I used to work as a former recruiter. And one of the things I love that not a lot of people do that stand out is when the candidates I reached out to that are not the right fit but they refer other people in their network to me, and I always remember these people because not a lot of people do that.

And it’s this whole pay it forward where the more you do it, the more people are going to remember you. So, for me, in my instances, I love also referring all sorts of people in my network. If I know a client that’s a good fit for a role, or someone I know, an employer that’s filling this role, I’ll make an introduction. And the least I can do is maybe open some doors. I can’t guarantee the job but at least it opens doors to opportunities. And by doing that, you’re going to build this trust, essentially, so when it comes to asking for a favor down the road, people are more likely to say yes because you have built this credibility there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. And so, you’re saying you were the recruiter, you interviewed candidates, you told the candidates no, and they still brought you…

Diana Chan
No, no, they said no to me. Yeah, both ways. I’ve done that, too. I have rejected candidates. Actually, when I was at Google, I’ve rejected more people than accepted. And some people are just really good at relationship building that they referred me other people. And there’s the other way around where they didn’t…it was not a right fit for them that they rejected me but then they recommended others in their network to me. And I always remember these people because we’re talking like probably just 1% or 2% of the people who actually do that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. It’s rare and it’s special and you remember. And so, you’ve got a broad network of people who are looking to help you out, you increase your opportunities. And then I guess I’m thinking specifically because I’ve learned that most of my listeners, go figure, like their jobs, and I’m not trying to say, “Quit your job.” But I think that it can be quite possible to get comfortable, which is not always a bad thing, sometimes you just really want to be in that groove, and yet I think that it’s in our interests to be connecting and to have an eye open.

And I’m curious, like I heard some stat, and maybe you’ll know it better than I, that most of us…maybe I heard it from Ramit Sethi, it’s like most of us are being underpaid by, I don’t know, 10% or some amount. And, I don’t know, first of all, do you think that’s true or just how much opportunity do you think we leave on the table by not keeping our eyes open?

Diana Chan
I think you leave a lot, and this is because we don’t manage our brand or manage our network, you’re not being known, you’re not being seen, so the marketability and feasibility and credibility is lacking there, so people may forget about you if you don’t have that. So, you mentioned like your listeners here, like they love their job.

And one of the common things I see, because I work with a lot of people who either have been at the same company, say, a decade or 20 years, and they face a restructuring, or they got a package, and they need to start fresh. A lot of times they don’t know where to start. And the common thing I hear is that they have not worked on building their external network, which is understandable because they put all their time and effort in their internal company here.

But one thing I talk about is you don’t want to wait till the time when you need to look for a job to start networking. You can start even networking with people internally or people you know who made a jump externally to stay in touch with them because if you have this relationship and they’re hiring down the road, they are going to keep you in mind.

And as you move up in the company, let’s just imagine you get to this VP level or SVP level, there’s going to be less and less of those openings. And oftentimes, and I see this a lot with my clients, is a lot of times they find an opportunity to uncover new opportunities a lot faster because of networking or they are referred by other people.

Study shows that you’re five times more likely to get hired through a referral. And when you have these relationships, doors just open. I have seen where clients, the difference between an executive-level client where they have a strong external network that normally takes at least six months maybe to a year to find a VP level and above, to someone landing in couple of months, two to three months, because they were able to tap into their network there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I thought that’s a really compelling argument right there in terms of it seems obvious but I guess I haven’t really thought about it until you’ve really said it just now that if just imagine an organizational chart, I got an org chart and the boxes and they’re cascading down, like there are far more individual contributor roles than there are manager roles; and there are far more manager roles than there are director roles; and there are far more director roles than there are VP roles; and far more VP roles than there are C-suite roles; and far more C-suite roles than there are CEO roles.

So, that’s just sort of the basics of spans and layers and mathematics and how that works out. And, thusly, if you are on a cool trajectory, you’re learning, you’re growing, you’re being promoted, indeed, there will come a day in which it’s like, “Oh, shoot, there’s not very many spots left.

So, there are not many opportunities left, and it’s like, I don’t know, someone needs to die or retire, and that might be years before that happens kind of a situation. And so, if you are ahead of the game with your networks and your people, your connections, then you’ll have a much easier time making the leap into the upper echelons when there aren’t as many spots available for you. That makes good sense. Thank you.

Diana Chan
Yeah, and I think that there’s going to be a time where people will hit either a plateau in their career where they either feel like they hit their ceiling or there aren’t really that many opportunities, or things are not just as challenging anymore and they want to consider something new. One thing I can say to your listeners, from my experience, is that if you are either looking to make that bigger leap of either greater responsibilities or greater income, I should talk about the tangible results of the greater income, I know from experience you’re more likely to get a five to six-figure jump of salary by making an external jump than internally.

Pete Mockaitis
A five to six what?

Diana Chan
Five to six figures more than before by making an external jump than an internal promotion.

Pete Mockaitis
More? So, you were thinking, “Okay. Hey, I’m a manager at,” we’ll just say a cola company, “and maybe I could be promoted to a director of a cola company.” You’re saying that if I were to go become a director at a competitive cola company, I would expect to get not just an increase in compensation, which I should get, I’m being promoted anyway, but rather $10,000 to $100,000 extra on top of bigger bump just because I went external.

Diana Chan
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. Okay.

Diana Chan
It is huge. Like, internally, when you think about it, the typical pay raise is between 3%, 5% maybe 7%.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, an annual, like I’m sticking around doing the same thing.

Diana Chan
An annual increase, right. That’s like the typical type there. Like, I’ll give an example. I had a client, even not at a senior manager level, senior manager client in product management at a telecommunications company. He made a jump to fintech, a financial technology company, and it’s like a growing startup. His salary increased by 40% and received a five-figure signing bonus.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Diana Chan
At the similar level, the senior manager level.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. There you go.

Diana Chan
And so, if you can imagine for those who are making the next-level jump, even a title jump, what the possibility. Now, I can’t say this is a guarantee, but right now, because it’s a candidate’s market, and if you are really good at what you do, you have a great reputation, you have a great track record of success, you have really great skillsets that’s in demand right now, you have higher negotiation power.

I’ll give you another great example, like literally just happened to my other client, a more junior-level client, a senior business system analyst. So, a more technical role and a Salesforce type of a role there. The employer offered a number but he also had another offer elsewhere that was paying more. And so, he went back to negotiate, and say like, “Hey, they’re offering like a 100K and you’re offering me 75K. What can you do?” That’s a 25K difference, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Diana Chan
Within a couple of hours, this employer got back with him with a $25,000 more plus another 10K signing bonus.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’ll do it. Cool. Well, that’s exciting, the opportunities. Thank you. So, I think we’ve built a nice strong why there with regard to whether you want to, and whether it’s in the future by years, you get ahead of it, or you might be surprised to learn that there’s a big opportunity that you’re just not even aware of available to you right now. By doing the stuff, you increase the odds of you being able to seize that and benefit.

So, let’s talk about some of the goods here when it comes to connecting. Can you share with us a few of your best and worst practices when it comes to growing a large and meaningful professional network?

Diana Chan
Yeah. So, one of the things with networking is, first, we ought to really focus on give, give, give before we get. So, I think that’s the first thing in terms of building your network, is think about, “How can I add value to other people?” And this is where you can really think about, like, “What expertise do I have? What am I passionate about? Who do I like to support there when I think from that perspective?”

And then from there, if we’re thinking of, “Well, what type of network do I want to build?” This is where you want to map out the qualities or people that you want to learn. One of the tools I love using to build my network is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool to build your network, stay in touch with people, and it’s also a great way for you to share your expertise, to build your credibility, and authority as well.

So, over time, the more you start, essentially, giving back or helping each other out, your network is just going to increase. So, for example, like I’m connected to hundreds of recruiters on my LinkedIn and because I started off also working as a recruiter, and over time, you just meet other recruiters as well to learn about best practices. A great way to meet other people is find other people who are doing similar work as you but in a different industry to share best practices. That is a great strategy.

I have some of my very senior-level clients where they spend a lot of time in the same company, and the way they approach networking is think of how they can share best practices to help each other out there. So, that’s another great way to build a network.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s super. Okay. And so, when it comes to sharing, you can share with people that you already know in terms of give, give, give and so that they, “Boy, Diana is so swell. She always has all kinds of insightful great things that I’m so glad to know about.” So, you can do give, give give. And then when it comes to meeting them new people, how do you recommend we do that?

Diana Chan
Yeah, I love this. So, this all starts with really building the trust and rapport. And the way I like to think about it, even if we dropped careers and job search aside. Let’s just imagine we’re meeting someone new, how do you go about doing that? The key here is really finding the mutual common interests that you have.

I’ll give you a very simple example. This was a couple of years ago when I went on a cruise, so this was pre-pandemic. Pre-pandemic, you meet a lot of strangers on a cruise, and I met this family where my kid was playing with their child, and we were just standing there beside each other, and I tried to spark a conversation. And I noticed the father was wearing the Raptors T-shirt, the basketball shirt, and I could tell that he was from Canada, being from Toronto.

And that’s how I started a conversation, I was like, “Oh, I see that you’re wearing a Raptors shirt,” and we were able to start talking about a little bit of basketball, a little bit of where we’re from, what we do and all that. And just from that, we were able to actually exchange contacts at the end of the very short, like a 15, 20-minute conversation that we would like to connect further there. So, that’s one example of connecting, is building that trust and rapport by finding a common interest.

Another, let’s just imagine, like going to, let’s say, a wedding, going to a wedding there. One of the common things is that we all know the couple, so that’s a great way to bond with each other. I also believe that the way to connect a big part is really showcasing warmth and curiosity. And you just never know by just doing this, just by being genuine yourself, what opportunities may open up.

One of the examples that I love sharing is actually this was many years ago at a wedding. The emcee which was a sibling of the groom, she had fantastic energy and warmth and enthusiasm that it was just very captivating. Like, she got the entire crowd going there. And I knew that she was a new grad, I knew from my friend that she was a new grad, that she was graduating and she’s looking for a job.

And I remember, like she made this instant impression on me that I actually said to my husband that, “She would be fantastic for your new-grad leadership program at your company.” And long story short, I referred her to the company, and she got hired. And to this day, she’s still at the company.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Just working on the microphone at a wedding.

Diana Chan
Like, this is what I call opportunities that you don’t even think about that you can actually land a job by really showcasing your best self.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Okay, cool. So, that’s some of the connecting piece. Can you dig a bit more into some of our personal brand, professional story, unique value proposition, kinds of self-knowledge and representation pieces? How do we, I guess, get that clarity first of all? And then how do you recommend we write it up or what do we do with that?

Diana Chan
Yeah, that’s a big question and I’m going to break it down. I’m going to break it down from the clarity piece and then I’ll move into the branding piece. So, that’s part of a lot of work I do is really helping people get clear of who they are, what they want, what’s important to you. When you have clarity, you have more courage and confidence to pursue whatever you want and you come across as a much more compelling communicator.

So, the first step is really knowing, like, “What are my core strengths? What are my interests? What are my core values?” When you can even get clear on strengths, interests, and values, it becomes your guiding compass of what kind of opportunities that you want to pursue, and it becomes your selection criteria as well in evaluating opportunities.

So, the first step is always soul searching before job searching. I find the common mistake people make is that they jump right into job searching, updating their resume and LinkedIn profile before even getting clear on what their target is. And I have found that when you’re not clear on what you’re targeting, your messages, your brand, the way you communicate, it’s not compelling or convincing enough. So, that’s really the first step. It really pays off by doing that soul-searching work.

And I have found by doing that, for those who want to, say, make a pivot, pivot into a different industry, a different profession, it’s really going to help them with updating and finetuning the next stage which is the personal branding. I’m really passionate about personal branding because my belief is that when you elevate your personal brand, you, essentially, increase your marketability, which is ability to attract more opportunities, and your ability to increase your earning potential. So, the greater your brand, the greater your market value, which is aka your earning potential there.

And so, this whole personal branding piece is really what I love to do as a coach, is essentially identifying what differentiates you. What differentiates you? What your unique selling points? So, I have my five P’s that I guide my clients through when it comes to defining their personal brand. And so, the first, and I’ll walk your audience through here, the five P’s here.

The first is the product, which is seeing yourself as a product. So, you want to think about your features. What are your strengths? What are your skills? What’s your personality, your expertise, your interests? All those things that you want to identify, like really just getting clarity on that. If you’re not clear on what your strengths are, you can take a test called the Gallup Assessment, which is a StrengthsFinder in identifying your top five strengths.

The second P is the potential, which is really your performance and results. So, this is what I call the track record of success. This is like the proof point. Employers love to see your track record of success there. So, really mapping out all these accomplishments of yours and all these performance reviews and results is really going to help you tell a compelling story.

And then the third P is the perception, which is how others see you. This is your reputation. And what you can do if you’re not sure is to send out a survey to your friends, your colleagues, your boss, and at least 25 to 30 people. Ask them questions, like, what words will they use to describe you, what are your core strengths, what value do you bring, how do they describe your leadership style or communication style.

And I find that when my clients do this exercise, it’s always very eye opening because it helps them see, like, “Oh, this is how I’m perceived, and these are the things that I want to amplify,” if that’s really true to you. So, an example, one of the core words people always tell me is that I’m always very high energy, very passionate with what I do, so the way I show up, I want to reflect that as well.

And the fourth one is positioning. So, this is around the messaging, which is really how you craft out your unique value proposition. This is where you want to think of, essentially, like your personal branding statement, your top three unique selling points. I believe in selling yourself in three points because that’s how you become more memorable. This is where you can come up with the benefits of hiring you, like, what are the benefits are there. So, really thinking of it from the employer question point.

And then lastly, the last P, which is packaging. So, this is the whole how you present yourself, how you want to show up online, on camera, the whole in terms of your brand, style, your tone of voice, all those things tied to the five P’s. So, when you walk through these five steps of the five P’s of personal branding, it’s really going to help you then elevate all your other marketing materials. Like, you think of the resume, the LinkedIn profile, your elevator pitch, everything is going to tie back to your personal brand.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fun. It’s funny, when you said the P’s, I was like, “Oh, product, place, price, promotion.” Then we started with product, I was like, “Really?” So, then, okay, I got you now. So, packaging, that’s interesting. So, that could very much be the things like what you’re wearing, your resume design. And I like that in that what I like about your framework is, one, it’s alliterative so I can remember it. So, thank you. Five P’s.

