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Thinking Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

939: How to Waste Less Time on Meetings…and Spend More Time on Strategy with Rich Horwath

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Rich Horwath reveals how to cut through the busywork and make more time for strategy.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What being “strategic” really means
  2. The critical questions that determine what truly matters
  3. Why most meetings are useless—and how to fix them 

About Rich

Rich Horwath is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of eight books on strategic thinking and has been rated the #1 keynote speaker on strategy at national conferences, including the Society for Human Resource Management Strategy Conference.

He has appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX TV to provide commentary on the strategic aspects of current events and his work has appeared in publications including Fast Company, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review.

A former Chief Strategy Officer and professor of strategy, Rich has created more than 700 resources to help leaders at all levels maximize their strategic potential. He designed the Strategic Quotient (SQ) Assessment, a validated tool to measure how effectively a person thinks, plans, and acts strategically. Rich created the Strategic Fitness System as an online platform for leaders to practice the skills to effectively navigate all areas of their business, including strategy, leadership, organization, and communication.

Resources Mentioned

Rich Horwath Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Rich, welcome.

 

Rich Horwath

Pete, thanks. Great to be with you today.

 

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom that you put forth in your book Strategic, but first I need to hear a little bit about you and the Second City improv club in Chicago. I did a little bit of training there myself. Tell us the tale and how that relates to you and strategy.

 

Rich Horwath

Well, strategy, for many people, can be quite boring, and realizing that early on, I said, “Well, how can we differentiate ourselves? We know strategy is important to have differentiation.” So, I said, “One way to potentially not be as boring is to do some improv training.” So, I joined Second City because I lived in the old town area at the time so it was very close, and spent a year there training, doing weekly classes, and it was a great opportunity to really push myself outside of my comfort zone.

Anyone who can tell you that’s heard me sing, singing is not a strength of mine, and some of the improvisation required making up songs as we went. So, being able to put yourself out there and do something completely terrible, and make it through mentally and emotionally, was a good way to build some mental fortitude.

 

Pete Mockaitis

I like that a lot. I remember I did an intensive over, I guess, five-ish days, just before Thanksgiving, and I remember I came back from it, I said, “Oh, this is fun. I think it really loosened me up.” And my friends said, “Pete, I don’t think you needed to be any looser.” But, nonetheless, I got looser and I appreciated the impact.

 

Rich Horwath

I love it. I love it.

 

Pete Mockaitis

Well, tell us, you’ve been talking about coaching, studying, consulting, strategy stuff for a couple decades, any particularly surprising or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about this stuff as you’ve delved into it?

 

Rich Horwath

Well, one of the things that’s a little counterintuitive is we hear the mantra “fail fast” a lot, and it’s come out of Silicon Valley, and a lot of people apply it across the board, “Fail fast. Try something. Fail.” And my experience, Pete, has been that that’s not really a great recipe for leaders to follow, especially ones that are in more established industries.

Because, yes, in a startup environment in Silicon Valley, a tech company, you’re going try things, see if they work because you’re really pioneering new markets. But if you’re in a more experienced industry with maturity, the ability to succeed, to think, and to plan is something, I think, it’s going to be more important to people’s long-term career success.

So, that’s one thing that would be a bit counterintuitive is, I’d like to say, let’s replace fail fast with think first and then succeed. So, that would be one thing I’d mention off the top of my head.

 

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I like that a lot in terms, yeah, fail fast has a time and a place in terms of, “Okay, don’t spin your wheels forever. Sometimes the best way to learn is just by trying it out, see what happens.” But other times, the cost of failure is pretty significant, and the benefit of getting it right the first, or second, or third time, instead of failing dozens of times, is massive. So, I’m right with there. I love my 80/20 Rule, my the-one-thing kind of stuff. It’s a beautiful thing.

For those who are not yet converts into strategy is awesome, can you share with us what’s sort of at stake or the benefits for professionals who master this stuff versus kind of limp along, doing okay with the whole strategy thing?

 

Rich Horwath

Well, when we think about the average person out there, and their ability to be led, to be a follower, to have set direction for them, one of the things that we see from a research standpoint is that 22% of people in the workforce, and this is a study of 30 million workers by Gallup, found that only 22% said, “Hey, our senior leadership has set great strategic direction.”

And so, one of the things we want to think about is if you’re in an organization that doesn’t have good strategic direction, all of a sudden, you’ve got people spending time on this thing, time on this thing, they’re spreading their resources too thin in lots of different areas, and it’s not all gelling together. So, being able to be strategic, to set direction for your business, whether you’re the CEO, whether you’re a first line manager, whether you’re an individual contributor, is going to be really important because strategy isn’t just what’s written in the PowerPoint deck.

It’s how each and every one of us spend our time, day in and day out. That’s the real strategy because strategy is about resource allocation. And the most important resource is time. So, all of us out there are strategists. The key is to have an understanding of what that means, and then really understand, “Are we putting our time into the priorities that are really going to drive value for our company and for our customers?”

 

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And I think that most of us think that we probably do an okay job of this, “Sure, I got a to-do list, and I think about what might be most important, and I put an asterisk or a box around that item on my to-do list.” So, is that adequate? Or just what sort of benefits might I unlock if I were operating at a Jedi-level of being awesomely strategic?

 

Rich Horwath

Well, Pete, I’m going to borrow one of the phrases you’ve used because I really like it. You call yourself pathologically curious.

 

Rich Horwath

And I think when we consider the ability to be strategic, a lot of involves that level of curiosity, that explorer’s mindset, that we’re trying to discover new ways, new solutions, new approaches to bring value to people. Because what happens is, too often, if we’re just following a to-do list, and we’re on that activity treadmill, then we can lose sight of, “Are we really providing new and differentiated value to the people that we’re serving, either internally or externally as well?”

And so, I think being strategic is, “How are we accumulating or generating insights?” and I define an insight as a learning that leads to new value. So, the best leaders, the best managers are the ones that are continually accumulating these insights, these new learnings that are helping them bring value to their company.

 

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I like insights. Maybe, Rich, can you make it all the more real for us by sharing a cool story of a professional who upgraded their strategic game and saw some cool benefits from it?

 

Rich Horwath

So, I was working with a mid-level manager at a medical device company, and this is about 10 years ago, and we were in a session, and we were doing some brainstorming using a tool called a value-mining matrix, which, in simple terms, is looking at customers and needs, and trying to determine, “How can we bring new value to meet some new needs that people have?”

And this company was in the cardiovascular space, so the heart space. And, typically, when they had these brainstorming sessions, all the ideas were in the heart space, but this one leader said, “You know, I was in an operating room not too long ago with one of my customers, and one of the main problems, the challenges that the surgeons and the nurses had was really being able to get rid of a lot of different materials, liquids, things that were no longer usable in the operating room right after the surgery, and they didn’t really have a good, clear, clean way to do that.”

And so, she said, “Maybe we should think about some type of disposal service for general surgery.” And it was interesting, Pete, because people in the session were kind of rolling their eyes, and looking around, and somebody even said, “You know, we don’t do that. That’s not what we do.” But she said, “Well, we need to think. We’ve heard the term outside the box, but we need to think about what are other ways that we can solve challenges that our customers have?”

And so, they wound up doing a pilot program in coming up with a prototype service to work in general surgery to remove the different types of waste materials, and it was successful at a regional hospital. They rolled it out across the State, and then they rolled it out nationally, and a couple of years later, that was a hundred-million-dollar piece of their business, which was a fairly significant part of the company.

So, again, it was this idea of not just being locked into doing the same things and the same ways we always do them, which tends to be our operational effectiveness, but strategy is really about, “How can we pick a different path that’s going to help us be successful?”

 

Pete Mockaitis

All right. I love that. Well, it’s so funny, when you said that idea, it seems so perfect because, yeah, that’s probably how it would land, like, “Aargh, this is annoying. Let’s get back on track. This meeting is already too long. We don’t really do that.” But then I’m thinking from my perspective, “Man, if you solve a problem that surgeons are having, there’s probably a lot of money there.”

 

Rich Horwath

Exactly.

 

Pete Mockaitis

And, sure enough, there was. And money not just for the company but, I imagine, for that clever professional, as well as people on their teams, some promotions and raises are probably dolled out along the path of making that happen.

 

Rich Horwath

Yeah, absolutely, there were. And, again, what it did was it forced everyone in the organization to rethink what their sandbox was. And, again, it typically was the heart space, and they said, “We need to look at other ways that we can take our capabilities, our skill sets, and our knowledge, and apply them across all the needs that surgeons might have.” So, you’re right, there was a big seismic shift in the way people were thinking about the business.

 

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, in your book Strategic, it sounds like is that kind of like the main point you’re bringing there, it’s like, “If you take the time to get these insights, great things happen”? Or, how would you articulate the main message or the big idea here?

 

Rich Horwath

Yeah, I think that’s a great way to capture it. The reality is if we think about physical fitness, so if we think about running, jogging, lifting some weights, doing Pilates, if we do any of those things once a year, one day out of the year, we’re probably not going to be very physically fit. If we played the guitar once a year, we’re probably not going to be a great guitar player.

But when it comes to strategy, and planning, and thinking strategically, a lot of people do it a couple days out of the year, in November or creating their plan, and then it goes away for about 11 and a half months. So, a lot of people treat strategy like a birthday where it happens once a year, there’s a lot of signage and funfair, and then it goes away.

So, the premise of the book, to your point, is really about, “How do you take the importance of generating insights on a yearly basis, and make that everyone’s daily job? How do we create that accountability for learnings that lead to new value?” because that’s the way that you really take knowledge workers and create a true learning organization, versus people doing their own things in silos, which happens quite a bit.

 

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. I like that notion, the fitness, strategic fitness once a year, once a quarter isn’t going to cut the mustard on the body, nor will it with your strategic skills. Well, Rich, could you give us a quick overview of you lay out four disciplines of strategic fitness? What are those?

 

Rich Horwath

So, there’s strategy, leadership, organization, and communication. And so, in my work over the last 20 years, I found that the executives that are truly successful in the long run, they’re good in all of those areas. They’re not just one or the other. For instance, Forbes magazine found two years ago that the most CEOs that were fired in the Fortune 500 were fired because of emotional intelligence issues, not financial performance.

So, just being good at strategy, as a leader, is not good enough if you’re not good with people, if you’re not a true leader, if you don’t create purpose for other people. So, one of the keys is you’ve got to be well-rounded in the fat that you have to be a good communicator, you’ve got to be able to set the structure for the organization and the processes, you have to be a leader, meaning you have to be able to set direction and serve others to achieve goals, and then you’ve got to be able to set strategy, meaning, “We’ve got to allocate our resources in order to get where we want to go.”

 

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now that is a fascinating little tidbit you shared there, and I didn’t think we’d talked much about emotional intelligence in a conversation about strategy but let’s go ahead and do it. 

 

Rich Horwath

Well, when we think about emotional intelligence, there’s two main areas. There’s self-awareness and then there’s the situation awareness. And the situation awareness is really about your interaction and relationships with other people, and that’s the one that seems to trip up most of the CEOs, is it relates to their teams, as well as the board of directors.

So, oftentimes, they’re surprising the board of directors with news about different things. From a culture perspective, they’re not creating the integrity of having a culture where they’re talking and doing things that match up. So, oftentimes, they say, “Well, honesty is one of our key values,” and, all of a sudden, they’re asking their people to do things that may not be quite honest as far as customer reporting, customer sales and things like that.

So, to your point, they don’t tend to be the big scandalous things, but a lot of it is just their awareness of how they’re interacting with other people. And are they doing it in a way that’s empathetic, meaning they’re putting themselves in other person’s shoes to understand, “How does this person want to be treated? What do they need to know? And am I being transparent with the things that they would want to know?”

 

Pete Mockaitis

That’s beautiful. And not to dehumanize this at all, but it is actually quite strategic, in my experience, to have a wide network of good relationships that you can work with again and again and again. I’m just thinking about John, this guy I’ve collaborated with from time to time on some big audio projects, and I was like, “Ooh, I’ve got a short deadline.” And so, I was like, “Oh, I’ll call up John. Oh, he has some availability. Well, that’s great news.”

And so, it’s like if I had been a jerk in previous times I had big audio projects with short deadlines, and yelling at John to do more faster, well, then you wouldn’t have that resource available. And so, it is with all sorts of things, strategically thinking, it’s, like, we have our strengths, our gifts, what we can do way more efficiently than others, and to the extent that you are filling in your gaps with other people over a lifelong network of collaboration, that is just a huge enabler of strategic goodness.

 

Rich Horwath

And, Pete, what you just said there is such a good point, you said the word lifelong. And I think that’s a great reminder for everybody out there because, too often, we look at relationships as transactional and short term, instead of lifelong, like you talk about. And if we think about that relationship from a lifelong perspective, one of the things I encourage people to do at all levels is to pick the top ten people that you work with on a regular basis, and then map out, “What are the intentional things that you want to do to develop that relationship even further or deeper over the next year?”

And so, that’s one thing I’ve seen people do to be successful, whether it’s with your board of directors, colleagues to your point, other people that you work with outside your company, but pick 10, 15, 20 people, and just jot down a couple bullet points for this year, “What do you want to do to build or develop that relationship to another level?”

 

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I love that. Well, so now you highlight a number of time traps that impede our ability to be strategic and effective. Can you share what are some of those? And how do we deal with them effectively?

 

Rich Horwath

So, when we look at being strategic, time, the ability to marshal, to use your time effectively is so critical. So, there’s a few things that trip people up when it comes to time. One of them being just not carving time out to think. Sometimes we’re on that activity treadmill, we’re going and going and going, but we don’t really stop to think about, “What are we doing? How are we doing it? Why are we doing it? And are there ways to do it differently or better?”

And the best executives I’ve worked with are the ones that really carve out some times, 30 minutes, 60 minutes a week to step back and think about changes that they would like to make and the ways that they’re using their time. The other really interesting learning I’ve had in studying CEOs is a lot of the good ones batch their time.

So, instead of bouncing from one thing this minute to another thing this minute, to email, to a report, to a one-on-one meeting, to a staff meeting, they really batch their time in chunks of two, to three, to four hours. So, they might say, “Well, I’m going to do all of my one-on-one direct report meetings on Monday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.”

And the big benefit of that, Pete, is they reduce the number of mental transitions that they have to make during the day. Because if you have 70 or 80 different mental transitions during the day, that’s what causes burnout, that’s what causes people to be really tired at the end of the day. But if you group all of your one-on-ones for three to four hours, then you do 45 minutes of email, and then you do a couple reports, now you’ve got three or four transitions versus 60 transitions.

 

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I think that makes all the difference because it takes a while to get into the groove of a thing, and then I think the time in which you’re not in that groove, there’s friction. And so, yeah, less time in the friction zone would probably result in less burnout, more energetic goodness, so that’s awesome. Now, I need to hear about the particulars for the how-to’s of strategic thinking, like the key questions you ask, how you identify what really, really, really is important and worthwhile versus not so important and worthwhile. How do you go about thinking through and approaching these?

 

Rich Horwath

Yeah, so, in general, I think we could start with three A’s. There’s a three A strategic framework, which is acumen, allocation, and action. So, acumen is, “What’s the insight? What’s my learning here?” So, one thing I’d recommend is try for a week, every interaction that you have, if it’s a one-on-one meeting, your daily staff meeting or huddle, a report that you’re doing, after you have that interaction, sit down for just a minute or two, and ask yourself, “What did I learn in that session? What was the key takeaway for me?”

Because what we see, Pete, in the last couple of years is we’re stacking meetings on top of each other, especially if we’re in a hybrid or remote format and we’re doing a lot of things on video. We tend to stack those meetings and we go from one to the other, and we don’t really take the time to identify, “What are the action steps out of this interaction? What were my learnings? And what would I do differently with that next interaction with these same people?” I also recommend this idea of scoring your interactions, especially meetings.

So, as you go throughout your week, one thing I have executives I work with do is I have them use a scale of one to three. So, one was low value in the interaction, two is mid-value, and three was high value. And what’s interesting then is that if you categorize those results at the end of the week, so you say, “My operating meeting, my IT meeting, my HR meeting,” if you rate all of those throughout the week, if some of them are coming as a one, a one and a half, or a two, then you need to ask yourself, “Is that a meeting that we should keep doing? And if so, how do we improve the value of that meeting?” for yourself, for the other people involved with it.

So, that first A, acumen, is really about thinking, “How do we create more value in what we’re doing every interaction?”

 

Pete Mockaitis

And if I may, when it comes to scoring the value of the interaction, how do we think about measuring value and making that assessment? And what are typical sorts of improvements that you’ve seen upgrade the value?

 

Rich Horwath

So, the main thing I would say is you have to have your goals clearly identified, not just your goals, but you have to understand the goals of the other people, the other groups that you’re meeting with. Too often, people go in with their own agenda to these interactions, and they’re not really empathetic as to what the other person is trying to achieve as well. So, to me, the first step in understanding or ascertaining value is, “How well did that interaction help us progress toward our goals, not just my goal, not just your goal, but our goals collectively?”

Once we understand what the goals are, then we need to ask ourselves, “Did we have the right questions and preparation going into that interaction?” I’m a big believer that if you have a one-on-one meeting, a group meeting, you’ve got to have preparation.

Forty-eight, 72 hours beforehand, send out one or two key questions, and have people think about that. So, when you get into that meeting, that conversation, it can start at a much more accelerated pace because people are really ready to engage. So, I would say those are a couple of the key things that can turn up the volume on value.

 

Pete Mockaitis

And I suppose as you go through this exercise regularly, you might discover fairly quickly, “Oh, actually, the goals that we’re pursuing in these meetings aren’t actually worth pursuing at all.”

 

Rich Horwath

Great insight. Yup, exactly.

 

Pete Mockaitis

“Let’s skip the meeting and it’s all good.”

 

Rich Horwath

And that’s a good point, Pete. I would recommend folks out there to think about taking a meeting audit. So, jot down on a piece of paper, on a Word doc, what are all of the meetings that you currently attend, and think about what’s the goal, or what’s the purpose of those meetings. And a lot of times, when people do an audit or an inventory of their meetings, to your point, Pete, there are some of them, they say, “You know, this is not adding any value. I’ve done this meeting for three years and it’s the same old conversation.” And it could be better served if somebody just sent out an email, or, even these days, did a quick one- or two-minute video overview of the topic and information that they wanted to share.

