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Episode 18 | Career Nation Show with Brian Lillie

“When you’re passionate about getting to the right answer or doing a great job, you’re not there to just get by. You want to approach it with energy and passion. Otherwise, that’s not a life worth living.”

– Brain Lillie, Career Nation Show, Episode 18.

Brian Lillie is a U.S. Air Force veteran; he has been the Chief Product Officer, Chief Customer Officer, and Chief Information Officer at leading tech companies like Equinix. He has led Sales Operations, Program Management and IT organizations at Verisign, Silicon Graphics. 

He is an innovative thinker and created a program for the Executive Education program at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, the predecessor of their current best-selling Innovative Technology Leader program.

He is a Board member at two public companies, Lumentum (LITE) and Talend (TLND), one private company (Advocate Insiders), and advises multiple startups and private equity firms.

He is a true mentor and is referred to by many in Silicon Valley as “Coach Lillie”.

In this episode, Brian shares amazing advice around leadership, about Tech, CIO best practices, about philosophy, and of course we will touch upon COVID19 among many other things.

Career Nation Show:

Hello and welcome back to another episode of the Career Nation Show. Today we are so lucky to have Brian Lillie on the Career Nation Show. Brian is a phenomenal Silicon Valley leader. In fact, the list is so long that I’m going to have to read my notes. So give me a moment here. Brian started off, he was an officer with the US Air Force. He has been the chief product officer, chief customer officer, and chief information officer at leading tech companies like Equinix. He has led sales operations, program management and IT organization at VeriSign Silicon Graphics and many other companies. You know, Brian is also an innovative thinker. He created a program for executive education program at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, which is the predecessor of the current bestselling innovative technology in theater program. Brian is also a board member at two public companies – Lumentum and Talent. Also board member at one private company, Advocate Insiders, and he advises multiple startups and private equity firms. Brian is a true mentor and is referred to by many in Silicon Valley as Coach Lillie. We will talk about leadership, about tech, about philosophy and of course we’ll touch upon COVID 19 among many other things. Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian Lillie:

Thanks, Abhijeet. It’s it’s my honor to be here and appreciate that long and beautiful introduction.

Career Nation Show:

Oh, absolutely. We’re so grateful to you to accepting this and actually taking time out of your schedule. You know, I want to dive into sort of your life story and, I got a chance to read your article, Lessons From the Camino and, in that article you talk about contrasting sort of the first half of your life and the second half of the life. And I personally found that very sort of deeply moving, very philosophical. Can you share a little bit, sort of the backstory about that and how it relates to your personal story, around those concepts of sort of the first half and the second half?

Brian Lillie:

Sure. Thanks for, for again, for having me here and, and for actually reading some of the things that I’ve written. I appreciate that. You know, they come from the heart and I think it’s because I feel fortunate, blessed, grateful to be where I’m at today. And, you know, it didn’t start out that way. I think like many of your listeners and people, everybody has a story. Everybody has an authentic story about themselves. And you know, in mine, you know, I really didn’t start out as Brian Lillie. I started out as Brian O’Connell. And my father died when I was nine and, and my mom remarried a couple of times, so I was Brian Anderson and then Brian Lillie. So I’ve had, you know, again, part of my story. And then my mother passed away when I was 19. And I remember I went into the Air Force, you know, because I wanted to make a name for myself.

Brian Lillie:

This whole first half of life is about, it’s sort of creating success or what you think is success. And so I, you know, when in the Air Force, they paid for my college, my undergraduate degree, so I’ll always be grateful for that. I went in and I served my country for about eight and a half years. Got out as a captain, I was Captain Lillie when I left the Air Force. And I went to Silicon Graphics and, you know, in the Air Force I was in satellite operations, command and control and technology. And then, you know, just leverage that background into IT at Silicon Graphics and then into the career that I ended up having. And so I get to this point now where in 2019 last year, you know, and I wrote about this is I just said, you know, what is, you know, what was I put on earth to do?

Brian Lillie:

And, you can look at this career and say, “Well, you were put on earth to do this career.” And I said, “Well, yeah, that’s one way to look at it.” But there’s this other half, and there’s two books that I strongly recommend. One is a book by David Brooks called The Second Mountain. And, what he talks about is that you go through this first mountain and you’re sort of building your career, you’re building a life. And then sometimes it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I wrote a note to him saying, you know, must it be a fall, but then you get into a valley. And that valley could be, you were fired from a job or there was a divorce or a death in the family or something. Then now you’re down in this valley.

Brian Lillie:

And as you’re coming out of that valley, you’ve had so much time to reflect and to think and to reassess about what am I put here for. And, so he called it The Second Mountain and he describes it as ‘where you’re doing much more maybe for the community or for others’. You know, in fact, he thinks this generation’s big call to action, so to speak, is to rebuild connection. You know, that devices and you know, it could be drugs, it could be whatever has pulled us apart as a community as supposed to coming together. So he thinks it’s connection. And it’s funny, I heard this, I listened to this on a podcast. And then I heard of second book and this second book is called, I have it here cause it’s Falling Upward by Fr. Richard Rohr.

Brian Lillie:

And Richard is a father. Rohr is a Franciscan friar in New Mexico. And he’s talking, it’s really very alternative way, but he’s got a really powerful message and I actually wrote about this and I wrote it down. I wrote it down because I think, I think this is important. He said, “You know, the first half of your life is building your sense of identity, importance and security.” And what he calls the false self or Freud, the ego self, et cetera. It says, “But inevitably you discover often through failure or a significant loss that your conscious self is not all of you but only the acceptable you. And he says, you will find your real purpose and identity at a much deeper level than the positive image you present to the world.” He goes on to say, “If the first half of life is building the ego or the container, the second half of life is finding the contents that that container was meant to hold. What is my education for? What is my self image, my money, my reputation for? What was I born to do?” And it completely hit me like a ton of bricks given where I am in my career, that what was I put here to do? What was I born to do? And so I’ve spent the last year just thinking about that question. And, and so that’s what I mean by it is it’s a deeper introspection about what, what you were put on earth here to do.

Career Nation Show:

Brian, that is so profound. First, thank you for sharing that with us. Thank you for your service. And I really am amazed at sort of how you’ve sort of connected all these dots between your early, early phase of your life, then the business and spirituality. And that’s one of the things that is so endearing about those comments is that, you know, everybody can identify with that and everybody has, as you said, has an authentic story. I love those books that you mentioned. And I’ll make sure that we put those in our show notes so that our listeners can enjoy those as well. I want to pivot a little bit to, sort of the, business of tech and, you know, today where you are, you know, large companies, large enterprise companies want to talk to you, startups want you on their board. And, in addition to your business expertise and tech expertise, and I’ve talked to so many people about you, Brian, there are some patterns that have emerged. And so as I do my homework before interviewing you, I wanted to sort of think about these patterns as specific keywords that I came across. Like ‘energetic’ came up a lot. ‘Generous’, very, it came up very often. ‘Altruistic’, and ‘passionate’, passionate came up a lot. You’re not like, you sort of put yourself completely into something and you’re passionate about it. So, you know, from your early days at the US Air Force and now high-tech executive, you’ve seen your, how have you seen your sort of leadership evolve? I mean, how have you become one of the most sought after as CIO and product leader? How do you see that journey?

Brian Lillie:

Yeah, well I’m glad those people said that. That’s, that’s good. I don’t know who you talked to, but I’ll have to, I’ll pay them later. You know, those words are really good and really powerful because, you know, when you, think about leadership, you know, I actually had a coach when I was… you know, right after the Air Force. And the Air Force, it’s kind of interesting. Air Force really teaches you service above self. That’s a, that’s a core principle. They teach you, that leaders, you know, the opposite of micromanagement. Because leaders in the military, all of a sudden you’re put into a new situation, leading a new team in a new mission, whatever. And so you really have to trust your team. And so this notion of, building a capable team underneath or as above really you should be view yourself as underneath.

Brian Lillie:

That’s right. It’s, it’s Servant Leadership. And that is, that is what it’s about. And it started there in the Air Force. And in fact, when I had this coach early in my, in my career, and I don’t think it was an STI, I think it was a very sign. She, she really said, “So what are those core element to who you are?” And she helped to bring them out of, you know, of how I had evolved, you know, from that time in the Air Force to the time at SGI. SGI I recall was really thrown into the fire when we were building what is now the Google Plex that used to be Silicon Graphics’s campus. And you know, I was working with brilliant engineers who didn’t really think much of the IT team, frankly. And, and so had to learn how to collaborate and be humble.

Brian Lillie:

You know, basically I have a leadership principle, Know Thyself and Be Humble, which is, you know, they were the experts. Heck, they were writing networking code, that we’re going into to, cutting edge at the time servers. And so, and so this collaboration, humility, et cetera. And what, what I discovered is, that, you know, they really very much appreciated throughout. When you’re passionate about getting to the right answer, when you’re passionate about doing a great job, you know, you’re not, you’re not there to just get by. I think that’s a life lesson. Like you don’t, you know, you don’t want to live life just getting by. You want to, you want to approach it with energy, you want to approach it with passion. Otherwise, you know, that’s not, that’s not a life worth living, at least from my perspective.

Brian Lillie:

And so, and so I think it’s wrapped around three core leadership principals, core values that I see and have evolved with as a leader. And the first one is, is a sincere care about people. I’m glad people commented on generosity and you know, altruism sometimes to a fault. But, but that care emanates from, I would rather see the good and the possibility and the potential in somebody and do that a hundred times. And yeah, I may be wrong five times, but I was right 95 times. Then take the other side and what are they after? What are they, so this notion of assuming positive intent, sincere care around people, you know, they have families they want to grow and become. So I think seeing that and believing that in my, I mean I believe it in my, in my soul.

Brian Lillie:

I think that’s the first value. The second value is, and I started, it’s funny with this coach I started with, well, I feel I can do anything. And she goes, “Brian, you’re a leader.” And I go, “Okay, I feel I can lead anything.” You know, I just changed dude to lead. She goes, “That’s it.” And so I think that started in the Air Force, but it started with an ability that says, “Look, as a leader, I’m not going to do it at all anyway. It’s the team. It’s the team, the team, the team that’s who’s going to do it.” Now you want to add value as a leader, you want to be able to help. You want to think about, the leadership model of Ken Blanchard, which has different styles of leadership based on where the individual is on that particular task.

Brian Lillie:

You know, do you directive to delegate, you know, coach to support. But at the end of the day it’s the people that are going to accomplish the mission. And so as a leader, I felt like I could lead anything. And I think that led to a mindset, that mindset led to opportunities where my CEO would say, “You know, you’re my utility player. I can, I can make you the chief customer officer, the chief product officer, and you’ll sort it out.” And then I’d say the third core value is, which I think is crucial and it’s important for us as individuals and it’s important for teams and it’s important for companies and even countries, which is people need a North Star. You know, there’s a proverb that says “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” And I think that’s incredibly accurate for teams, companies, et cetera is, is you need, you need to know where true North is.

Brian Lillie:

You need to set a North Star, you need to set a vision of what you’re trying to accomplish and by when and you need to go after it. You know, the mission to put a man on the moon. It by the end of the year, he was very, he set a vision, he was very specific, it was time-bound. It was all those things that define something smart. And he did it, with vision in mind. And I think that it’s incredibly powerful. people will over achieve for leaders that do and do that. And so, and so. I you know, as my time evolve from Air Force officer to manager, director, vice president, C-level, blah, blah, blah, board member, it really, that core has stayed consistent, because I think core values are that they’re core, they don’t really change.

Brian Lillie:

Yeah. I love that at so many different levels, Brian. One is that leadership is value based and it’s not just a point in time, it’s continuous. And, the other part that you mentioned, which is it’s not just about setting the vision, but the vision has to be clear. It has to be time bound and all of those things. You know, there’s something you’ve mentioned there, which it kind of, I took interest in that, which is I could lead anything and it’s not common, let me put it that way. It’s not common for someone to be a chief product officer and after some time a chief customer officer and a chief information officer, those are pretty distinct roles. So let me, let me ask you a question in a way that at least the way I think of things. For example, you know, when you think about sort of a startup land or tech land, companies that produce the tech, and I like to call it as the First Mile, right? And then you see sort of the land of the enterprise companies, CIO land where the tech is implemented, it creates business value, right? And your roles and your leadership roles have been sort of at that intersection of business and technology. And how do you see sort of this First Mile v/s Last Mile relationship?

Brian Lillie:

Well, yeah, that’s a good, it’s a good question. But I think I, so first of all to comment on your first statement about it’s uncommon. It is, and in some ways it actually confuses people. I think there’ll be, you know, well are you a CIO or are you a this or are you that? And, it goes back to the core value that I can lead anything. And it’s just in me. So, when they say, I can, and my answer to that is actually I am a leader and if you want me to lead this, this or this, I will lead it. And so, and that is not, it is not usual. So you’re right, cause I’ve gotten that feedback or you know, are you this or are you that?

Career Nation Show:

And frankly, you know, I think that uniqueness, that’s a rarity and that’s something that should be treasured because not everybody can do it. Right. I think that’s, that’s not everybody is a C level athlete is what I’m trying to say.

Brian Lillie:

Well, I, I appreciate that, but I tell you, and this, this goes back to being sort of comfortable in your own skin and confident in your own abilities is there are many that that want to put you in a box. And if they can, then you know, well, you know, it doesn’t compute. I don’t understand that. So I appreciate you saying that and let me tell you, I think that the triangle of those three in particular are more connected than people realize. Here’s why. At the core of it all is empathy. So if you think of a triangle of those three roles. So the first one is the CIO, and let’s, let’s not be the CIO in the company, but although you could, let’s be the CIO target customer. A CIO that’s in the company that’s selling the product to them holds a one on one with them and says, “Hey Sally, how, you know, how’s it going?”

New Speaker:

– “Oh, I’ve got, I’m, my hair’s on fire. I got all of these, you know, I’m fighting fires. I got, you know, this network outage over here, I’ve got an application I gotta deploy over here. We have a new yada, yada, right?” So CIO to CIO, you can have a lot of empathy. You can say, “You know, I feel you, I get it. I’m in a similar situation or I’ve experienced it before or whatever.” So it starts right there with empathy. Now imagine, that they’re not a customer. The CIO could say, “Hey, let me, I would like to sit down the three of us. Let’s grab the product officer. And let’s, and let’s talk about your needs because I think we have a product, in our case it was data centers, networks, et cetera, that might be able to solve some of those issues.”

Brian Lillie:

And in an empathetic conversation, CPO to CIO now, prospect to provider, you can have a really deep and, and, and again, empathetic conversation saying, “Okay, I got that. I think we have a product and an architecture that can help you.” So now let’s say that CIO becomes a customer. Now, the best CIOs in my mind are the best consumers of their company’s product, especially tech CIO. They better be, they better be eating the dog food or drinking the champagne, you know, whatever you want to call it. Right? And, and so they should be able to empathize with the customer going through the customer journey. “Oh, I know what you mean. It took two weeks to get that quo. Oh it took three weeks to get cross connect to Amazon.” You can buy with them. And you can, you can, as the chief customer officer representing the customer back into the firm, you can absolutely carry the flag and the message.

Brian Lillie:

So to me, those three elements are, are linked and, and should be linked and can be linked in a beautiful way. So I always thought my CEO was, was far seeing and, and smart to say, you know, your customer one, Mr.CIO, I actually want you on the front lines as a chief customer officer, I want you feeling their pain, which is the next job. And then, Oh, by the way, when you come back, I want you to be the product officer and I want you to fix some of the product issues that we have to address that pain. And so it was a logical, to me, it was a logical triumvirate of positions.

Career Nation Show:

Brian, that is so cool because the idea that those can be connected hadn’t occurred to me and now it makes complete sense. I love that empathy and the problem solving. Here’s the thing that I think you may have come across and quite frankly, you may have discovered, which is the CIO to CIO empathy conversation. It’s probably one of the most underappreciated marketing tools out there. I mean, what a great way to open up a prospect and say, “Hey, let’s talk have a chat with our peers. Let’s talk about our industry and then get into sort of what’s going on in your world. Let’s understand your problems.” It’s incredible. Maybe, maybe there should be something here. as a lesson and as a, as a hack, quite frankly for many CIOs out there to use these conversations.

Brian Lillie:

I could not agree with you more. I started a program and I learned this from a CIO. I learned this when I was at VeriSign, actually I was the VP of IT. And, and I remember Mark Sunday, Mark Sunday was the CIO of Siebel Siebel systems and he had this thing called the Drum Beat. He had a few practices that I just thought were great that the 60 day drum beat, which was, we’re going to do a deployment every 60 days. And, but that means that your requirements have to be in by this day, the design and development done by this, and then it gets in on the, on the, on the program. If you don’t get this done, you don’t get the drum beat. But don’t worry because 60 days later there’s another drum beat. So, bro, to me, that was brilliant.

Brian Lillie:

The second one that he had that I thought was really great was this Siebel on Siebel program, which was how has Siebel using Siebel to run itself? So what happened was, is I never forgot that. I think he was on the cover of CIO magazine or something. And I had only met him once and it was when we were having issues with Siebel actually. And his CIO, Tom Siebel or CEO had brought him in to the meeting. But he moved over to Oracle and, and I’m happy to say Mark’s a friend of mine now, because I went over, I sent Mark a note and I said, Hey Mark, I love that Siebel on Siebel program. I go, did you do anything here? He goes, yeah, we have, but it’s not got the same length. But he goes, but I brought over somebody and he pointed me to her.

Brian Lillie:

So I go over and I meet with her and she gives me content about the Oracle on Oracle program. I took that idea and I said, look, I think this is what every tech CIO should do. And I created it. I created the Equinix on Equinix program. And I was in more, ABCs, executive briefing centers, et cetera,. Meeting with CEOs and telling them our story. And I had more CIO say literally in the room, say I want that. And then it became, we actually built out of that program the notion of solution architects, which is now about 180 person team at Equinix. It started out with, we hired one. He’s now leading it globally and it’s presales and it’s architecture and it’s aimed at CEOs. So it’s a powerful, powerful notion. And if you’re a CIO in a tech company that’s not doing that, you really, really need to consider putting real resources around that and becoming engineering’s best friend, customer care’s best friend, where when issues are resolved, you may find issues that you can resolve. You may try things out on a dog food network, you may do whatever, but be passionate and, energetic about doing that because it’s only going to make your product better and drive sales. And all of a sudden you move from a back office CIO to a front office CIO, which is a huge jump and, will be a huge jump in your career.

Career Nation Show:

Oh, I love it. And that’s sort of what a modern digital CIO should always be thinking about. and if anybody has any questions, come to @coachlillie, because that’s a value bomb that you just dropped there. And quite frankly, there’s so much value created out of this kind of a program, with very little investment. I mean, you barely need to invest anything on this, right? I love it. And Brian, as we were getting into this conversation, I would love to and make sure our viewers know a little bit more about you personally. So we play a game called favorites and what we do is we ask our guests their favorite things and we asked them why do they like these favorite things? So Brian, are you, are you ready?

Brian Lillie:

This is all G rated, right? Okay, let’s just test it. Okay, good.

Career Nation Show:

That’s right. That’s right. We are a family show here.

Brian Lillie:

Go ahead. Okay.

Career Nation Show:

Brian, what is your favorite app?

Brian Lillie:

My favorite app? I’m just, I’m just, I’m, I’m cheating. Let me just look here because, you know, I view this as a tool. I take thousands and thousands of pictures. I love and I’ve got the little three camera iPhone, you know, the 11Plus. So I love the camera. I use, I go on a lot of walks. I walk eight to 10 miles a day. And, and I love audible and my podcasts. I love Spotify and when I’m not walking, I’m sitting and I can actually read. I like the Athletic cause I’m a sports nut. So if I had to pick one, it would probably be the camera.

Career Nation Show:

Very nice. I love it. Yeah. It’s probably one of the favorite apps in the world as well because so many people are out taking pictures and we’re almost wondering what did we do before they had put camera!

Brian Lillie:

I know. Well, we carried a big contraption around our neck. Right?

Career Nation Show:

That’s right. Brian, next question. What is your favorite quote?

Brian Lillie:

Ooh, Ooh, I have this one. Now I’m a quote guy. Okay. I’m a quote guy. I was reading. Actually, wow, this is a tough one. So my favorite simple quote, very simple, is by AA Milne. Do you know what book I’, talking about?

Career Nation Show:


Brian Lillie:

Winnie the Pooh. And, and here’s, here’s why I love this quote.

Career Nation Show:


Brian Lillie:

Because it’s so simple. Who takes things very simple. And there’s a book called the Tao of Pooh. Which to me should be, should be required reading. And, but the, and it’s because pooh represents Taoism and this, this notion of the uncarved block and just be. So, and here’s, here’s the simple quote: “What day is it?,” asked Pooh. “It’s today,” squeaked piglet. “Oh, my favorite day,” said Pooh. I love that quote. I love, I love that quote. “What day is it? My favorite day. It’s today.” But, but if I get, if I get a little more serious, and a little bit longer, I think the one that is super meaningful to me, and maybe we’ll be to your viewers, who are in what, what bill George, the author of True North calls being in a crucible.

Brian Lillie:

It’s the crucible of leadership. There was a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt. And Teddy Roosevelt gave this speech in Paris at the sore bone, on April 23rd, 1910. So 110 years ago, and the speech is called The Citizen in the Republic. And if you haven’t read the speech, I would suggest you read it. It’s 35 pages long. So I’m not going to, that’s not the quote, but the quote is a famous one and it’s, and it’s called The Man in the Arena. And I’m going to read it, but I’m going to try and change it from man to person because men or woman or however you choose to identify, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same. So here it goes.

Brian Lillie:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. But who does actually strive to do the deeds? Who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who had the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who had the worst, if they fail, at least fails while daring greatly so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know no victory nor defeat.”

Brian Lillie:

That is the man in the arena. To me, the person in the arena, one of the most applicable quotes, to getting in the game and not paying any attention to the detractors on the sideline who are, who are, you know, pointing out how you failed, pointing out the mistakes you made. You know that I have no time for those cold and timid souls who are on the sideline. So my, my message is get in the game, get in the game.

Career Nation Show:

Brilliant. Thank you for connecting us to a quote that means so much to all of us, especially in these times. And shifting gears back to the game, Brian, what’s your favorite book?