And, two, it’s like resume formatting and clothing stuff is not the end-all-be-all but it matters. It is one of the five. And so, I like that because, as you said, it’s tempting to go right for the, “Ahh, let’s jump right to the job hunting.” And you said, we want to do soul searching before job searching. Nice turn of a phrase. Thank you. So, that’s excellent.

So, now, I’m curious, with regard to packaging, I think there are some easy things with regard, “Don’t have crazy fonts in your resume. Look professional. Don’t have your LinkedIn photo be shirtless or bikini, unless you’re a model.” That’s what you’re trying to represent specifically, like, “Look how I’m beautiful. You should hire me to promote your products.”

But I guess where I’m thinking most about is positioning, with the personal branding statement, the three steps, the benefits. Please, let’s dig deep into this.

Diana Chan
Sure. This takes time. This is an exercise where it takes a lot of time for people to do. Maybe we can go into the branding statement because that’s usually the arc of the rest of the things, the benefit statements there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Let’s do it.

Diana Chan
So, I can share, when we think of personal branding statement, essentially, it’s a short and sweet sound bite that is the anchor of defining who you are, what you bring to the table. That’s what it really is. And I see that as like an arc that helps set the tone and stage of the rest of your content. It can also be used as like a very simple one-liner intro when you’re introducing yourself. You can have it at the top of your LinkedIn bio statement or the tagline. It can also be part of like your top statement in your resume as well. So, you can come up with that and then just tweak it accordingly.

So, I’ll share with you, I guess, some of the guiding principles, say, like if you ask, like what are some things you want to avoid is you want to avoid being fluffy in terms of just having descriptive words that is being fluffy. You really want to focus on, essentially, impact. Like, what is the value that you really bring to the table?

So, I’ll give you an example for myself, what I’ve created is I’ll say something like, “I’m a personal branding marketer for corporate leaders and executives in career transition. I’m known for identifying your unique value, mastering your messages, and communicating with confidence to stand out, get hired, and earn more.”

So, you see what I created here is you have the title, the title of what you do in terms of your profession, and then who I serve, I’m serving those corporate leaders in transition which is like the specific scenario that they’re in, and then you can use, “I’m known for,” “I have a track record of success in,” and you either identify like one to three of these value prop statements that is, essentially, more employer-focused or what someone wants to achieve.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Now, so this can land in the summary of our resume. It can land as the top…well, let’s see. I guess we have a character limit in the LinkedIn…

Diana Chan
Tagline? Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
…tagline. So, that could be the personal branding marketing bit.

Diana Chan
What you can do shorten it is I can help you here. If you think of LinkedIn, yes, the tagline is short. So, what I can say is, “I help you stand out, get hired, and earn more.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s there. But then in your description, you can go into the whole bit.

Diana Chan
Exactly. Exactly. So, you can shorten it in the tagline that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that was great. I’m thinking more, more, more. Could you give us some more great examples and then maybe some disappointing examples, and tell us, “Hmm, what’s a little bit off here?”

Diana Chan
I’ll give another one. How about if I have a poor example one right now? I have another one, it’s a marketing person as well, “I’m an analytical marketing leader with a proven track record of managing successful marketing campaigns, and deriving insights from data to drive business growth.” So, in this example, we described this person as an analytical marketing leader.

In some instances, they like to have people who are analytical type of roles. In this case, we talked about managing successful marketing campaigns and deriving insights from data to drive business growth. So, we know that this someone is a good data-driven marketer, essentially, in simple terms. A data-driven marketer.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that was fun when it comes to recruiting or marketing or coaching. How about something in like project management?

Diana Chan
That’s a great question. So, one of the tips I want to offer the audience, because I know many of you have different professions, different area of expertise, the way I want to coach you to really think about it is, one, think about the words that will describe you, and, second is really thinking back about what’s the main mandate of what you do and what’s the significance or the importance of the work that you do.

So, if you can just ask yourself those questions, it’s like, “I help drive…” Is it revenue, if you work in sales? Or, if I’m in accounting, “I help ensure things are accurate.” Or, if I’m marketing, that, “I help drive market share.” You want to just get clear on what are those metrics there. So, let me give you an example around project management.

An example could be, “I’m a strategic project manager with proven success, driving multifaceted software implementation projects that spark incredible results and ROI for my clients.” So, this is like something short and sweet. You can go deeper if you like to have more numbers, but at least, at a very high level, you’re going getting clear on, okay, you worked on software projects that help with driving an ROI for your clients. So, that already gives a hint to someone that you could be maybe in a role that you worked with clients in a consulting role but in a project management capacity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s handy. And then that gets you thinking in terms of…I guess there’s always this delicate dance between we want more detail versus being succinct because it’s sort of like, “Oh, incredible results and ROI. I’m thinking was it more on the cost-reduction side or more on the revenue-generation side?” And then you can sort of…I guess that’s why people hire you is to really get into the, “Oh, the tradeoffs associated with…is it going to take me 20 words to describe the cool what incredible result means in my world or is it so varied that we’re going to have to leave it at that?”

Diana Chan
Yeah, yeah. Well, so one of the things I want to point out for the listeners who are listening to this is this is a sound bite, so meaning it’s like short and sweet and punchy. It’s a little different when you’re supposed to talk, come up with your elevator pitch, that common question of, “Tell me about yourself.” It’s a build-on to that. So, if you get a question in an interview, “Tell me about yourself,” don’t just use this one-liner sound bite. Make sure that you go more in depth, and this is where I guide people through another form of helping them crack out their two-minute elevator pitch there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us about that.

Diana Chan
I knew that was coming. Yeah, the elevator pitch is something I love working with people. I have a course called Master Your Glowing Introduction, and it’s my popular six P’s. I have another six P’s that I guide clients through there. And so, it’s broken down into three paragraphs. The first is, essentially, the who you are piece. So, think of your passion, that’s where the first P is your passion. What do you care about?

And the second P is, essentially, the potential. What are you known for? Think of your strengths. So, that gives a really good sense of who you are. Most people tend to just start off with a chronological order of when they finished school and throughout their entire career history. But if you start with this of what you care about and what you’re good at, it’s going to pique interests.

And then second paragraph, essentially, is your credibility, which is the third P of your past experience and your proud accomplishments. So, this is going to give credibility because you’re going to share with them a summary of your experience. So, instead of just listing out every single job that you had, you really want to think of a summary of years of experience in this industry, in these functional areas that you’ve worked in, and then highlight some of the problems or projects that you’ve worked, that you’ve done.

And then come up with a good story because no one else is going to have this proud accomplishment story the same as you so you want to think of something that you’re really proud of that’s going to become more memorable.

And then to close, which is the third paragraph, is the fifth P is present. You want to bring it back to the present of, “What are you looking for now? What’s next? Why are you looking for a change?” Or, bring it back if you’re going for an interview, like, “Why are we talking here?” And the other P is purpose. If you’re trying to sell yourself, you want to talk about why you, “Why do you believe you’re the best candidate for this opportunity? Or, why do you believe you’re going to be successful for this job?”

So, just by following this formula, it’s going to give you, essentially, when you think about it, a bit of who you are, what’s your track record of success, your motivation of what you want, and why you want it. And I can tell you from experience, every time I do this exercise with people, without them having any knowledge of the six P’s, all they talk about is what they’ve done since they’ve finished school.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so that sounds nice. So, that’s about two minutes altogether?

Diana Chan
Yes, two minutes.

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

Diana Chan
Now, one thing I do want though, since we’re on this topic, is we can maybe talk about is for those who are looking to pivot or looking to make a change, how they can go about doing that, what are some of the things they can do to help them with that. So, for those who are really feeling either stuck or at a crossroads, how to go about figuring out what’s next, there are a few pieces of advice I would offer.

One is I talked about the soul searching before job searching. That’s the first piece, it’s really gaining that career clarity. Second is go conduct informational interviews, go talk to people to find out, “What does that day-to-day look like? What does it take to be successful? What are the challenges in that job?” When you get more intel and insight, it’s going to help you have better conversations there.

Third is, once you know what you want, create a reverse-engineer roadmap to figure out, “What are the steps it takes for me to get there?” So, may you want to even identify what are those options. Like, if you’re not clear on what you want yet, identifying, brainstorm these options out, and assess the pros and cons. You can talk to people, you can do research, whatever that is, it’s really going to help you gain more clarity there.

Once you have all this information and you’re really clear on what you’re going after next, this really all the steps that I do is like about repositioning. Repositioning your brand, figuring out what really differentiates you, what’s going to resonate with the audience, and then think about, “How am I going to update my LinkedIn profile, my elevator pitch, my resume?” to really tie it back to your brand that’s really going to make you stand out there.

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

Diana Chan
Well, one of my favorite quotes I love to say, a lot of my listeners like they do know, is, “Own your greatness with confidence to shine and thrive.” And what I mean by that is when you own your greatness and believe you have something valuable to offer, and you own it with your confidence, you’re more likely to shine, stand out, and reach your full potential and make a difference.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Now, could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Diana Chan
Yeah. So, Vanessa Van Edwards, her book on Cues. Their research that was really fascinating was around how they studied 495 pitches on Shark Tank. And what they discovered, those who actually win or pitch or get the money from the Sharks are those who’ve demonstrated that high confidence and the high charisma, the warmth. I find that very, very fascinating.

And so, this is where it ties into the work I do, of what I said earlier of this podcast, is it’s not just about being the most qualified candidate. It’s about how you say what you say that’s going to win you as the ideal candidate to hire.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Diana Chan
My favorite book is Designing Your Life which is a great book for those who are not sure what they want to do next. That’s a great book to check out.

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

Diana Chan
LinkedIn, hands down. I love using LinkedIn on a daily basis to share content, share my expertise, connect with people, make new friends. I love doing that. And I also love just having my own show to connect with my audience.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Diana Chan
Well, one thing I’ve been doing is actually having this morning ritual right now, is really making sure I’m taking care of myself, whether it’s taking my vitamins, taking all these healthy drinks, or having this quiet moment of meditation before I take my kids to school. Those are some things that I really want to feel grounded and start my day strong and fresh there.

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

Diana Chan
It’s the own your greatness. Own your greatness with confidence because you know why, Pete, is oftentimes when people come to me, they lack that confidence in selling themselves effectively. In order for you to reach that next-level role or get promoted, you really have to own your greatness with confidence to really reach those next-level opportunities.

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

Diana Chan
Yeah. So, what I would say is start tracking your accomplishments and results. If this is something you haven’t been doing, create a success file, start tracking your accomplishments that you’re proud of. And then I would encourage, for those who are not active yet on LinkedIn or have a bare bones profile on LinkedIn, I encourage you to create an awesome LinkedIn profile and to connect with me as well because that’s how you’re going to start building your network and attract more great opportunities there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, on LinkedIn, they just type Diana Chan, C-H-A-N, and there you are?

Diana Chan
They type in Diana YK Chan because there’s a ton of Diana Chan. Diana YK Chan, you’ll certainly find me there.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Diana, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best and keep up the great work.

Diana Chan
Thank you so much, Pete.

704: How to Achieve Lasting Success by Thinking Long-Term with Dorie Clark

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Dorie Clark says: "The things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you're going to be successful, you need to stop."

Dorie Clark reveals the critical skills that help us think long-term and set ourselves up for future success.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three barriers to long-term strategic thinking
  2. The top two skills that make you indispensable
  3. What to do when you’re stuck in a rut

 

About Dorie

Dorie Clark helps individuals and companies get their best ideas heard in a crowded, noisy world. She has been named one of the Top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50, and was honored as the #1 Communication Coach in the world at the Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Awards. She is a keynote speaker and teaches for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, which was named one of Forbes’ Top 5 Business Books of the Year, as well as Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of the Year by Inc. magazine.

A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, Clark has been described by the New York Times as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” She is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and consults and speaks for clients such as Google, Yale University, and the World Bank. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, a producer of a multiple Grammy-winning jazz album, and a Broadway investor.

 

Resources Mentioned

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Dorie Clark Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dorie, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Dorie Clark
Hey, Pete, it’s so good to be back with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom once again. And one exciting thing that you’ve mentioned I think the world needs to hear is that you have written a musical.

Dorie Clark
Yes, I have.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the story here?

Dorie Clark
Well, this is a process that started about five years ago. I actually write about this in my new book The Long Game. I’m a big fan of long-term goals, ten-year plans. And so, in 2016, I decided that my ten-year goal was going to be that I would write a show that would make it onto Broadway. And so, I have been assiduously pursuing this. I was literally starting from zero because I had no training or experience in writing Broadway or musical theater-type shows.

And so, since then, as I was mentioning earlier, I was…well, first, I applied and was rejected, and then I applied and was finally accepted into a training program, a kind of a prestigious training program that BMI, the music publishing company, runs. And so, I’ve been through that, I’m part of their advanced workshop now, have learned to write musical theater, and, in fact, have written one, which I am now shopping around to produce into regional theaters.

So, it’s just working the network and getting it out there. But I have written a sexy, lesbian, spy musical called Absolute Zero. So, you heard it here first. God willing, 2026 Broadway season.

Pete Mockaitis
I just have so many follow-up questions in terms of how that’s going to unfold but I’ll just wait to see it in theaters.

Dorie Clark
You’re going to love it. It’s going to create a whole new genre.

Pete Mockaitis
I appreciate in and of itself when things cannot be easily defined. Original genres, appreciated. All right. Cool. Well, now something that you have a bit more experience writing is nonfiction books that help people be awesome at their jobs, and it sounds like you got another hit on your hands with The Long Game. Tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Dorie Clark
Thank you, my man. Yes, this is my fourth so I have been flexing my muscles for a while with business and career books. So, the new book is called The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, and, basically, it’s about how to apply the principles of strategic thinking to your life and your career so that you can get better results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that sounds super helpful. And tell us, long-term thinking, is that something that professionals have a shortage of these days? Or, how would you assess the health of the long-term thinking game these days?