 

Pete Mockaitis

I like that a lot. I am a huge proponent of Loom. I guess there are many software pieces that do this kind of thing. But, oh, yeah, that screen recording, so quick and easy and simple. Don’t have to coordinate everyone’s calendar, and it’s just like, “Here’s what you need to know. Here’s the process. Here’s the software and the documents and the things that we’re doing, or an update on what I’ve discovered, and what I might recommend we look at next,” and then that’s that.

 

Rich Horwath
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of software and things to do that. And, again, I think the key point, and you touched on it as well, is we just need to think about, “How are we using our time in ways that are getting us to our goals?” because, too often, time is driven by activity for activity’s sake alone.

 

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Let’s hear about allocation.

 

Rich Horwath

So, allocation then, that second A, is really about, “How are you using your resources, your time, your energy, your mindset, your talent, and any budget that you have to achieve the goals that you have?” And, again, the key for allocation, and you know this as well as anybody, great strategy is as much about what we choose not to do as it is about what we choose to do.

So, the best managers, the best leaders I’ve seen are really crystal clear for themselves and their team on, “Here are the areas and things that we’re not going to spend our time on. So, we’re not going to generate these reports. We’re not going to work with these types of customers. We’re not going to fulfill these types of requests because they’re not the sweet spots where we can bring the most value.” So, a lot of allocation is, yes, you have to have a to-do list but, as we’ve heard before, you want to have that not to-do list as well so people are really clear and not wasting time.

 

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love the not to-do list. And I remember I was having a chat years ago with a friend. We were talking… totally different context; we were talking about dating. He’s like, “You got to get really clear on your must-haves and you-can’t-stands.” I was like, “Okay, I guess that makes sense.” And, also, I said, “I think it also is really helpful to get clear on your doesn’t-matters.” And he’s like, “Why? Why did you say that?” I was like, “Because I think it’s easy to get sidetracked.” Like, “Ooh, that’s impressive that he’s rich.” It’s like, “Oh, but actually that doesn’t matter because of…” well, whatever reason. He’s like, “Financially, it’s all good over here.”

Because it’s easy to get sucked into something that’s attractive and interesting, romantically or from a business career professional perspective, because it just sort of triggers something in you, like, “Ooh, that’s really cool and nifty fresh opportunity.” Like, “Oh, we got to do AI because everyone is doing AI, and AI is the thing to do, right?” It’s like, “Okay. Well, maybe, but that’s actually not at all a good reason to go do AI because it’s hot and everyone else is doing it.”

Maybe it’s like, “Oh, there is an opportunity here to do substantial savings. Maybe,” or maybe it’s not. So, I like that notion a lot, getting clear on the not to do. And while we’re talking allocation, I got to hear your take on the 80/20 Rule. Is it real, Rich?

 

Rich Horwath

Absolutely. I believe it’s real, both from a business and a personal perspective. When you think about the organizations that have really been successful, and obviously the ones that come to mind, the Apples, the Googles, the Nordstroms, the Metas, what you find is that they’ve really driven tremendous value through one or two things that they’ve done for the most part.

And then once they’ve gotten 5, 10, 15, 20 years in, they start to add other things. But really, my experience working with leaders is that if you can identify that 20% of things that’s going to drive 80% of the value, that’s going to be a great ticket to being as effective as possible. And I do recommend everybody out there, at least once a quarter, jot down how you’re spending your time in 30-minute increments throughout the week. Add those things up at the end of the week, and I’d even recommend graph it out.

So, on the X-axis, put the different categories where you spend your time, on the Y-axis the hours, and map that out, draw that out. And what you’ll find is there’s going to be a couple things that take up the majority of your time. The question is, “Do those things actually matter to your goals and priorities?” And if they don’t, then we need to make some changes. So, that’s my perspective, Pete. What’s been your observations on the 80/20?

 

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, it really has been, and there are times when I have actually made a spreadsheet of, “What is the expected profit generated per hour of Pete required of all these different initiatives?” And just as the 80/20 Rule would predict, the vital few activities, those 20% of things that drive 80% of the value, can, indeed, be 16 times as impactful as the trivial many activities. And it’s just so eye-opening.

I think if there’s a whiff of procrastination in my psyche, and there is often, just having that kind of clarity is so powerful. It’s like, “Okay, Pete, this is 16 times as important as the other thing. So, don’t even think about investing your time in that other thing.” And it’s just pretty wild. So, I’d love to hear from your perspective, working with clients, what are some common themes of activities that are often in that vital few top 20% zone that are truly often 16 times as impactful as the other stuff?

 

Rich Horwath

Well, I would say the number one thing is spending time with customers, so it may be your customers internally. So, if you’re an HR leader, it might be spending time with the person who’s doing compensation, the ones who’s doing incentive, the ones who’s doing DEI stuff. So, to me, spending time with the people that you’re serving, either internally or externally, that, I think, is where most of the leaders I’ve talked to are really getting a ton of value.

One of the things I throw out there that I’d say a lot of leaders get caught up in, that doesn’t bring a lot of value, is presentations, whether it’s presentations internally, presentations to the board. I’m seeing leaders spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with these presentations when, in fact, I think what most people are really hungry for is a real dialogue, not just a presentation, “I’m going to talk to you for 30 minutes, and then I’ll give you two minutes at the end to ask a couple questions.”

People want interaction, they want dialogue. So, that would be one, I would say, trap to avoid is getting caught up in the real fancy presentations as opposed to creating real dialogue with folks.

 

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And the action?

 

Rich Horwath

So, the action, that third A, is really about, “How are you prioritizing what’s important versus the stuff that’s urgent?” And I think you brought up the 80/20 and some of the ways that you use it, I think that’s a great tool to help people act in a way that’s going to really drive value for them and for the people that they’re serving, if you can take the time to identify what those few activities are that are driving the majority of value. And then, like you said, a good leader helps people avoid the noise, the things that are out there but aren’t really relevant.

So, I think, as a good leader from an action standpoint, you’re almost putting earmuffs on people to say, “Look, here’s what we’re focused on. Don’t let all these other things that are uncontrollable in the environment, or things like AI, distract us from really what the task at hand is.” So, it’s really just that ability to prioritize the important versus the urgent.

 

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Now, before we hear about some of your favorite things, I’d love it, Rich, if you could lay on us any other quick tips, tricks, questions, shortcuts for zeroing in on super high value stuff fast?

 

Rich Horwath

Yeah. Well, one thing, Pete, we’re all involved in meetings, and meetings take up a lot of time. And the recent study shows that about 70% of executives feel that meetings are inefficient and ineffective. And so, one of the things I’d recommend is this meeting framework. So, think about three things. Think about your intent, your decisions, and your insights.

So, intent is, if you’re meeting with people, even if it’s one person, “What’s the intent? What’s the purpose?” and formulate that in an agenda. The second piece is decisions. If you’re just meeting to talk, and you don’t have decisions where you’re moving things forward, you’re potentially wasting time. So, think about what’s the decision there. And then that third one is insights. Take time at the end of interactions to really think about, “What’s the learning? What’s the new action plan based on that interaction?”

So, I would say that’s an important one around meetings, it’s just that idea of intent, decisions, and insights. That’s a key one. And then, I guess, the other piece I’d mention, too, is just that we’re in a lot of conversations day in and day out, so we really want to make sure that we’re in conversations that are exploratory, but then also think about a funnel, we’re at the end of the conversation, we’re getting to the bottom of the funnel.

A lot of conversations I’ve been a part of and see, we’re at the top of the funnel the entire meeting and that’s where we end, but we don’t get down to the end of the funnel to the neck of the funnel, to say, “Okay, so what based on this conversation? What’s next?”

 

Pete Mockaitis

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

 

Rich Horwath

A quote from Proverbs, it’s “Iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens his fellow man.” I think we can learn something from everybody out there if we’re just open enough to do that.

 

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite book?

 

Rich Horwath

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. 

 

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite tool?

 

Rich Horwath

Mindjet. So, it’s a mind-mapping software, very simple in nature, very inexpensive, but, to me, it’s the best way to think through an article, a project, even your to-do list for the day.

 

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

 

Rich Horwath

I start with a mental workout each morning. So, not jumping jacks, or pushups, or burpees, or anything, but I do a mental workout where I actually take some of the things that Olympic athletes use, like visualization, affirmation statements, performance statements, and I tailor that for my business. So, I visualize the meetings that I have coming up, how I’d like to be in those meeting, I think about a couple key performance statements, like, ask good questions, be a good listener, be an active listener, things like that. So, I try to do that each morning to kind of frame my mental attitude for the day.

 

Pete Mockaitis

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

 

Rich Horwath

New growth comes from new thinking

 

Pete Mockaitis

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

 

Rich Horwath

A lot of free resources, about a hundred different free resources at StrategySkills.com, articles, white papers, infographics, videos, podcasts. So, StrategySkills.com.

 

Pete Mockaitis

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

 

Rich Horwath

Yeah, I would say that the one thing to keep in mind is, “How are you bringing new value to people?” It’s easy to say, “This is my job. This is my activity. This is what I do.” But then, let’s take that one step further and think about, “How am I providing, creating, delivering value for people today?” If we put ourselves in that value mindset, we’re always going to be relevant to the folks that we’re working with.

 

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Rich, thank you. This is fun. I wish you many good strategic decisions.

 

Rich Horwath

Pete, thanks so much. It was great to be with you today.

918: How to Think and Innovate Like a Genius with Paul Sloane

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Paul Sloane discusses how to become more innovative and effective by adopting different styles of thinking.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top question to ask when problem-solving
  2. The simple trick for improving your memory
  3. How to build rapport with anyone with one phrase

About Paul

Paul Sloane is the author of many books on lateral thinking and the leadership of innovation.  He graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Engineering. He had a successful career in sales at IBM before becoming Marketing Director and then Managing Director at the database company, Ashton-Tate. He was subsequently the VP International and CEO of software companies. He now speaks and consults on lateral thinking and innovation with corporate clients.

Resources Mentioned

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Paul Sloane Interview Transcript

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

Paul Sloane
Peter, I’m delighted to be on the show.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to be chatting and I am excited to hear about some of your wisdom you’ve collected over a whole career with 17 books, talking lateral thinking, being more brilliant. So much good stuff. But first, can you tell us the tale of how you met Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney?

Paul Sloane
Well, no great tale to tell, really. I took my granddaughter to school one day, to primary school, and it was a private primary school in Sussex in England. And as I was walking through the carpark, a man said hello to me, and I said hello back to Sir Paul McCartney, whose daughter went to that same school as well. So, that was good.

And then a friend of mine, he sponsored The Rolling Stones. He worked as a managing director of a big mobile phone company, T-Mobile, and they sponsored The Rolling Stones on some of their major concerts. And we got to meet them, and I shook hands with Mick Jagger. He’s really quite tiny and frail. I thought he’ll never last the concert. And then he came out and he performed, and he was just brilliant. I’ve seen Paul McCartney perform, too. And they’re two of my great heroes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. All right. Just right place, right time.

Paul Sloane
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, now I’m intrigued here. You share some of your best thinking and about thinking. Have you made any particularly striking, surprising discoveries about us humans and how we do our thinking and problem-solving over the course of researching this in your career?

Paul Sloane
Well, I wouldn’t claim anything innovative or profound, actually, but I think that the most important thing I’ve found is that people think in very predictable ways, and they think in grooves, and they tend to use the same kind of thinking, the thinking that has served them well up till then. And I think it’s like a tennis player who’s got a very good forehand but they don’t have a very good backhand or they don’t volley very well. But if they play every shot with a forehand, they can be competitive.

And we’re a bit like that. We might use critical thinking, or we might use logical thinking, but not use creative thinking, or lateral thinking, or emotional thinking. But because we go through life making decisions based on the thinking style which has suited us, we get through it. It’s competent. But if you want to be outstanding, if you want to be an outstanding tennis player, you have to develop drop shots, you have to develop your backhand, you have to go to the net, you have to volley, you have to smash. And you need every shot in the book.

And to be a great thinker, to be a great, really, effective person at work, you need a variety of styles which suit different situations and different challenges. And that’s what I address in my book How to be a Brilliant Thinker. And what I’m really saying is you need to develop your skill at visual thinking, at mathematical thinking, at logical thinking, at creative thinking, at lateral thinking. A whole range of different thinking styles will make you much more competent and effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share with us, perhaps, any interesting studies or data or cases you’ve seen, inspiring tales of folks who have upgraded, transformed their thinking capabilities and seen cool results from it?

Paul Sloane
Well, I’ve got some personal experiences of my own where I’ve changed style, and I deliberately try to enhance that. So, I worked for IBM, I went through IBM’s sales training and management training, and had a successful career in sales and management. And then I got headhunted and joined a software company as marketing director, and I was in charge of a team of bright, enthusiastic, young people but they were chaotic. They were charging all over the place, doing all sorts of undisciplined things. And I thought it was my job to manage that and to bring IBM discipline to the place.

And one day, on a car journey, a managing director who was a very experienced guy, said to me, he said, “Paul, you’re too tough on your people.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, you’re telling them what to do all the time.” And I said, “Isn’t that my job?” And he said, “No.” And he was right, and I was being too prescriptive in my approach, and not really empowering people and challenging them to come up with their own solutions.

Whenever somebody came to me with a problem, I’d say, I’d come up with my idea, which was often a good idea, I’d say, “Try this. Do it this way,” and telling them how to do their jobs and, in a sense, micromanaging them, and it wasn’t a good style. You don’t develop people with that sort of leadership management style. And I’d like to think that I changed, and it was like St. Paul on the road to Damascus moment for me, that I realized that I was being too prescriptive, and I needed to be more empowering and trust people.

And if somebody comes to you with a problem, instead of saying, “Here’s what you should do,” the right way to handle it, I think, is to say, “What ideas have you got?” and challenge them to come up with ideas first, and prompt them to think about different approaches and explore possibilities with them. And maybe, eventually, they’ll go with your approach, maybe they’ll come up with a better approach themselves, but that will help develop them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And in sort of the language that you’re using with different styles of thinking, how would you articulate what was your previous thinking approach in those exchanges versus your new approach?

Paul Sloane
I’d say my previous thinking approach was command and control as a style, which is a management style which is effective if you’re running a junior team, an inexperienced team, an ineffective team, people weren’t doing very well, command and control is sometimes necessary. But I think, what I would call lateral leadership is where you don’t lead from the from the front, you lead from the side as a collegial leader, and as a colleague, you empower people and trust them. And if you trust people to succeed, you have to trust them to fail as well, and you have to let go. And that’s a different thinking style and a different management style.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share with us then what’s the big idea, the core thesis, behind your book How to be a Brilliant Thinker?

Paul Sloane
It’s about that. It’s about adopting different styles, deliberately developing different styles of thinking, and choosing a style which is appropriate for you and for the moment. And to be really successful at work, to get promoted, you need to be good at managing people. And if you’re a very good data analyst, or a very good programmer, you might be using a lot of logical skills, a lot of rational skills, but you’re not using emotional skills to relate to people, and understand them, and persuade them, and motivate them.

And you’ll never get promoted unless you learn those emotional-thinking skills, emotional intelligence, as well as logical intelligence. And if you want to be a successful marketer, you have to use creative intelligence and lateral thinking, to be able to think of innovative radical ideas. So, you need this whole range of skills to develop your thinking, and that’s the basis of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, could you lay out for us this menu? You’ve used a number of different categories or types of thinking: the emotional, the lateral, the creative, the logical. Can you lay out what are the different types of thinking in your typology? And how do you define them? And how do you improve them?

Paul Sloane
So, just to read some of the titles of the chapters, “Consider the opposite,” “Confront assumptions,” “Analyze problems.” So, I built quite a bit of problem analysis, and formal problem analysis, critical thinking, asking questions, thinking in combinations, parallel thinking such as de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, so parallel thinking technique.

Thinking creatively, thinking laterally, how to think what nobody else thinks, how to evaluate ideas, how to make difficult decisions, how to develop your verbal thinking so you can express yourself clearly, how to develop your mathematical thinking so that you can actually use mathematics as a tool, gets with probability, think visually, develop your emotional intelligence, how to be a brilliant conversationalist is one of the chapters in the book, how to win arguments, how to ponder, how to maximize your memory, how to improve your memory, how to tell stories, how to think humorously.

So, these are some of the chapters in the book I talk about common thinking errors and ways to boost your brain, and games to help you think better.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share with us perhaps what are the most common and destructive errors in thinking that you see professionals make? And how could we go about preventing that from occurring?

Paul Sloane
Well, there are a lot of errors or a lot of cognitive biases and errors, but I think one of the big things that hold us back is making assumptions. And the lateral thinker challenges assumptions all the time, and the command-and-control leader, the conventional leader, the conventional person makes a lot of assumptions. And the older you are, the more experienced you are, maybe the more intelligent you are, the more assumptions you make every day. And we see it time and time again of people being taken.

Literally, thousands of people lost billions of dollars to Bernie Madoff because they assumed he was a genius, and they assumed that he could give higher than average returns to investors year after year after year, and they made the wrong assumption. People assumed that Elizabeth Holmes was telling the truth when she said at Theranos that she’s got a much better method of analyzing blood, and it was a fraud.

Collin Powell, and the USA, and lots of other countries assumed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but he didn’t. Wrong assumptions lead us down wrong paths all the time. And lateral thinkers, creative thinkers, endlessly curious and always prepared to ask a question, and to analyze the evidence, and they believe in evidence, they believe in experiments, they believe in real-world data.

They don’t believe in conspiracy theories. They don’t believe in models. They believe in experiments and finding out and challenging assumptions by asking fundamental questions, basic questions, is one of the central tenets of lateral thinking and of my books.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Could you share with us perhaps a professional example in the workplace where you think this is happening all the time, folks failing to challenge assumptions, and some assumptions that might well need to get challenged?

Paul Sloane
Well, you see it all the time with, and it’s so easy to see in hindsight but when you’re involved in a business meeting, there are all sorts of assumptions going on, and those assumptions frame the whole view of what’s possible and what’s not possible. I want you to imagine that you work for Encyclopedia Britannica and it’s 1990, and you’re in a meeting, and they’re talking about how they can increase sales.

And you said, “Just a minute, let’s look at the assumptions we’re making here. We’re assuming that people want to buy books, and that these books contain curated knowledge, which is provided by experts and edited by experts, teams and teams of experts, and that they’re expensive, and that we go out and sell those books. And we assume that that’s the best model.”

