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524: How to Build Rapport Quickly with John DiJulius

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John DiJulius: "The greatest gift we can give others is the gift of attention."

John DiJulius shares his expert tips for quickly building lasting emotional ties.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four touchpoints that effectively build rapport
  2. The subtle ways you’re killing the conversation
  3. How to go from indifferent to curious

About John:

John is the authority on World-Class customer experience. He is an international consultant, keynote speaker, and best-selling author of five customer service books. His newest book, The Relationship Economy: Building Stronger Customer Connections in The Digital Age could not be timelier in the world we are living in. John has worked with companies such as The Ritz-Carlton, Lexus, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Nestlé, Marriott Hotels, PwC, Celebrity Cruises, Anytime Fitness, Progressive Insurance, Harley-Davidson, Chick-fil-A, and many more.

Items mentioned in the show:

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John DiJulius Interview Transcript

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

John DiJulius
My pleasure. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, first of all, what’s the backstory behind you failing gym class in high school?

John DiJulius
You know, I was a very small, have not developed yet, and went to a high school that produced a lot of NFL athletes, and I was like 4’11”, maybe 85 pounds, and so I just decided I didn’t want to go in the locker room and change every day. And what I didn’t know was when I didn’t change into my gym uniform, I didn’t get credit for the class, so at the end of the year I flunk it and had to go to summer school for gym.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I imagine there were many days which you were wearing the wrong outfit.

John DiJulius
I would just wear my dress clothes every day and I didn’t realize I was getting like a not-attended, like absent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s wild and no one would give you a hand-up, “Hey, John, so you know, I see you physically present but you don’t get credit for today because of what you’re wearing,” but rather they just fail you at the end. Boy, I think that is like I’m thinking about Kim Scott of Radical Candor now, who we had on the show, talking about how when people get fired because they never got goof feedback along the way to improve their shortcomings and blind spots. Boy, here that is a very dramatic instance. But you bounced back, I’m glad to hear.

John DiJulius
I did okay. I did okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so I want to hear, you are talking a lot these days about building stronger customer connections in the digital age. Could you lay it on us, what are some of the benefits associated with face-to-face connections and this old-school stuff when technology is running the show it seems most of our communications?

John DiJulius
Well, yeah, it’s back to the future today. It’s ironic that the disruptor today in business is good old-fashioned relationships. And there’s a seismic shift happening in the world today with all the benefits technology is bringing us, it’s coming at a significant cost, and that cost is human relationship, which is vital to customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, and just overall happiness personally and professionally. And today’s illiterates are those who have an inability to make a meaningful connection.

And so, the best companies are competing in the relationship economy where the primary currency is the emotional connections made with customers, employees, and vendors that make your brand the brand that people can’t live without and, ultimately, help make you price irrelevant.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds great. So, could you share with us some of the most, I guess, hard-hitting research data studies associated with the observation of this phenomenon?

John DiJulius
Yeah. Well, first, by year 2025, there’ll be more machines in the workforce, and robots and artificial intelligence will be capable of doing every job that we’re currently doing from lawyers to judges to driving to construction, from doctors to nurses, to something that, I just got an email last week. It was a little unsettling that there’s artificial-intelligent brothels. I’m not endorsing, I’m not recommending…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the oldest professions taking over there.

John DiJulius
Right, right. I’m not judging, I’m just reporting. So, it literally is doing everything and you’ll never have to see another human being, I guess, if you choose as long as you live.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the prediction is by 2025 machines will be doing every job that humans are doing, although I imagine they’ll be doing many of them poorly based on what I’m seeing these days.

John DiJulius
Yeah, and not every job, but capable of doing every job and that more machines will be in the workforce than human beings.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about that? So, tell us, how does the human connection help in that context?

John DiJulius
Well, as a result of living in the touchscreen age, and the touchscreen age is not generational specific, we have grandparents using devices and we have five-year olds on iPads, but as a result, our social skills, our people skills are an all-time low and this is causing many negative side effects.

They’ve also said that there’s a term called digital dementia where doctors have done brain scans of heavy users of digital devices and they look similar to patients who’ve sustained brain injuries. So, we’re relationship disadvantaged today, and the leaders out there of businesses need to understand that it’s our problem to fix. We can’t skip this generation.

And so, the companies that the pendulum has swung so far over the high-tech low-touch or no touch, people, consumers, you, me, we’re starving to be recognized as a person with a name, and technology is not the enemy. Using it to eliminate human experience is. So, companies, the best companies are finding ways to marry the digital with the human interaction that allows technology you use to do the most basic necessities, freeing up your employees to do what’s most important: that’s building the customer loyalty, that is long-term sustainability for the business.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, I’d love to get your take, in particular, when it comes to if we’re looking to build some rapport, whether that’s with sort of new colleagues around the given workplace, or with prospects, or customers, or potential partners, just about anybody, what do you recommend for folks who are looking to more conscientiously build more human connection?

John DiJulius
Yes. So, there’s five key characteristics to the art of building relationship, and they may sound, to older generations, like common sense, but we all have gotten away from it and it’s not common sense to younger generations. So, I’ll rattle off the five first. You must be authentic, right? You must have insatiable curiosity. You must have credible empathy. You must love people and must be a great listener. So, all those five. Four of them can definitely be taught and trained.

Now, if you find people that have those, that’s great. But the one that can’t be taught, no amount of training can ever change someone, if they don’t love people. You can’t train someone to love people. So, let’s look at insatiable curiosity. Being an investigative reporter is the best, people dying to learn about others, not only about subjects that interests them but subjects that are unfamiliar.

So, I did a TED Talk called “Meet as Strangers, Leave as Friends.” I don’t think there’s a greater skill that we can work on ourselves or teach at any level from kindergarten to the business world, at home, than the ability to build instant rapport with others, whether that be an acquaintance, stranger, co-worker, customer, you name it.

And so, in doing that, there’s two things we got to remember that everyone we come in contact with has an invisible sign above their head that says, “Make me feel important.” And the greatest gift we can give others is the gift of attention. Now, it’s hard to do that because we’re all genetically coded to be preoccupied, “It’s my flight that got delayed.” “It’s my client that’s upset with us.” “It’s my son that may have gotten in trouble,” right? So, that’s a hard thing to turn off when you speak to other people.

So, we have this great technique that so many of our clients have incorporated and I incorporate in personal and professional. It’s anytime you have a conversation with someone, be it 3 minutes or 30 minutes, you need to focus on the other person’s FORD, F-O-R-D, like the car. And if you can focus on the other person’s FORD, you not only built the relationship, you own the relationship.

So, F, family. Are they married? Do they have kids? How old are their kids? The O, occupation. What do they do? What’s their title? Who are they doing it for? R, recreation, that’s some of the hottest buttons that people have. What do they do with their free time? Are they runners? Do they go to hot yoga? Do they coach little league? Whatever that may be. And then D stands for dreams. What’s on their bucket list? What’s their dream vacation? What is their encore career?

So, all of our clients have incorporated FORD into their daily interactions. They collect this in a non-soliciting way and they have it in their CRM system, they have pads that remind it, and it’s just a great way to build that emotional connection of what’s really important to people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned 3 minutes, so maybe we can run some demos here. And I’d like to hear both in terms of you’re just meeting someone for the first time and, I guess, you’re reconnecting, like, oh, you bumped into someone, it’s been a few months since you’ve seen them, and we’re having a chat. So, can you show us how it’s done, John?

John DiJulius
Yeah. So, Pete, where are you at today?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m in Chicago.

John DiJulius
In Chicago? Okay. So, we’re having a similar weather. I’m from Cleveland so we’re both from the Midwest and it’s cold out, it’s snowing here. But are you originally from Chicago?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I grew up in Danville, Illinois about three hours away, but I’ve spent almost my whole life in Illinois.

John DiJulius
Good. Good. You have family? Kids?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. We got two kids under two right now.

John DiJulius
Under two, both of them?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

John DiJulius
Oh, so you’re sleep-deprived.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, my wife more so than I am as a saint as she is, but, yes, I’m feeling it a bit as well.

John DiJulius
Congratulations. How long have you been married?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in fact, today is our three-year anniversary.

John DiJulius
No way. And that’s why we had this call to celebrate.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s December 3rd at 3:00 p.m. Central in this moment that we’re recording. That’s kind of wild, John.

John DiJulius
December 3rd, 2016 you got married.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

John DiJulius
That’s awesome. So, usually, whenever you start off with anyone, you just kind of catch up, you find some common ground, but it’s important to focus on them and find out what their hot buttons are and, obviously, where they come from, their family. If we had more time while we’re doing this, we’d get in to how you got into what you’re doing now, and that’s a great story.

So, listening is great and doing research for this book was painful because I realized how many things I was doing wrong. So, I have some conversation nevers and always. So, some listening is, if you have some questions and you don’t ask two to three follow-up questions, odds are you aren’t really paying attention, right? You should have a four-to-one ratio of questions asked versus answered.

There’s a myth that being a good listener is like being a sponge, and they say that’s the farthest thing from the truth. Being a sponge is you’re just talking away and once in a while just saying “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” They say that’s not being a good listener. Being a good listener is being a trampoline. And so, a trampoline is asking more clarifying questions and helping and heightening the energy of what the person speaking is doing.

So, there’s a lot of really cool things. I’ve got some really painful things I stumbled on was don’t ask a question because you’re dying to answer it, right? So, it’s like, “Pete, tell me what you did this week. Oh, good, good. You know what I did?”

Pete Mockaitis
“I was skiing. It was awesome.” Yeah, I hear you.

John DiJulius
Right. Don’t finish the other person’s sentence. And I’m that I’m really guilty of that I never thought it was a bad thing until I read about it is stealing someone’s thunder. And so, the example I read about really made me realize I do this all the time, but I did it with good intentions. So, you might have an employee that was off last week and they’re like, “Peter Jr., what did you do on vacation?” And young Peter says he took his wife and their two little ones to Disney, and he’s so excited he wants to tell you about it, and you interrupt him by saying, “Oh, my God, I love Disney. We actually have a house there in Orlando.”

And originally thinking that would show some commonality but you just stole his thunder because what could someone possibly tell someone about Disney who has property there, right? So, just being more attentive to not one-upping or grandstanding and just letting the other person have their moment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really nice thought. I’m thinking almost like a game of chess, not that we’re trying to dominate the other, but you want to think about what that does open up in terms of moves after your move. So, you might mention, “Oh, hey, it’s common. I’ve got a home in Orlando.” But if you think about that for a moment, it’s like, “What options does that leave this person? Very few.”

So, yeah, I dig that. Thinking back to the demonstration there, so it seems like we’ve gotten into the family side of things. But I’d love to hear us unpack the full demo of we’ve got occupation, the recreation, and the dreams.

John DiJulius
And so, dependent on the scope, the dynamic of why we’re meeting, why we’re talking, right? If it’s a social thing, then you have at it with the FORD. But if it’s maybe a sales call, or a business call, you obviously want to hit one or two of those. You typically don’t have time to hit on four unless it really gets off, and it also depends on how well we know each other.

So, if we’re brand-new and you just started, you just kind of want to, again, start off, that’s how I start up most calls first time is, “Where are you calling from? Oh, Chicago. Tell me how your year is spent.” I find out something that you like, and your kids, then why you got into the position, whatever that position is. And then I use that information later on.

Now, there’s also times when you go out with your significant other, and her husband, and that’s a completely different, you know, you got two hours. I will just drill that person for two hours and just learn as much as I can about them. And, again, another painful thing. Thirty years that I learned from the research in my book, 30 years ago if you couldn’t talk to me about my two subjects, and that was all I was interested in, which was basically baseball or customer service, then I don’t want anything to do with you, right?

My wife said, “Hey, we’re going to go out with Joann and her husband,” I’d be like, “Oh, God, no. Oh, I can’t sit through another night with them.” And that was solely my fault because I was only interested in my thing. But I’ve learned, through what’s called insatiable curiosity, to become an investigative reporter, and just really pick someone’s brain. And you might find out obscure things that you might not be interested in, he might be interested in fly-fishing, and you dig deep why, like, “How did you get into fly-fishing? And, to me, that seems a little boring.”

And at the end of the conversation, three things always come away. One, I really see why that person likes, let’s say, fly-fishing. It doesn’t mean I have to go out and do it tomorrow, but from his passion, or the way he talked about it, the benefits, now I can see it. Number two, which probably most is important, he really liked talking to me, which means I win points at home with my significant other, right?

But here’s the strangest thing. This always happens. I’m sure it’s happened in your life, six months later I’ll be in CEO’s office trying to close a sale or something, and there’ll be a picture of him fly-fishing on his wall. And because of that conversation, I can have a more educated conversation and make a connection easier than if I never had that connection.

So, I mean, there’s so many benefits but there’s things like we find out from our clients or acquaintances that they’re running their first marathon this weekend, or they’re going to Maui, and you could do so many things with that. If it’s a good client, we’ll have a bottle of wine and cheese waiting for them when they get into their room. So, there’s just so much. We’re just circling back two weeks and finding out how their trip to Maui was.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. And so, I’m curious, when it comes to – huh, curious about curiosity – so now, I guess, I think where the rubber really meets the road is you’re chatting with someone, they say something, you have no interest in that thing whatsoever. What do you do with your brain to stir up some of this interesting curiosity when you’re not feeling it in the moment?

John DiJulius
I train myself because you just got to be, called, investigative reporter. You want to find what makes them tick. So, if it’s important to the other person, find out why, and that’s where the beauty, that’s where the magic happens because, again, when you first tell me…so, I’m being transparent here. But what’s your recreation? What do you like to do with your time off, when you’re not changing diapers?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, why don’t we say tabletop games, shall we? I’m thinking about Monopoly at the moment.

John DiJulius
Okay. And so, that’s not something I personally, I wouldn’t say this, I personally don’t play games and so I would just explore, “How did you get into this? Is it something that started as a kid?” And I would just ask four or five questions to try to get you to explain that is. Again, depending on the situation, if we have a 15-minute call then that wouldn’t be something. But something that I can feasibly do.

Everything has an angle because what would get someone to love tabletop games? There’s a story there. And, usually, if it’s something they’re passionate about, they like telling that story. Most people don’t ask them about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think this might be a great example, and you can very candidly tell me what’s going on in your brain because you’re not going to hurt my feelings. It’s okay if you walk away still not giving a hoot about tabletop games or Monopoly but I think that’s a cool start. So, here we are, I’ve shared something that isn’t that interesting to you, but let’s say we have the time. So, where would you go from there?

John DiJulius
So, yeah, what tabletop games? And you said, like, “Monopoly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, let’s say Monopoly.

John DiJulius
Yeah, is this something you do, like, regularly? Is it something like you get people around? How often do you do this and with whom?

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, you know, it’s been a while. I remember the peak Monopoly occurred in the winter breaks of high school and college where my crew – shout out to Ronnie, Kevin, Brent, and Kate – for the most part, we would be the ones who’d come together and maybe just play three, four games in a night, so no joke, five, six, seven hours of Monopoly.

John DiJulius
That’s what I was going to ask you, how many hours. So, that’s like equivalent to what people are doing today with binge-watching an episode or something.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely.

John DiJulius
But I gotta believe that was like some of your best memories and bonding and hilarious stories that came from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s funny. Indeed, we had all kinds of dorkiness came out because we play pretty strictly in terms of official tournament rules, 32 hours, 12 hotels, none of this silliness.

John DiJulius
You guys were serious.

Pete Mockaitis
We want to keep to roll the dice briskly so we could finish the games, most of them we finish under 90 minutes because we were kind of moving with it, and all kinds of little, I guess, subcultural things emerge like when all 32 houses were bought up and then someone landed on another property, had to have a big payday, then we’d start chanting, “Sell houses! Sell houses!” because we were all excited, “Now, we got a chance to buy some houses because this guy has been hogging them, and he just got a painful rent payment that will force him to liquidate some of his houses,” and so there’s like blood in the water and we all got fired up over it.

John DiJulius
So, do you ever have reunions with Ronnie and the gang?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it happens here and there, but it’s a little bit tricky in terms of us being located all over the place.

John DiJulius
Can you play virtually?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve looked into this and the answer is kind of. I haven’t found like the ideal platform that is reliable and honors true tournament rules, but there’s some stuff out there, yeah.

John DiJulius
You know, one thing I’m curious about, again, I’ve never had the patience to sit through a full game of Monopoly. But my son did buy me a Monopoly board, or they made me, or something, last year, a Monopoly board, like around our family so the houses would be different vacations. It’s really cute. It was all personalized. But I gotta believe that doing something that much, what was the lesson, the life lessons that you applied to business or whatever? I mean, there had to be.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny. Someone wrote a whole book called Everything I Need to Know from Life I Learned from Playing Monopoly or something like that. And Brent bought me a copy, so that was nice of him and so there’s all sorts of bits there. And perhaps the biggest one, I think for me, is that there are times in Monopoly and times in life where the value of something really changes in terms of in the early game, we have lots of cash and no properties, so the value of property is high relative to the cash. And so, I would be willing to buy almost any property from someone at 20%, 30%, 50% markup in the early game.

But then, later on, when people have their monopolies and they’ve got sort of excess property, they very much want to liquidate that into cash so they can acquire houses to turn it into a deadly zone. So, I find that interesting, is how sometimes the value of something really does shift based on your context and how sort of abundant versus scarce something is relative to the other stuff. So, sometimes I think, in life, you might have an abundance of time, or you might have an abundance of money, and you have one and not the other.

