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460: The Fastest Way to Solve Complex Challenges with David Komlos

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David Komlos says: "It's not the problem you're solving; it's how you're solving the problem."

David Komlos teaches ways to dramatically shorten the process of solving your organization’s most complex challenges.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 3 types of challenges and how to approach them
  2. The 10-step process to tackle challenges faster and more effectively
  3. How to structure a problem-solving meeting to get the best results

About David 

David Komlos, CEO of Syntegrity, is an entrepreneur, early-stage investor, and speaker who has helped change the way many global leaders approach their top challenges. From Fortune 100 transformation to international aid, content creation in sports and entertainment to improving access to life-saving products, David advises top leaders and enterprises on how to dramatically accelerate solutions and execution on their defining challenges. He frequently speaks on topics related to complexity, fast problem-solving and mobilization, and scaling talent. He lives with his family in Toronto.

Resources Mentioned in this Show:

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David Komlos Interview Transcript

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

David Komlos

Such a pleasure, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve got a book Cracking Complexity. What’s the story here?

David Komlos
Cracking Complexity is basically a book about 18 years of experience on how to get after big challenges quickly, whether you’re a manager, a director, a vice president, somebody who’s writing policy, someone who’s an analyst, someone who’s an up and comer, a high potential. There’s ways in which to get after the defining challenges that move you forward in your career, that make you a big contributor, that make you a great leader. And there’s actually a formula for how to get after big challenges. This book chronicles the formula and gives examples and cases along the way to make it interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’m thinking back to my strategy consulting days, complexity was almost like a dirty word for us in terms of if a business has a lot of complexity, that usually meant that a lot of mistakes and suboptimal resource allocations were happening. So, when you use the word “complexity” what do you mean by it?

David Komlos
We mean something specific. We mean a multidimensional, lots of moving parts, human challenge. We, actually, borrowed from Dave Snowden from his Cynefin framework where he says there’s a difference between complicated challenges and complex challenges. So, simple challenges, people solve on their own every day by connecting the dots, whether they’ve seen the challenge or not. When you’re dealing with a complicated challenge, it might be new to you, but it’s a solved challenge. It’s challenge that’s been solved many times before.

For example, a simple challenge is driving a car. A complicated challenge is fixing a broken car. You may not know how to do it, but there’s lots of mechanics out there that’s all they do 24/7, 365, right? So, the right approach is to take your broken car to the expert, the mechanic. Same thing when you’re also implementing an accounting software system. Don’t try to figure that yourself, bring in the experts who do that for a living.

Complex challenges are always the defining challenges, whether it’s turning around a product, or saving money, or figuring out a new policy for government, or figuring out how to grow faster as an organization, or gel better as a team, or understand your customers better and deliver a great customer experience. All of those are complex challenges which if there was a playbook, if there was a recipe, if there was a mechanic, so to speak, that you could just take this challenge to, he or she could just fix it like they fix all those other situations, that’d be great, but that doesn’t exist.

So, complex challenges are typically the headscratchers, the ones that you have to figure out fresh each time, and where it’s not just enough to solve with a really good solution, a really good plan, you really need a big group of people bought into the solution if you’re going to see sustainable execution happen, if you’re going to see people change their behavior, do what they’re supposed to do, you need them bought in. You can’t just tell them what to do. You need them bought in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure. Well, could you maybe rattle off three or four or five examples of a complex challenge for us just so we’re really thinking about the same thing here?

David Komlos
Sure. You might be trying to figure out how to stem the opioid epidemic in your state, or you might be trying to figure out how to deal with mental health challenges in your hospital, or you might be trying to figure out how to grow your product faster, capture more market share, or what will customers notice in the customer experience, and how do you get your company or your team to deliver a unified customer experience. Those are examples of complex challenges that are really common whether you’re in a small company, a medium-sized company, a large company, whether you’re in the government. You’re always trying to figure out how to do better more effectively, more efficiently.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good deal. Thank you. Well, so then, you say that leaders often handle complexity the wrong way, or the linear way. So, could you kind of orient us to what would sort of the linear approach look, sound, feel like versus a non-linear way?

David Komlos
Yes. Well, I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you’re a car company, and you decide that you are going to stand out from all the other car companies by delivering an exceptional experience for people who are buying cars, people who are coming into the store to get their cars maintained or serviced, and that’s the way you’re going to stand out from the crowd, because quality is not necessarily that big a difference these days, right? Many cars are made well.

The linear way to approach this would be to do a lot of research first, and maybe strike a taskforce and have them do research, or call in a market research firm to figure out, like, “What do customers care about in the car-buying process? Or what do customers care about when they walk into a dealership to have their cars serviced?”

You would interview a lot of people. You might take different approaches to interview young people who are buying cars, older people who are buying cars, people who’ve never bought a car, and just ask them to think about how they’d buy a car. You might do a lot of synthesis around what’s going on out there, who the competition is, what kind of new car companies are coming out, what kind of new car companies are allowing you to test cars differently, buy them online, etc.

And then you’d start to get to the point where you’re making recommendations, and level setting other people in your organizations on what you’ve discovered, and then going back to the drawing board to make better recommendations, and doing readouts, and more interviews, and then postulating like, “Well, here’s what I think we should do.”

And then, when you’re done, you would have a persuasion campaign on your hands. Basically, now it’s time to convince everybody who wasn’t involved in my research and interviews and synthesis and thinking, and recommending, and going back to the drawing board. Now, I’ve got to get people on board with what my recommendations are, what my taskforce recommendations are, what my consulting companies’ recommendations are.

And those recommendations would’ve taken a long time to get to, and they may be excellent recommendations. They probably are excellent recommendations but the linear approach to solving basically takes a long while, places the onus on a small group of people, whether it’s an internal group of people or an external group of people, your team or your consulting firm. And by the time you get to the brass tacks, “What should we do to drive a better customer experience?” you have to persuade a lot of people who are not brought along for the ride.

The more novel way to do things, the better way to do things in the face of complex challenges, the non-linear way, is to involve all those people who you would contact for the research, involve all those people you would interview, involve the people who are going to make the decisions, involve the people who are going to make the recommendations, and so on and so forth, all together, all at once.

And by involving them all together all at once, you would basically help them get to a shared understanding of what really matters, what’s really going on, what doesn’t matter so much about customers and what they care about in the car-buying experience, the car-service experience. You’d have a lot of people challenge their assumptions together all in the same room, eyeball to eyeball.

And it would take a fraction of the time where people could collide with one another, if you will, interact with one another, so that by the time they finish coming up with what they think will really move the needle on the car-purchasing and car-servicing customer experience in a way to help your company stand out from the pack, they would not only have cracked the nut, but actually have bought into what they’ve solved, the solution they put in forth.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now, you say all the people, all together, all at once. Now, could that be hundreds or thousands of people?

David Komlos
It could be. Generally speaking, though, from my experience, you want to be working in groups of 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 people all together all at once, and sometimes you have to work with several groups of that size to spread. But, generally speaking, when you bring together a cross section of the organization, and experts, and advisors, and stakeholders from around the organization all together, it takes 30, 40 people to really be representative of the culture and of the system that you’re trying to solve for.

And so, you can actually get to a solution with far fewer people. Then the challenge is, “How do you get all those other people aligned?” And there’s ways to do that that are also faster than what we’re accustomed to by having people interact together in smaller groups but spread across your organization.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess I’m thinking, in this car example, so there could be multiple customers and multiple dealers and multiple sales staff at headquarters and multiple marketing people and then so…

David Komlos
And then people like yourself who used to work at management consulting firms or who are in management consulting firms, people who work for car research companies, you might bring someone in from Google, you might bring someone in from a completely different industry who has also shaped a specific customer experience and learned along the way what could work and to spur the innovative thinking.

There’s actually an important concept for your listeners called requisite variety. And what requisite variety says, “Only variety can destroy variety.” That’s really, really important and it’s not buzzword yet. It’s really important, something for the rest of your careers. When you’re dealing with a big challenge, it’s typically a multidimensional, lots of moving parts, kind of challenge. Like this car company trying to improve the consumer experience. You have to be as multidimensional as that challenge if you’re trying to really crack the nut on that challenge. And the way you do that is by tapping into the right variety of people.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I guess what I’m just sort of imagining here is I think that we could have 20 to 60 dealers alone, or 20 to 60 customers alone. But you’re proposing in this world that we get 20 to 60 people which is everybody across all stakeholders.

David Komlos
Yup, you could. And, again, you don’t have to look at this as something exotic, right? “I’m going to bring together 60 people once and never again.” You could bring together 60 dealers; they want to do better. You can bring together 30 dealers and 30 company people. You can bring together 20 dealers. You know, the nice thing here is that when you’re solving for something important and complex, typically people have a stake in the outcomes, right?

They may see things differently. People may see the car-buying and car-servicing experience and what to do about it differently, whether they’re an owner of a dealership, or the car company, or the sales force, or what have you. But they all share a stake in getting it right. And when you bring a group of people together, they can determine what are the things they have to do together to make a change. They can also determine what are the things they should try.

And when you try different things, when you commit to trying new things, and actually tracking how those new experiments are doing, you can actually double down on the ones that are working, and get rid of the ones that aren’t. And when you double down on the ones that are working, you can spread them to other people who didn’t necessarily have a hand in coming up with that experiment in the first place, you only brought together 50 or 60 people, or 20 or 30 people, or on small teams 10 people. But now that the 10 people have solved for something, and tried something, and it’s worked, that’ll spread much faster.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I’m still just visualizing the room. I have 20 to 60 people in this room all together all at once, but I could also have 20 to 60 people who are all the same, like all dealers or all customers. So, how is this working?

David Komlos
Yeah, you would want to have, again, the right variety of people. You’d want to have a diverse group of people. So, as a manager, or as a leader, trying to get after a challenge, or if you’re the car company leader who’s tasked with figuring out, “What should the customer experience be?” you should be looking at, “Who are some of the dealers I’m going to bring together? Who are some of the sales folks, some of the marketing folks, some of the folks who’ve done research on buying patterns, and so on and so forth, all together?”

You wouldn’t want to just keep it at just dealers, or just company people, or just sales folks. You’d want to have a diverse group of people who can see the challenge of delivering a better customer experience from every angle.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess what I’m imagining here is if I have a dozen different kinds of stakeholders, then I might only have one, two, three, four of each. And that’s fine?

David Komlos
That is fine. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Komlos
Absolutely, Pete, because to solve the challenge, you don’t need 30, 40, 50 people of each particular constituents. You need a handful of individuals. In our book Cracking Complexity we talk about the 12 zones of variety, and all the different characteristics that inform those 12 zones. And when you go through the 12 zones, whether I’m bringing people together from functions, or geographies, or business units, people from the board, or strategy folks, or operational folks, or outside folks, folks like consultants, advisors and so forth, it allows you to think through, “Who should I be bringing into my meetings?” Even in small settings. And you don’t need, as you say, 15, 20, 30. You can have a handful of each constituency to really get after the challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, maybe let’s zoom out a little bit. So, you got a 10-step process here. Could you kind of give us the one or two sentences per step overview of how this goes down? And then we’ll dig into some more.

David Komlos
The first step is to acknowledge the complexity. So, a lot of people would rather not acknowledge that something is multidimensional, is a human challenge, it’s going to be a difficult one. It can’t just be solved the normal way. And so, they go down the wrong path in the approach they take. One thing that we like to say is it’s not the problem you’re solving, it’s how you’re solving the problem.

And so, you have to know what kind of challenge are you up against. And when it’s a complicated challenge, you should bring in the experts. When it’s a complex challenge, you have to take a different approach. That’s the approach that I’ll talk through now. But the first step is to acknowledge that you are dealing with a complex challenge. Same old, same old won’t work on it. You need a different approach.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

David Komlos
The next step, once you know it’s a complex challenge, let’s say it’s about growing faster. You’d want to construct a really, really good question. That’s the second step in the formula. And so, your question could be, “What must we do, starting now and over the next six months, to grow by 15% over the next two years?” Or you could have a different question but it would be a growth-oriented question. And the question serves as the invitation and as the guideline to the people that you’ve invited who we spoke of just previously, those different constituencies.

The third step is to say, “Well, if this is the question that I’m trying to answer, ‘What do have to do over the next three months to grow by 10% or 15% over the next 18 months?’ who are all the right people, who are all the right solvers, what’s the right variety of solvers that I need to target?” And so, when you think through, “Who are all the people I need to target?” you want to think about the usual suspects.

But you also want to think about the non-usual suspects, those people who are inside your organization who don’t necessarily get called into these conversations, like people from the field, for example, or someone who worked for a competitor, or people from outside your organization, like a futurist, or a consultant who may not necessarily have been in that conversation with you had you not thought about targeting all the right variety of people.

The next step is to localize the solvers. So, localize them, bring them together. There’s a lot of really good technology out there to have conversations in small groups, but what we find is face to face on the really important challenges is really important.

And then, the fifth step, is to eliminate the noise. Before you bring people together, you’ve got make sure that you circulate some sort of a fact base, some sort of level-setting language to get people as far as possible even before they get together. You can do that with pre-reads, you can do that with videos, you can have a conference call to level-set folks, you can send out a glossary of terms, you can do all of the above, you can do none of the above. It’s really important though to think about, “How can I get a diverse group of people who don’t necessarily see things the same way, who speak different languages? How can I eliminate some of that noise before we get together knowing that I won’t be able to eliminate all the noise?”

Now, the next step is, once people are together and they know what the question is, they know they’re going to talk about, “What can we do over the next three months to grow faster?” the next step is really important. Don’t pre-determine the agenda. Let your team, whether it’s 6 people, 16 people, 26, 36, 56 people, agree on the topics they think they need to talk about, they think they need to explore in order to answer your question about growing faster.

When you let the people themselves, having brought the right group of people together, when you let them determine what they have to explore, the ownership starts right away, and the engagement starts right away in contrast to pre-determined agendas, which can often bias the outcomes. Then we say, “Put people on a collision course.” What that means is when you bring 20 people together, Pete, or 60 people, or even 10 people, you really have to make sure all of those people are going to interact with each other many times.

So, if you bring together 20 people, you don’t want five people who are really keen on figuring out how to grow faster or how to deliver a better customer experience. You don’t want the five keen people to be talking to each other constantly with the rest of the others checked out pretty much, whether it’s because they’re just not engaged, they may be introverted, not feeling very comfortable contributing in that particular way, for whatever reasons, hierarchy may be dominating, the loudest voices may be dominating.

To put people on a collision course means to make sure that everyone is bumping into everyone many times in conversations. Because if you take a few steps back in the formula, you targeted the right group of people for a specific purpose. You said, “I need these people, the usual suspects and the non-usual suspects if I’m going to solve this fast.” And if you brought them together, if you went to lengths to bring them face to face, make sure that they’re all engaging with each other many times.