Career Nation Show:

I know this is a tough one. I think the bookshelf behind you, it’s full of books. And I know you’re an avid reader, like you read every single day.

Brian Lillie:

I read. Yeah. I mean we have the sh we stand on the shoulders of giants. Right. And those giants have written from, you know, from Plato and Aristotle to you know. Okay. This is okay. So finally this, this is a game. It’s supposed to be fun, Brian. Come on. Not always deep. Okay. I love The Lord of the Rings. I love, the Hobbit, the, the, you know, the, the fellowship of the ring, the two towers, the return of the King, the Silmarillion. So I’m a Hobbit nutcase. So, so that’s probably up there. But I’d say the other book. Soot, it might be, it might be Confessions by Augustine. Which was a story of somebody who kind of walked among us and who had an epiphany. But but it’s written not from the sky looking down, but actually from the road. I’m an existentialist. I love the road and the journey of the road. I mean it’s my Camino. And Augustine to me was the first existentialist, with again, with the faith base. So I’d probably say Confessions, it might be a recency bias, but, Confessions.

Career Nation Show:

Love it. And we’ll put the books down in the notes so that other folks can also enjoy them. And, next question, Brian, is what’s your favorite food?

Brian Lillie:

Okay, that’s easy. You can’t see me because I’m below, but I like, I, I enjoy eating. I enjoy, I enjoy Chole Batura, I enjoy Butter Chicken. So Indian food. Indian food is pretty high. I love Chinese food. My mother-in-law’s Italian, but I, I wouldn’t, I, but you know what? Above all of that, I think Mexican food. I love spicy food and, well, I love Thai food. Dang. Abhijeet, that’s a tough question. Maybe Thai food. Thai.

Career Nation Show:

Okay. Not a clear winner, but…

Brian Lillie:

It’s, it’s the first among equals. Right.

Career Nation Show:

What about music? Brian? What’s your favorite music,

Brian Lillie:

Huh? Boy, that completely depends on mood. Completely. Pretty much completely. Like, if I’m in here in my office, my home office and I’m reading or whatever, I actually prefer a quiet. If I, if I’m just, if I’m doing some work that, that music, you know, it’s not deep concentration work, love listening to guitar, piano music. But, but I’d say probably my favorite group of all time is probably The Eagles, So, you know, but I mean, I enjoy eighties rock and, I love John Mayer. I even like, you know what, if you asked me what my favorite song is, it’s probably because it had such a deep connection because there were times on the Camino in Spain where I was listening to music and there’s a song, it’s a piano song and it’s called If You Believe, and it, it, it just struck me at the time that do I believe, I mean, it just, I don’t know. But If You Believe is a beautiful song, piano song by Jim Brinkman, it is incredibly inspiring and emotional. Take a listen and you’ll see what I mean.

Career Nation Show:

I will, I haven’t listened to it yet and that will be going on my list very, very soon. Brian, thank you for playing the game with us and for being such a great sport. You know, one of the topics that sort of, implicitly came up as we were playing the game was this situation about around COVID 19. And, it’s sort of changing day by day, even hour by hour in some respects. And you’ve been talking about this situation to many of the companies that you’re, you know, you’re coaching. Where, or how do you see the current situation and what are some of the sort of challenges/opportunities that are coming out of this?

Brian Lillie:

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a regular, it’s a regular conversation on the boards, at the board level. Pretty much we’ve accelerated having meetings we’ve met much, much more frequently because, you know, there’s a technique that, I learned in the Air Force that I think is useful for everybody. And, and it certainly come to fruition in how we’re dealing with COVID. It’s called the OODA Loop

Brian Lillie:

And what the OODA Loop is, and I forget the author’s name. You can, you can Google it and look it up. O, O, D, A. In the service when you’re in a, you know, they call it Von Clausewitz called it the fog of war. You know, the minute you engage the enemy sort of all bets are off. Typically the plan goes awry. There’s some sort of friction that you didn’t plan for whatever. And so what the OODA Loop is, is it observe, orient, decide, and act. And then you’re back to observe. And, and so if you think about this in management or leadership terms, that’s what a board is doing. They’re, you know, every quarter or whatever the periodic nature of the meeting is, they’re observing, they’re helping to orient or reorient the company, making some decisions, and then the company is acting.

Brian Lillie:

Then at the next meeting you’re observing, orienting, deciding, acting. The OODA Loop is a great leadership tool, management tool, for assessing, in a changing environment where you are. So imagine tightening you to loop every week. And that’s sort of where we’ve been in COVID is tight and we’ve in one company, I’m on the board of, we shrunk the OODA Loop, ie, the meeting cycle to every Friday. Every Friday we’re doing an OODA Loop. Anybody gets sick, where are we at with openings and closures? How are we at country by country, right? You’re observing, you’re orienting, you’re deciding and you’re acting. And if you do that on a more frequent basis, you’re shrinking your OODA Loop. Really, really, really important. In fact, in OODA Loop, you could argue is in a tactical mission is happening minute by minute.

Brian Lillie:

So, so the OODA Loop can shrink or expand based on the timescale of the problem or the situation you’re in. And, and so in COVID this tightening, you know, when you see the issues, I mean, everybody talks about the issues. Issues are clear, right? How do you, you know, how do you keep the health and safety of your employees? First and foremost, how do you support your customers? What about your customers that can no longer pay? What do you do, what do you do for, preserving capital so that you can survive? How do you manage through investor expectations? I mean, the list of issues go on and on. I think the opportunities are if you survive, but the thing is, is you can’t survive alone. And that’s, I think is really an important fact that some people are forgetting is like, “Yeah, I survived.”

Brian Lillie:

Yeah. But if you don’t have customers to sell to or suppliers to buying from, you know, what’s the point? So we’re, we really have to think about this collectively. And when I think of the opportunities, you know, the opportunities are, you know, the world’s going to change. It’s, and it’s not, has changed and it’s not going to go back. You know, when you think about Twitter announcing just the other day that you can work for home forever. Well, you can work from home forever. Think about that statement. And that’s kind of a, as Aaron Levy set of box, he says that’s a bellwether for the tech, the tech world. So I think there’s tele, you know, remote working, whatever you want to call it, it’s here to stay and will grow. I think the repercussions on real estate, commercial real estate is commercial real estate in maybe in cities are going to become less valuable because people are going to move and live where they want to live, especially talent and, and work remotely. So it’s going to, I think there’s, there’s opportunities in any sort of solutioning around making remote working even smoother than it’s gotten with things like Zoom and whatnot. I think telemedicine, telehealth, it’s going to grow. I think, AR and VR, it’s going to grow because if I can’t be there, how do I make this experience even more immersive?

Career Nation Show:

Maybe a hologram would do the trick. Yeah.

Brian Lillie:

You know, what, beam me up, Scotty. I think it’s, you know, I think it’s, I think it’s coming. Anything relating to 5G, telecom optics. That’s why I really love Lumentum and this place it’s playing, which is building all the optics for a lot of these carrier networks and network equipment manufacturers. So, I do think there’s a ton of opportunities, but I just won’t leave the point that says we gotta do this together. We gotta help each other. And that’s why one, one article I wrote was the, the choice we can all make the antidote we can all administer in COVID is empathy. It’s we can all, choose that path. And so empathy helping one another, you know, having courage and being kind as Cinderella said, have courage and be kind. I think is what we need to be in this, in this, in the world today.

Career Nation Show:

Yeah. Brian, you dropped a bunch of value bombs there. That OODA Loop. I love that concept because it can be applied to so many different things professionally, at a company level, team level personally as well. I love that. And I’m going to personally steal that and I hope that other viewers steal that as well. The other parts that you mentioned about those opportunities in the COVID situation. You know, every company has their own context, right? They have the context of their own ecosystem, their industry that they’re playing in and all that. And finding opportunities is challenging in this environment. But I agree. I think there’s, even though that yes, there are issues, there are new opportunities that open up and we got to quickly figure and do the OODA Loop and figure out where to we, how do we pivot and take advantage of advantage of some of those opportunities. You know, speaking of sort of pivot and opportunities, When you, when you teach your Stanford class, you’ve mentioned this concept of True North, right? And so when, especially in sort of a COVID environment, it gives people some downtime. People are not commuting anymore, especially in the Bay Area like people have two hour commutes. Can you imagine that? Like now people are sitting at home, they cannot imagine a two hour commute anymore. Given this time that we have a little bit, how can, how can I go about finding my True North? And, is there, is there a tool, is there some concept that I can apply there?

Brian Lillie:

Yes, there is actually, there really is. And I actually have this on my shelf. There’s a book called True North by Bill George. So Bill, I love this book and I use it. It says, discover your authentic leadership is what it says. And the reason why I love this book is it’s very, very, pragmatic. I love the combination of inspirational and pragmatism, inspiration and pragmatism. And the thing that I like about this, and I’ll, I’ll find a, a picture, but it says that leadership is a journey and it’s got a compass here. And what the compass says is, is your true North is your purpose for leadership. It’s your purpose. Okay. And it starts in the core with self-awareness in the very center of the compass is self awareness. And that self awareness is values and principles. This is why I took the time to sit down and write my values and principles. Like what do you believe in? What are your triggers? What do you care so much about that you won’t sacrifice? And so finding this, your True North, finding your motivations, building a support team, somehow creating an integrated life. That’s what he talks about in this book. And at the end of each book or I mean, I’m sorry, in each chapter he’s got a set of questions. And so to me it’s, I use this as a way, it’s, it’s, it was a way to just to do self exploration and to write down what’s really, really meaningful for you.

Brian Lillie:

There’s ways, there’s a guy every Friday, I signed up for his newsletter. His name is Robert Glazer, G, L, A, Z, E R and Robert Glazer, is a, I think he’s a CEO of his own little company. But he talks about, you know, he walks through, he’s got a thing called your whole whole, sort of your whole life dimensionality is, is picking these out of a set of values. What are your top ones and then walking you through it. Steven Covey had a process. One of my favorite podcasts is and please, I didn’t make up the name and the name is sort of silly, so just give me a little bit of license here, but it’s called The Art of Manliness. It’s downloaded millions of times a month.

Brian Lillie:

It’s a brilliant, it’s where I first heard about some of these books that I’ve referenced because he interviews authors and then those authors explain and then they reference and it’s sort of this DoubleClick HyperClick. And, and they have, when I was looking to write a family mission statement, with my family, I scoured the web to find the best way to do that. And The Art of Manliness, you Google Art of Manliness’s family mission statement, it’s brilliant. It teaches you, here’s the family meeting to have, here’s the questions to ask. You know, it’s a meaningful, purposeful pursuit that, which is really the answer to your question. If you really want to know your True North, it’s as meaningful a pursuit as going to work every day. You have to work at it. You have to, you know, look at the resources, you have to try things on you.

Brian Lillie:

It’s, it’s not just gonna fall into your lap. You know, I had to answer this question. I had to answer this question because I’m in this coaching class at UC Davis and to be a professional and a life coach. I don’t even know if I want to do that. But I do know it’ll make me a better person. And they asked me this question, answer this question Brian, “Who am I?” Holy crap, that is not an easy question to answer. And then, you know what the second question was, “What have I chosen to stand for?” That’s, that’s meaningful stuff. And the third question, “What am I here to contribute to the world?” Those, those are incredibly meaningful, powerful, difficult questions. And you know, cause if you say, who am I, well I could instantly say, Oh, I’m an exec and blah, but that, no, that’s what I do. Who am I?

Brian Lillie:

I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a brother, I’m an uncle, I’m a friend. You know, again, those are rules. Is that who I am or am I, you know, and so these are just, these are difficult questions to answer. And I think that this pursuit is, is lifelong, meaningful, enriching, and critically important for us to put down Instagram for five minutes and actually think about these questions.

Career Nation Show:

I love it. It’s profound. It talks about, connect so many different things. I love that concept of, you know, a sort of a family, getting the family together. Because I think yes, as individuals we’ll be contributing back to the society will be contributing meaningfully. But as a family, what’s our plan to do that? I love that concept. And finding a True North is probably an ongoing journey because we evolve as human beings. And we go through different experiences and we have to evolve our own definitions of who am I and what am I here to contribute. And I love those questions. It’s a lot of, real soul searching, which is healthy and necessary. And quite frankly, it’s a rare. I mean, in today’s world, given everybody’s, you know, and on their devices, almost 24/7…

Brian Lillie:

And the time, the time demands and you know, it’s harder than ever. But, but I would argue though that, that you can make the time and find the time and even if it’s meditating or if it’s walking and thinking. You know, I just, I love how I think it was Shakespeare that said to thine own self be true and, and to, to be able to do that, you have to know yourself. And so I think it starts at self-awareness. It’s in the core. And, I’m not there, don’t get me wrong, I’m not, I’m not anywhere near there, but I’m, but I’m at least on the journey. I’m in, in that pursuit.

Career Nation Show:

I think we all are. And I think that, getting on that journey is important. And then of course, we can all crawl, walk, run on that journey. Brian, I wanted to ask you a question, sort of in the, we go from sort of the finding the True North and sort of the finding your like figuring out what your values are and what you stand for to sort of in the heat of the battle, into work. And when we talk about work, it’s like, I want to get some of sort of the Brian’s secret sauce. Like how do you work? How do you approach certain things? For example, if you have a big customer meeting coming up or a big product launch, what would you do? Like, give us some of that secret sauce. What are some of the things you think through? What are your techniques? How do you work with your team? Give us some of that.

Brian Lillie:

Well, you know, I think so that’s a really big question. I would say that several things that all share, probably very few of them are original. They, they, you know, the best of us, I think, learn from the best of us. And sort of integrated into our own thing. The loop was created long before. You know, it just, just was there that I learned. You know, some of the things I learned from my CEOs, you know, one of them I learned is, you know, that that show up now in my leadership principles are you know, that listening is seeing, I remember Stratton Sclavos who was the CEO of Verisign, used to say that ‘listening is seeing’, and I never, I’m like, what? But I, it’s, it’s core to me now is that, you know, my, I realized that what he was really saying was what my mom said, which was, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, Brian.” You know, listening is, is you need to listen more and talk less. you know, the, the notion of paying it forward, I think this is critical.

Brian Lillie:

You know, I did a computer world or computer online, I don’t remember. It was when I was in Australia. And I got interviewed there and they wanted to interview me about people and they quoted me as saying, I said, ‘anybody who wants to be a CIO, everybody who works for me ultimately will be a CIO if they want to be’. And so this notion of pay it forward, it wasn’t, I wasn’t bragging, I wasn’t, I wasn’t, you know, doing anything other than that’s how much I want to invest time and energy and effort into, into growing people. And I look at it and I think I look around the Valley, the CIO of Aquonics Milind Vaguely worked for me for years. The CIO at Service Now, Chris Beatty, worked for me. The CIO at Shriram Thiagarajan worked for me. The head of Technology and Trust at Next Door, Craig Lisowski was in my team. There’s a couple of vice presidents at Equinix that will CEO’s once, you know, Amar, LR Bati and Greg Vogel, Roche Dawes, these, these people, and others are all, you know, a result of us all working so hard together and paying it forward. And so, you know, so that’s why I think when it’s, you know, you asked me before about startups and advising and all that, to me, that’s all a part of paying it forward because these startups create jobs and jobs, painful for families and, and that’s just sort of a part of my core.

Brian Lillie:

So, so I think part of the secret sauce is, is knowing who you are and knowing what you value and what your principles are and then trying doesn’t mean it always happens, probably every day. You know, I have, one of the things I learned from Colin Powell, I was in the service in Colin Powell actually went on this…friends call and we were all on the other end and he was thanking us for, you know, helping world war. Because of the mission doing, you he said something and it’s in his leadership principles, it says perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. So this notion of being optimistic. I remember at Equinix when we were in deep do to, on a project, a big, huge program that we needed to take over from NSI. And I looked in the eyes of my team, and they, they were never afraid, but in this they were afraid.

Brian Lillie:

And I realized that in that moment I needed to be the leader with confidence, and optimism. And so I think, you know, you have to know your people, know your situation know. What leadership style or leadership approach is exactly what’s needed in that moment. Sometimes you need to be that hardcore confident leader. Sometimes. Other times you’re, you know, you’ve got a, you know, you’re, you’re in run mode or, or you’ve got a highly skilled team at a certain level and you let them run. So I think you know number one, is knowing your principles, knowing who you are and, and living that way every day. I think, I think the only other specific I would give you is something that I think applied across so many situations. I’m the acting CIO for the, it’s, it’s volunteer work for the San Jose diocese of the church.

Brian Lillie:

And, they’re trying to put in systems to get better visibility into financials of parishes in church and in schools and all that. And so I’m helping them with this. And I used it there. I’ve used it in org design, I’ve used it in on boards and, and I call it the recipe. And the recipe is very simple, which is I think what makes it useful and powerful. So the recipe is this, it’s a five step process. Let’s say you’re trying to think about an orange design or let’s say you’re trying to rethink your IT architecture or whatever it is. It literally is just flexible. And what, what you do is, is the first thing you do, did you write down the current state. So step one is what is the current state? So again, if it’s an organization you just write down, here’s the org boxes, here’s what they do.

Brian Lillie:

There’s absolutely zero judgment. You’re not commenting on how good it is or bad it is that a, that’s kind of come. So the first one is just write down documenting what is. The second step is putting down what are the issues with that current state. What are the challenges with it? What are the, what are the, what is the thing that’s making you think about changing it? Now you’re judging it. You also want to put what are some of the opportunities that you’re missing. They’re not, they’re not issues. There are more opportunities that you want to tackle. Okay. Step three, write down and it’s first brainstorm cause you’re brainstorming this proposed future state. What could that be? What could it look like? What are the possibilities and then… You’re, you’re, you’re imagining that future state. The fourth step is a step that often gets skipped.

Brian Lillie:

Everybody loves to do the third state, which is okay, you landed on a proposed future state. How did it address those issues and take and, and help you accomplish the opportunities that you identified in step two. That mapping is critical because, and I’ll tell you from personal experience, when I became the chief product officer, the first thing I had to do with putting together a product management team and a product engineering team. And I brought them all in the room and 18 direct reports I think at the time. And I said, okay, it’s time to rethink this organization. I went through the recipe when we were identifying the issues, you know they did yellow stickies on the board and we clubbed them together and we came up with a list of things and you know the deck is filling out nicely. Okay, I’m very clear. And then we sort of started to brainstorm future state, well everybody loved option three. So I said, okay, let’s do it up there. It and addressed about 40% of the issues that we identified. I’m like, well what about reporting analytics? Well, what about documentation for product? Well, what about, what about, what about, and there was, it was just a bunch of gaps. So it’s super important to do step four and make sure that the future state you propose and envision actually is addressing it. Otherwise you’re just swapping one set of problems for the other. That’s right. Yep. And then step five is what is the roadmap to get there? What are the resources, people, money, time, you know, what is your Org chart look like? How are we going to get from current to future? I’m telling you that methodology can be used for Org designed, it can be used for architecture. it could be used for any sort of situation. And, and I’ve used it over and over and over again. So I think that’s, that’s the one I’ll leave you with.

Career Nation Show:

I love it. Figure out and identify all the current state items, look at what are the issues and look at the opportunities. Create a future state, and then make sure step four is important, which is make sure that future state does not have any gaps, that it addresses the issues. And then the important part is how do we get there? What’s the execution plan? What’s the roadmap for us to get there? I love it. It’s simple, it’s logical.

Brian Lillie:

It’s simple, it’s simple, logical, pragmatic and effective.

Career Nation Show:

Fantastic. Brian, you have been so, so gracious in spending the time with us. And as we wrap up the show here, any additional advice that you can give to Career Nation? As you know, we are, you know, folks that are living primarily in U S metros. We were either in tech or working with tech. So, you know, what can you, what can you leave us with today?

Brian Lillie:

Well, I think, I think I would say live with intention. You know, be consciously competent. You know, there’s, there’s people that I think sometimes we can have the potential to sleepwalk from life. You know, don’t do that. Be intentional. And there’s there’s you know, the late plate Christiansen. He, he wrote an article, many obviously many articles, But you know, he said, he said, here, here’s what he wrote that thought was so powerful.

Brian Lillie:

He said, “After 25 years studying innovation, here is what I have learned.” And you can Google this and find it. He stated that “Your decisions about where and how you allocate your precious resources, your time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy.” And that I didn’t reading that article, reading that quote was what helped launched me on my year of exploration this past year. It was what do I want my life strategy to be? And so I think I would leave you all with that. I would say, you know, you got one life to live. What do you want it to be? What do you want it to look like? How do you want to live it and you know, you can choose. So I think I’ll leave you with that.

Career Nation Show:

I love it. So meaningful, profound and deep. Like most of our conversation today, Brian, this is absolutely a treasure. You’ve dropped so many value bombs here. As we leave here, you know, our audience might likely have questions for you. How can someone get in touch with you? How can someone follow you? LinkedIn, Twitter?

Brian Lillie:

Yeah, I would be happy to… You know, I’ve thought about, maybe I’ll talk to you about this Abhijeet, about, you know, I’ve thought about sort of, you know, Breakfast with Brian or some sort of forum where we could get together and talk about these things. And I mean, I write a lot on LinkedIn, probably not as much as I could. My Twitter, I try to do it and I love like tiny Buddha. By the way, that’s one of my favorite. You talk about valuable, little life moments. I would say probably Twitter, is second to LinkedIn. I would say probably LinkedIn would be the best. And if people want to link in and just reference that we, you know, that they’re a member of the Career Nation. I’d be happy to connect with them and talk, I’ll do my best. It’s hard to do one-to-one with everybody, but I’d be, I’d be happy to connect and help people where I can. It’s a part of the pay it forward.

Career Nation Show:

Brian, we are so lucky to hear from you. Thank you so much for your time. You’ve been so generous and for anybody wanting to connect with Brian on Twitter or LinkedIn, we’ll have the details below in the show notes. Brian, thank you. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we hope to connect with you again in the future.

New Speaker:

Thanks, Abhijeet Thanks everybody. Have a wonderful, wonderful day.

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Episode 16: Career Nation show with Eric Siegel


“AI is an extremely powerful technology that helps us automate mass scale decisions. It’s sort of the implementation of private and public policies and automation and mechanization of those societal functions. It brings up a lot of ethical issues around social justice and how this affects all the people about whom decisions are being made.”