College, plenty of time, not so much money. In certain jobs, I’m thinking about Wall Street bankers right now, plenty of money, not so much time. And then it changes what you’re willing to pay for something, whether in terms of hours or dollars.

John DiJulius
Yeah, I got to believe it also maybe add a cautionary to, “Do I really want this? Will this really be that important to me in 18 months or however long that is because things change so rapidly?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

John DiJulius
Very cool. Very cool. Well, I still got to believe the best thing that came were just the memories, the conversations, the digging at each other that close groups of friends do when you get together, that all comes back.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Perhaps the most legendary one was we hosted a Monopoly tournament at the high school just because we had various student leadership positions and said, “Well, we like Monopoly, and this is what we feel like doing.” And I was helping at another table with a rules dispute and my buddy, Kevin, whispered to this, like, 10-year old girl who’s at our table, “He’s winning. You should trade that to me.” And when I turned my back, the trade had been done, I was like, “What happened?” And Kevin went on to win the whole tournament, and he’s featured in the yearbook and I consider it stolen.

John DiJulius
That’s so funny. That’s funny. Well, very good. Now, I’m intrigued to play Monopoly the next time someone pulls it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. All right. Well, thank you for indulging me with that extended demo. Well, you’re right in terms of the rapport in that the more you get people, I guess, I’m not looking at your face, but I’m hearing your voice, but I guess it’s just very natural that as you steer me towards positive experiences, and I am sharing them with you in a current experience of conversation, I naturally associate you, John, with pleasantness and, thusly, I like you more.

John DiJulius
Exactly. Who came out of the original Bible, the How to Win Friends and Influence People, whatever the order is, by Dale Carnegie, and he, in there, says, “You could talk to someone for an hour about them, and they won’t ask you one question about you, but they’ll walk away saying you are the greatest person ever even though they couldn’t tell someone why.” But, exactly what you just said, they’ll just associate you with that fondness, and they were able to talk about, you know, there are certain things in my world that you don’t want to ask me unless you have two hours because I’m going to tell you, I’m going to get all worked up, and my voice will start cracking, and you’ll be like, “Whoa, whoa,” right? So, finding people’s hot buttons is the single best way to create an emotional connection.

And then doing something with that. Taking three minutes on Google later and seeing if there’s any digital Monopoly things, and you send that email to Peter, saying, “Peter, have you seen this?” It literally takes three minutes, and whether he has seen them or he hasn’t, he’s going to be shocked at the time and thoughtfulness that that person, who he barely has a relationship, thought of, and it’s not just about making a sale.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, yes. And if you did find it, I’d be really tickled. If you say, “Hey, Pete, it turns out like the 1996 PC version enables you to host something on a something, so you can get your friends together, and it will work just the way you want it.” Like, “I never would’ve guessed that that 1996 whatever would do the trick.” And then I’d be thinking about you forever. So, that’s cool.

Well, so, tell me, John, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

John DiJulius
No, no, no, that’s it. Just love the relationship economy and, like I said, it’s back to the future. It’s what is missing from our society today, and people are starving to be recognized as a human being with needs, and fears, and things to celebrate, and achievements, and all those things. And the ones that are giving it to them are building that customer and employee loyalty.

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

John DiJulius
Something that pops up in my phone every morning at 6:00 a.m. is “Act as if today is the day you’ll be remembered for how you treat others.” I love that. That’s very important to me.

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

John DiJulius
You know, I’m just coming from writing this book. There were just so much research. One of my favorite aha moments was a scientist studied the human brain and found out that it took the human brain a minimum of 0.6 seconds to formulate a response to something said to it. And then they studied hundreds and thousands of conversations and found the average gap between people talking was 0.2 seconds, one-third the time the human brain will allow. And so, really, don’t have that answer, don’t be just waiting for him to come up for air, listen to what he’s saying, pause, process it, and then move on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, that is so reassuring in many ways for me because sometimes it’s like there is that first half second, I guess, before the 0.6 seconds has fully come online then you have a thought, where there’s silence and they almost sort of expect you to say something, but you don’t yet have that thing. And just to know that, “Hey, it’s okay. It takes about 0.6 seconds on average.” And, really, I think it takes about, in my experience, four or five seconds before people say, like, on the phone, “Hey, Pete, are you still there?” so you have time to pause and think.

John DiJulius
Oh, I have a hard time with that, when people do pause too much. I always check my phone, I think I dropped the call, and I’m like, “Something is wrong,” because I’m not used to a pause.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And something else, you can just inhale for a while. Yeah. Well, that’s a great stat. Thank you. How about a favorite book that you love?

John DiJulius
I’ll go with the most recent one that I just read, and that was From the Ground Up by Howard Schultz, the former CEO Chairman of Starbucks. It’s his third book. I love every book he’s written, and each better than the previous, and just a great story of his life, and why he created one of the most social-conscious companies in the world, and it’s really inspiring to me.

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

John DiJulius
You reminded me in one of your emails–Evernote. I love Evernote. I am a to-do crazy person so I like how that works. In all my devices–iPads, phones, computers–it’s always synced. And then what I like about it is my own to-do list in there, the way I sort it. I sort my to-do that I can only have three urgent, that’s all I’ll put on there. I can never have more than three, and that means I can’t go home today, go to bed, whatever that may be, unless I get those three done.

And then I have six important, maximum six, and then the rest are want-to-do, need-to-do, and that can be unlimited. But I’m always working from that urgent three and then the six important. It just keeps clarity that I’m always joined with what I need to do before what I want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite habit?

John DiJulius
Just trying to build a relationship with myself. MSA is a thing that’s a real thing – mental stimulation addiction. And that just means that we’re so used to using our devices, and I’ve gone to the doctor’s office and be waiting to be taken, and I’ll check my phone and all the apps and news and ESPN and social media, all that stuff, and I’ll put it down, and within 15 seconds, without thinking, I do it again, and like, “What could it change in that 15 seconds?”

And so, they say because we’re outsourcing our brains to devices, our brains are extra thin and we have a creativity crisis. We aren’t innovative like we were generations ago. So, I’m trying to build in boredom into my life where that’s when your brain sits idle. We all say we get the best ideas when we take showers. Well, I don’t take enough showers so it might be even like when I’m getting a run or exercise in the morning, instead of listening to a podcast or ESPN like I like to a couple of days a week, I’ll listen to nothing. And it’s strange at first, but I’ll tell you what, when I get back home, I have to find paper and pen because I had so many ideas that came to my head.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you a lot?

John DiJulius
I think probably the one, the quote I said earlier. A lot of people like that, the “Act as if today is the day you’ll be remembered for how you treat others.”

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

John DiJulius
TheDijuliusGroup.com or they could email me at John@dijuliusgroup.com.

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

John DiJulius
Yeah. Just go out and build relationships and the rest will follow. I don’t believe in networking. I’m not a good networker. I never have business cards on me but I do believe in building social capital. And stop networking in a traditional sense and just meet and build relationships where the relationship itself is its own reward, and the rest will take care of itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, John, thanks so much for sharing the good word, and good luck in all your relationship-building.

John DiJulius
Thank you and good luck to you with your bride and your two young ones.

523: How to Create Lasting Behavioral Change with Dr. Kyra Bobinet

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Dr. Kyra Bobinet says: "Mindlessness is the new mindfulness."

Dr. Kyra Bobinet explains how to close the gap between intention and behavior to form better, lasting habits.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Powerful behaviors that build life-changing habits
  2. Just how long it takes to form a habit
  3. Quick ways to ease stress and anxiety at work

About Kyra:

When it comes to health engagement, Dr. Bobinet has 5 words of advice: be caring, authentic, and useful. As the CEO-founder of engagedIN, Kyra devotes her life to helping people crack the code of how, what, and especially, WHY we engage.

Kyra has founded several healthcare start-ups, spanning behavior health, population health, and mobile health. She has designed behavior change programs, big data algorithms, billion dollar products, mobile health apps, and evidence-based studies in mind-body and metabolic medicine. All of her designs, whether for at-risk teens or seniors, are rooted in the belief that true caring is our greatest value.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsor!

Dr. Kyra Bobinet Interview Transcript

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

Kyra Bobinet
Absolutely. So much fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom because you’ve spent a lot of time studying something that I’ve wondered a lot for quite a while, and, apparently, it’s called the brain behavior gap. Can you first tell us what is that?

Kyra Bobinet
Yes, sir. So, everybody will recognize it as, “I know what I should do but I don’t always do it.” And that’s the difference between what you know what you should do, your brain, and what you actually do, which is your behavior. And it’s kind of this fun, humorous aspect of being a human that we all face this issue in trying to get ourselves to do things that we don’t end up doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I have wrestled with this question ever since I remember in high school marching band, and toward the end of the summer, we had what we called band camp, which the movie American Pie has ruined the idea of band camp for people. But, anyway, we’d spend just about eight plus hours a day, Monday through Friday, for a couple of weeks just working on the marching and the playing, and I thought, “Man, we made a huge amount of progress in terms of putting that show together,” and I think, “Boy, what can I accomplish if I could just hunker down and work that much solo on something?” And I still don’t I’ve cracked the code on how to actually do that.

Kyra Bobinet
Oh, dear, yeah. It’s such an interesting thing to listen to people’s stories of trying to sequester themselves there. It’s almost like a runaway dog running away, your puppy, it’s like, “Come back, come back,” so it’s really crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so tell us, what makes it difficult and what should be done?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. So, the reason why this happens is we have, basically, two gears you can think of it in our brain. One is our fast brain I like to call it. It equates to Daniel Kahneman’s work on System 1 thinking. All the autopilot, all of the mindlessness, all of the stuff that happens by habit and without thought, that’s kind of fast brain. Think of tying your shoes, brushing your teeth, yadda, yadda. And then there’s this slow brain which is the sort of ideals, the problem-solving, the hard kind of mechanics, and decision-making, and willpower, and all that juicy stuff, but that’s in short supply. So, if you were to take a ratio, the fast brain is like 95% of what we do, and the slow brain is about 5% of what we do.

And so, oftentimes, the slow brain gets its ass kicked by the fast brain, and we’re just doing the normal distraction things or the things that feel good right now, the immediate gratification, and the slow brain just doesn’t have a chance. So, everything that we deal with as behavior designers, and that I’ve learned to do with behavior change, is to work with those two gears and get them to align.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, I guess I’d love to hear maybe a story associated with someone who had something they knew they should do but weren’t doing it, and then they enacted some approaches to see some cool results there.

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, absolutely. The general principle that people can take away is make the good stuff faster and make the bad stuff slower. So, one of the amazing stories came out of Google where they had an M&M problem, and they offer a lot of free food, and there’s even jokes here in Silicon Valley about the Facebook 15, or the Google 15, almost like in college when you gain 15 pounds because you have so much free food and just endless trough of food.

So, they were having this problem with M&Ms, and they decided that they had to create some barriers, some friction, if you will. And so, they took them from eye-level bowls that were open with a big scooper, and they put them in jars, closed them up, and put them down by your knee caps. You had to kind of squat down, which a lot of people weren’t willing to do, and then monkey open the jar, and get in there, and then they had like a little tiny scooper.

And so, that’s one example of kind of putting friction in between you and the autopilot that will probably not serve you. So, whether that is the snooze alarm, some people have a real problem with hitting snooze. And so, how do you create that friction for yourself to not hit snooze? Do you move the phone away, your alarm with your phone on it, away from you further? Those kinds of things. And people, once they understand how this works, they get really creative. It’s just amazing to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that on so many levels. When you said M&M problem, I was thinking of the rapper, I thought, “Are they playing Eminem too loudly? Oh, no, no, the chocolatey treats that are high-calorie. I can see it.”

Kyra Bobinet
He’s brilliant. He’s absolutely brilliant.

Pete Mockaitis
No, I think that’s quite brilliant in terms of making them hard to access. And I’ve done that before in terms of if I’ve got a six pack of delicious beer and I want to drink it more slowly, I just try to really put it deep in the back of the fridge so I have to be pretty motivated and committed to kneel down and reach through and make it happen. And, sure enough, it makes the six pack last more days.

Kyra Bobinet
Exactly. Out of sight, out of mind.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s great and very well-articulated to make the good stuff faster and the bad stuff slower. So, that’s reshaping the environment. And I’d love it if you could give us a few more examples of some smart moves that have helped people out.

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, absolutely. There’s this concept called The Ulysses Contract, and this is from a colleague of mine, David Eagleman, who’s a neuroscientist at Stanford. And he actually talks about this with respect to getting yourself to do the thing. The Ulysses story is very famous in The Odyssey, where he, basically, is on a ship and he really wants to hear the siren sound so he has his sailors lash him to the mast of the ship so that he doesn’t jump overboard which is what the sirens make you do, and then he stuffs all of the men, the sailors, with wax in their ears, or cotton, I can’t remember, and so they can’t hear the siren sounds. They’re navigating the ship and he’s able to enjoy the music without that.

So, what Dr. Eagleman talks about is, “How can you put yourself in a situation where you absolutely have to do the thing?” So, oftentimes, when people purchase something, a cruise or a trip maybe that makes them take vacation because they’re really bad at taking vacations or taking time off. Daddy-daughter dates, even date nights with your spouse, those kinds of things are kind of these Ulysses contracts. They’re things that, once you commit to them, you put so much into it that you have a disincentive to bail out, in that way you kind of prevent your future self from making the wrong choice.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking if we zoom into workplaces and professionals, how have you seen some additional approaches play out in that particular context? So, we’re at work, we want to do more of the good stuff, less the bad stuff. What have you seen work out well for folks?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, absolutely. So, all of us have had this what we’ll call phantom invites that we put on our calendar, right? I call that behavior fantasy, where you have a standing promise to yourself in the future and you just shoot right through it. It’s just so many times you break up with that promise with yourself so that it doesn’t actually even get your attention anymore. All of us have that, whether we put workouts there, or go to sleep early, or only work on the report until here, or even start, like procrastinators like myself, starting something is the hardest thing to get yourself to do.

So, you’re kind of wrangling yourself into that. There’s a number of different strategies, so you can actually create social accountability, which is kind of a consequence. If I tell somebody to hold me accountable, I set a deadline for that person then there’s a social element, and our brains are extremely social so we will, most times than not, get that done or get close to that deadline that we set for another person because we’re obligating ourselves, again, in the future in that kind of Ulysses contract way.

Another thing that people do is create a reward system for themselves. So, that could be an emotional reward, that could be giving themselves a treat of some kind. Hopefully, it’s not going to work against your health in any way. But if there’s something you’ve been really wanting to do, a freedom, a delight, just a little celebration that you want to send that signal of dopamine and even oxytocin, which is another reward chemical, to your brain by really making it a point to celebrate and create a reward system at the end, much like you would train an animal.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, please, share some examples of great rewards and celebrations. And we had BJ Fogg on the show earlier who had some great perspectives on this, and I think it warrants some elaboration. So, we want to be careful that it doesn’t sort of work against other goals, like, “Oh, it’s going to be a delicious Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup,” or something, I don’t know, with high calories. But what are some great rewards and celebrations you’ve seen really work for some folks?

Kyra Bobinet
Yes. So, the best ones are in context, meaning that they’re related to the actual effort itself. So, if you are trying to get something out on a deadline, then to basically build in a lazy day for yourself the next day. And in most cases, and in most workspaces, you can kind of take it back a notch for a little while and go for a long walk, or take a little extra time, or even do something different on your break if you have a really rigid break system timing-wise.

So, those kinds of things where you feel like you’re free, and you’re in control, and you’re the boss of yourself, and you’re not really tying yourself to the dutifulness which so much of us do at work, as being dutiful to others or to your team, and, really, just doing something nice for yourself. And I think it’s the hardest thing in the world for people to do to really have a moment of selfishness that really helps to signal to themselves, “Hey, I’m here for you and I’m taking care of you.”

And that, really, I find in all the people that I interview in research, they really stop rebelling against themselves when they have those little treats that they give themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Well, so we talked a bit about behavior change and shaping the environment. Let’s talk about, specifically, habit formation. You talked a bit about the celebration-rewards piece. Could you maybe orient us to the overall science behind habit formation?

Kyra Bobinet
Yes. So, this is super fascinating. I started out in workplace stress reduction in one of the programs that I created. I created a mindfulness program that was kind of the first in class when I was at Aetna and has since kind of been taken up by Headspace and Calm and some of these apps. So, those are all really great and I’m still a proponent of mindfulness. But I find that unless I can make something as mindless as tying your shoe, it’s not going to survive your modern life.

So, we have a new model we need to really follow of behavior change, which is habit formation, vis-à-vis unstoppability, being unstoppable, being the ability to just keep going and going and going. And one of the things I found in my research on habit science is that there’s a new area of our brain that’s been characterized called the habenula, and that’s a mouthful. But it’s, basically, in charge of two things. One, it is a detector of you thinking you failed. So, if you think you failed, I could throw you in an FMRI machine and this part of your brain will light up, right?

So, the second thing that it does, if it lights up, if it gets turned on like that, is it kills your motivation to try again. And this, to me, was shocking and kind of the reason why you see people do really, really well in terms of changing their behaviors, they set goals, they track them, they do all these things, and then, one day, including this happened to myself, including one day you just stop doing it. And I had patients like this, and I would say, “So, what happened?” And they would literally blink and look at me blankly and say, “I have no idea.” They don’t know how they go there because it happened subconsciously so the person doesn’t even consciously know that they lost their motivation. They just don’t do it.