Now, another step in the formula is once they’re engaging with each other many times, you want to make sure that you are giving them a kick at the can a variety of times on the same subject. So, if Dave said, “We got to talk about X. We got to talk about Y. We got to talk about Z,” make sure they’re talking about those topics three, four times. Not just one kick at the can, many kicks at the can.

And then we don’t just make sure that people are bumping into each other many times, we don’t just make sure that we’ve got the right group of people talking about the right topics that they’ve identified as the right topics to discuss on a question they all care about, you want to make sure that they’re having really, really candid dialogue. So, what we do and what you can do very easily, whether you’re doing it this way or in small meetings, we assign people to teams on topics as members and critics and observers. And those people play those roles an equal number of times so it’s a fair approach on a variety of topics.

Members, their job is to really advance the topic as far as they can. Critics are in the room. You can think about it as a round table where the members are at the table, there’s a panel of critics sitting right behind them, listening very carefully, and then giving them critique, helping them to do better. And then you can imagine a group of observers at the back of the room just listening, not being able to contribute.

And what we’re really trying to create is a purposeful deliberate controlled explosion amongst all these people, an explosion of brain power. People listening differently, people contributing differently, people hearing each other differently, learning differently, and much more efficiently and effectively having very transparent dialogue, very candid conversation about the things that matter.

So, when you acknowledge the complexity and you form it in the form of a question, and you bring together the right people, you bring them together, you eliminate the noise, you get them telling you what they need to discuss to answer the question, you put them in meetings where they can collide with each other many times, and you have really good dialogue amongst them while they’re colliding, you get clarity and insights and action basically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s good stuff. Now, let’s see, there’s a few things I want to follow up here now. So, we say construct a really, really good question. What makes a question really, really good? And what are some things to watch out for in that are kind of inadequate when it comes to your questions?

David Komlos
That in itself is a great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

David Komlos
Yes. So, you want your questions to embed one or more goals, so, “What do we have to do to hit 20% growth?” It could be, “What do we have to do to hit 30% growth profitably?” It could be, “What do we have to do to double the business while remaining a great place to work or a top employer of choice?” It could be, “How do we ensure all Americans have access to safe and affordable healthcare?” The adjectives that you use have to be very deliberate when you talk about the “we” in the question, “What must we do?” You have to be very specific about who the “we” is. Is it the team? Is it the business unit? Is it the enterprise? Is it the society? You want to be very specific about that.

A good question has a well thought-through time horizon. Is it, “What do we need to do now and over the next 18 months”? Is it, “What do we have to do now and over the next 90 days to get the full benefit out of the merger”? The time horizon is really important because the recommendations that you get is going to be geared towards the time horizon.

And then a good question has stretch goals but not unreasonable goals. A good question has stretch goals that make people feel that they can hit those goals when things have changed in contrast to unreasonable goals which just sort of deter people from wanting to even start to answer the question.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, when it comes to the you’ve got the member, the observer, and the critic, so how does that kind of play out with regard to, okay, you have a sub-topic, sub-committee? Like, could you sort of spell out just sort of how many people are talking about something? And how do you divide those numbers and people into those roles?

David Komlos
Yeah, let’s say you’re in a meeting, you’re having a meeting with 10 people. I would say, “Assign five of them as members, assign three of them as critics, and then assign two of them as observers.” And, of course, those people will change roles when you go to your next topic, right? But on this topic, talking about cost structure, or brand, or message, or segment, or whatever you’re talking about, have five members at the round table, three critics sitting just behind them, listening intently, and two observers near the back, not saying a word, listening very, very carefully.

Let the members have a 15-, 20-minute conversation really digging into the topic, whatever they’re talking about, and then ask them to pause, and then invite the critics for a minute or two each to provide their critique, and they can critique the process, “John seems to be dominating,” or, “I’d like to hear more from Jerry or Mary,” or, “I disagree with that recommendation,” or, “Did you know that?” or, “This worked really well in…” That’s the kind of critique you’re looking for. And make sure you’re not letting the critics become members. You just want them to give the members what they need to hear in order to advance their own conversation when they take the conversation back.

And you want the observers taking notes in the back because they will be given speaking roles, they will be members or critics of other topics as the day progresses, or as your next meeting progresses. And what you’ll find is that the members really, really dig in, they listen really well to what the critics have to say. The critic role is always a very powerful role to really sway the way a team is going always to the positive. It allows the team to sort of step back. It allows people to say, “You know, you’re at 100,000 feet. You need to get down to the ground.” Or it allows people to say, “You went right to detail before stepping back and really understanding the full breadth and depth of the challenge.” The critic role is really important.

And one thing I want your listeners to know is that when you start to assign people as members, critics, and observers, organizations get used to this, you’ll run much more effective meetings, and they’ll become very self-managing. The members are going to want to hear from the critics. The observers at the back will be bursting, waiting for their turn to get to be a member or a critic. It’s a very, very effective way to structure a half-hour meeting, a two-hour meeting, a two-day meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
And when we get the collision course going, I’m curious, people have a natural tendency to sort of just talk to people that they know and they are sort of affiliated with already. What are the means by which you get the collisions to happen?

David Komlos
Okay. So, Pete, I will say at the commercial level, so to speak, the most sophisticated version of the formula, we use algorithms. So, we literally use algorithms to solve for N times, N minus 1 connection points, where N is the number of people. So, if there’s 20 people, there’s 20 times 19 connection points, and we let an algorithm assign people to teams in a way that makes sure that not only are they on the right teams, but they’re going to bump into other people on the other teams as they iterate.

When you don’t have an algorithm, you want to pay attention to who’s on which team as best as you can, and you want to rotate people through a variety of topics during a three-hour meeting, and you want to have a variety of meetings on those same topics. So, I would recommend to your listeners that, let’s say you have a five-point agenda to talk about a specific challenge that you’re trying to address or seize a big opportunity, if you have five topics, cycle through those topics at least twice. And feel free to cycle through those topics three times.

So, you should meet on them one through five, one topic through five, and then do that again, and do that again. And with different people playing member, critic, observer roles on the different teams and rotating, you will have people bumping into each other in the right way, or approximating that as best as possible. And you’ll see a real lift on the cross-pollination and the learning that’s happening from one discussion to the next.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so, understood. Now, there’s a few approaches here that are different from the norm. Could you share a word for the skeptic in terms of some of the eye-popping results that have come about in terms of getting the job done well and more efficiently than traditional approaches?

David Komlos
Yes. So, skeptics deserve to be skeptical.

Pete Mockaitis
And the observers are observing, the skeptics are skepticking.

David Komlos
Yes, exactly, and they deserve to be. I mean, there’s a lot of different mouse traps out there that profess to have solved, you know, for how to go about solving things and just don’t live up to that. Speaking from experience, I would say the good news here is you can try this yourself. So, the next time you’re planning to solve something, you’re planning a meeting, start by inviting some of the non-usual suspects. And, of course, the other people will say, “Why is Bob, or why is Terry being invited to this meeting? They have nothing to do with what we’re talking about.” Invite them nonetheless and be open about that.

Take an iterative approach to the agenda items in your meeting, even if you’ve pre-determined the agenda. If you don’t feel comfortable leading the agenda up to the group, pre-determine the agenda, have a finite number of topics, five, six, seven topics that you want to discuss to get after a challenge, and go through two cycles of meetings, and assign a portion of your people as members, and a portion of them as critics, and judge for yourself. And that’s doing it in a very sort of grassroots brass tacks way.

It only takes two hours or an hour of meeting to see the difference between your normal meetings. And then you will have experimented with something that’s not costing you money to do that you can decide to amplify and do more of if it works. And then if you’re really, really interested, read more about the formula and use it on a larger scale. The only way to get skeptics to not be skeptical is to try something on a small scale and then scale it up.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you’re in the midst of some of these conversations, do you have any favorite prompts or questions or scripts that you find yourself kind of reaching for again and again and again?

David Komlos
Yeah, we counsel people in a few ways. I like that question about prompts. And so, if you don’t have customers in the room, what would your customers say? If you don’t have the regulator in the room, what would the regulator be saying? If you don’t have any naysayers in the room, what would the naysayers and cynics would say? If you don’t, for some reason, have the implementation angle or the PMO in the room, what would they be concerned about, or what would they be saying?

And then one other prompt that we give all the sponsors of the sessions that we do which are usually a day and a half minimum, we say, “It’s okay. It’s totally okay and very, very welcome, in fact, the job of the people who have been convened here is to speak their minds and open their hearts and say everything that needs to be said. The only thing that will be looked down upon is if you don’t say something here, and say at the water cooler two weeks later. Put everything on the table here, not in two weeks. We’re all here. We’re all here together to solve something and get after it, say what has to be said here not later.”

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

David Komlos
Just that for your listeners, many of us have been conditioned that solving big challenges, whether at the team level, the business unit level, higher up, and getting people to change, that’s an arduous, long life cycle, long task. And what I want people to know is that solving and change can be incredibly fast when you’re approaching the challenge the right way.

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

David Komlos
Well, I love the movie The Matrix and I like it when Morpheus says to Neo, “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

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

David Komlos
I really love two books, and I don’t know if you’d put them under the guise of research. But I do love Crossing the Chasm and learned a tremendous amount from that book, Geoffrey Moore, the author. And then Jim Collins’ Good to Great is also one that I refer and reflect back on regularly.

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

David Komlos
Something that helps me be awesome at my job is a full floor-to-ceiling whiteboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And how about a favorite habit?

David Komlos
Intermittent fasting.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’ve done that before. Tell me about it.

David Komlos
Well, basically, I eat between noon and 8:00 at night, usually finish around 7:00, and then I don’t eat. I just drink water. And I find that that gets me up in a really good place. The body gets used to it. I’ve got the right level of energy in the morning. I can get a lot of great work done. I’m not wondering about what I’m going to eat. Not even thinking about it. I get right to work or focus on my family. And then when noon hits, I eat.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

David Komlos
Yes, requisite variety. Only variety can destroy variety. That really resonates with people.

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

David Komlos
I’d point them to CrackingComplexity.com.

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

David Komlos
Bucket your challenges for the rest of your career. For the rest of your career, look through the lens of requisite variety, “Who are all the right people that I need to bring to something, not just the usual suspects?” And when you look through the lens of the right variety of people, you will more often than not bring the right people to the challenge. And that’s half the battle.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, David, thank you for this. I wish you lots of luck with all the complexity you’re cracking, and have a good one.

David Komlos
Thank you, Pete. You, too.

447: What Innovators Do Differently with Hal Gregersen

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Hal Gregersen says: "One of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and others is choosing to innovate, choosing to create something new and different."

Hal Gregersen reveals the key skills of disruptive innovators–and how you can get them too.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The core five skills required for innovation
  2. The questions disruptive innovators ask
  3. How to network for new idea

About Hal

Hal Gregersen is the Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management where he pursues his vocation of executive teaching, coaching, and research by exploring how leaders in business, government, and society discover provocative new ideas, develop the human and organizational capacity to realize those ideas, and deliver positive, powerful results.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Hal Gregersen Interview Transcript

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

Hal Gregersen
Delighted to be with you, Pete, once again.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m thrilled to have you again. And so, last episode was 385 for folk who didn’t hear back in January, and we talked about questions, and it was so fun. But I’d love to hear, in the interim period, what are some fascinating questions that you’ve encountered in these months that have passed?

Hal Gregersen
Well, one that I bumped into came right after a speech at South by Southwest. I had the chance to get in the car and drive north of Austin, Texas to Waco, Texas and did some work with the folks at Magnolia, Chip and Joanna Gaines and their senior people there. And at the end of some conversations about where they’ve been and where they’re going, we actually explored, quite deeply, what kinds of questions really matter in this new launching point at Magnolia.

And one of the questions that crossed my mind, that we talked about briefly, was, “What is truth in a healthy relationship?” And I realized that when a relationship, be it at work or even at home, is unhealthy, truth takes on a completely different element or definition in unhealthy versus healthy relationships. And I honestly don’t have the perfect or great answer to that question. I’m exploring it. But it was one that’s caused me to think twice about the kinds of things I do at work and at home.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that reminds of the gospels with, I think, it’s Pilate who asked, “What is truth?” It’s like, “What a question, man. That’s tricky.”

Hal Gregersen
Well, I mean, whatever it is, truth, lie, but the notion is in a very unhealthy relationship, truth gets defined by a single person. So, think of an abusive boss or even an abusive partner or spouse. In those instances, the world revolves around that individual, and truth gets singularly defined by them. And their version of truth is very untruthful. It’s just full of shades of grey and ugliness. But in a healthy, equal sort of context relationship, be it, again, at work or at home, truth is a different thing, and it’s consensual, and we’re creating it, and it’s something beautiful versus the opposite.

So, again, it was an amazing conversation with Chip and Joanna Gaines and some of their senior people around some of the key issues, and they just raised some really important questions. And they care deeply about creating spaces there, in our homes especially, where truth can thrive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, we were just breaking the ice and then you’ve got some…

Hal Gregersen
We love to break deep ice. We love to break deep ice, right, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I appreciate it. I’ll be chewing on it for sure. And I want to chat with you, in particular, right around now because you’ve got another book coming out here, The Innovator’s DNA. What’s the big idea here?

Hal Gregersen
Well, the big idea is this book is a revised version of one that came out in 2011, and basically, we’ve updated it. But here’s the genesis of the book The Innovator’s DNA. Jeff Dyer, a good colleague, and I were talking about the innovation skills of disruptive innovators, and we then crossed paths with Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School who coined the term “disruptive innovation.”

And we asked Clay, in a very direct way, “You made up, you created this concept of disruptive innovation arguably,” and the question we asked him was, “How do people like Jeff Bezos at Amazon, or Peter Thiel at PayPal, Niklas Zennstrom at Skype, this again was 15 years ago, how do those people get the ideas that actually disrupt entire industries?”

And Clay had his big, six-foot, seven-foot hands, scratched his head and thought, “I don’t know. I mean, we collectively concluded, ‘Let’s figure it out.’” And so, we interviewed a hundred plus of these people from all over the world, Diane Greene who founded VMware, Fadi Ghandour who founded a company in the Middle East called Aramex, and basically had the chance to ask them, “What were you doing when you caught the initial idea that led to a very disruptive organization that changed the world in the face of it?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an exciting question, and I’ve enjoyed perusing your Appendix A, Sample of Innovators Interviewed, and it’s an impressive lineup there. So, what were they doing? Were they all showering? What were they up to?

Hal Gregersen
Well, what you do is you watch them go about their everyday work, and they spend 30% of their time doing something that other leaders don’t, even CEOs and founders. And here’s what they do. Number one, they wake up in the morning with a problem or a challenge to be solved or found. They are problem finders and solvers. That’s how they approach the world.

And so, they have that mindset. And once they get into that sort of focus, it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to now try to figure something out,” and they do it with five very specific skills. They ask very challenging, status quo challenging questions, frequently and often. They observe the world like anthropologists. They’re carefully watching and paying attention. They network and talk to people who are the polar opposites of them, very different, in order to get new insights and spark new insights. They experiment and try things that other people aren’t willing to try, small, fast, cheap experiments.