“What if we could create a model which is completely different where we didn’t pay experts at all. We got people to contribute to the encyclopedia themselves, and we got volunteers to edit it, and we gave it away virtually for free?” And if you’d made that suggestion, it would’ve been a career-ending suggestion, I think, with the company because people would’ve been horrified that you even thought that because it challenged all the basic assumptions on which the business was built.

And yet Wikipedia is that model. They don’t use paid experts. They use volunteers to write the articles, and edit, and manage, and curate all of that knowledge and expand it all the time. And it works, and they give it away for free. And that model, a completely different business model, totally destroyed Encyclopedia Britannica’s previously highly successful business model.

If you were working for a taxi company, and thinking, “How can we do things better?” you would never have thought of what Travis Kalanick thought when he said, “Let’s create a taxi company without a single taxi.” It’s an app. And it all does is it puts people together, those who want a taxi ride and those who are prepared to give somebody a ride in their personal car for a small fee. He created Uber which became worth $60 billion, and it’s a taxi company without a single taxi, and it challenged all of the assumptions that taxi companies are based on.

Same with Airbnb. They’re a hotel company that doesn’t own a single hotel room. So, lateral thinkers, creative thinkers, are prepared to challenge the basic assumptions that everyone else in the room takes for granted and assumes is a given and must be obeyed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. In each of these examples, we had an established entrenched player, or system, and then there was an external disruptive force that operated without those fundamental assumptions. And I guess I’m curious, in terms of cognitive biases or whatever the word is at play here, in each of those instances, the folks at the hotel chain, a taxi company, at the Encyclopedia Britannica, have a deeply invested interest in continuing to do things the way they are, “Hey, I have a fleet of taxis,” “I’ve got a beautiful set of many large, expensive, gorgeous hotel buildings,” “I’ve got decades of sales that I’m beholding in my Encyclopedia Britannica.”

And so, in some ways, if they disrupted themselves, maybe they would be in a better position and sort of leading the charge. But how do you recommend when we are entrenched in our ways? And it’s almost like, I think, in many ways, we believe what we want to believe, and we want to believe, at Encyclopedia Britannica, if we’re there at that time, that we can continue doing the cool thing we’ve been doing and keep this gravy train rolling and growing.

And so, how do you think about that, that notion of we tend to believe what we want to believe as opposed to what is true?

Paul Sloane
Well, you’re actually right. We tend to believe what we want to believe, but it’s more insidious than that because the customers mislead you. One of my favorite books is by Clayton Christensen, it’s called The Innovator’s Dilemma. I don’t know if you’re read it, but in there, he says, “What stymies great companies is that they make the mistake of listening to their customers,” and I nearly fell off my chair when I read that because I was always taught that you have to listen to customers, and you have to please customers, and that’s your purpose in business is to find solutions that customers like.

But he gives countless examples, particularly from computer disk drives where the leader at each generation was misled by customers who said, “We like your product. Give us more of what you’re doing, only better, faster, cheaper in green, or in German,” or whatever. Customers always want incremental innovations because they don’t understand radical innovations. A customer will never indicate a radical solution to you.

And if somebody else who comes along with a radical solution, and, initially, the customers rebuff it, and the next time they rebuff it, and then they rebuff it, and then, eventually, they all move over to it. There are some early adopters and then the late majority, and then everyone moves over. And the previous incumbent gets wiped out. But they were doing a single right thing, they were listening to their customers, they were following their customers.

An example I give is this. Say, you were making spectacles in the 1950s, and you said to your customers, “How can we make our service better to you?” They might’ve said, “Well, a scratch-proof lens would be good,” or, “A plastic frame would be good,” or, “A flexible frame,” “A different type of glass,” “A shaded glass.” What would they not have asked for? Not one customer in 10,000 would’ve said, “I want you to create a piece of glass that I stick on my eyeball every morning.” Contact lenses.

Not one customer in 10,000 would’ve said, “I want you to cut through my eyeball with laser beams to change the geometry of my eyeball.” Laser eye surgery. And because you’re thinking spectacles, you’re thinking physical things. The companies that are selling spectacles weren’t selling spectacles, they were selling better sight. And another way of getting better sight is with contact lenses or with laser eye surgery. But no spectacle manufacturer would ever have conceived of those ideas, and no customer would’ve indicated that.

And so, it’s very difficult, and very often it’s the outsider who comes up with a radical innovation. And I’ve written about this many times in my blogs and books that it’s the outsider that tells that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that says a lot in terms of, it’s sort of backing up, zooming out, and getting to the fundamentals can help open up a lot of this stuff. In the Encyclopedia, it’s like, “What are we really trying to do here? We’re trying to give people a broad set of knowledge about a broad set of things. Okay. Well, there’s a lot of ways we can pull that off.” Or, “We’re trying to get people from point A to point B.”

Paul Sloane
As you say, you’ve got this inventory, you’ve got all this stock, you’ve got this history, you’ve got momentum, and the question they should ask is, “What is the problem that we are solving for customers? What is the customer problem that we solve? And is there a better way to solve that problem?”

The taxi driver, they’re providing a journey for the customer. That’s what they’re providing. The hotel chain Marriott is providing accommodation for a night. And Encyclopedia Britannica was selling access to knowledge. And in each case, if they thought about that in terms of “What is the fundamental product or service we’re providing? What’s the problem we’re solving for customers?” they might’ve stood a chance, though still unlikely, of conceiving an entirely different way of solving that problem.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you. All right. So, a common thing we got to do is challenge assumptions. One way to do that is to ask big questions about the fundamentals that we’re delivering. What’s another major thinking error that is rampant in professional environments that we should tackle next?

Paul Sloane
Well, another big problem is confirmation bias where we look for evidence that supports our hypothesis, what we believe, and we discount evidence which contradicts what we believe. And we see this time and time again. We saw it with COVID, we saw it with the people who believed in vaccines and don’t believe in vaccines, and the people who believed in lockdowns and don’t believe in lockdowns, and they would find selective evidence that supported their viewpoint.

Occasionally, the people that didn’t believe in vaccines would say, “I heard about a chap, and he took the vaccines, and then he fell very ill, and that shows they’re not suitable.” And it’s one example out of thousands and thousands. So, confirmation bias where we look for evidence that confirms our beliefs, and we don’t allow our beliefs to be challenged. The question I often ask people is, “When was the last time you changed your mind on a really serious issue?” And most people don’t change their minds ever.

They might change their mind as they say, “What meal are we going to have tonight?” but they don’t change their mind on a big issue, “Are we supporting the Democrats or the Republicans?” They’re tribal. And once you get into one of those groups, then they go to websites and media sources which support a certain viewpoint, and they don’t absorb information from other websites or media sources, which would challenge their viewpoint. And that is a great enemy of thinking, and of diversity, and of innovation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, confirmation bias is all over the place, it’s problematic. How do you recommend we combat it?

Paul Sloane
By asking questions, by deliberately being open minded, and force yourself to be open minded. I gave a TEDx Talk on “Are You Open Minded?” And if you go on YouTube and search for Paul Sloane TEDx, you can see it. It’s only 13, 14 minutes but it’s had a tremendous number of views. And in it I talk about this whole concept of everyone thinks they’re open minded but most people aren’t. Nearly every one of us has blinkers, to some extent. And I talk about ways to tackle it.

And one way to tackle it is to deliberately go to the opposite end of the spectrum. If you normally watch CNN, watch Al Jazeera instead. If you normally take The Times in England, take The Guardian. So, deliberately go to channels and speak to people who will give you a different perspective. So, that’s one of the approaches.

And another is to just do something different every day to deliberately break the routine, whatever routine you’re in, whether it’s the way you go to work, or where you sit, or whatever you do, deliberately do something different. Introduce the random deliberately into your life. If you go on Wikipedia, and you look on the left, there’s a random article of the day. If you go there, you’ll learn something new that you didn’t know, and it will give you a slightly different view of the world.

So, there are these techniques that you can use in terms of deliberately displacing yourself. You tend to mix with people who are like you. I said to my wife the other day, I said, “I met an interesting new chap at the golf club.” And she said, “Let me guess, is he white?” “Yes.” “Is he your age?” “Yes.” “Is he a golfer?” “Yes.” “Is he middle class?” “Yes.” “He’s not new. He’s exactly like you.”

And she’s right. I’m mixing with people who are like me. And you’ve got to deliberately step outside that comfort zone sometimes and mix with people who aren’t like you in order to understand their perspective of the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. One of your chapters, you talk about thinking humorously. What’s the value in that? And how is it done other than just, well, laugh?

Paul Sloane
Well, humor breaks barriers, and humor is very useful. In my talks, I do a lot of serious talks, but I very often start with a joke or I put some humor into the talk in order to leaven it, in order to lighten it, in order to have some light and shade. Because if you just concentrate on the heavy serious stuff all the time, it’s oppressive for the audience. And if you can mix in a little bit of humor, it makes you relatable.

And as a person in the office, it makes you more popular. As a manager, if you use humor, but not sarcasm, not cynicism, but if you use gentle humor, it makes you more interesting and approachable, and I think humor is a very useful thing in life, and it can diffuse tension in a lot of situations as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And any pro tips on how we go about thinking more humorously?

Paul Sloane
Some people say, “I can’t tell a joke.” But everyone can tell a joke, and everyone can learn some funny things, and everyone can read humorous articles and humorous writers, and learn some of the techniques that they use in order to just put a little bit in there. And the people you follow on Twitter or Facebook, there are some people who are witty and write funny things, and some people who don’t and write very dull things.

So, focus on the people who are interesting and witty, and sometimes repeat some of the things they say, but give acknowledgements, say, “I read this today, and so and so said this,” and then repeat a witty from someone else. You don’t have to be original. You don’t have to come up with all the jokes yourself in order to be a funny person.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And one of the ways you mentioned thinking was visually? How is that done?

Paul Sloane
Well, some people are visual thinkers. They think in terms of pictures. And one of the exercises I do in my workshops where I run a brainstorm is the random word. And you have a challenge, whatever the challenge is, “How can we improve productivity? How can we cut the project lead times? How can we save costs in terms of our recruitment?” whatever it is, and then you take a word at random from the dictionary, and then you get some associations of the word. And then you try and force an idea based on the word which would solve the problem.

And you’ll come up with a stupid idea, a stupid idea, a stupid idea, and then, occasionally, you come up with a really creative idea. And people don’t believe that until they see it and it works. And I demonstrate it in my TEDx Talks, so that’s another reason to watch that on YouTube. But you take the dictionary, you open it at random, and you just take that random noun, and off you go. And if the one word doesn’t work, you just go on and find another one, and you’ll never run out of words in the dictionary.

Now, that method works but sometimes I do it with pictures instead. I take random pictures: a picture of a cathedral, a picture of a candle, a picture of a dog, a picture of a polar bear, a picture of an iceberg, a picture of fun fare, anything, and I got a whole range of random pictures. And then you put the random picture up, and you say, “Right. What ideas does that picture give you in terms of this challenge?” And some of it works much better with a picture than with a word. Some people work verbally and some people work visually.

And I think if you choose those different styles, and you try thinking in pictures, thinking in cartoons, thinking in storyboard in terms of something written, it can sometimes be much more powerful and a much better way. If you’re trying to communicate ideas, then words are fine and PowerPoint is fine, but images can be so much more powerful. And images, people like video, they like image, and it can be a much more effective way of getting a message across. So, if you’re not using visuals at the moment, visual thinking, then you’re missing a trick.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s clever and I like the random prompt, like a dictionary word or previously the Wikipedia random article. I’m thinking about if you want images, I guess you could go to Google and I’m Feeling Lucky, and then images, and you’ll get any number of things.

Paul Sloane
Exactly right. You will.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, you’ve got one of your final chapters, Games for Brilliant Thinkers. I like games. What do you recommend?

Paul Sloane
Oh, I love all sorts of games, and some games are very logical. I play chess very seriously. I like chess, that’s very analytical and logical but I like lateral thinking games. There’s a game called Codenames where you have to find connections between words to suggest links to your partner in that game. That’s very good.

I like Sudoku. I like Monopoly. I like Cluedo. I like all of those, but a whole range of games. Poker is a great game too, though it’s a dangerous game because you can lose a lot of money at it. But all of those things are great, I think. Let me see, what did I say in terms of games for thinkers? I said Chess, Scrabble, Monopoly, Bridge, Cluedo, Backgammon, Poker, Dingbats, or Rebuses, as they’re called. Riddles are visual word puzzles. Articulate!, Trivial Pursuit, all of these are good. Pictionary, Charades is a lateral thinking game. We have to think of strange connections to get your message across.

And, of course, lateral thinking puzzles of which I’ve written several books, of lateral thinking puzzles, and they are things where you get strange situations, and then you have to ask questions, and you get yes or no answers from somebody who knows the answer. And that forces you to think laterally because, typically, you get stuck and, typically, you make the wrong assumptions. And it’s those wrong assumptions that hold you back so you have to test all your assumptions with the questions you ask in a lateral thinking puzzle.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And you also have a chapter called Maximize Your Memory. Tell us, how is memory still important nowadays with all of our technology, and resources, and AI, and Google Searches, and Wikipedias?

Paul Sloane
Well, you’ve got access to all those things but when you meet somebody, an employee at work, you need to remember their name, and you need to remember their wife’s name, if they work for you, or their partner’s name, and maybe their children’s names, and some issues, things that are important to them, and you can’t just go to your phone and look it up. So, remembering people’s names, have you read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie?

Pete Mockaitis

Yup.

Paul Sloane
It’s a classic book in 1930s. And one of the things he said is, “Use people’s names.” And what I would recommend to you, Peter, is that you use people’s names, and people like to hear their name. And that’s an example of something memory is really important, and you need to work on memory. There’s lots of minor things you can write down but there’s some important things you have to remember, and the techniques,

You’re driving along, suddenly you think of something, an urgent job you’ve got to do when you get to the office, you need a way of remembering those, and that’s one of the techniques I teach in my memory course, which I do, where you make a huge visual story about the things you’re trying to remember, and you exaggerate them, and you make them very vivid and very colorful and very dramatic. And then you can remember that story when you get home, and you can remember to do those things, which would otherwise just go straight out of your mind.

So, memory is important and everyone wants a better memory, and people always complain, as they get older, their memory is going and all the rest, but we can all memorize a lot more and remember a lot more things, and I show people different ways to do this with memory pegging and the virtual journey. So, when I give a talk, I’ll stand up and speak for 40 minutes at a conference without notes but I’m doing it with a virtual journey where I go through a particular route.

And in each place on the route, I’ve posted a picture, or a person, or an image of something which I want then to talk about. And I take that journey and I remember the items. The virtual journey is one of the techniques which I describe in the book and on my workshops.

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

Paul Sloane
Well, there’s a couple piece of advice I would give to people, to your listeners, and a powerful piece of advice which I wish I’d known sooner. Here’s one, and this is a phrase which you can use to get people to like you, and it works. It works with any person at any level in the organization. You’ll get your boss to like you, you’ll get your coworkers to like you, you’ll get your kids to like you, you get your partner to like you. And this is the magic phrase. Are you ready?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Paul Sloane
What you say is, “What I really like about you is…” Now, even if there’s 10 things you don’t like about your boss, there’s something about him or her that you like. You have to admit they’re really good at this. So, you say, “What I really like about you, Peter, is you’re always clear and to the point,” or whatever it is.

People like to be praised, and you can always find something good about anybody. So, if you say that, it’s demonstrated that people’s opinion of you goes up. They like you more. They’re softened to you. They’re warm to you. So, the next time you’re with somebody and you want to just improve your relationship, say honestly, and you can always do this sincerely because there’s always something about somebody, no matter how strange or odd they are, there’s always something about them that they’re good at.

And say, “What I really like about you is X.” So, that’s one tip I would give you. Another tip I would give, if you’re a manager, and this is so powerful, it’s wonderful, I was taught this on at one stage and it made a big difference, and it works for a manager, in particular, but it will also work for anybody. If you’re manager, you take your staff one by one, and you sit down with them, and you say, “I’m going to ask you two questions and I want you to give me honest answers here.” And they say, “Yes, fine. I’ll do that, boss.”

And you say, “Here’s the first question. What am I good at?” And, typically, they’ll tell you what you’re good at, “You’re very clear and you’re very decisive, and so, and so, and so.” And then the follow-up question, which is the key question, you say, “Where could I improve?” and then you shut up and listen. And you can’t disagree with them. You can’t say, “No, you’re wrong.” You could say, “Give me an example. Give me a for instance,” but you listen and you say thank you.

And because you’ve asked them the first question, what you’re good at, then it enables to answer the second question. If you start with the second question, it doesn’t work because they’re inhibited from giving you any criticism. People don’t like criticism. But because you’ve asked the first, they can balance it by saying, “Well, an area you could improve is X, Y, Z.” If you it with all your people and they come up with similar areas you can improve, you’ve learned something very, very valuable because you’ve seen something about yourself that, otherwise, you would never see.

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

Paul Sloane
Peter Drucker said this, and I sometimes open my talks with this. He said, “Every organization must prepare for the abandonment of everything it does.” And he said this way back in the 1960s or ‘70s, and he didn’t say every organization has to improve or have to change a bit. He said, “Every organization must be prepared to abandon everything it does.” And that is so powerful, I think, and so challenging for many people to take that on board, that I think that’s a very, very powerful quote.

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

Paul Sloane
Well, I would say Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, and the research he did there is very powerful, which shows how leading companies miss innovation because they are so committed to their existing methods and their existing customers. And he brings forth a lot of evidence to support that in his book.

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

Paul Sloane
I would say de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is one of my favorite management tools because it forces you to consider a proposition from several different perspectives, six different perspectives, it’s with the six hats. And it overcomes the big problem we have in meetings, which is “I like my idea. I don’t like your idea,” and the “I am right, you are wrong” thinking.

And with de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats,” everyone is forced to look at the thing, the proposition, from six different perspectives, including the yellow hat where everyone has to say what’s good about the idea. Even if you think it’s a lousy idea and it comes from your worst enemy in the whole organization, you have to say, “Well, it would do this. I have to admit, this is a benefit we’d get from it.”

And then the black hat, where even if it’s your idea and you love it, and you think it’s a great idea, you have to find fault with it, and you say, “Well, one drawback or one danger would be this,” and everyone has to wear the same hat at the same time. And as a thinking tool and a management tool, and a tool for improving decisions in meetings, it’s immensely powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners, they quote it back to you often?