And so, one of the things with habit formation is that if you practice, and if you practice and practice, you’ll find something that you can get to go. You can close that brain behavior gap, get yourself to practice, and practice, and practice. And as the brain responds to that repetition, what it does is it creates almost like a highway. It lays down the asphalt so that you can drive even faster. So, that behavior goes faster and faster and faster, and it becomes part of your fast brain, that autopilot mindlessness area that we talked about at the beginning. So, that, to me, was just amazing and shocking, and so it completely changed the paradigm of how to change a behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I think there are all sorts of implications there, the habenula, you’re thinking you failed so it kills your motivation to try again. I guess I’m imagining then, one implication may be that you want to maybe reduce the size of the thing you’re trying to habituate so that you don’t fail, you keep on winning again and again and again, and building that highway. Is that accurate?

Kyra Bobinet
You know, that’s the safest thing, and I know BJ, who’s one of my mentors, is really into making it small. I do think that you can really get a higher percentage of shots on goal if you start with small. But I’ve seen people start out with something big if it works for them. To me, the thing I’m drawing from the science these days is what matters most is if you find the thing that turns you on, and that works for you, that fits into your life, no matter how big or small it is, usually it is small especially with somebody who’s a little shaky in their confidence in that particular area, which is what BJ is really good at. It’s just like getting that wheel to turn in people, and simplifying it, and making it tiny. He calls his program Tiny Habits even.

So, I do believe that that’s a really good kindergarten place for everybody to start safely, but I also noticed in my own research that the more important thing that we found is something called the iterative mindset, that we’re calling the iterative mindset, because we found people who changed their habits, big habits, big lifestyle habits against all odds, but they did it by finding their experiment, by looking at it as an experiment, and then iterating or tweaking and tinkering with it until it worked for them. So, maybe you can kind of see that as a small change too.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, and while we’re talking about laying the highway, I guess maybe I’ve seen all kinds of different ranges quoted in different places. But how long does it take to form a habit? Is it 28 days? Is it 66 days? Does it depend, and what does it depend on? Can you lay it down for us?

Kyra Bobinet
Well, Pete, I just so happen to be nerdy enough to know the answer to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please.

Kyra Bobinet
Actually, you know, about four years ago, I asked myself that same question, and I had my neuroscience team really, really scrub the scientific literature and put together a model based on the evidence that was there. So, actually, it takes one full year to fully, what’s called myelinate, which is that pavement in the brain that makes it superfast, electrical signal can go way faster, for a new habit to form, and that’s with fairly, daily, if not multiple times a week, repetition of that habit.

And so, what happens when you have a highway after about a year is that you’ve got now two copies of the same behavior. You have the old copy of, in my case, I used to go through the drive-thru all the time as just an easy way to get a meal, and as I broke that habit, my competing habit, my adult one-year old habit, was to cook at home for my kids. And once you have that cook-at-home thing, you can still go through the drive-thru, you still have that old highway. And most people don’t understand it. It’s not that they’re not patient about building the new highway, it’s that they make the mistake thinking the old highway is in disrepair.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a full year. Interesting. And so then, I imagine that’s like a full-blown highway and myelination is there. Kind of intermediate step before that or how do you think about that?

Kyra Bobinet
Right, there’s hope. There’s hope, Pete. Yeah, so what we know from the science is that around eight to ten weeks there is this kind of automation that starts to kick in, so it starts to feel easier and easier, more automatic. And then over the time that you do it, you’re basically sending so many signals to your brain of, “Hey, this is my new normal,” that your brain makes it feel more comfortable.

So, over the course of that year, you’re going to get more and more comfortable, it’s going to become more and more you as opposed to not you, and it’s going to get more and more automated, you can  use less and less brain energy to make it happen. So, that’s where the mindlessness really kicks in. To me, we should all be looking at mindlessness as the goal.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s fun. It’s a fun when you think about that mindlessness, which almost sounds like a bad thing to be avoided. And, today, mindfulness is everything. Obviously, mindlessness is the thing to pursue but it makes sense in this context, and I appreciate that. So, very cool. Well, so then, I guess there’s many, many habits one might choose to build. I’ve heard some cool research or thoughts on keystone habits, you know, habits that can sort of unlock a whole lot of great results. Tell us, when it comes to a well-designed life, what are some of the habits that tend to really do have some powerful ripple effects?

Kyra Bobinet
You know, the more I do this, and we’ve been building a software around this, and what we’re finding is that it is literally a matchmaking exercise between that person at that time in their life based on everything they’ve tried before, or they’re burnt out on, and what they’re open to, and what can kind of reengage them, and then what excites them, what fits their life, what fits their schedule. It is almost like that old adage where you’ve got a floating circle in the ocean, and an ocean turtle, a sea turtle, just happens to pop up their head right in the middle of that circle. That’s kind of how bullseye it has to be.

And so, I think that right now what we’re facing is, “How do we sift through all of the millions of options in any particular topic area and really find the thing that works for us, that works for me right now that’s going to, again, turn me on, that it makes sense to me, and it really is interesting to me?” And just having that, I call it, seeking behavior is the most important thing it seems.

And there’s another neuroscientist that I really admire, he passed away a couple of years ago, named Jaak Panksepp, and his conclusion was that there were seven emotional channels in the mammalian brain, we’re mammals. And he noticed that the number one most dominant emotion was seeking, seeking behaviors. So, think Google, think online shopping, think looking for a mate, looking for a job. That power of that looking is itself very therapeutic and positive for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that feels like another hour of conversation right there. Wow!

Kyra Bobinet
We’ll get a part two.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the seeking is the strongest of the seven, and it just seems there’s a lot of implications to that. What do you think are amongst some of the biggest when it comes to folks who are trying to become awesome at their jobs? If the seeking behavior is among the strongest of those seven emotional channels, how do we make that work for us?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, I mean, obviously, the tribe that follows you is of that ilk. They’ve already won that particular contest because they’re seeking, they’re taking in new information, they’re leaning into more and more answers for them, and they are perusing all the wisdom that you’re sharing on this show and the people that you bring on this show. So, basically, they’re locked in there. I think just hearing it might just be another validation of that. Keep doing that, you’re on the right track. That’s exactly what we all need to do.

And, in fact, it should be probably a red flag in that case for this audience that if you stop seeking, maybe look at that. If you get stuck in your career, or in your progress at work, then look at seeking first. Did you lose seeking? Did you lose curiosity? Did you lose spending time wondering about things and opening yourself up? Because that’s where that next round of growth would lead you to.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you. Well, so I also love to get your take when it comes to automating, building good habits and breaking bad habits. Are there any particular behaviors? You mentioned there’s a matchmaking situation, but any sort of small behaviors you recommend we might start doing right away to make it easier to develop these highways?

Kyra Bobinet
You know, in the habit science, there’s two variables that stand out as the most important. Number one is time, the time of day or the time after or before. Your brain understands time as sequences, like, “I do this before I do that,” you know, “I shower before I get dressed.” And it also understands things in terms of time of, “I do this on Sundays,” time of week, time of day. And so, if you’re trying to do a habit and you haven’t anchored it in time or how your brain understands time, it’s likely going to get lost in the wash of your life and distractions. So, that’s one thing I would say.

The other thing that the science is saying is that location is huge. We also understand, “I do this in my car. I do this at my desk. I do this when I go to the cafeteria.” Those kinds of triggers, they’re called context cues, are the thing that really helps to anchor the habit in space, if you will. So, you’ve got time and space, and then there’s the social element, too, which is, “I do this with these people.”

So, one of the reasons why it’s so hard not to be good, some people call it, I don’t call it that, but at a birthday party to not eat cake when everybody else is eating cake is that your brain is saying, “Oh, I eat birthday cake with other people. I don’t just go to the grocery store and throw it in my grocery cart usually by myself. Happy birthday to me.” It’s very social.

So, those are some three ways that I think if somebody who’s thinking about a habit could strengthen it and could really help them to select the right one for them.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, with all this talk about environment and habits, I’m curious in terms of what have you seen in workplaces are some of the, and I know it’s going to be a special fit in matchmaking, person to person, but what are some of the most prevalent bad things in habits and environments, and good things in habits and environments that you’re seeing in workplaces today?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, I would say the most troublesome one is the stress habit that gets turned into gossip and toxicity. So, most cultures don’t have, I’ll call it, an anus for the stress that gets built up there. Pardon, I’m a doctor so that kind of word is available to me.

Pete Mockaitis
It might be the first time where the word anus has been uttered on this show. Thank you, Kyra.

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, the listeners are like, “What did she say?” So, yeah, I said anus.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean, you’re screening it out I think is where you’re going with this, yeah.

Kyra Bobinet
I said anus, yeah, exactly. Let’s say it a couple of times. So, yeah, we need some outlet for all the stress and friction. And people are moving a million miles a minute, they’re going from meeting to meeting to meeting, or they’ve got production schedules, or they’re stocking shelves like crazy, whatever your job is, and you are going back to back to back to back. Most people can’t even find time to go to the restroom at their modern work, right?

So, all of that creates all this friction and all of this like angst and rumination that the brain is going through, and then there’s not a real good mechanism that needs to be designed for really, “Whew!” exhale, the anus, you know, pooping, getting it all out. And so, that then turns into backbiting, gossiping, cannibalizing each other, that sort of thing. And so, I would say that what works for everybody is to engineer some downtime in the middle of the day to find ways to give yourself a mental break. And this is where mindfulness comes in really good, and your three deep breaths, and you literally reset your brain. And you just have to remind yourself how to do that or get your attention to remember to do the good thing that you know to do.

So, those kinds of mechanisms, I think, are universal. And then there’s sort of little productivity things that people, I would say there’s different segments of productivity tricks and hacks that people have. There is the procrastinators, like myself, who need to have external deadlines to bump our noses up against. There’s people who are super diligent, who are maybe introverts who need that quiet time away. There’s people who are extroverts who need to go and pull together a bunch of people and talk everything out.

And so, those are some ways that I see are mushy but could be more clarified if somebody were to take the time and kind of almost journal or articulate for themselves, “What kind of person are you? What kind of worker are you? When do you see yourself really shine and really turn on?” And I think that’ll help people understand some of the habits that are maybe positive and maybe toxic for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you. And what are some of the most encouraging great stuff that you’re seeing there?

Kyra Bobinet
My heroes these days is a company called Workday, and they do HR technologies, kind of SaaS platforms. But the thing I like about it is that their people who are in charge of their employee wellbeing are focusing on rumination because one of the good things that’s come out of the mindfulness research of late in the neuroscience side is that we know now that if your brain is on loop in an area called, forgive me, dorsolateral PFC, which is prefrontal cortex. It’s basically kind of if you look at your forehead and you kind of go an inch to the right or left, there’s two little areas there that are basically causing you to focus on yourself.

And rumination is, “Oh, did I do that right? Oh, what does she think of me? Oh, am I going to get fired? Oh, when is my performance review? Am I ever going to get rise up in this company? Do I need to look for another job? Does so and so like me?” all that rumination. And what they know, what Workday is dealing with is training programs, and discussions, and wellbeing initiatives to help people deal with that rumination, because that has been tied to, again, going back to MRI studies, to feelings of depression, feelings of anxiety. We have an epidemic of anxiety these days because of the number of triggers our brain sustains that throws us into rumination on a daily basis.

So, I think the modern workplace is really how do we design for freeing ourselves from these brains kind of loop tendency to get into rumination sequences, you know?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Kyra, I’m fascinated by, boy, I’m counting some research associated with how our current levels of anxiety are just like wildly higher than they were a generation or two ago. And so, that’s whole another conversation.

Kyra Bobinet
Well, what are you seeing in that? Because you live this every single day. You live and breathe in this industry and in this area.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think I heard a talk in which someone said that, in particular, I think they were talking about teenagers had levels of anxiety just sort of like normally like in terms of their day-to-day experience that were comparable to, I think, sort of veterans suffering from PTSD. And I said, “What?” And so, that was eye-opening. So, I’ve got two precious kiddos under two right now, and I’m thinking about their future, I was like, “Whoa! What is going on there? That’s intriguing.” And I’ve yet to do my seeking of many answers there. But you brought up something intriguing there with regard to, hey, we have so many more triggers now for rumination that lead to anxiety. So, could you unpack what are some of those big triggers we’ve got now that we didn’t have before?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. So, we have so much exposure, right? So, let’s say, take a typical Western person in the U.S. for example, and even before they start their first meeting or activity at work, they have listened to or watched a million things that could’ve triggered an emotion in them. So, all that residue is kind of spinning around in their subconscious, and that’s going to lead to rumination if they do not do something consciously and mindfully about it. So, if they ground out and say, “I send compassion to that war-torn area I just heard about,” or, “I just heard about the fires in my area or a tornado that happened in the Midwest,” or any of those things. Like, it does land in the brain. And even if you think you’re tough and you move on, it mulls around inside.

And so, that’s the kind of fodder or tinder by which this rumination fire just starts to burn, it starts to go and go and go, and it’s subconscious. So, what happens is that you don’t even notice it until maybe, I’ve talked to executives who suddenly have panic attacks on a work trip, and they’re the most solid person in the world, and they’re super extroverted and things like that, but that’s how it’s affecting us. It’s just that constant touch on things you can do nothing about but you have an emotional response to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Part of the mystery is in place there and I appreciate that. Kyra, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Kyra Bobinet
Pete, what I stand for at this point is just making people unstoppable. For me, the most significant thing in my career so far has been really understanding how iteration and iterators never fail, and they’re in all kinds of industries. So, the one thing I really care about is just really helping people to wake up to that fact, the fact about your brain and how it works, and it helps you get around the habenula and all the little things that blow up in your face. And that, to me, is revolutionary in terms of people’s success at work and in life. And I’m just super stoked about that conversation and that concept and people making that their own as well.

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

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. So, kind of along those lines. I had a mentor and he used to have this really interesting voicemail because I’ll call him sometimes for some moral support, or, “How do I do this?” And his voicemail said, “Hi, this is David. I didn’t catch you right now. I’ll catch you later.” And he said, “Don’t ever give up no matter what you do,” and then he hangs up. And that’s my favorite quote of all time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Kyra Bobinet
So, for me, it is the iterative mindset study that we did. Again, we’ve been building up this research for a couple of years now on the Walmart Project, and we found that this iterative mindset existed in people who succeeded but then we did, we took a huge chance in broad daylight, in front of our biggest customer, it’s the biggest professional risk I’ve ever taken, and we did this study to see if we could get people to adapt this mindset and if it would change their outcomes.

And we actually found that we could get them to lose weight at the regular one pound a week, a healthy pace, and that they have habit formation that was statistically significant, and they had mindset formation that was statistically significant. So, to me, that was just delightful and really following the science and reading all of the homework before that really helped us set this up for something that was going to work out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, that’s powerful. And maybe if we could hear one sentence on how would you articulate, characterize the iterative mindset as oppose to its alternative?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. And the credit goes to the MacGyvers of the world. This is something that even though I’m putting language to it, this is found in nature. So, people are just so clever, and it’s so amazing. So, these are people that work for Walmart, lower socioeconomic status, they have every stressor every time and money constraints in the world, family not being supportive of them, and they changed their health, they changed their lifestyle to be healthy against all these odds.

And what they all had in common was this iterative mindset, which is two parts that we can tell. Number one is they see what they’re trying next as an experiment. It’s not like this do or die. It’s not a goal. It’s just, “Hmm, maybe I’ll play with this a little bit. Maybe I’ll practice this a little bit.” So, they see it as a practice, they see it as a non-consequential experiment, that’s part number one.

Part number two is when they need to change something, either because a life disruptor came in, they had to move away from their favorite gym, or their shift changed and they can no longer do what they were doing before, cooking for their kids, whatever, they would iterate. And much like tech here in Silicon Valley, that iteration, that relentless iteration of, “I’m just going to iterate and tweak and tinker until I find the next thing that works for me,” made them different from everybody else because everybody else goes, “Oh, I failed.” Boom! They hit their habenula. Boom! They stop trying without even knowing it. And, boom, they quit, they quit trying. And that is the biggest problem.

And every time I talk to clinicians or people who’ve changed their lives, they recognize this pattern, they’re like, “That’s how I do it.” So, I know that it’s real, I know that it’s natural, I know that it’s not like high academia, but it’s something that everybody can do to make their life better. And, in fact, I haven’t met a single person who has made their life better who didn’t do it in this way.

Pete Mockaitis
Powerful. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite book?

Kyra Bobinet
Yes. So, my favorite book that I read every night with my husband, just one little passage because it’s teeny tiny, it’s called Tao Te Ching with Steven Mitchell as the interpreter. And I just love it because it kind of messes with my sense of reality. It says, “Do without doing.” And that’s just one of those come-ons, that’s like, “What? I don’t understand.” So, I like making myself feel like I’m confused and I don’t really understand this deep profound philosophy stuff, but I still like to take it in and try to chew on it a little bit.

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

Kyra Bobinet
So, for me, I use a couple of things. For my to-do list, I like the Clear app, and I only look at the top three things every day because your brain only understands, so that’s a three. I also have been using Otter lately to write my new book, and that just transcribes all my words because I’m better at talking than sitting down and making myself write, and that’s one of those Ulysses contract things.

And then I also, every year it’s coming up now, I’m going to do another vision board for 2020. So, I actually do a vision board. I do it with just a big Sharpie and a big nice piece of poster board, and I put it up for the year. And pretty much everything that happens in the year follows that vision board.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, I think that the one that’s been really resonating with people lately is mindlessness is the new mindfulness because we know we’re busy, we know we’re distracted, and we know we have to, if we’re going to change our lives and change our behavior, we have to get it to a mindless state.