Dorie Clark
The broad state of affairs is not great, partly, of course, that’s human nature. Everybody likes a little bit of instant gratification if you get down to it, but, also, things have become harder for a couple of reasons. One is just in our society, in general, even pre-COVID, I think most of us recognize that there are a lot of forces conspiring to encourage short-term thinking.

We have at the corporate level, you have the push for quarterly earnings and how that trickles down to everybody about trying to get results sometimes with really negative consequences and corners being cut in the Volkswagen or the Wells Fargo type of situation. And in our personal lives, we’re 10, 20 years into our social media era, and a factor that has always impacted people, which is looking around and comparing yourself to other people, we always had that but now we’re comparing ourselves literally to the whole world. And that can be a little demoralizing sometimes, so there’s a push towards short-term thinking.

And then you take that and you put COVID on top of it where all of our plans got blown up suddenly. All we can do is react and be short-term because we don’t know what’s coming down the pike. So, it’s a lot of pressure in that direction. And so, it is my hope that this book, in some ways, can actually help us overcome that and put a stake in the ground because when we have been in reactive mode for so long, of course, it’s a good skill. You want to be agile, you want to pivot, you know how to, you want to know how to be able to respond to change, but, also, that can’t be the only thing you do.

We need to start making plans again. We need to be reclaiming our lives and coming up with the visions of where we want to go so that we are driving the train, not just responding to external stimuli. And, for me, that’s what playing the long game really is about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, playing the long game seems like the prudent, wise thing to do when I’m thinking about reading some Aesop’s Fables type things to my children. And so, we’ve got those stories about the ant and the   grasshopper and storing things for the winter, and the tortoise and the hare, and kind of sticking with it over the long haul.

So, I think that I’m guessing the milieu is that, “Oh, yeah. Hey, long-term thinking is probably a good and virtuous thing I should be doing.” But could you lay it on us in terms of some of the benefits for people’s careers, like, “No, seriously, if you do this, you can expect these fabulous results to come to you, and if you don’t, here’s what you’re risking”?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. Well, let me give you one example. I could ask sometimes, like, “Who is an example of someone who’s a good long-term thinker?” And one person who, honestly, stands out, of course, he has his own challenges in terms of his, essentially, world domination. But leaving that aside, Jeff Bezos is actually a really remarkable example of a long-term thinker.

And I think back in 2011, he did an interview with Wired magazine that I think was very telling. They asked him, “Okay, what is the secret to your success? What is the secret to Amazon’s success?” And, of course, this was 10 years ago, this was before Amazon became…it was successful but it was before it became the behemoth that it is today. And what he said was, “What makes Amazon special is that our competitors are only willing to plan on a three-year horizon. We are willing to plan on a seven-year horizon, and invest in a seven-year horizon. Because of that, we are able to take on bigger, more monumental, more potentially game-changing projects than they are. And that is the difference.”

And so, we go a decade out, and we see, oh, my goodness, Amazon Web Services. We see Amazon Prime. These were bets that they laid years ago, and they took time to pay off but now it’s created a massive competitive moat between Amazon and other players. And it’s the same thing for our own lives and our own careers. If you are willing to invest now and you keep at it assiduously while everybody else is just saying, “Ahh, that doesn’t make any sense. Oh, what a waste of time,” by the time they actually figure out the value of what you’ve done, they really can’t even catch up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that a lot and I think, and, Dorie, I don’t know, I read so much of the stuff you’ve written, and this might be from you, that with that Amazon example, I think Bezos is also said to have commented that he really tries to focus on things that he does not expect to change in terms of, he said, “Well, ten years from now, will people want to pay less? Yes, I think that will not change. People still like low prices. And, like, ten years from now, will people still want things faster or will that change in terms of, ‘You know what, I’d rather have it in five days’? Like, no.”

And so, with that sort of confidence, they said, “All right. Well, we’re pretty sure that people will want the prices low and will want it fast ten years from now, thusly, we can invest big on doing what it takes to make that happen.” So, yeah, that’s really resonant. So, maybe can you bring it into like careers then? If we’re playing the long game with our careers, what are some things that we can bank on as employers and the marketplace will really want from us years from now?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. So, one of the sections that I have in The Long Game is actually talking about, again, to take a corporate example, but bring it down to the granular of how we apply it in our own lives, most of your listeners are probably familiar with Google and their famous 20%-time policy. And this is the idea that Google pioneered and, well, to be fair, 3M, the Post-It company actually came up with it originally as 15% time. Google adopted it, they even expanded it, made it 20% time, but it really came to public prominence with Google.

And their concept is that employees should be able to spend up to a fifth of their time working on, essentially, speculative projects outside the scope of their regular job, but it should be things that they find interesting, obviously, but things that they believe would help the company. And that is how some of Google’s biggest innovations, like Google News and Gmail, got created.

Now, the caveat, the asterisk on all of this, interestingly enough, even most Google employees don’t do this. About 10% of Google employees actually do 20% time, which is this very low statistic. You might say, “Oh, well, that’s ridiculous. Why should we even take seriously this thing if the company that’s preaching it doesn’t do it?” But actually, I think it’s an important point for us to plumb. We know that it is not easy to carve out 20% time. You have to really be forceful in creating a fence around it. It is always easier to just lean into doing your existing job, “Oh, I’ve got meetings. Oh, I’ve got emails to answer.” And so, you allocate that time accordingly. I get it.

But if you are fencing off time for, essentially, your own professional development, for learning things, trying things, where you are developing new skills and exploring new areas, this becomes your insurance policy for the future. COVID showed us that we have no freaking idea what is going to happen. We just don’t know.

And so, we can make educated guesses and we can plan for the future, but, really, the best thing that all of us can be doing is turning ourselves into Swiss Army knives where we are not overly optimized for one task because that task could change, the company could change, it might not need it anymore. What we need to do, and 20% time is a really good vehicle to do it, is to allocate part of our time to proactive professional development so we’re learning new things and have new skills that we can fall back on if we need to. And it’ll also open up new opportunities as well. So, I think that’s one clear takeaway that can be very useful for people in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I like the notion of becoming a Swiss Army knife, and proactive professional development, and being kind of a bullet proof, invincible, depending on the winds of change and sway and stuff. And so, I guess I’m thinking what are some of the top skills, or I’m actually visualizing literally a Swiss Army knife, the bottle opener, the screwdriver, the tweezers, the scissors?

Dorie Clark
Everybody’s going to love you if you can open bottles. I say go for that one.

Pete Mockaitis
And then the hook, the little hook. I always found that tricky. Apparently, it’s for when you’re carrying boxes wrapped in twine. Okay, now you know if you were curious. You can also pull out stakes with fishing wire. Anyway, Swiss Army knife has a lot of tools. What do you think are some of the top tool skills that professionals should work to be developing that are timeless? Because, on the one hand, I’m thinking, “Well, hey, a lot of sort of artificial intelligence stuff, for example, is hot.” And then a coding language like Python or something is something that you say, “Oh, maybe that’d be good to know, but then, again, maybe that’ll be irrelevant in six years.” So, help us, Dorie, how do we think through what are the skills are really worth investing and building?

Dorie Clark
That’s right, Pete. Absolutely. I’m going to answer it in a couple different ways. So, the first one, props to you, my man, is a really simple starting point that people can do is actually LinkedIn Learning courses. And I’m an instructor, you’re an instructor, and, in fact, both of us are fortunate enough that some of our courses were among the top 20 most popular of the year. So, actually just diving in and immersing yourself in that is a really good simple way.

These courses are not long. This is something you can do on your lunch break but that’s a good regular way that you can begin to just take time that often might’ve been deployed for other purposes, maybe just messing around, maybe answering emails. Actually, really investing in learning. So, that’s one low-hanging fruit.

But, also, I think it is true, of course, we can all kind of envision that, “Oh, I should learn about 3D printing or something like that. What are the things of the future?” If you are interested in those things, then, Godspeed, go do it. That’s great. I also want to argue that there is merit in learning about things that might seem completely irrelevant. And my example, in fact, I consider musical theater to be my 20%-time activity. And it might sound frivolous in some ways, like, “Well, what does that have to do with being a business author?”

And on the surface, hmm, I don’t really know but what I do know is I am not only learning skills about how to do a particular thing, lyric writing, book writing, whatever. Those are really powerful and you can argue that there are some overlays in terms of story arcs and narrative and how it applies to my book, but, also, from a networking perspective, I am meeting massively different types of people. There’s a lot of interesting development of who I’m connecting with and what I know, and it’s giving me access to a whole new canon of knowledge.

And so, I can tell you that it’s been…there are examples where I’m meeting people in the business world and I’m able to connect with them better because I have additional knowledge that I can bring to bear about theater if that is, in fact, one of their interests. So, even something that seems really like, “Oh, why would you do that?” There actually can be a lot of surprise hidden value in it. It’s sort of the equivalent of the well-worn example of Steve Jobs studying calligraphy. Like, “Well, what did that matter?” Well, it turns out, it can create a design orientation that actually can be very influential but we couldn’t have predicted it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is cool. Okay. Well, so then in terms of the 20% time, it’s like it’s a combo then of, “What do you find really fascinating? Go for it,” and then, “What do you think you just can’t see any connection whatsoever? Don’t let that stop you.” And then LinkedIn Learning is one quick and easy and fun resource to get in there.

And so, I’m curious then, are there any – and I’m sure this will vary as the years unfold or maybe it won’t at all, and that’s the point – what will be some like the top skills you think, boy, every professional can really benefit from sharpening these skills?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. Again, with the purview so that, honestly, if you want to keep yourself motivated, the most important thing is that it should be interesting to you. But I would say, in my own experience, things that are super valuable, one, probably the biggest that I’ve put at the top of the list, is public speaking. And part of the reason that I do this is there are some very interesting research that was done a few years ago by The Center for Talent Innovation, which is a think-tank in New York. And they were studying the concept of executive presence, which is, essentially, this idea, this very poorly-defined idea of somebody looking like a leader, or seeming like a leader. Like, what does that mean?

And so, they wanted to break that down because a lot of people talk about, “Oh, he’s got executive presence but he doesn’t.” And so, okay, what are they talking about? And one of the key components that it turned out people were implicitly referring to is people’s public speaking ability. And it kind of makes sense because if we think about, for instance, how our country, how countries, in general, elect leaders, what are the trials that we put them through? Well, it’s usually debates, it’s townhall meetings, it’s rallies, it’s all about your public speaking, so a very low-hanging fruit where someone can get a dramatic ROI from investing time and effort is actually becoming a better public speaker. So, I would put that at the top of the list.

I’m also, you know, I’m partially communications in general, given that I started my career as a marketing strategy consultant, but I would say that effective copywriting, persuasive sales writing is one of the most important skills, whether you’re literally selling something or whether you are a regular professional trying to sell your boss on an idea, or trying to get a client to take a concept and let you run with it. Sales copy, which is different than regular writing, persuasive sales copy is an incredibly valuable skill to have. So, I would probably put those two at the top of the list.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. And so then, beyond just simply learning, training, skills development, what are some other ways that you recommend we can shift our thinking away from the short term and to the long term? Are there any sorts of key questions, or prompts, or exercises you recommend folks go through to get more in the long-term zone?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, I love that question. So, when we think about, “How do we kind of reorient ourselves?” One of the most important starting points is actually just, at a very basic level, creating the white space necessary to be able to have those conversations, whether it’s literally a conversation with a colleague or just an internal reckoning with yourself. It is not that it takes a huge amount of time to do strategic thinking. It does not. But it takes some time.

And one of the problems that I see with a lot of the clients that I worked with and colleagues around me is that they literally have no time for this because they are so packed to the gills with their scheduling. They’re constantly racing around. They don’t have a moment to breathe. And, therefore, they really don’t have a moment to ask very fundamental questions about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, if it’s the right thing to be doing. Nobody wants to be the person that is optimizing perfectly for the wrong goal, for the wrong outcome.

So, I think that one of the very best things we can do to begin to give ourselves the space to ask these questions is to actually just create a little room on our calendar. Obviously, it’s easier said than done, but I think we need to start becoming a lot more ruthless in terms of what we accept. Something that doesn’t get talked about, this is a skill you need to develop, although no one will tell you this, the things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you’re going to be successful, you need to stop. You need to regularly re-evaluate and create tighter and tighter criteria for what actually gets on your schedule. And this is an essential part of being a strategic and long-term thinker.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I find that actually pretty inspiring, Dorie, and I don’t know if that’s the reaction you get very often, “Tighter and tighter criteria. Ooh, boy.” But I think it’s true in that I‘m thinking about just, hey, this podcast, 700 episodes in, that’s exactly what’s happened in terms of criteria get tighter and tighter and tighter with regard to what guest gets in, which parts of the interview stay versus get edited out. And then, likewise, just as a function, I think the percentage of incoming pitches that are thumbs up gets smaller and smaller as well.

Dorie Clark
Yeah, when you were first starting, you probably would’ve interviewed my cat. That’s what it’s like when you start.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I might make a case for that in terms of, “Well, cute animal photos have been shown to reduce stress.”

Dorie Clark
It could go viral.

Pete Mockaitis
“Cats have been known to go viral.” So, then can you make that all the more real and specific for us in terms of maybe in your own schedule or others that you’ve coached or worked with and how you’ve seen, “Hey, this used to be okay, and now it’s not. And here are some particular filters or rules or criteria I’m using now that determine what gets the yes”?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. And I actually go into a lot of detail about this in The Long Game because I think your question points to something important, which is specifics actually really matter here because you can say all you want, “Oh, you should just say no more often,” and that’s great but people are like, “Okay, you jerk, like how do I do it?” So, you need to really understand the mechanics and the scripts and how do you draw these criteria.

Just to give you an example. When I first started my business, I’ve been working for myself for 15 years, I kind of didn’t know anybody. Like, when you’re starting any career, or you’re starting at a job, you don’t know anybody and so, therefore, you don’t even know who’s worth your time. And at that moment, it’s actually good to say yes to everybody because it’s not like you have so many other important things to do, and it’s not like there are so many people fighting to spend time with you. if you have an opportunity for a networking engagement, you should probably do it, right?