Paul Sloane
One of my favorites is “Implementing best practice is copying yesterday. Innovation is inventing tomorrow.” That’s one of mine. “Beware of successes. It’s a terrible teacher” is another one. I would say, “Ideas are the lifeblood of the organization. Don’t be the clot who blocks the flow of ideas.” And there are many people who block ideas and say no to ideas very quickly because most really clever original ideas sound crazy when they’re first articulated. So, there you are, three.

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

Paul Sloane
Well, I’m on Twitter @PaulSloane. I’m on LinkedIn, you can find me, Paul Sloane. My website is DestinationInnovation.com. And if you just type in DestinationInnovation.com or Paul Sloane TEDx, you’ll see my TEDx Talk, and I’m on Amazon as well, of course, so you can find my books on Amazon.com or any other Amazon.

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

Paul Sloane
Well, I would share with you the best piece of leadership advice I ever got, and this is so powerful. This is worth the price of admission on its own. This is just seven words and it’s really, really important for leaders but it also applies at other levels of the organization but particularly for leaders. And it goes like this, “Only do what only you can do.”

There are certain things that only the leader can do. Only the leader can praise people in the group, only the leader can hire new people, only the leader can work on strategy and direction. And there’s lots of other things which, as a leader, I was spending time on – firefighting and fixing problems, and things I should’ve delegated, and things I should’ve just ignored, and focus on the leadership tasks only.

And if you focus on the things that only you can do, then they’re the most important things that you should be focused on. So, only do what only you can do. And that applies whether you’re an artist, a musician, a creator, anything else, but particularly if you’re a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Paul, thank you for this. I wish you much fun and brilliant thoughts.

Paul Sloane
Pete, I’ve enjoyed it, and we could go chatting forever but, yeah, I really enjoyed it.

907: Building Unwavering Confidence with Paul Epstein

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Paul Epstein reveals master keys to building confidence and making better decisions faster.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The fundamental key to feeling more confident every day
  2. How to improve your decision outcomes in just two minutes
  3. The head-heart-hands equation for making better decisions faster

About Paul

PAUL EPSTEIN is a former high-level executive for multiple NFL and NBA teams and the bestselling author of The Power of Playing Offense.

In 2022, he was named one of SUCCESS magazine’s top thought leaders who get results and his work has been featured on ESPN, NBC, Fox Business, and in USA Today.

In fifteen years as a leader in the world of pro sports, Paul helped take NBA teams from the bottom of the league in revenue to the top two, broke every premium sales revenue metric in Super Bowl history, opened a billion-dollar stadium, and founded the San Francisco 49ers Talent Academy.

As an award-winning keynote speaker, Paul’s impact continues offstage, providing leadership development and culture transformation programs for companies and teams including Amazon, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, NASA, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Dallas Cowboys.

He’s also the founder of the Win Monday Community and host of the Win Monday podcast, where he interviews high-profile guests who reveal their secrets of confidence and work-life mastery.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

Paul Epstein Interview Transcript

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

Paul Epstein
Yeah, Pete, fired up to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. I’m excited to get into some of the wisdom of your book, Better Decisions Faster: Unshakable Confidence When You Need It Most. But, first, I think we need to hear a fun story involving you and a famous athlete. How would you kick us off?

Paul Epstein
Ah, me and a famous athlete. Actually, you know what, let me give this a little spin, but if you want to talk athlete, let’s keep it in the NFL. Let’s go to one of the more powerful and influential people in the entire sports business, none other than the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. So, can I dive down this story of me and Roger?

Pete Mockaitis
Take it away.

Paul Epstein
Okay, good. All right. So, I’m in the NFL League office, 345 Park Ave. I’m in New York, running a national sales campaign for Super Bowl 48, which was over a handful of years ago, and it was a mega, mega Super Bowl. It was the biggest ever because it was the first time that it was in New York. So, you had these massive expectations, massive pressures, massive everything, and my boss, who’s the head of revenue for the NFL, he always served as kind of the buffer. It’s like NFL Commission, Roger’s down the hall, and Paul, “I got this.”

So, whenever Roger was close, my boss’ name is Brian, he now runs business for the LA Olympics, wonderful, wonderful guy, but he always kind of serves as that buffer. So, anyways, one day Brian is not around, he’s in a meeting. Commish walks down the hall, and he sees this pinboard that has all of the inventory for the Super Bowl mapped out, and there’s three colors of pins – green, yellow, and red. So, green is sold, yellow is in conversation with a prospect, and red is no action.

Well, this is really early in the campaign, we’re in like month two out of ten, so let’s just say the board had a lot of red pins. So, Commish comes over, and he says, “Tell me about the board.” And I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, where the hell is Brian when I need him?” But needless to say, it was just me and the Commish. And I said, “All right. Roger, yes, green is sold, yellow is in conversations,” so far so true, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, I can’t practically reveal what the red is.”

I’m like, “Red is red hot prospect.” And he made eye contact, and he says, “Well, looks like we’ve got a pretty hot market,” and went off. And so, my career was saved. Thankfully, I’m around to tell this story with a smile on my face, but you want to talk about thinking on your feet in a high-stakes situation. You talk about unshakeable confidence when you need it most, well, let’s just say I wish I had a book like Better Decisions Faster before that moment because I was just kind of winging it on impulse, but there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is it your perception that had you say, “Oh, well, Roger, those are the seats that are unsold, and no action have yet been taken,” that he would lose it?

Paul Epstein
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Paul Epstein
Yeah, look, NFL, it’s a high-pressure, people get what they want. There’s no mistake that it’s one of the more powerful businesses in the world, and I loved every moment of it, but, yeah, I’m just happy that I didn’t quite have to reveal what the reds truly were.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s talk about Better Decisions Faster. Any particularly surprising or counterintuitive   discoveries you made about decision-making and confidence when researching and putting this together?

Paul Epstein
Yeah, it was massive. Well, there’s a huge statistic that just blew me away. To this day, it’s almost hard for me to even fathom, even though I fact-checked it and we do the research on the research on the research. You really make sure that everything checks out, and here is the stat. The average adult makes 35,000 decisions in a day. So, think about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’ve heard something like that.

Paul Epstein
If you’re listening to this right now, 35,000 decisions, which is absolutely, it’s part mind-blowing, it’s part mind-numbing, I don’t even know which one it is, but that’s a lot. And so, of course, I think a lot of them are going to be on autopilot – turn left in the driveway, brush your teeth – but then there’s those critical few that can really make or break quality of life, quality of business, quality of career, quality of health, quality of relationships.

So, I wrote the book more for those. I call them MVDs, so the sports metaphor. MVP is the most valuable player. I wrote it for our most valuable decisions but still, to know that we have the expectation and the weight of 35,000 of anything in a day, I don’t know about you, but that kind of scared the crap out of me the first time I heard it. And, thankfully, I figured, “Hey, might as well write a playbook on how we can navigate and conquer those decisions with more confidence.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And, Paul, I love that you were shaken and wanted to triple-check what is up with this huge number. So, let’s get your hot take. So, if we’re awake for, like, a thousand-ish minutes in a day, and there’s 35,000 decisions, we’re talking about 35 decisions a minute, or a decision every one or two seconds. So, I’m imagining the weight or gravity of most of these decisions might be along the lines of, “Should I have another sip of water?”

Paul Epstein
Oh, no, you’re so right.

Pete Mockaitis
“And I will.”

Paul Epstein
Like, “Should I look this person in the eye?” “Oh, hey, I got to scratch the itch.” Like, whatever it is. Yeah, most of them are kind of in this autopilot inconsequential, but, still, that’s kind of a crazy thing. It’s almost like taking a breath. Is that a decision? Like, you think about kind of those moment-to-moment things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and you’re right. That would be fun just because I am similarly curious in such a way. I guess that there are some things that, like taking a breath, I think that’s right on the border because it can be automatic or not, versus your heart beating, it just does, decided. Heart beat now or heart beat faster or slower.

Well, before we get into the particulars of how we make these most valuable decisions most excellently, could you share with us a story of someone who started kind of unconfident and indecisive, and then did some things to make the leap, the transformation to confident and decisive?

Paul Epstein
Yeah, so part of this is really, I’ll look in the mirror when I tell you this story. This was what turns out to be this Jerry Maguire leap from sports, and I’ll tell you that I had a coaching conversation along the way that, fundamentally, changed my life. Her name is Sue Ann, and I’ll share this story of Sue Ann in a second, but Sue Ann gave me this gift of unshakeable confidence when I needed it most.

Because before that, and maybe this resonates with everyone listening in, my life, I could describe in two chapters: pre-confidence and post-confidence. And by pre-confidence, I don’t mean that I didn’t have confidence but it was inconsistent at best. I had moments where I did show up with unshakeable confidence, but I had others where I played pretty small.

And that was a byproduct of stress, or anxiety, or maybe I wasn’t happy or fulfilled, or whatever the case was, but it was just this weight of decision fatigue, decision overwhelm, and then you get paralyzed, and then you make the worst decision of them all, which is indecision. So, I suffered just like the majority of us. I think we all suffer from those things.

Now, a decade later, you write a playbook on it, and that’s kind of the happy ending of this story, and it’s going to be a lifelong journey. But I’ll tell you the story where prior, and I think this connects with a lot of folks out there, the way that we’re raised, and I don’t just mean by parents, I mean more in society, especially here in the US, it’s so success-driven, it’s so goals and metrics and outcomes, and we chase these things, and, “Where did you go to school?” and “What’s the first company you worked for?” and “What does the resume look like?” “What does your LinkedIn profile look like?” and it’s all this external stuff.

And when you’re in the NFL and NBA, and you’re achieving all these things, and you’re supposedly getting all the things that matter in life, but then you don’t always feel like you’re winning on the inside. So, you’re winning on the outside but not winning on the inside. And what’s that gap about? And I would’ve told you that my entire career, I was going to hang out in the sports industry because it was a total dream come true. It was a kid in the candy store type of experience.

But then when I realized that you consistently reach these peaks, and these summits, and these places that are supposed to feel so amazing, and sometimes they do, but then it expires really quick. Like, within a day or two you kind of have this crash because I think there’s this reality check of, “Is this it?” Like, I spent months or years or the better part of the decade to get to this summit and this peak, and then, poof, it’s gone in like a day or two.

And that’s where I found myself, I’m heading up revenue for the San Francisco 49ers, and I go to this retreat where I started to tap into my why, and my values, a lot of personal discovery work. I started to figure out who I am. But then I was this crazy guy in the retreat that wasn’t happy with leaving those things as a distant north star. So, I got obsessed with, “How do I apply them on Monday morning? How do I connect these things that feel like a distant north star, like your why and values? How do I connect them to my decisions, to my actions, to the way I show up?”

And that process is what leads me to make big decisions, like doing things I said I would never do, “I’m never going to go back to school.” Well, growth mindset, growth is one of my core values, so I go back to school. I meet this wonderful woman named Sue Ann, my executive coach, first time I ever had an executive coach. And, Pete, what was really cool about this is this was the first time in my entire life, professionally speaking, that I felt comfortable going there, meaning, like, 100 out of 100, raw truth, vulnerability, authenticity.

Because before Sue Ann, I had mentors in the sports industry. The problem was they probably knew my boss better than they knew me. So, put yourself in this scenario if you’re listening in here. Have you ever been asked, “How’s it going? How’s it going?” and your default answer is, “Great. Great” even if you’re not great?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Paul Epstein
And I think a lot of us have been there where you’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, like it’s totally great.” And you say that because you don’t want to reveal if you’re 60% good, you don’t want to talk about the 40%, or you don’t know how this person is going to react, you don’t know if a negative domino follows. So, that was my mindset for a lot of my career as I’m growing and climbing and succeeding and winning on the outside. But then I talked to Sue Ann, and this was the conversation that changed my life.

She said, “Paul, I know what you do. You’re head of sales for an NFL team. What do you love about it? What do you hate about it? And what do you tolerate?” So, love, hate, tolerate. Great questions for all of us to evaluate – love, hate, tolerate. And I answered all three, and then she said, “Go deeper on the love bucket.” I’m like, “Okay, Sue Ann. Well, I love the people side of business, I love the culture side, I love being a coach just like you.”

And she said, “Awesome. On a good day, what percentage of your time do you do that?” So, now I’m slouching down in my chair, kind of the embarrassed at the answers, so I plopped it up a little bit. I said, “Sue Ann, 20%.” The truth is probably five or ten, but I’m like, “Sue Ann, 20%.” “All right. Paul, I wave a wand, you become your boss tomorrow. Does that number 20% go up, down, or sideways?”

And I thought about my boss, they were almost all strategy and nothing coaching people, so I said, “You know, Sue Ann, it’d probably go down.” And this was it, Pete. This was the question she asked, “So, what are you after?” Such a simple question but it has such profound meaning because I hadn’t asked myself that question in a very long time. I was just busy climbing, and winning, and succeeding what I thought was growing, but I forgot what I was after. And then she made me realize I don’t even want what’s next. I’m climbing this ladder, and I don’t even want what’s next.

So, to put this all together, when you want to talk about decision-making, when you want to talk about playing from a place of confidence, here’s why she gave me the gift of confidence, here’s how it went down. She cemented this belief that if I can connect my values to my decisions and actions, then I will become the most confident version of myself, beaming with strength and authenticity and purpose. So, the next decision I made after I talked to her, I asked myself, “What’s my strongest core value?” And its impact.

And I define impact as making a difference and leaving people in places better than I found them. That’s it. So, I then go back to the drawing board, and I asked myself, “Can I create more impact inside of the walls of the sports industry or beyond the walls?” And that, Pete, was the question that leads to the moment, and the aha, and eventual transformation, and eventual Jerry Macguire leap. That’s the moment I knew I was going to leave sports after 15 years of thinking that everything was perfect, and Sue Ann shining a light on this gap that I had, why I was showing up as a work Paul and a personal Paul.

And, really, you want to talk about making better decisions faster and being confident, I think that it is simply the consistency by which we act on our values, and that’s the backstory of how I came upon that transformation. And ever since then, I’ve been coaching others, and I implement it in my speaking, in my training, in my consulting, all of that, but that’s how decision-making became my competitive advantage.

Pete Mockaitis
That makes a lot of sense in terms of when you’re connected with the values, and those are guiding your decisions, you’re not wishy-washy waffly, like, “Hey, sorry to bother you. I hope this isn’t too inconvenient but I was…” as opposed to, like, “Yeah, this is just sort of how it is, and I believe that in my inner core that this is what is optimal, what needs to happen, what is good, proper, right, and just. And, thus, I’m going to feel like I can go forth and march on that.”

So, Paul, I’m imagining the hard part is getting that crystal clarity on “What are your values? And how can those connect to the decision or action that’s right in front of you in the next moment, the next hour?” So, any pro tips on how you illuminate these things?

Paul Epstein
Yup. So, I’ve got an old-school and a new-school way, and I’ll give you the fast pass because here we are in a podcast, so I want to give folks something they can do immediately. So, I’m talking to everybody out there. To find a value, the old-school way is, hey, you bring in a guy like me, and you go through some life-reflection exercises, and we unpack the peaks and the valleys, and we look for themes. And then those themes become your values. That takes time and energy and process. Let me give you the fast-pass way, and this works ten out of ten times. It’s just not as deep of a process.

You can, literally, Google top core values personally. And if you look at a list of 50 or 100, ask yourself, “Which one jumps off the page? Which one resonates?” I love this perspective. The Latin definition of inspire, which your value should inspire you, the Latin definition of inspire is to breathe life into. When you look at a list of 20, 50, 100 words, which one breathes life into you? And then just pick that value.

And then here’s the process that you do on the backend. So, now let’s say you lock in. Like, my core five: growth, belief, impact, courage, authenticity. Those are my five. Everyone has their own. There’s no better/worse, there’s no right/wrong. It’s just you do you. But here’s where we go. There’s a journaling exercise that I introduce to all of my coaching clients, and it works ten out of ten times if you do the work. And here is the process.

Now that you picked your value, once a week, this takes two minutes, so busyness cannot be an excuse, we all have two minutes in a week. We sit down, and we say, “For the week ahead, I will live my value of blank by blank.” The first blank is the value you chose. The second blank is an action, a single action that you connect to that value. So, I’ll give you two examples.

Let’s say that you choose the value of joy. Awesome. Okay. So, sit down, you journal, “For the week ahead, I will live my value of joy by cooking my favorite meal.” Cool. Super simple, super accessible, very easy, like joy. Hey, for me, I’m cooking bacon, I’m a happy camper. All good. That would be me. What is your favorite meal that brings you joy? That’s your one action.

Okay, let’s pivot. Instead of joy, what if your core value is courage? So, we’re raising the stakes. We’re getting a little feistier here. All right, journal, “For the week ahead, I will live my value of courage by having that challenging conversation that I’ve been putting off.” You’re not having that conversation because Paul said. You’re having that conversation because courage is a core value. So, those are just two quick-hit examples.

And then the last piece that I’ll say is, if that was your first journaling sit down, the reason why this works, and the reason why New Year’s resolutions don’t is a couple of things that are pitfalls that I’m about to coach through. So, the reason New Year’s resolutions don’t work, a couple things. One is we lack process and system. So, if we had a journaling exercise, or some sort of process and system, we would be much better at achieving our New Year’s resolutions.

The other reason why a lot of New Year’s resolutions, for myself included, don’t work is because we don’t stick with them long enough. We think we’re going to do something once or twice, and we’re like, “Oh, voila.” That’s just not how we’re wired. So, if you study habit formation, what the average research will tell you is that habit formation takes between three and four weeks. So, if you have a consistent process or system, and you do it for, in this case, I’m going to advise, do it for four weeks so you pass the threshold of habit formation, so you know where I’m going with this.

Do this journaling exercise four consecutive weeks. Two minutes a week, less than 10 minutes in a month, you can develop muscle memory, and you can internalize for four journaling sit-downs, do joy. For four journaling sit-downs, do courage. Do whatever your core value is. And here’s the beauty, and I want to share a gift with everyone listening in as well, if you were to go to my website, PaulEpsteinSpeaks.com, and take the confidence quiz, which, in less than five minutes, it gives you a confidence score of one to 100.

In the resource that you’ll be emailed after, I have a template for this values journal, so it’s just a free gift from me to everybody listening in because I believe, like this is something I implement with pro athletes, with Olympians, with high-growth founders, with Fortune 100 CEOs. It works ten out of ten times for those that do it for four consecutive weeks. So, that’s the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very cool. And I dug how, when you mentioned impact, you had a particular Paul-definition of it, “This is what I mean by impact.” Likewise, could you give us some examples of courage or joy? And do you recommend that in the process of you find the value that breathes life into you, and then you expand upon it with some specific definitional verbiage?