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

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah. Well, we have our company website EngagedIn.com. Our product website is FreshTri.com and then my namesake website, you can always say hi to me, DrKyraBobinet.com. I love to hear from people.

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

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, there’s no reason to stop trying, that’s my message is just be unstoppable and get around your habenula. And what I said about the iterative mindset works for you or you need to even tinker or tweak that to fit you or the way you think, do it, because there’s no reason to stop these days. And if you find yourself getting stuck, just shake it off and realize you can iterate your way out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kyra, this has been so much fun. Thank you and good luck in all of your adventures.

Kyra Bobinet
Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

522: How to Defeat Distraction with Joe McCormack

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Joe McCormack says: "If I don't manage noise, it's going to manage me."

Joe McCormack provides noise survival tips for clear thinking.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Top 3 tactics for noise survival
  2. The problem with multitasking and what to do instead
  3. How to train yourself to say no

About Joe:

Joe McCormack founded and serves as managing director and president of The Sheffield Company, an award-winning boutique agency. A passionate leader, he started The BRIEF Lab, a subsidiary of Sheffield, in 2013 after years dedicated to developing and delivering a unique curriculum on strategic narratives for U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He speaks at diverse industry and client forums on the topics of messaging, storytelling, change, leadership, and focus.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Joe McCormack Interview Transcript

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

Joe McCormack
It’s great to talk to you again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into some of your wisdom about noise. But, maybe, I’ll put you on the spot and say what’s perhaps the most fascinating and surprising discovery you’ve made about this stuff since we spoke last?

Joe McCormack
For me, the most fascinating thing is that this is an issue that affects a lot of people, so just talking to people about the project, it elicits almost an immediate response of something that .

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s certainly resonant. And so then, I’d love to get your take then, sort of how do we get here and what do we do about it?

Joe McCormack
Well, my journey is I wrote a book called “Brief” and it was all about the value of concise communication and being clear, and it was really targeted towards a professional audience, so people that communicate for a living. And the reason for that book was because

So, as I was really promoting that book, and teaching courses and workshops and webinars, it became really readily apparent that there’s this issue that people were still struggling with, which is, “How do you manage the noise of the information overload?” Obviously,

So, if you’re in a meeting and people strategies to handle this as a day-to-day reality, one that is not getting better, it’s just getting worse?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And so then, I’d love to get your take then in terms of do you have some research or data that paints the picture for just how severe this environment is now as compared to before?

Joe McCormack
Well, if you look at it, it’s basically

So, that wasn’t like that, people bought alarm clocks. And that sort of need to be with technology all the time and information and constantly consuming it is becoming, I think, one of the big struggles and people don’t know it because it’s very subtle, maybe incremental, it’s just happening over the last decade. And a lot of people are talking about this and people feel helpless, like, “I don’t know why I’m on edge all the time.” And they feel like they’re always on alert, they’re always on call because they’re tethered to it and they can’t get rid of it seemingly, and that makes people feel helpless and they don’t know why.

Obviously, if you get up and the first thing you do is check your phone, and you find that you have an email from your boss and it’s not good, well, you haven’t had a cup of coffee and you’ve already ruined your day. And then they’re taking the phone, so

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Well, that’ll do it. And so then, I’m curious, what is the beginning of the solution?

Joe McCormack
It turns out that raising an awareness of, “Hey, your brain is not an infinite device where you could just…it’s like a battery that just goes on forever. It depletes,” so people need to protect it.

Attention is your most valuable resource.

The second thing that’s related to it is I call this an old-school solution to a new-world problem, and a lot of those answers require discipline, and being intentional, and starting to manage it like you manage anything that’s an issue. You don’t let it manage you. You manage it and you take the upper hand. And I think that’s the big point of the book, is there are things that we can do to start managing these realities and get control back of our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
And you got fun little abbreviations here,

Joe McCormack
Yes. So, if you think about the old-school radio, you’ve got AM and FM, they’re frequencies, and there’s a whole metaphor in the book about dialing in and what you tune into and what you tune out of, and you set the channels. So, AM is awareness management, this is how I manage my own awareness, my own attention. It’s my personal responsibility to do this. And focus management is, once I start to do that, I can help the people around me help manage their focus.

So, if AM first stars with me, and FM means I can be the force at helping other people improve their focus. And those are sort of the two frequencies in the book that we focus on – start with yourself and then help other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, then you listed out some particular tactics in a noise-survival guide, ten of them. I’d love to hear a couple of those that you think offer sort of the best bang for your buck, they make a world of difference when you do them.

Joe McCormack
I think, for people, when you think about this issue and you think about how it affects people, you’re consuming information which, at the end of the day, doesn’t really make that much of a difference. If you shut it off for a day, your life isn’t going to be that much worse. So, how do you fix it?

Well, one is you have to taking aim. And it starts with a real simple sentence, which is, “In my role,” everybody’s got different roles – parent, brother, coworker, boss, leader, visionary, whatever your role is. People have three to five key roles in their lives, maybe more. “In my role as blank, the most important thing for me today is blank.” And I think people need to write that sentence every day.

“In my role as father, the most important thing for me today is to call my son.” Nothing should get in between me and that. Nothing. Nothing is more important than that. That’s the most important thing. Always do the most important thing. But you have to define it because if you don’t define it, something else is going to compete for it, your attention, so you have to take aim at that. That’s the first thing. And I do that every day and it’s an interesting exercise.

The second thing, is critical, is what people do is, they’re like, “Well, when it’s quiet, I’ll enjoy it.” And it never comes. So, it’s like the play “Waiting for Godot.” Well, during the ending, he doesn’t come, right? So, quiet never comes. It only comes if you will schedule it. And I look at this as scheduled like non-negotiable.

Every day in the morning and in the afternoon, I schedule quiet time. It’s a set amount of time and I do it no matter what. Like, I take a shower and I eat. I never say I’m so busy that I can’t take a shower and I can’t eat. In our lives nowadays, we have to schedule quiet time. That’s the second thing. In that quiet time, I answer the question, “In my role as blank, the most important thing for me is blank.”

And then the third thing is, “For example, an alert or notification comes on my phone. It’s amazing how immediate my response is, “Well, I’ll just check it.” No, no, no, I’m not going to check it right now because I’m doing something else right now. If I do it, the research tells me that it’s going to take me a significant amount of time to go back and regain that focus, so I have to start getting really comfortable with the word no. And that starts with myself.

I’m not telling people to say no to everybody else, though that might be part of it. When a person interrupts you, and they’re like, “You got a minute?” You can say, “Not right now, but I will in 15.” So, you . And when those interruptions do come, we have to recognize them as something that is going to really weaken us, really, really weaken us. So, those are three things, taking aim at the most important thing, scheduling quiet, and then really just saying no when things come.

I think that empowers people. I can do something to improve in this area. I can be a force in managing this, and that’s why I call it attention management or awareness management, is I manage it. It’s my job.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. I like that notion. And so, you said a significant amount of time, and I’m a sucker for the numbers. I read a Microsoft study that suggested it could be 24 minutes when folks just check their email real quick for something, and then try to return to what they’re doing. What’s that from you see?

Joe McCormack
They’re all over the place. They could  But the issue is that it’s not…we think that it takes just a nanosecond to regain attention, and the research is it’s like resetting, you’ve got rebuild your mind, so it takes way longer than people think.

Pete Mockaitis
So, at least a couple of minutes and maybe nearly an hour. Got it.

Joe McCormack
Yeah. And if you think about the things that people are doing moment to moment and multitasking, and the research indicates that when you’re trying to do two things, you’re depleting your attention. Now you’re doing three. It’s, like, we’re not acrobats in a circus where we’re spinning plates. That’s a skill for the rare person that can do five things at once. Most of us mere mortals struggle to do one thing well at once. So, why are you trying to do two or three? So, I think that we have to start saying no to some of those things because

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. And so, in that quiet time, I’d love to get your take with the scheduling. What do you find, in your experience and in others who are utilizing this, are some of the most sensible appropriate times to really schedule that in, make it work well for the day?

Joe McCormack
I liken it to like taking a shower. If you like taking a shower at night or in the morning, that’s really up to the person. The issue is

So, the people listening to it right now are like, “Well, all right, that sounds great. I want to do it.” So, when you sit down for 5 minutes and it’s quiet, it’s really noisy because you’re not prepared for it. So,

So, what I’ve devised are just some suggestions of things to prepare so when it comes, you’re ready for it. So, if you think about it, how would you  It’s like listening to a podcast. In a moment I want to listen to a podcast, you curate the podcast. People set your podcast, they subscribe to it, they’re ready for it, they come to listen, they’re ready to go. You don’t just drive your car while looking for a podcast, you’ll crash so you have to prepare before you get in the car.

Same thing for quiet. Think, “What am I going to do in this time of quiet?” And I came up with categories. You can come up with an infinite number of them. One is nothing. there’s a lot of books and research that say it’s good and healthy to let your mind wander and not focus on anything.

Another one is, it might sound funny but  Or plan, or read, or be thankful. Thanksgiving is a big day, right, for a lot of people. Write a list of things, if you have a tough life, that you’re thankful for. I’m thankful for shoes, electricity, my job. I’m thankful for the car. Whatever you’re thankful for, just write a list for 5 minutes, 10. And just come up with an activity and then do that for a set amount of time. And don’t try to be good at it. Just do it. This isn’t a contest. This is like you plug in your device to recharge it. This is the recharging of your brain.

And connected to that is  Don’t go to bed when you’re done and wake up when you feel like it. It’s all part of quiet. It’s like your brain needs to restore itself. It’s under attack all day long. You need seven to eight hours of sleep. And the research tells that high schoolers and college students, they don’t get nearly enough sleep, and they’re on their phones all day long. This is a bad combination. Really bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so you’ve laid that out there well. And I’m curious, in terms of you schedule the quiet time, you’ve got a plan, it’s curated for what goes down. And one of the biggest things is you establish your “In my role as blank, the most important thing is blank.” Maybe I could put you on the spot, for today, what did you come up with in terms of these critical sentences?

Joe McCormack
Funny you asked. You’re not putting me on the spot because I do this every day. There’s three big things that I did. One is I prepared for this podcast, all right? That was the first thing because it’s an important thing. I’ve written a book and I need to explain it so I need to prepare. The second thing that I did was I texted my kids. I’ve got kids in college and they’re always moving around and I travel as well so I’d like to stay connected to them. I’d let them know that I’m thinking about them.

A very close family member overseas, my brother-in law’s mom passed away so I prayed for her because I just found out she passed away. And I had a meeting with a startup, which was I got some guys in special operations that have retired and started a new business, and we were talking about their company and their vision and I was helping them with that. So, those were categories. And I do that every day.

And sometime it’s hard to come up with what’s the most important thing and not have it be just a to-do list. But, really, the reason I do it is because it orients my day. It gives my day an orientation so these are things that are like…do you ever go through a day that’s just a blur?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.

Joe McCormack
These make the days less of a blur because it makes the days more purposeful and more intentional and less like, “Oh, it’s 10:00 o’clock at night and I don’t know what I did. I can’t remember. And it’s not just today. It’s like I go back for a week, a month, and I can’t remember anything. My day is just a…” The whole thing is just a complete, like, “I’m in my life but I don’t remember any of it.” And that helps orient the day towards those things. And I think, for me, it’s been extremely helpful to do that and I’d like to suggest to other people to do the same.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And just to be able to feel like a winner in terms of, “Okay, I had, I don’t know, hundreds of potential to-do items land in my world, and I did 40 of them. Is that good? I don’t know.” As opposed to, when you’ve established, “All right. In my role as this, the most important thing is that,” and you do those things. You say, “All right, that feels good.” You can feel victorious with the day and ready to take on the next one.

Joe McCormack
You’re absolutely right. There is a book, actually a speech that was given by Admiral McRaven. As you may recall, he was the head of joint-special operations command, and then he gave a speech at the University of Texas. And the point of the speech was, “The first thing you need to do every day is to make your bed.” So, he wrote a book about this.

And what struck a lot of people was when he said that, his point was start your day with a success, and even if your day is a complete failure, when you come home at night, and this is brilliant, and you see that you did the first thing well, your day would not have been a total disaster. And it’s funny, when I was a kid, my dad would always tell us, “When you wake up, get up. And when you get up, make your bed.”

And McRaven, he wrote a whole book about making your bed, and I think the most important thing, do the most important thing. Do that and you’ll feel like you’re making progress in your life because you’re doing the most important thing and not forgetting that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s dead-on. And so, let’s talk about roles for a second. I mean, I imagine we could generate potentially dozens of roles and names for them. What are some of the biggies that come up again and again for you and clients?

Joe McCormack
Yeah, you have your role as leader, subordinate. I mean, everybody has got a boss. You can go to different characteristics like visionary, helper. You can go to partner. You can go to friend. You can go to brother or sister, parent, neighbor. I mean, there’s just things of

So, you think about your role, like during the day, it’s not like the great schizophrenia, that’s not the point. who am I today and what am I doing and what are the expectations? What’s important?” And once those get defined, it brings a lot of clarity. Next it brings a lot of the noise down because I’m clear in this moment right now, I’m not trying to be a father. I’m trying to be an author of a book and you’re the host. You’re not the host and an investment banker, even though that might be something you would do.

So, it gives people clarity about trying not to do ten things at once.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You have a fun turn of a phrase weapons of mass distraction. Can you give us some examples of those and what do we do about them?

Joe McCormack
I think if you just look at your life, there are…a

If you look at it as almost a threat and a reward, but it’s both, it can be helpful but it can also be very, very damaging at the same time. And it has to be managed as such, that it’s not…like, if you look at people bring their phone to bed. It doesn’t belong in bed. It belongs on a table in another room. Put it in another room. Buy an alarm clock.

I’ll tell you a funny story about that. I used to use it as an alarm clock. Well, what happens was I used it as an alarm clock, but then I want to check something, and the next thing you know I’m online, and two hours later I don’t know what I’m doing. So, I put it in another room and I bought an old-school alarm clock. So, the clock just changed a few weeks ago. I don’t have my phone to automatically update. I need to remember to change the clock. This was pretty old-school, right? So, I‘ve got an alarm clock, it sits six feet from me, and I didn’t change the time. So, I get up, set the alarm, wake up, it’s on a Sunday, I go to church, I go there, there’s nobody there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Joe McCormack
You know what’s so funny? There’s an old lady sitting there, and then there’s a guy sitting in the back, and it was kind of cold, so I’m like, “I don’t know, maybe people didn’t want to come because it was kind of cold.” I mean, I just said this in my head. So, I sit there, and then this old lady, she comes up to me, and she’s like, “Where is everybody?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s cold.” And I’m sitting there, and I’m like, “Oh, the clock’s changed. I’m using an alarm clock. My iPhone didn’t tell me. Oh, I guess that’s not the worst thing in the world.” I sat there for an extra hour.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, there you go.

Joe McCormack
I had built in quiet time. I had another hour but I didn’t go anywhere. My kids were like, “What did you do?” And I’m like, “I just sat there. I mean, why not? There’s worse places to be, right?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Nifty. Well, understood. So, the phone is one of them. And what else?

Joe McCormack
elusive 600. And, basically, the research tells us our brains are great processors, so they process, let’s say, at a rate of about 750 words per minute. This is conscious and subconscious thinking, how fast you can think. People can speak about 125 to 150 words a minute.

So, if you take 750 words per minute processing minus 150 words per minute speaking, you have about 600 extra words. That’s what the brain is thinking while you’re talking, and thinking while you’re listening. And we gave it a name, it was given by a friend of mine, Sharon Ellison, and it’s called the elusive 600. So, in that, those are the thoughts that go through our mind all day long.

Now, if you think about this, so when you’re listening to somebody, or you’re talking to somebody, or you’re just talking to yourself, you’re just walking from thing to thing, what are we saying to ourselves while we’re doing that? And you look at conversations that go bad. So, one of the things we talk about in the book is listening, and I call it you have to be in the moment and give listening as a gift. So, I have no agenda, I’m just listening, like you’re listening.

So, in the moment, thoughts can pop into my head. And if you’re a bad listener, I can’t listen to that thought right now. I just have to ignore it. I have to stay focused. So, random thoughts, negative thoughts, useless thoughts, thoughts that are just not timely thoughts, like, “Oh, I’d love to check this sport, this score in the game.” Well, I’m right in the middle of writing somebody’s evaluation. That’s not a good time to go check the sports score. Like, the quality of that evaluation is going to be in great part how much concentration and focus I gave it. But if a thought pops into my head, it doesn’t have to be prompted by technology,

In the example I used, it’s like if you’re in an office, walk from one side of an office to another to do something and see what people do along the way. They’ll be like going to the copy machine to get a copy, and then they stop to do this, and it’s all random thoughts. Stay focused. Are you getting a copy? I just did this today. I’m getting a copy then I go and get a cup of coffee. It’s like, “No, get the

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about the shutdown, say no. What is the answer to untimely thoughts? Maybe that’s a big question many meditation teachers have wrestled with for millennia.

Joe McCormack
I just think Just keep on saying no. Like, there’s a power to the word no. Say no to things that are irresistible. No. Because there’s a power to it.