And when they behaviorally do those things – questioning, observing, networking for new ideas, and experimenting – it actually gives them the ability to connect the unconnected, to think associatively, to put together ideas that other people couldn’t. Einstein called it “combinatorial play.” And imagine someone actively solving a problem, getting up, getting out, getting into the world, asking provocative questions, making deep observations, talking to creative people, experiment and trying things, and taking the time to associatively think and put stuff together that other people don’t.

Imagine that kind of active problem-solving process, getting primary information, primary data, versus other leaders, or people even in organizations, sitting in their office space being tasked with giving a creative new idea, and that’s basically all they do. They think.

Pete Mockaitis
“Go get an idea.”

Hal Gregersen
They think. They sit there and think with each other, and they talk in their office spaces, and they look at Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint files. And at the end of the day, if you’re betting your retirement income on the ideas that come out of those pretty stilled land, office space conversations versus this very active problem-solving and finding approach, of getting up, getting out, observing, networking, experimenting, questioning, and associatively thinking, you know, where would you put your retirement funds? And, basically, they go towards the people who are using these discovery skills to find and solve problems. Because when we use these skills that way, we actually reduce the probability of failure with our brand-new idea. It makes it more likely to happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it also sounds like a whole lot more fun.

Hal Gregersen
Oh, totally. Absolutely. Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, there’s so much good stuff in there, so I want to maybe start with the problem finding and solving. So, you say they spend 30% of their time doing stuff that others don’t, and that is they wake up, these innovators, and they just want to find a problem or solve a problem. It’s just like it sounds like in the first minutes of arising.

And so, those problems, are they kind of like all over the place in terms of, “Oh, this is an interesting thing I want to tinker with”? Or are they kind of pretty focused in terms of in their kind of functional or industry zones?

Hal Gregersen
They’re deeply focused within their own. They’re deeply focused within a space but they’re open to other surprises. And this is where, if you go to Jeff Bezos at Amazon, it’s like, here’s this guy working in financing, notices out of the corner of his eye, 25 years ago, that the internet was explosive growth rates of 1200% to 1500% per year, and he’s like, “What’s going on over there?” And that’s the point at which he then becomes very curious and very actively using these discovery skills to collect new data, and all of that work relentlessly trying to figure out, “What’s going on with this internet thing?” leads him to sell books on the internet which other people weren’t doing.

And so, the notion is we actually do care about something, as Richard Branson said, enough to do something about it. I remember this story of an animator at PIXAR talking about Steve Jobs getting in the elevator, 20 plus years ago, and surprising this young animator with a whole series of questions, again, two or three decades ago, around, “What kind of music do you listen to? And what are you paying attention to with your music? And where do you listen to your music? And how do you store your music?”

And he’s asking him all these questions about his music in the elevator, and Steve Jobs was trying to figure out the iPod. And it didn’t matter where he was, even if he was in an elevator with a stranger, he was trying to figure out better data to find and solve this issue around the iPod. And so, they care deeply about an issue.

And, frankly, I bet more than half of the leaders I interact with around the world really don’t care about the work they’re doing. They don’t care deeply about the problems and challenges they can find and solve in their own space. That’s the starting point to use these discovery skills to build something different.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it feels kind of like an obsession. It’s like, “I’m going to talk to anybody I bump into about this thing because it’s on my mind a lot.”

Hal Gregersen
And that’s how it works. And so, whether it’s David Neeleman who founded JetBlue in the U.S. a while back, and Azul Airlines in Brazil, and now he’s founding a new airline in the U.S. called Moxy, but Neeleman’s constantly exploring and trying to source new information with these discovery skills to be able to solve problems and build things other people don’t build.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And this reminds of the times I’ve certainly been in the throes of a question, and I just want to investigate. And I’ve often thought, “Boy, if I were to become a detective in law enforcement, I might become a terrible husband,” because it would just play in these, like, “Oh, I’m so close. How does this all fit together?”

Hal Gregersen
Yeah, exactly. But that’s how it works, Pete. That’s how it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so I imagine that, well, some have it, some have not found out ways to, I don’t know if the word is “control” or “harness” or “tame the wild stallions of obsessive innovative thought.”

Hal Gregersen
These hundred plus innovators, disruptive innovators, we interviewed for The Innovator’s DNA book, I don’t think they did shut it off, you know. They are relentless, obsessive problem finders and solvers. And so, I mentioned David Neeleman. Here’s this guy who grew up, he’s roughly my age, late 50s or early 60s, and this is 40 years ago. He bumps into a woman named June Morris, and they found Morris Air, and then that gets sold off to Southwest Airlines. And then David Neeleman gets fired from Southwest by Herb Kelleher because he’s too innovative, and he has a five-year non-compete agreement. He comes back and he founds JetBlue Airlines, and is incredibly successful by all metrics and standards.

Then he goes back to where he was born, in Brazil, to found Azul Airlines on a JetBlue model slightly modified for the Brazilian markets. And so, David, whenever he’s operating in the world, he’s asking these catalytic questions. And the first starting point becomes, “What’s going on here?” And so, David’s constantly asking of the world around him, “What’s working here? What’s not working and why?” And those are simple to ask but it requires huge trust to be able to get answers to them.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say trust, what do you mean?

Hal Gregersen
You know, if I walked outside of my office right now and asked the staff around me, “What’s working? What’s not and why?” They would be maybe looking at me, like, “Can I trust you with the real answers? This is working and that’s not.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s on their point of view.

Hal Gregersen
Exactly. So, it takes a deep commitment that I’m not just asking these questions to be clever or get a career advancement, I’m asking to make this place better off for us and for the people we’re serving. And that’s how David operates in the world. And so, you’ve got these relentless set of questions about the way things are, the status quo, and what’s working and what’s not and why, to lead him then to like, “Well, why don’t we try this? And how might we do that? And what if we try this?” These are very prescriptive world-changing questions.

So, his what-if question around, “What if we stopped having paper tickets? And what if we gave people codes over the phone to get on our planes at Morris Airlines?” ultimately led him, he actually was the inventor of electronic ticketing. And then when he goes down in Brazil, their issues of, “Where are we going to fly out of? What airport are we going to get some landing rights to?”

There were two major airlines in Brazil who’ve locked up all the major airports near Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In Sao Paulo, there was an airport an hour and a half away, and they actually got some landing rights there, ended up getting it all set up. And a few months before the launch of Azul Airlines in Sao Paulo, they realized the taxi ride from downtown Sao Paulo to the airport, on average, costs more than the ticket of the airplane. It was just too far away and too expensive.

And so, David’s like, “Well, why don’t we just build a huge bus system to transport thousands of people every day?” The senior leaders were like, “We’re not in the bus business, David.” And David’s response was, “Well, why not?” And he was persistent about it. And now they have these amazingly clean, Wi-Fi-equipped, very wonderful rides in downtown Sao Paulo to the airport.

Conversely, in Rio de Janeiro, they again couldn’t get landing rights at the main airport, but there was this airport off the Copacabana Beach in right down downtown Rio de Janeiro. There was a military airport that was not being used. And David and his team went to the government and asked them about it, and their answer was, “No, you can’t.” David’s response was, “Well, why not?” And he was completely persistent about this “Why not?” to the point that that’s where they finally started the Azul Airlines, was at that, “We’re not going to have it here” airport off the coast.

So, yeah, it’s just the way he operates and others like him. They’re constantly asking these questions of descriptively what’s working, what’s not and why, that leads them very practically to, “Well, how might we do this differently? And what if we try that and why not this?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, boy, there’s so much there. I think maybe we talk about these people. I want to maybe touch upon some of the research in the book about nature versus nurture, if anyone is saying, “Oh, yeah, but that’s them and not me.” What do you have to say to that?

Hal Gregersen
Well, my first response would be, if I could see the hands of everybody listening to this podcast right now, and ask them, “How many of you define yourself as innovators?” If the group out there was like any group of leaders I asked that question of in the world, about at most 50% of the hands go up. And then I’ll ask them, “Well, do you solve problems?” And everybody’s hand goes up. And now I’ve got them cornered to that plan, it’s like, “Well, if you’ve got a problem you know the solution, and you have to create a solution, what do you have to do? Well, you’re an innovator, right?” And they’re like, “Oh, got me. You’re right.”

And so, the issue is some of challenge of this nature versus nurture and “Am I innovative or not? Am I creative or not?” it all gets bundled up into these weird words of innovation versus “Do I just solve problems creatively?” The second part is, you know, truthfully, part of our discovery innovation skills are actually nature.

In fact, five systematic studies of genetically identical twins who, they’re born, but for tragic reasons they get separated at birth, and they grow up in different families and neighborhoods and context and schools, then they test them as adults. And about one-third of our ability to use these innovation skills regularly, of questioning, observing everything, experimenting and associational thinking, one-third of that is actually a bit genetic.

So, I’m very tactile. I touch and explore things with my hands. In the world, I got kicked out of school five times by the time I was in junior high school because I was always creating problems. But the issue is every one of those touchpoints, because I got more dopamine formed in my brain, caused me to get data that somebody is not touching doesn’t get. And all those datapoints of all those touches allows me to connect and see things other people don’t see. So, one-third of it is arguably genetic.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, that’s the majority.

Hal Gregersen
No, no, no, it’s one-third. The other two-thirds is pure nurture. It’s the families. It’s the schools. It’s the places we work. And all we have to do, Pete, is think of four-year olds around the world, and if they’ve grown up in reasonable homes and places, I mean, if it’s really extreme abuse, it’s a different story. But most four-year olds, what do they do? They ask a gazillion questions. They’re watching you like hawks and eagles. They are talking to just about anybody. They’ll try just about anything and they are exceptional at connecting the unconnected, and surprising you with ideas you never thought of.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Certainly.

Hal Gregersen
So, a 100% of us were once four-year olds, Pete. We had these skills. We had these creative problem-solving skills. But, unfortunately, sometimes homes and schools and even work can crush them. And so, given that two-thirds of the discovery creative innovation skills is just the world around us, is nurture, if we want to get better at it, it’s a choice. We just have to choose to use these skills to solve our problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s encouraging as compared to, say, IQ. It seems like we got a whole lot more room to grow and expand our creative skills than maybe our IQ.

Hal Gregersen
Oh, absolutely. And so, the data around this are, following what you just said, we are far more capable of making improvements around our creativity and discovery skills than we are around this thing we call IQ. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then, let’s talk about how to do it. So, we talked about questioning and some detail last time and it was a blast. I recommend Episode 385, everybody. But anything else you want to add about questioning or should we kind of move into observing?

Hal Gregersen
No, I think questioning is a starting point. It’s like, number one, care about a problem enough to do something about it. Number two, start asking more questions. And if you have no other time than this, one way to ask better questions is what I call a question burst. Whatever your issue is, set a timer for four minutes, don’t answer any of the questions, don’t explain why you’re asking them to yourself or to other people, and in four fast minutes, generate as many possible questions as you can about the issue.

And simply doing that, if nothing else, will help any of us ask better questions to start down the path of getting better answers. And once we define two or three of those questions that really count, what we know from the data from “The Innovator’s DNA” assessment where we’ve collected data from self and 360 assessments of leaders from all over the world, all kinds of industries, 20,000 of them, we basically know that if we only asked questions, there’s no relationship with that in getting valuable new ideas, new businesses, new products and services and new process.

So, all we do is ask questions. We’re not going to go anywhere. It’s like spinning wheels. But if we ask questions and actively get up, get out into the world, and either observe like anthropologists, network for new ideas, or experiment and just try things, then there’s an interaction effect they call in regression analysis where, in fact, questioning and observing does deliver valuable new ideas. Questioning and networking does deliver valuable new ideas. Questioning and experimenting it does that.

So, it’s the combination of asking with doing that makes the big difference. And I’m happy to share an example too if you’re interested.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please do. Yes.

Hal Gregersen
So, you may have never heard of Rod Drury? Does that ring a bell?

Pete Mockaitis
I think it was the Drury Lane?

Hal Gregersen
No, that’s good. That’s really good. On Drury Lane in London. That would even work for the Gingerbread Man. No, not that Rod Drury. So, I had never heard of Rod Drury, and one of the things we did related to “The Innovator’s DNA” book is we worked with Credit Suisse, we built this innovation premium metric where we’re able to, with the share price of a company, a publicly-held company, determine if investors believed that this company is going to do valuable, new, and different things in the future.

And so, part of the share price of a stock is related to things we’re currently doing, and for some companies, investors pay a premium because they say, “Look, you’re going to be doing something different, I think, in the future. I’ll pay you more than you deserve today.” So, this list we do every year for the last several years with Forbes, in collaboration with Forbes. And a few years ago, this company called Xero jumped onto the list. It’s one of the most innovative in the world. We’re like, “What’s that company?” In fact, it was near the top.

And when we looked at it, we discovered that Rod Drury founded this company that basically solved the exact same kind of software to small businesses and individuals that Intuit sells with QuickBooks and Quicken. And we called Rod Drury and we asked him, “How did you get the idea to build this company that outside of the U.S. is taking Intuit on head to head?” And his answer? He said, “I, for five years or more, watched and read everything that Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, did.” Now, that’s interesting.

And he said he literally would go to conferences to hear Scott and to watch how he operated as a leader. And here’s what he discovered. Scott Cook founded Intuit on his deep questioning and observational skills. He can really see things other people that don’t see. And so, Rod Drury noticed that. And what does Rod do? Well, he founded one software company, and then he’s like, “I think we could do something in this personal and financial and small business software.”

And so, Rod and his team went to 200 small businesses with questions swirling in their head about how to make small business software, financial software better for them. They went into 200 plus small businesses, and spent three to four hours in each of them, simply watching how they went about their day, and then talking to them about what they noticed and observed. That’s a 600-hour commitment by a founder. It’s not like delegating this innovation work to somebody else, it’s doing it yourself, which is what these innovators do.

So, what Rod discovered was many things. One, for example, was he watched these people come up, open their small business at the beginning of the day, get their cup of coffee or hot chocolate, go back to their computer two or three minutes later, and all of them were looking on the computer at basically the same information. So, pretend, Pete, you’re a small business owner, and you’re starting your new day, and you’re looking on your computer for some key information. What do you think that most important data that was that they were looking for?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, how much cash do I have in the bank right now? And how much cash do I need?

Hal Gregersen
Bingo! Bingo! Bingo! That’s exactly it. They were looking at their bank balances to figure out cashflow, “Do we have enough money to operate today?” And what they basically did was they took that observation, which at that point bank statements weren’t linked to this personal financial or small business financial software. They took that datapoint and a hundred or a thousand others to build a user interface, an introductory report when you log on, that’s incredibly intuitive and incredibly simple, and delivering the data you need to work today with your small business.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it must feel cool. What’s interesting about this synergy is questioning plus observing is because it might not occur to you to ask the question, “What is the first thing that you open up and look at in your financial software?” But once you do some observing, you’re like, “Huh, this is an interesting little pattern. I’m going to go ahead and kind of validate or vet by sending a survey to a bunch of people. And, say, hey, sure enough, everybody does this.”