Paul Epstein
Yeah, I love where you’re bringing this, Pete. So, when I was introduced to this back in 2016 when I had that life-changing retreat, the process that was shared with me, I did not have that journaling exercise as teed up as the way I just described it. But what the facilitator did tell me to do, and I followed it to a tee, they said, “Screw what the Webster Dictionary thinks. What’s your definition of your core values?”

And so, I was like, “Okay, cool. Like, that’s an interesting exercise. Let me totally go down this rabbit hole.” So, I’ll give you my five, and I’ll give you my five quick definitions, this is all muscle memory at this point. So, growth was my first value. Growth is the mindset that I’ll attack each day with. That’s it. That’s Paul’s definition.

Then I had courage. You mentioned courage a few moments ago. Courage is standing tallest when fear and risks are highest. That’s my definition. I already talked about impact. Making a difference. Leaving people in places better than you found them. Let’s go authenticity. This was an interesting one. Never sell out because I have and it sucked, and I’ll never do it again.

So, you could see how you can kind of dance with these. I don’t really care what the dictionary says. I hit a rock-bottom moment professionally a year or two before this when I went against my authenticity, and it served the company well but it didn’t serve me well, and my heart and all of these things. So, that pain point turned out to trigger my definition of one of my core values.

So, those are just some quick hits on how you can look at a word, and you should intentionally not look up what Google says, or what Webster says. You shouldn’t do it. What does it mean to you? Because if you struggle to find a unique definition, then it might not be a core value.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about sort of the emotional resonance, it breathes life into, I imagine that can have different subtleties or flavors or nuances. Sometimes the ‘breathe life into’ feels like, “Yes, that’s awesome.” And other times it’s like, “Ahh, yes,” there’s a deep peace associated with it. And so, can you give us a few of the different styles of being inspired by the stuff?

Paul Epstein
Yeah, I love this so much. Yeah, let me pick on one of my core values, which is courage. And this is not going to be the, “Rah, take the hill and let’s go conquer.” Like, a lot of people would think of courage or bravery as this very much like we’re going to battle. And, for me, it’s not about that at all. I actually, emotionally, I tie it back to one of the worst days of my life, which is I lost my hero, my dad, at 19 years old, and I’m an only child.

And when I went home after I got that phone call that nobody wants to get, and I saw my mom, and she’s crying on the floor, and as we hugged, and I still feel the tears on my shoulder, and I saw how she showed up that day as a parent, as a concealer, as a consoler, I should say, as a healer, then as a planner, and then all these things, she breathed courage into me, and it never left.

I am convinced that courage would not be a core value had I not been through that horrible experience, had I not lost my hero, had I not seen how my parent grew into a partner, how my mom turned into a best friend. Like, it was this pain, this tragedy, that really helped color it for me. So, yeah, Pete, I agree, man. I don’t think of inspire purely as the blue skies.

One of my buddies, he has a great way of thinking about the pain that you’ve experienced in life can be tied to your purpose once you heal. So, pain can tie to purpose once you heal, and I think that quick story I just shared is an example of that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you. I also lost my father as a teenager, and, yeah, it is tough and things sink in in that context, for sure. Well, thank you. I appreciate the depth and the heart here when talking about values and making it real. So, now, I guess I want to shift gears a little bit in terms of, let’s say you’ve done a lot of that good, reflective, soul-searching work, whether you’re Googling a list of values, and journaling, or going full bore with some assessments and some consultant coaches.

Now, I’m curious about in the heat of the moment when you’re feeling nervous, some pressure right then and there, how do you recommend we go about keeping cool and finding that unshakeable confidence right in those moments?

Paul Epstein
This is, literally, the entire playbook and the application that’s inside of the covers of Better Decisions Faster. So, I’ll give you the 60-second masterclass here. How we make better decisions faster, the application, I call it the head-heart-hands equation. So, the equation is head plus heart equals hands. To define each: head is your mindset, heart is your authenticity, and hands are action.

So, with head plus heart equals hands, another way to think about this is when deciding whether to use your hands, whether to take action, there’s two checkpoints: head and heart. The questions are, head. “Do I think it’s a good idea?” Heart. “Do I feel it’s a good idea?” And just like when you and I, when we’re driving up to an intersection, we know exactly what to do. Green is go, red is stop, yellow is assess. And that’s exactly how the head-heart-hands equation works.

So, when your head and your heart are both on board, it is a green freaking light. Ten out of ten times, go. Take action. Your head and your heart are ignited toward that action. Now, when there’s no head and no heart, that’s a red light. And so, we don’t want to run red lights. We now have the awareness and the consciousness to not run them. No head, no heart. When one of the two, either head or heart, is on board, that’s a yellow light.

So, if you ask me in simple terms, why write a book like Better Decisions Faster? Why apply the head-heart-hands equation? It’s because when the fear, and the stress, and the anxiety, and the pressures of day-to-day life, which are real, when they strike, we need a faster way to understand where we are with that decision in that moment.

So, while green, yellow, and red, it doesn’t get you to the finish line, the outcome, after the action within seconds but the equation does. So, now as I’m sometimes feeling stuck, or lost, or paralyzed at this fork in the road, I can now apply the head-heart-hands equation, and, boom, like the snap of fingers, I do a head check, I do a heart check, and almost instantly, I know, “Is this is a green? Is it a yellow? Is it a red?”

So, I write a book to attract more greens into our life. I write the book to raise awareness to stop running reds. And I write the book because yellow is the messy middle, and we need to have a playbook for how to navigate and conquer that messy middle. That’s Better Decisions Faster.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. That’s cool in terms of so we can eliminate a lot of second guessing in terms of the clear reds, clear greens. Like, head yes, heart yes, like, “Hey, that seems like a good idea, a good price. Heart, yeah, I really freaking want it, so, all right, let’s get it. There we go. I want to buy that thing,” or, “I want to take that course or do whatever.”

So, yeah, yellow is, indeed, the messy middle because I think a lot of times, it’s like, “Well, that sort of seems like a good idea but I’m not really sure. I’ve never done anything like this.” Heart. “I’m pretty excited about it but also kind of worried, like, this might turn out really bad.” So, when we’re in that messy middle, what do we do next?

Paul Epstein
It’s so funny, Pete. As soon as you started describing, in this case, greens and reds, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I hope he goes to the yellow,” because that really is the meat of the conversation. Now, that everybody heard this, hey, head and heart on board, greens. No head, no heart, reds. You don’t need a book for that. Like, that’s just a matter of being aware and doing the head check and heart check, and you’re good to go. Like, you can do the green and red thing.

Here’s the interesting part about yellows. Not all yellows are created equal. I actually have a very different recommendation for when only the head is on board versus when only the heart is on board, and I actually believe that one of the two is more deadly than a red, so let’s unpack that. Pete, I’ll ask you this question. This is a good segue into it. If I asked you, Pete, which one is more likely to be able to change over the weeks, over the months, over the years? Do you think your head can change or your heart changes?

Pete Mockaitis
I think the head changes faster, easier. It’s like, “Oh, here’s a new fact I didn’t know. Cool.”

Paul Epstein
Yup, exactly. Yeah, and I think most people would agree and subscribe to that. So, you’re not going to wake up with a new heart tomorrow. Your heart is probably not going to change over the weeks, months, maybe years. But even then, there’s just no guarantee, versus a head block, sometimes there’s a self-limiting belief that we need to untangle, sometimes it’s coached, sometimes it’s our partner, sometimes it’s a therapy, sometimes it’s like…whatever it is, there’s ways to untangle pollution in our mindset. No doubt about it. Like, I am a firm, firm believer in that.

So, if we’re not going to wake up with a new heart, the bad yellow, the hard yellow, the one that can be more deadly than red is when only our head is on board because our heart is never going to join for the party. So, that’s a yellow light that’s never going to be a green. Think about that. A yellow that’s never going to be a green.

At least with a red, it’s done. You decide to stop doing it or not do it, but this bad yellow, it lingers. And so, a quick example, and this could apply to a relationship as well. I’ll use a professional example right now, but this applies to any person. All right, work context. I used to lead really big sales enterprises and sales teams. And the person that often was the top performer or top producer, so they sold a lot of widgets.

Your head, of course, loves the production, loves the performance. It made you look good to your boss. It helped you achieve your goals. So, your head said, “Keep them.” But let’s say they were a pain in the you-know-what, bad in the locker room, sometimes toxic, so your head might’ve said, “Keep them,” but your heart knew that they weren’t a keeper. Think about all these people that we might be surrounded by, that we have a head reason for them to stick around, but our heart knows that they’re not a long-term play.

And so, if you think about it from that lens, you’re like, “Man, now, all of a sudden, as a sales leader, my culture, three, four years here, it’s all wonky and screwed up. And now I’ve got engagement problems, and, oh, I’m losing some of my better people. So, now I’ve got retention problems. And maybe the marketplace heard a little bit about my culture, so I’ve got recruiting problems. I don’t have an engagement or recruiting or a retention problem. I had a yellow light problem. I hung onto the wrong yellow lights.” And that yellow light can be more deadly than a red.

So, my advice there, as difficult as it is, if your heart is never going to join for the party, short term, sure, you could survive a couple of these bad yellows, but, long term, you’re going to bleed out. So, the head-heart-hands equation gets you to quickly identify, like, “Dang, this is not a long-term play. Yeah, I need the paycheck but this job is soul-sucking to me.” That would be another example. I’m not telling you to bounce tomorrow. We have families. Be responsible. But if you know that’s never going to be a green, then we’ve got to make some decisions here.

And that decision, you might not pull a job trigger for 12 more months, but are you doing the work, nights and weekends? Are you doing the research? Are you doing the informational coffee meetings? Are you taking those positive steps to create potential future green lights because this yellow is never going to be a green?

And in the flip, and I won’t be as long with this one, the flip is a beautiful yellow. When your heart is on board because it’s so rare that your heart is a, “Hell, yes” for something, that yellow, you want to stay in the fight. You want to untangle whatever cobwebs or pollution you got from the neck up because, I’m telling you right now, there are so few opportunities in life that your heart is a “Hell, yes” so we don’t want to screw those up. We don’t want to waste those.

We got to figure out how to potentially transform that good yellow of the heart being on board, and if our head can eventually join for the party, that yellow to green transformation is as big of a payoff as you could ever imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful and thought-provoking. Thank you. It’s really juicy. My thoughts are jumping all over in so many places.

Paul Epstein
Yeah, yellow is juicy, my friend. Yellow is very juicy.

Pete Mockaitis
I think sometimes, call it intuition, but you know your head or your heart isn’t on board, or is on board, but you don’t even know why. To what extent is that important? And how do we solve for that?

Paul Epstein
So, this is the classic gut or impulse, which, by the way, off-camera, what I’m asked all the time by a lot of folks is, “Okay, Paul, cool. I love this. All right, head, heart, hands, fully understand it. I’m going to apply it. Where does the gut fall into this?” Like, I get asked that all the time, and it’s a great question. So, my piece here is when you think about the origin of your gut, the origin of your impulse, that’s kind of you without much reaction time, just saying, “This is naturally how I’m feeling. Like, my gut feel.”

You often hear that, “My gut feel.” Okay, head is a thinking, heart is a feel game, hands are a do game. And so, while they’re not exactly alike, if I had to connect the dots, your gut and your impulse is closest to your heart.

Pete Mockaitis
True.

Paul Epstein
So, a big part of me writing Better Decisions Faster and being around these 12 green lights, which are 12 values, which I shared earlier, when we have our values in action, those are when we’re most confident. And the more confidence we have, then we can make better decisions faster. This is all one connected conversation but I share all these with you because I think we live in a world where we go, go, go, and we do, do, do. I don’t really need to convince folks to think more or to do more.

Now, are we thinking in the right way? That’s a fair conversation. Are we doing all the right things? That’s a fair conversation. But we think so much and we do so much. I think the gap in the world is the heart. And to no fault of anybody’s, I just think it’s so complex, and fast-paced, and up-tempo, and the pressure, and the stress, and the anxiety, sometimes we’re not checking in with our heart.

But when we do, and that’s the beauty of this head-plus-heart-equals-hands equation, Pete, because, like, let me just ask you, Pete, a quick question. If you had to choose a side, are you hardwired, as your default setting, more logic or emotion?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny that you asked. We’ll say more logic, although it’s close.

Paul Epstein
Okay, cool. Yeah, and, again, I don’t care if it’s a 51/49 but the only answer you cannot give is 50/50. So, let’s say you were to lean towards the logic. I’m quite the opposite, so I am hardwired to just be emotional. And so, here’s the beauty. It’s not head or heart equals hands. It’s not head minus heart. It’s head plus heart.

So, what that tells me is if Pete is on one side, if he leans logic, and if Paul leans emotion, well, this equation is going to force Pete to check in with his emotion. This equation is going to force Paul to check in with his logic. It’s head plus heart. So, it un-exposes our blind spots. I might not always do the head check, that’s just not how I’m always wired but now this process forces me to.

And, on the flipside, Pete, whether you’re a 51/49, or whether you’re a 90/10 on the logic side, either way it works. Now you’re going to have to do the heart check, and you’re going to have to make sure that, emotionally, you’re feeling it as well. So, that’s the beauty. It can take two opposite folks that are wired in very different ways, and it takes us through the same funnel, the same process. That’s why I’m such a massive believer in it because it’s not about how you’re wired. It is literally about getting to the best decision possible in a faster amount of time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Thanks, Paul. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Paul Epstein
No, no, we’re good to go, man.

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

Paul Epstein
Based on what changed my life, from Mark Twain, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

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

Paul Epstein
Yeah, here’s one. This is a real-life example from one of my first sports jobs. It was a survey. I think this is very, very applicable for a lot of us. So, the question was, “One day, do you want to be the team president?” There were two sample sizes. Two groups of folks. One was frontlines and entry-level workers, the next was vice presidents.

And here’s what the study showed. Practically, 100% of entry-level folks wanted to be the team president. Of course, right, first job in sports. Of course, I want to be at the top.

The number was drastically different for the vice presidents. It dipped just below 50%. So, think about that. When you’re just starting, 100% want to get to the top of the mountain of an org chart. But 50%, once you’ve climbed five rungs up the ladder, and now you understand what it means to be at the top.

And I just think it’s a beautiful insight that, over time, different things matter, and you evolve, and you change, and you start to appreciate not just winning the outside game but also what’s the inside game that makes you happy and fulfilled, and what’s the lifestyle you want to build and have. And so, I think that’s a really cool survey that the meaning of that survey has carried my spirit ever since.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Paul Epstein
Well, aside from The Power of Playing Offense and Better Decisions Faster, of course, I will tell you, man, there are so many, there are so many, but I’ll tell you the book that’s made the most impactful…that’s had the most impact on my life recently, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I read it last December, I started to apply it immediately, and by any measure or metric that is important to me, by mid-April, I had already surpassed all the things I was measuring from the year before, and it’s because I truly locked in on what’s essential. And I have Greg McKeown to thank for that.

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

Paul Epstein
A microphone. But a microphone as a metaphor. I happen to use it physically as a speaker. I believe that everybody in the world deserves to have a voice. So, when I see a microphone, or speak into a microphone, I believe that everybody should feel like they deserve a seat at the table with a microphone.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Paul Epstein
Fill my life with green lights. No joke, the head-heart-hands equation has fundamentally changed my life. I feel privileged and honored and humbled to be able to share it with the world. But when you get your head and your heart on board, and it tells you it’s a green light, that’s a life that I believe in, and that’s a life worth living.

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

Paul Epstein
“Actions over outcomes.” “Actions over outcomes” is one. Another one that’s really resonating, “Standards over goals.” That might actually be the more impactful one. “Standards over goals.” The whole world tells you to care about goals. I believe that standards are more closely aligned with who you are at your core, and things that are meaningful and that matter to you. So, I’m a big subscriber of standards over goals.

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

Paul Epstein
PaulEpsteinSpeaks.com, that’s the treasure trove, all things speaking, the confidence quiz gets you to one to a hundred within five minutes. Everything that you need is all at PaulEpsteinSpeaks.com.

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

Paul Epstein
Use the head-heart-hands equation. I’m just going to be very blunt about this. You don’t know what the impact of your work is until people actually start to use it. So, I can write a book all day long, and if nobody ever used it, there’s no impact. What I have seen in the earliest chapter of launching “Better Decisions Faster,” a lot of people bought it because of their work. They said, “Well, I want to make better decisions in work.”

But almost every single DM that I’m getting on social, almost every text message, almost every private email, some of them are work-related, 70% are not, “You’ve helped me make better decisions in my relationship, in my health, as a parent, how I manage my time, how I set my priorities.” It’s just been a really cool holistic life play. And I believe that that’s what the head-heart-hands equation can do for everybody listening in.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Paul, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and fun and many great green lights.

Paul Epstein
Yeah, likewise, buddy.

900: Six Mindsets For Thriving in Uncertain Times with Charles Conn

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Charles Conn shares how to be strategic and make breakthroughs when things are uncertain.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How talented people unknowingly self-sabotage
  2. The simple question that leads to clever breakthroughs
  3. How to communicate your ideas so people will care

About Charles

Charles Conn is an investor, environmentalist, and entrepreneur. He is co-founder of Monograph, a venture firm, and was previously CEO of the Rhodes Trust in Oxford. He is Board Chair of Patagonia and sits on The Nature Conservancy European Council. He was founding CEO of Ticketmaster-Citysearch, and was a partner at McKinsey & Company.  He is a graduate of Harvard, Oxford and Boston Universities.

He is co-author with Robert McLean of Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything, published with Wiley in 2019, a best-seller now in six languages, and The Imperfectionists: Strategic Mindsets for Uncertain Times, 2023.

Resources Mentioned

Charles Conn Interview Transcript

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

Charles Conn
It’s great to be here, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and the book, The Imperfectionists: Strategic Mindsets for Uncertain Times and general problem-solving wisdom you have to share with us but, first, I’m curious, so you’re the board chair of Patagonia. I’m imagining that you’re an outdoorsy person then. Is this fair to say?

Charles Conn
Yeah, my big passion is to spend time outside.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there any particularly memorable tales of outdoor adventures that leap to mind?