When you hear a person say it, it’s powerful. “Would you like to go to the game tonight?” “No, I can’t. I have something else to do.” I’m not encouraging people to walk around and tell their workmates and their colleagues no all the time because that would be anarchy.

powerful one at that. And people who are successful do this all the time so there’s nothing new about this. This is an old-school answer to a new-world problem. But this new-world problem presents itself as an irresistible problem. Like, “I can’t say no.” Well, we have to learn to or relearn to say no.

And this is why I call it attention management. I’m managing my attention.

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

Joe McCormack
I think for people, I think a lot of people struggle with this. It’s certainly a big work thing where there are so many things competing for our attentions but it’s really, this competes in all facets of your life. So, it might be discouraging or difficult for people, and I just want to tell people that

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

Joe McCormack
My father was a huge impact in my life and one of his quotes was, “Do something even if it’s wrong,” and he would always qualify it, not morally wrong or legally wrong, but just his impetus was just do something. Just don’t stand around waiting and thinking. Just keep on moving, keep on doing something, which is one of my favorite quotes from him.

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

Joe McCormack
The elusive 600 that I mentioned before we shared, I don’t know exactly where the original research came from, but it came from a woman, a consultant. And what I love the most about it is it gives a word or a name to a reality that people live with, and now they have a name for it. Like, “Oh, that’s my elusive 600.” And I’ve taught our courses at the Brief Lab for now over seven years, and that term has got a stickiness to it, and I owe a lot to that consultant who shared that with me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Joe McCormack
One of my favorite books, the book is called “Isaac’s Storm” and it’s a book about a hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900. It’s a tragic part of history but it was a storm that nobody knew was coming. And we look at today like everybody knows in advance what bad things are going to happen, it’s like predicting the future. And this was a story about the technology and the science was advancing but it wasn’t quite there yet, and nobody knew. It’s a tragic story but it’s one about like our world is imperfect, and no matter how much technology we think we have, we’re always a little bit behind.

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

Joe McCormack
Well, in the work that we teach at the Brief Lab, one of the big ones we do in the world of being clear and intentional as communicators, “it gives people a sense of clarity and purpose when they talk, that I just did this day. I just love when people get that concept and use it because it makes them so much easier to understand.

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

Joe McCormack
Go to TheBriefLab.com and we have resources there. You can download two free chapters of the book “Noise.” We have tools that people can use. There’s a treasure trove of resources. We teach elite military organizations and corporate leaders and teams not only how to be concise communicators but now with noise, how to be clear thinkers.

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

Joe McCormack
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Joe, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in managing the noise and enjoying all the fun that comes with having that handled.

Joe McCormack
Thank you so much for having me.

521: How to Generate 100 Ideas in 10 Minutes with Dr. Roger Firestien

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Dr. Roger Firestien says: "The creativity comes in the stretch, the innovation comes in the stretch."

Dr. Roger Firestien shares his simple method for generating more original ideas.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The four guidelines for generating ideas
  2. Why silly warm ups seriously help brainstorming
  3. The magic number for creative ideas

About Roger:

Dr. Roger Firestien has taught more people to lead the creative process than anyone else in the world.

By applying Roger’s work in creativity:

  • Clorox solved a 77-year-old problem in 15 minutes;
  • General Motors came up with a $1.50 solution that saved the company $50,000 a week;
  • Mead Paper developed a world-class line of products and saved $500,000 a year;

Called “The Gold Standard” of creativity training by his clients, he has presented programs in creativity

to over 600 organizations nationally and internationally.

Roger’s latest book Create in a Flash: A Leader’s Recipe for Breakthrough Innovation provides techniques

to grow personal and team capacity for tackling tough challenges and recession proofing any business.

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Learn more, faster with book summaries you can read or listen to in 15 minutes at blinkist.com/awesome
  • Alitu. Coupon code: awesomejob

Dr. Roger Firestien Interview Transcript

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

Roger Firestien
My pleasure. I’m happy to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued, so we’re going to talk about thinking and creativity. And I understand that when you like to think, one of your favorite things to do is drive tractors. What’s the story here?

Roger Firestien
I grew up in a farm in northern Colorado, and one of the beautiful things about being a part of my family is that my father didn’t say I had to be a farmer, right? And I got very interested in music, and the interest in music led to my interest in creativity. So, when I moved out to Buffalo, New York in 1978 to study creativity at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, I really never wanted to set foot on a farm again.

And a number of years ago, I went through some challenging times, and I ran into a fellow named Philip Keppler who owns a cattle ranch near Medina, New York which is about 40 miles northeast of Buffalo, where he grazes about 400 cattle. And so, Phil and I became friends, and I started to just go out to the farm to do what I call farm therapy. And what farm therapy is, is you go and you do stuff but you don’t have to make a decision on what you’re doing. My friend Phil says, “Let’s go move those bales up the north,” and we do it. my friend Phil says, “Let’s go move that tractor over there,” and we do it. My friend Phil says, “Let’s move those cattle over there to that pasture,” and we do it.

So, what it allows for me to do, and I do it regularly now, is that when I get stale with writing or when I get frustrated with what it’s like working in a university, in the International Center for Creativity, or running creativity consultancy firm, I go out there and I spend some time either driving a tractor, or working with cattle, or shoveling cow manure, or even falling in it sometimes, because what it does is it gives me break from what I usually do.

The other thing that farm therapy does to me is that, when I’m out there working on a field, and I’m supposed to, what we call bush hog, which is cut down a whole bunch of brush or anything, there is a tangible result from beginning to the end. You can see when it’s finished and there’s great satisfaction in that. In our work in teaching and writing, sometimes you often don’t see it.

So, farm therapy is what I recommend for folks who do businesses like us to be able to get away, get out in the fresh air, have somebody else make the decisions for them, and then oftentimes after that, I get some new ideas or some new insights for a new book I’m writing on, or program that I’m delivering, those sorts of things. It’s really taking a break both mentally and physically for how you spend your usual day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m convinced. Farm therapy.

Roger Firestien
I’ll see you on the farm, Pete. We can always use another hand.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like our next sponsor is a farm therapy offers.

Roger Firestien
International Harvest or John Deere, right?

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’m excited to talk about creativity and, in particular, I understand that you are capable of generating 100 ideas in 10 minutes, and we can all do this. How is that done?

Roger Firestien
Well, it’s not me that does it. It’s a group. So, let me tell you how it’s done. So, first off, let’s get a couple things clear here. One of the things we’re talking about is that we’re talking about an entire creative process here. Earlier on, in the 1950s, a gentleman named Alex Osborn, who happens to be the O in the advertising agency BBD&O, invented the brainstorming technique. But what Osborn realized was just an idea-generating technique isn’t enough. So, he also invented this process that helps you to define a problem, generate ideas, and then develop some plans for actions.

So, when we talk about generating 100 ideas in 10 minutes, it’s not difficult at all. And here’s the procedure that we follow. First, we’re talking about a group of about five to eight people, that’s about it, right? First thing you need to do is to go over the guidelines for generating ideas: defer judgments, strive for quantity, seek wild and unusual ideas, then combine and build with other ideas. Then, and here’s what’s really crucial, is we do a little warm up activity first, like a 5-minute warmup activity. And some of my favorite warm up activities are like, “How to get a hippopotamus out of a bathtub,” or, “How to improve a bathtub,” or, “What might you be able to do with 10 tons of orange jello,” right? Something fun, something sort of zany like that, and we use Post-Its, and we have people write down their ideas, say them out loud, and jot them up. And so, a warm up activity takes about 5 minutes.

Now, in addition to that, we also do this technique called forced connections, which is a technique that we use to combine different ideas from different perspectives. So, when you get stuck, oftentimes what tends to happen is you’re running down the same route. So, if I’m sitting here and if I’m working on a particular problem on, say, how to write a chapter for a book, and I get stuck, I might look around the room and see what ideas the lamp gives me, or what ideas my model rocket that I made when I was 12 years old gives me, or what ideas I get from pine trees at the backyard. And that’s the real essence of creativity, which is combining ideas in a different way than what they’ve been combined before.

So, we’ll oftentimes use pictures to help people to do that, from various aspects, pictures of food, or nature, or machinery, or people. So, then, let’s take a look at how to generate those 100 ideas. So, let’s say you’ve done a little warmup activity, and you’re working with a group, and you’ve generated about 25 ideas in 5 minutes. That’s not uncommon at all when you’re not judging ideas. Then, give the real problem that you want to work on to the group, take another 5 minutes, and oftentimes the group will generate between 25 or 30 ideas there.

Then we do a technique called brainwriting which actually helps people to write their ideas down. We use a little form where they write three ideas on a Post-It. It consists of nine squares. And what they’re doing this way is they’re working sort of in parallel. So, they’re all working at the same time. You don’t have to worry about a recorder, or a facilitator slowing down the process by getting those ideas up there. At the end of that 5 minutes, we usually have 60 or 70 ideas. It’s not uncommon at all to generate 100 ideas in 10 minutes.

Now, the thing behind that is, oftentimes then, what you’re going to find is about 20% of those ideas, about 20 or 30 ideas, let’s say 20% conservatively, are going to be good ideas that you can take and refine. Pete, what the formula really is in this is the generation of ideas doesn’t take long, but it’s the selection, the refinement, the building of those ideas, it does take the time.

So, let’s say you have an hour meeting and you want to generate some ideas for solving a specific problem you’re working on. First, come in with a well-defined problem, starting with the words that would invite ideas, like “How to…” or, “How might…” Then, give a little break, a little warmup activity work to challenge 15 minutes, and you’ll have about 80 to 100 ideas. Then the rest of that time, the remaining 45 minutes or so in the meeting, that’s what you need to use to select those ideas and refine those ideas and decide which ones you’re going to move forward. So, that’s sort of a formula for about an hour, an hour and 15-minute meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so lots of good stuff in there. Now, let’s talk about the warmup. I imagine the goal here is that you get people have an easier time generating lots of wild ideas about something that is not close to home than they do generating wild ideas about something that they see every day, and so you’re getting their brain in that zone via doing something a little bit more distant. Is that kind of the logic here?

Roger Firestien
Pete, you’re absolutely right. And we do a warmup for three reasons. First, to briefly train the group on the technique. You can’t expect a group to go in there and just get creative, like, “Okay, we need some creative ideas.” So, first, a little training on them. Next, to sanction the time for speculation. And when I say sanctioning the time, people will come in from a meeting and they’ve been busy with other aspects of the day and other things are going on, and so what we do is we draw a line, we say, “Look, the way you’ve been thinking before, judging, putting things into action, executing, we’re not going to do that right now. We’re going to speculate. We’re going to try out some new ideas.”

And then the thing also is to create what we call judgment-free zone where people aren’t judging their ideas. They’re just coming up with those ideas. And you’ve got it exactly, what we want to do is we want to create something that’s fun, whimsical, non-threatening, away from the problem to generate that energy and to also practice the technique.

And so, in the book Create in a Flash, we have a bunch of warm up activities listed on page 69. And so, the whole purpose there, Pete, is for people to defer their judgment, think differently, and sanction that time for speculating. Then you can go in and work on the type of challenge. And I have to tell you, my entire career, when I neglected to do a warmup activity, I did that twice, either I thought the group was already warmed up or I didn’t have time. And what I had to do was go back into a warm up activity.

And, oftentimes, people will say, “Well, warmup activity is silly.” Well, by design it’s silly. Or they’ll say, “Well, I can’t work with my CEO on this.” I’ve had CEOs, I’ve had army generals, I’ve had people in government do warm up activities, they love it because it gives them a chance to loosen up, to have some laughter, and then that energy from that warm up, you move into working on with the challenge at hand. Oftentimes, what tends to happen is, the reason why people are not successful in idea-generating sessions is, one, they haven’t warmed up or, two, they haven’t followed the guidelines for generating ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes total sense to me. And the warm up, I think that’s well-stated in terms of the warmup is producing an energy, a state of mind, a groove, and that’s just huge.

Roger Firestien
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that when I’m giving a speech that goes amazingly versus, you know, fine between that…on that continuum. The difference is largely what kind of a state did I get into prior to in terms of was I curious and eager to connect with the audience, or was I kind of in my head in terms of I have these eight takeaways that I’m going to convey now.

Roger Firestien
Right. And here they are, one, two, three. I got to get them out, yeah. Yeah, that’s a challenge of every speaker. What I’ve also found too, and I‘m sure you found this too, it’s like less is more. So, yeah, but you get on that track, “I got to get these takeaways out there,” yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, excellent point then on the warmup, and I appreciate hearing about the general in terms of, okay, this is a serious person who has lives at stake who takes the time and finds it great. So, very cool.

Roger Firestien
And also, the thing about that is generals, people like that, will use that. For example, generals realize the value of training and being very, very well-trained. And what this does is it gives some training on something that they have no stakes in at all so they can experience the process, they can experience the procedures. And then when you work on the real challenge, and you’re trained already to do it. I mean, you practice target shooting before you have to go into combat. Same thing, you practice generating ideas in a really fun way before you have to apply them to the challenge at hand. And to your point too, it’s simple but it’s huge. It’s easy to do, it’s easy not to do. And so, it’s just that very simple thing when people do it, they’re successful. When they don’t, generally they’re not.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I also want to talk about, so we’ve got that five to eight people who are able to generate 25 to 30-ish ideas, lickity-split. And then you do some stuff with Post-Its and three-by-three which turn into a whole bunch more. So, can you go into some details, as to what are we doing with that three-by-three and the Post-It stuff?

Roger Firestien
Well, first off, the Post-Its is pretty common in this business, and we use it in those things called brainstorming with Post-Its. And so, the first 5 minutes is people are generally writing their ideas, they’re saying them, they’re getting them up on a Post-It, and then they’re going up on a flipchart that the facilitator is running, and that’s brainstorming with Post-Its.

This other technique, is called brainwriting. And it’s a really cool tool because what it does is have people work individually. And so, we have a little grid here and we have nine Post-Its on it, three across, three across, three across. We write the creative questions at the top, we say to people, “Write three ideas, put the form out in the middle, pick up a form somebody else has not completed, write three more ideas on that.”

And so, they’re writing ideas continuously. The beautiful thing about this, Pete, is that they already have ideas generated from their brainstorming with Post-Its that are up there on the flipchart. They can use those to build ideas off of this wonderful little brain-writing technique, they can build ideas off of it as well. And the key is to use both. First, is stick ‘em up brainstorming, or the brainstorming with Post-Its where you get all those ideas out in a very wide format, and then, using this brainwriting tool to help people to add onto those ideas to refine them. And, oftentimes, the second round with this brainwriting tool, the ideas are a bit more well-defined because people have to write the ideas down, they don’t say their ideas anymore.

So, they write three ideas, put the form in the middle, pick up a form somebody else has used, write three more ideas, so it’s three ideas and go, and three ideas and go, and three ideas and go. And they will often, say, you’ve come up with 30 ideas with brainstorming with Post-Its, oftentimes people will double that with the brainwriting, 60, because they’re warmed up, they have ideas to build off of, and they don’t have to compete for airtime to get those ideas out there.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say pick up a form, what’s on the form and what are we doing with that?

Roger Firestien
Well, if I can refer to the book, on page 78-79, also there’s PDFs that go along with this, if go to CreateInAFlashBook.com, there’s a downloadable PDF of this form called brain-writing, and all it is is just a simple little grid with nine squares. We put nine three-by-three Post-Its on it, and write these three ideas and go, and three ideas and go, so it’s really pretty not complicated at all but it’s a group process of getting those ideas out that really gets them going.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let me get out of this, but aren’t you writing in both of these phases? So, brainwriting is not actually distinctively different with the writing because writing had happened earlier as well? I’m getting hung up on the word brainwriting.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, the distinction between brainwriting is, first, when you’re doing stick ‘em up brainstorming or brainstorming with Post-Its, you’ll write your idea on a Post-It, you’ll say it out loud, you’ll hand them up to a facilitator that will put the idea on the chart. By saying it out loud, other people in the group can build on that idea and add to it.

Now, with brainwriting, you’re not saying your ideas out loud. You’re simply writing three ideas down, putting the form in the middle, picking up another form, reading the ideas that other participants have jotted down, either building on those ideas or adding more ideas that are coming to mind. So, the second time, the brainwriting is, yes, you’re writing those ideas down, yes, you’re recording those ideas, you’re just not saying them out loud, and you’re doing three at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, from there, we got a whole bunch of stuff. What happens next?

Roger Firestien
Well, then what you do is you need to converge on those ideas, all right? And we actually talk about this, in addition to Create in a Flash, there’s 20 videos that go along with it. So, when you go to CreateInAFlashBook.com, you can actually see this process happening. And we have in the front of the book the directions to find those online videos so you’ll actually see what we’ve talked about happening, Pete. And that’s probably the best is go to the website there and look at brainwriting in action.

But after writing those ideas, we do a technique called highlighting. And the first thing we do in highlighting is we take just colored dots and we have the person whose problem we’re working on go up to the charts and mark what we call the hits. These are the ideas that are interesting, intriguing, workable, might solve the problem, you like them. You mark as many hits as you like. Then, from there, you take those hits, you cluster them together into themes, right? Then you restate that cluster as an action or as a new idea.

So, what you’ll have is a whole bunch of ideas for solving a particular issue that will cluster around a certain area. Those build into a concept, then you label that concept with a verb phrase, and then from there you can go further to refine the ideas and develop them. So, that’s the basics around generating them, and then focusing on them. What’s real crucial, after you spent all this time to generate these ideas to not just go up and pick one idea. Well, in that case, why did you spend all those times generating those ideas in the first place?