Hal Gregersen
Oh, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I can see how they go back and forth there.

Hal Gregersen
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we talked about the questioning and the observing. So, then how do we think about networking and experimenting?

Hal Gregersen
Well, the networking piece to think through is, okay, they’re not networking to get a career advancement. It’s not networking to get resources. That’s a different kind of networking. This is a networking to expressly spark new ideas. And so, whatever your challenge is, whatever you’re trying to figure out, it’s like, “Okay, who are the top 10 go-to people that, if I talked with them, they would help me get a new idea, a new angle on this issue, possibly asking the questions I’m not caring about?”

And, in this instance, when we’re trying to get new friends, we usually try to find people who are like us. When we’re trying to get new ideas, the whole point is “People who are not like me.” That’s the point. They have a different technical background, they work for different organization, a different industry, they’re a different gender, a different generation, by age, different nationality, a different political group, a different socio-economic group. They’re different somehow, someway. They’ve lived in a different space and world enough that they can give me an angle I’ve never considered before.

And so, Marc Benioff, whom we first interviewed for The Innovator’s DNA book, and I re-interviewed for the Questions Are the Answer book that you and I talked about recently, but Marc, at the very core, is incredibly inquisitive and he excels at networking for new ideas. He calls them listening tours. He gets up, he gets out. When he’s got an issue, sometimes his listening tours last three months, sometimes one month.

He literally goes and embeds himself in a space in order to figure out what’s going on by talking to rich people, poor people, business leaders, government leaders, religious leaders, small businesses, large businesses, non-businesses, literally dozens, hundreds of conversations, collecting information, getting surprised in order to formulate an idea that otherwise he wouldn’t.

So, one of their ideas is this thing called Chatter, which is kind of this integration of Facebook and Twitter internally to facilitate conversations and get work flowing better on their systems. That idea came from a regular dinner that Marc holds with young leaders out in Silicon Valley to get new ideas, and that’s where that spark came from.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then so you’re networking for new ideas, and one of the guidelines is you want to talk to folks who are unlike yourself. But it sounds like they can be from any industry, or functional area, or geography, or socio-economic background. So, what am I kind of looking for when I’m choosing who to get in the room?

Hal Gregersen
Well, often it’s somebody who’s dealt with a problem similar to the one we’re dealing with. And so, if I’m a radiologist working in CAT MRI scanning machine, and I’m having trouble getting kids to settle down and be quiet and be comfortable in this space, I might go talk to dentists who deal with some of the same challenges, and ask them, “How do you deal with this issue? How do you approach it?” And they might get some incredibly new ideas otherwise they wouldn’t get.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Hal Gregersen
Now, I mean, there’s a historical example that’s absolutely fun around this. Have you ever heard of Kutol Wall Cleaner?

Pete Mockaitis
No, I haven’t.

Hal Gregersen
So, back in the 1940s, you and I, if we lived in a home, we probably had wallpaper on the wall. It was paper and we had a coal-burning stove, and the coal put out soot. By the end of the year, the spring, new spring, our walls will be black, not white, because the soot is all over the walls. So, Kutol Wall Cleaner was this putty-like substance that was rolled up and down the wallpaper, because you couldn’t wash it, in order to clean that black soot off, and you’d buy gallons of it to clean your walls off in the spring after a long cold winter.

And after World War II, these coal-burning stoves, they were no longer going to be used because electric and gas-burning stoves were replacing them, so there’s no more market for Kutol Wall Cleaner. So, imagine being the president of that company. It’s the market-leading wall-cleaning putty company on planet Earth, and your market now is disappearing because there’s no more need for it. And the founder actually passed away accidentally, tragically in an airplane accident, so his son took over in the middle of this downward transition, and then the son got cancer, so then they’re really in difficult straits.

And the family is sitting around the table trying to figure out, “What do we do next? The machines aren’t even running. We’re not going to have a spring this year. What are we going to do?” And at the dinner table is a daughter-in law of one of the founders who’s a school teacher, and she raised the problem at school, “You know, it’s cool when the kids do their art stuff. If they used sculpting clay, it stains their clothes with all the color, and if they used the stuff you make with flour, salt and water, it just doesn’t work as well.”

So, somebody at the dinner table says, “Why don’t you take a can of Kutol Wall Cleaner to school tomorrow and see if it works for your sculpting class.” They did. It was incredibly successful. That became Play-Doh.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Same stuff.

Hal Gregersen
Same stuff. So, all they did, the only thing they did was they changed the label on the can, removed the borax cleanser, put in almond scent. They sold the same stuff in the same can within the same factory. It used to be 37-cent wall cleaner, and it was a $1.50 one for the Play-Doh. And they sort of hit a wall with trying to market it.

Pete Mockaitis
The wall.

Hal Gregersen
There was this kid show called “Captain Kangaroo” like “Sesame Street” but way, way back. And they went to “Captain Kangaroo” and said, “Would you put this Play-Doh stuff on your show so we can sell more of it?” And said, “Here’s how much it would cost.” And they’re like, “We’re just barely digging out of a real hole here. What else can we do?” Captain Kangaroo says, “You give me 5% of your profits in the future and I will put it on my show three or four times a week.” He did and now it’s billions of cans later, you know, incredibly successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Captain Kangaroo grew the…

Hal Gregersen
Yes, sure. So, the point here, Pete, is Play-Doh never would have happened if people wouldn’t have been sitting at a table and talking across industries, education and wall cleaning, in order to solve a problem. And then having an experiment, “Just try some at school tomorrow. Small, fast and cheap to make it work.” And it did.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, Hal, tell me, if you’re thinking from the perspective of a typical professional as opposed to a CEO or head of a product, what are some of the top things you’d recommend we do to get better at some of these skills right away?

Hal Gregersen
Pay deep careful attention to the world around you and find an opportunity or a problem or a challenge related to your employees or to your customers that if you did something about it, it would make their world better. That’s the first step. You have to care about something that you want to do something about it. Once you have it identified, then it’s actively, use these discovery skills to find a solution.

And so, just today I was talking with a leader in my office here today who has a legal training and is trying to figure out the new legal tech integration with basically it’s technology, AI, machine learning, deep learning, what’s the impact going to be in the legal field. And I said, “Well, on one hand you can just sit in your office and think it, or you could use these skills and do something about it.”

So, starting point A, build your questioning muscle, your questioning skill by doing that question exercise about your challenge. Take four minutes, generate as many questions as you can, you’ll find some you didn’t discover before, and pick one or two that really matter. Starting point, ask a different question.

Then, I want you to get up, get out, get into the world. So, in this case, it was for this lawyer, “Go and observe the people who are actively using artificial intelligence in their legal work, watch them do their work. Watch people who are not doing their work. Learn about how both of their worlds operate.” Then I said, “Go talk to other people who are integrating AI into their world, biotech, fintech. Have conversations with them and even beyond that world, maybe in the world of transition and change due to technology.”

Then I said, “Try a few small, fast, cheap experiments based upon what you’re learning to see if it might work. And intentionally, once a week, step back with all this data you’re getting, observing, networking, and experimenting, and take a moment to think to yourself, ‘Is there anything I’m learning new, different, surprising from observing, networking, experimenting, anything new and different, surprising, that would be relevant to this problem I’m trying to solve?’”

If we don’t take the moment to make those connections, they don’t get made. And in the business life, we often miss that simple but important element.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, Hal, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about your latest favorite things?

Hal Gregersen
Whether you are leading yourself or leading your team or leading an entire organization, everybody is looking at how you find and solve problems. And all I know is if you walk into the most innovative companies in the world, these are not passive problem finders and solvers. The senior leaders, the executives who innovate and disrupt, they actively use these five discovery skills over and over and over to do their work. And that’s what makes them so good.

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

Hal Gregersen
Favorite quote. You ask me difficult things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m honored to hear that from you.

Hal Gregersen
No, there was one I ran across. I was playing with two of our grandchildren at the beach, treasure hunting actually, and as I was looking out over the water and the sun was coming in, I had this quote come into my mind by E. B. White, “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” It was just that moment of wonder, “What new treasure are we going to find in the beach? What new treasure are we going to see in the sky?” And to always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder is a creative way to start and end every day.

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

Hal Gregersen
I’m in the middle of reading The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines. I’m a fan of Magnolia. It’s basically their life stories behind the creation of this incredible business that they’ve created. And the powerful thing that I get out of it is they are very, very different people, Chip and Joanna Gaines. But they deeply admire and respect and honor each other’s instincts about how to do things and what they might do next. And that is partly, I think, not partly, I think it’s been crucial to their success and what they’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share in your speaking, your teaching, your book that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and get quoted back to you often?

Hal Gregersen
Innovation is a choice. We all wake up, we all go about our life be it work or at home, and we all have demands that force us just trying to get things done every day. But one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and others is choosing to innovate, choosing to create something new and different, choosing to build a future that looks different than the one we’re living in today. And what’s really cool about making that choice to innovate and create is it not only gets us brand-new ideas but it also buys us more years here on planet Earth, more healthier, we have fewer heart attacks, less depression. It’s just going to lead to consequences that can build a better world not just for us but for those that we care most around us.

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

Hal Gregersen
Easiest is HalGregersen.com. But if you look up Hal Gregersen online, you can chase me down at MIT or beyond and we can connect with each other.

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

Hal Gregersen
Leadership is not about us. It’s about building other people, and it could be those that are working directly with us, it could be the next generation who’s going to take our place. But, at the end of the day, leadership is not about me. It’s about somebody else becoming better at exactly what you and I talked about, Pete, finding and solving the most important problems to make this place better.

Pete Mockaitis
Hal, it has been a fun and inspiring. Yet again, I wish you all the best with this book and your questions and all your adventures.

Hal Gregersen
Thank you. And, Pete, same to you. Wish you well in your journey and adventure. In my simple terms, quest well. There you go.

432: How Leaders Consistently Make Great Decisions with Greg Bustin

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Greg Bustin says: "Leaders are in the decision-making business."

Greg Bustin reveals his insights on decision-making gleaned from 52 inspiring historical events.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two things you need when making a decision
  2. The Seven F’s tool that can help you decide what you want
  3. How to fight cognitive bias

About Greg

For more than two decades, Greg has been skillfully counseling a diverse roster of innovative companies. He’s a trusted advisor to savvy CEOs and key leaders—steering three executive groups and providing one-on-one coaching as a Master Chair for Vistage International, the world’s largest CEO organization.

Organizations around the world invite Greg to conduct private workshops and deliver thought-provoking keynote addresses on leadership, strategy, conflict resolution and Workplace Accountability.

He’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Financial Executive, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Greg Bustin Interview Transcript

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

Greg Bustin  
Thank you, Pete. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis  
I’m glad to have you. And I think the first thing we need to hear about is your drumming career.

Greg Bustin  
Well, it started in early age. I probably started on pots and pans like most drummers, and then got a little drum set when I was six. And I was in a marching band, an orchestra, jazz band, a rock band, I’ve kind of I’ve kind of done it all. Now, I pretty much just play the steering wheel.

Pete Mockaitis
Safely, I assume?

Greg Bustin  
Oh, yeah, both hands on the wheel, in the 10 and 2 positions, right?

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good, that’s good. Cool. Well, so I want to hear about your book, How Leaders Decide. I liked the format in terms of all the different stories, but I guess I’d like to start with a bang. What’s maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made when you were putting together the book?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I ended up looking at more than 25,000 events, and you go, “Wow, how do you get it down to 52?” Because the format of the book, as you alluded to, it’s really bite-sized chapters, because the leaders that I work with, like I’m in that kind of, “Hey, I can read this in 10 minutes and reflect, and I can either put it down or keep going.”

So how did I get it down to 52, and of the 52, what’s the one you most want to know about? I think the one that’s most surprising to me is the story of Mary Edwards Walker. She is the only female recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. So, 3,522 recipients, and she is still the only female ever to be awarded this honor, which is the military’s highest honor for bravery. And her story of bravery and courage and sacrifice took a lot of twists and turns, starting with the fact that, you know, as a woman, in the 1850s, she wanted to pursue a career as a doctor. And you know, she was told all the reasons why that wouldn’t happen.

Her parents were very encouraging, and she actually became one of the first women to graduate from medical school, and about the time she graduated, civil war was breaking out, and she wanted to volunteer. And she was turned down, not really because of her capability, but because of her gender. And ultimately, her persistence and her desire to serve landed her the position — first behind the fighting, and then ultimately she was placed on the battlefield. And from there, she even volunteered to become a spy for the North and went on some spying missions in Georgia.

And so she was awarded that in 1864. So as the war was nearing its end, she was awarded that — and it can only be awarded by presidents. And so, she made it through all the naysayers, all the bureaucracy, all the males, and eventually was awarded that. It was taken away from her, actually. It was reinstated by President Jimmy Carter.

So almost, you know, 100 years lapsed — or more than 100 years — between her receiving it, having it taken away, and then having it reinstated. And to this day, as I say, she is the only female Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. And I knew nothing about her. I just stumbled into it as I was researching the book.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, that is deep, surprising and fascinating. I did not know this, and now I do. And so now, since we’re all teed up about, you know, this person and the story, what’s sort of the leadership decision-making takeaway from that one?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I think it’s in multiple parts. First, she did not care who got the credit, and so that she was really driven just by the desire to serve our country and help her fellow human beings. I think it’s also obviously a story of persistence. And when you look at a lot of these stories, I mean, you see that as a common theme.

My challenge in writing the book is that, “Okay, well, you can have every chapter. If they’re 50 to 60, it’s like, guess what? The lesson is persistence”, because these folks all fought their way through some adversity or another. But I think her selfless desire to serve, was a cool thing.

And you know, the lesson is, if you’re a leader, how would those people in your organization rate your fairness and consistency when evaluating performance? And the question is, do you play favorites? Mary Edwards Walker had to overcome stereotypes, favoritism, double standards, and yet she persevered and triumphed.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. Thank you. Well, so then that’s one key theme that kind of weaves through the book, how leaders decide. Any other kind of main messages that you’d like to emphasize?

Greg Bustin  
Well, yes.

I think that what you’ll read in this book, many people say, “Look, I knew about the story of the Titanic,” or “I knew about Winston Churchill,” or whatever the case may be. It’s really the story behind the story that people find interesting.

I think the main message is that leaders are in the decision-making business, and all of these people, some of these were reluctant leaders, some of them just found themselves at a time and place where their integrity was confronted, their values were challenged.

And you know, what you see in the book is that essentially, these people made the decisions that they made, because number one: they were grounded in a very firm belief of understanding where they stood on issues and matters of integrity. And the other is that they also knew very clearly what it is that they wanted.