Charles Conn
Yeah, I have explored on several occasions the very upper regions of the Skeena River in British Columbia which runs almost the entire length of the province, and goes from these incredibly beautiful mountains, all the way down to the sea. That one is deep in my heart.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And have you ever had any brushes, close encounters with death in your adventures?

Charles Conn
Yes, on several occasions, once involving a landslide and also, in northern Canada, this time on a lake called Mistassini in northern Quebec, and a couple times in boats.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. And what does that do for you, like, internally and how you view the world and your priorities?

Charles Conn
That’s a good question. I think it sharpens you up on what’s important and makes you focus on not all the little things that are the day-to-day but on the bigger things that actually matter.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re talking about something that matters a whole heck of a lot in terms of strategic mindsets and problem-solving. Could you kick us off by sharing a particularly surprising or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about mindsets and problem-solving and such while putting together The Imperfectionists?

Charles Conn
I think perhaps the one that’s hardest for people to get their own heads around is to be comfortable with the idea of collective intelligence or outsourcing wisdom, whether that’s outsourcing it to ancient wisdom, or outsourcing it to artificial intelligence swarms. It’s very hard for people to think that they don’t have everything inside themselves. But, of course, we don’t and we can’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, what I find counterintuitive is that people find that counterintuitive, that’s so meta. Maybe I’m humble or just a dummy but I’m thinking, “Of course, I don’t have the answers.” And, in a way, that’s kind of a relief. I’m not on the hook, on the spot, expected to. Can you dig into this mindset a little bit?

Charles Conn
Yeah, I think what happens in big organizations, and you’ve worked for fancy consulting organizations, people, over time, sort of overcome that natural humility that you just described and begin to think that their organizations can do remarkable things. And it’s that idea that… you remember Enron, they thought they were the smartest guys in the room.

And that kind of idea, like the arrogance of thinking, “We’re the smartest guys in the room, and, therefore, all of the pieces of the solutions to the problems that we’re trying to solve can be found here,” is a fundamental delusion that especially talented people tell themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, good to know that that is widespread. And I guess that kind of hits me interestingly because I’m thinking about, boy, there was a quote. I got to get this guy on the show. I think he was in the Bush cabinet, he said, “Some people are more certain of everything than I am of anything.” That is exactly how I feel all the time because people will say things with such definitive language and tone of voice and use the word obviously, it’s like, “Oh, it’s obvious.”

And I was like, “I don’t know. I’m not so sure that that’s the case.” And, occasionally, they’re just dead wrong. And so, I’ve sort of had to, in my mind, mentally attach a disclaimer to all things being shared in general casual conversation.

Charles Conn
And don’t you find, as we get older, that instinct to humility should get stronger and often it doesn’t?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think so.

Charles Conn
And that’s what makes someone boring, right, that they’re confident that they know everything there is to know and they’re not open to new mindsets and new ways of seeing things, new lenses.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I think about just how many times I’ve been dead wrong about things, so it’s, like, I have evidence to suggest that it’s quite probable that I may be mistaken about something, especially with my first impressions pre-research.

Charles Conn
When we’re young, we often have that kind of confidence, never in doubt, occasionally correct. Hopefully, the world gives us the evidence that you just described. Usually, it does.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Okay, so there’s something surprising that popped up. Could we maybe zoom out and hear kind of the big picture or the thesis behind the book The Imperfectionists: Strategic Mindsets for Uncertain Times?

Charles Conn
Yes. So, here’s 30,000 feet on it. There’s always this sense that the world’s getting faster and faster, and now it really is. There’s objective evidence with the amount of new data that’s being produced every day, the impact of artificial intelligence, computational biology, robotics. It’s a blur. And no young people today can look at their parents or their grandparents’ careers and think, “I will have something like that.”

This idea that you could gather a body of knowledge, in high school or university, and then put that to work over 40 years, if it ever really did hold, certainly doesn’t hold now. And that creates a feeling of anxiety and anomie, and you see this a lot in young people. There’s an epidemic of anxiety and also depression because of that sense that we’re unmoored.

And my sense is that, instead of looking for perfection so that we know all of the moving parts and we can confidently solve the problems in our lives, that we should actually let go of that idea, and we should lean into the risk and uncertainty that the world is delivering up to us by using some mindsets that actually tame that or make sense of it for us. So, that’s the 30,000 feet of what the book is about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there’s so much great stuff to dig into here. So, let’s hear about the anxiety and depression coming from a sense of being unmoored. Can you expand on that?

Charles Conn
Yeah, I think the way we’re all taught to think about our lives, and companies are taught to think about strategies, to think that there’s a structure out there that you can understand, markets have structures, lives have structures, and that there are agents that operate within this structure. And if you do some thinking about what their incentives are, you can actually deduce what the right strategy for you is. That’s a very standard model of strategy sometimes called structure conduct.

And I think the world that we operate in now, that structure is changing so quickly that understanding the rules or dynamics of how agents will behave in those fluid structures has diminished or gone out the window. And that leaves many people who are looking for structure conduct rules feeling anomie. And in the businesses that we all operate in today, compared to the past, you don’t even know who the disruptive entrant is going to be to your nonprofit or to your business. Maybe one of these super competitors like an Apple or an Amazon who you don’t even think of as operating in your sphere.

And I think that creates a kind of a feeling of uncertainty in a world that’s changing quickly that makes many people freeze, paralyzed, or makes other people leap before they look, both of which are pathological responses to uncertainty.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And just a definition check for anomie. What does this word mean?

Charles Conn
So, anomie is this sister to entropy, the idea that we’re lost in a world where there’s no meaning and no touchpoints or milestones.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I can see how depression or anxiety, might be in the sense of, ‘Oh, this is solvable but I just can’t so I guess I’m no good” is one direction versus anxiety, like, “Ahh, there’s nothing to hold on to.”

Charles Conn
“I don’t know what to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s freaky. Okay.

Charles Conn
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you say if we let go of this notion and that there are structures, this is solvable, etc., that we can feel liberated from that.

Charles Conn
That’s right. It doesn’t mean we just sort of lean into anomie. It means we actually have some tools that are well within our capabilities to make sense of this faster-moving world. The fact that we don’t have simple structure in conduct doesn’t mean there isn’t structure in content. We can actually learn the game that’s being played. It’s just the rules are changing and it’s unfolding quickly so we need an orientation toward uncertainty and change, which helps us gather information to make good decisions and to be successful even when things are changing quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so this sounds super beneficial, we can let go of some of that anxiety and depression. And what are some of the other benefits associated with mastering these skills and mindsets?

Charles Conn
So, I think you said mastery, and I think a feeling of mastery, even in a world when things are changing, a feeling, a quiet confidence that even when things are changing, you can actually chart a course that makes sense, not a course without mistakes because mistakes and learning from mistakes are a critical part of this framework for getting comfortable operating in this world of change.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share a cool maybe case study of someone who felt some of these challenges and adopted some new approaches and saw cool results?

Charles Conn
So, I think the very most important mindset will sound incredibly obvious but I think it’s actually really profound, which is curiosity. Humans are pattern recognizers when we’re young. We look for patterns that help us make sense of the world. And then, as we get older, we become pattern imposers so that we can make sense of confusing things.

The problem with pattern imposition is we often get it wrong. This is what Daniel Kahneman wrote about when he wrote about all the cognitive errors that humans do in Thinking, Fast and Slow. If we can stay curious even as we get older, we can actually be open to learning in this world that’s going faster and faster. And I’ll give you two little case studies.

One is Nespresso. So, everybody knows what Nespresso is. It was created by Nestle, which is one of the world’s biggest food companies, the biggest producers of coffee. Nestle had a young engineer, his name was Eric Favre, and he happened to be with his wife visiting Rome. And he was standing there thinking he wanted a coffee, and he noticed that there were a whole bunch of coffee shops in Rome, and only one of them had a queue out the door.

And instead of thinking, “Well, I don’t want to stand in that queue. I got to go with this one,” he said, “I wonder what’s going on here? Why are people queueing outside the door?” And the name of the coffee shop was Sant’Eustachio, so he waited in the queue, and he went inside. And there was this whole barista in there called Eugenio. And he thought the machine was broken so he was pumping the espresso machine and putting extra bars of pressure into everybody’s coffee.

And the result was this incredible thick crema on the top of everybody’s coffee, and that’s why people were waiting. And Favre’s curiosity didn’t stop there. He obviously enjoyed the coffee, but he went away and he thought, “I wonder how we can make that, give people that experience, that actual experience of being in a Roman coffee shop in their home?”

And he tinkered and experimented, he was actually a rocket scientist, and he figured out how to create pressure via the machine, what we now think of as a Nespresso machine and a Nespresso capsule, so that you can produce that wonderful thick crema in your coffee at home. It took eight years to do it. Nestle gave him the time and the space to do it, and he created a business that does about 10 billion a year in revenue, all from curiosity.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I think that line, that really is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to curiosity. It’s like, “Are you impatient, in a rush, need to do what’s latest and loudest and now, now, now? Or are you like, ‘Hmm, what’s that about? It’s going to take more time and maybe be kind of annoying but let’s go with it, see what happens here’?”

Charles Conn
Right. And in this world, this feeling of anxiety that we’ve got to just to keep our nose at the coal phase, we often let those experiences pass by, and those are the experiences that give us insights that actually give us that feeling of mastery and confidence when things are changing quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, when it comes to the mindset of curiosity, what do we do with that sort of actionably, “Just be more curious”?

Charles Conn
Well, yeah, so that doesn’t sound right but the truth is we can put it into practice by stopping to notice. And that thing, as kids, we always ask the question “Why?” In fact, there’s all this research, kids ask something like a hundred questions an hour. It’s incredible. And what they’re doing is trying to find patterns that make sense.

And when they eventually learn how to tie a shoelace with a double bow, that problem is solved and they become a pattern imposer after that, “This is how we tie a shoe,” they learned an experiment of how to tie their shoe. How can you leave open that childlike way of asking why. Eric Favre stood there on the cobblestones of Rome, and asked, “Why?” And I do think curiosity can be as encouraging, or spurring curiosity can start with putting questions when we see phenomenon that we don’t immediately impose a pattern on.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we just ask why about anything and everything that pops on up.

Charles Conn
Everything, especially stuff that’s anomalous. So, we tend to look at things that are anomalous, and we put them into the bucket of not an important datapoint because it doesn’t confirm something that we wanted to confirm or that’s natural to confirm. Or, we bucket it very quickly into, “I guess they’re short a barista there, and that’s why there’s a queue.” We use the wrong framing because, and you said it, we’re impatient creatures.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, once we ask why, I guess then the next step is to try to see what’s going on.

Charles Conn
Yeah. Another great case study, which I wouldn’t go into in detail, is how instant photography was invented. Edwin Land, now a famous chemist, was walking around Sante Fe, New Mexico, with his daughter, and he was taking pictures with his conventional film camera. And his little daughter, Jennifer, pulled on his sleeve, and said, “Let me see the picture, daddy.” And he knelt down and he said, “Oh, well, that doesn’t work because we’re exposing a film emulsion to light, then we send that to the drugstore.”

And he stopped himself, and he realized, like, “No, why can’t we see the picture?” And it was his curiosity, instead of just brushing his daughter off, that led him to spend the rest of the day walking around Santa Fe, thinking, “I wonder if I could make the pictures appear instantly.” And he was working with a patent attorney that night, that very night, to develop what we think of as the Polaroid instamatic camera.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. So, we got curiosity. What’s next?

Charles Conn
So, the next one, I think, is really important. It’s kind of a sister idea is one we call occurrent behavior. Occurrent behavior means what actually happens in the world as opposed to what you wish would happen or think will happen, and for us it means an experimentalist approach. You can see why that’s a cousin to curiosity.

It means instead of accepting existing datasets, you actually create your own data. When you were a Bain consultant, and I was a BCG consultant, one of the first things that they tell you when you started a new piece of work or study or a case, it’s called different things in different places, is you’d look out for the existing datasets that you could purchase or rent so that you can begin to immediately draw insights, but everybody has access to those purchasable datasets, and they don’t represent whatever current reality is because they were collected before.

And an experimentalist or a current behavior mindset says, “I wonder if we can test or taste the market ourselves,” and you can do this in any part of your life, rather than accepting what exists to see if you can generate your own perspective. So, occurrent behavior is trying it. And I think we think of that a lot when we think of internet companies.

So, in internet companies, we think, “Oh, you can just try interface B or interface A, and you can see which one generates more traffic or more revenue.” But you can do this kind of thinking in any business. One of my favorite crazy examples is SpaceX. Whether you’re a fan of Elon Musk or not, what he’s done in only 15 or 20 years with SpaceX is incredible. You had NASA for 60 years sending parcels into space, including people, and during that entire time, they didn’t drive down the cost curve.

In a period of only 15 years, because he was willing to relentlessly experiment, going from sending three or four missions into space a year, which is what NASA was doing, to sending 15 or 20 missions into space a year, which is what SpaceX has been doing, and each time trying something new, including using technologies from the automotive industry, like heat shielding, using innovations like using a basket or a net to catch the nose cone, which is an expensive part that you might otherwise lose, they’ve been able to drive down the cost curve by about 95%, so cutting the cost of sending a kilogram into space from 50,000 to just over 2,000.

It’s remarkable. And it shows that even in the ultimate of heavy industries, experimentation can lead remarkable results.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And when you say experimentation, I’m thinking SpaceX, they’ve had a number of things explode, and I guess that’s part of it.

Charles Conn
Right. And I think this is part of imperfection. Obviously, unplanned disassembly, which I think was the term that they used in a hundred-million-dollar mission is an extreme example of what sometimes comes at a cost. Experiments come with a cost. But there were 20 different things, according to the commentary by SpaceX at the time, that they were trying to experiment with in that launch, and that they learned from, and that they’ll improve from.

In any of human enterprise with relative low cost, in this case, it was relatively high cost, we can generate new data that gives us a better sense for how the world is actually unfolding.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is sparking some cool connections. We had Suneel Gupta on the show talking about being backable, and he said one thing that makes you phenomenally persuasive is you have an earned secret. It’s, like, you know something that other folks don’t know, and one of the best ways to do it is just do those experiments.

And then it speaks to fundamental problem-solving process, whether we’re in uncertain times or not so uncertain environments, just that hypothesis-driven thinking approach that we’re into in consulting, is so huge. It’s like, “What must be true for this to be a good move or workout? And then how do we test that?”

And so, just for funsies, could you share with us a couple really cool examples of means of experimenting and testing that are accessible to the typical professional in the midst of problems they bump into?

Charles Conn
So, one is an old story from some friends of mine in McKinsey, which is another firm that I worked at, who were trying to solve a really difficult problem when they were working with the Federal Reserve, which is, “How do you count money?” And this is in the days before counting machines, so in the late ‘70s, they were actually counting money by hand, and they would double and triple count the big bundles of hundred-dollar bills and twenty-dollar bills, if you can believe it, and they thought that that was a far more accurate approach than any other approach.

And one of these clever consultants said, “Hmm, seems like a slow and error-prone approach,” because they would often do tests and find that the counts were off, “Why don’t we weigh the money?” which was a crazy idea. But with a very accurate scale and money at a particular humidity, so specific gravity, weighing is much more accurate than counting, and they were able to demonstrate that.

And I think that’s just one of those really cool little examples, which is exploring your curiosity by doing a mini experiment, in this case, weighing the money, led to kind of a breakthrough how the Federal Reserve thought about counting money. Later on, that was bypassed by great counting machines, but I just think that’s one beautiful example.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun and it reminds me of my favorite TV show ever, Breaking Bad, in which they all have to weigh the money, the stacks of it in the storage facility.

Charles Conn
Oh, dear, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a good one. I’d also love your take on experiments about if we have to predict the future. And so, for example, one of my favorite encounters of one of my failures in using good hypothesis-driven thinking was I was exploring making an investment – this was back in the day – in a magazine that went to producers of TV and radio shows, because I wanted to sell a book and associated speaking services, but the price tag for that ad was sort of substantial for me at the time, and I was like, “Oh, is this going to work out?”

“At the end of the day, am I going to recoup more money than I invested in this thing?” And that’s all based on the responsiveness, both of the producers and the consumers listening or watching? I was like, “How can I even know?” And so, I went in the wrong direction, as a consultant, I was like, “Well, let’s just assume this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and make a spreadsheet.” I’m just making up numbers, and I was like, “Well, those numbers seem reasonable. Let’s go for it.”

And it was a total bust, I very much regret that investment. And then months later, I got a phone call from someone, who said, “Hey, Pete, I noticed your ad in this publication. Can you tell me how that worked out for you?” I was like, “Oh, not well, but what I should’ve done is what you’re doing. I had a whole content info of all these people who bought the ad and I could’ve just given them a ring, and say, ‘Hey, how did this work out for you?’ and then I would’ve known and saved some money.”

Charles Conn
And that’s one of those great problem-solving techniques, which is called Occam’s razor, which is a 15th century idea, which is the best solution to the problem is usually one that requires the least assumptions. And you could’ve started with that approach, which is the simplest one right in front of our nose.

And we often, especially clever people, and I think that’s what’s amazing here, is that these techniques are not to help ordinary people behave like clever people. These are techniques that help clever people even more because we’re the worst pattern imposers, the people who are very confident about their abilities.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, Occam’s razor or with this book, I think it was called Obvious Adams, the idea was, “Hey, just do the obvious thing in business and it will take you really far,” which, in some ways, is I think is best about AI. And there was a Wall Street Journal article about AI coming up with creative business ideas more so than ten MBAs.

I’m a little skeptical but, either way, I’ve heard elsewhere, it said that AI tends to give you the most obvious answer because it’s like picking the words that are next to other words around this thing, large language models. But that in of itself is super helpful, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, let’s do that obvious thing. That’s pretty handy. Let’s go ahead and do that.”

Charles Conn
I think that’s right. Basic large language models that are trained on the internet, which is the junkyard of HTML that is the internet, are likely to give pretty obvious and not creative solutions. I do think AI trained on better databases, and particularly the kind of underlying databases, can actually generate surprising and sometimes creative outcomes because it isn’t looking to impose a particular pattern. It isn’t working with a set of assumptions the way you and I often do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Okay. Charles, well, we talked about curiosity, occurrent behavior, experiments. Is there another key mindset or piece we should dig into?