Eric Seigel, Ph. D, and founder of Predictive Analytics World joins us in episode 16 of the Career Nation Show.

Here are some of the highlights from this episode:

Why the term AI is misleading?

What is predictive analytics? How does it work?

How it generates a predictive model?

The operationalization of the model.

The opportunities with machine learning and predictive analytics

You can get the copy of Eric Seigel’s best selling book, Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die, from here:

Career Nation: Career Nation, welcome to another episode. And today we have a fascinating guest, Eric Siegel. He’s the founder of Predictive Analytics World and he’s also the author of the award-winning book ‘Predictive Analytics’, the power to predict, who will click, buy, lie or die. He’s a former Columbia University professor and he now he helps companies and individuals understand the power of predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Please welcome Eric Siegel. Eric, welcome to the show.

Eric Siegel: Thanks Abhijeet. Thanks for including me.

Career Nation: Oh, it’s an absolute pleasure. Now this is such a fascinating topic and subject for so many of our audience. before we get into that, can you tell us, a little bit about yourself? Give us your background, give us your intro, if you will.

Eric Siegel: Sure. I’m a former computer science professor at Columbia university where I focused on machine learning and I’m a consultant, author, speaker at, in, in the field and, the founder of, Predictive Analytics World, which is the leading conference series focused on the commercial deployment. That is, it’s not a research conference, or a research and development or academic. It’s focused on the real world usage of machine learning. and it’s a vendor neutral event. So it involves and includes, information that pertains to whatever software tool or solution you may be using. so Predictive Analytics World, has been running since 2009 in our main large North American event. This year is May 31st to June 4th in Las Vegas.

Career Nation: Oh, that sounds fun man. So you think about all this wonderful technology in Vegas. It’s, it’s going to be a lot of fun there. thanks for the intro. There’s so many nuggets there that I would love to unpack. But let’s start here. Maybe, maybe, for, for a lot of our viewers, if you can help us understand a little bit better about what is predictive analytics versus machine learning versus artificial intelligence. A lot of times, people do use them interchangeably, in some cases. So, what in your opinion, in your perspective would help people to understand those things a little bit better? Yes.

Eric Siegel: Let me define machine learning and predictive analytics first. Artificial intelligence, it’s pretty subjective word, used many different ways. So is data science and big data by the way. So, machine learning is technology that learns from experience to make predictions or to classify individuals. So, in business applications that would be per customer, right? And all sorts of medical imaging and online applications. It’s images and that’s also referred to as deep learning and many, and in many cases that’s a type of neural network. So, the idea is that you have a whole bunch of labeled data. So these are, these are also referred to as supervised machine learning. Supervised because you have the data that’s already labeled to learn from, that’s called the training data and it already has a whole bunch of examples where either you knew what turned out to happen.

Eric Siegel: So let’s say you’re trying to predict which customer is going to cancel or churn. It’s called churn modeling. you already have a whole bunch of examples just because of the history of who did actually leave as a customer and you know the outcome. Or you have a bunch of labeled images that show pictures of cats and dogs and you know which are which because humans have already labeled them. Either way from history or human labeling, you have the labels and that’s supervised in the sense that it directs the learning process. It’s a way to measure how well the model labels or classifies or makes predictions per individual. So you can imagine this concept of individual applies very generally, can be per image per individual customer, corporate client, product, product line, satellite that might run out of a battery. There’s, it’s such a universally applicable technology.

Eric Siegel: The idea of machine learning to learn from those examples to generate a predictive model. So, it’s also called predictive modeling and then the model itself, everything that you’ve learned from those labeled data is now applied over data where it’s not labeled. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out, you don’t know which customer is going to cancel. You have images you need to classify, you don’t already have them labeled. Right? So, that’s the whole point. You’ve learned from the data. And it’s so generally applicable across business, applications, applications in government, and political campaigning, basically across all industries.

Career Nation: Oh, that’s wonderful. And so if, if you, if I were to sort of understand some of that, then there is some human form of this. Which is we figure out and apply some labels to these different items and whether we are trying to, you know, research about our customers or research about, you know, products or what have you. And then we, based on this, we can make certain predictions using predictive analytics. And so, this is the sort of the promise of taking sort of machine learning, which is understanding more about these labels and applying them into a predictive way to do predictive analytics. And is artificial intelligence and extension of that? Is that, is that something that’s sort of forward looking from that or it sort of starts from a sort of these predictive analytic type of models?

Eric Siegel: Artificial intelligence is a buzzword and subjectively defined word that can mean pretty much whatever you want because, and typically it’s defined in a circular way. It means making computers intelligent. But the word intelligence was in the word you’re trying to define. So, it doesn’t mean anything. It means whatever you want. It’s a, it typically either is an exact synonym to machine learning or deep learning, which is a specific kind of machine learning or it’s sort of a broad subjective category that includes machine learning as well as like chatbox, chatbots or anything else that a human feels is humanlike from a computer or it’s sort of a vague word that kind of over promises the direction of how quickly machine learning is going to grow and, and computers are going to become more human like in some way. So it literally serves only to hype.

Eric Siegel: There is absolutely no intrinsic meaning to the term Artificial Intelligence. And by the way, I taught the artificial intelligence graduate level course at Columbia university a couple of decades ago. And my opinion hasn’t really changed since then. The hype about it right now is, is good in the sense that yes, machine learning is extremely powerful, but there’s also some over promising going on out there. By the way, I didn’t really differentiate between machine learning and predictive analytics. So, predictive analytics is basically a, a major subset of machine learning. So, if you’re using machine learning for business problems like customer churn prediction, targeting, marketing by predicting which customers can respond, helping inform credit assignment. So, whether a application for credit card should be approved, that’s called credit scoring. Also a use of predictive modeling or machine learning. Those types of business applications are generally also referred to as predictive analytics.

Eric Siegel: So the word prediction, by the way, obviously it means predicting the future, the outcome or behavior per let’s say customer. But sometimes it’s used like predicting, is this transaction going to turn out to be fraud? You’re not predicting the future. It’s just a classification. Predict whether this is a picture of a cat. You’re kind of warping the use of the word predict. But people do use it that way. In any event, when you go to that kind of image classification, people don’t usually call it predictive analytics, but either way it’s definitely machine learning.

Career Nation: Oh, thank you for that. That, that helps to clarify quite a bit and you know, it seems that, you know, Eric, based on what you just shared, it, there could be so many applications of this across industries, across companies. Where have you seen, sort of, people take this and apply it practically commercially to, you know, improve their business, improve their customer experience or help their employees?

Eric Siegel: Like what are some of the examples you’ve come across? Well, since we’ve been running the conference series predictive analytics world since 2009, we’re now in our 12th year. The bread and butter of that conference are real-world case studies from fortune-500 companies. And that’s sort of the whole point. So, I’ve seen a million of them. my book predictive analytics as you mentioned it. And by the way, I’ll just say the subtitle of the book again, because it’s an informal definition of the field. Predictive analytics, the power to predict who will click, buy, lie or die. That book includes a 181 mini case studies in a central color table, across all industry sectors. So, the kind of things I’ve been mentioning, targeting marketing, credit scoring, fraud detection, these are very common practices. All large companies or virtually all large companies use use machine learning. It’s value is also prevalent amongst mid-sized companies and many small companies also can benefit since the requirements, not so much about the size of the company, but about basically the size of the data. So if you are a small company sending direct mail to a large contact list, it’s the size of that contact list that matters with regard to whether there’s a value proposition to be gained by learning from this historical mailings, that is the training data and making predictions in order to target future mailings.

Career Nation: Got it. And let’s say I’m a, you know, a business analyst in a company or I’m a manager or take any title, right? And if I wanted to sort of get started and familiarize myself with machine learning and predictive, and if I wanted to sort of start figuring out how do I apply this, are there some tools that I can just sort of run on my laptop or is this some, you know, something I’d acquire like a cloud subscription? What are, like are there things that would help a professional to sort of get started in this area?

Eric Siegel: So yes, there’s many existing tools. Many of these companies exist as sponsors of our conference since we’re, we’re very much vendor neutral and the majority of the content, but we have these sponsored sessions, a few times a day. And, the trick here though is that it’s actually a little bit bigger scope, project to make use of and, and implement, integrate machine learning at least for a first time within your enterprise. Then, your question I think sort of implied. Because it’s not a matter of like, well I’ve got to get familiar with the tool and use it. there needs to be a large number of people, at least several on the team making predictive analytics work. The actual use of the core tool, the fun part, the scientifically interesting part, the rocket science part. That those tools of which there are many is actually a secondary to the first decision, which is how are we going to use it?

Eric Siegel: Which mass scale operation are we going to render more effective with these predictive scores that are output by the model. So for example, I’m doing these mass mailings and I want to target them better. I have a fraud detection team and I want to use their time better by serving them transactions, more likely to be fraud. I want to make better decisions about credit scoring as far as, you know, credit card or other loan applications. All these different kinds of business applications. Whatever it is, you need to decide within that realm. Very specifically, what are we doing now and how are we going to potentially change today’s operations, by informing them with or integrating into the process somehow the predictions that is the predictive scores, which are basically probabilities per individual of whatever outcome or behavior you’re predicting for the project, whichever serves to improve the efficacy of that large scale operations.

Eric Siegel: So, that’s the carrot at the end of the stick. That’s the deployment or the integration, what’s called the operationalization of the predictive model, right. At the end of the project or at the conclusion or the actual sort of deployment of the project. Bbt you, that’s the carrot at the end of the stick. But you start with that first very much and then you say, well, do I, what do I need to predict? And in order to predict that, do I have the right data available? You might do some preliminary data polls and get a sense of that. And then, okay, now we want to actually start doing the predictive modeling. We’re green-lighting the project. Now we need to see who do we have on board. This is something that, you know, this is within the realm of data scientists, which is a very subjective word, but oftentimes is used to refer to people who have experienced with predictive modeling and whoever is doing the actual number crunching and applying these software tools needs to have experience doing that, in the past.

Eric Siegel: So, sometimes you need to engage external resources consultancies and service or service providers and such, to help with that at least on a first project. Or are you doing more extensive training of some of your existing relatively technical staff or data oriented staff? So, as an individual you, you don’t sort of side, I’m going to do predictive analytics at my company. What you decide is my company would really benefit from predictive analytics. Let’s see how I can participate, how I can contribute. Because predictive analytics or these business applications of machine learning aren’t a technical endeavor, first and foremost. First and foremost, they’re an organizational change to existing processes. So it’s not just some kind of thing like, let’s put this technology in place and makes our website go faster. It’s not that. There’s engineering components to it, but they’re secondary to the fact that this is a change to organizational processes.

Eric Siegel: So you need to start with figuring out how is that process going to change? How would it be informed with predictions, right? Which aren’t necessarily like a crystal ball, but they’re better than guessing. And back in the napkin arithmetic, how is that going to help? So that organizational process, getting executive buy-in, getting buy in from operational managers who are, where the change of process is actually going to be taking place. And, and then enlisting the right team of people who can pull the right data, the analytics people, the actual data scientists or an external service provider. So there’s a team of several people. There’s involvement across the organization. And so that’s how you look at it. You don’t, it’s a, it’s a large scope process project.

Career Nation: Oh, that’s wonderful. And so this is a, this is, I love that, those examples, because these are a way to establish a discipline, a almost like a different approach to doing business within the company. And it really helps to sort of get grounded on, okay, what are the, what is the problem or the types of problem that we would like to solve, how big is that? What is the nature of that? Do we have enough data to solve that problem? And then based on those that sort of data inventory, we can figure out how do we apply some of these predictive models and then sort of drive those behaviors within the company and outside the company in many cases. That’s fascinating. And, and you clearly have had been having a lot of fun with this. You are, you’re running the predictive analytics world, which is a show in Las Vegas. You have written a wonderful book and we’ll, we’ll put the book link in the show notes below. And also, you are, you were, I think you were running the Dr. Data show. I saw a bunch of episodes there. So, tell us sort of what are the wonderful things you’ve been up to.

Eric Siegel: Yeah. If you want to hear more of the kind of stuff I’m describing about, well, how the technology works under the hood and, and some of the ins and outs. The Dr. Data show is a web series of 10 short episodes, so it’s 10 of the most interesting topics on machine learning, why it works, how it provides value, the ins and outs, how you evaluate to make sure the model has actually learned from the data rather than just kind of memorized it, or, or, or sort of found patterns that only apply in this particular set of examples. How do you know it’s actually learned in a way that’s universal, will apply in general, which is actually a pretty profound, almost philosophical question. But, the actual way you validate it isn’t philosophical, it’s very simple and pragmatic. You can actually just measure how well it works. So, all those kinds of ins and outs about the process are covered across these 10 episodes. And you can go to the or just Google it. So, that’s, that’s available online.

Career Nation: Wonderful. Eric, this has been awesome. And now this is a part of the show where we get to know a little bit better. And we would love to ask you some of your favorite things. So we’re getting into the favorite, quick fire round. Are you ready? It might, my favorite color is blue. Is that? So, that’s super helpful. So let me ask you a couple of specific questions. Other than your color, what is your favorite app and why?

Eric Siegel: Okay. I think there would be two. I would say ClassPass, which I think is only helpful if you live in an urban area. ClassPass is a way to, to sort of pick and choose and take, take an exercise class, at here and there without memberships and all that kind of stuff. So, I could just go and say, Oh, here’s a pretty good deal. I can just go take this one class tomorrow morning at 10 over at this Yoga studio or this sort of workout bootcamp place or what have you. And the reason I like it is because it, it, it, you’ve signed up for a certain number of credits you need to use per month and only some of them roll over. So, it helps enforce the discipline of getting yourself out there. Now I actually, am pretty disciplined.

Eric Siegel: I do sort of a, I go to the gym pretty much 365 days a year, but there’s, what is this from? So for me, the ClassPass thing is helping me, not just go to the gym and listen and listen, do work in my head by listening to podcasts or audio books or on the bike, like watching work-related videos. So, I’ll go take a yoga class and that’s a lot more challenging for me to sort of just be there and work in a slow, but physically assertive thing for an hour without actually getting work done at the same time. That’s actually hard for me, but it’s good for me. So that, I’d also say on the, on the flip side though, it’s also Audible, cause I, I don’t really read anymore. It’s all audio books.

Career Nation: Oh, that’s fascinating. I love that concept of ClassPass. Yeah, I’ll definitely download it. Do you have the other app as well as a favorite? Eric Siegel: The other, Career Nation: Well I think you mentioned two, right? So you’ve got a ClassPass. Audible is the other one? Got it. Cause I listen to audio books, audio books all the time in the gym. Yeah. Yeah. I love it man. Awesome. And what is your favorite quote? If you had to put up a quote on highway one-on-one or my favorite 680 or infamous 680. But, what would be your favorite quote?

Eric Siegel: My, my favorite quote, would have to be, spider man’s uncle who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And of course, in my case, I’m applying this to machine learning, which brings up a whole bunch of ethical issues. It is an extremely powerful technology that helps us automate mass scale decisions. It’s sort of the implementation of private and public public policies and automation and mechanization of those societal functions. It brings up a lot of ethical issues around social justice and how this affects all the people about whom decisions are being made. The way that we’re treated and served in modern society is dictated, more and more by predictive models that drive these decisions as, you know, they predict about us who will click, buy, lie or die, like in the title of my book and decide who to contact, investigate, incarcerate, or set up on a date.

Eric Siegel: Right? So it’s affecting us in all different ways. And some some of these decisions are extremely consequential with regard to who gets it, who gets approved for credit or a loan, or credit card. Who even gets offered it with marketing in the first place. And, and in some cases, you know how long you actually stay in prison in predictive policing. It’s all the same core technology, predictive modeling. And it’s to automate or semiautomate decision or inform or in one way or another to influence decisions, that are, you know, sometimes with a human in the loop and sometimes not depending on the area. So yeah, so, the spider man quote, you know, it’s paraphrase, paraphrasing Voltaire, but I know, I know originally from Spiderman and, and I, I take it to heart, actually, I think it’s really, sort of hits the nail on the head.

Career Nation: Oh, I totally agree. And there’s so many sort of layers to that that you, you mentioned. And you know, the, the, the, there’s opportunity on one hand where it, you know, we can do so many wonderful things with predictive, maybe we can predict diseases and things like that and really help a fellow human beings and communities and organizations and companies. And on the other hand, there’s probably never been a time earlier in history where so much sort of data and algorithms have been concentrated in only so many companies and companies that own those datasets, etc. So it’s, it’s going to be a very interesting now

Eric Siegel: world for sure. Yeah. I mean, I, I mean, I’m a proponent of the technology and extremely excited about its potential, positive value, not only for the bottomline in terms of profit. And although that often translates into benefits for individuals, but all sorts of social good applications. So it’s, it’s like a knife, right? It’s, we’re not going to outlaw it entirely. It can be used for good or bad. And so therefore there’s gotta be some management and oversight.

Career Nation: Oh, for sure. Which brings us to our next favorite question. What is your favorite book, Erik?

Eric Siegel: Well, the great novels, are the ones that stick with me. And I have the, so, you know, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and Steppenwolf, those ones really blew my mind and I didn’t read them for first time until I was in my early thirties. So, I had the fortune of, being kind a lopsided brain, through college, high school and college. I would kind of blow off all the reading as much as possible. My verbal wasn’t that high. I feel like I caught up though. And, maybe not, you know, to my geeky math side, but much better than it was back then. And so by my early thirties, I started, I was already sorta that developed, much more developed than you are when you’re 20, when I read these books for the very first time. So, that was a much more enriching experience.

Eric Siegel: I felt like I got all the levels a lot more than I would would’ve at the earlier age. So, those, that’s novels. But as far as sort of more business books. A couple of examples come to mind. Well, Geoffrey Moore Crossing the Chasm is like a pretty basic entrepreneurial book about, you know, if you’re, if you’re starting a new business or a new line of business, just the idea of a market niche and anecdotes about how that applies. That such a formative book and that one really stuck with me, especially coming from an academics background at that point. I’m real, I’m like, I’m a recovering academic, right. I, I, I, I, I’ve been in, in, in the industrial world since, 2001 or 2. And, and also just sort of being the sort of data geek side of things, but trying to see, okay, wait, there’s a business side and this, this, this one really, this one really stuck with me.

Eric Siegel: in terms of actual technical books, actually it’s a textbook and machine learning that stuck with me. And the title of the book is machine learning, but as the textbook by Tom Mitchell who was the founder and chair of the first machine learning department. Machine learning is usually within computer science, but it’s Carnegie Mellon has machine learning department. He came out with this textbook just in time for the first time I taught the graduate level course machine learning at Columbia university. And it’s just such a great way to sort of formulate and get a sense of this whole field, right? Not just get married to one particular thing with like deep learning kind of neural network that’s doing so well, but get a sense of what’s the overall field of, of, of machine learning and what are the, what are the universal concepts apply across all the different kinds of technical methods, predictive modeling methods, and sort of what are the universal requirements as far as the data preparation. So that sort of foundational structure and for understanding it as a field for me it was really set by that book.

Career Nation: Oh, those are wonderful, resources and, we’ll, we’ll track those down and put them in the show notes because it’d be really cool to take a look at that list. And, thanks for sharing that, Eric. And yeah. And why don’t, why don’t you share, your favorite restaurant?

Eric Siegel: Yeah, my favorite restaurant is just all the expensive sushi restaurants. But that’s a very, that’s a very specifically defined category of restaurant. And I’ve, I’ve, I’ve invented this, this category. It’s called expensive sushi. It’s not the kind of thing you’re going to do every day. But actually, one of the reasons I like it in a restaurant where the sushi is so good and it’s typically offered on omakaze, which, which means chef’s choice. It’s kind of like a tasting menu. You get smaller portions come gradually over a larger period of time, and then you end up taking more time to just appreciate how good each bite tastes, which is a very undervalued thing in our world, right? We’re, we’re constantly shoving Doritos into our mouth, right? So, nothing against Doritos, if Doritos are watching right now. But, so there’s this concept of mindful eating, right? And I read a book about it and I don’t remember who it was and the book was great, but you know, it’s not rocket science. It’s just think of, you know, actually pay attention to what your experience while you’re eating and that, that’s valuable for a lot for obvious reasons, if you think about it. So, and that sort of, that kind of restaurant experience, very conducive to that. And assuming with someone you like talking to, it’s a long meal though. It’s fun. Yeah.

Career Nation: Oh, that is so cool. I like that. And yes, apologies to Doritos and I liked that concept of mindful eating and that’s something that’s becoming more rare and it’s it’s time to get the mindful eating as well as the conversation back to the dinner table. I like that a lot. Yeah. Why don’t we shift gears a little bit Eric and talk a little bit about sort of your career and you had a phenomenal career. Very fascinating, colorful. You’ve done so many different wonderful things. How about we get into some of the techniques that you used in your career that you think are sort of unique and they’ve really helped you do basically either become better or organize projects better or you know, with your productivity you can move faster at work and things like that. How about some of the techniques that you feel that our audience would definitely appreciate?

Eric Siegel: You know, I’ve never, I’ve never tried to be a self-help guru and this, you know, thinking about, there’s so many things that I do that I could try to expound on that someone else might be find useful. So, generally, in my career, you know, as I said, I’m a former academic. And in academics you, you work really hard on concepts that it’s sort of seem ideal or abstractly sound. And that’s where my interest started with machine learning. Right? Which from a, just from a scientific point of view, I think it’s by far the most fascinating, interesting type of any kind of science technology or engineering. Cause you’re, you’re, it’s, these are methods, algorithms, computer programs that learn from example. So you’re actually automating the process of learning that is generalizing from some limit. It may be a long list, but it’s a limited number of examples. Eric Siegel: And how do you draw generalizations from that, that apply in general? That’s just such an interesting problem to try to solve. And there’s so many different facets, ins and outs to it. Although it’s the bottom line, it’s really simple to measure how well it works. It might be hard to design, how to do it, but when you’re trying it out, you could just try it on new data that, you know, you have this held a side data that it wasn’t used for the training part and say, well how well does it work on that? So you get instant gratification. You see how well it works. Fascinating area. Now does that mean it’s going to be viable when a, you know, a green academic like me 20 years ago steps out of the university and it’s like, I’m going to go use this and be a consultant.