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, that’s good. Well, so then I’d love it, maybe if we could jump into another one of what you think is perhaps the most illustrative story out of your 52 collection that really is eye-opening and transformational for the typical corporate professional who wants to just make better decisions.

Greg Bustin  
Well, I got a question at a book signing event: “What chapter would you recommend that your daughter read?” And I said, Well, I’d let her read the whole book and let her make her own decision.” And when pressed for it, I actually put another female that I had profiled: Marie Curie. And I picked Marie Curie because I think that the transformational aspect, or the applicability to today’s leader, whether they’re an aspiring leader or a seasoned leader, is that Marie Curie was raised in an environment where learning and improvement was strongly encouraged.

I mean, ultimately, her family, despite severe hardship, growing up in Russia-controlled Poland, raised a teacher, two doctors, and a Nobel Laureate. And that really speaks to the kind of environment where leaders perform well. And I think the other piece that’s transformational is that when she married Pierre Curie.

Pierre came to the conclusion that Marie’s work was actually more applicable and more important than the work that he was doing. And so, he was willing to set aside his work and become Marie’s partner. And so, if you think about that, if you’re a leader, I think that one of the ways that you’re encouraged as a leader is to be a part of a team that supports one another.

And certainly, Marie Curie had that in the form of her husband, where again, in a traditional role of typically males being the dominant force in a relationship, Pierre recognized Marie’s capability, and was willing to essentially take a backseat.

And I think that in today’s environment, having that kind of support and encouragement from your peers, your supervisor, whatever, can really cultivate and bring out the best in today’s leaders.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s handy, certainly. So that humility and knowing when, “Okay, I’m going to take a backseat and just support them,” and that’s a winning move. Certainly, that’s a great takeaway for many environments. So I guess I’d love to hear, in terms of — you got 52 stories in here, we’ve talked about a couple of… right up front, you know, of all the suggestions that you have unearthed from these tales, when it comes to improving decision making, what do you think is the practice or approach that can offer you the greatest bang for your buck, if you will, like the most decision quality boost per hour or unit of effort?

Greg Bustin  
I think that it starts with what I’ve called seven behaviors that distinguish decisive leaders. And so one of those is believing deeply. So there’s a chapter about Walt Disney, and his brother, Roy, has a quote, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” And I think that speaks loudly today. If you know what your values are, the decision should be easy. You may not like the answer, but the answer will be clear. So believing deeply is the first of those behaviors.

Secondly, confronting reality, openly. We looked at JFK and 18 months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is the the event that’s profiled in the book, was the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.

And in hindsight, Kennedy realized that he had not opened up the discussion more broadly; people had been pigeonholed in in their thinking, and there was a lot of peer pressure to let the conventional wisdom of the CIA take its course. And what happened was that it ended in disaster.

And so when the Cuban Missile Crisis came around, Kennedy said, “Look, I’m learning from those mistakes. We’re going to bring in lots of people, we’re going to get fresh ideas, we’re going to bring in outside experts.” He even decided, “I’m going to leave the room sometimes, because I know that I can have an influence on people needing to say what needs to be said,” and he asked a lot of questions. And those questions were all aimed at confronting reality, facing the facts. There’s a need to cultivate curiosity.

And we talked about 3M and William McKnight, and the culture that he instilled inside of 3M, to make 3M, one of the most innovative companies in the world. There’s a notion of engaging meaningfully. And we look at the Apollo 13 crash and how these guys on the ground had to solve a problem 250,000 miles out in space with only the materials they had, and they had to bring everyone together under the crunch of time to do that.

There’s an element of deciding speedily, and then the need to adapt proactively. So all of those things, way into it. I think it really goes back to knowing what you want. And in my talk with the executives that I work with, what ultimately comes from these discussions is that it’s not as hard to achieve what it is that you want.

What’s harder than achieving what you want is knowing what you want. And so I think that before you can make decisions, again, I come back to those two things: You’ve got to know what your values are, and you got to know what you want. And I think pound for pound, that’s how you get through to get more of what you want, and how you make better decisions.

Pete Mockaitis  
Understood, yes. Great. Let’s talk about that. How does one get to know what they want? And I imagine the true depth of what you want is often not what leaps to mind off the surface?

Greg Bustin  
Well, you’re exactly right, Pete. I’ve actually got a form on my website that your listeners can download for free. It’s called “The Seven Fs.” It’s an F as in Frank.

The mind is a funny thing. Sometimes we need to let it roam freely. Other times when you let it run so freely, you’re just overwhelmed by the number of choices. And so what this seven F’s document does is it really forces people to say, “Okay, when you think about your friends, what do you want when it comes to your friends? When you think about financial? What does it look like when you talk about financial? When you think about your fitness, what does that really mean?”

When you start putting some definition around those things, “fun” is one of the Fs, right? When you when you talk about fun, you know, what does that look like? And so when you start compartmentalizing these aspects of your life, it really allows you to get more specific about deciding what it is that you want.

You know, my dad had a phrase that I loved. I mean, I was talking to him one day; it was after I’d started my own business. And frankly, I wasn’t very happy. I mean, my name is on the door, I’ve got all these people working for me, and I’m making a lot of money. I’m not happy. And he said, “Look, do what you love with people you love at a place that you love.” And what I realized is that what I was doing was, it’s like, okay, on the surface, it all looked good, but it wasn’t very fulfilling for me. And it wasn’t very gratifying for me.

And, you know, I asked him. I said, “Well, what about the money?” And he said, “Well, the money will come,” and he was right. And I think a lot of times, you know, we need a setback. Or maybe we need a shock. Or maybe we just need to take the time to reflect.

I was talking with an executive just a couple of days ago, and he said, “You know, the job that I’m in, I’m not sure I’ve trained all my life for this job. But I’m not sure that this is what I want.” And I said, “Well, what do you think you want?” He said, “Well, I’m not sure.” And I said, “Well, I would keep doing what you’re doing, and doing it the best that you can. And I do believe that over time, something will reveal itself to you.”

Just to be clear, I don’t think that you can say, “Okay, I’m going to check everything that I’m doing and go off on some wild hare.” But I think that you need to be in tune as to whether or not the amount of time that you’re putting in at the workplace is creating the kind of fulfillment that is worth the trade-off of spending time away, perhaps from your family, or a hobby, or just relaxing, or the ability to even take a vacation.

Again, I’ve got this document that’s designed to at least become a catalyst to get people to pause and reflect.

And that’s really how the book is served up. It’s not really a “do these five things, and you’ll make better decisions,” but rather, “Here are some historic events that changed the world’s trajectory. In here are some questions around each of those events that give you the opportunity to pause and reflect and think about how that applies in your life today.”

Pete Mockaitis  
I dig that. And so when it comes to your own decision making, I’d love to get your view. So I guess you’ve laid out into your core values and what you’re after, and these Fs. And so then, can you share, you know, what are some of these values and things that you want? And a decision that you approached recently that flowed?

Greg Bustin  
Yeah, that’s all well, that’s great. You’re making me eat my own dog food. And I love it. I had an opportunity. So I run these chief executive groups for small and mid-sized organizations. The smallest is probably $10 million in revenue a year, 25 employees, the largest is multi-billion, with employees, you know, all over the country, in some cases outside the U.S.

And in one of these groups, I had a couple of these CEOs that were exhibiting what I would call bad behavior. And I knew it, and I tolerated it for longer than I should. And really, the tough decision that I made ultimately was, “this is not fun for me, these guys don’t share my values.” My values are about helping people grow and learn and develop and improve. And these couple of guys were not sharing in that. And they were pretty disruptive in the meeting.

And we would get together once a month. And you know, we’re talking about 14, 15 people around a table. And finally, I just said, “Look, I’ve had enough.” And I talked to them about it, and I talked to several people: I talked to my wife about it, I talked to a couple of other folks that I trust, and the answer was consistent. It’s like , well you’ve got to do what you need to do. You already know, you just need to do it. And what I was afraid of was that they would leave and it would put the rest of the group at risk, because I knew that, you know, three or four people would leave the group.

And finally, I just said, “Look, that’s it. I know what I need to do, I just need to do it.” And that’s actually a quote that I have from Amelia Earhart: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity,” right?

And so I knew what I needed to do. And I had a conversation with these two CEOs. And they left the group, and four of their friends went with them. And I thought, “Okay, this is it.”

That was about a year and a half ago. I’ve rebuilt the group, everybody’s there for the right reason. I’ve never been happier. The people who were there are all bought in on what it is that we’re trying to do. But it was a moment of truth. And I think that when you look at some of these decisions, you know, sometimes what happens is, you make the decision when the pain of doing nothing is greater than the pain of doing something, right?

So in my case, it’s like, “Look, I could keep doing this, and keep kicking the can down the road.” But I was not looking forward to those meetings. I could tell that there were other folks around the table who were not happy with that behavior. And if I didn’t do something, then I might lose the entire group. As it was, I lost half the group. And we’re better today for it. And so I think that, you know, one of the things about decision-making is that doing nothing is a decision to not act. And so that was the decision that I was choosing to make. And so finally I just said, “Okay, I know what I need to do. And I’d rather just do something and see what happens, as opposed to continuing this and not having a productive experience.”

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. Well, not that we need all the lurid details, but I think it would be helpful if we had this little bit of a sense for what do we mean by “bad behavior.”

Greg Bustin
So there were two or three things. So there was a lot of judging that was going on with some of the folks. And so this idea is that you’re coming in here, you’re all from noncompetitive businesses, and the ideas that you can share openly, because, look, everybody generally, when it gets down to it, is talking about the same thing. You’re talking about customer issues, you’re talking about employee issues, you’re talking about money issues, and you’re trying to make your business perform at a higher level.

And you know, people would come in and open up and somebody would just kick the heck out of them, you know? And it’s like, look, it takes some level of courage to open up your heart and say, “Look, I’m scared,” or “I’m screwing up,” or “I’m not sure,” or whatever. And you know, these guys would go, “Oh, you know, well, that’s easy,” or whatever. There was also the idea that when you looked at their business, they weren’t really moving forward. And so, it was really, “Hey, let’s come in, let’s have some yucks, you know?”

“Let’s talk tough, and then let’s figure out where we’re going to go afterwards for cocktails.” And it’s like, look, that’s fine to do that. But really, our purpose here is to help each other get better. And so there were just some things like that, that were counter to the kinds of values that I was looking at, which is, “Look, let’s be authentic, let’s be honest, let’s be supportive. And let’s be all in on this,” because the money is the least of what these guys are paying. These guys are giving up.

I say, “Guys, guys and gals, are giving up a day out of their life, and they’ll never get that time back. So it’s up to me to make sure that we’re making the best use of that time.” And so it just seemed like we weren’t making the best use of that time. And it was becoming evident to some of the other folks in the group that, you know, “these sessions are starting to look like a waste of time for me.”

So anyway, those are some of the things that just say, “Okay, I’m sort of backed into a corner.” And, some of these events just happened to ordinary people, like the first female senator of the United States, got the job because her husband died. But she made the decision. And the decision that was profiled in the book was she made the decision to run again.

Nobody believed that she would run again. Hattie Caraway is the first woman to be elected a U.S. senator. So I think there’s a lot of instances where people were just living ordinary lives, and then an opportunity came their way. And they had the opportunity to step up and do the right thing. And that’s what really distinguishes a lot of these decisions.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh yeah, that’s good stuff. I’m a sucker for stories, aren’t we? The human condition, and say, so you wisely put together 52 of them, as opposed to, you know, a list of cognitive biases and the scientific research for them, which you would make a good book for me. I’d like that.

Greg Bustin  
Well, you can write it, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis  
I have a poster of cognitive biases in my home office. Fun fact. Anyway, when you share the feedback, like, “Hey, this is what I’m seeing with regard to, you know, how the meetings are going and how you’re behaving and the implications of it.” And they just sort of stormed off. They’re like, “Well, I never, Greg!”

Greg Bustin  
No, I don’t think people like ultimatums. I think they like options. Sometimes, you need an ultimatum. And what I said to these folks is, “Look, you clearly joined for a reason, I just want to make sure that we realign on what that reason was. “Here’s what I’ve been seeing. I think you’ve got a great heart, you’ve built a successful business.”

The behavior that I’m saying is A, B, C, and D. And if that kind of behavior continues, I don’t think this is a great fit. If you want to modify that behavior, and be the kind of person that you were when you joined the group, then that’s a cool thing. And they basically said, “Okay, I thought about it, and I don’t really want to modify my behavior.” And it’s like, “Well, that’s cool, because we’re all about modifying behavior so that we can improve.”

Pete Mockaitis  
Yeah. Okay. That’s cool. All right. Well, so thanks for taking us there, into that tale. And so there you go, because you are clear on those values about learning, growth development, and you were noticing the reality around you in terms of, “This is starting to be not fun, and not enjoyable, and not helpful.” You went there. So that’s cool.

Are there any key tips, props, questions, scripts, things that are kind of little go-to tips and tricks that you use or recommend to help folks make great decisions consistently?

Greg Bustin  
Well, to be very practical, I think that you’ve got to get into a rhythm or a cadence or a habit. And I think that one of the best ways of doing that is to be very clear on goals.

I’m a big goal person, whether it’s weekly goals, or monthly goals, quarterly goals, annual goals, and I’m talking personally, as well as at an enterprise level, I think that that the people that are successful, are driven by something, and they are driven toward something. And I think that from a practical standpoint, the best way to do that is, “Hey, make a list, block time on your calendar, get some people around you that you trust, who may actually think different than you, or think differently than you so that you can bounce things off of them.”

I think that being clear on what you stand for, being clear on what you’re after, and then having these very specific mile markers in the road that show, “Hey, I’m making some progress toward this, because all of those involved decision making,” it involves, “Okay, do I do this? Or do I do this? Is it a trade off? Is it a priority? Do we have the time for this? Do we have the money for this?” Whatever the case may be.

And I think that when you have that clear picture, you’re willing to give up things or make sacrifices in order to get that.

I think the best decisions that I make are driven around having, again, a set of values and a set of goals that you’re driving toward. And I think that, you know, one of the best ways to create a new habit is to make a list. I think that is a very powerful way of doing that.

I use gold boards with just sticky notes at the end of every year. And I take my groups through this. It’s like, think about the things that are important to you, when you picture success and why you’re doing what you’re doing. What is it that you’re doing that is going to cause you to be fulfilled?

We’ll write those words down, be very specific about the type of fulfillment that you’re looking for. Now write down the categories that you need to work against, in order to make your life fulfilling, and then you put little sticky notes under that. And I mean, people love that. They’re like, we present them at the end of every year, I check up on them monthly, and they’re like, “Hey, check that off. I’ve got a new sticky note now.” And you know, whether it’s take a vacation or,, be at home three nights a week to have dinner with the kids, or whatever it is, you know, make it real and make it visible.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any quick tips when it comes to cognitive bias, how to fight that well?