So, the converge is a very gentle converge. First, what’s interesting, intriguing, workable, how do those relate to each other. And then, once you got that, labeling the cluster with a concept or a phrase that really captures the action, the essence of that idea cluster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’d also love to get your take on when we’re trying to create independently on our own, what are some of your pro tips to do that well?

Roger Firestien
Well, very simple, following the same things, creating on your own as you would create in a group. For example, artists have sketchbooks. A dear friend of mine is an artist, when you look through his sketchbooks, he’s got thousands and thousands of sketches in there just jotting down new ideas, just sketches and those sorts of things.

So, when you’re working by yourself, first, define the problem, have a well-defined problem, like, “How to reduce the cost of this project?” or, “How to raise the money for this project?” or, “How to get my leaves raked in my backyard without too much effort?” And then just defer judgment. Don’t judge. Jot down all the ideas that might come to mind. What you might find is the first 10 to 12 ideas, this probably will come pretty easily for you, you kind of probably thought about those ideas before.

The next one is you might have a bit of a challenge around, so that’s when we recommend using this forced connection tool. So, say, you’re looking at ways to reduce costs on a project, well, then you look around the room, and you say, “Well, what ideas does my telephone give me for reducing costs on this project?” Well, maybe an idea would be, communicate the need to it broader. Broadcast out why you need to do it. My phone has got push buttons on, so separate the project down.

And so, that will spur you on to come up with some more ideas, but I recommend people stretch for about 30 ideas. Now, they don’t have to do it all in one setting. The beautiful thing about the creative process and why tractor time or farm therapy is so helpful is when you step away from the challenge, oftentimes new ideas begin to surface there. And that’s when it’s important to have your smartphone with you to just say those ideas into a voice memo, or have a sheet of paper where you write the idea down, because oftentimes when we find that you start working on a challenge, other ideas are going to be coming in because it stirred your brain up to come up with more ideas and more concepts. We have some good research that shows that that seems to be the case.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, this number 30, is there some magic to it?

Roger Firestien
Yeah, a bit of magic. So, one-third, one-third, one-third principle. And so, early on, when we were working with the creative process back in the early 1980s, I ran a consulting company called Multiple Resources Associates, and this was early on in a lot of the development of creative process where we really had to try and chart a place, “Where are we going to get breakthroughs when we’re working with our clients?”

And so, as we went through many, many, many, many transcripts, we often found that idea 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, that’s when the new ideas were coming. And so, this is also based on an early principle around the old brainstorming technique, and essentially, it’s this. The first third of your idea production, about the first 10 to 12 ideas, tend to be the usual ideas. These are the ideas you’ve of thought before. These are ideas that are already roaming around people’s heads.

The second third, from idea 12 to 20, or 25 or so, those are kind of the crazy ridiculous ideas. It seems that people have loosened up a little bit, they get a little crazy, a little goofier. They’ve exhausted the usual associations that they have around solving that problem. Then the next third, the third third, that’s where the pay dirt comes, that’s when people come up, begin to make new combinations using that kind of crazy stuff they came up with the second third, some from the first third, and that’s where the new ideas and insights begin to blossom.

And so, I say the idea 30 to 35, you’re bound to get some new insights there. But what often tends to happen is we sit around in a group and we generate 10 or 12 ideas for solving a problem, and we think we’re getting real creative, well, you’re not. All you’re doing is getting those ideas out there that already romping around people’s heads. The creativity comes in the stretch, the innovation comes in the stretch. But that’s what’s behind that idea of saving the quarter for about 30 ideas or so.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, I’d love to know, you talked about forced connection, hey, you look around, there’s a lamp, there’s a telephone. Are there any other ways you recommend bringing useful stimuli into the equation for association?

Roger Firestien
Well, I want to save your listeners a lot of money because the whole idea of forced connections is really the basis of what creativity is. There’s lots of books out there that give you 101 ways to come up with more ideas, those sorts of things, and they’re all based on the concept of making a sort of remote association, an association with something that’s not related to the problem at all, which is combining ideas that usually don’t appear to be related in any way.

Now, what we use is we use visual forced connections. So, if you’re in a session and the group is slowing down, we’ll have a series of pictures, lots of pictures, and they fall into four categories. One category is people, second category is nature, the third category is machinery or the non-living world, and the fourth category is food. And we’ll just have these pictures just scattered out over a table. When people get stuck, they can take a look at the pictures, see what ideas it gives them, use that to create a connection and come up with a new idea.

Now, you can use pictures but you can also use smells. You can also use sounds or music. You can also use taste. In other words, you’re working on a problem in some way, and you’re tasting cinnamon. What ideas that cinnamon bring to mind? Or you’re working on a problem and you see an ocean liner. What idea does an ocean liner bring to mind? That’s the basics of it, Pete. Taking a look at something or making connection with something that’s not related to the problem at all and use that connection to create a new idea. And that’s my go-to tool.

So, there’s other tools that you can use but if we’re going to give our listeners something that they can use consistently, it’s this forced connection tool. We have an interview on one of the videos of a gentleman named Dr. Robert Gatewood, who took one of my classes and he said, “I would leave class, and as I was driving, I’d be working on a problem, and I’d look around and I’d see what connections I might get from a stoplight, or what connections I might get from a building.”

And there’s an interesting story about forced connections if you want to go into that in a second, but I want to make sure that I’ve responded to your question here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, got it. It’s storytime.

Roger Firestien
Storytime. So, one of the people that we talk about is a gentleman named Wilson Greatbatch. Now, do you know who Wilson Greatbatch is?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t.

Roger Firestien
Most people don’t. You know what a pacemaker is?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Roger Firestien
Of course, you do. Wilson Greatbatch invented the pacemaker, and he actually lived about 10 miles from where I live, and I got the opportunity to visit with Dr. Greatbatch a number of times. Now, one of the things that led to the invention of the pacemaker was a lot of failures, a lot of trial and learn is what we call them. And Wilson Greatbatch is wonderful about reframing failure. He said, “I look forward to failure as a learning experience. Nine out of ten things that I worked on fail. But the one that works pays for the other nine.”

So, in my conversations with him, the idea for the pacemaker, he told me, actually came from a hazard flasher on the side of a road. So, he’s driving back from a meeting one time, he sees this construction site, he sees all these hazard flashers flashing. That flashing made the connection between the pacemaker electrical charge and this network with the heart. So, that’s one example.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, yeah.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, cool. They all are, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. So, trial and learn instead of trial and error.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, trial and learn because whenever you do something, you create a result. It might not be the result you anticipated, but the question is, “What can you learn from that result?” If you look at highly-creative people, they see failure in a different way. They see failure, they don’t attach a negative value to it. They see failure as, “Well, gee, that didn’t work. What else might work? What else might work?” Edison was famous for his quotes on this, but he was about halfway into inventing the lightbulb, and somebody asked him, “Mr. Edison, how many tries have you tried to invent a lightbulb that haven’t worked?” He said, “Well, I’ve succeeded in proving 700 ways it will not work. When I find a way that will work, I will be 700 ways closer to that.” And so, it’s that whole attitude about failure.

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

Roger Firestien
So, as far as creativity is concerned, and as far as things that your listeners can take away from, I think it’s really crucial that oftentimes people think that creativity is just coming up with lots and lots of ideas. But what I found over my 40-year career is that oftentimes, most of the time, what we think is the problem isn’t the problem at all. And that’s why it’s important to ask a lot of creative questions, which is what we talk about in the book.

Now, Pete, this is we talked about generating lots of ideas for solving a problem. You can use that same principle to generate lots of creative questions. So, if you’re coming up with creative questions, just differ judgments, strive for quantity, seek wild and unusual questions, combine and build other questions. And when you get those out, once again, 30 questions or so, look through those, find the best one, and then you’re going to to be much more on target for generating ideas.

So, I would say that’s one of my favorite things for your listeners to take with you. It’s like don’t accept the initial definition of the problem. And in my entire career, as I’ve facilitated hundreds of groups of creative problem-solving, there’s been one time, one time only, that the initial definition of the problem was the real problem. The rest of the time, that wasn’t it at all. It was somewhere else.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, by asking, you’re brainstorming different iterations of the problem or question to be solved, and in so doing, you’re sort of following the same process of zeroing in on which one seems the most resonant, workable, compelling?

Roger Firestien
Yes. What we do is we have you phrase those questions beginning with a phrase as a question. So, we use words like “How might…,” or, “How to…”, “What might be all the ways to…” And what those do is they setup the question as a divergent question. In other words, they’re opening your mind to search for ideas. So, “How to reduce the cost…” is very different than saying, “We don’t have enough money, okay?” That statement blocks your thinking. “How to reduce the cost…” tells your brain to begin to start to look for some ideas. So, using language in that way really helps to open up your thinking. It also helps to diffuse a lot of arguments and stuff as well.

So, if you’re in a highly-charged situation and people have different points of views, well, just phrase your point of view as a “How to…” or, “In what ways might we…” you get it up there on the chart and people feel heard, they feel valued that way. That’s one of the other things about the idea-generating process when you’re using something like brainstorming with Post-Its, everybody’s idea is valued, everybody’s idea gets up there, everybody’s idea gets heard, and so that builds teamwork. And the best way to solve a problem or the best way to build a team is to solve a problem together.

Pete Mockaitis
With that, could you now share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Roger Firestien
A favorite quote that I find inspiring? Yeah, yeah, I do have a favorite quote. Thanks. And this is one of my favorites. It’s from Create in a Flash, and I didn’t know this was by this person, but Mike Wallace, a columnist, I love this quote, he said, “If you don’t wake up in the morning excited to pick up where you left your work yesterday, you haven’t found your calling yet.” I just love that quote because if you look at creative people, if you look at people that are passionate about their work, that’s what they do. It’s like, “I’m ready to start tomorrow morning because I’m so excited to pick up where I left off.” So, that’s one of my favorite quotes, yeah.

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

Roger Firestien
Ah, well, I’ve got a bit of research. Actually, this is my doctoral research that we did back in 1987. And what we did was we compared groups that were trained in creative problem-solving with groups who were not trained in creative problem-solving. We gave them a real-life problem to solve, we took them over to the television studio on the campus, and we videotaped them while they solved the problem. When we analyzed the videotapes, we found the groups that were trained in creative problem-solving methods, the things that we’re talking about, participated significantly more, they criticized ideas less, they supported ideas more, they laughed more, they smiled more, and they generated twice as many ideas as the groups who were not trained in creative problem-solving.

Now, when we gave those ideas back to the business people that gave us a problem to work on in the first place, we found that the groups who were in creative problem-solving outproduced the untrained groups by about three to one on high-quality ideas. And the output of this is that they had more, better ideas to choose from, so they had a much greater array of ideas that they could choose from. Henceforth, a much greater possibility of solving the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s so interesting. So, three to one on quality, and two to one on quantity.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, just about like that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing.

Roger Firestien
So, again, Pete, what was that again?

Pete Mockaitis
So, you said it was three to one on quality.

Roger Firestien
On quality.

Pete Mockaitis
And two to one on quantity.

Roger Firestien
Yeah, two to one on quantity. Yeah, I’ve never really looked at it that way before, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that means that the average quality score, if you will, I don’t know, of a given idea was better still.

Roger Firestien
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “Well, yeah, they had more good ideas. They had 10 times as many so some of them were bound to not suck.” It’s like, I don’t know, the average quality was higher too.

Roger Firestien
You know, that’s an interesting way to look at that, a great way to look at that. I’ve got to write another study, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Roger Firestien
Well, come on, “Create in a Flash: A Leader’s Recipe for Breakthrough Innovation.” We just released it. So, I love this book.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do to be awesome at your job?

Roger Firestien
A favorite habit. Well, I think, yeah, let me give you a couple of things. One is I’m in a wonderful position to be able to kind of control my schedule. So, one of my favorite habits is naps. And if you look at folks that are highly creative, they’ve taken naps, they’ve taken refreshers. And so, if you can sneak in a short 20-minute nap sometime during the day, that gives you what I call as two days. Because you work for a certain pace for a while, and usually about 2:00 o’clock or 3:00 o’clock, I tend to slow down. So, a little nap, a little quick meditation just to refresh, then you’re good for the rest of the day. That’s one.

And then the other thing is just really be aware that you’re always coming up with ideas, and just writing those ideas down whenever they occur to you. So, when I’m out doing farm therapy, I always have my smartphone with me because 99% of the time, I’m going to come up with an idea there to help me with something I’ve been working on, because your brain is working on it all the time just on a deeper level. You just have to get out of the way with your judgmental thinking to let those ideas begin to surface.

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

Roger Firestien
What you think is the problem is not the problem at all. And I think that’s really one of the biggest nuggets that I can give to people that would say when encountering an issue, or a challenge, or a goal, or an opportunity, don’t accept the first definition of it. Challenge your thinking about it to see the other angles of it, to see this might be a symptom. This might not be the main issue. So, I guess I would say challenge your initial definition of what you think the problem is. And, many, many times, that’s going to really help you to come up with some brand-new insights, insights you wouldn’t have thought of before.

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

Roger Firestien
Go right to my website RogerFirestien.com, it’s German. And you can go there, you can take a look at the programs we have available. And if you find the Create in a Flash button, you can click on that and find all those videos for free to download, printable PDFs along with that brainwriting form that we talked about. So, RogerFirestien.com.

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

Roger Firestien
Yes, I think the final call to action would be when you’re working on a challenge, step back from it, right? In other words, first, spend some time figuring out what the real problem is, don’t accept the initial definition of the problem. Challenge your definition of the problem. Step back from it and then be ready to capture those ideas whenever they occur to you. And that I think would be the biggest thing, because we’re coming up with ideas all the time.

And, oftentimes, I think you probably have, Pete, the occasion where maybe you’re falling asleep at night, an idea comes in, and you go, “Oh, I’ll remember that,” or you’ve taken a shower and say, “Oh, I’ll remember that.” Well, no, you won’t, okay? Get that idea down as soon as it comes to mind. So, the big takeaway to help people become awesome at their jobs is one of the things that we know is that when you’re away from work, that’s when you’re going to probably have some of your best ideas. Very few people tell me that they get their best ideas at work. When you’re away from work, that’s the time when the ideas are going to surface, so be ready to capture ideas whenever and wherever they occur to you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Roger, thanks so much for sharing, and I wish you lots of luck and many great ideas.

Roger Firestien
Thank you, Pete. This has been a delight. I really appreciate it.

520: How to Start Finishing Projects with Charlie Gilkey

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Charlie Gilkey discusses how to deal with the obstacles that derail your important projects

You’ll Learn:

  1. The magic number for projects
  2. Signs that a project truly matters to you
  3. When and how to say no to your family, friends, and bosses

About Charlie

Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Charlie Gilkey Interview Transcript

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

Charlie Gilkey
Pete, thanks so much for having me. I’m pumped to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to talk about starting and finishing and getting to done. Let’s start with starting, actually. I understand you don’t choose to start your year in January. How does that work and what’s the backstory here?

Charlie Gilkey
Well, there are several things going on. And thanks for that question. That’s a deep cut. Two things going on. One is the business cycle for the business that I’m in or the year cycle starts actually in August for the back-to-school, you know, back-to-work sort of thing. That’s when everyone comes back online, it’s like, “Hey, we got to get after it.” And so, that’s a really important point for my business.

And I’ve also learned that actually doing your yearly planning, if you’re going to do it on the personal side in February, is a way better time to do it because it kind of lets you shake off the high of New Year’s resolutions and all the things that go along there, and I think we’re way too optimistic during that period of the year. And then if you pay too close attention to the goals you set in, it can be a really good way to feel bad about yourself. But if you kind of wait until February, kind of around Groundhog’s Day and give yourself a redo, what I’ve learned is that we end up making way better sort of annual goals and resolutions during that period.

So, I have kind of two periods in which I do annual planning, but that’s kind of par for the course for me, and then I’m always recalibrating plans and working in it

Pete Mockaitis
That’s clever. Groundhog Day, redo, and I’m thinking Bill Murray right now. Part of that was shot near me in Woodstock, Illinois. Fun fact. So, yeah, that’s a good way to think about it in terms of like the day and where you’re going to choose to start and why. So, thank you for that. Let’s talk about the book Start Finishing. What’s the big idea here?

Charlie Gilkey
The big idea is that finished projects bridge the gap between your current reality and that life you want to live and that work you want to do. And so, a lot of us have, you know, we have really big dreams and visions for ourselves. We have that idea of our best work or our best life, and a lot of times we could feel stuck and we don’t quite know what to do. And it turns out that, again, it’s those finished projects that bridge the gap.

And I think it provides a bit of a different take on productivity, and getting things done, and sort of personal development, which either can be far too granular and focused on tasks, or it can be far too lofty and focused on sort of vision and sort of the big view of your life. And the mess of life and the beauty of life is in this middle world of projects.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, okay. Indeed, the finished projects bridge the gap. And one thing I think I’m coming to learn is that almost finished projects don’t. And I’m thinking about all these instances in which it’s like the vast majority of the hard work is done but it’s not all the way finished and, thus, it doesn’t turn into something.

So, I remember once, we’ve got a multifamily home here and we were trying to rent out one of the units and things were almost completely renovated, cleaned, whatever but there’s like a bunch of cardboard boxes in the corner. And I think that prospective tenants can know that those won’t be there when they move in but, nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice that every showing we did where the boxes were there did not result in an application, and those that we did with the boxes absent, totally cleaned up, did.