So, early on, the filter should be very wide. But, over time, people do begin to seek you out more, and so you’ve got to narrow it. So, some examples. Early on, I was so happy that anyone would like talk to me. I would immediately offer to go to them, “Oh, where do you want to meet? When do you want to meet?” And so, I would accept these things where I’d be taking like a 45-minute train ride into the city to go see somebody at some inconvenient place. I’d be coming back. I would literally have spent half a day in a networking meeting with someone.

Now, a half a day is extraordinarily valuable. I think about how much revenue or all the things I could be doing but, back in the day, I would say yes to that. So, over time, I slowly tightened it and say, “Okay. Well, maybe I’d meet with them but I’m not going to just offer to go to them. I would either make them come to me and meet near me, or I would only do it if I was already going to be in their neighborhood.” Also, I used to meet with people, “Hey, let’s have a networking meeting,” for like pretty much no reason. It could be, “Oh, somebody suggested we might like each other,” something like that.

Now, I actually need a pretty compelling reason, like, “Well, what do you want to talk about? Like, what’s the goal? Why is it that we should connect?” because, oftentimes, what I would discover, that I didn’t know, is that people actually had an agenda. They just wouldn’t state it. It was often to sell something to you. And so, it’s important to kind of understand what’s behind all of that. So, that’s a piece of it.

You can also, if you want, if you want to do the meeting, you’re not sure if you can say no, another strategy that I use is find a way that you can downgrade it but still say yes. So, you might say, “Oh, Dorie, can we have coffee? Can we have lunch?” and if I want to be careful, I don’t want to offend you or something, or I feel like I should say yes, I might say, “Oh, thank you, Pete. I’d love to do it. That would be great. My schedule is super crazy. I can’t do lunch but how about a call? Can we do a call next week?” And so, that way, instead of lunch, which might be two hours, two and a half hours, like getting there and then a lunch, the call is a tight 30 and then you can log off. So, you have, essentially, found a way to still say yes but save yourself 90 minutes, and all of that adds up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Dorie, I like this so much. It’s funny, just recently, I think I was getting a new insurance quote, and they proposed…because sometimes this is very easy to do, they said, “Oh, hey, when’s a good timing and we can hop on a call for me to walk you through a point-by-point all the elements of this plan?” I was like, “Wow, I never want to do that,” and maybe that might be prudent depending on the nature of the insurance product and what’s at stake and if there’s a lot of points of differentiation between that insurance product and the competition. Maybe that might be well worth your time. But for me, it wasn’t. It was sort of small potatoes insurance and I thought, “Wow, do people really say yes to this?

And so, I was able to say, “Oh, would it be possible for, instead, for you to email me the policy and share with me the key points and the price?”

Dorie Clark
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think I know what they’re doing. I think from like a sales process, I’m sure the studies have shown, you get a higher conversion rate if you have like a relationship and some engagement and some conversation, but I probably just wanted to kind of say yes, thank you, get some insurance, and move onto something else.

So, sometimes it’s easy but for me it’s kind of rare. And it’s funny, as you share those things, I’ve had those thoughts. Let’s just get real about sort of emotions here. And sometimes I will also have thoughts to be like, “Pete, who the heck do you think you are? Oh, now you’re big time, huh? Oh, you’re so important now that you can’t be bothered to have lunch.” So, I’ve got some internal dialogues in terms of just like, “Well, no, I can have a spreadsheet I can show you that time it better placed somewhere else from a business development perspective. Like, that’s a fact.”

But sometimes it’s more fuzzy, like, “Well, I don’t even know what’s going to make a bigger impact. Hard to say.” But then there’s also a little bit of the, “Oh, so now I’m too good.” And it’s like I don’t want to become, I don’t know what the anti-hero I’m looking for here, the villain I’m trying to paint here, not Scrooge McDuck swimming in money, or like Scrooge…help me out here. Like, I still want to be a generous person who is not corrupted by success as I grow but I guess that’s part of the long game as our time will become increasingly more valuable. We will need to say no more often. How do we deal with that?

Dorie Clark
Right. Well, I think you’re pointing to something important, which is that there’s a lot of layers to this. It’s not just a strictly rational ROI calculator, essentially. But I think there’s a few ways to think about this. And, also, of course, it depends who’s asking. I think sometimes, again, when we are less experienced, we often, at least me, I would essentially fall prey to people, just anyone who’d be like, “Hey, want to have coffee?” and I would just assume like the correct answer is yes, “Okay, yes.”

And then, meanwhile, you come and it’s some kind of a sales pitch or something where it’s almost like you’ve been kind of tricked or strong-armed into it, or if it’s not a sales pitch, maybe it’s they want something, “Oh, hey, Dorie, I hear you write for so and so. Can you introduce me to blah, blah, blah?” And it’s like, “Oh, now I get it. Like, oh, you want a thing that’s why you want to connect.” And so, those are things I do not feel bad screening out. I don’t want some user who is taking advantage, and so I think, partly, it’s about learning how to be more mindful if you feel like that vibe is coming off of someone.

I think, also, the truth is I don’t feel bad about saying no to people that are coming at you, or coming at me, in ways that are a little inappropriate. I think that, for me, when I was 22, when we’re all 22, we would have the college career counselors, they’d be like, “Oh, you should reach out to people and pick their brain.” And many people, again, when you’re 22, fine, but many people just kept with that, and that’s still their approach, and it should not be the approach of a seasoned professional.

If you are dealing with someone, you want to be showing empathy for their situation. And if you know that that person is, and you got to think about it, but if you actually, when you rationally think about it, realize, “This person is probably getting 10, 20, 50 emails per week with people asking for something,” you have to be mindful of what your ask is and contextualize it properly. And so, if you’re just sort of blithely saying, “Oh, can I have, for no reason at all, an undifferentiated amount of your time?” that’s actually not really being a sophisticated consumer. And so, I think that we need to…we all need to be more thoughtful in terms of how we approach people.

I actually did an analysis of the emails that I received a while back, and I discovered that, in the course of a week, I got somewhere between 10 and 11 requests per day for something. Now, sometimes it was a coffee or a meal, sometimes it was a, “Hey, will you share this on social media?” Sometimes it was a, “Will you blurb my book?” or, “Will you do this?” And many of them were from great friends, and I would be glad to do it. That’s totally fine.

But we all have to recognize for ourselves and when we’re dealing with others, if someone is getting 70 requests in a week, it is just foolish for that person to say yes to all of them. You have to triage and protect it so that I can say yes to you, Pete, and not some random person who is sort of barging in with inappropriate request.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Was it Jim Carrey where he says yes? Is it Yes Man? With all the chaos that ensues with the yes to everything. Yes, that’s helpful and thought-provoking both in terms of as the requester and the potential grantor of requests, like how to do that well. Well, thanks, Dorie. We went really deep there.

Dorie Clark
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s zoom out for a bit. Any other critical ideas from The Long Game that you think folks looking to be awesome at their jobs should know about?

Dorie Clark
Yeah. Well, I’ll just add one piece to where we were going before, which is, ultimately, if you want to actually be true to your vision, if you actually want to accomplish whatever your long-term goal is, it is not just about the people around you and saying no. We often fail to think about the opportunity costs when some requests or something is coming at us, some opportunity. We often think, “Should I do this thing or not?” And that’s not really the right question. It is actually, what we should be asking, is, “Should I be doing this thing or any other thing in the world that would take approximately that amount of time?”

And so, we have to contextualize it because if there’s a goal that you truly care about, that needs to be a north star in your mind so that you are carving out time so you can really do that and fulfilling your agenda rather than everyone else’s agenda for you. So, just connecting with that point, one area that I talk about that’s related in The Long Game is a concept that I call being willing to say no to good things.

Of course, we understand that we should say no to the bad things. It might be hard or that you worry that you might be hurting people’s feelings or something like that, but, ultimately, we get it. But where we really develop the kind of ninja-level skill, and this is very hard for all of us, is that if we want to leave room to pursue what actually is great, what is a great opportunity or a really important thing for us, if something is nearly good, we also need to be willing to say no to that. And the discipline to do that is really what can set us apart and make us extraordinary.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Boy, Dorie, we’re two peas in a pod here when you talk about saying no and sort of the alternative is like everything else that you could be doing. And I remember the first time I learned about the concept of opportunity costs in an economics high school course, it freaked me out. I’m just like, “Holy crap, so you’re saying in choosing to do one thing I’m saying no to everything else on the planet every time. Whoa!”

It kind of shook me up actually for a few weeks. It’s like a random day in economics class, a day in high school. But it’s the reality of the matter with regard to where you can funnel your time, and that’s really powerful when you’re thinking about those long-term objectives that you’re shooting for and how to get there.

I guess I want to hear your take in terms of the…well, if it’s diet or exercise or smoking or video games, anyway there’s a whole host of ways we humans have a knack for going after that instant gratification at the expense of long-term stuff. So, do you have any tips or perspectives or reframes that could help people when they’re in the heat of battle and they have a temptation to do something that maybe feel good or short term when they’d be better to do something more long-term oriented?

Dorie Clark
Oh, as someone who ate a large ice cream sundae last night, I can totally speak to this. But to be fair, I planned. I planned that sundae. I saved up for that sundae but, nonetheless. I think there’s a couple of things that we can keep in mind. And one of them, in The Long Game I tell the story of a woman named Kim Cantergiani who was a busy mom, a busy wife, had a great job as she was a C-suite executive at a nonprofit. And the thing that always fell through the cracks was her health, and she had gained weight that she wanted to lose, and she just had not been able to do it.

And, ultimately, for her, what proved successful is she created a pound-a-thon campaign where she publicly pledged to all her friends, and she got them signed up, that for every pound she lost, that they would donate X amount of money to the local Battered Women Shelter. And so, at that point, it became about something bigger than herself. She was going to be letting down other people if she did not lose weight.

And so, she told me, she said, “After that, I really couldn’t be seen walking around with chips and a Diet Pepper after that.” So, I think sometimes it’s about external accountability and tapping into the bigger picture of a cause outside yourself. And the third point that I’ll make is that oftentimes it’s really about committing to a date certain for something, because humans, we love to kind of blur the lines or make exceptions or, “Oh, I could do this a little later.”

But I tell a story of a woman named Sam Horn who was a very successful speaker, author, just running herself ragged in the pre-COVID world, traveling everywhere, giving these talks. And she decided that what she really wanted to do, it’d been a longstanding goal, is she wanted to move near the water, and actually not just one place. Not like get a lake house, but she wanted to spend an entire year as kind of a digital nomad, living by the water in beautiful places, like Florida and Hawaii. And she ended up doing it but she said the only reason was that she just forced herself to commit. She circled October 1st on her calendar and she made herself happen. And she said, “If I didn’t have a date, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, Dorie, tell me, any final thoughts about the long game before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dorie Clark
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete. I will just mention, for anybody that wants to dive in further to strategic thinking and creating a long-term vision, that I have a free resource, which is a Long Game Strategic Thinking Self-Assessment, and folks can get it for free at DorieClark.com/thelonggame.

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

Dorie Clark
One of my favorite quotes is actually one from Theodore Roosevelt, and I love it because, fundamentally, to me, long-term planning is important but it’s acting toward those long-term goals. It’s about the action. And his quote is, “In any moment of uncertainty, the best thing to do is the right thing. The next best thing to do is the wrong thing. And the worst thing to do is nothing.” And so, I think we learn by taking action, and, to me, that quote exemplifies it.

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

Dorie Clark
So, I have to pick a sentimental favorite. I actually talk a lot about this in The Long Game as well, is the famous marshmallow study by Walter Mischel, talking about, “Do you take one marshmallow now or two if you wait 15 minutes?” If we can figure out how to crack that code, that’s the ultimate in long-term thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Dorie Clark
One of the things that was most inspiring to me as I was starting my business and my business career was the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Pete Mockaitis
Had him on the show. So amazing.

Dorie Clark
He is. It’s so beautifully written. It is so engaging. And I think it just taught me so much about life, so I really respect the work that he’s done.

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

Dorie Clark
Yes, a favorite tool that I use, actually all the time, is Google Translate. I feel like these days, I’m working with so many people internationally, and where I can, at least learn a few phrases or say something as kind of a tip of the hat for them and their culture, I try to do that. So, I enjoy using that tool for connecting with people across borders.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you’ve been sharing that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Dorie Clark
Well, one of the things that I feel like seems to be resonating for people a lot, perhaps especially coming out of COVID, is a concept that I talk about in The Long Game called thinking in waves. And the basic idea is that, oftentimes, when we feel stuck, we feel like we’re in a rut, the problem is that we are, essentially, trying to just keep doing more of the same thing, and it’s the same thing that we’re good at, or the same thing that we’ve gotten results at. And, unfortunately, one of the things about being a successful human and a successful professional is that we actually have to do different things and we have to shift into a different wave.

And so, one of the most important things, I believe, is that we need to recognize, “Okay, which wave are we in? And where are we in the cycle? And how can we shift?” So, as just one example, for a lot of people, many of whom, frankly, have been kind of hard on themselves about this, they may have had a lot of extra home responsibilities or family responsibilities during COVID, and it’s not like you had a lot of choice in that. That’s sort of what the situation called for. We can’t beat ourselves up about it. But the important thing is to recognize that if we are playing the long game legitimately, then we need to lengthen the time that we’re looking at, and realize that it’s not necessarily about having perfect work-life balance, let’s say, during a set period of time.

During the past 18 months, you probably didn’t have very good work-life balance, but what you can do is actually make a choice to over-index in other areas. And once you are able to re-allocate some of that energy toward work, or toward non-family relationships, like friends, and deepening connections, and things like that, or if you’ve been going crazy with work, working way too hard, that’s fine in the short term. Sometimes you need to do that in order to be successful, but the problem comes when you do that always.

And so, it’s just understanding what wave are you in and how can you transition successfully so that over a long-enough period of time, you are getting the balance that you need.

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

Dorie Clark
One of the final challenges that I will suggest to people is in The Long Game I talk about a concept that I call optimize for interesting. And we all know that in our culture, oftentimes, things are a little bit polarized. It’s either, according to conversations, it’s either that we’re optimizing for our passion or we’re just making money, “Okay, let’s get some money.” I feel like those are fine options. They all have their limitations.