Eric Siegel: Right? How do you convince people of this idea when they haven’t been indoctrinated into it abstractly and they’re just trying to run their business on a day-to-day process? That was a huge learning process for me, right? Where I, it’s not just about great ideas, but it’s about how you communicate them and how you socialize them and how, you know, how change management takes place. So it’s sort of like you know, and in my case, I was sticking to the ideals, to the principles. This is a great idea and it not only is fun and interesting scientifically, it really looks like it should be valuable. We can increase the profit of this marketing campaign by a factor of three is by not by changing any of the creatives or the product we’re selling, but just by targeting a little bit more effectively across customers predicted more likely to respond. That kind of business value proposition just sort of falls out naturally from it. Eric Siegel: Yeah. But, so that, that was in 2003. I first moved to the West coast and, and you know, started being a independent consultant in the business world. And you know, the world, back then we called it predictive analytics because machine learning was strictly an academic research and development terms. Nicely, that’s now become a more acceptable term in general. And the field certainly has taken off greatly. You know, when we launched Predictive Analytics World, that was the first, you know, conference, other than some run by the, the software vendors. But the first cross vendor conference outside the academic or research conferences, you know, focused on the commercial deployment. And we’ve stayed in the lead and we’ve stayed viable and only been growing since then, because we stay relevant and keep things going. But at the time, you know, we a little bit ahead of the curve. Eric Siegel: We didn’t know how many people would show up. Right. We, as it turned out, we hit the timing pretty well. It was, it was February, 2009. Even though we just hit a recession, we had a much bigger turnout than we had even hoped for because people were ready, this stuff was starting to warm up and now it’s hot. It might be a little too hot. There may be a little bit over promising here with the whole AI buzzword, but it’s very much realizing value in most commercial deployments. So, that would be one sort of takeaway as far as sort of stick to the principles that you believe in and sort of then look at the human side. How do you socialize it, how patient can you be, what are the tactics to do that, right? How, how, you know, how do you sort of, find that path, right? I mean, other than that, I’d say install Boomerang for Gmail, which is keep your inbox organized and tidy.

Career Nation: I love that. Yeah. Boomerang is one of my favorite tools as well. So, you know, what, what do you bring up is fascinating because a lot of times we come up with, let’s say, it could be a technology concept or a business concept and we are so convinced that this is going to change the world. And we’d go out there and pitch to customers and some customers bite and some don’t. And we sort of sort of, there’s something to be said about perseverance and tenacity to actually go out there and keep knocking on doors and actually working with customers. The other side of that that you also talked about a little bit and touched upon is sort of the human side of it. Which is, yes, the technology is great and the ROI is going to be great, but there’s this other part of it which is, you know, human beings are going to buy it. We at the end of the day, humans, we do business with human beings and it’s something about having that EQ and that emotional pull with customers as well, so that we, we figure out a way to how do I make this customer successful or the stakeholder successful in addition to just providing a great ROI for or great value to this company. I think that said, it’s a phenomenal learning.

Eric Siegel: Yep. And you can’t Ram it down their throats. So you can kind of make a graph that shows the promised ROI, but that doesn’t sell itself quite as quickly. It doesn’t sell itself on the schedule that you have in mind. Career Nation: That’s right. Because sometimes it takes time to realize the ROI and the value and quite frankly, people also want to see some visible returns in addition to just pure charts. And I think that’s where the magic is, Eric Siegel: right? So then over, you know, so I became that independent consultant, you know, hustling for clients for the first few years. In 2003 and conference started 2009 and its purpose was largely to do that and get as many brand name case studies with proven value, you know, from the trench stuff from, from, from the front lines as possible. My book is 2013 and then the updated in 2016. So, by 2013, having been in that world for 10 years, maybe I was overcompensating because as I mentioned earlier in our discussion today, I have 180, 183, a little mini case, like sort of one or two line case studies all, all in a compendium in the middle of the book and this color table, the central table because I was, I had trained myself to just work so hard to prove yes, this stuff actually works. It’s not just a good idea on paper. Look at all these examples where somebody got value, got success from it. You know, and it’s divided into seven or nine sub tables across all the different industries like marketing and financial sector, government, etc. So, that was sort of the result of that 10 years of me just sort of feeling like it was never enough to show yes, it works, it’s a good idea. Now everyone’s like expecting too much from it instead of too little.

Career Nation: Oh yeah. I mean it’s so wonderful and I’m sure you feel you must be feeling a lot of, Career Nation: some level of contentment and satisfaction that the thing that you started and you were one of the early pioneers of predictive analytics and you educated, consulted, helped, coached so many customers and clients. And now this thing is taking a life of its own. And now it’s a popular, I would say almost mainstream, you know, technology component, at least in Silicon Valley. And a lot of other tech companies, and you must be, you must be feeling, you know, hey, I’ve been vindicated. And you know, I was totally justified. I’m taking this to market that early. Sometimes in Silicon Valley, being early is sometimes being incorrect, but now you’ve been proven correct. And so it must be, must be a good feeling.

Eric Siegel: Yeah. And then the colleagues that I, that I, that I established in those early years of being consultant, you know, we’re still close colleagues, most of them participate at the conference as speakers and, or at least as attendees. And, so we all were sort of in the same boat. We’re kind of like, Oh, how do you explain this to people who are new to it or are nontechnical? And, and now we’re kind of looking at the world, like, what? Wow, this, this grew even faster than, you know, we even hoped over the last several years. It’s kind of amazing. But, you know, we always had no doubt that it should go this direction.

Career Nation: Eric, so this has been a phenomenal journey for you, right? You started with academia, consulting. You’re doing conferences, wrote a book and so many other things. What’s the future? What does the future hold for Eric? What is on the roadmap that you would like to share or if you’d like to make that a pleasant surprise. That’s cool as well.

Eric Siegel: Oh, well we’re continuing to grow the conference and keep it up to date and with all the hottest industry trends and case studies and stories. I’m working on a new updated online course about machine learning and the kinds of topics we talked about today. I have, I’ve never disclosed this, but I have a, so I have a second rap. So there’s already a rap we released a few years ago called ‘Predict This’ and it’s an educational, it’s the best ever educational rap music video about predictive analytics. You can go to, just three and a half minutes long. And we have another one, but that might take a couple of years by the time we actually, get it together, on a, on a special topics that I thought would be good. And I would say that outside sort of my consulting, my sort of central consulting career and the conference, it’s the ethical issues I mentioned. I’ve been writing op-eds on that in San Francisco Chronicle and Scientific American blog and some other places. You can see my list of about 10 op ed so far published. All it just go to, civilrightsdata and that gets you to that list, that linked list of articles. And I’m continuing to work on, on that very much. I have a lot more to say about, some of the social justice issues that underlie the deployment of predictive models.

Career Nation: Oh, that is so important. And thank you for leading the charge on that one, Eric. Now as we wrap up here, any parting thoughts, Eric, that you’d like to share with Career Nation? As you know, you know, we are an audience that’s, I would say, predominantly works in corporate America, a lot of us in Tech, business and we were sort of, some of us are early in career, middle of career, late in career. And so what, what would you like to share as your sort of parting words of wisdom for our audience? Eric Siegel: Yeah, I think that for those of you who are interested in machine learning or if you haven’t let go of the term AI yet after hearing me, by the way, I, I, I have a, a Dr. Data episode which is also on Big Think called AI is a big fat lie. So I am concerned about the misleading use of that term and many or most cases, but machine learning, supervised machine learning, very much a real thing. And if you’re interested in helping or getting involved with how it will provide value, your, your organization, my message to you would be, there are many roles, both managerial, nontechnical, involved in the operational deployment integration, the use, the consumption of the predictive model output, like its predictions. Its, its probability scores and outputs per individual or the supervising over the overall project. Or of course there’s the actual data side, the technical side, the data preparation, the corporate active modeling itself. Eric Siegel: There are so many different facets to the overall project and making sure that it’s running in a way collaboratively across viewpoints and across people in different roles at the organization. So, it’s not just one brilliant data scientist who knows how to do everything. Not at all. It can’t be, and there’s so many different ways you could potentially be involved. So, the core technology has many facets and its very involved, but the fundamental principles are not nearly as difficult to understand as you might imagine. They’re actually quite intuitive, which is, which the point of my book predictive analytics is to make that accessible and sort of unveil how it works under the hood. But then again, remind you, wait, this is about the value proposition to the business and how it gets deployed and used, not just the number crunching part. So, if you find the area promising or interesting or exciting, keep in mind as you kind of delve into it and learn some, that there are many different ways, that you could potentially be involved.

Career Nation: Yeah, there’s so many opportunities and Eric as you outlined and there’s so many roles in the world of predictive analytics and machine learning. It’s tech as well as non tech roles and those are quite frankly, we’re still early in the cycle and those are the sort of the leadership opportunities of the future and people who are getting involved with these concepts and frameworks and technologies have an opportunity to basically, you know, further their careers down the road. Exactly. Awesome. Eric, this has been fascinating. This is such a rich conversation. Thank you so much for your time. We wish you all the very best for predictive analytics world and we’ll drop a bunch of links and the notes below so that people can get in touch with you and know a little bit more about what are the wonderful things and projects that you’re up to. Awesome. Well thanks Abhijeet, it was great being on the show. Thanks for the great questions. Absolutely. Have a great day. Yeah, you too.

Blog Career Nation Show Career strategy

Episode 15: Career Nation show with Rohit Bhargava

“If you can see things that nobody else sees, by consuming the information that they don’t, you can make yourself indispensable. Because that way, you end up having better, bigger ideas.”, says Rohit Bhargava in episode 15 of Career Nation Show.
Rohit Bhargava is the founder of the Non-Obvious Company. He is an innovation and marketing expert, marketing strategist, author, teacher, and keynote speaker.

Here are some highlights from this episode:
> Non-obvious megatrends
> Power of observation
> Protective technology
> Skill development
> Flux commerce
> Developing trust and becoming trust advisor
> His favorite book, app, and food
> Career advice
> How to become a successful leader?

Career Nation: Hey Career Nation! Welcome back to the Career Nation Show. Today it’s going to be a very special episode because today we have a special guest, Rohit Bhargava. Rohit is an innovation and marketing expert. He’s the founder of the Non-Obvious Company. He spent about 15 years as marketing strategist for Ogilvy and as well as Leo Burnett. He’s now the number one wall street journal bestselling author, and he’s also the author of five business books before this. He teaches marketing and innovation at Georgetown university. He’s probably known for the current bestseller, Non-Obvious Mega Trends. Please welcome Rohit Bhargava. Rohit, welcome to the show.

Rohit Bhargava: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

Career Nation: Awesome. Rohit, tell us a little bit about yourself for the three people that don’t know you.

Rohit Bhargava: It’s probably way more than that I think. But, yeah, I spent a long time working in advertising and marketing advertising agencies. And, when you do that, I think you become a storyteller. And that’s one of the big things that’s been a driving force in my life. And so I tell stories for a living. I do that by helping people be more in what I call non-obvious. So helping them see what others don’t see, helping them think of new ideas, be more creative, be more innovative. Whatever the buzz word is, you want to attach to it, right? Disruption… There’s lots of them. But I do that by, delivering a lot of keynote speeches at conferences around the world. I do workshops like one day private workshops, for organizations. And I write a book, called Non-Obvious, which has been, every year there has been a new version of it up until this past year where I did the final version of it, which was called Non-Obvious Mega Trends. And it’s all about the big trends that are changing our lives and our culture and how we can use them to improve our careers and improve our business.

Career Nation: Oh, fantastic. There’s so many nuggets there that I would love to unpack. And Rohit, why don’t we dive into sort of the non-obvious mega trends first. And so at first glance, non-obvious and mega trends, it almost seems a little bit like an oxymoron, right? If it’s not obvious, how can it be a mega trend because I may not have heard of it. And so it sounds like these are sort of massive trans, these are undercurrents most people have not been paying attention to, but we should. Is that what it is?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, sort of. I mean, if you’ve ever seen one of those viral YouTube videos of a painter kind of making a painting and as they’re making it, you’re like, ‘You know, that kind of looks like something but I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to be’. And then right at the end they kind of flip it around and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what it is’. You know? I think sometimes the mega trends are a little bit like that. Like they spotlight a lot of stories that we may have seen or you may have heard. But a lot of times we don’t take the time or have the time to put the pieces together over a longer span of time to say, ‘Hey, this thing that happened a year ago and this story that just happened last week, this is how they’re connected and this is what they mean’.

Rohit Bhargava: And so a lot of times with the mega trends described as something that we may have been kind of aware of in the peripheral sense of what was going on in the world, but we never really thought about in that way. And so the reaction I get most often to most of these mega trends is, ‘Oh, that’s like what I’ve been thinking and that’s what I’ve been seeing’. But you don’t really verbalize it in that way, right? And so that’s what tends to happen when I talk to people who’ve read these, who say, yeah, you know, I totally, it’s not that they read it and they’re like, Oh man, I never heard any of those things, right? Because then it’s kind of obscured. And that’s not, to your point, it wouldn’t be a mega trend then.

Career Nation: Yeah. And you’ve done so much work around these trends and I’m sure you like to do a lot of analytics, you observe all of this and you’ve mentioned this in the book, and you call it sort of a Haystack Method, where you sort of gather aggregate, elevate, name and prove, and at the risk of giving away the book. But, in sort of that gather step. You mentioned looking at things that are unusual where you can spot a pattern that’s sort of different. And, that’s to me, very interesting. And one question I had there for you was how can one develop a mindset that notices the unusual things? Is that, should a person just go out and proactively hunt for unusual things? Is it like a power of observation, a superpower that we should be developing?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, I think to some degree we all have this sort of power because we see things that are, that are interesting for us. And I think sometimes what we do is we see something that’s interesting, but we don’t necessarily take a moment to reflect on why it’s interesting or what it means. We just sort of consume it and move on to the next thing. And it becomes almost like that, like sitting in front of a bowl of Doritos, right? Like you’re just sitting there popping them in and you don’t even pay attention to what you’re doing. And instead, I think that if we were a little bit more conscious of why we find these things interesting and we engaged our curiosity a little bit more, we’d start to see these patterns. So a big part of what I try and teach people is be more intentional with your media consumption.

Rohit Bhargava: Like be more intentional with what you’re paying attention to and then create some sort of discipline, some sort of method to be able to capture what you read or what you think in a moment so that you can return to it later. And the analogy I use for that is that, if we could collect ideas the way most of us collect frequent flyer miles, we, we could really cash them in later, right? Because you don’t collect a thousand frequent flyer miles from flying from one place to another and then turn around and log into your account and say, okay, let me use my thousand miles. Right? Cause you can’t do anything. Like that’s not enough. But if you collect them over time, then it turns into something valuable where you can actually get a flight somewhere. And I think ideas can be the same way. Like if we collected them and had enough discipline to be able to find where we wrote them down in the first place and not lose that scrap of paper. And, you know, all the things that we sometimes accidentally do, then we could start to see the commonalities between them and come up with better ideas.

Career Nation: Got it. That’s a very helpful tip. And, as you know, if you look at our audience here for Career Nation Show, a lot of us are sort of business and technology leaders. How can we take advantage of these observations? Look at these trends as a tool or a skill that we can develop? How can we gain the skill? How can we apply it and sort of make our organization better or maybe more competitive and things like that.

Rohit Bhargava: So the way I see ideas and stories that relate to these mega trends is, the same way a spark would act in order to help start a fire. And so if you take these stories and you see something interesting in them, and then you say, Oh, I can use that to create something for our business. So let me give you an example, right? So one of the mega trends is something that I called, Protective Technology (Protective Tech). And it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s technology that proactively acts to protect us from some situation. And just this week I saw a story that I published in my weekly newsletter, which is all about non-obvious stories, right? That I send out every Thursday. And the story was about Tinder, adding all of these safety features that allow them to, for example, verify that the photo that somebody posted is actually a photo of them because they have to take a couple of selfies real time.

Rohit Bhargava: And then they match that with the photo. So it’s verified photos. So they’re not just posting a picture of like some famous celebrity and saying, Hey, that’s me when it isn’t. And then they have a panic button feature to where you can say who you’re about to go on a date with. Here’s all of their details so that there’s some emergency services in case something goes bad and you have some protection, right? So here’s a real example of Protective Tech, right? And what Tinder is doing to help protect their users in these real life situations where you meet somebody online and then you interact with them in real life, right? What could we do to inject more protective tech into our experience, right? That’s the question. So really with this mega trend, the question becomes an inspiration to then say, well, what do we do with this?

Rohit Bhargava: Like what could we do? And now you can have a brainstorm. And look, I’ve done a lot of brainstorm, facilitating a lot of brainstorming cause I work in the creative industry. And the problem with brainstorms is we sometimes start with these big open ended questions that say, look, we just need to be more creative. We just need to come up with something big. And like that’s not enough definition to create. And if you talk to any great designer, they will always tell you that they far prefer a more detailed creative brief than just a vague open canvas. Because the more detail they have around what they’re trying to create, the more creative they can actually be, strategically. And I think that the mega trends can give you that opportunity to be more strategic with your, idea session.

Career Nation: Got it. I like that idea a lot. And especially using that for brainstorming sessions. Some of the things we do here, you know, especially with our audience is sort of do problem solving or problem solving and get scale. Would you agree that some of this trending can help us in on one hand identify some of the problems that need to be solved, as well as some of the opportunities that we can take advantage of and then also help us to figure out how can we solve the problem, ie, get us to some solutions. Would that be a sort of a way to approach, our work in terms of problem solving, using trends and using sort of non-obvious observations?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, I think the, I mean, you really hit on it with the non-obvious observation part. The trends are really the output of my own process of collecting all these stories over the course of an entire year. And in the case of non-obvious mega trends over the course of 10 years, you know, because that takes 10 years worth of story gathering and research and interviews and all that stuff and puts it into one big package, right? But the technique that I really try and teach people to use is not so much just taking these trends and saying, well the trends are it and that’s the only thing you need to worry about. What I’m trying to teach people is that there’s this way of thinking what you said, the non obvious way of thinking. Which is you know, spot these unusual stories, collect them, find the intersections between them.

Rohit Bhargava: Look for inspiration beyond your industry. Right? A lot of times people who are in a technical field, like they just read their technical trade journals and that’s it, right? Or if you’re in architecture, like you’ll read the architecture digest and you know nothing else. And I think that if we’re going to truly be creative, if we’re going to really be innovative, like we’ve got to go venture outside of our industry, we’ve got to take inspiration from other places. We’ve got to avoid being the sort of person that says, ‘Well, I work in B2B and so anything that’s B2C like I don’t care about’. And so a lot of times we find like I find people have already closed their minds to stuff that they don’t think is relevant for them instead of looking for that gem of something that could be relevant for them that isn’t from their industry.

Career Nation: Yeah, totally agree with you, especially around the idea of applying, hings and ideas and concepts from other industries to your industry. And there’s a lot of learning there and there’s a lot of sort of, identification of problems and maybe different approaches to solve those problems. And again, that goes back to non-obvious, ways and non observation of non-obvious things. Now for 2020, which is your recent book and congratulations on hitting number one, wall street journal bestseller list. And so on, on those 10 non-obvious mega trends, I found all of them super fascinating. The one I got most intrigued by is Flux Commerce. And probably that’s because it’s closer to sort of my line of work in tech and innovation. Can you, do you mind double clicking on Flux Commerce for us?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah. Flux Commerce is the idea that, business models are rapidly changing. The lines that used to exist between different industries are starting to break down. And so what you’re seeing is a lot of competition from unlikely places. And that’s an opportunity as well as a threat for many of us, right? So Apple’s opened up a new credit card. So now they’re in financial services. You have, furniture brands like West Elm opening a portal, so you can try the furniture in the hotel and then go and buy it. You’ve got Cheetos opening a hotel, right? I mean, you’ve got all of these different examples of banks like Capital One having coffee shops, right? Like there’s so many examples in so many sectors that point of this idea that these lines that were traditionally drawn, where you just select the drop-down in your industry or set up your, consulting practice by verticals, isn’t as relevant as it used to be because everybody’s looking for opportunities in other places.

Rohit Bhargava: Along with that you’ve got a business model flux. So cars being available by subscription now, like all of these auto manufacturers are saying, look, you can just subscribe to our cars and you don’t have to buy them. You don’t have to own them. The nature of ownership itself is starting to change. We see a lot of examples of that where people are saying, ‘Look, why do I need to buy this thing? I’ll just rent it and use it whenever I need to use it’. And the sharing economy is been a big part of that as well. And so all of these are also examples of just this flux, of commerce. And so it’s no longer just this, the idea that you make a product, you sell a product, people buy the product, and that’s it. Now you have all of these other examples like Patagonia and going off and creating their whole worn wear movement saying, Hey, don’t buy the new product. Like fix the old one and keep using it because we don’t want this stuff to end up in landfills. Like that whole movement is just so fascinating. And that’s what I tried to write with this trend.

Career Nation: Oh, totally. This is so fascinating because it touches us in so many different ways through all of these different companies and quite frankly, all of us as consumers and customers are contributing to some of those trends as well. with our evolving, tastes as well as evolving values. You know, I’m shifting gears a little bit, Rohit, you know, in one of your prior books, Likeonomics, you talked a bit about earning trust. And, in the business world we see this term tossed around a lot, like becoming a trusted advisor to your customers or stakeholders. For example, salespeople are super interested in making sure that they become the trusted advisor for their customer accounts, for example. Right? And so this is something that many leaders aspire to be. They want to be the trusted advisor. Can you share, maybe an approach, maybe a way to developing that trust and becoming a trusted advisor?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, I mean, to me there’s many keys to it. I mean, one is a proactive honesty. Which is sharing something you didn’t have to share. And so you imagine, I mean, this is a pretty simplistic example, but imagine going to a restaurant and you’ve got a waiter there and you’ve got two different waiters, right? And the first waiter, you say, Hey, you know, I haven’t been here before. What’s good here? And waiter number one says, Oh, everything’s great. You can’t go wrong. And then you have the second waiter, Hey, what’s good here? And the waiter says, well, you know, if you’re really hungry, you might want this. The thing that I get the most complaints about, like, nobody likes this dish, so definitely don’t order that. I’m the one that I get if I ever get to eat here and they let me have whatever I want, that’s what I get.