Charles Conn
So, the other mindset that we think is really powerful, we call dragonfly eye. And the analogy of the dragonfly eye is because they have these incredible compound eyes that have all these different lenses, more than 30,000 lenses, and a couple of different types of receptors that allow them to see almost 360, and also allow them to see spectra of light that no human can see.

We don’t really know how that insect experiences the world but we like this idea, when you’re problem-solving, of making sure to test different perspectives than your own. And sometimes people will call that perspective-taking, so maybe that would be a simpler way of putting it. When you’re solving a problem, remember to step out of your shoes because your shoes are the shoes of the organization that you’re working in, and your particular set of beliefs about how your organization competes in the world.

So, what we’d encourage people to do is see the problem through the eyes of others. So, that might be your suppliers, it might be your employees, it might be from one of your existing competitors, or it might be a perspective like an incipient or potential competitor, and we think that’s a particularly useful lens. So, trying your problem on through the perspective of others, which is a relatively straightforward thing to do, you can workshop this, gives you insights that other people just don’t have. And I’ll give you an example, this one that I love, and done by a friend of mine, is Invisalign.

So, you’re familiar with Invisalign, which are these clear braces that have just taken the orthodontic world by storm over the last 20 years or so. Were those invented by an orthodontist?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m guessing not, but I don’t actually know. Lay it on us, Charles.

Charles Conn
You got it. So, why not? There had been various forms of braces around since actually the time of the pharaohs but the kind of metal tracks that we have today have been around for something like 70 or 80 years. Why is it that orthodontists who get paid so much money to put those tracks on didn’t think of these clear progressive teeth corrections that Invisalign thought of?

It was thought of by two students at Stanford Business School. One of them was a kid who didn’t have the money to get braces until he was in his mid-20s, actually at business school. He was noticing how awkward it felt to have braces as a mid-20s person. He also noticed that, when he got his braces off, that if he forgot to put his retainer in for a couple of days, when he put it in, it hurt, and then it stopped hurting.

And what he noticed, therefore, was that his retainers were also moving his teeth, and he and his colleague, who’s called Kelsey Wirth, thought, “Huh, I wonder if you could do 3D printing, using a hard clear plastic like this retainer, that would move people’s teeth just like the ugly braces do.” They were taking the perspective of a brace patient, or braces user, not the perspective of an orthodontist who was just looking for the technical teeth correction.

With a different lens, they ended up creating a business, a very difficult to do because no one wanted to support them in dentistry, but eventually they got a school of dentistry to help them do the engineering. They got some engineers at Stanford to help them do the 3D printing, and they created a business that’s worth $20 billion market capitalization today, and have totally democratized orthodontics. It used to be just a small group of people who made that money. Now, any dentist can fit it.

So, I think it’s an incredible insight. It came from seeing things through a different perspective that other people didn’t think, and it’s one of the most powerful ways that you can improve your own life, which is to stop and see things through a different perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I get with the Invisalign story that it was an atypical perspective that we wouldn’t expect it to come from. And so, in practice, if we’re trying to take other’s perspectives, how do you recommend we do it? We just ask, “Hey, any ideas for how to correct teeth?” Or what’s the process?

Charles Conn
I love workshops and maybe you do, too. I love getting people in a room. One of the most powerful things you can ever do is get your customers in a room. Never understand why people don’t do that, and whether you work in a nonprofit or for-profit organization, you can bring the people into the room who you’re trying to provide services to, and ask them, “How do you see my product?” and listen to what they’re saying.

Now, sometimes that doesn’t work when the products super breakthrough. In this case, they wouldn’t have told you that they wanted Invisalign. What they would’ve told you is how awkward they felt getting braces, how painful it was getting braces, how they couldn’t wait to get their braces off. So, imagine the original Sony Walkman. A focused group wouldn’t have created the Sony Walkman, they didn’t have it in their minds to do so.

But asking people how they wanted to consume their music, which was increasingly mobile, actually could’ve created the Sony Walkman. And I think that’s the kind of insight that comes from stepping outside your own pattern imposition framework, and thinking about whatever the problem is from the eyes of others.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s well said there. What is the Henry Ford quote – “If we ask the customers what they wanted, they’d say they wanted faster carriages,” or something like that. And so, some would say, “Oh, well, customers don’t know. You’ve got to figure it out for them.” But I think that what you’re saying is, within that, it’s like, “Well, you’re getting at something. If the customers say that, then, well, that can spark some things to go forth and innovate.”

Charles Conn
Customers know their pain points and customers know their druthers even if they couldn’t conceptualize the Walkman or Invisalign. So, I’ll give you one more example. The biggest player in cloud computing isn’t IBM, and it’s not Microsoft. Why? Because they didn’t get the idea first. Someone else got it first. And the people who got it first was Andy Jassy at Amazon, and he got it first because he saw something they were doing internally for their own computing power.

And he realized, “What if we could offer this by the minute or by the byte instead of having people have to create their own server farms? What if we rent this capacity?” And, of course, that’s where the idea of cloud computing came from. He saw things through a different perspective. They developed something internally, and then he thought, “Huh, I wonder if there’s a business here?”

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s exactly what happened with me, as well with podcast production. So, that’s cool. All right. Well, then can you give us some views on when it comes to the notion of being an imperfectionist, or embracing imperfectionism? Can you talk to us maybe a bit about the emotional hang ups? Or how do we make that journey, so it’s like, “Oh, yeah, now I’m just totally cool making lots of mistakes, and being totally imperfect”? That could be quite a leap for some.

Charles Conn
Yes. So, I think the overarching mindset is imperfection or imperfectionism, and that really brings together all of the mindsets, two we haven’t talked about, or we talked about briefly, collective intelligence and show and tell, together with the ones that we have talked about. The overarching idea is to go ahead and lean into risks, and I think this is the emotional thing that causes people either to freeze, “I better wait till things are more stable,” or to just like, “Ahh, jump,” and you could look at Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, and think, “Hmm, he probably should’ve thought about that a little harder.”

I think the way to get over the emotional either paralysis or impetuousness is to think about what things you can do – so curiosity, dragonfly perspective-taking, or experimentation – that you can do that are relatively quick, relatively low cost, and relatively low consequence when it goes wrong.

So, if you had those three things, “I can get feedback quickly, it doesn’t cost me too much to make this experiment, and the consequences of it going wrong are relatively modest, I can lean in and learn more about the game that’s being played, see the structure,” and, again, we can’t count on some historical structure, “see the structure that’s in the current game, and look at the behavior of the players that’s in the current game. That gives me information and allows me to be more confident about my next step even if what I did originally has some failures in it.”

I’ll give you an example because it’s always better to bring things to life, and it’s another Amazon example. So, Amazon is now a big player in what we call consumer financial services. They have something like a 24% share of all the transactions that occur online because people use Amazon Pay even when they’re not on the Amazon site. How did that happen?

Well, did Amazon use its giant balance sheet to buy a huge bank or consumer finance company? Nope, they didn’t. Well, why? So, what they did instead is, starting around 2008, they made a couple of little investments in fintech companies, they hired a team from a failed fintech company, they tried to build their own version of what was then called Square, which was a little payment device, which is now called Cube, and they bought some IP.

Almost all of those specific steps that I’ve just described ended in failure, meaning they no longer exist today, but each of those things built their understanding, built their skillset because they brought in people, and built their capabilities, ultimately, to become a competitor. And that allowed them to climb kind of an invisible staircase to be competent enough to begin to do the things in consumer financial services that they’re now known for, ultimately including an Amazon credit card and Amazon Pay. They did small low-consequence steps that, when apparently failed, actually helped build their capabilities and their confidence to become a real competitor in the space.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, Charles, I really geek out at all the stuff. I love problem-solving and decision-making stuff. I think it’s just massively leveraged powerful skill that makes a world of difference in terms of if there’s a thing to learn, or to really invest in, it’s probably this and several organizations said, it’s like, the top skill for the decade or century that we’re in.

What I find interesting and intriguing is that sometimes in episodes where we’ve covered this, I see the data that my dear listeners aren’t as jazzed about this as I am, or so it seems, in terms of, “Huh, I thought this was one of the most killer episodes ever,” and then the download and engagement numbers are, like, modest, like, “Oh, yeah, it’s all right.”

And so, I scratch my head a little bit, but my leading hypothesis is that people say, “Well, yeah, I know I got tons of problems solved. I got lots of answers, and it doesn’t seem to go anywhere when I share them with my collaborators and colleagues in the organization.” So, I’d love to hear, you got Chapter 6: Show and Tell, Storytelling to Compel Action, what are your pro tips for when we’ve got a great solution ready to pop into the world, make its debut? How do we lead other people on board with that?

Charles Conn
What a great segue and setup. Yeah, no matter how good a problem-solver you are, on your own, you won’t make any change in the world. And I think it’s almost an icon, the brilliant person laboring by themselves without recognition or understanding, and I think that exists for a reason, which is the independence that allows some people to come up with brilliant ideas and solutions that are out of the norm doesn’t necessarily make them compelling to others.

And we love to go back to this very simple concept you did as a kid, probably in kindergarten or first grade, which is show and tell. And the way to bring people on board with your idea is to, literally, think about, “How would I show and tell this?” And sometimes smart people think, “Well, I’m going to give them the data. I’m going to give them a graph that tells them what the output is.”

What we’ve learned is, in a world where there’s more and more data produced every day, in a world of polarization that we live in today, that people don’t trust information the way they used to anymore. So, to break through with your idea, is actually much more difficult than it’s ever been before. And the critical insight here is to speak to people’s hearts, not just their minds. So, when you construct your stories, think about what people’s values are.

And I’ll give you an example here, which is if you’re in the nature conservancy, you want people to change their behavior about how they interact with the natural world. You could do that just by pointing out that we’re destroying the world, the temperature is going up, and species are dying. But people often don’t pull their Subarus over to the side of the road and change their behavior unless you talk about something they really do care about, which is, for example, their kids.

And even people who have very different political perspectives love their kids, and you can use something like that as a common ground to begin to build the story for change, which people will actually sign up for. And one of the reasons The Nature Conservancy has been quite a successful conservation organization is that it has incentives when it comes to telling stories that speak not only to the facts but also to the values that people care about.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that story can sound like, “Don’t you want your children to be able to enjoy these beautiful spaces? Or you want them to not live shorter lives because of pollution?” like that sort of thing?

Charles Conn
Better yet a demonstration. Sure, what you just said makes sense but what about a demonstration? So, I’ll give you a physical demonstration done by The Nature Conservancy. They were trying to convince wealthy donors that they should invest in building shellfish reefs in estuary areas because estuaries are where fresh water comes out, but there’s often pollution in that fresh water. And when it gets mixed with the saltwater, this is where a lot of creatures grow up in estuaries. This is where we create some of the biggest environmental crises.

If you put in oyster reefs, for example, or rather shellfish reefs, those tiny creatures that are inside the shells actually are filter feeders, and they filter out a lot of the toxins and pollution that comes out of estuaries. What the Conservancy did in one famous presentation in Australia is they put 17 10-liter buckets at the back of the room stacked in a beautiful pyramid.

So, everyone came into the room, and the first thing they noticed is these 17 beautiful green buckets stacked in a pyramid. Even before they said anything, they had the audience’s attention, the philanthropists’ attention, “What’s going on here?” And they said, “Do you know that each oyster filters 170 liters of water a day and cleans that as much as those 17 10-liter buckets holds each day?”

And by using that physical demonstration and tying it in, again, with values that people cared about, clean water for their kids, that demonstration opened up people’s wallets in a way that a PowerPoint presentation never could.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s fun, as I imagine the philanthropists, which I’ve done on a very tiny scale, is you get excited, like, “Wait, one oyster and all that water? Well, that sounds just like a kill on return on investment. Where do I write the check?”

Charles Conn
Exactly. So, here’s another example. Richard Feynman, he’s speaking before the Space Shuttle Disaster panel, and he thinks that the problem is with the O-rings because the launch was done at a low temperature. And he could’ve presented a table of data showing that O-rings fail at lower temperatures, which is true. What did he do? He had a glass of ice water on the desk in front of him, and an O-ring in his pocket.

He took out the O-ring, held it in the water with a little clamp that he purchased at the hardware store next door, and then he twisted the O-ring to show that it deformed and then cracked at that lower temperature, the temperature of ice water. Well, no one will ever forget his testimony. Even though he had a Nobel Prize and could’ve used all kinds of data, what he did was a short demonstration that grabbed people.

And if you want your ideas, after you’ve done your clever problem-solving, if you want your ideas to have currency, if you want your ideas to break through in the world that’s a blizzard of ideas, think about how you would do show and tell.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, if you could just give us a few rapid-fire bullets of examples. So, we’ve got the ice water O-rings. We’ve got the big buckets of water. What are some other ways that we show stuff visually that’s powerful?

Charles Conn
Well, there are some famous graphics in history that I always go back to. So, you know that there’s a famous nurse called Nightingale, Florence Nightingale. Very few people realize that Nightingale was also one of the best statisticians of her day, and she drew this thing that’s now sometimes called a rose crescent diagram to show the impact of, basically, the filthy conditions during the Crimean War in the middle 1800s.

And she showed that way more soldiers were dying from the bacterial infection of their wounds, or bad water, than were actually dying from bullets. And she did that by showing this amazing graphic that’s famous to this day, that grabbed everybody’s attention. She could’ve written 150-page or 250-page finding but that single graph convinced the British military that they needed to upgrade the public health facilities that were in the hospitals in Crimea, which eventually led, by the way, to a public health revolution back in the home country, Britain, because Queen Victoria paid attention to what was going on in Crimea.

And we don’t know this for sure, but apparently met Florence Nightingale. That’s a person who figured out show and tell, and she changed the world. That’s how we get public health. Not just a nurse, someone who changed everything.

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

Charles Conn
Yes. So, I’ll give you one more, which I think, in the world we live in today, we talked about it very briefly at the beginning, but think about collective intelligence whenever you’re trying to solve a problem, and where you can outsource incredibly great ideas that will help you solve your problem. There are platforms like Kaggle which allow you to bring in other people’s ideas for a small amount of price money, maybe an AI algorithm, maybe an AI swarm.

The Nature Conservancy used that very effectively to create a program called FishFace that allows computer recognition aboard boats to identify which fish are endangered species and should be put back in the water, and which fish are okay to eat. They didn’t have that capability internally at The Nature Conservancy so they outsourced it for $150,000 price via Kaggle.

That’s just one of thousands of good ideas that come from bringing other people’s expertise inside your organization even when you’re full of clever people. And so, that would round out the six mindsets that I think will give people confidence that despite the pace of change, and all the terrible things that are happening in the world, that we can step into that risk and confidently navigate our way.

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

Charles Conn
Einstein is famous for saying if he had an hour to spend solving a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the nature of the problem, and five minutes solving it. So, he was a predictably clever guy, I think we can all agree, but there’s so much benefit that comes from thinking through your problem from different perspectives before you run off and try your favorite technique. So, that’s one of my favorite quotes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Charles Conn
Yeah, I think the research behind the book called The Selfish Gene, which was a book published by Richard Dawkins in the late ‘70s, is the most concise encapsulation of how evolution works, which is this powerful engine that’s behind everything in the world today, including how humans compete with each other.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Charles Conn
I think my favorite book is probably E.O. Wilson’s Biodiversity which sort of naturally flows from the Dawkins book. Biodiversity comes from the impact of how evolution works.

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

Charles Conn
I actually love old-school woodworking tools. So, my personal favorite tool would be a woodworking plane. I think it’s amazing. They’ve been around for 3,000 years.

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

Charles Conn
Climb the stairs.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you, they retweet it, they Kindle book highlight it?

Charles Conn
Yeah, I think the thing that I’m hearing back now is around curiosity, which is people are thanking me for awakening them to their own curiosity and to the wellspring that comes from asking the question why.

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

Charles Conn
Yeah, so you can find me on LinkedIn, or you can find both the books I’ve published on LinkedIn, or you can find them on Amazon, or any other great booksellers. We also have a website which is called TheImperfectionist.org, or BulletproofProblemSolving.com.

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

Charles Conn
Yeah. So, don’t be afraid to lean into risks using relatively low cost, relatively reversible moves. You may make some mistakes but you’ll learn tons.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Charles, thank you. This has been so fun. I wish you lots of fun problem-solving and imperfection results, and, yeah, thanks for taking the time.

Charles Conn
It’s been terrific. Thanks so much for having me, Pete.

889: Deploying Your Unique Problem-Solving Strengths with Cheryl Strauss Einhorn

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Cheryl Einhorn provides tools to improve your decision-making skills.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key to countering bias in decision-making
  2. The five Problem Solver Profiles–and which one you are
  3. How to work with different types of decision-makers

About Cheryl

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn founded Decisive, a decision sciences company that trains people and teams in complex problem solving and decision-making skills using the AREA Method. AREA is an evidence-based decision-making system that uniquely controls for and counters cognitive bias to expand knowledge while improving judgment. Cheryl developed AREA during her two decades as an award-winning investigative journalist writing for publications ranging from The New York Times and Foreign Policy Magazine to Barron’s and The Stanford Social Innovation Review. Cheryl teaches at Cornell University and has authored three books Problem Solved, A Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence and Conviction, about personal and professional decision-making, and Investing In Financial Research, A Decision-Making System for Better Results about financial and investment decisions. Her new book about Problem Solver Profiles, Problem Solver, Maximizing Your Strengths To Make Better Decisions, was published in March 2023 by Cornell University. Learn more by watching her Ted talk and visiting areamethod.com.

Resources Mentioned

Cheryl Einhorn Interview Transcript

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

Cheryl Einhorn
Thank you. So good to be here with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to talk about your book, Problem Solver, and get some more insights into problem-solving goodies. But one problem I understand you’ve been working to solve for years is the perfect spice cookie. What’s the story here?

Cheryl Einhorn
Oh, I’m always experimenting. They say that cooking is an art and baking is a science, so that means that you can keep experimenting until you find what you think is just right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say spice cookie, what spices are we talking about here?

Cheryl Einhorn
Oh, I really throw in the kitchen sink. I like a lot of ginger. I think ginger is, like, this secret ingredient. And then a little bit of cayenne and all sorts of nuts thrown in so you get really good texture.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you go with the spice ginger or the powder ginger? Sorry, not spice, the fresh ginger or the…yeah.