But because not all of us necessarily even know what our passion is, or it might change over time, or maybe your passion isn’t something that you can or that you want to monetize, what I like to suggest that we have as one potential orientation is the idea of optimizing for interesting. Because even if you don’t know what your passion is, for sure, you know what you find interesting. There’s hobbies, there’s things, you know what, some people really like birds. Guess what? If you like birds, you know it. If you’re not into birds, you also know that.

Some people are into wine, some people are into golf, some people are into football, some people are into theater. Optimize and try to direct your discretionary time and learning and knowledge and effort toward things that you find interesting. And you really can’t go wrong because you will enjoy the process, you will get more data, and you will learn things about yourself. And if it stops being interesting, no problem. Just pivot to something else.

Pete Mockaitis
Dorie, thank you. It’s always a treat. I wish you much success in the long game.

Dorie Clark
Pete, thank you. Always a pleasure to be here with you.

686: How to Make Your Next Career Move Your Best Move with Kimberly Cummings

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Kimberly Cummings shares her top tips on how to make career transitions easier.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make the next best move for your career
  2. The key indicators that it’s time to explore other options
  3. How to identify power players–and become one yourself 

 

About Kimberly

Kimberly B. Cummings is a leading career and leadership development expert and an accomplished speaker and podcast host whose mission is to empower women and people of color in the workplace. Her personal and professional development company, Manifest Yourself, LLC, provides in-person and virtual workshops, trainings, and coaching to professionals looking to lead a dynamic career and life. 

Kimberly has had the opportunity to speak to and create workshops for many organizations, including the New Jersey Conference for Women, Ellevate Network, Urban League, Princeton University and National Sales Network, SXSW, among others. She is also on the Board of Directors for The Power of You Teens organization. Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning into a Career You’ll Love is her first book. 

Resources Mentioned

Kimberly Cummings Interview Transcript

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

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much for having me. Very excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about how you’ve studied vocal jazz for 10 years. What’s the story here? And any interesting adventures come from that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, definitely, I think growing up, I was a kid who always liked to sing. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “Whitney Houston.” That’s what I thought was going to be the career path for me, and I took piano lessons for a bit but I kept on trying to sing. But piano takes a little bit more skill to kind of learn the chords and all those things. My voice clearly was much more advanced than my hands were so I went to vocal lessons. And, oh, my gosh, I absolutely loved it, all the great Ella Fitzgeralds, the Sarah Vaughans. I actually performed a 26-song concert in 2005 to raise money for kids.

Pete Mockaitis
Twenty-six songs.

Kimberly Cummings
Yup, I had a pop set and a jazz set. And I say that I’m retired after winning every talent show in undergrad, mind you. I retired. So, now, I only sing for folks who know that I sing. Sadly, it’s more funerals or weddings and things like that. But you can hear me in the shower or in the elevator. There’s great acoustics there too.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you sing in your speaking on stage?

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, no. I’m fully retired.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there we are. So, you’ve retired and you’ve moved on into the world of career and leadership development. So, yeah, tell me, when it comes to people and their careers, often you end up working with folks who feel stuck. What leads to people feeling stuck in their careers?

Kimberly Cummings
Many times, I really believe it’s not having a plan. If you don’t have a plan to take yourself to the next level, it’s very easy to get stuck in your career. Not knowing what your next move is, not understanding what your own skills and strengths and how those manifests in the workplace, a lot of times people can find themselves being underemployed or unappreciated because they have no idea, they’re essentially treating jobs like old boyfriends or girlfriends, romantic partners, in that they’re just like they keep going on to the next. They get a little bored, they go to the next, they go to the next, hoping that it will get better and better and better and it never really does if you don’t have a plan in place to make strategic career moves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then when it comes to forming that plan, where do you recommend we start?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the first stop is really understanding your own skillset and your strengths. I like to have folks who work with me go through a full assessment of all of their strengths, all of their opportunities, all of their weaknesses, their gaps, and really get clear on, “What are the skills that they’ve gained from every single job that they’ve had?” Every single job. That long resume that no one really ever looks at, the one you probably can’t even send to anyone that has every job on there and literally look back and say, “What have you learned? What are your strengths? What are the things you want to continue to use?”

“And what are the things that you no longer want to use? And how can we start to build a career based upon your strengths? And if you don’t have the strengths that you need to get to the next area, what are the things that we need to work on? What are the gaps that we need to attack in order to make your next move?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, you mentioned a full assessment. What are some of the key tools or resources or questions or things folks work through to get that picture?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the assessment really begins with you. Where are you? What have you done? What are the key skills you’ve gained from all of your jobs? What is the feedback that you’ve consistently been receiving from leaders? And if you don’t have that feedback, we walk through how to get that feedback using a simple start-stop-continue exercise with people in your industry and people who worked with you.

Of course, there are traditional assessments we can do. I’m a big fan of StrengthsFinder or Strengths Profile by Cappfinity. Those are also great as well but I want the baseline to always be the experiences because, generally, where you’ve gained your experiences, how you gained your experiences, what you’re taking away in terms of skill sets and strengths, that’s the baseline for you making your next move. So, the assessment really focuses on where you’ve been and what you’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you talked about how to get that feedback. So, start-stop-continue is a good way to organize the conversation. But how do you recommend folks specifically say, “Hey, tell me what I should start, stop, and continue doing?” Or, how do you recommend approaching that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I always recommend finding time to have career conversations with your management. Many times, folks have one-on-ones, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or team meetings, and those are focused on doing the work but career conversations are a little bit different. So, I always recommend that people reach out to their leader, and ask, “Hey, I’d love to have a one-on-one with you but focused on my career.” And ask them simple questions like, “What is it that I should continue to do in my role? What are you seeing as good skill sets that I’m building? What do I need to stop doing? What is going to prevent me from moving to the next level? And what do you need to see more of?”

And the big question I always ask for folks who are thinking about making their next move before it’s time for them to make their next move is the big question of, “What do you need to see from me in order to know that I’m ready to get to the next level, I’m ready to make the next move?” so you’re not asking that question when you’re applying for the new job. You want to ask that question well before it’s time for you to have to apply.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a fine question. And, yeah, as I imagine that scenario, I think there’s probably any number of unsatisfying answers you might get, like, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Kimberly Cummings
That’s a fan favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not quite the right…that’s not helpful.

Kimberly Cummings
No, not at all.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do you recommend pushing or digging a little more?

Kimberly Cummings
Now, 100% just like you said, that is the age-old, “Oh, my gosh, you’re fabulous. Things are great. End time.” It’s like, no. If you’re not getting good feedback from your leader, I recommend asking other folks, asking your peers, asking other people who’ve also been promoted, and sharing your experiences so they can share a little bit more insight on what it takes to move to that next level.

And then, also, honestly, having a candid conversation advocating for yourself, like, “Thank you so much. I love hearing that you think I’m doing really, really well. However, I want to make sure that I can be extremely planful, that I actually have a plan. Is there any direct feedback that you’d be able to provide me? Like, what is it that means that I’m doing really well? How do you know that I’m doing really well? What are the indicators for that?”

Or, even if you could call up someone else, like, “I saw that Joe got promoted last year into a similar role. What was it that made you know that Joe was ready?” Try and push back to advocate for yourself just a little bit more because feedback is hard. It’s very hard. Leaders don’t like it, employees don’t like it, so it’s really pushing the needle. And if they say that they need a little bit of time to think about it, make sure you circle back and push again.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I think that is the perfect response along those lines of, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” It’s like, “Well, I couldn’t help but notice I wasn’t promoted,” in the nice or professional diplomatic way that you get there because, yeah, those are the realities, is that there is something…well, unless the organization is just broken, which I’ve seen some of. There is something that causes people to move up, “What is it? And am I doing it? And how can I do more of it?” Perfect.

And then you mentioned doing this prior to when you start applying to other jobs because you’re ready to be out of there. What are some of the key indicators that it may, indeed, be appropriate to move on and out from a current role or organization?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I’m really big on role mastery and impact. So, when you have essentially mastered your role, when you are doing things with ease, when people are asking for assistance because you know that you have it down, when you’ve built relationships in your role so you have…I always talk about four key relationships that you need. So, you have great peers that you’ve networked with, you have teachers who can help you if you need help, or sometimes people call them coaches, and you have mentors, and you have sponsorships. You have those four key relationships.

If you know where your role fits within an organization, like, “What does your role do?” Every role has a purpose in helping the company reach some type of milestone, even if you feel like it’s a small piece. Like, there’s a reason why that role was hired. Once you really know those things and you could think about, “What is the value you contributed to that role? Have you been able to innovate? Have you been able to move the needle?” Once you’ve been able to do some of those things, then it’s time to start thinking like, “Okay. Well, I think it’s time I start exploring whatever the next move is in this role, whether it’s internal to the company or external.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then if we are looking to transition away, what are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Kimberly Cummings
The most common mistakes I see are people relying on the amount of time that they’ve been at the company. Many times, people are like, “Oh, I’ve been here a year,” or, “I’ve been here two years. It’s time for me.” It’s like, “No, there’s people who’ve been in roles for 10 years who still aren’t ready.” The reality is you have to make an impact. You have to articulate value and what you’re going to do moving into that area.

And I’m not sure what your feedback is on what I’m about to say next, but I think that, many times people want to not do a tinge more work to showcase that they’re ready for the next role, especially for folks who are moving internally. They’re a manager, want to be a director. An analyst, want to be a manager. Whatever it is.

But what I explain to folks is that in your role, you’re essentially in a box. Like, this is the role of the manager. You’re doing everything that needs to be done within this box. When you’re ready to move to the next box of the director, you have to showcase that you’re ready to leave that box to go to the next level. And in order to showcase that, you almost have to show people like a little bit. Give them a touch of what they’ll see from you as a director. And it’s important that you start doing a few of those things, making sure that you’re aligning more to a director role than you are to a manager role so people can literally see you in it.

A lot of times, when there’s a job search that’s happening, I used to work in talent acquisition as well, and when you have someone who is internal applying to a job, and you have someone also who’s external, the internal person, you’ve essentially been in the longest interview of your life. They see you every single day. They know you. And if they have questions, like, “Well, why didn’t so-and-so start doing this already? Well, l really don’t see them doing this. They’re doing so well in their current role.”

Versus an external person can come in and just sell them the world because they don’t know them, they’ve never seen their work, and they can easily align to that director role. So, I think it’s really important that when you’re thinking about moving, you start thinking a little bit more on the level you’d like to be on versus the level that you’re currently at.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And, well, if you wanted my feedback on what you said with regard to doing a touch more work, I think that’s the right answer to advance in your career. But I think it’s also true, what you said is that a lot of people don’t want to do it, yeah, because it’s like, “Well, I’m not getting paid for that. I don’t have the title. It’s like they’re not paying me to do that, so it’s unfair or not justified in the give-and-take relationship between me and employer to do that while being paid what I’m currently paid.”

But what I’ve seen is that frequently your fastest movers and shakers are already doing the next job, and the promotion is kind of a formality, like, “Hey, you’re already doing this. We’d be embarrassed if we didn’t give you the title or the raise, promotion, etc. associated with that.” So, yeah, I think that’s kind of how it shakes out.

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, God, I’m happy we’re aligned there because some folks are like, “Nuh-uh, don’t give them a preview till you get the paycheck,” and I’m like, “Nah, you get the paycheck when you give them a preview.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. Indeed. And so then, when it comes to the networking world, you’ve got some perspective on identifying power players. Can you tell us how do we find them and build great relationships with them?

Kimberly Cummings
So, in every industry, I strongly believe that there are power players. They are people who are at the head of the curve, the people who are the key stakeholders who everyone listens to. There are always a few key people that are great to really look at as sponsors in your network. So, the way I always try to identify them are looking up professional associations. Who’s speaking at the conferences?

If you’re at the conferences, virtual or in person, whose room is packed out every single time? Who is it that has your boss’ ear or your skip leader? Who’s the person who really has the power to make the decisions and you see being frequently called upon? Those are what I call the power players, the people where a business doesn’t happen unless you hear from them first, where they have a significant influence over whatever is happening in the workplace.

When we’re talking about power players, one of the key words there is influence. Same thing with sponsors. They have to be able to influence and impact change. Otherwise, they really aren’t a power player in the industry. So, when you start seeing people speaking at events, or people always tapping that person, you know that person has power in the workplace. And my key is always finding a way to get in the room with them. How can you get as close as possible, again, virtual or in person?

I think you could still do it virtually. In some respects, virtual can even be a little bit easier than trying to navigate yourself into a room in person. But find a way to get in the room. And whether it’s interacting with that individual at the event, even as simple as asking a really great question, or being super active in the virtual chat. Find a way to get involved with that power player and initiate some time, whether it’s a 15-minute meeting to introduce yourself, learn more about them, or attending quite a few events.

If I’m very honest, there are some people who I have relationships with now where it took me years to build a relationship. It wasn’t one time to get on their radar. It was multiple events, multiple things before I reached out and got any individual time with that person. I think, especially when you’re looking for someone who has influence, it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to be a quick one, two, three the first time you try to hear back.

And if you can’t get in touch with that person, I recommend also looking at who’s around them. So, let’s say there is a senior SVP in your workplace and you want to get in touch with them but you know you have not had any luck on getting on their calendar. Well, then who are their direct reports? Let’s see if we can get in contact with them and work your way around, so the next time when you try, you already have some relationships that are close and someone else who can refer you or make an introduction. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time to get that power player.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so then, so you stick with it and you keep your eyes open. You ask for those recommendations and you’re watching. And then how do you yourself become such a power player?

Kimberly Cummings
Again, I think that’s so much about impact and value. It’s about being a subject matter expert, being the SME in your area. Many times, people believe that leaders have to have this big title, they have to be the SVP, the director, the super long title that is confusing, and you can barely say it yourself. But I really believe that everybody has the ability to be a leader.

You are hired for any particular role. That role has tasks and responsibilities. Regardless of your seniority, you need to be the subject matter expert for your role. Nobody needs to do that role better than you are doing that role. You have to lead in that role. When you are leading in your role, so you’ve mastered it, you are the person who they come to for questions or concerns, you have networked yourself appropriately so people also know that you are the best at that role.