Rohit Bhargava: And the most flavor is this one. And like, you know, he tells you something that is useful. That’s the guy that you trust. Because he’s not the everything’s-good-here guy. He’s the this-is-good-this-isn’t-good guy. And because he’s sharing with you what’s good and what isn’t, and because he’s being proactively honest, he builds trust. And I think that same lesson is something we can use, whether we’re in a leadership role or a sales role or we’re just trying to engage with somebody who we don’t have a level of understanding or trust with yet at all. Because people trust authenticity. And that’s one way to relay authenticity. Right?

Career Nation: Yeah. I love it. Rohit, this is the part of the show where we get to know you a little bit better. And that’s Favorites. So are you ready for a quick fire round of our Favorite’s game?

Rohit Bhargava: I hope so. Lay it on me and we’ll find out.

Career Nation: Awesome. Okay. Let’s start with your favorite app. And you also have to tell us why do you like it.

Rohit Bhargava: So my favorite app is Shazam. And because it is the ultimate in simplicity. You press one button, it listens to the music around you and it tells you what songs playing. And I just love that singular focus of like one big ass button. And that’s what the app does. Like in a world where we have everything doing everything. Like that’s just so beautiful. I love that.

Career Nation: Oh, totally agree. I love Shazam by the way as well. So, beautiful app. And I think Apple just bought it recently. So, it’s part of the…

Rohit Bhargava: – Nobody’s perfect.

Career Nation: – Exactly. All right. let’s go to your favorite quote.

Rohit Bhargava: My favorite quote is one that I actually share in the book and has been a big inspiration for me and it’s from Isaac Asimov, renowned author and many people know him as a science fiction author. But he actually wrote, you know, more than 300 books on so many different topics. I mean, he wrote a guide to the Bible. He wrote a guide to every Shakespearian play ever written. I mean, just amazing amount of work. And what he said one time when people asked him about his appetite for knowledge, as he said, “I’m not a speed reader, I’m a speed understander”. And I love that. Because what it said to me is you don’t have to spend your time trying to consume everything. You have to be more intentional about what you consume in the first place and then focus on understanding, like thinking. Right. And, and I think that we all could do a little more of that.

Career Nation: Yeah. Love it. And I can definitely see there is a tiny in between sort of speed understanding and observing non-obvious trends. Okay, let’s go to the next favorite topic. What’s your favorite book, Rohit?

Rohit Bhargava: So one of the books that really changed how I thought and I have, I mean, just to give you a little like, you know, glimpse like… That’s my book shelf right there.

Rohit Bhargava: So, you know, I have a lot of books. But, just to give you a sense of, one of the books that really inspired me, it’s a book called Einstein’s Dreams by a physicist named Alan Lightman. And it’s almost like a book of poetry. I mean, it’s very short. Every chapters super, you know, super like condensed. And it’s all about what would Einstein have dreamed as he was coming up with his theory of relativity. And so every chapter is basically a different version of time. In one of them time move super slowly, in one of them it accelerates, in one chapter (time) moves backwards. And the whole thing just imagines what it would be like to live in a world where time worked in that way. And it just really got me thinking about, the nature of time and you know, some philosophical ideas, but just kind of useful too. Because it makes you a little more present in the world. And I think that, that’s not always easy to do.

Career Nation: Oh, that is fascinating. I’ll put that on my list. Einstein’s Dreams. Moving on to the next favorite are probably the last question. What’s your favorite restaurant, Rohit?

Rohit Bhargava: So, I think I have a good one here. So for my, almost my whole life, my dad worked at the World Bank before he retired. And at the World Bank in DC, they have a cafeteria. And because it’s the World Bank, what they do is they bring in chefs from many different countries and they have stations for lots of different countries, including like a featured country at various times. And as you go from station to station, it’s just this really authentic international food prepared by a chef who’s generally from that country and they’re all just in one place. And you can have some of this like amazing, authentic, world cuisine in basically a cafeteria sitting where you carry your tray around, you just pick up whatever you want. And I just think that it’s such a cool thing. I used to love going there, to have lunch, whenever I could because it was just such a cool experience. So that’s probably one of my most favorite places.

Career Nation: Oh, that is fascinating. And that gives you sort of a taste of cuisines from all over the world. It’s special. It’s awesome. Now that we know you a little bit better, Rohit, let’s talk about sort of some of your techniques that you’ve applied to your work. Some of your favorite tools, you know, or your approaches. So as you are working on any given day, whether you’re collecting trends or you’re speaking or you’re preparing for a big presentation, tell us some of your secret sauce. Tell us what is your approach? What are some of the tools you use?

Rohit Bhargava: So, I have some online tools, that I use. So I use a Feedly app. I use it, get pocket app, to save stories every week. And so I’m always collecting stories because I’m doing this weekly email, right? And so I’m always looking for stories and interesting things, to talk about there. I’m also very physical with, the things that I save. So I am a big fan of magazines. I love magazines and especially I buy magazines that are not targeted at me. That’s one of the big things that I do. And I tell other people to do that too. Cause if you buy magazines that aren’t for you, like you get to know about a different world, you see different celebrities you’ve never heard of, right? You get to see like, you know, just, just an entirely different view of humanity, than what somebody is interested in. If you pick up one of these magazines and they all have these really niche interests, right? And so I love them because you escape the algorithm when you do that, right? Nothing’s personalized to you. It’s just the magazine you get is the same one I get. And that’s it. Like, you know, you get what you get. And I love that. So I’m an avid consumer of those types of, of information because I find interesting ideas in them and I save them.

Career Nation: Love it. You know, one thought that came to mind as you were talking about sort of picking up content outside of your genre or outside of your domain was this sort of idea of non personalization. And if you look at your any of your feeds online, everything’s personalized. And I see that you are intentionally going out of that and trying to get something outside of your personal domain. And that is, that I think is so powerful because if it’s non-personalized you basically are opening up to so many opportunities that you may not be aware of. And it’s not, it’s maybe partly serendipity, but it’s partly also sort of getting exposure to other views, other perspectives, other domain areas. And who knows, those might result in new opportunities.

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah. You know, I think that never before has that been more important to do. Because I mean we’re living in a time, I think the first time in human history where, it’s possible to be more informed and more narrow-minded at the same time. Because you just read the same things that you agree with over and over. And we find it hard to avoid doing that because that’s what’s served up to us, right, by the algorithms. And a lot of people don’t realize, I mean, you have a pretty savvy audience, so everybody listening here probably knows. But when I search for something on Google and when you search for something on Google, we don’t see the same results. Because they’re tailored to us based on what Google thinks we want to see. And to some degree, I think that explains a lot of the, misunderstanding and anger in the world.

Rohit Bhargava: Because a lot of times people think, ‘Well, if you’re seeing the same stuff I’m seeing and you have a different conclusion about how the world works, then you must be stupid. What’s wrong with you?’ And actually you’re not seeing the same thing. Like we’re seeing totally different things and we’re concluding how the world works based on that. And I think people don’t appreciate that often enough. And so they just look at somebody who doesn’t think the way they think and they dismiss them as idiotic when actually they’re thinking the way they think because of what they see. Because of what they read. And that’s totally different than what you’re seeing and what you’re reading.

Career Nation: I love that. And that cuts across so many different things, right? Politics, business, technology. Unbelievable. I love that sort of non personalization. Maybe it becomes a mega trend down the road.

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah. I think we need that. Maybe I should just kind of focus something just on that. That might not be a bad idea.

Career Nation: Love it. Rohit, you know, you’ve been such a great sport here, sharing your advice and your time. As we wrap up here, what is your advice for Career Nation show? You know, our audience who is super interested in developing their careers, developing themselves as successful leaders?

Rohit Bhargava: You know, I think the one thing I will tell you about my career, having been in the corporate world for about 15 years before I left to become an entrepreneur for the last five is if you can see the things that nobody else sees by consuming the information that they don’t, you can make yourself indispensable because what ends up happening is you end up having better, bigger ideas. And whether you consider yourself a creative person or not, being the one who comes up with those things and thinks in that way becomes a personal brand. You know, it becomes the thing that you’re known for. And for me, that has really paid off because there was a point when I was working in one of my ad agencies where no one would ever have a brainstorm without inviting me. Because they knew that I would come up with great ideas. And it wasn’t because I was the smartest person, but it was because I was paying attention to things that nobody else was. And I was reading the things that nobody else was. And you know, I wasn’t spending like years and years doing it right? But I was consistently doing it as a habit and that really paid off.

Career Nation: Yeah. I love that. great advice to wrap up here. Rohit, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure and thank you for the great advice. And we will put, your links to the book in the show notes and we hope to talk to you again in the future.

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, me too. Thank you.

Rohit Bhargava: Take care.

Blog Career Nation Show Career strategy

Episode 14: Career Nation show with Charlie Gilkey

“We didn’t commit as much as we could have because we were afraid of what might happen if we win. What are our notions of success that keeps us from doing meaningful work and making the change? We’ve talked enough about the fear of failure. Let’s talk about the fear of success.”, says Charlie Gilkey in episode 14 of Career Nation Show.

Charlie Gilkey is a US army veteran, business growth strategist, author, speaker, and entrepreneur.

Here are some highlights from this episode:

+ Why smart people struggle and give up halfway?

+ Why shouldn’t you consider thrashing as bad?

+ The downside and fear of success

+ How to create space for our special projects?

+ How to find the balance between your professional and personal relationships?

+ How to tell your career story?

You can get the copy of Charlie Gilkey’s best selling book, Start Finishing, from here:

Career Nation:
Hey Career Nation, welcome back to the Career Nation show. Today, we have a treat. Today we have a special guest who is a great creator. He’s an army veteran. He’s an entrepreneur. And now the bestselling author of a brand new book, ‘Start Finishing’. Please welcome to the show, Charlie Gilkey. Charlie, welcome to the show.

Charlie Gilkey:
Abhijeet, I’m so pumped to be here. Thanks for having me.

Career Nation:
Oh, the pleasure’s all mine. Charlie, for those in the audience who don’t know much about you, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Charlie Gilkey:
So, as you mentioned, I am a pretty prolific creator. I’m a blogger, I’m an author, I’ve got a podcast, I’m a, you know, speaker. So basically if there’s a way to get ideas out there in the world, I’ve experimented with it and I’ve tried it and I’ve probably got some, content trail that represents that. You know, I started productive flourishing, which is whereof all my work kind of goes to. I don’t do well having multiple brands. I started this in 2007, and at the time I was an army logistics officer. So I was army joint force military logistics coordinator, which means I was making sure the Army, Air Force, and Navy or dropping equipment where they needed to and getting it picked up and you know, taking it where it needed to go. And you would think that would be a well old machine. And it is because people like me are doing that oiling all the time. It’s not nearly as automated as you might think. And I was also completing my Ph.D. in philosophy. So I’m an Ethicist and social philosopher. And I had recently returned from

Charlie Gilkey:
operation Iraqi Freedom. And you know, it sounds so sophomore to say like, this too when I say it now, but at the time I was like, ‘Man, I just got to get my stuff together. I’m not getting it done. You know, I’m not being able to finish these papers and I’m not quite the person I want to be’. And so I started doing some research, like a good scholar and a good officer does. And says, you know what, I’m not the only person with this problem. What are people doing? And I started doing a lot of researching and synthesizing and that’s actually what became productive, flourishing. And so for the last 10-12 years, it’s really been focused on how we in the creative class can focus on finishing the work that matters most to us. And oh, by the way, the work of our lives is just as important is the work of our careers. So that’s really a background on what I do. So throughout this interview, I might go different directions. There might be some military voice, it might be some philosophy voice. But it really is that like that focus on how do we become the best people we can, that we can be in. Largely that’s through finishing projects that really, really matter.

Career Nation:
Well, there are so many nuggets there that I would love to unpack, Charlie. The, you know, the one thing that sort of, caught my eye was sort of your, background about the sort of, helping with logistics and operations and sort of getting to sort of execution and getting it done. And so that’s been sort of that recurrent team. And, is that what sort of inspired you to write a book about productivity or are there other factors or different factors that led you to write a book on productivity? Tell us some background on that.

Charlie Gilkey:
Well it is, you know, the blog started, the, my work started with productivity. And actually start finishing as my second book, right. My first book is The Small Business Life Cycle, which is really what to expect when you’re expecting for entrepreneurs. And I was involved in so many great conversations with entrepreneurs and executives and leaders and really the change makers of the world. But they all came back to not being able to get it done,, right.

Charlie Gilkey:
And so sometime around 2014, I put a stake in the ground and I was like, ‘Look, I know we want to talk about these big ideas. I know we want to talk about these great products in the ways we’re going to change the world. But at the end of the day, if you can’t get it done, it’s just all social Sodoku. Which is all playing this big game. It feels good when we’re playing, but nothing changes in the world’. And so I wrote Start Finishing to be that foundational piece so that we can get that, the base of ability and competence and mindset around getting this stuff done. And then we can layer on top of that. Yes, we’re building businesses. Yes, we’re building careers. Yes, we’re building products. Yes, we’re changing the world. But we know how to do that. And so for me, the conversations at a certain point felt really hollow and really purposeless because I’m like, at the end of the day, tomorrow you’re going to be stuck with the same problems that you had before we started talking. So let’s address those problems and move forward.

Career Nation:
And Charlie, when you, when you talk about sort of, you know, going over the finish lines, finishing things, execution is, is this sort of productivity thing, et cetera to you, is this a muscle that all of us should develop and hone and, you know, build over a period of time? Or do you think it is just sort of a, just sort of another skill, that you may need to know and you may have some competencies but you may not need to exercise it every time? What’s your philosophy around, is this a muscle? Should I build it every day and you know, that sort of thing?

Charlie Gilkey:
Yeah, I would probably push it as more is a lot. Not that it’s a muscle, it’s like the skeleton. It’s one of those core skills that I don’t think any of us get out of learning. Right? And, you know, we, no matter, you know, we might be a great product designer. We may not need to know, you know, management finance. Like that can be a periphery sort of skill. But this skill is a universal one that we all need to learn. Because especially for the creative class, our livelihood depends on taking ideas and converting them into market value. Right? if you’re not able to do that or you’re not able to do that, well you don’t have a roof over your head. You won’t have the career advancement that you want. You won’t be able to take care of your family. So it is very much a core skill. I won’t say it’s ‘the’ core skill because there are a lot of, you know, there might be three to five clusters of core skills, but it’s one of those.

Charlie Gilkey:
And what I furthermore say is we all know, aside from sociological and cultural factors, we all know that the people that are getting the pay that is getting the advancement that is getting team leadership are the people who are able to get stuff done. And the other thing I’ll say here is while Start Finishing is really about personal foundations and personal self-mastery and getting things done, you know, it also incorporates a huge element of collective productivity. And so the book that I’m working on now, it actually goes more that way. But if you can’t get your own stuff done, you can’t lead a team, right? if you can’t focus that team and figure out why they’re not getting stuff done and that team is not going to be successful. So no matter whether you’re like, I’m that visionary, creative and I’m not, I’m not in charge of getting stuff done.

Charlie Gilkey:
Well, there’s still somethings you need to do. You need to be able to articulate a clear vision for people, right? You need to be able to follow up with people and you know, chunk things down. And so Start Finishing really does help people do that and we don’t get away from it.

Career Nation:
Wow, that’s so great because I totally agree with you. There is a foundation within the individual that we need to get our stuff done. That’s a core skill. And then of course as a team, we have to work together to produce those outcomes and results that we want and the value that we want to create. I love it. And it looks like there is probably a Part 2 there somewhere for the book. So I can’t wait. So that’s awesome. And so, you know, one question is always sort of puzzled me. In fact, I’ve struggled with it as well is, there are many smart, ambitious people out there. They have great ideas and they start out on that idea and then somewhere in the middle they either give up or they let the idea languish or they are just not able to get it done and get to the stage where the idea actually goes out to the world. Everybody, you know, takes advantage of whatever they are creating a product or service or what have you. Have you observed that? I’m like what would you recommend? What’s sort of the silver bullet here?

Charlie Gilkey:
Yeah, so here’s the thing. Like some of us thrash… Thrashing is sort of the meta-work that flailing the quote-unquote research, you know, all the work you do on something that doesn’t seem to actually take it anywhere forward. Like, we all thrash at different stages of the product. And you’ve mentioned the middle stage of a project, or excuse me, you mentioned the middle stage of a project. Some of us thrash at the beginning of a project. Like before we actually accept that we’re going to do it, like, are we the right person? Is this the right time? Am I ready? Some people thrash there, some people thrash in the middle when like all of the novelty of the idea and all of the promising idea has crashed into the realities of getting it done and the competing priorities that we all face. Some of us thrash at the end, like at that last 90% where just before we’re about to show someone that’s when all the demons and head trash and all stuff comes up. And then some of us thrash throughout the entire project. Right?

Charlie Gilkey:
And so that’s, we’re just, that’s who we are. Right? But yeah –

Career Nation:
– They’re perpetual thrashers.

Charlie Gilkey:
– We’re perpetual Thrashers. And you know what, one thing that I’ll say about that is, in our society, we’ve made something, we’ve somehow, integrated that thrashing is bad. We’ve all somehow integrated that if you’re struggling with something, if it’s hard, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s sort of the perverse talent myth, right? They’d like people who are good at things, it comes easy to them. So, therefore, if you’re struggling with something, it’s not a talent that you have. Maybe you should go find what you’re talented at and stop doing that thing. It’s total BS. But we somehow deeply have integrated that. So when we start thrashing, it’s a clue for a lot of, or many people read it as a sign that something’s wrong, right? Like maybe I’m, you know, maybe this isn’t the right project. Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. Maybe you know, maybe there’s some other way out there that I need to go research for the next six months to figure out how to do that. As opposed to just saying like, no, thrashing is a part of any project that matters. And think about it this way. We don’t thrash about taking the trash out or doing the dishes or doing the laundry or going to get groceries. We either do it or don’t do it. We might procrastinate, but we don’t have that many existential crises of am I in the right place? And we only do that with things that really matter to us. Right? You start thinking about getting a new job or doing a major new career initiative or starting a business or getting married or you know, moving across the nation or you know, becoming the next bat. All of those things will get you to thrash. And so my point here is that I want people to recognize thrashing as a sign that you’re doing something that matters to you. And two, it’s not a sign that you’re not capable of doing it, it’s just that you’re having to rise to a different type of challenge. And maybe it’s the exact type of challenge that you need to rise to.

Career Nation:
And Charlie, you mentioned this in the book, which is when the goal or the objective is very important to us, we develop more of this thrashing and we develop sort of the symptoms and why is it, why does that happen? Why is it like if there’s something that’s so special to us, so important and we feel like we have all of these thoughts and doubts in our minds and other things going on. That sort of moves us away. What, why does that happen?

Charlie Gilkey:
Two simple reasons. There are a lot of reasons but two sorts of generic reasons. One is we’re afraid of failure. And if we fail on these things that really matter to us, as we make it about our identity. It’s not just some random thing that we are doing that we didn’t do good at, right? It’s who we are as a person. So I’m going to give an analogy here. And this is, this might resonate with some, but you know, we’re in the age group where most of us have played video games at some point over our time, whether it’s solitaire or whether it’s something else. Like when we play games like that and we fail, we don’t make it a character mistake. We don’t make it, you know, something that says about who we are. We try again, right?

Charlie Gilkey:
It’s like, Oh, that didn’t work. And we can spend entire days in games failing and not make it about our character and not make it about our competency. We just assume we haven’t figured out how to do it yet. But when it comes to our life and our work and when we fail, we don’t have that same, we don’t apply that same freedom. Right? Granted there are social pressures, there are other things that are going on, but more than that, our internal narrative, it can be, I’m not good enough. Right? I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe this is too much for me. So we tell all those stories about meaningful work that can kind of cripple us. So that’s the obvious thing. Many people know that they’re afraid of fear, that like, the other thing that people don’t recognize that they’re often afraid of is a success.

Charlie Gilkey:
Because if we do this really meaningful work, it might change the status quo of our life. It might change some of the relationships that are around us. It might change relationships with our family, with our partner. It might change the relationship with our coworkers. It might change the relationship with our boss and you know, as much as we like change, we’re really schizophrenia people sometimes and that we want to change, but we also like, like things to stay as they are. And so, sometimes that fear of success and how it might change and some of the no wins scenarios we’ll tell ourselves about success such as, you know if I’m successful then I’ll wreck the relationships around me. If I’m successful, then I’ve somehow sold or sold out or become a less, moral or ethical person, or less, you know, valuable person.

Charlie Gilkey:
Or if I succeed, then, I’ll set a bar so high for myself that I, I won’t be able to live up to it again. And then I’ll always be like, I’ll be crestfallen. And then the fourth one is, if I succeed, it’s gonna come at the cost of my health and sanity and spiritual wellbeing, right? So as long as we have those no-win scenarios around success when it comes to our meaningful work, it’s obvious why we can get stuck in the middle and right as soon as we’re about to start approaching success, we’ll start self-sabotaging, we’ll throw in the way or we’ll switch to an easier project that allows us to stay in this emotionally safe space of gray mediocrity where we’re neither really winning nor losing. Because, you know, we don’t want to lose and fail. That’s just a normal human. But we also don’t want what we perceive as the cost or the downsides of success.

Charlie Gilkey:
So we just shoot for that middle and on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis, that seems to be the right call. But when we look back over the course of a year or five years or a decade, what we regret is that we didn’t play as big as we could have. And we didn’t commit as much as we could have because we were afraid of what might happen if we win. So that’s the story that I want us to have this more about is what, what are our notions of success that keeps us from doing the meaningful work and doing the change, making work. Because we talked enough about the fear of failure. Let’s talk about the fear of success.

Career Nation:
Yeah, totally. And, what you just said is so fascinating. Which is fear of failure, which is sort of the more commonly known fear and then the fear of success? That is fascinating. And you’re so right about living in that gray zone in the middle for too long. It feels comfortable, but it actually is not productive and doesn’t get you to where you should be playing. And let me ask a followup on that and that’s sort of around prioritization and a lot of folks in our audience who are in tech and sort of other sorts of fields, they are always full of ideas. And, what in your mind would be sort of a way to prioritize. Because, I used to be a product manager and as the product manager I would think, the highest economic value gets is basically the number one priority for me in terms of my ideas that I would like to implement as a personal project. Or maybe there are some other criteria there, but what would you recommend as a sort of, an approach to prioritizing a lot of great ideas?