Greg Bustin
Well, I think the way you fight it well, as I’ve already alluded to, is you’ve got to have people around you that you trust and respect that are willing to say, “Look, there’s a blind spot,” or “I don’t think you’re seeing the whole picture,” or, you know, “I think that here’s another point of view that maybe you haven’t considered.” And I mean that’s what these groups that I lead are all about. And it’s about people whose only agenda is to see the other person in the group succeed.

So there’s no commercial gain for that, and the way around the cognitive bias to miss something, is to have other people around that can look at things differently. I mean, our subconscious plays tricks on us. I’m sure you know, that’s what optical illusions are all about. It’s not that I didn’t see it, it’s that the brain doesn’t get it. Right?

And so we need to have other people around us that that we trust and respect to point out those blind spots and to say, “Well, maybe there’s another way of looking at this that you’ve not considered.” And I think that when you do that, that can help at least mitigate some of the biases that we have to make decisions that aren’t always in our best interest.

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

Greg Bustin  
Well, these are my favorite things, because I love what I do. I would invite your readers to go to my website.

There are five lost chapters. You might imagine with all these different historical events, I couldn’t fit them all in, and there are five lost chapters that aren’t fully baked yet, didn’t make it into the book. And your listeners can go to my website and download those for free. And then if they’re interested in wanting a little bit more than they can, they can spring for the book.
Pete Mockaitis  
All right, perfect. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I already told you the one about my dad. The other one that I think really describes my work ethic is from J. Paul Getty, which I’m sure you’ve heard: Rise early, work hard, strike oil. It’s like, no excuses. It’s like get up, work hard, and make things happen. And I’m very results-driven. I’m very goal oriented. And that’s a favorite quote for me.

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

Greg Bustin  
Well, I was just taking a break from research, because I just spent about a year researching this book. I am rereading a book where the centerpiece is an essay by Peter Drucker, and it’s the title of the book, called On Managing Yourself. It’s one of Harvard Business Review’s, 10 must-read books. And it’s just a great reminder of some really practical wisdom by some of our greatest thinkers, and the leadoff hitter is is Peter Drucker.

Pete Mockaitis  
And how would a favorite tool? Something you use to be awesome at your job?

Greg Bustin  
Well, the tool that I use, I mentioned, is the goal board. I believe in that. I mean I’m a big accountability guy, and in the research that I did on accountability, which is my previous book, is that accountability is not a bad thing. It’s actually a support system for winners. One of the reasons where accountability breaks down, or one of the places where accountability breaks down, is the failure to make performance visible.

And so I believe that, you know, being able to visualize very specifically, “This is where I want to go, these are the things that I’m going to do to get it,” and then to be able to literally either take off the sticky note and put a new one up, or check it off or do it on your computer, that, to me, is very fulfilling.

And ultimately I’m driving toward, you know, something bigger than just a list. I mean, I had a list of the 52 chapters, and I blew it up, and, you know, four foot by six foot poster, and I would check off each chapter as I wrote it. And that was very inspiring to me, to say, “Okay, I’ve gotten another one down, and I’ve only got this much further to go.”

So I use a lot of visual tools, both in my computer, and you know, mounted behind my door in my office so that when I close the door, you know, there it is, and I can see how I’m doing.

Pete Mockaitis  
Awesome. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I think the nugget is, when it’s time to decide, it’s time to decide. You know, things that must be done eventually must be done immediately. And so when you are not deciding, you are effectively making a decision to do nothing. And so I think that, you know, and I told you the story about that, and I did nothing for many, many months until I finally had to pull the trigger.

And so I think, you know, the idea is, again, when you know what you want, the decision should be easy. The decision was easy for me, I just didn’t want to do it. And then finally I did it. And of course I felt better.

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

Greg Bustin  
I would point them to my website, www.bustin, B as in boy, U-S-T-I-N.com. bustin.com. There’s all kinds of free tools like the one I mentioned, blogs, exercises. The five lost chapters from my book are there as well, and I would love for folks to visit.

Pete Mockaitis  
And do you a final challenge or call to action for folks?

Greg Bustin  
Well, that’s fine. Yeah, the final call to action is everybody’s got a decision they need to make, and my question, really, or my challenge would be in the form of a question, which is, what’s the significant decision you must make in the next 60 days? And what do you need to do in order to make that decision? And who can you call on for support, to propel you into making that decision?

Again, most of the big decisions, it’s not as simple as yes or no. Sometimes it is, but it’s not as simple as yes or no, or this or that, or black and white. Oftentimes, there may seem, at least on the surface, a lot of gray. And so having someone that you trust, to bounce that off of whether it’s a mentor, or a coach, or a friend, or a spouse, or a partner, is a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis  
Awesome. Well, Greg, it’s been a lot of fun. I know you’re taking a break from executives right now to talk to us, so I appreciate that. You’ve got a cocktail hour calling; I wouldn’t want you to miss any more minutes of that.

Greg Bustin  
Well, I’m sure they’re starting without me, Pete, but that’s it. That’s cool. I’ve loved our time together, and I really appreciate you having me on.

431: Leadership Practices You Should Stop with Sara Canaday

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Sara Canaday says: "What is consuming your calendar? And does it really belong there?"

Sara Canaday highlights key places where conventional leadership wisdom needs to be replaced.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A common leadership practice you should replace
  2. Why we should value soft intelligence as much as we value hard data
  3. How the bias for action can get in the way of progress

About Sara

Sara Canaday is a leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author.  She works with leaders and high-potential professionals from organizations around the world to expand their capacity to innovate, influence, engage, and perform. Her new book, Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom for Breakthrough Performance, is now available on Amazon. For more information, please visit SaraCanaday.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Sara Canaday Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Sara, thank you so much for joining us here on How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Sara Canaday
Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have a chat and I recall last time you mentioned that one of your dreams was to be a backup dancer in a hip-hop video. And I understand that dream is still alive. I’d like to know how that’s evolved and if there’s any particular music right now that gets that dream going for you.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, it is still alive. And I think it’s alive because it’s one way to stay loose and to not take myself so seriously. So, I think it’s important for me to keep that dream alive, actually. I think, probably, my kids, my husband and others are glad that there’s that part of me that tries to let loose a little bit and not be so serious.

So, it’s—that dream has served me well. Now, I wish I could say that it’s found me on the stage as a backup dancer not, yet but I can still hold out. And I think the last time we talked, we talked about artists like 50 Cent and Beyonce.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
I should say that with a 14-year old and a 17-year old, I’m now listening to pretty heavy, rapid RnB sometimes and knowing that you might ask me this question, it was kind of a shame that I had to look and comb through an artist that I listened to that did not have an explicit song.

Pete Mockaitis
Keep the dream alive, keep it loose. That’s good.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, you’ve got a new development in terms of a book Leadership Unchained. I’d love to hear first and foremost, what did you find particularly surprising, striking, fascinating as you’re researching and putting together this one?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, I don’t know if it was confirmation bias at work here but it seemed that even after I wrote the book or while I was in the process of writing the book, I would finish a chapter, I would finish the research, put it aside. And lo and behold, I kept seeing examples of either companies or leaders, who were doing a semblance of some sort of what I just finished talking about in terms of zigging while everybody else is zagging and how it paid off for them.

And so again, it could be that I was uber open to it on a subconscious level, but I felt that I kept finding reassurances and examples for exactly what I was talking about. And that was surprising and it was exciting at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, I’d love to hear an example there in terms of, what’s a zag or sort of common leadership work practice that you think is best replaced with a zig?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think one of the ones that comes for me last year because it’s not anything I had to research, it’s something that literally popped up. After I already wrote my chapter on this idea of having everything earn its rightful place to be on your to-do list, right. And the chapter is not only look at literally what makes your to do list every day, but what kind of projects, initiatives—what is consuming your calendar? And does it really belong there?

Are you doing it because it makes somebody else comfortable? Are you doing it because it’s always been done but nobody would question whether that report ever got produced? Is it moving you or your team forward? And again, in the chapter, I talked about a company that years ago looked at the number of products it was selling.

And so again, it wasn’t just a to-do list of items every day, it was on a larger scale. And in order to be profitable, they made a decision that was very, very difficult but to reduce that profit or those products from 13 down to two.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
And so they had to ask themselves some really hard questions. Long story short, it ended up really working to their advantage. But what popped up several months after writing that chapter was Ford Motor, making their announcement that in North America they were going to stop making Sedans.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
Which is stunning, that’s a stunning announcement, but for various reasons—but some of which meant that they sat down and they really thought about what do they need to stop doing in order to grow. And that was just a prime example to me.

Pete Mockaitis
So, are they not manufacturing Sedans in North America or they’re not selling them in North America?

Sara Canaday
They are not manufacturing them—

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sara Canaday
Which means they no longer will sell them.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I will not be able to acquire like a Ford Taurus in a few years?

Sara Canaday
No, they are stopping production of it.

Pete Mockaitis
This is news to me.

Sara Canaday
Yep.

Pete Mockaitis
Plus learning this.

Sara Canaday
Done, over.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Sara Canaday
And we don’t know, right. It’s too soon to tell, we don’t know if that’s going to be the right decision if they indeed will benefit from that decision. We’ll need a crystal ball for that. But I think it’s very telling that they’re making those kinds of moves.

And that leaders and companies, and anybody should be thinking about that. I shared with somebody the other day that two years ago, I put together my kind of business planning meeting and I invited some people that helped me with my work.

And at the time, I was friends with a colleague who was really good at facilitating strategic planning meetings and business planning meetings. And he said, “you know Sara, would it help you if I came and facilitated so that you could actually be part of the meeting and not have to do both facilitation and brainstorming or what have you?” And I said, “sure.”

Well, this man was brilliant because soon after I talked about what I was looking for the next year, what areas of my business did I want to grow? We drew a big pie circle on the whiteboard, and we put percentages of the areas I wanted my company to grow. And I was ready to talk about, “okay, what do I need to do in order to grow?” And he stopped me in my tracks. He said, “No, let’s first talk about what you need to stop doing in order to grow in these other arms of your business.” And that was the best thing he could have asked me.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Cool.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a wise tidbit there, with regard to making sure everything earns its place on the to-do list and doesn’t just sort of get there.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Just because for another person’s expectations or a habit or an old kind of a relic of previous times, which is maybe not as relevant to do now. And that there’s power in identifying what to stop doing. So, that’s well. So, that’s one example but what’s the overall message or thesis of the book Leadership Unchained?

Sara Canaday
So, the overall message is to try to keep pace with this always on, push harder, do more world by taking some counter intuitive approaches. Because what I’ve seen in working with the leaders over the years, whether that’s workshops or speaking to groups of leaders or even coaching them, is that the conventional methods—the things that we were taught to be true, whether from bosses or from reading books—that approach to work, and to leadership is not working anymore.

And that these leaders are not necessarily getting the traction that they used to get by doing more, by following these conventional practices. So, this book is really about the need to change and disrupt the way we work, think, and lead.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you perhaps share some of your favorite  evidence of studies or whatnot that shows that a particular conventional method or two, ain’t cutting the mustard the way it used to?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, sure. One of my favorites is this idea of big data, right? And that’s because it’s so relevant today. And so many people think it’s just such a sexy thing, right? Big Data. And I think what’s happened is, while it’s helped us tremendously and helped with medications, new medications or new protocols, I think there are ways that we have almost let data rule our decisions.

And we are driven by the data as opposed to just valuing it and putting it in its proper place. And my favorite study, or at least evidence of how this happens is a story that I read about and then I subsequently listened to a TED Talk by a woman who was a cultural ethnographer. And her name is Tricia Wang.
[11:55]

She told a fascinating story about how she was hired in 2009 by Nokia. And they hired her to find out about a particular consumer group and at this point, that was the Chinese population, and in particular, Chinese immigrants. And to study what their preferences were in terms of smartphones.

And like, what a cultural ethnographer does, she immersed herself in their culture. She spent, I think, up to a year working in the rice paddies, she went to the local internet cafes, and observed and talked to people within that culture.

And what she found was very stunning and that was that the need or the want more importantly for an iPhone and the desire to own an iPhone was so prevalent that these Chinese immigrants were willing to spend half of what they earned in a month just to have one.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s quite the discovery.

Sara Canaday
It was a huge discovery for her. And I’m summarizing this study but—

Pete Mockaitis
For quadruple the price, you could get away with it guys, take away all their worth.

Sara Canaday
Well, what’s interesting is at the time Nokia was building high-end, multifaceted smartphones, and what she wanted them to know and what she casme back to share with the executives about her study was that they should put some of their efforts behind building a lower-end smartphone. That that’s where the market was, and that they would benefit from doing so.

Now, sadly, her small data set was compared to an extremely large data set that was more hard data, right. And they really didn’t move in that direction because they thought that her data wasn’t sufficient enough, and that it wasn’t “hard enough”.

And they did not go in that route. And we all know what happened to Nokia. Right, so, that is one example and what she submits in her TED Talk, and in her research, is that we need to value the immeasurable or what I like to call soft intelligence as much as we do the hard data.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a cool story. I guess I’m not quite following how her big discovery was that their desire for iPhone is so powerful that they’d spend half their income and therefore the recommendation was “make lower-end phones”. I think I’m missing a connecting piece there.

Sara Canaday
Yes, well, I mean, so, she—

Pete Mockaitis
… spend big money, but they don’t try to get that money, I’m not following exactly.

Sara Canaday
They would do so, right. But she knew that if they would change their strategy to make lower-end phones that even more people would buy phones.

But she was not in any way saying that they should keep building the higher-end smartphones. Because remember, these people worked in rice paddy, so even half of what they earned wasn’t necessarily enough for the product that Nokia was building at the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there we go, right, that’s the missing link.

Sara Canaday
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought they were immigrants into the U.S.

Sara Canaday
No, and I should have correct that, they weren’t—I think I used the word immigrants. Migrants.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, okay, gotcha, gotcha.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, it’s sort of like, “hey, they’re willing to spend half their income but half their income isn’t cutting it—

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Therefore, if you have something at this price point—

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
… great shape because folks will spend half their income and get a great phone that has a lot of cool features but maybe not everything, and the kitchen sink, which would dwarf what they can do?

Sara Canaday
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s a discovery that you can make when you’re going deep into immersing yourself in a culture and an environment. But that you may very well miss if you’re just looking at sort of billions of scans of retail consumer electronic transactions and what those are telling you.

Sara Canaday
Right, right. And a lot of times what I see happen is that we love to survey our customers, for example. And when we survey our customers, we rarely do so by asking open ended questions. It’s usually some sort of a Likert scale, rank us as a company on a scale of one to 10.

And we take away from that how the customer evaluates us or our products or services. But what we miss is the nuances, we don’t know why they’re rating us the way their rating us. We may not know exactly how they interpreted the question. But we’re willing to come out and make decisions based on these numeric conclusions.

And so I’m just saying, we need to balance that by getting up behind our desk. And whether it’s with customers or with employees, we need to do our own field research, right? We need to maybe observe our employees or customers in their natural habitat, using our products or services or working in our environment.