You’re not just behind closed doors or in your virtual office, not speaking to anyone. That’s really how you can start positioning yourself as the go-to person and, ultimately, positioning yourself as a leader or the power player in your area. And, also, having that strategy, so knowing what’s next, which means having some of those tough career conversations even if your leader isn’t kind of giving you what you need, making sure that you kind of push forward or find someone else who can give you that feedback.

Having that strategy so you can continuously be evolving your career and moving to the next level, that will slowly but surely be able to position you. And, you know, for some folks, it takes time. For me, even thinking about my own career, for a long time, my goal was to be a director of career services in higher education. I spent nearly 10 years in career services offices working with people at 18 who don’t know what they want to do with their entire life, to people who are in their 60s who want to use all their experience and use that to kind of launch into something that just makes them happy in the world of work.

And I wanted to just be a director of career services running a large office. That was it. And I knew that in order to move to the next level, this wasn’t an arena where I’d be able to stay in one office unless I wanted to stay in one office for like 10 to 15 years to slowly work my way up. So, every two years, I made sure I knew what my next move was, I understood the skills that I needed to gain with each strategic move in order to build a career for myself, and also increase my influence.

I participated in conferences. I spoke at conferences. I always made sure I was able to level up in my career. And, ultimately, I did not get that director of career services job, but I became a director in a global Fortune 100 company in financial services leading some of their diversity talent acquisition recruitment efforts. So, you just have to make sure that you’re continuously leveling up and having a strategy for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thanks for sharing your story there. And could you share also the story of someone you think did a fine job of kind of integrating all of these learnings and seen some cool results?

Kimberly Cummings
Definitely, success stories. Like, everyone always loves success stories. I have a current client who I was working with who came to me because they were feeling stuck, they’re in one of those jobs that we talked about earlier, Pete, where they were just kind of over it. They felt underemployed, definitely underpaid, and they really wanted to start positioning themselves for leadership roles.

Then when we first started working together, she just wanted to get on track. So, we went through the assessment, we went through kind of understanding all of the skillsets, was she in a career that was aligned to what her goals were. And at that time, she was but she didn’t have the level of seniority that she wanted. She didn’t have the impact that she was looking for.

So, for that particular person, we worked a lot on the relationships. How can we start making sure people know about the work that she’s doing, networking, cultivating some of those sponsors, some of those mentors? And, in about three to six months, I think probably around the five-month mark, if I have my memory serves me right, she’d been applying to jobs and she finally landed a role.

And because she’d done so much work with building relationships, understanding her own personal and professional brand, she rocked this interview process, making sure that she was finally positioned for a role. A lot of it was the language she was using to make sure that she was no longer underemployed and being in a role that was in much better alignment.

She negotiated a $35,000 salary increase. She got added to a committee right away that was aligned with some of her career goals. And she was able to speak a lot about career pathing even in her interview process, so she knew what would be the next step for her, being very candid about looking for longevity in an employer and not just for a defined role.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you.

Kimberly Cummings
No problem.

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

Kimberly Cummings
No, I think this is good. I think you had me cover it all. I love how actionable all of our questions are.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, there’s a quote by India Arie. It is, “The only thing constant in this world is change.” I put it in my high school yearbook, and I think it’s so, so, so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kimberly Cummings
I really like the research on diversity, equity, and inclusion when it comes to privilege. I’ve been doing a lot of research on that, kind of looking into more of the privilege walks. I know Drexel has a lot of information on that arena.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Kimberly Cummings
So, my new favorite book is Winning is Everything by Tim S. Grover.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I think StrengthsFinder, the assessment, is one of my favorites. It helps you understand yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Kimberly Cummings
I live and die by a planner and a task-list system that I use. I have it every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m now intrigued. What’s the system?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I use Asana but better than that, I really do it in my notebook every single day. I prioritize my tasks by functional area, and for my business, by revenue impact in order of importance. I have a little color code system too. I’ll have to take a screenshot for you, but it helps me knock out even more every single day by having all those priorities in line and make sure that I’m working on what actually needs to get done versus the mini-tasks that we do all day that keep us from doing the big thing that we should be doing.

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

Kimberly Cummings
A lot of it is around confidence. I think I have a quote from my business, my manifesto that I always share. It’s, “You must believe in yourself and your vision. When you do this, you’ll manifest the life you desire.” And I share this a lot because when we’re trying to make any type of career change, I think the number one thing you have to do before we get into all the strategy pieces is believe that it’s actually possible for you.

And a lot of times, when we start talking about that, people are like, “Oh, my gosh, like that really resonates. Like, I didn’t even think that that was important. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been moving.” It’s, like, you have to believe that whatever you want to do is possible for you.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I would point them to KimberlyBCummings.com. I’m also on all the social places. So, Instagram and LinkedIn are probably my favorite. LinkedIn, it’s my name, and Instagram is kimbcummings.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, shameless plug or not so shameless because you said I can share. But I’m a very brand-new author. So, in June 2021, I wrote a book Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love and it is available wherever books are sold. And this is the process to help you put together a two-year career strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kimberly, thank you. This has been a treat and I wish you lots of luck in each of your moves.

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much.

681: How to Achieve Greatness without Talent or Hard Work with Ron Friedman

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Ron Friedman says: "Measurement begets performance"

Ron Friedman provides a third path to greatness through reverse engineering.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to reverse-engineer greatness 
  2. How to train people to give you better feedback
  3. The 5 minute trick that will boost your performance by 20% 

About Ron

Ron Friedman, PhD, is an award-winning psychologist who has served on the faculty of the several prestigious colleges in the United States and has consulted for political leaders, nonprofits, and many of the world’s most recognized brands. Popular accounts of his research have appeared in major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, the Globe and Mail, The Guardian, as well as magazines such as Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today. 

Ron is the founder of ignite80, a learning and development company that translates research in neuroscience, human physiology and behavioral economics into practical strategies that help working professionals become healthier, happier and more productive. His first book, The Best Place to Work, was selected as an Inc. Magazine Best Business Book of the Year. 

Resources Mentioned

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Ron Friedman Interview Transcript

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

Ron Friedman
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom you’ve put forward in your latest book.

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

Ron Friedman
Great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom that you’ve packaged in your latest book Decoding Greatness, which, in fact, releases on the very day we’re recording this conversation. How is that going? Is it a crazy week for you?

Ron Friedman
You know, it’s an interesting experience. It is my second book. A friend of mine asked me, “What is it like to have this out in the world?” And I think the experience of going from zero to one is qualitatively different than going from one to two. It’s still exciting but you know what to expect now. And I think the first time is a little bit more nerve-wracking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I remember when the release date for my book happened, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is the day. This is the day. This is the day.” But all that really changed was on Amazon, it switched from like pre-order to order.

Ron Friedman
That’s exactly right. And so much of the actual launch activity happens way before the launch and it’s actually very a little bit anticlimactic. It’s not like a movie premiere where you get to see people’s reactions. It’s like you don’t see the reaction for a very long time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Well, I have a feeling the reaction is going to be strong because I’m excited by what I’ve read thus far. So, the book is called Decoding Greatness. First of all, just to be on the same page, what do we mean by greatness?

Ron Friedman
Greatness is top performance in your field, whatever that may be. So, if you’re a writer, it could be someone like Malcolm Gladwell. If you’re an elected official, it could be someone like Donald Trump or, in some cases, Barack Obama. It really depends on what it is that you do and who it is that you want to understand a little bit better. And what this book is about is it gives you a process for identifying what makes a particular work unique so that you can learn from it in a little bit more analytically and then apply that to your work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds exciting. Could you maybe share with us a story that illustrates what it looks like in practice how someone goes about decoding greatness and the cool results that flow from doing that?

Ron Friedman
Absolutely. So, one of my favorite stories in this book is how Kurt Vonnegut, the famous writer, would reverse-engineer or deconstruct famous stories. And what he would do is he would take stories and map the protagonist’s fortunes on a graph. So, in other words, he would take a story and turn it into a picture.

And so, on the X-axis, at the bottom, you would have from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. On the Y-axis, on the vertical axis, you would see the protagonist’s fortune. So, how are things going for the main character? Are things going well? Are things going poorly? And by the end, he would have a picture.

And what he noticed, as he did this, is that the vast majority of stories that we fall in love with are basically the same story retold with different characters. So, a great illustration is Cinderella versus Annie. They’re basically the same story. So, at the beginning for both characters, things are going poorly. Annie is an orphan; Cinderella is being abused by her stepmother and stepsisters. They get rescued. There’s a ball, or in the case of Annie, she goes to the home of Daddy Warbucks. Then things go horribly wrong. The clock strikes midnight, Annie gets kidnapped by people pretending to be her parents. And then, finally, there’s a climax and things are resolved. They live happily ever after. Same story, different characters.

And we don’t notice it because it’s so well-told that we just find them both fascinating. Once you understand that you have a tool for this, for stepping back and getting the bigger picture on seeing why something at work is working, you can use it in all kinds of places. So, another great example of this is in the case of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

So, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is a great story. The first time you read it, you can’t help but fall in love with the characters, and the settings, and the fascinating storyline. But then, after a little while, you take maybe on a summer picnic, you start thinking about it, and then you realize, “Wait a second. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a story about an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle, who’s whisked away in an adventure and has to fight an evil villain using magical powers.” There’s another story just like that, and it’s Star Wars. And it illustrates the power of just stepping back and seeing what’s really happening at the story level that you can apply to any work not just fiction.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, this can apply to fiction. You start with a great story in your book about Xerox and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It’s actually so good just to tell it. It was riveting. Let’s hear it.

Ron Friedman
Oh, I appreciate you saying that. It’s a story of how it is that we got the personal computer. And back in the 1980s, computers looked nothing like the sleek intuitive devices that we all use today. If you wanted a computer to do anything, you’d have to reach out for a keyboard and input a rigid text-based language to input your instructions. And today, of course, we do none of that. We just have a mouse, we point and click, and everything is represented visually.

That innovation is called graphic user interface. It’s GUI for short, people in Silicon Valley refer to it as GUI. And Steve Jobs was about to go to market with the Macintosh which was going to be the first personal computer with a graphic user interface, and he’s beaten to the punch, and it turns out Bill Gates is about to launch Windows just before the Macintosh is about to reach market.

Now, these two were not competitors. Microsoft and Windows, I mean, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Microsoft and Apple, were not competitors at the time. In fact, Microsoft and Bill Gates were a vendor for Apple. They were writing software for the Macintosh. And so, Steve Jobs was furious. He felt like he had been stolen from. He felt like this was his innovation and Bill Gates stole it from him.

And so, there’s this showdown, that’s the opening of my book, in which Jobs accuses Gates of having stolen his technology, and Gates’ response was, “Well, actually, Steve, it wasn’t you I stole it from. It was Xerox.” And in both of their stories, it was the inconvenient fact that they had both seen what Xerox was working on, Xerox Alto, which was a computer with a graphic user interface that wasn’t directed at the consumer market but rather to large businesses, and Xerox didn’t see the potential of that technology for developing the personal computers because they never thought personal computers were going to catch on. And they thought that really typing was the domain of secretaries. It really wasn’t for the everyday individual, and so they were sitting on it.

And so, Steve Jobs, after seeing the Alto, reverse-engineered it by telling his team what they did so that they could work backwards to figure out how they can recreate something similar but evolve it in a different direction because it wasn’t simply the recreation of the Alto. In the case of Apple, they were looking to add artistic fonts and making computers user-friendly. And Bill Gates also saw the Alto, told his team about it, and they were working to create personal computers that were affordable to a mass audience.

And so, both of them took an underutilized idea, the Xerox Alto and its graphic user interface, and applied it in different directions. And that turns out to be the approach that many of us simply aren’t educated about. We don’t hear these stories about how ideas are built upon previously existing ideas. And so, what I wanted to do in this book is give people the tools for learning from the best in their field so that they can evolve those ideas in different directions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so cool. So, that seems like the value of this concept is self-evident or already illustrated with these examples. Like, if we see something that’s great, we can kind of figure out, “Hey, what made it great?” and then we too can make great things. So, that’s awesome whether you want to be awesome at your job, or singing, or maybe any number of skills or results you want to create out there in the world. So, then how do we go about doing that?

I guess Kurt Vonnegut, that’s kind of clever. I don’t know if he reverse-engineered the idea of how to go about reverse-engineering, but it’s like, “You know what, I’m just going to go ahead and graph this on an X-Y plane and see what goes down.” How do you recommend we begin the process of we noticed something that we like or want or want to replicate, and then what?

Ron Friedman
So, the first step in this process is to collect great examples. And when we think about collections, we tend to think about physical objects. So, some people I know collect stamps. My dad collected stamps. People collect wines. They collect shoes. But that definition of collections as physical objects turns out to be too narrow. There are collections that designers have of logos that they have found impactful. Writers collect words or headlines. Presenters collect presentation decks.

And when you have a collection, then you can look through it to identify, “What are the things that make it different from items that didn’t make my collection?” So, it’s like playing a game of spot the difference which is a game we all played as kids where you have two visuals side by side, and you compare them, you say, “Hey, what’s different about this one? What stands out for me?”

And through this process of using spot the difference with items in your collections against items that didn’t make your collection, you’re able to identify what it is that makes successful works unique. And that’s a process that can help you identify the ingredients that make something really effective. So, for example, you might come across a memo that’s particularly well-written, an email that really gets you to take action, a website that you want to opt-in for.

And developing a collection by either putting things in Google Docs, or adding bookmarks, or even using Pinterest, that gives you a resource you can turn to when it’s time for you to start creating something new that is far different than just staring at a blank page.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that so much and I guess I have not the most organized of collections but I have noticed things, like, “Ooh, why do I love that? Like, that’s grabbing me.” And I think it might just be a little bit of copywriting. Like, well, copywriters, you mentioned collecting headlines. They call them swipe files, it’s like, “I’m going to swipe this or modify this a little bit to be persuasive.”

And I saw something, this is for a property management company, and it said, like, “One hundred percent occupancy. One hundred percent market rents. You should expect nothing less.” I was like, “Whoa!” and it’s like, “Why is that amazing?” It’s like because it is exactly to the maximum what a property owner would want from a property manager, and boldly put, front and center, and that’s awesome.