Charlie Gilkey:
Yeah. So you mentioned one of them obviously is what’s going to give you the biggest economic Pat. But I want to pause here because I’ve been talking and I sort of set it up in the beginning, but I want to slide this in cause it’s important. We over-focus on the economic work of our life and deprioritize the work, or excuse me, the career and economic work and we deprioritize the work of our lives. Okay. And try to find space and time in the leftovers of our economic work except for we overcommit on the economic and career side of things so that we’re overfull there and there’s just no space for our life to be fit into. And so throughout this conversation, when I say work when I say the project, there’s no necessary difference between economic work and the work of our lives.

Charlie Gilkey:
So you know, a project is anything that takes time, energy and attention. And when you really understand that, what we see is that there are a lot of things that we’re doing in our day to day lives that actually project that we’re not making space for, we’re not getting. So any of those hobbies that you have, trips, relationship, community, all of those things actually end up being projects that don’t get prioritized. They don’t get plans, they don’t get scheduled and they don’t get done. Okay. So I’m just going to put that out there ’cause that’s one of the things that I would have people be thinking about in this, in this broader macro prioritization is what are both the projects of your career? And what are the projects of your life that you need to be sorting between and making sure that their space, their space for both in accordance with what your values are?

Charlie Gilkey:
So if you’re a career person and that’s just how you set up the meaning of your life, I’m not judging that. You’re going to place more weight on career projects and less weight on personal projects. And that’s okay. You just got to know that, that regret, that frustration, that exasperations you may have about not getting projects, personal projects, done are consequences of the ways that you’ve set up your life, right? You may decide that, you know, maybe career is not as important and you’re going to prioritize the personal aspects of your life and you have to be okay with the consequence that you may not have quite the career advancement. You may not make the money, you may not have quite the stellar career as someone who’s focused on that. Now, there’s a lot of freedom in that because you get to choose, right?

Charlie Gilkey:
But you don’t get to choose to do one thing and expect to get the outcome of a different choice. Right? So don’t be mad about results you didn’t get from work you didn’t do. So I’m going to kind of set that up. So to your actual question though. What’s going to provide the biggest economic payout is a great one. The second one is what’s in this. this is from the book The One Thing. I think it’s by Keller. I’m looking at it here. So, yeah, Keller and Papasan. What project, if done, would set your life or your career up, in the most important way, right? And so it may not be that it’s an economic project, so it might be that you could create this project, you could create this product that has a huge economic payout. But it could also be that you focus on building a team that is able to create products like that in, you know, in a workflow or in a chain that’s far better than what you would be able to do if you just focused on the economic project.

Charlie Gilkey:
Right? But I talk a lot about the project world. And the project world is basically the idea that our life is divided into coherent three to five-year chunks. And I’m going to focus on right these both. On the life side and our personal relationships people change every three to five years, our life changes, you know, kids grow up, siblings’ age, parents age, we age, we get in and out of relationships. In every three to five years, there’s some sort of,

Career Nation:
– By the way, you don’t seem to age at all, Charlie, but keep going.

Charlie Gilkey:
– I appreciate that. There seems to be something that changes in their life that there’s a new sort of macro project. And in our careers we take new jobs, we get new positions, you know, we change, we pivot our business, like all sorts of things happen. So every three to five years, a chance to be a significant Metro project.

Charlie Gilkey:
And I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but when I was, you know, doing the research for the book, I figured out the Stewart Brand who’s like the Renaissance, he’s like the Renaissance soul par excellence of our age, right? And so he sort of said something similar, which is significant projects take at least five years to see through. So, what you can do is take you, you know, take your age, subtract it from 85 and divide by five. That’s the number of significant projects you have remaining in your life. And so another way to prioritize projects is, is this the main thing that you’re working on? Is it worthy of one of those remaining five or one of those remaining projects? So for me, I’m cresting 40. So that means I have about nine major projects remaining in my life that I could do.

Charlie Gilkey:
Okay. And so when I’m working on, you know, if I decide to work on the next book I’m in essence deciding that that’s taking one of those projects lots at the rate that I write books, right? if I start a new business, if I joined a new board, if I do any of those types of things, I’m always assessing, is this one of, is this worthy of one of those nine slots? And it doesn’t have to be about money, right? It can be about the legacy that I’m leaving. It can be about the impact that I’m wanting to make in the world. It can be about the way that I want to be in the world as opposed to the things that I want to do in the world. So there are different ways of sauteing that, but I find that people, you know and on one hand, it can feel like the earth is sitting on your chest when you realize you have a limited number of significant projects.

Charlie Gilkey:
It’s like, Oh, what do I do with that? But once you accept that constraint, it really does help prioritize the major projects that you’re working on and how that feeds into this broader story of your life. The last thing that I’ll say here is, work on the project that would pain you the most to let go of. And so sometimes when I’m working with clients, you know, like I’ve got all these ideas and it’s like, okay, what are they? And now I list them. They’ll list of bunches like, so imagine I’m reaching for one of those and if I grab onto it, you’ll never be able to do it again for the rest of your life. Which one causes the most pain? When I start reaching towards the most creative folks, they know, like when I get closer to them and they get super mad, right?

Charlie Gilkey:
Like not that one. Right? And it’s like, okay, that’s an important sign because here’s the thing, if you don’t choose to do that, time is going to take it away from you, right? If you don’t choose to do that project, it won’t be Charlie and his thought experiment, it will be time that comes and says, you know what, five years have passed. You lost that one, right? You lost some of your projects every five years, every seven years. You know, we can quibble about whether it’s three years or five years or seven years, but there’s a certain amount of time that we have for these significant projects. And so that last exercise can really grip people because once you know that, like you feel that tug and that pain want to start grabbing forward, that’s a sign start going towards it because if you don’t, time is going to take it from you.

Career Nation:
You’re so right. I mean, for a lot of people the pain of loss is higher than the pain of gain and that’s such a beautiful thought experiment. I would actually love to do that for some of my clients who are currently struggling with multiple priorities and projects. And let’s say, you know, we go through that thought process and we arrive at the project that this is our project that we want to do. And let’s say I am actually going through the motion and sort of planning for it, et cetera. And you mentioned this in the book, which is sort of creative space for your project. Like how in this world full of distractions devices, how can one go about making space for that special project? Because of the demands of other people’s time on us are always there. The devices are always going off and notifications. So how do we create space for that special project?

Charlie Gilkey:
You know, I love that because there are lots of different ways to take this conversation, but there’s a really simple way to address it. it all comes down to what I call focus blocks, which are 90 to 120-minute blocks of time where you can focus on a project, right? And you know, for creative projects, you know what, what that means. Like you have to be in that sort of work zone of coding or designing or writing or whatever that is. But it can also be, you know, if you need to clean out your garage like there’s a certain amount of time it takes to really get into that and figure out what’s going on. So it’s just focusing on that project. Now I can talk later on about how to firewall a focus project, but the fact of the matter is if you don’t have any available focus blocks for a project, you’re not going to move that project forward.

Charlie Gilkey:
Right? And a general rule that I would tell people is three focus blocks per week per project. If you can’t carve out 90 to 120 minutes of dedicated time to work on that project, you’re simply not going to move it forward. It’s not about your procrastination, it’s not about your capabilities, it’s not about your, you know, any of that sort of stuff. It’s simply you don’t have the type of time you need to move it forward. So step one, when we start talking about making space is look at your schedule and be realistic about where you can create those focused, you know, those focus blocks and where you can’t. And if you see that work and you see that the other commitments of your life are eating all of the time that you have for focus blocks, what we have to have the conversation about is like one of two things is happening.

Charlie Gilkey:
One is your life and your work is basically in alignment with your priorities. So we don’t need to change anything. Or your work in your life or out of alignment with your priorities, which means we need to change something, right? And you know, there’s what I’m trying to do here and, and you probably see it, Abhijeet is that I’m trying to take that pain and that frustration and that sort of, creative constipation that we can often have. And I’m trying to put that at the beginning of our decision-making process rather than spreading it out and diffusing it over weeks and quarters and months and years. Right? I would rather say Abhijeet, look, I know you want to do these projects, but this is your life right now either accept that your life is in accordance with how you want to live your values and your priorities.

Charlie Gilkey:
Or we have to start making some changes in that change may be uncomfortable. It may invoke some thrashing and may be difficult, but you can’t continue to do what you’re doing because you’re going to get to the same result. So that’s the first thing that I’ll say. And it’s like if you can’t carve out those focus blocks, you’re not going to be able to do the project. Now I say three focus blocks per week because that gives you some momentum on that project, right? You may be in your life where you’re like, I can only do one. I can only do one focus block a week. And I’m like, great, do that one focus block, make some progress. But again, don’t fall into comparisonitis and despair when you’re looking at your buddy that has allocated five focus blocks for their project and you’ve allocated one like you’re not, they’re going to be cumulatively outrunning you, right?

Charlie Gilkey:
And it’s not just that they’re going to be running five times faster, it’s five times plus some compounding interest of their momentum. They’re just going to be outrunning you. And that has nothing to do about them being better than you, is smarter than you, having their stuff figured out. It’s just the amount of time that they’re putting into the gym that we call life, right? If you don’t have that much time, you’re not going to get the results. And again, that can be really frustrating. But I’d rather us be frustrated about the reality of things and be able to assess it the way things are than to create stories about ourselves, about we’re not good planners, we’re not good executors we’re procrastinators. We don’t know what we’re doing. Cause that’s our default is like not looking at the situation and seeing that it is, but telling stories about ourselves and ultimately handicappers.

Career Nation:
Yeah, you’re so right. Sorry to jump in there. But I think that sort of creates sort of a negative spiral for a lot of people, which is I’m not good enough. I can’t do this. And then basically it reinforces negative behavior, negative thoughts, et cetera. You touched upon not touch upon actually you go through this concept of Gates in the book, which I found so fascinating. Tell us a little bit about that.

Charlie Gilkey:
Yeah. So Gates are your genius Affinity’s talents, expertise, and strengths. And I know that each means something different, but I really want it to be like that special sauce that you, that you uniquely have that enables you to do things. And they’re not always what would go on like your resume or go on your professional skills. So you might have a gate of curating music, right? Or you know, being able to organize spreadsheets or you know, being able to a party that’s a totally, you know, one of your Gates, but you may not list that on there.

Charlie Gilkey:
But what we do Abhijeet, is we pick a goal, we see common ways that people go about those goals. And we pick one of those common ways and then we jump into the project about the middle of the project. We figured out it’s super hard, right to do. What I want people to do is when they’re thinking about their goal, just start thinking about their Gates and say, Hey, how can I leverage what I’m great at? What’s native for me to get this goal done? This might mean you have a completely different pathway than the common way of getting there, but you know what, that pathway will work for you. So I’ll give an example here. To someone, I’ve given a book. I had a reader reach out to me. His name was, he’s Ernie. That’s not his real name, but we’ll call him Ernie.

Charlie Gilkey:
So Ernie reached out to me and he’s like, Charlie, I want to grow my blog. I’m terrible at writing. I don’t like writing. I’m good at you to know, conversations and video, but I want to grow my written blog. So what should I do to grow my written blog? And I was like, am I being punked here? Like, am I being trolled? Because in his, in his email, he had basically, he had already said, well, what the problem was like. And so I responded back, I was like, Ernie, don’t grow a written blog. Like, that’s not your goal. Your goal is to actually develop a platform and you know, build a business or do something like that. A blog is a pathway for doing that. You don’t like writing, you’re not good at it. You don’t want to do it. Right? Pick the things that you’re great at.

Charlie Gilkey:
Start a podcast, start a video-blogs. Like, use those skills to get to that goal. And when I say it, it sounds simple like duh. But I think most of the time when I say people can go back over the last two weeks and think about something they’ve done, the hard slash conventional away. And thinking about how they could have done it if they really would have used one of their geniuses Affinity’s talents, expertise or strengths to get that thing done. So, and the other thing that I’ll say is a lot of our Gates are actually collaborative and social. but we don’t use them because we have, head trash and negative stories around asking for help. And so because we glorify that sort of self-made person and we glorify that person that’s like doing it all by themselves, that becomes our model.

Charlie Gilkey:
And so we’ll go and we’ll struggle and we’ll thrash and we’ll push as hard as we can before we have to ask for help. Because we don’t want to owe anyone, we don’t want to show that we’re less than. And we want to credit them for doing it by ourselves. Right. And so what I would also remind people is that pulling people into your project earlier on and really working them in is the joyful, rich, and faster way usually to get things done. But you have to sort of front-load that. You don’t have to crawl through the desert of that project or you’re like, I’m gonna make it. And then right as you’re about to run out of the water, you’re like, help please, right. You don’t have to do that. You can ask for help from the beginning. And that helps sets up very natural and organic, accountability with a group of people that you are in that actually gives a lot of momentum and fuel for the project.

Career Nation:
Yeah. That is so true. In fact, one of my mentors tells me that, about this med of self-made person and basically he said, there is no one here that is self-made period, end of story. And, you’re so right about finding out what those Gates are, what are those areas of your genius, affinity, et cetera. And then, figuring that out and then moving back into your project and making sure that you are taking others along. And, you know, there are so many tools in the book that I would love to double click into, but before that, we do want to know you a little bit better. So if you’re a game, we would love to play the favorites game with you.

Let’s do it. You know that I may have to give you three favorites, but I’ll do my best to give you the one favorite. Yes. You’re allowed to cheat, allowed to cheat it just a little bit, Charlie. Okay. Charlie, do you have a favorite app?

Charlie Gilkey:
At this point in time? Ulysses, which is a writing app. And what’s great about Ulysses is that it just focuses on the words, and lets me figure it out. Just distractions and get content where it needs to go. So given that writing is what I do, I love it.

Career Nation:
Well, you did not cheat on that when you gave us your favorite app. That’s awesome.

Charlie Gilkey:
I had two or three other there. Don’t do it, Charlie, don’t do it.

Career Nation:
I love it. Do you have a favorite quote that you either like, you have stocked up on your, you know, closet somewhere, it’s on, on your personal note journal? Like do you have a free coat?

Charlie Gilkey:
Yes. And this is from Lao Tzu in the Tao te Ching. And it’s, I’m going to give you, I’ll give this version of it. “He who can conquer the world, I count as strong. He who can conquer himself, I count as truly powerful.”

Career Nation:
Oh, well that is deep. I love it. And I also love that fact because knowing yourself is such a liberating and powerful thing at the same time and it really allows you to go out and start finishing things. Wonderful. Do you have a favorite book?

Charlie Gilkey:
Ooh, now this gets trickier. By process of what gets quoted the most, it’s probably the Tao te Ching. And so as the book I’d just referenced, but it wouldn’t be the one that, you know, I have a small list of books that I would take to an Island. Like if I got, if I was to cast away and I got to pick five books, I could not have Tao te Ching there. So yeah, I would say that one.

Career Nation:
Wonderful. And I know you’re in wonderful Oregon. Do you have a favorite restaurant?

Charlie Gilkey:
So again, going with Gandhi’s action expresses priority, it would probably be Hopworks Urban Brewery, which my wife and I eat at probably twice a week for different choices that they have there. So yeah.

Career Nation:
Is there a favorite brewery as well over there?

Charlie Gilkey:
I love their, help cider. I’m a hard cider guy. And so their cider is really great too.

Career Nation:
Very cool. We’ll check that out. I don’t know if you get that here in Northern California, but we’ll see.

Charlie Gilkey:
You down. It’s a local company.

Career Nation:
Got it. So Charlie, thank you for that. And why don’t we shift gears back into the topic of the book and, I really wanted to ask you this, which is what would be sort of the top three ideas that you would share from the book that have for you personally stood out as like, Hey, if I want anybody to read this book and take these three things away, these would be it.

Charlie Gilkey:
Okay. So, yeah. Great. So the first one would be the idea of success packs. And I’ve alluded to collective productivity throughout our conversations. But your success packs are the group of ‘Yeah-Sayers’ that you put around your projects that help you do that near. Four different types of people you put in there.

Charlie Gilkey:
I can go, we can double click down into this and if you want to, but success packs and definitely the idea of, what’s important about success packs is one, you recruit them before you have a plan. And that’s counterintuitive for a lot of people, right? But they help you make a better plan and success packs help you convert how problems into who solutions. Right? So whenever you don’t know something, it’s not, I got to go figure it out. It’s like who do I ask? Oh, and are already part of my team. So success packs as a major one. The second one will be the five project rule, which the long way of saying that it is no more than five active projects per time perspective. And so both to explain that the time perspective is the easiest gateway into there. So we all know, I think intuitively the difference between a week sized project, a month sized project, a quarter-sized project and a year sized project.

Charlie Gilkey:
And we also know that the higher up you go in those time perspectives, the more those projects contain smaller projects at the time perspective over them. So how this gets really useful is that when you’re doing your weekly planning, you can say, okay, what are the five projects that I want to make the most progress on and or finish? And you can just focus in that time perspective. The trick here is that our brains don’t do well with different time perspectives at the same time. Right? It’s like the analogy is trying to think about the size of an ant, the size of a basketball and the size of the United States at the same time. Our brains can’t do it. Right. But when we start making plans and when I look at people’s to-do list, I can tell, Abhijeet, cause I’ll look at their to-do list.

Charlie Gilkey:
There might be 10 items on there and two of them are sort of like month size projects and you know, three of them might be week size projects and then there’ll be something that will take them a day and then there’ll be a bunch of tasks. And because I can see it, my brain goes haywire cause I’m like what’s going on here? But their brain is going haywire too. They just don’t know it. So the five projects rule really helps you focus for that time perspective, prioritize, do just in time planning and get those things done and see how they build towards the future that you want. So that would be one. The third key concept, I believe we’ve already talked about, but it would be to use your Gates more. So I struggle with the third one cause it’s either Gates or the no in scenarios that I talked about because again, so many people don’t realize that they’re actually afraid of success.

Charlie Gilkey:
And no matter what your plan is, no matter how much you put to it, if fundamentally you’re afraid of success, you’re not going to be as successful as you would otherwise be, cause you’re always gonna pull back and leave some in the tank. So that’s, I sort of asked like between Gates and no one’s scenario. So I’m going to cheat and say four. There we go.

Career Nation:
I love it. That’s such a great summary. you know, there was another concept that a really personally liked in the book that was around momentum planning. And, you know, momentum is fun. You, it’s hard to tell when you have it, but when you haven’t, you know, you know you have momentum, you’re making progress. How do we achieve momentum? How can we actually make it happen and sort of taking that from sort of this abstract view to him in a manifestation of that in our project, in our lives to make progress?

Charlie Gilkey:
Yeah. So one way to understand how to recognize momentum is the degree to which you need to scaffold and structure the work itself versus just being able to do the work, right? So when we’re really in a group, when we’re really in momentum, there’s not a lot of thinking about the work. There’s much more doing the work. but those projects that you pick up once every two weeks and you work on a little bit and you put it back down and you pick it up and you put it back down, you don’t get much momentum on there and you know it because every time you pick it up you’re like, where was I? What do I need to do? Like, well, that’s just going to look like the finish. And so, really a lot of the work. So there are different ways to think about this, but one of the reasons the five projects, rule is so important is because it actually does help you focus on momentum.

Charlie Gilkey:
Because what we have to remember is it’s not how many projects we start that really matters. It’s how many we finish, right? And so I want us to change our conversations from I’m doing all of these projects, to I’m finishing these four projects, right? And they’re leading to other projects. And you know, so what I will say is if you don’t have momentum right now and you’re really trying to get it, focus on the time perspective where you do feel like you have good control over. So like if you’re the weekly master and you can get weekly momentum done, that’s great. Use that to start focusing on month sized momentum and being able to tie months together if you’re good at months, work on growing into the quarter size because the quarter sized projects tend to be. That will have changed for so many of us, right?

Charlie Gilkey:
Because most of the significant projects we’ll do, one span over, you know, three to five years. But we have to sustain focused on chunks of those projects over quarters and tie those quarters together. So when you get to mastering that quarter, which is why there’s so many books like the 12 week year and the 90-day plans and everything revolves around the corner. Cause we recognize that is probably the biggest chunk of time that most of us can coherently plan and have that plan to be realistic. And it’s the one that someone gave us to falter on. So, that’s what I would say to like really focus on limit them starts with where you already sort of feel that it might be daily momentum. I’m not judging right. If you can master the day, great. Start, you know, working on the week, but don’t try to go from the day to the year cause that’s going to be super frustrating and you’re probably not going to be able to do it. To expand that, that circle of mastery, up to different perspectives of time. Was I clear on that one?

Career Nation:
Oh, it was. And it was sort of like this Jedi trick to get into momentum mode. I love it. you know, I do have a tactical question real quick on that one, which is sort of how do we say no and you know, yeah, I could have five projects. I could have a weekly week project or a month project, et cetera. You know, one of the things that always comes up and because you know, I’m usually well-networked and there’s always, requests coming my way and I think I’m a nice person. I don’t want to say no. And so how do you defend your sort of this momentum from external factors and how do you at the same time maintain a great network, maintain those professional and personal relationships that you value so much?

Charlie Gilkey:
So a few things. One, start from the perspective that you don’t have to defend it, right? In the sense that like you are charting your own sort of project destiny, right? And if people take you off that project, destiny, it’s because you allow them, right? And so I think and the reason I start this, cause I think so many of us start with our default is yes. Unless we can say no, right? So I’m trying to change it so that our default is no unless it makes sense to say yes. Right? And that seems to be a subtle shift, but it’s a really powerful one. Because it enables you to use some habitual triggers. Like the first thing that I would say to you Abhijeet on that one is going on a no diet in the sense of when someone asks you to do something, your response is first no.

Charlie Gilkey:
Because I think that’s going to be a bridge too far for you. But it’s, let me check my schedule and my project deck to see when I can do this. That will give you just enough time to interrupt that, tendency to say yes and that tendency to over-commit. And if you actually look at your schedule when you actually look at your project deck and decide that this request, like, is one of those things you want to do, then absolutely say yes. And the other thing that I’ll say is, and it’s going to sound pretty simple and obvious, but make sure that your schedule accounts for the open time that you may need to say yes to people. And so if you are an especially gregarious person and you say yes to a lot of things, you know, in that five projects rule, you might only let yourself choose four of those projects because you know there’s always going to be space taken by the other ways you’re going to say yes.