And so, it’s sort of like almost done doesn’t pull it off for you. But it’s kind of encouraging in that it means that there’s very little left to get to finished project status. So, those are my own musings on the finished project piece. Give me your take on that.

Charlie Gilkey
Well, I love that. You know, I talk a lot in the book about displacement which is the idea that anything you do displaces a practical infinity of things you could do, or you can’t do one thing, or you can’t do multiple things at the same time, right? Barring simple things like doing the laundry while listening to a podcast. But when it comes to this significant work that we need to do, what I call best work and what I call those things that really light us up and are part of the matrix of meaning-making that we’re in, we tend to only be able to do one thing at a time.

And the frustrating thing about those half-finished projects is that they suck up all of the time that could’ve been going to something else, but they’re not bridging that gap. They’re not doing the work that they’re supposed to do to power your life. And it would be like investing a hundred bucks a month, for however long you want to do it. Let’s just say it’s 12 months, and you don’t get the return on it until the 13th month, and then you decide on the 12th month to just stop, and then everything disappeared, right? It’s like you’ve already sunk in all of that money, you’ve already sunk in all of that time but you don’t get the reward for it just because you decided to jump to something else. So, absolutely.

And one of the things that I really stress in the book is that we should really be focusing on throughput and not load. And by that, I mean I think we commit too quickly to ideas and end up carrying too many projects around with us and too many things that we’re not going to be able to finish. And so, if you make that commitment to where this week you’re going to, like, “I’m going to do these 17 projects,” and you only do three, well, you’ve carried the additional 14. And I think, unfortunately, what we do is we’ll say, “Well, this week, I overestimated this week so I’m going to do 12,” and then we do three projects.

Well, it turns out that if we just focus on the three that matter most and we get through them faster, not only is it just about efficiency but it’s about that momentum that you can build with these finished projects. And so, depending on where you want to take this, Pete, a lot of times when I tell people I like to focus on three to five projects, the first thing that they’ll do is, like, “I can’t. I got all the things.” But let’s do a reality check here, are you actually finishing those things or is it just a continual state of juggling and a continual state of sort of commenting about the status of a project but not actually moving that project forward? Or is that continual story that you’re going to get to but you don’t?

And I get to say, you know, over the decade I’ve been doing this work with people. There’s momentum, there’s more pride, there’s more joy, and there’s more results just from coming from focusing on fewer things, getting them done, and moving to the next thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, boy, that’s well-said with regard to load because you could feel that, and the word itself, it’s like, “I am shouldering a burden, a load, like a camel or an ox. Like, there’s a lot of things on my plate, on my back here.” And so, you identify these are the things that we’re actually going to sail right through here, we’re good to go.

And it’s intriguing that when you mentioned three to five, you’re getting pushback because, I guess I’m thinking about Jay Papasan who we had on the show with the One Thing, it’s like, “Oh, man, you’re being lenient. You’re giving them three to five instead of just one.” So, let’s talk about that for a moment. Why do you think that’s perhaps the magic number there, three to five projects?

Charlie Gilkey
It’s partially because enough studies both with my own clients and work, and external study showed that that’s about the limit of which we can do. Now, I want to pause here. I love Jay’s work and I find that most people can’t just commit to one thing because when you commit to one thing, I think you often forget. Well, there’s different ways of understanding his book and the message, so that’s one thing to talk about.

I want to make room for projects that are not just economic projects. So, for me, anything that takes time, energy, and attention is a project. And so, finding a place for those cardboard boxes you’ve mentioned, that very well could be a project, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s why it wasn’t done.

Charlie Gilkey
That’s why it wasn’t done.

Pete Mockaitis
It took multiple steps. There’s too many to just shove in the alley so I had to take another…do something else there.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, you got to find out where they are, and you got to sort, and you got to figure out which other closet you’re going to put them in, and then you open that closet and realized, “Oh, crap, there’s something in there. This got to go somewhere else.” It’s kind of like a shell game and stuff sometimes, right? But, also, getting married, getting divorced, having kids, moving across the United States, getting a new job, like all of those things are projects.

And, unfortunately, we tend to prioritize economic projects, or creative projects, or work projects, or however you want to say that, and we try to squeeze the work over our lives and the leftover, the time leftover from the economic projects, and we’re just not getting to it. And so, again, not to go overly critical of the One Thing, but it’s like we are not just work-related people. Like, our thing in life, our thing at work is one of the many things that we might want to attend to. We might also need to attend to our aging parents that we need to help transition into elder care, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think that in the conversation, Jay mentioned, “Hey, what’s the one thing within like a context or a domain?” “The one thing in my marriage, the one thing in my business, etc.”

Charlie Gilkey
Etcetera. And so, I think people misunderstand his message in that way, and so I just wanted to say, like, we’re actually super aligned in that way, but that’s where we start saying the five projects, or three to five projects. Yeah, you have to look across the domains of your life and not just pick the one thing, and not just pick like one domain, and say, “I’m going to go all in on that.”

And so, for instance, right now, I’m in the middle of launching this book and doing the PR too for this book, and it’s a major project. I’m also in the middle of reintegrating back into my business after working on the book for so long, so that’s another project. And I’m also getting back into the gym and working with a personal trainer. That’s a project, so that gets me through it.

But, anyway, you asked why three to five. I think that many lets you invest in the buckets of your life that matter without spreading yourself too thin. Two, I think it’s when we look at sort of the cognitive load that we humans can bear, we sort of heard the five plus or minus two, I think, is now four plus or minus two, like, the things we can remember. Well, when you have a fewer number of projects and you can always rattle off what you’re working on, it turns out you don’t need a super complicated productivity system or an app to help you with that. You can always just sort of have those things front of mind.

And the last thing is every one of the projects, another way of thinking through this, every one of the projects that you carry, they need fuel. And I talk in the book about focused blocks which are 90 to 120 blocks of time where you can sit down and make substantial progress on things. So, if it’s a creative project, it might be that time where, let’s say it’s writing, where you actually are able to sit down and get some good words in, lean into the project, get out of the project rut. But it doesn’t have to be creative work, it can be, again, going back to that garage.

A lot of times we don’t end up cleaning the garage because we look at it, it’s like, “Oh, I think I can just move it around,” but you know that it’s going to take you three to four focused blocks because you got to figure out where everything goes and do the organizing. And because we don’t schedule that time, we know we won’t be able to make any meaningful progress, so we don’t actually start.

And so, when we look at the sort of the three to five projects, it’s like, how many of these focused blocks do you have in your life, and in a week, that you can allocate towards these things?” And no focused blocks equals no momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I’m seeing how the pieces are coming together. So, I’ve got my three to five projects, I’ve got focused blocks for 90 to 120-ish minutes, and then I’m allocating particular focused blocks towards particular projects in order to get momentum. So, I understand you’ve got a full-blown nine-step method, so I think we’re already getting into a couple of them. How about we sort of get the full view here?

Charlie Gilkey
Yes. So, the full nine-step method would be, well, there are different ways we can say this. But where people often will fall down is that they go immediately from idea to working on it, and that’s really not a great way to do it because we don’t do ideas, we do projects, and so we have to do some work to convert that idea. But before we can get there, in chapter two, well, one of the steps is really getting clear about the obstacles that are in the way from you doing this life-changing work that we’re talking about. And if you don’t start with looking at that, the first thing that you’ll do is choose an idea, start working with it, and then see, all of a sudden, that you’re upside down with it and you can’t go forward with it and sort working backwards. So, it’s a root-cause approach.

So, the first step is getting in touch with some of those root causes that keep that gap between our current reality and the life we want to live. So, second sort of step is to pick an idea that really matters to you. And that seems like obvious except for what matters to us is oftentimes not the first things that we’ll pick because of fear, because of the seeming difficulty, and we end up choosing low-hanging fruits, or we end up choosing other people’s priorities.

And then when we get into the messy middle, or towards the end of the project, we don’t get anywhere. And that’s largely because, at the end of the day, that idea did not matter enough to us, it didn’t supply the amount of meaning and sort of commitment juice that we needed it to, and so there’s just a certain point in sort of imagine this lever of, like, at past a certain point of difficulty and grit, if you don’t have the amount of internal emotional buy-in and sort of spirit in that project, the difficulty of it is going to win, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Charlie Gilkey
And so, you have to pick an idea that matters enough for you to invest a life force that is going to take to push through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And I think that’s well-said with regard to just because you’re doing it doesn’t mean that it matters to you. You very well could’ve chosen it because you passed up the bigger things out of fear, or, “Ooh, that just sounds hard.”

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, it just sounds hard. And I want to pause here because, over the last few decades, I think we’ve lost a lot of grit and we just sort of baked into some sort of talent myth, like if it’s hard it’s not for you because if we look at all the prodigies and the people that seemed to do things super easily, it’s like, “Oh, they got that talent. And the people that have the talent, they should go do those things. And if you don’t have that talent, maybe you go find something else that’s easier for you to do.” Right?

And what that ends up doing for a lot of us is that when we start something and it gets difficult, we sort of encode that maybe that’s a sign that we’re doing the wrong thing, maybe it’s a sign that there’s something else that I should be doing because it shouldn’t be this hard. And my whole point is, first off, if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing badly in the beginning. Bottom line, if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing badly in the beginning.

And, second off, in almost all these cases, these effortless talent displays that we see, it’s a lot of hard work and cultivation of those people behind the scenes, so they have a certain amount of budding seed time that we don’t have. And so, I want people to orient themselves so that when they see something that’s difficult, or when they see…well, let me say it this way.

I talk in the book about thrashing. And thrashing is sort of the meta work and emotional flailing and “research” that you’ll do to push an idea forward but it doesn’t actually push an idea forward, right? It’s just thrashing and flailing. And the thing about it is we don’t thrash about things that don’t matter to us. Like, no one has a mini-existential crisis about doing the laundry or taking the trash out. There’s no “Why am I the right person to do it? Is now the right time? What if I’m not good enough?” It’s like you do it or you don’t do it, right?

But when it comes to time to some of these best-work projects, which is what I call these life-changing projects that really only you can do and that change the world in really phenomenal ways, those are the ones where we’ll have all those sort of mini crises, and those are the ones where we’ll start wondering if we got what it takes, and so on and so forth.

And so, it turns out that the more it matters to you, the more you’ll thrash. And so, it’s a really good sign when you’re feeling that feeling of, like, “Wow, this is…” not just that it’s daunting, because you can take on a project that doesn’t matter and could be daunting, but you’re thinking like, “Wow, I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes. I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” those are actually really good signs that the project matters to you, because if it didn’t, you wouldn’t be feeling that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is one worth sitting with it and remembering because you want it to come to mind when that feeling occurs again. Indeed, wow, yeah, so many implications when you’re experiencing, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t know if I have what it takes.” It’s indicative of that’s something you care about a lot or that thought would not have occurred to you at all, the, “I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to…” And it’s not just about how challenging it is, because you might say, “But I don’t know if I have what it takes to take out the trash every day.” The take-out-the-trash challenge, you know. It’s, like, that’s probably not go do it. It just sort of says, “That’s dumb. I don’t feel like bothering.” So, yeah.

And I’ve often had this thought. I’ve said to my wife numerous times, like, when I’m feeling frustrated by something, I think, “Well, you know what, it’d be a lot easier if I didn’t care so much.” It’s like, “If I didn’t care, if my clients were getting great results in ROI from our trainings, then I’d just be like whatever.” But I do and, thusly, I get a little bit worked up associated with if folks are doing the exercises and understanding and connecting with the stuff.

Charlie Gilkey
Absolutely. It’s kind of like envy as a compass. And by that, I mean we’re not envious of other people when they don’t have something that we want. We’re only envious when someone has something that we actually care about. And, unfortunately, we try to wash out the envy, we try to wash it out, but, for me, I’m like, “Oh, maybe let’s pause a little bit and say, ‘What is it in this moment, in that sort of feeling that you have that’s telling you that something matters? And what are you going to do about it?’” as opposed to just pretending like you shouldn’t feel it.

Like, you like what you like, and you value what you value, and that’s one of those learning to center those fundamental truths and that it’s perfectly fine to like what you like and to value what you value, and you have permission to do that, then let you say, “You know what, that man with the shoes on over there, those shoes are really kicking, man. I love those shoes. I wish I had them.” So, what is it about that and what do you want to do to address that?

Maybe you decide later on, “No, maybe I was just being materialistic,” or maybe, just maybe, you like the shoes, and that’s enough for you to say, “You know what, I’m going to do something about that, meaning I’m either going to buy it, or if I can’t afford it, it’s worth it to me to do the work that I need to do to exchange my labor for money I need to get those things.” And that is a choice that I don’t think we allow ourselves to really sink into a lot of times unless they are socially-approved values and likes, in which case it’s kind of a given that we get those.

Like, many people, I know this is kind of straying in the personal finance land, but many people don’t question the value of owning a home because it’s one of those given, it’s like that’s just what you do. You go to school, you get a job, you get a partner, you buy a house, right? And so, deciding not to buy a house and deciding to be a renter for the rest of your life because you realize that 3% to 5% of you the cost of your home is going to be spent in maintenance, and those type of things in general. Like, that becomes important but a lot of people don’t give themselves permission to say, “You know what, this whole home-buying thing, not something I care so much about. I care more about freedom. I care more about that.”

And, again, I’m not trying to make a strong case for that particular economic choice. I’m just trying to say there’s a lot of decisions like that, that we default to the socially-approved cues and, unfortunately, end up living our lives doing work that we would rather not do to get stuff that we really don’t want, and then miss out on this one precious life that we have in front of us and that way we could have lived it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s adding up and resonating there in each of those components in terms of this is just what you do versus you’ve given some real thought to it. And when it comes to envy, I think it’s also intriguing to look and see if there are some finer distinctions because you got my wheels turning in terms of I saw this Netflix documentary about Bill Gates and I had some envy, but I don’t at all have envy for Elon Musk, right? And so, here are these two super rich people who are innovating but there’s a distinction and that is sort of rich fodder for potential insight. So, it’s like, where do you have envy and where is there a similar situation where you don’t? And then we’re really homing in on something.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. So, what does that envy tell you about your values? That would be the question, right? And where is the lack of envy in other places, not do the same things? So, again, these are really good tools. And the thing about it is, especially productivity but I’ll say the broader sort of personal development, we approach it from a headspace in like a thinking space. But when it comes down to actually doing the work that changes lives, changes our lives, changes other people’s lives, and having the courage and being able to set up the boundaries, it’s always going to come back to your heart space. It’s always going to come back to stuff that really matters.

And so, I encourage people to actually steer with that as opposed to getting caught into all the things sort of in that headspace of what you should do. And, just while I’m on that, just about any time you’re telling yourself you should do something, pause. Because, usually, what you’re telling yourself is that there’s some external standard that is a guideline for what you ought to be doing. And where I want you to pause is say, “But is that really true for me? Is it really true that that’s the right thing for me to do?”

And sometimes when you should, in the case of given who I am and what I care about, this is the thing that I need to do, but I’ve learned so oftentimes, so many times we only use the word should when it’s an external rule, an external guide. And when it’s our own sort of compass, we say, “I get to…” or, “This matters to me,” or, “I want to…” or, “This is meaningful.” Like, we use all sorts of words that are different than the should word. Does it make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I have been thinking about should a lot lately in terms of, I guess, when I see or hear should, I get very curious as well in terms of “What do you really mean by that?” And I find, often, that should, all that really means is, “If one were to invest additional time, energy, money, resource in this domain, there would be some kind of a benefit.” But, like you said with regard to opportunity cost, well, is that really worthwhile?

And I’m really intrigued when I hear it with regard to people talking about TV or Netflix, like, “Oh, have you seen the latest season of this?” And I say, “Oh, no, I should really watch that.” And I’m thinking, “Man, really, should you? I think you got the right idea and I’m the one who should watch less Netflix.”

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, stop shooting on yourself is a long way of saying it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Charlie Gilkey
Like, if you wanted to do it, you would have watched the show already. If it really mattered to you, it just turns out that, I talk a lot about cage matches, whether it’s a priority cage match or a project cage match, and that’s just a homage to my upbringing in the ‘80s of professional wrestling, where the basic idea, if you’ve never seen this, it’s like a bunch of competitors get into the ring, and the strongest one, some way or the other, ends up throwing everybody else out or beating them into submission. So, I know, terrible metaphor for this particular context.

But there are certain priorities and certain things that they’re always going to win that cage match. If you are a parent and something comes up about your kids, you’re going to displace almost everything else to make sure that their needs are attended to. And so, what I want more of us to do is to look at all the OPP, the other people’s priorities, not the Naughty by Nature O.P.P. song, but that’s also a great song, right? I want to look at everyone else’s priorities and say, “You know what, why and how are those more important than my own?” Because you could be that person that runs around trying to fill everybody else’s priorities and end up exhausted and depleted and frustrated, and still not be able to appease everyone and fill their buckets.

Or, you can say, “You know what, I can’t be everything for everyone. I’m choosing for the smaller set of priorities to be who I am and to live in the way, live and work and allocate my time in a way that really accentuates those values.” And that does mean that there are a lot of people who might be mad at you, there might be a lot of people who decide not to be friends with you, or there might be a lot of other, like there might be some social fallout for that. But, again, look forward into a decade, would you rather have done the things that really are going to power the type of life you want to live or just continue to maintain other people’s projects and priorities?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And while we’re here, as I’m rolling with it, what are your pro tips on saying no?