Or, like Andreessen Horowitz, I love their slide decks. On SlideShare, I’ve gotten a few of those, I was like, “Why do I love this so much?” And it’s like, “Oh, because the slide headline makes one great point and then has compelling data that share that as opposed to just being like revenue over time.” What about the revenue over time? It’s like, “Oh, this sector has grown rapidly.” Then I say, “Oh, yeah, sure enough. Those companies in that industry, I see their growth over time,” and I can’t argue with those numbers. They convey that point.

And so, you get a collection and then you think about it. And what’s interesting is sometimes it leaps out at you with a quick question, like, “Oh, why do I like this?” And other times, it seems you got to dig a little deeper. And you suggested kind of comparing collections of greatness versus not-so greatness.

Ron Friedman
Yeah, looking at the difference between ordinary against the extraordinary, so what makes this unique. What I think is interesting about the fact that you’ve noticed that this works for you is that more people need to know that. And I think so many of us assume that we need to come up with great ideas on our own without having any kind of direction from the works of people who preceded us, but that’s not how creative ideas happen.

Creative ideas happen through the process of combining winning ideas from different fields or different sectors in new ways. And the last thing you want to do when you’re looking for creativity is to work in isolation because then, invariably, you will just keep considering coming back to the same ideas again and again and again. But when you have that swipe file or that collection you can turn to, that’s a source of inspiration.

And I can tell you that, personally, as a writer, I collect great words, I collect, in other words, words that got me to sit up and pay attention on the page. I’ll circle them in a book and then I’ll move them over to a Google Doc. I have openings of stories that I think really set the tone really well. I have transitions, I have conclusions, and all of these resources enable me to pay closer attention when something works, identify why it’s working, and then, in certain cases, learn from that to apply to other things that I’m building.

And as I talk to creative professionals, as I was writing Decoding Greatness, invariably, I would get the same response from people who are in fields like design or writing. They would say, “I’ve been doing this all my life, and I’ve never read anything about it. I just kind of stumbled on this approach myself.” And what I tried to do in writing this book is give people the tools to learn a little faster from the best in their field so that they can accelerate their success.

I think so many of us assume that learning is what happens when we were at school, and now we’re kind to have to fend for ourselves. And this is a systematic approach you can use at any field. And just to make this concrete, we talked about what happens after you’ve got that collection. So, in Decoding Greatness one of the things I do is I take you through how to reverse-engineer winning TED Talk. And so, I give the example of Sir Ken Robinson who’s got the most popular TED Talk of all time.

And what I did was, with his TED Talk, is I looked at the transcript, and then I reverse-outlined it. So, everyone has heard of outlining. Outlining is the process of identifying bullet points for what you intend to put into a work later on, into an essay, or into an email, or into a document of some kind. Reverse outline allows you to use that same process but by taking a finished piece, and it could be somebody else’s finished piece.

So, here, what I did was I took the transcript to this TED Talk and I reverse-outlined it to show you what’s happening in every section of the talk, so now you see I’ve reduced a 20-minute talk into bullet points. And now you can see, okay, here’s a progression. Then I identified what is happening in terms of the emotional valence of every section. So, what is the emotional journey that Sir Ken Robinson takes you on?

And there are a few other things that I do in the book, but what the takeaway here is, when you do this analysis, what you discover is all kinds of interesting things, like the fact that Sir Ken Robinson relays one fact over the course of this entire talk. So, if I was writing a TED Talk from scratch, I would assume I need to pound away at multiple persuasive facts in order to convince you of my point. He does none of that and he’s got the most popular TED Talk of all time.

What he is doing differently is he’s telling you a lot of stories, a lot of emotionally engaging and funny stories. And that’s the thing that makes his talk memorable and gets people sharing it. And that tells you something really impactful for when you’re creating either a TED Talk or a presentation of any kind, which is that people want the facts to be there, but that’s not the thing that’s going to make you engaging. If you want to be engaging, you’ve got to do a ton of storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And so, the reversed outline is one particular tool that we can use if it is a piece of speaking or writing, and trying to see, “Hey, what made that great?” Lay on some more with us. So, if that’s for a piece of writing, I guess I’m curious if someone…let’s talk about skills. Like, let’s say, I don’t think I’m particularly handy and I’d kind of like to be. How might I go about decoding the greatness of those handy people who can just create and fix anything with just the greatest of ease?

Ron Friedman
Yeah, that’s interesting. So, I’ll say a couple of things. One is, first, let me just take a step back and just explain kind of the big idea for the book. The big idea is that we’ve been taught that greatness comes from one of two places. So, the first story is that great story comes from talent. This is the idea that you’re born with certain inner strengths, and that the key to finding your greatness is identifying a field that allows your inner strengths to shine.

The second story is a story of practice. This is the Malcolm Gladwell story of 10,000 hours, practice, practice, practice. Eventually, you get good enough and then you become a master. The third story though is one that is unique to creative fields, so it’s not necessarily applicable to handymen but it is applicable to when you’re trying to create something new, whether it be writing a song, creating a dish, or writing a book. And that is reverse engineering. And that simply means looking at finished examples and then working backwards to figure out how they were created.

And, as we mentioned, this is a popular thing that happens in Silicon Valley. There’s a whole history of products that were reverse-engineered and evolved. And yet, what most people don’t realize is that reverse engineering is also how Malcolm Gladwell learned to write, and how Claude Monet learned to paint, and how Judd Apatow became the great comedic writer that he is, So, working backwards turns out to be far more popular than anyone ever imagined.

And now, in the case of somebody whose physical skill you want to understand, there’s a chapter in the book on how to interview experts, and gives you the questions that you need to ask in order to learn from someone whose expertise you wish to deconstruct. One of the interesting things that you want to cover when you look at the research on the way that experts communicate is that experts, surprisingly, turn out to be pretty terrible instructors, and there are a number of reasons for that.

The primary reason why experts have a hard time communicating is because of the curse of knowledge. And so, the curse of knowledge simply states that knowing something makes it impossible to imagine not knowing it. And so, if I know how to fix an overflowing toilet and you don’t, if I tried to explain that to you, I’m probably going to miss some steps because some things that are obvious to me may not be obvious to you as a novice. That’s one of the issues.

The other issue is that they have automated large chunks of information and procedures that they don’t even consciously think about as they’re doing it so they’re missing a lot of information. And, in fact, I point to a study in “Decoding Greatness” where over 70% of their thought process somehow goes missing as they’re trying to explain to you how they go about doing things.

And so, here, what you want to do is you want to interview experts in a way that illuminates some of the discoveries they made along their journey. And so, just to give you an example of a type of question you might ask is, as somebody was training to become a handyman, what are some of the things that they thought would be important when they first started out, that turned out to be not very important. That’s a type of question that forces the expert to think about their initial entry into the field against where they are today.

And those types of questions where you’re forcing the person to think about their actual experience against their anticipated experience, that’s where they acknowledge some of the things that they’ve learned that they can then share to you and make your job a little bit easier.

Pete Mockaitis
And as I’m thinking about this, it’s going to be very, very mundane but it’s sort of like, “It seems like I strip screws frequently. It’s like was there a time in which you used to strip screws frequently and what discoveries did you make that helped you stopped doing that?” Like, “Oh, yeah, certainly. Well, it’s all about the hardness of the screw versus the torque required to stick it in the thing, and so sometimes you got to pre-drill a hole but usually I just get really hard screws and then it’s not a problem anymore. This one is awesome.” It’s like, “Well, alright. Thank you. Now I know.”

Ron Friedman
Exactly. But if you had simply asked the question of, “How do I do X?” you would’ve gotten a) probably a lot of information that you have a hard time making sense of if they’re speaking in a different language than you because they have that expertise, and they would’ve missed that thing that you consider so valuable.

And so, the point here, and I start with that particular chapter with the story of Marlon Brando teaching an acting course late in life where he invited all of Hollywood’s elite, he hired a director. He was going to transform this into a paid class that he was going to then charge film schools to screen. And the acting class turned out to be a disaster.

And, in fact, by day three there was a walkout. Some of the things that he thought would be helpful to the students was requiring them to strip naked in front of each other to demonstrate courage. He thought it would be helpful if he brought homeless people off the street and then try to teach them how to act. And, as it turned out, it was a complete debacle. There was a walkout. The director quit. It was just a fiasco. And it just illustrates how experts have a hard time evaluating what it is that contributes to their own greatness.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we ask about discoveries they’ve made, things that they thought would have been important that weren’t so important, surprises that they’ve had that turns out that was actually super important. Any other thoughts on how to interview experts well?

Ron Friedman
So, we talked about the discovery questions that you can ask an expert about things that they thought wouldn’t be important, ended up being important, or vice versa. Other questions are process questions. So, here, what you’re trying to do is drill down on the particular steps an expert applies to bring their work to life or to make adjustments if they’re handymen. So, questions like, “What do you do first? And then what? What’s next? What’s after that?” kind of walking them through the particular process step by step by step because, again, invariably, they’re going to skip some steps. But if you take them through that process, that can help.

Now, just to give you another tip here. What I talk about in the book is that you want to act like a focus group moderator. And so, focus group moderators are outstanding at getting people to disclose sensitive information within a short period of time. How they do that is by adopting a mindset of naïve curiosity. So, they’re not showing off about all that they know. What they are doing is they’re almost pretending like they know nothing and they’re letting the expert feel like they’re super smart.

So, there’s a saying that you may have heard, which is, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” I love that saying because what it suggests is that if you’re not learning from those around you, you’re not growing as well as you could be. Here, focus group moderators are never the smartest person in the room. They’re the last person to buff up their ego. They’re here to just learn and soak up information as much as they can. And that’s the same attitude you want when learning from experts because you want to let them take all the spotlight and ask them just naively curious questions and listen to their responses very carefully.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s true. It’s funny, as you think about the focus group moderators, I imagine it’s true. Well, I know it is. Like, people really do want to tell you a lot about whatever, how they think about their sponges. But they know that no one cares and they have to rein it in. But then when you just give them that permission to unleash the floodgates, it’s like, I could talk to you about some clubs, Ron, and why I love them and why I chose them and why I spend so much time researching them, and what I was looking for. But I know, Ron, you and nobody else cares, so I just have to keep this treasure trove all bundled up to myself. But if someone were naively curiously probing in that dimension, boy, I’d enjoy telling them about it. So, I think that really resonates. So, thank you for that.

Ron Friedman
Yeah. And if you’re interested, I’ll just do the thing that you said that you should not do. I’ll tell you more about what focus group moderators do well, and that is that they prioritize questions but not by placing the most important question first. They ask the least invasive question first. And so, what that does is that it builds a sense of comfort so that you can build up to the question that’s a little bit more sensitive later on. And that’s another interesting way of getting an expert to open up.

So, for example, if you’ve ever taken a survey online, it doesn’t start off by asking you your income. What does it ask you? It asks you something much simpler, “Where do you live? Where were you born? How many kids do you have?” The last questions on the surveys are a lot more difficult, like, “What is your household income?” It’s because you’ve been sharing for 20 minutes now, 50 items. Now you’re much more likely to be open about your income.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And even if I don’t want to share my income, it’s like, “Oh, I’m almost done. I just want to knock this thing out. Fine. Here it is.” That’s good. Okay. So, we got the reverse outline, we’ve got the interviewing of experts. What are some of your other favorite approaches to going about decoding greatness?

Ron Friedman
Well, another interesting approach is to quantify features, and now that’s going to scare a lot of people. If you’re not into math, that might be a little intimidating, and I want to just comfort you a little bit by letting you know that this should not be intimidating.

And so, one of the techniques that I talk about in this book is looking at websites that are extraordinary and comparing them to websites that are a little bit less extraordinary or ordinary websites, and looking for spotting the differences. But there’s a technique you can use by quantifying particular features. And so, I did this in the book by showing you how to reverse-engineer Apple’s website and compare it to Apple’s chief competitor Samsung.

And when you do that, what you uncover is that Apple does some things very, very well. Number one is that they don’t mention price all that often, whereas Samsung has got price on every single item. There’s a lot less movement on Apple’s website, it’s a lot more calm, whereas Samsung is a lot busier, it’s got a lot of flashing buttons, etc.

One of the reasons Apple has such a muted design is because Apple is aiming for simplicity. That’s their mantra. And busyness causes anxiety, and anxiety is the opposite of simplicity. And so, when you quantify some of the features, like, “How many buttons are flashing? How many of the messages include price?” That’s an example of a way of data mining in a way that allows you to illuminate some of the key differences, and that’s a technique that you can apply to anything.

So, if you’re looking at someone’s writing, what you might look at is how many times they use an adjective versus verb. What language level are they incorporating in their writing? All of these approaches help you illuminate hidden patterns in some of the things that you find impactful. And once you have that, once you have that reverse outline, once you’ve outlined some of the quantitative differences, you can start to create templates.

So, we talked about that ad that you saw, Pete, that you mentioned that stood out for you. If you were to zoom out and look at what’s really happening on line one, what’s happening on line two, what’s happening on line three, you can detect a formula. And it’s by zooming out, doing reverse outlines, and that allows you to templatize some of the most important work you’re creating.

So, if you‘re someone who writes emails, or memos, or proposals, there is a template out there that is hidden in plain sight. All you need to do is find those great examples, figure out what’s happening at each paragraph, and turn that into a template by asking yourself a question. Like, for example, I talk about in the book of how I uncovered this when I was writing academic journal articles. And at the time when I first started doing this, I had no idea how to start. I was staring at a blank page, racking my brain, trying to write an academic journal article.

And then, one day, I decided to look at the writing of an academic whose work I admired, and I looked to see what he was doing in every paragraph. And I read article after article after article, and then, eventually, it dawned on me that he was using a formula. And that formula was, at the beginning of the article he would start off with some type of jarring fact, so a news story, that he would raise a question. Then he would give you a literature, showing you all the previous literature, and then he would present his thesis.

That formula is one that I could then take and apply to my writing. All I needed was to find a jarring fact, find a question to pivot to, do a research review, and then present my thesis. That’s an example of hidden patterns inside works we admire. And if we have the system for figuring out what’s happening in every particular paragraph, and then that allows us to not just figure out what’s working but also templatize it to make our work so much easier.