We need to maybe solicit stories from those that are impacted by our services, by our products, by the way we operate as a company. We need to make sure that we’re including like I said earlier, the soft intelligence, the human factor.

We need to be asking, what might we be missing in this data? What conversations perhaps are we not having because we’re relying solely on this data? Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s the one you used for your profile and so that really gets me. I’m right with you there when it comes to, we drive these big old decisions from these Likert scales, these numerical things when in fact, maybe, whatever, just make up numbers, 90% of folks chose a six on your seven-point Likert scale. But those people didn’t quite know what you meant by this thing and they assumed meant that thing, and therefore the six, it means nothing.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they weren’t even on the same page that you had thought and hoped and assumed that they were on. So, I’m right with you. So, tell me, what are some of the pro tips for having the best of both worlds in your decision making and research?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think one of the things you can do is if you’re going to collect data, make sure that maybe you have a way to do both quantitative and qualitative gathering, right. So, if you’re going to do a customer survey, maybe you also bring in a customer subset to then talk to you about why they rated you in certain ways, or have a focus group around some of those same types of data sets, so that you can pick up all the nuances behind the ratings. I think those are really important.

Some companies will interview potential customers at the point of purchase, so they haven’t really purchased your products or somebody else’s. But you can maybe understand what they’re using in terms of comparisons, how they’re making their decisions between you and perhaps your competitors.

If we’re looking at employees, I know that an example that was used for years is this idea of exit interviews, right? And understanding why people are leaving your company to get better informed. But how about asking people what really drove you to make the decision to come with our company? What was it about that the way we engaged you with us through this process, helped you decide to come work for us? Those are the kinds of things where we’re asking things at a much more qualitative level and not just quantitative.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s right on. Okay, so, there we go. That’s one piece of conventional practice, like the numerical, quantitative big data rule all that can lead you astray.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
If you kind of overlook the other parts to the picture. Are there some other pieces of conventional leadership wisdom practice that can be potentially problematic, and that you would amend just as we’ve done here?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, the very first chapter I talk about one everybody can resonate with is this bias for action. And it’s something I prided myself on through my years in corporate, right. That I was the person that could get things done. It was somewhat …, but something I also trained myself to be very much about productivity and taking action.

And this is still a work in progress for me, but what I’ve seen is that that actual bias for action, that tendency to be always moving forward can actually get in the way, it can get in the way of innovation, it can get in the way of figuring out how to keep up with this just overwhelm of information, of being able to make good decisions in this instant response world.

So bringing this down to the individual, my discovery and my suggestion to leaders who are trying to keep pace, and for anybody who’s trying to keep pace, is that they consider making an unbreakable appointment with themselves, whether it’s daily or weekly.

And this is an appointment not—this isn’t mindfulness, this isn’t meditation, although I believe in those things. This is about just stepping back and looking at everything you’ve consumed that week, in meetings, what you’ve read, data reports, and letting that percolate.

So that you can really make meaning of what it is, you can separate the wheat from the chaff. And you can make connections where there seemingly may have not been connections before.

That is the sort of counterintuitive practice or zigging while everyone else is zagging. And in fact, what I always say is the willingness to sit still, while everyone else is in motion.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha, cool. Well, tell me Sara, any other key things you’d like to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear some of your favorite things?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think that the only other one that’s a again a work in progress for me, is this idea that I brought up right at the beginning, which is making sure that you put as much emphasis into what you’re not going to do, what you’re going to stop doing as much as what you’re going to start doing.

I think that’s an easy thing to do and I always encourage and challenge people that I’m working with or speaking with is to start your day tomorrow and instead of looking at your to do list, try and stop doing list. Just try it on for size, see how it feels.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it and as you in your own life and work with clients, what are some of the things that tend to appear most frequently on stop doing lists?

Sara Canaday
One of the first things that I see a lot is that I’m going to stop endlessly checking my emails, that always bubbles up, people admit that they don’t put their emails on— they don’t close out their emails. And that that’s an incessant checking of their phone, of their social media, that they’re literally going to close off and not be tethered to those things.

The other is they’re no longer going to value themselves based on somebody else’s expectations. They’re not going to let somebody else’s expectations or I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for but they’re going to start to sort of take charge of their own calendar, if you will.

And I know that that seems hard to do, right. We’ve got people who are relying on us and that have expectations but I think there are some things we can do to drive our own calendars instead of letting somebody else do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Well, now if you will share with us a favorite quote that you find inspiring

Sara Canaday
Well, I think it’s fitting with the topic today and it’s one that was shared by Warren Buffett in one of his speeches several years ago, and it’s quite brilliant, “the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken”. That is one of my favorite quotes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I believe he is correct. It’s really thought provoking.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It is like oh—

Sara Canaday
And he can’t take full credit for that. Apparently, he took part of a very similar quote from a gentleman named Samuel Johnson. He had read something very similar years ago, but he made it his own. Those are his words. Those are Warren Buffett’s words.

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

Sara Canaday
Well, again favorite study is one that is that I uncovered while writing this book. And it was from the Journal of Economic Psychology and it’s interesting. The researchers studied videotapes of goalkeepers and these were top Soccer League goalkeepers. And they analyzed 286 penalty kicks to determine the probability distribution of kick direction and then the responses they elicited.

In other words, what they discovered was that the optimal strategy for goalkeepers was to remain in the center of the net during a penalty kick, not moving to the left, not moving to the right. And by doing so, they had a 33% chance of blocking the ball.

But what they discovered is that these top goalkeepers only stayed in the center six percent of the time. And this study was exactly about our bias for action. And that is what was propelling them to move either to the right or to the left, the idea of doing nothing and standing still, even if they knew that it was going to increase their chances of blocking the goal didn’t work. Again, that bias took over.

Pete Mockaitis
That study is so fascinating because the notion is that you look like a moron.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like if the goal goes in, and you stayed in the middle and moved nowhere, then like the crowd is just like eats you alive, like, “look ….”.

Sara Canaday
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
… do your job”.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It doesn’t quite work to your back,  “it’s statistically optimal for me to stay …”. It’s hard to argue with screaming crowd but thank you.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Sara Canaday
This is so hard. There’re so many books that I like, I think one of the best books, it’s been years, but it’s The Big Leap. It’s by Guy Hendricks and it’s probably one that’s a cross between a business book and a personal growth book. And I think that’s why I liked it so much because I’ll either read business books or I’ll read for sure, pleasure and this one kind of had a mix of both. So, I really liked it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. And how about a favorite tool so that it helps you to be awesome at your job?

Sara Canaday
I got to say that this sounds so trite but LinkedIn. I think about what I do with that tool, like, every meeting I have, phone or in person, I can go in and I can read about that person, I can find things that we may have in common to talk about. I can appear more prepared, or in the know just by looking at some of their history or what it is they do, what their role is. So, it’s just a fascinating tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m a huge fan myself. I got the premium and I use it.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And … go reach out to Sara and myself on LinkedIn, listeners.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
For me the secret password is either a boy band lyric or, “hey Pete, I like the podcast”, just to help differentiate you from the inbound sales funnel lead …

Sara Canaday
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That I’ve been getting more and more of lately.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, …

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure LinkedIn is gonna find out how to crack down because they’re brilliant over there.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Anyway, yes LinkedIn is good. We are agreed on that point. And how about a favorite habit? Something that you do that helps you to be awesome?

Sara Canaday
Oh, you’re gonna laugh, when I read this favorite habit, I didn’t look at that it helps me to be awesome. Although I guess I could find a way to argue it. This is so silly but my favorite habit is that I make my bed right when I get up every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
May be a Navy SEAL guy, he’s all about that.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, the reason I like that habit is because I love getting into a completely freshly made bed. There’s nothing worse than getting into an unmade bed. And so, I refuse to do it. And so, I guess I could argue that it helps me get awesome sleep, which means I could be awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks they quoted back to you?

Sara Canaday
When it comes to mine is when I tell people to be a renegade in their ideas and their approaches, but not in their behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. And if folks want to learn more and get in touch, where would you point them to?

Sara Canaday
I would point them to my website, Sara Canaday, or as you said, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook.

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

Sara Canaday
I’m a circle back to what I said earlier. Get out a piece of paper or your phone and jot down one thing starting tomorrow that you’re going to stop doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Sara, thanks for taking the time. This was a lot of fun.

Sara Canaday
Excellent. Glad to be here.

422: How to Make Decisions, Solve Problems, and Ask Questions Like a Leader with Carly Fiorina

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Carly Fiorina says: "An imperfect but timely decision is usually better than a perfect but too late decision."

Former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina, discusses how to solve problems, make decisions, and connect with other people like a leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why to choose a path instead of a plan
  2. Three steps for arriving at the wisest decision
  3. Key prompts to ensure you’ve considered all the angle

About Carly

Carly Fiorina is the former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a seasoned problem-solver. She started out as a secretary for a 9-person real-estate business and eventually became the first woman ever to lead a Fortune 50 company. Through Carly Fiorina Enterprises and the Unlocking Potential Foundation, Carly and her team strengthen problem-solving and leadership capacity across America. Carly is also a best-selling author. Her titles include Tough Choices and Rising to the Challenge. Her third book Find Your Way releases on April 9th. She and her husband, Frank, have been happily married for 33 years. They reside in northern Virginia near their daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Carly Fiorina Interview Transcript

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

Carly Fiorina
It’s great to be with you. Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I discovered that you’ve recently become a podcaster yourself and apparently the backstory involves bumping into an NBA star. Can you tell us the story and what’s going on over at your show called By Example?

Carly Fiorina
Well, yes, it’s funny. I was at a conference for social innovation in Chicago in the summer of 2017. One of the speakers was Baron Davis of NBA fame and UCLA fame. Now I have to immediately say, I’m not a big basketball expert, so, embarrassingly, I didn’t even know who Baron Davis was. But half my staff was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s Baron Davis.”

I listened to him speak and I was captivated by what he had to say. He listened to me speak and apparently liked what he heard. We bump into each other literally in the lobby of the Marriot on a break from this conference. We sit down and he says, “We should do a podcast together.” I said, “Oh Baron, that would be fantastic,” because he was talking a lot about leadership and I talk about leadership.

One thing led to another and Baron Davis was our inaugural guest on the By Example podcast and also brought to us an incredible additional leader named Dino Smiley. The By Example podcast was born in the head of Baron Davis in the lobby of the Chicago Marriott in July of 2017.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, I am in Chicago. I’ve been to the Marriott, so I can visualize the scene nicely. That’s cool. And you’re just still chugging along?

Carly Fiorina
Well, what I was hoping to achieve with By Example based on that preliminary conversation was an opportunity to highlight for people real leaders. The reason I love doing this, first of all, I get to talk with fascinating, wonderful people, but also because I think in this day and age we are so confused about what leadership is. We think it’s position and title and fame and celebrity and it’s none of those things.

Yet, we also need more leadership. I wanted to introduce to people not just what leadership is, but who leaders are. Some of them are very famous, like Baron Davis or Colin Powell and some of them people have never heard of like Dino Smiley and yet, famous or not, leadership is always about some fundamental common elements. That’s what we talk about on By Example.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. If leadership is not that, what would you say it is?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I would say that leadership is problem solving. Leadership is changing the order of things for the better, which is always necessary to actually solve a problem. Leadership is about unlocking potential in others in order to change the order of things for the better for the purpose of solving problems.

That requires many things that all of us are capable of executing against as human being. It requires courage and character and collaboration and imagination. Some people who have position and title, lead, many people with no position and title also lead, and too frequently, people with position and title are doing many things, but they’re not leading.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nice distinctions there. Thank you. Well, I think we could chew on that for a while, but I also want to make sure we talk about your book. Find Your Way, what’s the main message behind it?

Carly Fiorina
Well, the main message behind Find Your Way is that each of us, all of us, are capable of leadership, that finding your way in life is about solving problems that impact you and others that you collaborate with or that you care about.

And that each of us can find our purpose, each of us can practice and become adept at being courageous when we’re frightened to death, having character when it would be easier to do something that is not honest or has integrity, that we actually must collaborate with others in order to accomplish anything, and that seeing possibilities is an essential element in making things better.

That’s one huge message in Find Your Way that finding our way in life requires finding our way to leadership, not the position or the title, but the essence of leadership, which requires us to step up to the problems that surround us.

The other message is that too often people get waylaid because they invest so much in a specific plan or destination or job that they lose the path, they lose their way towards becoming a stronger, better, more effective problem solver and leader and happier on top of all of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, could you further distinguish for us the difference between a path and a plan? You say one of the dangers is if you get too invested in the plan, could you elaborate there?

Carly Fiorina
Yeah, so I had a plan. When I graduated from college, my plan was to go to law school, which I did. Surprisingly, to me perhaps, I quickly discovered that I absolutely hated law school. The plan that I had created for my life – which my parents approved of, everyone was excited about this plan – was making me miserable, so I quit. I was definitely off plan.

More than that, I didn’t have a plan. My degree was in medieval history and philosophy, so I didn’t have marketable skills other than I knew how to type and file and answer the phones because I had worked as a temporary secretary in offices while I was going to Stanford and getting my undergraduate degree. I went to work as a secretary in a nine-person real estate firm. Totally off plan.

However, I stayed on path, which was I’m going to do a good job, I’m going to ask a lot of questions, I’m going to collaborate with others, I’m not going to be afraid to try new things, and eventually that landed me in AT&T, a company with a million people. I had no plan there either. I didn’t have an ambition to become a CEO. I was just trying to do a good job, which to me meant solving problems in front of me, which requires collaboration with others.

Some people would look at my life and say, “Wow, she became a CEO and she ran for president. She must have had a plan.” The truth is I never had a plan, but I never deviated from the path.

That is how I have found my way. I hope to share some of that experience and encouragement with people in this book because I think we hear a lot of messages from our culture and our society that you’ve got to have a plan. Further, I think we hear a lot of messages from our culture and those around us that not only do you have to have a plan, but you have to have a plan that everybody approves of.

We spend a lot of time seeking approval. In my case, I went off plan and was highly disapproved of as a result and accomplished more than I ever thought possible. The book is filled with stories of other people who have done the same.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d love to hear about that sort of emotional process by which you kind of untether yourself from the need for this approval. It seems like – I’ve talked to some folks, it’s almost like they’ve never suffered from that. It’s like, “No, I’ve never cared what anybody wanted, needed, expected of me. I always did my own thing and it was just fine,” and others have struggled with it their whole lives, and others kind of had some epiphany or awakening moments to get liberated.

What do you recommend in terms of the practical tactical? If someone’s like, “I know the expectations of others has a real pull on me, I’d rather it didn’t. What do I do?”

Carly Fiorina
A couple things. First I’ll take it out of the emotional realm for a moment and put it into the practical realm. You have a wonderful podcast about how to be awesome at your job. The people who come to you for advice, while they may say they are untethered from people’s expectations for them, let me just say, all of us are susceptible to criticism.