Cheryl Einhorn
No, no, I like the fresh ginger. I like the fresh ginger, and I think something that people don’t appreciate enough is that you actually don’t have to peel it. The peel is actually good for you.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Cheryl Einhorn
So, I do recommend cleaning that first, but make sure that you leave that on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve already blown my mind about one minute into the interview, so this bodes well for the future. You don’t have to peel your ginger. Who knew? Okay. Well, talking about your book, Problem Solver, any particularly extra-surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about problem-solving while putting this together?

Cheryl Einhorn
Well, absolutely, because what the research talks about is that there are five dominant ways that people approach their decisions, and that each of these different decision-making archetypes, I call them problem-solver profiles, and that’s why my book is called Problem Solver, each of them has some beautiful strengths but each of them also is correlated to a couple specific cognitive biases.

Those mental mistakes that can impede clear thinking and, therefore, each of them is actually optimizing for different things in their decisions. And if we can learn about which problem-solver is ours, we can better understand why we engage with our decisions in the way that we do, what kind of information do we think is important for making a decision, and we can also learn how to make better decisions with others based on understanding the other problem-solver profiles that are not our own.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Cheryl, this is exciting stuff and I’m eager to almost just dive in, table format, what’s the archetype, what are they optimizing for, what’s their strengths, what’s their bias. But maybe before we get to that level of meat, could you first share what’s at stake in terms of if we are great at problem-solving versus just okay at problem-solving, if we really know our archetype and we’re dialed into it versus we are just blissfully unaware of that knowledge?

Cheryl Einhorn
I think it’s a great question. The only thing that we truly have agency over in our lives are our decisions. And so, our decisions are the data of our lives. If we feel confident as decision-makers, if we have conviction that our decisions can move us forward into our good future, we can have a greater sense of wellness and of resilience. We can take on bigger challenges, and we feel like we can move through our day more easily.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Do you have any cool stories of someone who learned some of your stuff and was able to upgrade their decision-making, problem-solving to see some cool results?

Cheryl Einhorn
Well, absolutely. My company, Decisive, we work with decision-makers around the world. And what we’ve found is that, as we begin to work with almost anybody, whether it is somebody who would like to help their aging parents find the right house or housing accommodation as they age, or whether it is somebody who’s thinking about starting their own business, as people learn their problem-solving skills and feel better about what actually is a quality decision-making process, they feel better about themselves, and they feel like they can reach their goals and their dreams.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Any particular goals and dreams reached that was super inspirational?

Cheryl Einhorn
Well, we recently worked with a team that had been together, a senior leadership team, at an organization, a big international company, and what they had found is they had been working together for so long that they had sort of fallen into certain habits and patterns where they had some preconceived notions about who they can work well with, and who they kind of wanted to go around.

And by working together to uncover these problem-solver profiles, they now really felt like they could reduce their friction and work better together because they understood why each person was approaching a decision a certain way, why they were asking the questions they were. They weren’t being sluggish, or slow, or confrontational, but they needed to understand certain parts of the process in order for them to feel confident in the decision that they were making, and it really amplified and reignited what this team could do together and for the company.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Cheryl, I’m curious, in terms of our direction here, do you think it would be worthwhile to provide a refresher on the AREA Method for those who missed our first interview or do you think we can jump right into the archetypes?

Cheryl Einhorn
I’d be happy to give a refresher. So, AREA is an acronym for my system of complex decision-making that uniquely controls or counters cognitive bias so that we can expand our knowledge while improving our judgment. And, basically, it’s an order of operations where the A, absolute, gets up close on the target of your decision, the R, relative, then puts that decision into the broader context and collects information from related sources.

E, exploration upgrades your research beyond documents to identify good people and ask them great questions, it’s interviewing. Then AREA exploitation is a series of creative exercises to test your evidence against your assumptions. This is a new piece of decision-making which really helps you to strength-test your decisions.

And then the final A, analysis, helps you think about failure, which is so important because if you can identify how and where your decision could fail, you can shore up and prevent that weakness and also have a signpost to tell you when something is going awry in the execution phase, and when you might need to make a new decision.

So, that is just a brief summary of the AREA Method as an end-to-end system for complex problem-solving that includes all of the different perspectives, and really helps you to end up with a decision that has a good chance of succeeding.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cheryl, that’s lovely. Thank you. So, we’re all situated there. And now, okay, so we talked about cognitive biases a couple times. Now, I am familiar with this term and I find them so fascinating. I, one time, in my prior home in Chicago, had this beautiful poster, the Cognitive Bias Codex. Maybe you’ve seen it. It’s got a brain in the middle, and then it’s just nicely sorted, like all these cognitive biases.

I think they’re, like, over 150 into segments. It was lovely but it didn’t successfully make it through the move but we’ll link to that in the show notes for anybody who wants to buy this beautiful piece of art. But what is a cognitive bias?

Cheryl Einhorn
So, basically, it’s a heuristic. It is a mental pathway, a way of thinking that actually can help us to make the many small decisions that we have during the day but that don’t go away when we’re solving for complex problems. Let me give you a couple examples of things I think we all do. One is the liking bias. We tend to overweight information that comes from somebody that we like. Or the planning fallacy, which is even if we’ve done a task before, we may believe that it can be done faster than actually the number of steps and the time that it takes.

Or, another one is the confirmation bias where we look to confirm a favored hypothesis instead of thinking about disconfirming data which has far more diagnosticity. So, those are just a couple of examples of how we sort of move through the world to help us go a little faster but they don’t necessarily help us to really be present in the moment to think about the decision that we’re actually facing on its own.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. That’s good. And I pulled up the image of the Cognitive Bias Codex in terms of it has categories, like, “Why do we have these shortcuts? Well, it’s sort of unclear. What should we remember? We’ve got too much information. We can’t make enough meaning out of something and we crave meaning. Or, we got to act fast and we can’t analyze every tidbit.”

Cheryl Einhorn
Our brain likes to conserve energy and it likes to take these shortcuts, and it definitely allows us to multitask. If you’re in the supermarket and you know exactly where the box is in the cereal aisle that you want to get, you can also be on the phone and maybe thinking about something from earlier in the day. So, you can be doing many things, but by reducing that cognitive load, it’s also not actively thinking through whatever it is you’re facing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. All right. So, lay it on us, these archetypes. We’ve got the adventurer, the detective, the listener, the thinker, the visionary. I guess that’s alphabetical. Is that how you like to, the sequence you like to move in or should we go at it? What’s your order of preference?

Cheryl Einhorn
That’s perfectly fine. One is not better than the other. As I said, they each have beautiful strengths but each of the problem-solver profiles are optimizing for different things in their decisions. So, the adventurer is a confident decision-maker, and he or she really favors making a lot of decisions. And there’s an underlying optimism bias to this because if they make a decision and it doesn’t work out the way they want, guess what? They always can make a new decision. And so, this is really a great person to have in your friend circle, in your colleague circle. They really help to make sure that you continually have momentum.

The detective, that’s what I am, this is a slower and more evidence-based decision-maker. For me to make a decision, if you don’t come to me with data, I really have trouble hearing you. I want you to substantiate it. And that has an underlying confirmation bias to it, which is that I can find the facts that I need to be able to share with you why my hypothesis is the correct one. And so, this is somebody, when you really want to be able to prove it, the adventurer can help you find the data that you need.

The listener is a relational, collaborative, inclusive decision-maker. And for this kind of a problem-solver profile, they have an underlying liking bias. They tend to have a trusted group of advisors, and they tend to overweight information that comes from those people, and they are people-centered. The thinker is your slowest decision-maker. This is somebody who really likes to explore their options. This can have a kind of frame blindness to it because they tend to look at the options against each other, which can circumscribe how they see and understand the problem.

And then the visionary is a creative open-ended decision-maker. This is somebody who has an underlying scarcity bias. They overvalue things that are original and things that maybe have not actually been on the table in the discussion, and that can also make them seem off-topic. And so, what I think you can see is that each of these different problem-solver profiles value different parts of decision-making.

And in order to make better decisions, alone and with others, you can really rapidly build trust and increase the speed of your decision-making by knowing the problem-solver profiles of the people who you’re making decisions with so you can come to them with what it is that they need to be able to discuss their decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s do a rapid recap there. So, the adventurer is optimizing for what?

Cheryl Einhorn
Forward momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Forward momentum. And their cognitive bias is?

Cheryl Einhorn
Optimism bias.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then the detective, they’re optimizing for?

Cheryl Einhorn
Data.

Pete Mockaitis
And their bias is the confirmation bias.

Cheryl Einhorn
That’s correct.

Pete Mockaitis
And the listener is optimizing for what?

Cheryl Einhorn
Collaboration, cooperation.

Pete Mockaitis
And their bias is what?

Cheryl Einhorn
Liking bias.

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-huh. And the thinker, likewise?

Cheryl Einhorn
The thinker is somebody who wants to understand their options, and a bias that would be associated might be the relativity bias.

Pete Mockaitis
And how do we define the relativity bias?

Cheryl Einhorn
Relativity bias is like the frame blindness. They see the world in a relative, “This versus that,” over a…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right. Option A versus option B.

Cheryl Einhorn
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And, finally, the visionary?

Cheryl Einhorn
The visionary is creative and really optimizing for originality. And one of the biases associated for them would be the scarcity bias. And in my book, I go through this in much more detail and I give you lots of what I call cheetah sheets. Can I describe why I call them cheetah sheets?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Cheryl Einhorn
So, the cheetah, while she’s the most fearsome hunter and can accelerate up to 60 miles per hour, her hunting prowess is actually from her deceleration, and she decelerates up to 9 miles an hour in a single stride. That gives her agility, flexibility, and maneuverability. And that’s what you need in quality decision-making.

And so, throughout all of my books, Problem Solved, on personal and professional decision-making, which introduces the AREA Method, Investing in Financial Research, about business, financial, and investment decisions, and this newest book, Problem Solver, I have cheetah sheets throughout which are worksheets that help you be a more agile and flexible decision-maker.

And each of these worksheets allows you to take the skill that you’re building and, basically, plug it right into your day. It gives you a series of questions that I ask that, as you answer them, help you to really be able to use the tools and the skills of each of these problem-solver profiles.

Pete Mockaitis
Nifty. All right. And I’m curious, do you have a sense of what proportion of people are adventurers versus detectives versus listeners?

Cheryl Einhorn
So, so far, I’ve collected information from well over 5,000 people. And for the people that take the problem-solver profile, we do have the largest group as thinkers. And I have been thinking about why that might be, and one of the things that occurs to me is the thinker is going to be very open to taking a quiz to help them to self-identify how they make decisions. They want to understand. The option for them is between the ears. They want to know the why.

An adventurer might hear about the problem-solver profiles on a podcast like this, and say, “I don’t need to take the quiz. I know I’m an adventurer.” Again, that forward momentum and the different ways that people are thinking about how they make their decisions, and the time to the decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And perhaps, to make it all the more real and concrete, could you walk us through a problem to be solved, or a decision to be made, and how each of the five archetypes would approach it?

Cheryl Einhorn
Yeah, one thing that I think is, in all of our common experience, might be going out to dinner with the five problem-solver profiles. When you get the menu and the adventurer looks at the menu, sees something on the menu that speaks to her, and she can put the menu down. She doesn’t have to read the whole menu because it’s not about all options. It’s about picking the first one that seems good to her.

The detective looks at the menu, notices that one of them has olives, loves olives, and thinks about, “Okay, based on that specific ingredient, that’s a dish that I’m probably going to like.” The thinker looks at the menu, and thinks about, “Well, what else have I had today? How do I want to balance out my diet for the day?” and maybe thinking about all of the eating that he or she has done as she looks at the menu to pick the dish.

The listener may be waiting to hear what all her friends order because she wants to hear what they think sounds good as well. And the visionary looks at the menu, likes the dish that has the olives, but looks at another dish and sees that the sauce might be better on that particular dish, and create something of her own. So, just from that example, I think you can see, again, that these different problem solvers are either skipping to decision-making or staying in problem-solving from very different vantage points.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, I have my own guess, but I’d love for you to diagnose me. When I’m looking at a menu, I find what I most often after is I want to be full and satisfied in a very efficient way per calorie while also experiencing deliciousness and novelty. So, I am looking at every option, and I’m sort of crossing them. I look at every option, and I eliminate every one until I’m left with perhaps two or three finalists.

And sometimes one just pops off because, hey, someone else is eating the other one so we’ve got the variety. And other times, I will, I’ve asked this question many times to wait staffs, like, “Which one is heartier? Or, which one is the most delicious and unique in your opinion?” And so, yeah, I guess I really am kind with everything. I’m all about optimizing experience relative to the criteria and values that matter most to me.

Cheryl Einhorn
Well, first, just the sheer amounts of things that you’re thinking about, and that you’re weighing against each other – hearty, savory, new, what does the waiter think – oh, my goodness, this sounds like a thinker to me. You’ve really got a lot going on. And while you can certainly have elements of listening, and elements of novelty, you’re not optimizing for forward momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Cheryl Einhorn
The pace of the decision doesn’t matter to you as much as making the right decision according to the criteria that you’ve identified.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. And when I do want it to go fast, I use the Chipotle app because I’ve already done all the thinking, and this is the exact bull that I want.

Cheryl Einhorn
And that’s very exciting to the thinker. The thinker, having it be like the three bears just so, that’s important. And that is in part why the thinker is such a slow decision-maker because the thinker has huge loss aversion. They are not optimizing for the best possible outcome. They are optimizing to mitigate the downside risks.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s true. I have had moments in a restaurant where I have intense regret, like, “I absolutely should’ve ordered what you had ordered.” And I regret having made the choice that I did.

Cheryl Einhorn
And that is something that really plagues the thinker. And regret is an emotion uniquely about our decisions, and it’s a very difficult decision. It’s a very difficult emotion.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, let’s say we are resonating with a particular archetype, or we take the assessment. Well, first of all, let us know, what is the quick and easiest way we can learn what our archetype is?

Cheryl Einhorn
Well, you can go to App.AreaMethod.com and you sign up for it, and you can take the problem-solver profile. And then you can learn more about it and how to use it by reading Problem Solver, my new book which goes through how to really put it into practice, or, obviously, by getting in touch with me, and working with me to help you and your team, or your family, or your friends, in making decisions using this new knowledge.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, let’s say we’ve got a sense for, “Okay, I’m a thinker and I’m working with an adventurer,” just for example, what do you think are the key implications in terms of, “So, now how do I live my work life differently with this knowledge?”

Cheryl Einhorn
Well, you have a really asymmetric risk-reward between these two because the adventurer wants the forward momentum, and the thinker wants to understand the why and to explore the options. And so, in a way, this can be just a wonderful group together because they’re really thinking about the problem differently.

And if you understand that, the adventurer then doesn’t have to feel frustrated that the thinker really needs to know that he or she has understood the why and the options, and the thinker doesn’t have to look at the adventurer, and say, “Why is this person in such a rush?” And together, you can really use each other’s strengths to make a decision that you both can feel good about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, tell us, any other top tips or implications that we should bear in mind as we explore this stuff?

Cheryl Einhorn
Yeah, I think this is transformative. First, I don’t think that we really think that much about intellectual diversity, and the fact that the different problem-solver profiles are optimizing for different things means if you can bring in questions from all five of the vantage points, you can have a much more fulsome understanding of the problem that you’re solving.

And you also no longer, as I was mentioning, need to denigrate how other people approach their decisions. Somebody is no longer hasty. They are optimizing for forward momentum. And somebody is no longer sluggish or too slow, for instance, like the thinker. This is somebody who really wants to make sure that they’re mitigating the downside risks.

And so, I think it can give you a really beautiful appreciation for these different ways that people problem-solve and reminds you that your way is not better. It’s just different.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d like to delve into that a little bit in terms of I can understand the style and process can be neither better nor worse, just different. I suppose I’m wondering about if someone has a capacity as an officer, executive, director, agent of an organization, whether it’s government, or nonprofit, or corporation, like, “To maximize shareholder wealth” is the sacred, I guess, oath of executives of publicly-traded corporations, according to my finance curriculum from the University of Illinois.

So, in that world, in some ways it seems like what is to be optimized for is kind of the part of the job description, if you will. And so, from like a results perspective, I guess not so much from a process perspective, so just wrestling with that, how do you think about these matters?

Cheryl Einhorn
All of these problem-solver profiles are excellent leaders and bring very different kinds of energy to their leadership. So, all of them can be very successful no matter where they are in the for-profit or the nonprofit world.

But just like when we all were going to school and we needed to figure out how to succeed for a particular teacher, when you’re working with different problem-solver profiles, you will have an easier time building trust, strengthening the relationship, and making more successful decisions together if you have a window into which of the problem-solver profiles they are.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Cheryl, any final thoughts before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Cheryl Einhorn
No, I just think that this is absolutely transformative. In my own life, as I have applied this, I never would’ve imagined how this was able to help me with relationships, both new and ones that I’ve had for my entire life. So, I think it’s an incredible piece of research, and I really hope that it can help other people in feeling better about their own decisions, but also very much in making decisions and having good relationships with others.

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

Cheryl Einhorn
Yeah. So, one of my favorite quotes is, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re absolutely right,” which I think was said by Henry Ford. And this is really about you putting in some of your own motivation and your own effort, and it’s this idea that the agency that you bring to something is what really can help you to succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And can you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Cheryl Einhorn
I’ve got a favorite study or piece of research, which is this research study about teachers, that the most success that the students have is, in part, by having a teacher who really believes in them. And I would think that this would be true outside of the world of education, that having somebody who really believes in you helps to give you incredible motivation and resiliency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Cheryl Einhorn
One of my favorites is The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. He is a former chess champion and also a champion in the world of martial arts in what’s called push hands.

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

Cheryl Einhorn
I would say that one of the things that I use is this idea of not leaving before you leave. When I finish something, or get up from the day, or finish a meeting, I stay with whatever that topic is for a few minutes after to sum up my thoughts and make sure that I can re-enter well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Cheryl Einhorn
Well, I think it’s the same idea of not leaving before you leave.

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

Cheryl Einhorn
I think it’s this idea that there’s two kinds of learning – there’s knowledge and skill. And, for me, decision-making is a skill, which means I can teach you those skills and they can be yours.

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

Cheryl Einhorn
I would point them to my website, which is AreaMethod.com. And there, you can learn about my books, and my research, and my articles, and get in touch to work together.

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

Cheryl Einhorn
Yeah, if you can invest in your decision-making, it can unlock everything that you’re doing, personally and professionally.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cheryl, thanks for chatting, and good luck with all your decisions.

Cheryl Einhorn
Thank you so much for having me today and for this conversation.