Pete Mockaitis
And as you described this, I’m curious to get your take on the role of feedback and iteration because I guess I’m thinking, it’s like, “Okay, I know the ingredients now. Jarring fact.” And so then, you find something you think, “Ooh, I found that pretty jarring,” but maybe your audience, and maybe the case of the academic paper review board, or the people in the conference room you’re going to be presenting to, don’t find that to be too jarring. So, how do you think about getting input to see, “Hey, how am I doing here?” and tweaking and fine tuning and proving and proving and proving?

Ron Friedman
It’s a great question. And, in fact, in Decoding Greatness the first half of the book is, “How do you reverse-engineer and evolve formulas?” It’s not just about copying. It’s also about evolving. The second half of the book is about shrinking the gap between your vision, in other words the formula you’ve reverse-engineered, and your current ability. So, just because you know what the formula is doesn’t mean you’re going to execute it well. It’s all of these science-based strategies for scale-building that will enable you to shrink the gap between your current skills and your ultimate vision.

And so, there’s a section in there on how to train the people around you to give you better feedback. Now, it turns out that feedback can be surprisingly harmful. In over 33% of cases, the feedback that we get actually makes our performance worse. We tend to think of the more feedback the better, that turns out not to be true. What you need to do is you need to have the ability to train the people around you to give you better feedback.

And so, one of the techniques that you can use to get better feedback, number one, is finding the right audience. So, a lot of cases, we go to our spouse or the people who sit next to us at the office. That’s not always the best audience to deliver the feedback. So, we have to think really critically about who we’re asking these questions.

But then, on top of that, what you want to do is be really specific about the type of feedback that you want. You might say, “Hey, is this fact jarring enough? Does this cause you to think twice about something that you thought before? Or, is this kind of so-so?” That specificity will give you the level of feedback that is actually useful.

A third thing to do is to ask for advice rather than feedback. There’s research out of Harvard Business School showing that when you ask people for advice, they tend to give you far more solutions than if you just ask for feedback. And the reason for that is when you ask someone for feedback, they tend to compare your current performance against your past performance.

And so, what they often will come back to you with it is, “It’s good,” meaning that your performance has improved. That’s not particularly insightful or helpful when you’re trying to improve. But when you ask them for advice, what they do is they compare your current iteration against your possible future iterations. And now they can see a lot of potential future avenues for you to take the work, so they’re more likely to give you suggestions when you ask for advice.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, how else will we do the skill-building?

Ron Friedman
Well, another tip is to create your own personal scoreboard. So, in chapter four, I talk about the scoreboard principle. And in business, it’s quite clear that using metrics helps improve performance. You probably heard of the saying, “What gets measured gets managed.” In everyday life, we’re all flying blind. We have no metrics to tell us whether or not we’re succeeding. And the scoreboard principle is simple. What it tells us is that measurement begets performance. Anything you measure, you are likely to improve upon. And there is just a flood of reasons for this.

Evolutionarily, our chances of survival improve the more sensitive we were to numbers. And the reason for that is that having that kind of sensitivity around numbers told you which food source was larger than another. It also helps you detect if you’re in danger when you encountered another tribe. And so, we’re all built with this mechanism, and neurologists refer to this as a numbers instinct, that is actually across the animal kingdom.

And so, we’re all very sensitive to numbers which is why when we track our behaviors, we tend to be a lot more successful at executing them. And so, the key to improving your skill at just about anything is to identify, “What are the behaviors I’m trying to get good at?” and then monitoring them on a regular basis. And to the extent that you do that, your performance will improve.

And so, we know this from the research. There’s actually a study showing that people who track the amount of food they consume are far better at losing weight, even when they’re given the exact same diet as another group that wasn’t asked to track their food consumption. And the reason for that is when you’re monitoring your caloric intake, you get this emotional rush when it’s low, whereas, you feel a little bit ashamed when it’s high. And those emotional jolts actually motivate you to do a better job in the future.

And you can apply that same technique to how many uninterrupted minutes you have during the workday. That improves your focus. Just by tracking how much time you spend on focused work, that will likely improve your performance from the perspective of not being distracted.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really good. And I’ve had that experience myself with regard to, hey, I’m not actually going to try to eat any differently but I just want to get a sense for, “How am I doing?” but sure enough, I do. I eat better when I’ve used the LoseIt app. I find it very easy to enter the goods, and so that’s cool. And, likewise, when it comes to like habit-tracking type things, even when I’m not trying, it’s like, “Hey, I’ve already got a lot on my plate. I’m not going to commit to some huge goal right now, but I just want to get a sense of how I’m doing on these things.” And so, I use like the Tally or The Done family of apps, I find very handy and easy to use there. And it’s like, sure enough, I end up doing way more of the thing just because I’m measuring it.

Ron Friedman
That’s exactly right because anytime you gamify an outcome you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to be more successful at it. I’ll tell you something else from my own personal life which is I got an Apple Watch which tracks your sleep, but also there’s the opportunity for tracking your water consumption. And the more items you track, the better you get at identifying leading indicators of the outcomes you’re trying to achieve.

So, for those unfamiliar, a leading indicator is a metric that projects whether or not you’re going to be successful at an outcome later on, so that’s a lagging indicator. So, just to make this concrete, let’s say I want to be productive at work, that’s my lagging indicator. My leading indicator could be things like how much sleep I got the night before or how much exercise I got the night before.

And so, the more things you track, the better you get at identifying leading indicators of lagging indicators, or, in other words, the outcome you’re trying to achieve. In my case, what I discovered was that water intake leads to better sleep, and better sleep leads to greater productivity. I wouldn’t have known that if I wasn’t tracking all those metrics.

And so, having an app on my Apple Watch that entices me to indicate how much water I’ve consumed, that has been useful for me because it’s elevated my water intake, plus it’s helped me identify a leading indicator of my performance at work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I’m a big believer in adequate hydration, and it didn’t even occur to me that it could lead to better sleep. I will be looking at that. Thank you. Any other thoughts on skill-building?

Ron Friedman
Let’s talk about practice, okay?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ron Friedman
So, when most people think about practice, they think about practicing in the present but it turns out they are neglecting two other critical dimensions of practice. And so, I talk about this in Decoding Greatness as practicing in three dimensions. So, what does it mean to practice in three dimensions? Well, we know about practicing in the present, there’s also practicing in the past, and that is reflective practice in the research.

So, we’ve all heard of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is the idea that has been popularized by Gladwell in the Outliers and Anders Ericsson in the book Peak. Deliberate practice is simply focusing on things that you don’t do particularly well, and then isolating them, doing them frequently, getting the feedback to improve your performance over time.

Reflective practice, or practicing in the past, is simply thinking about what you learned while doing an activity. And so, there’s research out of Harvard Business School showing that if you just take five minutes at the end of the day to write down what you learned today about work, your performance will improve by over 20%. Just that simple exercise of reflecting on your performance at work will improve your performance.

Now, in “Decoding Greatness,” I recommend a tool that anybody can use, which is getting a five-year diary. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, Pete. The five-year diary is a diary that you can get on Amazon or any bookstore, really, that has 365 pages, one page per day for every day of the year. And within each page, there are three lines in five slots. And the idea here is you just write three lines for your day. You do those for a year. And then, after a year, something fascinating happens, which is you get to see what it is you did on that day one year before.

And so, you’re constantly learning things about yourself, your memory is improving, your identifying patterns in your own behavior, new learnings, new insights. You’re reminded of past challenges that you’ve overcome. You’re building your confidence. Overblown fears that turned out to be nothing. It’s a wonderful, wonderful tool.

And it’s a process that automates reflective practice because it’s not intimidating. It’s just a few lines a day but it forces you to slow down, reflect on what you’ve learned, improving your performance, and also teaching you some lessons about the past. So, that’s practicing in the past.

Practicing in the future is imagery. So, there’s plenty of research, and we have all heard stories about athletes using imagery before a major athletic event. But it turns out there’s also research showing that if a surgeon uses imagery to think through a surgery, they’re likely to make fewer mistakes. Public speakers who visualize their performance on stage end up being more persuasive and less anxious. And there’s research showing that if a piano student is about to learn a new piece, visualizing themselves playing that piece leads them to learn that piece faster.

Now, we could all use visualization in our own lives. And just to be clear, it’s not visualizing success that helps. It’s visualizing the process. So, for example, if tomorrow morning I need to write a proposal, if I visualize myself walking into the office, gathering all the documents I need, and think through how I might structure my piece, that enables me to frontload critical decisions so that when I actually sit down to do it the next day, there’s less thinking involved and a lot more presence. I can actually focus more on doing my job.

And so, I talk all about how you can apply imagery to every aspect of your life, and that’s basically practicing in three dimensions in a nutshell.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And what I love about the visualization, I also find that when I do it, I’m less likely to have, I don’t know, resistance, procrastination, and I have just a little bit more motivation. It just seems like, “Well, no, this is what I’m doing now because I’ve already visualized it.” And I’m less likely to be like, “Oh, but I’m not really in the mood. Maybe I‘ll just do some more email first.” There’s better, more consistent self-disciplined execution when I take some time to visualize.

Ron Friedman
That’s a great observation. And also, just to put a bow on this, there’s also research that shows that athletes who use visualization are actually able to cut down on their physical practice by as much as 50% and not show any decrements in their performance because visualization is that powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds a lot easier.

Ron Friedman
It’s a lot easier. And it just goes to show, like this is a completely underutilized tool that all of us have at our disposal. I think we kind of dismiss it as, I don’t know, kind of like, “Oh, that’s for athletes,” or, “It feels unnatural,” or, “That won’t work for me.” But why not give it a shot? If all it takes is five minutes to visualize the day in advance, and then just kind of do an experiment, see if it helps you. I recommend doing it and it seems like it works for you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Ron, I should ask, is there any research or best practices in the mind’s eye, first person versus third person, are they equally good? Is one more powerful than the other?

Ron Friedman
Well, what ends up happening is that if you consistently use first person, that could get boring for you. And so, you want to toggle between them, and you’ll get a fuller experience. So, in other words, seeing yourself on stage, feeling the glare of the light, holding a cooker in your hand, start there. And after you’ve done that for a while, you can kind of visualize yourself speaking while sitting in the audience.

And a critical piece here is that we’ve been taught that we could just visualize ourselves succeeding, but I actually recommend, every once in a while, thinking about yourself faltering and then continuing and going through with concluding your speech, if we’re talking about a speech in particular. But you want to power through it. And what that does is it teaches you to expect things to potentially go wrong, but having the confidence that you can overcome those challenges anytime they come.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great.
Well, Ron, now can you tell me about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ron Friedman
Well, one of the things I talk about is this idea that we can learn from those around us in a way that’s more methodical that enables us to do our work a little bit more easily. And I think that part of the challenge for reverse-engineering this idea of taking apart other’s work is that there’s a real stigma about copying other’s work and plagiarism and not being fully original. And I think that’s really the wrong way of thinking about how we can best learn from the works of others.

And, in fact, there’s research showing that taking the time to copy someone else’s work makes you more creative not less, and the process of copying, it opens your mind up to new ideas that you hadn’t been considering in your own work. And there’s a great quote that I often think about, which is from Carl Sagan. And Carl Sagan said, “If you want to create an apple pie from scratch, you would need to recreate the universe.” what I love about that quote is that it illustrates that nothing comes from nothing. Everything is built on something else. And that when we think about creativity, we really should think about combining ideas rather than trying to be completely original.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ron Friedman
I don’t know if it’s a favorite book, but it’s one of my favorite books. I just read it with my son, The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling. And she is so good at finding the perfect word and structuring her stories in a way that just keeps you interested and curious. And so, I highly recommend that book “The Ickabog for any age.

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

Ron Friedman
So, I am a Google Doc fanatic, and I have tons and tons and tons of Google Docs. And for a while, I didn’t even know how to organize them. And a friend of mine taught me this approach, which is to use the Google Sheets And then use that to hyperlink to other Google Docs. So, in other words, you can have a directory of all your Google Docs in there, the ones that you frequently use, that you could then easily access and use that as an organization point for your other Google Docs. So, that is a tool that I highly recommend to a lot of my coaching clients because it’s a way of easily accessing documents you frequently use while also having a central location so you’re never searching.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers, they highlight it a lot or quote it back to you frequently?

Ron Friedman
All right. Well, that’s a great question, Pete.

So, “We’re often told that growth requires courage, that the only way to improve is to somehow find the gumption to stomach more risks and embrace situations that make us uncomfortable. “…that’s not the only path to personal development. Tackling difficult challenges and putting everything on the line are simply not the same thing. Know when it comes to developing our skills and growing our abilities, the wise approach isn’t taking more risks. Far wiser to find intelligent opportunities that render risk-taking entirely less risky.”

And so, this is about how businesses grow. And how they do that is by taking tons and tons of risks that actually end up not being particularly risky at all. And just to give you an example of that is they often will use test audiences to determine whether or not an idea is working out.

And so, we can all do that in our own lives by testing our ideas with a smaller group before releasing it to the wider public. And so, I give the example of how Tim Ferriss came up with the title for “The 4-Hour Workweek.” And he had 10 titles that he was considering or something like that. It was a large number. And so, he just purchased Google Adwords for each title, and looked to see what generated the most clicks. He used $100, came up with this amazing title.

It wouldn’t have done it if he had just picked a title, a guess. Using that feedback enabled him to, and obviously wasting $100, to find out what was most effective, was a way of him minimizing the risk in risk-taking.

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

Ron Friedman
I would point them to, if you’re interested in learning more about the book, go check out DecodingGreatnessBook.com. it’s a great website to go to because you get a free course with your purchase of the book. If you’re interested in learning more about me, you can find me at RonFriedmanPhD.com.

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

Ron Friedman
Yeah, I think you should stop assuming that greatness comes from talent or from practice. You don’t have to be born with a particular path to greatness. You don’t necessarily need to put in 10 years of practice. What you do need is a system for learning from the best in the world, and that’s what “Decoding Greatness” offers.

Pete Mockaitis
Ron, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you all the best as you decode more greatness.

Ron Friedman
I appreciate it, Pete.