Charlie Gilkey:
But what that means is again, Jedi mind trick here, that project slot that you opened up is community projects, right? You’re just making space to support your community. And I think that’s a great thing to do if that’s in accordance with your priorities and values. And, and, and, and don’t assume you get to be heavily involved in a bunch of other people’s projects and priorities and you know, the stuff that they’re doing and get to do your full load of projects at the same time because that’s where you’re going to end up being in that self-defeating perspective or self-defeating position where you say yes too much and then you’re the person that can’t honor his or her commitments. And or not get your stuff done. And it starts to be where you will resent the very people that you’re saying yes to. Because they’re, you know, they’re keeping you from doing the things that you want to do.

Charlie Gilkey:
And so it completely corrupts that energy. And so, far, far better to say fewer yeses. But be able to really lean into those and follow through those yeses. Then to say way too many yeses that you can’t live up to. And that keeps you from doing the work that you’re most, here or most I’m here to do are most called to do. Does that help?

Career Nation:
Oh yeah, absolutely. I love those hacks. I love that shift from a default yes and maybe no to a default bell and then maybe yes. And also love sort of, Hey, let me check my schedule because that allows you a little bit of a buffer to make sure you’re providing the right response. I love it. Are there, so this is sort of a general question as zooming up a little bit. Are there hacks like that, that Charlie has in his toolbox that has not made way into the book? And, are there things that you, you do, maybe it’s your morning routine, maybe it’s your, the way you prepare for, I don’t know, a big meeting. I don’t know. Like, are there hacks like that that you have or that you’d like to share?

Charlie Gilkey:
Hacks! Let’s say very tactical ones in that way. Some of them are going to sound like a sort of general productivity advice, like every day I spend at least 15 minutes cleaning up my office. I’m preparing for the next day. Right? I don’t do well when I have a bunch of papers and stacks on my actual desk. They can be somewhere else, but not on my desk. Friday I have a five-things-Friday where I get rid of five things every Friday. Right? And so whether it’s just boxes that or crew or books or whatever it is. Just intentionally getting rid of stuff too, keeps things simpler and more organized. Let’s see. Another thing is that, one of the major hacks that I have, and I wrote about it in the book, you see me look, and it’s not in here. I wrote the book on an alpha smart Neo. Which is, if you give me just a second, I’ll go get it right.

Career Nation:
Yes. Go for it. Oh, this is going to be so fascinating. This is for the first time in the show that the guest has left the screen to go get something. And it’s my, it’s my duty to entertain you while Charlie’s coming back.

Charlie Gilkey:
Alrighty. Here we go. so Alpha Smart Neo, which is the 1990s processor. You turn this guy on, I think this is on here and it fires up and you have six lines of writing. And that becomes a sort of a distraction-free area. Or I can just write and focus and I don’t have to worry about email to worry about Google. It’s just me. And this is, it’s like, you know, Abhijeet we’re at that age where we can remember when we went to a computer to do a specific thing and then once we did that thing, we went and lived their lives. Right? So you had drafted and then you go type on a computer, you print it out and then you’d go live the rest of your life. You weren’t, you didn’t do everything on the computer instead of retraining. But what I’ve done is taken that like whatever recognize is that I create better work on smaller screens. So…

Career Nation:
Interesting. Very cool.

Charlie Gilkey:
Yeah. It’s more focused work. So it’s anti the trend of 27-inch monitors and things like that. But all of my creative workflows usually focus on constraining the space to just what I need to be focusing on at that time. Because if I can click on something, if it’s availability I can feel it at this point, draining a little bit of my bandwidth. And so this is kind of this meta hack here is assume that you have ADHD, and build your workflows around that assumption. And even if you don’t have ADHD, it will make your work so much easier to do and it helps help you focus and help you be present with things. Right. So if you, I may or may not have it, I’m not judging whether I do, but assuming that I have it, create better, simpler, more focused, more present workflows for me that allow me to be where I am and not be in 17 different places at once.

Charlie Gilkey:
So that one didn’t make the book. Another one that didn’t make the book is, and it’s not so much a hack as much as it is I working mindset is balancing creating, treating, connecting and consuming. We normally think about creation and consumption, like in the sense of you take in a bunch of stuff and then you create stuff. But connecting with people is a super important thing. And I can tell when I’m off-balance in my work shows up in my life shows up when one of those is not at the right level. And so it’s always sort of tweaking, tweaking or noticing like, Oh, I haven’t read as many books and articles as I normally do and I’m dry on the creative side, or my conversations aren’t as rich my conversations and connect with other people. So I need to do that.

Charlie Gilkey:
Or Oh, I’ve been in a cave for two weeks and I’m really uninspired and disconnected. It’s time to connect with other people. Right? And so just managing that energy is more like a weekly, or I could do it at the moment like, Oh, I really need to reach out to a friend, or I really need to, instead of watching TV or playing a video game, it’s probably time for me to do some high-quality reading or high-quality consumption. So managing that has been something that I’ve been doing for the last 10 years. It didn’t make the book because that was one of the 20%, that was some of the 20% of content that had to get cut. But it makes a huge difference when you start looking at how do you remain in a state of a thriving human being and understanding that it’s those three forces that are working.

Career Nation:
Oh, I love that. And that connecting piece can be so important because that makes you human. It is also sort of, it’s almost like the connective tissue between the absorption and the consumption of information to creation. In some ways, and you may have seen this is sort of also triggers sort of the subconscious mind in some ways because we’re having a conversation. It’s perfectly normal, but just catching up and you will kind of come up with an insight and idea which is like, ah, the problem I was trying to solve weeks ago, days ago, et cetera. Here’s the solution and then you will be rushing back to your notebook or to your Apple device. And I’m trying to try to note it down. I love that. Love that concept. Charlie, this has been phenomenal. I mean, this has been just a ton of value in this podcast episode. As we wrap up here, what would be your advice for Career Nation and as you know, our audiences across the board, we have some folks that are early in a career in the middle of their career, towards the end of their career. And quite frankly, they are interested to figure out how can they advance in their career? How can they create more value? Why parting advice? words of wisdom for them?

Charlie Gilkey:
Yeah. On this one, I would say that it’s your responsibility to tell the story of your career. That’s not your boss. It’s not your employer. It’s not anyone else’s responsibility, but your own to tell that story of how your work is creating value, how your work is coherent. You know, I’m echoing our good friend Pam Slim here where you’re like, you know, it’s your body of work and it’s really about the stories you tell about it. And I think as much as we focus this conversation on the doing of stuff, right? Remember that one of the doing things that you needed to do is to be, telling the coherent story about the work that you’re doing. And I’m not necessarily saying over-promotion and marketing and things like that. But if you’re not really thinking about how the work you’ve done this quarter could end up on your resume, one year is going to go by, years are going to go by and you won’t necessarily be thinking about the work that you’ve done. But two you may not be thinking, huh, this work that I’m doing wouldn’t show up on my resume. It’s not what I would want to tell the world that I’m doing. I need to create different work. So again, it’s your responsibility to tell that story and it’s your responsibility to chart, you know, the map of your work. And so, tell a good story, chart a good map.

Career Nation:
What a great way to end this episode. Tell a great story. Chart a great map! Charlie, thank you so much. It was phenomenal. We appreciate your time and good luck with the book. For those of you who want to get a copy, you can get it at your favorite bookstore. And we’ll drop a few links in the show notes – Start Finishing. Charlie Gilkey, thank you so much.

Charlie Gilkey:
Thanks for having me, Abhijeet. It’s been a blast.

Blog Career Nation Show Career strategy New career opportunities Skills

Predictions for 2020 and beyond

The year now is 2020! Happy new year! And a happy new decade!

I like the sound of 2020, like clear vision. Perfect time to share some predictions for 2020 and beyond – on tech, on politics and other macro trends.

There are some positives and there are some negatives. So here they are in no particular order. 

1. There will be a big tech break-up or not quite?

Prediction number one – there will be big tech breakup (or not quite?). There will be some noise in the system to break up big tech – companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc. And there could also be some possible class action against Amazon for copying other brands.

The government, they will end up scoring, I would say a symbolic victory. And most of the tech companies will be able to work around these legal changes. The result – everyone wins except consumers. Because these companies will continue their march towards complete world domination and the politicians, they will be able to score some brownie points.

2.Trump wins in 2020

Prediction number two – Trump wins in 2020. Primarily because Democrats will not have a strong leader and will not have clear messaging. This is nothing new for Democrats because, except Obama, they’ve not really had a great leader with a clear strategy, great communication and mass appeal in the last 20 years.

This is not exactly a tech prediction, but given that a lot of our politics is now influenced by the tech we use, this is also a tech prediction.

3. The US avoids recession in 2020

Prediction number three – the US avoids recession in 2020. I predict either a good year or a great year. And assuming Trump wins again, we may actually see a melt-up in the stock market. Having said that, we’ve gone sort of the longest time in history without at least a 20% pullback. Which means the major stock correction is around the corner. It’s not a matter of if, but it’s a matter of when. Nobody knows when this pullback will happen. So the investing strategy that works all the time is time in the market is better than timing the market.

4. AI creates new jobs in 2020 and beyond

Prediction number four – AI creates new jobs in 2020 and beyond. Many of these jobs will be created as a result of AI’s evolution. These jobs will have brand new titles and have completely new job descriptions. A lot of the knowledge workers and tech workers essentially will become the trainers and curators of Artificial Intelligence.

As AI goes from general-purpose, the AI that we see as in Alexa, Google Home, and Siri, it will evolve into more of a purpose-built AI. We will see the need to hire more people from the industry that have subject matter experts who can train these AI engines.So these will be brand new opportunities created through AI.

5.More inequality

Prediction number five – higher inequality. Automation and AI will start to create some displacement of workers, not only in blue-collar (although that’s going to be a lot of them) but also in white-collar workers. The gig economy that we’re seeing through Uber and other platforms, it will start to spread to white-collar workers as well. Digitization will move all atoms to bits and so anything that can be digitized will be digitized.

So if there are jobs out there that involve acting as an intermediary or have sort of low value repeated tasks, those will likely get disrupted. So the displacement in jobs is not to displays the entire job. But it will likely carve out a lot of the tasks that are repeatable. A low value is of intermediary nature.

6. From Coastland to Heartland

Prediction number six – from Coastland to Heartland. The movement of knowledge workers from the Coastland to the Heartland gains momentum in 2020. Case in point, if you’re looking for a one way you haul, it costs about four times for people to move from California to Texas, then to move from Texas to California. And people on the coasts are really dealing with a lot of issues. They are facing a rising cost of living, including real estate, among other things. They are facing bad infrastructure, their traffic commutes are getting worse because of congestion. And the general quality of life versus the price that they’re paying is not adding up. So a lot of these are driving people to move and the new tax law, it’s going to be the last straw to break the camel’s back.

This will be the year when people file for taxes. They really started to understand the impact of the new tax law on their take-home pay. More people will make the move from the coast, both those coasts to the Heartland in 2020. You know, one interesting nature of this is because of this move, many of the Heartland states, they will turn from red to purple to blue over a period of time. Politically speaking, of course.

7. Startups focus on profitability

Prediction number seven – startups focus on profitability. You know, when we started talking about coastland, it’s also important to talk about what’s going on within the coast – the startup scene. After the WeWork Debacle, the VC community is now asking for profitability from startups. So it will no longer be the mantra of growing at all costs, but it will be about profitable growth.

And this will throw a wrench in the way startups are organized and how they go to the market and so these are very interesting times ahead in terms of how the startups pivot and they cross the chasm of profitable growth in both the enterprise market as well as the consumer market.

8. SaaS organizational evolution

Prediction number eight – SaaS organizational evolution. Would this new direction towards profitability? A lot of startups and established tech companies will have to rethink their operating models. This means there will be some evolution in the way SaaS companies acquire, retain, and renewing customers.

We’ve already seen a lot of these subscription companies move away from the traditional funnel type of way to work with customers to a flywheel model of continuously acquiring, retaining and renewing customers. And because of that, SaaS companies will go through some evolution. They will organize their marketing, sales, customer success, and other functions differently. It’s likely that we will see some hybrid organizations emerge out of this evolution. Very exciting stuff.

9. New non-US unicorns

Prediction number nine – new non-US unicorns. The higher penetration is already bringing about more people online than ever before in Asia. And especially that’s true in India and China. The first unicorns are already in play. Didi Chuxing, Kuaishou, Paytm, Grab, OYO, Ola – all of these companies are already unicorns.

In 2020 and beyond, we will see far more unicorn startups. Because software starts to eat the world in Asian markets across multiple industries. So they will be eating the software, will eat the market and transport, finance, food, e-commerce, real estate, infrastructure, and many other industries. So watch out for those Asian unicorns.

10. The first commercially successful climate change company

Prediction number ten – we will see the emergence of the first commercially successful climate change company. In 2020 and beyond, we will likely see the first company that will address climate change. It will have great technology and will have a commercial business model that can scale rapidly.

It could be something like removing plastics from oceans and using that plastic to create highways. I don’t know. Or it might be creating more artificial hair for me, that would be useful, right? Well, there will be a company that will crack the code in terms of making commercially successful climate change technology and that will pave the way for other companies to follow. We will address climate change without taxing everyone to death.

Did I mention 10 predictions? I lied. I’ve got a couple more. What are you going to do? Close the blog? No, you’re going to keep reading because the FOMO is too strong on this one. 

11. The death of Blockchain

Prediction number eleven – the death of Blockchain. Blockchain and its current form will not get massive adoption. There aren’t many use cases. Quite frankly, blockchain is a threat to governments, banks, and other industries. Why would they use it unless it changes? So in most B2B organizations, they will say ‘no, thank you’ to blockchain in its current form until there are better use cases of blockchain. Sorry, blockchain!

12. Subscription business model

Prediction number twelve – a subscription business model. In 2020 and beyond, many industries will turn to the subscription business model. So it’s not just what happens in tech. In tech, we’ve already seen software as a service (SaaS) become the prevalent subscription business model. But now we will see other industries taking up the subscription business model.

Case in point, the launch of Disney plus. Disney plus recently launched and now it has 10 million subscriptions. Expect subscription products to become the norm in other industries – it could be financial services, consumer goods, manufacturing, and many others.

13. Healthcare

Prediction number thirteen – healthcare. In 2020 we will finally see the introduction of a competitive health plan outside of the traditional insurance companies and the government. It will likely come from a diamond Bezos buffet and associates. It will include competitive pricing and it’s likely that it will come with tracking of your health through devices and tracking off your grocery bill. So the more you exercise, the healthier you eat, the lower is your insurance premium. Will it be a reality? Well, a guy can dream, right?

Those were the top predictions for 2020 and beyond across tech, politics, and other macro trends. Please subscribe to get more industry knowledge and leadership videos. Please like and share. And comment, especially if you violently agreed or violently disagreed with me. A happy new year and have a fantastic 2020.

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Episode 13: Career Nation show with Don MacLennan

Security is interesting in many ways as it is absolutely necessary for any company, especially companies that are becoming more digital, go undergoing a digital transformation, says Don MacLennan in episode 13 of Career Nation Show.

Here are some highlights from this episode:

Don MacLennan is the SVP of Engineering & Product at Barracuda. And he shares great perspectives on the Tech landscape and shares amazing career advice.
Here are some highlights from this episode:

+ How to develop customer-centricity and customer empathy

+ How subscription business model shift is happening in tech

+ How to find great mentors and be a great mentor

+ How to build and develop skills

+ How security careers are evolving

Career Nation:
Career Nation, welcome back to the Career Nation show. Today, it is a very, very special guest. Today we have SVP of Engineering & Product at Barracuda, Don MacLennan. Don, welcome to the show.

Don MacLennan:
Thanks, Abhijeet. I’m really happy to be here and I’m hyper caffeinated.

Career Nation:
That’s awesome. So am I. So let’s dive into this. This is going to be a super intense session. Don, why don’t you fill us in a little bit about yourself? Sort of your background and your current role at Barracuda.

Don MacLennan:
Sure, yeah. Gosh, I’ve been in the software industry from right out of college, which is over 30 years ago. I would say the simple version of my career is two chapters. The first half of my career was in field operations. So I started in sales, carried a quota for many years. Going into sales management, business development alliances, channels, and so forth. That was about the first 15 years of my career. And a while I was working for a tiny little startup in Boston, I got tapped on the shoulder to move out of sales and into marketing, which at the time felt like kind of a form of failure. But really it was the opening of a door for me. And, that’s informed everything I’ve done since because I soon took over marketing for the startup and product management. Product management has been a common denominator in everything I’ve done since for the last 15 years. And in the more recent past, I’ve had responsibility for leading engineering organizations. For example, I was a startup founder and CEO. And the last couple of roles I’ve led large engineering organizations for established companies like McAfee and now Barracuda networks.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s wonderful. I love that varied, you know, experience because you’ve gone from sales, marketing, product management channels, entrepreneurship, and now product and engineering. You’re basically seen the whole gamut. That’s fascinating. And I think, in fact it’s probably adds a lot of strengths to your skill set, right? It seems like you’ve been always developing and building on top of your skill set, which is pretty phenomenal.

Well, I appreciate the compliment. I mean, the cynic would say I’m just professionally restless. But, yeah, I do find myself drawing on all these past experiences, these diverse experiences, in the role that I play at my current job, but really all of them.

Career Nation:
Fantastic. Yeah. And Don, you had mentioned you’ve been in software since the start of your career. And, now we are in the world of software where software is delivered as a service SaaS, right? And Cloud. And are we, in your opinion, sort of still sort of early in the innings for SaaS or are we at peak SaaS? What’s your perspective on this?

Don MacLennan:
Probably closer to early headings than peak SaaS, for sure. You know, cause there’s really two transformations that are happening simultaneously and, or maybe a decade of 15 years in, but just getting started. So transformation number one is the form factor, right? By which software is delivered. So it used to be the case that you would install software, you’d put it on your laptop, you’d install it in infrastructure, in a data center. You’d put stuff in your network. In fact, the history of Barracuda is we started as a company where the appliance as a physical form factor was how you bought our product. You might remember us as the airport signage people, right? We were advertising these pieces of equipment that you could buy and so we’ve completely transformed our business as many software companies have where the form factor is no longer installed software or an appliance, it’s running cloud native.
Everything we build from here forward is deployed into public cloud infrastructure. So that’s a massive technology transformation. But the other transformation that’s happening exactly in parallel in lockstep is the business model transformation. You know when I started it was all about selling perpetual software. And each year you might charge 15 or 20% for something called maintenance, which entitled you to bug fixes, product updates, tech support, and the like. That tended to be a very predictable revenue stream. These days, of course with SaaS, the business model has transformed as well into annual subscriptions and code. So customers have a decision point every single year. And in some cases every single month whereby they get to decide. Do I still want to keep this software? Do I still want to invest in the next subscription term? You know, I love, for example, a lot of the thought leadership that’s come out of Zuora in this regard, right? Defining the subscription economy. And so when you ask about are we in the early innings of cloud and SaaS as it relates to this concept of the subscription economy, ah, we’re in an incredibly early innings cause think of all the places that’s yet to arrive.

I mean, you’re absolutely right because, you painted an amazing picture of how the subscription shift has happened in tech, especially in the form factor business model. And you’re absolutely right. I mean, there’s so many other industries where the subscription model is starting to take shape. We see that in media. Disney’s going subscription and we see that in so many other consumer. Our products as well. So you’re absolutely right on. One of the things that sort of comes out of that as you look at SaaS is, you know, in addition to sort of the business model shift is sort of how do we add value to customers continually. And you mentioned that, you know, customers have a choice at the end of the subscription term. They could choose to not renew or renew and companies have to keep adding value to customers. And what’s been your sort of, work around, you know, being customer centric? And I’ve known you for some time and you’ve always been customer centric. You are so focused on understanding what the customer is looking for, and the sort of the articulated and the inarticulate needs of the customer, et cetera. How do we become more customer centric as a person? As a company? Is that like, should we run more surveys? Should we go talk to customers? What’s your perspective on this?

Don MacLennan:
Yeah. Well I think that, those formative years of my career out in the field in front of customers every day having delivered or been part of hundreds of demos, right? You start to get this innate sense of the value of that feedback? I like to think about customer centricity more in terms of customer empathy. So the word I’m using these days is empathy, not centricity because empathy kind of denotes something a little different, you know, maybe a deeper level of understanding. And when I think about what is the approach you take towards developing customer empathy? I think you have to kind of think about it in micro and macro terms. Macro terms would be, Hey, what are these patterns that described your customer base as a whole, right? Micro terms, meaning can I really understand how an individual user of my product does their daily work? And in doing their daily work, what does success look like for them in the job? Don MacLennan: (07:10)
Like how is their boss going to give them a great performance rating and a pay rise if not a promotion at the end of the year. And if I work back from that level of empathy, meaning how are they measuring success in their job, I can start to understand that role my software product plays in helping them achieve it. Sometimes it’s the case, they’re gonna spend, you know, minutes and hours using my product and the given day. It’s so critical to the role. And in some cases, more often than not, my product is a tool for them to get something done, but in the least amount of time possible because they’re busy and they’ve got other stuff to do. Bless you. So the path, in my opinion, to developing customer empathy is to really think of ourselves as carpenters. And good carpenters have tool belts. And carpenters have tool belts where they carry around a lot of tools, right?

Oh, there’s so many nuggets there Don. That was phenomenal because I, I think the way you describe it was also sort of you’ve got this great tool set and in your tool belt and then you can use the tools that you want. And I love that example of sort of follow the customer where you have a team of people just go in and see what the customer’s doing because so much of that what the customer does is not just with your particular app or your particular technology, but it’s sort of other things and it’s sort of also the context in which the customer does that work. Because the customer might be trying to solve an internal company problem, an external customer problem or you know, trying to gain more process efficiency or what have you, right? So that context becomes super important. So what we’re now doing is we’re taking in a user experience designer and a buddy. And the buddy is often somebody from the engineering team. And we’re asking to go observe a customer as they work in their cube or office for two or three hours, hours at a time. And not even ask them any questions until the end. Just watch them do job. The job, not using our product, but the job. And it’s amazing the kinds of insights you get when you’re in their workplace. Just watching, you start to understand the role of your product in ways you couldn’t have known through these other techniques. So yet another tool. All of it together gives you kind of that maximum context and leads to understanding the customer and empathetic terms.