Charlie Gilkey
Pro tips on saying no. It depends on where it’s coming from, so I got to start with that. Obviously, if your boss walks into the door, walks into the office, and is like, “Hey, I’ve got a new project and priority for you,” be careful about saying no to that because you may not get to say yes to the job tomorrow, right? And so, there’s a context there. And even with bosses, and I’ve had to do this in the military, back when I was in the Army, where it’s like you get handed this project, or you get handed this mission, you’re like, “Okay. Well, I can do this but it may displace some of these other priorities that you have for me and that we’ve already talked about. So, do you want me to do this instead of that? Or like what’s the priority conversation here?”

And that I think always returning to, especially the work environment, to priorities is a good way to talk about it, because you’re not saying, “Screw you. I don’t care.” You’re saying, “I’m here to do a certain job, or I’m here to make sure that I’m providing the best value to this team that I can. We’ve already discussed these other ways in which I could provide that value. Now, there’s this new thing. Is this better than that?” And that’s a good conversation that a lot of teams can have even that a lot of people can have with their boss.

I think when it’s with your friends and family, first off, my observation is that we spend too little time talking to friends and family about what actually matters to us, and so we end up negotiating a bunch of trivial things. We get invited to go to the club, or you get invited to go to watch the football game on Saturday, or you get invited to all these sorts of things, or you get expected to, like, “Hey, can you watch my kid today?” or, “Can you come over?” and there’s never been that talk of, like, “Actually, Saturday is the day that I spend in community service, and that’s why I’m down to soup kitchen every Saturday because that’s super important to me.” We haven’t established our priorities first and so we’re always negotiating what matters on the backside of things.

So, step one is to have more intentional conversations with your friends and family about things that matter to you, the projects you’re working on and how they fit into this life that you want to live, in that way when you do get asked to do something or requested to do something, there’s a preexisting conversation about some things that matter. It changes it, it changes the conversations because the people around you understand that it’s not like you’re sitting at home on that Saturday evening just looking for something to do, right? You have these other plans for yourself and other things that truly matter, so it does help with that conversation.

The second way that I would look in on this one would be to, where it’s a resonant request, meaning it’s from someone who can legitimately make that request, and it’s something that, in general, like you’re open to doing it but perhaps can’t do it right now, is always provide that alternative. It’s like, “You know, I’m sorry that I can’t do that that day because I have some preexisting commitments. Is there a way that I can do that Wednesday or Friday or this other period of time? Because what you’re requesting from me, I actually do care about and I care about the relationship that we’re in here. That particular time is not the best time.”

And the last thing that I would say is, and this goes back to talking about things that matter and being honest with your friends and family, is if there are certain things that you’re being requested to do and they don’t resonate, and they aren’t something you’re ever going to do, don’t BS people and be like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get to it,” or, “Yeah, it sounds great,” or, “We’ll have coffee in three months.” If you know that you don’t want to have coffee in three months, avoid that. Avoid setting that sort of precedent. And I know that seems perhaps obvious, and maybe it seems hard, but I think too many people are not honest with the people around them for fear of rejection, or for fear of becoming a social pariah, or whatever that is, and we end up negotiating a lot of things that, if we were just being forthright with folks, we wouldn’t have to be negotiating.

Pete Mockaitis
Charlie, I have no interest in drinking coffee with you.

Charlie Gilkey
Hey, I got it. Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s not true, Charlie. I think it’d be a lot of fun.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how does one say that?

Charlie Gilkey
How does one say, “I’m not interested in having coffee”?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ever.

Charlie Gilkey
Ever.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I think that’s kind of what you’re saying. They’re saying, “Hey, in a few months when things quiet down,” it’s like that’s kind of what you mean is that’s just fundamentally is not worth doing to you.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, that’s a tricky one, right? Well, here’s what I’ll say. Very rarely do I have someone out of the blue who doesn’t know just ask me to go for coffee, right? So, typically, it’s in the context where they know I got a lot of stuff going on, and so I can say, “Ooh, I’m going to have a hard time.” Or, what I will normally say is, “Hey,” especially if I don’t know them and I really don’t want to have coffee, like, “What’s your thought there? What are you thinking?” And this may just be peculiar to my line of work because I am a coach and things like that.

If it comes up with doing all these things, like, “I’d love to have coffee because I want to pick your brain about something,” then I can say, “Hey, Pete, I’d love to have that conversation. I am a professional coach, and the best way for us to have that conversation would be under this sort of structure. Are you open for that conversation?” And, basically, what that’s saying in some way, without being a butthole about it, is, one…

Pete Mockaitis
It ain’t free.

Charlie Gilkey
It ain’t free. And, two, if it matters to you, like if it matters for you enough to do it, then let’s have that conversation. But, for me to show up and do that for free, like, again, that’s displaced other people who pay me to do this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

Charlie Gilkey
And, on that note, I have a certain amount of time that I just think of as service to the world and community service and things like that. And so, there are some people who are like, “You know what, that’d totally be something that I would pay…” like someone would pay me to do. But, in this circumstance, I just feel called that this is a conversation that I want to be in and so I’ll do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Charlie Gilkey
But, again, I don’t get a lot of that. I know women actually get a lot more requests for coffee, and it’s kind of one of those things. Are they requesting you to coffee to pick your brain? Which is basically that conversation we were just having, Pete. Or are they wanting to establish a friendship? And so, I think, largely speaking, the best way to say no sometimes is to say, “Let’s determine what we’re actually trying to do.”

If you want to avoid that tendency to say yes too quickly, and this does seem to contradict what I was saying a little bit earlier, your go-to is always, “Let me check my schedule and see what projects I have, and see how I can make that work.” And then say, “Let me get back to you in a day or so.” And then that at least gives you enough time to not overcommit yourself, but also think about how you’re going to disengage from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. Well, Charlie, we got a lot of good stuff here. I had a big list going in. You’ve distinguished three different ways projects get stuck, and I think that’s worth mentioning. So, can you give us, what are these three categories and how do we deal with those?

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, can I get a three and a half here?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, 3.5, yeah.

Charlie Gilkey
Three-point-five because I kind of want to talk about the red zone on this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Charlie Gilkey
Because the red zone is a metaphor, I’m appealing to American football, where as you get in that last 20 yards of the drive, a lot of teams will fumble it, or a lot of teams will screw up in that last 20 yards, and then end up in a field goal situation, or a turnover situation. And the reason you end up in a red zone is because they’re such tight space that everything working against you doesn’t have to spread itself so thin.

And so, projects can get stuck in that red zone where you’re in that last sort of 3% that seems to take as long as the full 97% before, and a lot of that is just about, again, that’s when your perfectionism is going to come up, that’s when your procrastination is going to come up, that’s when all of the implications of the scope and goal will creep, start coming up. And so, just understand that that’s a normal part of the process.

And in the book, I do give some ways to work through the red zone, but part of it is doubling down at the end and not thinking that you’re just going to be able to slide it home. I’m being super quick there because I’m conscious of time.

The other three sort of ways projects get stuck, so there are cascades, there are logjams, and there are tar pits. Cascades are when you have a series of projects that you got to do step A before you do step B before you do step C, and step A gets behind, so step B gets behind, so step C gets behind, and you might have a whole cascade of those. And at a certain point, I think we’ve all been in that where you start spending more time trying to keep your projects up to date and communicating with people about those projects than just getting those projects done in the first place, and it just keeps slipping on you.

And so, the trick of solving the cascade is you actually have to clip both ends of the cascade. You have to stop new projects coming in and, in a lot of times, you have to look at those projects that are backed up and start deferring them, start dropping them, and start focusing on getting the ones that you can through so that you get it going again. So, you can’t just focus on the new projects.

So, there are times, Pete, where people will come to me and they’ll tell me what they’re doing, it’s like, “All right. So, first thing is we’re on a new project diet, right? You don’t get to take on any new projects until we get these ones done because we don’t have any space to add anything anyways. It’s just going to be a frustrating conversation for both of us three weeks later because you’re going to tell me, ‘I didn’t make any progress on anything.’ And I’ll ask you why, because you didn’t have time, so on and so forth, so let’s not do that.” New project diet.

So, you got to sort of clip both ends. Once you get enough of those projects going, then maybe start accepting new projects back into the pipeline. And how that might work in a work context is, again, talking to your boss and being like, “Look, here’s what’s happening. I’m not able to get any of these projects done because of the rate this is coming. I need two weeks or I need a week where I can just focus on getting these things caught up. Here’s my plan for that. Is that all right with you?”

And a lot of times, when faced between you not getting something done, and you getting something done, bosses and teammates would much rather you get something done. And so, it’s not as hard of a conversation as people make it. You just have to admit that the amount of inputs that are coming in exceed your ability to put them in the output mode. And that’s a hard conversation for a lot of us to have, but having that conversation after four months of struggling, doesn’t do you any favors. If you see that, you might as well get ahead of it.

You know, a lot of what we’ve been talking about today is about taking the hard parts or maybe the pain parts of getting stuff done and putting them on the frontside of things, because the idea is that at some point, if you’re going to be falling behind and overcommitting and your projects are going to be stacking up on you, there’s a certain amount of pain that that’s going to cause. We know that. And so, it’s not necessarily avoiding the pain. It’s, can you put some of the pain at the beginning of it so that you don’t have to face so much of it later on? So, cascade, that’s how you handle cascades.

Logjams are when you have too many projects competing for the same amount of time. This is the classic case where you have five deadlines on Friday, and you start looking at all the work it would take to do those deadlines. There’s just no way you can do them all at the same time. So, it’s different than the cascade, because cascade, you can kind of think of like projects stacked back to back. A logjam is like projects stacked on top of each other, and there’s just a certain amount that’s kind of like trying to push the golf ball through the garden hose. It doesn’t work, right?

So, with the logjam, some of it is similar in the sense of like a no-new-project diet will help but you really have to get real about, like, “Which of those projects that are trying to compete for the same amount of time have to be done?” Like, if you don’t do them, you’ll get fired, or it will cause a lot of pain, and which ones are nice to do? And those nice to do ones, or would be good to get done, or the ones that get deprioritized so you can focus on getting those ones that will get you in hot water done, and then you can sort of reestablish the flow of your projects again.

And the last one is a tarpit. And I’ve learned this for a lot of creative projects, but a tarpit is when that project is like you sort of touch it a little bit, and then the second you let it go, it starts sinking in a tarpit, in like one of those Jurassic tarpits, it gets stickier and deeper and deeper. And not only do you have to work to pick it up, you have to work to pull it out of it all over again. So, if you’re ever stuck with one of those projects and the mental or spiritual or literal closet, you know what I’m talking about. It’s so hard to resurrect those things. And then once you do, the second you let it go, it starts sinking back in there.

And so, the thing about tarpits is a lot of times it’s some layer of fear that keeps that thing hiding in the background, or there are some deep sort of emotion around it, and you’ve got to get clear about what that is before you get back into that project, because if you don’t address it, the same pattern of it sinking deeper and deeper is going to keep happening.

And then the other thing about tarpits, projects in a tarpit, is you want to make sure to give it enough time, enough of those focused blocks that I’ve talked about, that you can go ahead and clear all of the muck and get some significant progress on it, because, I’ll tell you what, there are a few things better than seeing one of those tarpit projects and figuring out, it actually does still matter to you, you’ve just been daunted or overwhelmed or steered by it, and then it’s knuckling down for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, getting it done. It’d be like, “You know what, it’s done. It’s out of my soul. It’s out my emotions, out of my brain, and I can move onto the next thing, feeling so much more buoyant, and not just weighed down by that project that’s just sort of haunting me from the closet.”

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us some examples of projects that often fall into the tarpit category?

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. So, creative projects and creative, broadly speaking, so if you want to write a book, yeah, that can be a tarpit project. If you’re a musician, you’ve been meaning to write an album, those fall into the tarpit pretty quickly because it can be challenging to bare your soul in the ways that it takes to do that type of creative work.

A common tarpit project that I’ve seen from people, I haven’t had this problem yet because of the age of my parents, but it’s when you end up with heirlooms and sentimental items that you inherit from your parents when they pass. They end up in garages and closets where you just can’t get in there, and you can’t figure out what to do with your mom’s baby shoes that she gifted to you for some reason.

And so, those types of projects, and anything around clearing out the material belongings or material items that exists from relationships, so it could be that you have that box. I know of a few of my female friends that have boxes of letters and cards from boyfriends they had in high school, right? And I’m like, “Well, okay. So, what’s that about?” But just getting in there and figuring out what to do with it and things like that can be a total tarpit.

For a lot folks, financial stuff, getting your taxes in order, figuring out where all your money has gone, is going, might go, anything around money can be one of those tarpit projects which is like, “You know, I want to get in it, I get in there, I poke around a little bit, but I don’t actually make the investment. I don’t actually buy the insurance. I don’t actually do the thing that I need to do.” Those tend to be classic sources of tarpits.

And what else? I think those are three pretty good cases of that.

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

Charlie Gilkey
I know we’re wrapping things up, but I wanted to talk briefly about success packs because it’s a game-changer for people. And success packs are just a group of people that you put around yourself and your project that really help you figure out how to go. I would normally talk a little bit more about this, but the thing about success packs is they help you convert “how” problems into “who” solutions.

And when you use them, it takes a lot of that overload that we can feel, that overwhelm that we can feel about having to have it all figure out ourselves, and all the work that we might do, and feeling alone, and just realizing that we have a team of people that we can reach out to for different reasons. And so, whenever you’re wanting to do work that matters for you, before you start making heavy plans, before you start jumping headlong in there, think about the group of people that you would want to put around you that will be your advisors, that will be your helpers, that will be the people who benefit from the projects, and that will be your guides so that, again, you’re not stuck doing this type of work alone.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. So, now, tell me about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Charlie Gilkey
This one is from Lao Tzu from the Tao Te Ching and it goes, I’ll give this version of it, “Because the master is aware of her faults, she is faultless.” And the idea there goes that because she’s honest about her limitations and constraints and who she is, those limitations, constraints and character quirks don’t end up tripping her up and making her life harder than it needs to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Charlie Gilkey
And so, I love that because I think a lot of times we don’t want to talk about those constraints and limitations and challenges. It’s kind of like when people are like, “Well, we don’t want to talk about the hard things because it makes them real.” But if you arm is broken, like you talking about your arm being broken doesn’t break it. It’s already broken. So, what are you going to do about it? And so, I love that one because whenever I’m, one, it allows a lot of room for humility but it also allows a lot of room for hope at the same time.

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

Charlie Gilkey
I’ve been really geeking out on the marshmallow test, and especially that they got it wrong.

It turns out that that was largely, when they did the research on the data and they tried to run it again, what they found out was actually a determination of someone’s social status was actually what was determining their ability to hold out or not. And the reason I’m super pumped about that finding is, one, having grown up as a poor kid, and just seeing how different realities manifest because of just where you grew up on the opportunity divide, gave me a lot of hope there. But it also reminds me that we need to be super careful about the judgments we make on people, and that we need to dig deeper when we’re starting to see some of these types of trends.

And so, again, it’s one of those big things that’s largely grit determined what you would be able to do in life, and it turns out that where you start in life determined how much grit you may have. And that means, in some ways, grit is a muscle that we can all work on, and our future is not necessarily predicated by where we grew up, even though that has a super strong influence on it.

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

Charlie Gilkey
Well, since I got the quote from that, I probably should say the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.

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

Charlie Gilkey
The tool that’s popping up to me is the AlphaSmart Neo2 which is a late ‘90s word processor. It’s, basically, a keyboard with an LCD screen on it. And it’s really helpful for writing when you’ve been super distracted, or when you got a lot going on. It’s actually what I wrote about 95% of Start Finishing on. And when it comes to quality words and volume of words, I have yet to find a better solution than the AlphaSmart Neo.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Charlie Gilkey
That would have to be my morning routine. And so, I drink tea and meditate for at least 25 minutes in the morning, and that 25 minutes setup the rest of the day. And there’s a marked difference when I don’t have that 25 minutes than when I do, or when I don’t prioritize it. So, that is the habit that keeps all the other habits going.

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

Charlie Gilkey
I don’t have a really good one but what resonates is a quote but something that a lot of readers have said about this book, is really commenting that the part about them not being uniquely defective really stands out. So, I can say it in a quote form. So, in the book, I talk about, in chapter one, I just remind people that we’re not uniquely defective. We’re not fated to being able to get our stuff together. And we’re not fated to always be in struggles with that. And I think that’s such an important point because a lot of times we approach really important stuff from a frame of like there’s something uniquely defective about us that’s going to keep us from being successful.

And when you let go of that belief, when you let go of that way of orienting yourself to the world, and you see that, to quote Marie Forleo of like everything is figure-outable, and you are fundamentally able to change if you will yourself to do it, it opens up the world of possibilities. And so, yeah, that’s the one I would put down as you’re not uniquely defective.

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

Charlie Gilkey
So, if you’re interested in the book, go to StartFinishingBook.com, that’s all one word. If you’re interested in the broader body of work that I’ve got, you can find it at ProductiveFlourishing.com.

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

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. In the next full week that you have, reach into that closet of your soul where you put one of those projects that really matter, one of those ideas that really matter, that will make your work better, that will make your colleagues work better, that will make your workplace better, and start thinking about, “How can I spend at least two hours this week bringing that idea to life and turning it into a project?” Start with that two hours and if that’s all you’ve got is two hours a week, better to work on that and make work awesome than to leave it in there waiting for a better time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Charlie, this has been so much. Thank you and good luck in all of your finishing projects.

Charlie Gilkey
Thanks so much for having me, Pete.