It is, in fact, why problems fester. Problems fester, let’s just say at work, because the status quo has power. The way things are even if they’re unacceptable stays the way things are principally because when people try and change the way things are, criticism erupts, critics abound. “No, no, no, you can’t do that. No, no, no, we’ve already tried it. Who do you think you are that you can tackle this?”

The truth is all of us are susceptible to criticism and critique, especially if it comes from colleagues, even more if it comes from a boss. People can say we’re totally untethered, but, of course, none of us are.

If you want to solve a problem, if you want to solve a problem, which generally speaking is a requirement for being seen as awesome at your job or getting ahead in your job, you’ve got to bring value and that means solving problems, actually. You have to be willing to accept that challenging the status quo will cause people to criticize you, will cause people to say why they’re invested in the status quo.

I think it just starts with a fundamental recognition that to change the way things are, you have to challenge the way things are. To challenge the way things are, you have to be prepared to accept the criticism that comes with that challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to talk about what preparation looks like in practice. I guess part of it is that you’re expecting it, you’re not blindsided by it. It’s like, “Oops, where did that come from,” but you’re sort of thinking of, “Yes, to be expected. Here is that criticism I was counting on. It has arrived.” That’s part of it.

Do you have any other approaches in terms of perspectives or self-talk or how you deal with that? You’ve certainly had your share of criticism. Running for president will bring it out in droves. How do you process it and rise above it?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I would say at a very practical level, even going back to your previous question, I would say people ought to think about three things. The first is look around. The second is ask questions and the third is find allies. If I can expound just for a moment on each of them.

Look around, one of the stories that I tell in Find Your Way is something that I learned when I was 15. I happened to be living in Ghana, West Africa. I was driving around with some friends and there were these huge termite mounds everywhere I looked. I was asking about, “Wow, this is amazing. How do these termites build these things?” Bear with me, this is relevant. Don’t get nervous.

My friend said, “Well, termites, they follow the same path day after day. They move their dirt along the same path for their whole lives.” He said, “It’s funny, but people are a lot like termites.”

What happens to us, I think, is we get very consumed by the day-to-day. We put our heads down and we move our dirt and we do our work. Sometimes it’s really important to pick our heads up and look around. What else is going on around you? Who else is troubled by this same problem perhaps? Look around. See what’s going on around you. See who is going on around you. Don’t be a termite.

Step two, ask questions. Ask a lot of questions of a lot of people, maybe those people you discovered when you picked your head up and looked around. Because when you ask questions as opposed to maybe telling people the answer, which sometimes as bosses we feel like we have to tell people the answer, sometimes the most valuable thing you can do is ask a question instead and listen to someone else’s answer. You’re always going to learn things that you can use.

The final step, find allies. As you ask questions, as you look around you, you will find people with whom you can ally yourself, with whom you can collaborate, people who will step up and defend you when that criticism comes, perhaps protect you from some of that criticism and perhaps join with you so that the group of people who are focused on solving the problem actually is bigger and more powerful than the inevitable group of people who just want to sit around and criticize but actually doesn’t want anything to change.

Pete Mockaitis
And with those allies it’s sort of like – I felt it before in terms of just being able to reconnect from time to time with a group of like-minded folks. It’s like, “Ah.” It’s like refreshing. It’s like we can all say what we really think about this thing here and you’re rejuvenated and able to keep up the good fight afterwards.

Carly Fiorina
Yes, absolutely. And I would add there’s one caution to that. We are all most comfortable with people like ourselves. We are all most comfortable with people who think like we do. If taken to an extreme, what happens is we only talk to the people that we agree with. That’s a very dangerous place to be. You can see that happening in our culture. Everyone’s sort of devolving into tribes. It can happen in a work setting as well.

Finding allies doesn’t mean only talking to people who agree with us 100% of the time. Finding allies may mean I need to work with people who also think that this is a problem that we can solve but who maybe have a very different point of view than I do or an additional perspective to share with me about how to make progress.

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. Thank you. Well, so you talked a little bit about some of the expectations, the criticism, the fear side of things. I want to get your take on when it comes to actually solving the problems or using your brain to make some wise decisions with consistency, what are some of your real go-to principles or tactics or questions that you ask yourself to be making the wisest decision more often than not?

Carly Fiorina
It’s several steps. First is I gather as much information as I can. That means talking to a lot of people. It may mean, depending on the subject, depending on the problem, it may mean meeting a lot, it may mean both.

But gathering information, that’s another way of saying pick your head up and look around. Gather information, facts, perspective, data from a variety of points of view so that you have a full picture. You can’t wing it. Particularly if you’re tackling a tough problem, you can’t go into it thinking you already know the answer.

The second step then after that perspective gathering, information gathering, fact and data gathering, is reflection. Reflection for me is very important to take the time after you’ve asked all the questions, gathered all the data, to really take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned and what you’ve heard. As you know, thinking substantially is not easy. It takes time. You need to give yourself the time and space to have that kind of thought process.

Then the final thing I would say is I get pretty analytic about it. What I mean by that is I tend after that period of gathering information, perspectives and data, followed by real reflection and substantial thinking, then I tend to get pretty analytic and explicit. I write down here’s options, here’s the pros and the cons of those options. I find it very, very helpful to be as analytical as possible and as explicit as possible.

I would say I’ve done this with all kinds of decisions, not just big decisions like a merger or how to run for president, but decisions like the care and treatment for my cancer because I think it’s easy to get mushy in our thinking, in our decision making. The more careful, thoughtful, deliberate, and intentional we can be about our reflection in our decision making, in my experience, the more successful those decisions are.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get your take and some detail on the reflection step. Thinking substantially does require the time and the space. Some decisions are way bigger than others. But I’d love it if you could share, do you have any sort of rules of thumb with regard to how much thinking time, whether it’s in minutes or hours of quiet or sort of days upon which you can sit and wrestle with something that you try to allocate for yourself when making a decision?

Carly Fiorina
It’s such an interesting question. Well, the first thing I would say is honestly it does depend on the decision. There are some decisions that may require days, months of reflection. There are other decisions that require minutes or hours.

However, I would also add that finding the time for introspection and reflection is especially difficult now because everything in our culture, and technology in particular, drives us to hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up. In fact, we’ve all become accustomed, “Oh my gosh, I sent you a text. You didn’t answer me in the last five minutes.” “I send you an email. We need a decision right now, right now, right now.”

It is true that an imperfect but timely decision is usually better than a perfect but too late decision. This question of how much time is vital. However, in general, I would say hurry up and rush is always the wrong answer. The biggest step I think in finding the time is to give yourself permission to take the time. You don’t have to answer in the next 30 seconds. You don’t have to decide just because somebody else wants a decision from you.

People will have to find their way a little bit. I offer some practical suggestions, but the first and most important step is give yourself permission to take the time to find the time to reflect before you decide.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. When you talk about being analytic and explicit, you’ve written down the options and the pros and the cons, when you said analytic and I’m thinking about tech. I’m imagining sort of like spreadsheets or criteria or weightings of the criteria and scoring of things. Are there any tools along those lines that you invoke or is it pretty much simply, hey, write down the options and then the pros and cons?

Carly Fiorina
Well, of course, I don’t mean to suggest too number intensive when I say analytic. I use and highlight in the book something called the leadership framework, which is a tool  that I have used over and over and over and over to lay out all of the aspects and the facets of a problem so that I am not missing anything as I think about how to achieve goals. I’ve used it personally. I’ve used it professionally. The leadership framework is one such tool that I talk a great deal about in Find Your Way.

The other thing I would say is another analytic tool is to be explicit about what’s wrong with the current state, whatever it is. What’s wrong with it? Let’s write it down. Let’s get clear about it. This isn’t just for an individual to think about alone in their time of reflection. It also might be extremely useful as you are asking questions of others. Why is this a problem? What could we be doing differently? Then to be equally explicitly about the future state.

The leadership framework and current state, future state analysis are tools that I have used honestly all of my life in every setting. We talk about them in more detail in Find Your Way. But what I would say is don’t let the term analytic scare you. It isn’t necessarily all numbers. In fact, sometimes it isn’t numbers at all.

But it does help to explicitly explore all facets of the situation, which is why the framework helps. It’s also extremely helpful to get very clear about why do we have a problem and why is it a problem and what would we like to be different and better?

Pete Mockaitis
Within the leadership framework that helps you ensure that you’re not missing anything, could you give us a couple of the prompts that are often super helpful in surfacing something that might be missed?

Carly Fiorina
Yeah, so for example, the leadership framework starts with what’s the problem we’re trying to solve, what’s the goal we’re trying to achieve. I know that sounds so fundamental, but you would be surprised how often people get into a room and spend hours, months, years even and they’ve never come to an agreement on what the problem is or what the goal is. Our political process leaps to mind.

But the point is, people can talk past each other forever if they don’t start with “Do we actually agree on the problem? Do we agree on the goal?” That would be an important first prompt.

Another important prompt would be who has to do what, who actually has to do what to make progress? It’s something that sometimes people forget. I’ve been in many, many rooms where people will get all fired up. Let’s say they agree on the problem.

Let’s say people agree on the goal and everybody starts talking and getting excited, and to your earlier observation, like-minded people get together and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah we all know it has to get done.” Then they rush out of the room. Nowhere has there been an explicit conversation about okay, but who has to do what? Who’s going to do what? Are there people who are not in the room who are going to have to also sign up? That’s another prompt.

A third prompt might be, how are we going to know we’re making progress? How are we going to measure success? Is there anything that’s going to tell us we’re actually getting something done or are we just going to go back in and tell ourselves that we feel good about things? What are we going to measure? How are people going to behave? Those are some prompts around the leadership framework.

What is the problem? What is the goal really? Who’s going to have to do what really? How are we going to measure whether we’re actually making any progress really? How do we have to behave with one another and with others to continue to make progress really?

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. I get a kick out of the reallys because they really can spark another important thing when you kind of push beyond sort of the quick answer that satisfies, check the box of there’s been a response to this question, but truly addressing the root of it. I dig that.

Carly Fiorina
The other thing you know people do confuse activity for accomplishment. I think our technology encourages that actually. “Oh my God, I answered 150 emails.” Well, that may not necessarily be accomplishment, although it’s a whole bunch of activity.

One of the reasons to ask the question about really is to help ourselves distinguish between “Am I busy and active or am I actually accomplishing something, having an impact, making a difference, achieving progress?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to hear a little bit in terms of your rapid career rise. You mentioned that you stuck to the path of trying to solve the problem that was in front of you.

But I’d also love to hear if you had any sort of secret weapons or tactics or approaches that you applied day after day that really can get a lot of credit for how you managed to become the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company. That’s pretty special. What do you think you were doing differently than many of your peers and colleagues?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I think it comes back to those three things that I said. Looking around. I always look around and see what’s going on, hear what’s going on. It’s so easy to get in a rut. Jobs are pressure-filled. None of us have enough time. We’re all more comfortable with people like ourselves. The discipline, the habit of looking around and seeing what’s going on I think has been hugely important for me.

Asking questions, asking questions. I’ve asked a million questions. I always learn something. Sometimes I learn a lot about myself by asking questions, but I always learn about the situation around me, the people around me. And what I learn helps me make further progress.

The third, finding allies. I try always to build relationships, not break them. I try to always see the good in people, not the bad. Sometimes that’s hard.

I tell the story in the book about my first business meeting with a client was in a strip club. The gentleman who created that situation did not wish me well. It’s why he created a very difficult situation for me. And yet, I came to understand, tried to understand his point of view. Why was he doing that to me? We ultimately became very strong colleagues and allies.

Finding allies takes work. It doesn’t always mean people that are naturally friendly to you or that naturally like you or that naturally agree with you. I always found allies and tried to see the best in people and to leverage the relationships that I built for a common purpose that we all could agree on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Tell me, Carly, is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I think we’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve tried to distill all of those life’s lessons into the books, but certainly you’ve asked really penetrating questions. I’ve so enjoyed the conversation thus far.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Me too. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Carly Fiorina
If I have to pick one, I would pick the one I heard from my mother when I was eight years old, which is “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.” Because, for me, when I first heard that and every time I remind myself of it, it says every one of us is gifted and filled with potential. I believe that based on experience.

It also reminds us that as we are each filled with potential, not all of us get the opportunity or the chance or take the risk to fulfill our potential.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Could you share with us a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Carly Fiorina
I was in church the other day and I will not get this exactly right because the pastor brought forward this piece of research. But it was research about the power of self-talk, you used that phrase earlier, the power of self-talk among professional athletes, the power of self-talk among children.

But what the research essentially said, and again, I won’t get the citation exactly right – kudos to the pastor – but what the research says is that whether we’re 4 or 40, that we each have a tremendous ability to either help ourselves fulfill our potential or, conversely,  talk ourselves below our potential.

We have a tremendous ability to help ourselves become better problem solvers, more awesome at work, better collaborators, better leaders and we also have the power to do the opposite for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Carly Fiorina
I read so much that it depends on what I’ve just read. But one of the books I’ve just incredibly enjoyed recently is actually a science book. But it is called The Fabric of the Cosmos. It’s by a physicist named Brian Greene.

It’s heavy going in some part, but to me it was an incredibly fascinating and inspiring read because not only did I learn a lot about the fabric of the cosmos, but what was most interesting to me was the collaboration of scientists, in this case physicists, over centuries, the importance of courage and taking risks for science as well as problem solving, and the incredible collaboration that’s required.

Einstein is lauded as a singular genius, but in fact, Einstein had to be inspired by many others, he had to build on the work of many others, and he had to collaborate with many others. Believe it or not, The Fabric of the Cosmos to me was not only a fascinating look at physics, but it was also a reminder of all the fundamentals of problem solving and leadership that we’ve been talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences or readers?

Carly Fiorina
It’s interesting. I think stories always connect with people. I try to talk in stories. Stories, my own story. I think one of the things that connects, whether it’s in my own story or in the story of a woman I met on the rooftop in the slums of New Delhi, who was living in desperate circumstances and no one’s ever heard of, but wow, she was one of the most amazing leaders I have ever witnessed.

I think the aspect of any one of those stories that connects is no one’s life is a smooth trajectory. No one’s life follows a smooth plan. Most people fall off the plan for whatever reason. Most people get thrown off their trajectory. Every life is filled with set back and difficulty, even the lives that look perfect from afar.

It is, I think, relieving to people to know that you can indeed find your way through all of the thicket of issues that each of us encounter in life and that life is not one smooth ascent. It never is.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d like to issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Carly Fiorina
Yes. If you’re seeking to be awesome at your job, find people around you that you think are awesome. Don’t get too hung up on how awesome you are yourself. Look for other awesome people and try and leverage what makes them awesome. In the process, I think you’ll become more awesome yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, Carly, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck with the book and the podcast and all your adventures.

Carly Fiorina
Well, thank you. And the same to you.