Career Nation:
Yeah. I love that. And I think you’re so right about failure. And actually, thankfully in Silicon Valley at least we have a culture that celebrates failure a lot of times, which is great. And that actually is very helpful for companies that are trying to innovate, break glass and move forward quickly. And having that inclusiveness for failure is super helpful. Do you have any advice for, executives, managers who are, who would like to encourage their team to innovate? And at the same time there might be a little bit of them failing. And how do you, how can one develop an appetite for a certain level of failure while as we go through our innovation cycles?

Don MacLennan:
Yup. Yup. I have Terry Hicks to thank at McAfee, my former boss, for really bringing this message home. You know, we were doing it before he arrived at McAfee in my tenure. But we probably weren’t doing it at the scale that he encouraged us to do it. And I think it brought all the other disciplines because we were getting really good at quantitative analytics of our products usage. They brought in another dimension to, understanding it. So, I’m a believer.

Career Nation:
That’s awesome. And that’s great because you’re doing all the quant work with analytics and you’re doing the qualitative work and put those together. You got art and the science.
Oh, you got us. You got it.
That’s wonderful. And Don, you’ve been in the security business for some time. And you’re currently leading product and engineering for a major security company. Security is interesting in many ways because in some ways it’s absolutely necessary for any company, especially companies that are becoming more digital, go undergoing digital transformation. They need security, right? And, you know, on one hand, security is required. Most companies have many security products that they buy. And on the other hand, if you look at the talent for security, there is a lot of demand and not enough supply of top talent and so security has been one of the, and based on just feedback that I get in the field is people want to get into the security domain. They want to build a career in security. And if today, let’s say they’re not doing security, but they are generally in tech, what should they look at to get into the security domain? What should be their approach? What you recommend?

Don MacLennan:
Yup. Well, I think the sad fact is the bad guys keep winning and it’s perpetuating the growth of our industry. So, yeah, it is a tremendous career opportunity because security is not going away. And as all things get more digitized, right? Security considerations, just keep on arriving in new ways. I’ll give you a crazy example. We’ve got customers now that are putting all sorts of IOT devices out into the wild, right? Smart everything, smart meters, smart light poles. We’re starting to deploy firewalls, physical firewalls into these devices in little tiny boxes that are, you know, six square inches, 12 square inches. So yeah, I mean security is kind of becoming woven into the fabric of a lot of physical devices beyond what we think about as traditional security, right around networks and applications. So it is the case. It’s a very, very vibrant industry.
It continues to grow because the bad guys are really smart, sadly. And you know, in some respects they keep winning. So, you know, the question about how do you get into the industry, I think there’s times when the domain expertise can be a little bit overstated. You know, if we look to hire a developer, for example, to build a product, they don’t get screened on the basis of whether or not they know the security domain. First and foremost, we’re looking for great developers. And, the security domain is knowable, right? It’s a craft that can be taught. There’s a lot of other attributes about being a great employee, whether you’re a developer or otherwise that are, that can’t be easily be taught, right? There’s these inequalities about you as a person that make you a great team member, that you know, relate to your growth mindset and so on and so forth.
I always look for that and deemphasize the domain expertise given my druthers in terms of, you know, the ranked order of criteria by which to bring somebody into the company. That said, if you’re looking to understand the domain, there’s some really, really good and mature and robust, frameworks out there as it relates to security best practice. So that’s really well understood. There’s a professional certification, called CISSP that’s got a ton of foundational concepts around security. And still very relevant today. There’s a lot of best practice frameworks out there. Cloud Security Alliance has published frameworks. There’s the SSA 16 frameworks, SOC2 Type 1, SOC2 Type 2. You can learn what’s inside of those. They’re basically controls frameworks. There’s ISO 27001 and 27002, which is kind of the mother of all best practice frameworks. There’s the MIT… Sorry, the MITRE att&ck model, which sort of documents how the bad guys can infiltrate on infrastructure and exfiltrate valuable data, right? So all these frameworks are pretty easily understood in sense if you want to put the time into studying them, you can learn the domain.

Career Nation:
That’s so important to learn those frameworks and whether it’s a DDOS attack or some other types of attacks from the bad guys, quite frankly, these types of frameworks would be super useful. So thank you for sharing that because a lot of times people try to figure out and once they sort of know these type of framers, they can get a path towards getting into a security career. And you’re absolutely right. It’s the sort of the whole stack of skills and quite frankly, sort of experience and competencies that are required to become a great professional, not just a security professional. And, you know, one of the things I’ve observed about you, and you’ve talked about that on your blog and in events is this topic of sort of mentorship. And you’ve mentored a ton of people over the years and, do you know one of the questions that people have is like, you know,, how do we get mentors? Like, is there like a signup form somewhere? Should I just barge into your office and say, Hey, can you please be my mentor? Is it like going out on a date? Like what is mentorship? And like how do I sort of get great mentors?

Don MacLennan:
Yeah, yeah, great question. Um, I had, I think I told this story in your presence a few weeks ago where, uh, I was at an eternal conference when I was at McAfee earlier this year. And, um, somebody came up to me, um, probably after I spoke in the panel or something, this young woman came up to me and said, Hey, Don, I really enjoyed your talk and what you have to say. Will you be my mentor? And it was kind of awkward, right? Cause I didn’t otherwise have a relationship with her. Um, but obviously I understood the, her intent, right? She was very hungry and eager to learn. Um, I’ll give a couple of practical suggestions. First is I wouldn’t, um, think of your boss as your mentor, right? Your boss can be an incredibly important person in your professional development, including giving feedback. But there are things that your boss just won’t say or know about you because you’re not going to necessarily reveal your total self to your boss.

Don MacLennan:
There’s a power structure there. And uh, and it has an effect on, uh, the employee, you know, manager dynamic. So mentors can come from elsewhere in company, especially larger companies, right? Because you want a little bit of distance and you want that distance because as a mentee, you want to be vulnerable and you want to be comfortable and you want to be trusting of that individual because the best mentorship relationships are the ones where you’re revealing yourself so as to be able to get that kind of feedback and understanding of return. So if you’re going to find a mentor inside your own company, um, make sure that they’re distant enough from the work you do, that what you say to them, right? Can’t necessarily affect your day to day work. And a good sense, even better mentors are the ones that are not inside your company at all.

Don MacLennan:
So practical suggestion would be think about your former bosses, right? They’re often really good mentors for two reasons, one of which is they come to know you in the workplace. So they’re a source of really good feedback because they do know you and second is you’re not working for them anymore. And so the ability to go be vulnerable and the ability to establish that next level of trust, right? There’s not, there’s no downside to it in the way that you might experience that with somebody that is at your current company. So former bosses in my experience are great mentors. I’ve got two or three mentors that are exactly that, and another one who didn’t come to me that way, but started with a more formal professional relationship and it evolved into mentorship. So maybe that’s my last point. I budget, which is, um, mentors are so seldom the way you start a relationship. It’s an evolution of a relationship that begins on some other basis, whether it’s a boss or a friend and in time can develop into mentorship. And I think that’s an important concept. You can’t kind of rush it or force it.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s a great, uh, that’s a great way to get into mentorship. Like it could be a boss, it could be a colleague, it can be a friend, and over a period of time that person becomes a mentor. Um, I love that concept and uh, that’s something that quite frankly, I would love to practice as well because I’ve got some former bosses who I ping from time to time. I’d love to, uh, you know, have an ongoing relationship and hopefully they get something out of that relationship as well because it’s not just the mentee, but the mentor also probably gets something out of it. They get to learn a few new things as well.

Career Nation:
Great. Don, this is the part where we shift gears a little bit and we get to know our guest a little bit better. Are you ready for our Favorites Game?

Don MacLennan:
I hope so.

Career Nation:
Good. Well let’s start with this. Let’s start with your favorite app.

Don MacLennan:
Oh man. You know, anyone asks me a favorite, I almost never will give them one answer. You know, it’s like, do you remember the movie High Fidelity? It was about this guy who was like… Yeah, John Cusak… And he owned a record store and he was obsessed with music and then, you know, they would spend all day developing top five lists. And he would never give you the top five records of all time. You’d have to ask the context, right? Like, well, is it, you know, am I at home or I’m on vacation or am I with a girl. And so, you know, I’m going to give you one of those qualified answers. You know, I love Facebook, the app. I don’t love everything about Facebook, the business model, but I love the app. So let me explain it. Somebody at this stage in my career, I’ve come to know a lot of people all around the world.

Don MacLennan:
In my professional life, traveled extensively, worked for multinational companies. I love the fact that I can still maintain a sense of connection to those people through Facebook because otherwise I really don’t know how I would be able to achieve that, right? In practical terms, I can’t call every friend every two or three months to tell them what’s going on in my life. And so that app really does make me feel connected to friends that are in Israel, in the Czech Republic, where I once lived. And people I’ve met in Japan, people in Australia, Canada, you know. It’s really cool for that purpose. Sometimes I have to hold my nose in terms of understanding the business model and some of their other practices. But I do love the app and I’m a regular user of it despite all of those reasons. Slack in the workplace.

Don MacLennan:
I brought Slack to my organization when I was at McAfee. When I showed up at Barracuda a few months ago, I realized that they were heavy users of Slack. So that was a big, happy moment for me. Because it does what it does really really well. Yeah. I think the common theme for me in terms of things I love is app is simplicity, right? You know, they do just enough but not too much. And I think Slack is a good example of that because when you kind of pull that thread of collaboration, you can end up with really complicated applications with a bunch of features that just aren’t useful. They might exist in Slack, but they don’t force themselves on you. You can discover them and activate them. But if you want to use Slack in its most simplest way, right around just messaging, you can do that.

Career Nation:
And you’re right. I mean, even this normal user, if you will, gets a lot of value, not just the power user. So that’s phenomenal. Thank you for sharing that.

Johanna Lyman:
Yes. I actually had one that was on my wall for 10 years before I figured out what it really meant. “I’ve been absolutely terrified every day of my life, but I’ve never let it stop me from doing a single thing” by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Don MacLennan:
I got one last one for you. This is more a place for me nerding out in my personal life. There’s an app called Plane Finder 3D. So where I live in Silicon Valley, a lot of planes go overhead as they’re making their final approach to San Francisco airport. And I’m kind of a plane nerd. I dunno why I like to travel. I’m interested in airplanes. And so when they fly overhead my house, I’ve gotten kind of used to trying to spot what they are like, what, what flight is it, where’s it coming from, what model. And this plane finder app called Plane Finder 3D. It’s literally a 3D representation of that plane on its flight path. So you can kind of see the glide slope and how it descends and when it makes a turn, it’s unbelievable that if 3d application can even function on an, you know, a smartphone, it’s a really cool app.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s phenomenal. Maybe we can also use that to track the 787 Max Boeing planes.

Don MacLennan:
Yeah, yeah. As in when they might get in the air again.

Career Nation:
Exactly. Don, thank you for sharing that. That was fascinating, especially with the plane part. do you have a favorite quote that you either put up in your office or use or you’d like to see on a billboard somewhere on maybe Highway 101?

Don MacLennan:
Gosh, here’s another one. Like I don’t have a single favorite quote. Maybe the one that comes to mind is, ‘continuous improvement beats delayed perfection’. You know, I often had, have in my organization, you know, some big monumental challenge that we’re trying to overcome. And the first thing I tried to encourage my organization to do is deconstruct the problem, right? What is it that we can do? And 10 successive steps to ultimately find a solution as opposed to trying to figure out how to solve the whole thing at once. Because it’s almost never available to you as a solution. So you’ve got to deconstruct it into some journey. And a lot of times it actually means you’re recognizing the fact that it’s gonna take a little while to deliver that capability. People get infatuated, right? With the idea like, ‘Hey, we only just surged on this, and a month time we’d have this amazing capability’. It’s almost never the case, right? Almost always great capabilities in the form of products take a long time to develop. And so I try to help people understand how you can deconstruct that, maybe do kind of a work back and know that I take 10 discreet steps to actually build that capability.

Career Nation:
I like that Don. Because it not only makes it easier to do bigger things, but it also is sort of creates this compounding effect over time if you’re continuously improving even a little bit every day, your compounding result is much much higher.

Don MacLennan:
That’s the key. You keep at it for a few months or even a year, and those small incremental improvements when you look back in the rear view mirror, like, Holy smokes, things have really changed and it’s hard to sense in the moment. But yeah, that’s almost always the way that I’ve been able to deliver transformative capabilities is exactly that approach.

Career Nation:
Awesome. That’s brilliant. I’m going to, I’m going to probably pinch that in a future meeting.

Don MacLennan:
No worries.

Career Nation:
Don, do you have a favorite book?

Don MacLennan:
Yeah, I guess one of the most, impactful books, in terms of thinking about my career and being a leader, started with a keynote that I saw many, many years ago. I was at an internal leadership kickoff meeting when I was working for RSA security. It was a division of EMC at the time. And there was a keynote speaker, a guy named Marcus Buckingham. And he came on stage and, he’s a really really good public speaker and he basically said, ‘Look, I’m here to tell you that the entire human industry, or the human resources industry is built on a mountain of BS’. So everybody kind of like leaned back and said, ‘Okay, what do you mean by that?’ Because we had some great human resources leaders in the audience. And he goes, ‘the HR industry is built on a false premise, which is that by giving feedback to employees about the ways in which they’re supposed to improve, we’re basically setting them up for failure.

Don MacLennan:
Because if there’s something they don’t know how to do, they’re probably never really going to learn how to do it’. He said, it’s like a conspiracy where we’re just creating these negative reinforcement loops around people. And he said, I’ve done 20 years worth of research into the topic of what makes high performing teams perform well. And the basic findings of this very robust research were twofold. First of which is in every high performing team, every person on the team, is playing a role designed to their strengths. So that all of these innate talents and capabilities they have, that’s the job. They can feel joy, they can feel mastery, and they’re not required to do stuff they don’t actually know how to do. And the other secret ingredient of a very high performing team is that the manager, whether explicitly or implicitly new that that’s how they were supposed to design the team.

Don MacLennan:
That by having all these actors playing highly complimentary roles, that the team could cover all the functional requirements that the team owned, right? But it may be a diverse array of individuals each playing to his or her strengths. And so he went on to write a series of books about this one was called First Break All the Rules. The next was called Now Discover Your Strengths. That just clicked for me. Because I started thinking about my job as a leader and that was to constantly try to discover my teams, innate strengths and constantly try to evolve their role towards one where they only get to play to their strengths. And I’ve never put them in a position of having to do stuff they’re not capable of mastering. So it was a really influential book and talk. Actually I saw the talk first, then I read the books and that was, coming on to 14 years ago.

Career Nation:
Yeah. I mean, Marcus has created an amazing body of work around this and thank you for sharing that. I will make sure that we put that down in the show notes because that’s an amazing resource for anybody to get their hands on. Especially how to find your strengths, et cetera. That’s just invaluable as individuals, as teams, as we formed teams too. Yeah, it is a great work.

Don MacLennan:
One of the ways I apply that before we move on is… So I’ve done these assessments. Every time I have a new member to my team or I show up into a new team, I give them that information. I hand it out. In fact, I went further and I wrote something called The User Guide to Don, which is about a two page document that’s kind of a synthesis of, you know, all of my forms of self awareness and just kind of put myself out there and say, Hey, do you want to get to know me? You know, here’s the road-map. And a lot of it was derived from, some of the assessments that I took, you know, from his books and his body of work.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s wonderful. And I’m not just do sort of double click on that a little bit.

Have you, have you seen more success in terms of getting more self aware through sort of electronic tools that sort of have the survey based sort of questionnaire and, or have you seen sort of better results through sort of in-person when you actually go sit down with someone and say, ‘Hey, can you share insights about me? Don’t worry about any repercussions. This is sort of a neutral zone. Just give it to me so that I can improve as a individual, as a person, as a professional’. What’s been sort of your go to tool and which one do you prefer?

Don MacLennan: ell, I’ve used both. I definitely rely on these tools where I find value in the assessment. Because there isn’t that vulnerability on the table. You know, sometimes to your point, having that face to face conversation where your soliciting feedback about yourself from somebody else. I can put them in a very uncomfortable position because they may have the feedback to give to you. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re comfortable giving it. And you know, it comes from the right place in their heart, which is to say, Hey, I don’t want to say something that’s going to hurt this person’s feelings or harm them in any way. Right? So it’s a barrier and it can take time to develop enough trust that someone’s going to share with you that authentic feedback. So, when it happens, it’s magical. I tend to use these tools in addition to try to develop some baseline of self-awareness. I really like a 360 feedback. Because it’s an anonymous process and if you get, you know, 15 or 18 responses from higher ups and subordinates and peer relationships, that collection of feedback tends to reveal some pattern about you, that you might not have known before. So yeah, there’s a time and a place for the tools to the extent you’d get somebody giving you that, you know, face to face authentic feedback, even better, kind of hard to come by in my opinion.

Career Nation:
Awesome. Thanks Don. And shifting to the next question on favorites, what’s your favorite restaurant?

Don MacLennan:
Oh man. I keep going to act to a place called Orens Hummus Shop. There’s a few of them. The original is on University Avenue Palo Alto. There’s another one down in mountain view. I’ve seen a couple of others pop up. I love middle Eastern food and some of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was when I was traveling to Israel pretty regularly. And hummus and pita bread in Israel is quite different than here. And so Orens is founded by an Israeli ex-pat. And so just, in addition to loving the food, it created for me kind of a connection to these really fond memories of times I traveled in Israel. Food’s really good too.

Career Nation:
Fascinating. Well, we’ll drop a few links there in the notes as well. We’ll probably drive some traffic up to that restaurant.

Don MacLennan:
I have no financial relationship to that. Oh, I guess I do; I’m a paying customer.

Career Nation:
You’re a paying customer, for sure. Don, why don’t we get back to our topic on careers and if you can share some of the Don secret sauce. And what I mean by that is like what are some techniques that you use, on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, quarterly basis when you are doing certain things that you think, you know, you’re, it’s unique to you, you’re, you’re really good at it and I think it would be helpful to share with the audience. Let me just give you some examples. For example, do you have a, do you prepare for big meetings in a certain way or do you have a morning routine or you know, things like that. What would you like to share with the audience?

Don MacLennan:
Yeah, yeah. Actually, preparing for big meetings is a good one. I got some really specific training and mentorship, earlier in my career from a guy named Marcus Oskie who is my a manager at the time. And he described to me as all methodology for trying to arrive at an important decision because most meetings are some meetings at least are about taking a decision. And, it was really helpful the way I described it. Because I said, ‘Look, if you’re going to convene a meeting to take a decision, then that meeting is itself a ceremony’. In other words, you should actually know in advance what the decision is and who’s going to support it and the fact that you have consensus or a majority or whatever. Right? So it’s just a place to formalize a decision that you’ve already worked to create. And they worked back from that and said, okay, well what would need to be true in order for it just to be ceremonial?

Don MacLennan:
Well, you probably have to engage with every single constituent who’s going to be in that meeting. In fact, you might even have to engage with people who are going to inform the point of view of those constituents. Right? And he kind of worked back from that for the whole process of laying the groundwork of how you even get to a consensus space decision. And he sort of helped me understand that. You know, that meeting might be 20 conversations leading up to it in order to be sufficiently prepared. Where I get the outcome I’m expecting or wanting, right? Which is a yes to some, you know, decision I’m advocating for really enlightening.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s great. And I think that helps, especially when the company is of a certain size and also sort of, I don’t want to say consensus based culture, but at least getting everybody’s viewpoints on the table to actually make a decision to move forward. And that approach is so incredibly valuable because you make sure that you hear every piece of feedback, you bake that feedback into your proposal and that way you’re not only addressing everybody’s concerns or you know, viewpoints, what have you. But you’re actually making a better decision. And, that’s phenomenal. Thank you for sharing that approach.

Don MacLennan:
You’re welcome. You know, to your point though, at the time we were working at a 60 person startup together. So his approach was highly applicable to that environment. You know, I’ve worked for much larger companies at other times in my career where I’d also say it’s got, you know, usefulness, maybe even higher utility. But it was a pretty small company where I watched him do this and he was really effective at it. SoI’m kinda believe that it probably has applicability to any environment in which you work.

Career Nation:
I like it. And it sounds like it’s more collaborative as well. You basically get everybody’s inputs into the process.

Don MacLennan:
That’s right.

Career Nation:
Outstanding. I love that. as we wrap up here, Don, again, thank you so much for your time. Any parting thoughts, parting words of wisdom that you’d like to share with Career Nation? Because we have folks in our audience across the spectrum. We have early in career, later in career, in the middle of their career journey. And mostly are in tech, although there are some non tech folks as well. So anything that you’d like to share as we wrap up?

Don MacLennan:
Yeah. You know, a few parting thoughts. You know, the first of which is you own your career. You know, I’ve often encountered situations in my role as a leader where people look to me to tell them what their career should be. And my response is, you own your career, right? In other words, you own the understanding of where it is you want to go and you’ve gotta be able to articulate it. My job as a leader is to do what I can to enable that to become true. And so I’ll do it through a variety of techniques, you know, including, but not limited to mentorship, right? But, it’s not something you can outsource. You’ve got to have your own sense of purpose and needs and wants. It can take time. You know, some people earlier in their career don’t have a sense of what that looks like and that’s fine.

Don MacLennan:
It’s a job, not a career at that point. Some people have a very clear sense of purpose very early. And of course all of us may go through career transitions from time to time where we start, what we started doing, we don’t want to do anymore. And we’re kind of looking for something else, a pivot point. So I think you’ve got to have that sense of ownership over your career. The folks that I’ve seen succeed, you know, often have a couple of characteristics, you know. The label we put to it as sometimes growth mindset. If I was to double click, I think it takes on a couple of specific behaviors, you know, the first of which is self directed learning, right? Not being told what you need to know, but actually initiating that learning for yourself. I’ll give you a good example because, at one point in my career I began using this as a basis of how to hire people.

Don MacLennan: (36:53)
So we were, I was in the Czech Republic working for a company there. We were trying to hire a new design leader. And we were testing candidates for self directed learning, right? As we were interviewing and we’re asking for examples. So I asked this individual and said, ‘So tell me what you’ve been learning about lately, for the sake of your own professional advancement’. And he said, ‘Oh, well, I’m honoring a finance course right now’. And I’m like, okay, that’s interesting. You’re a design leader. Why are you auditing a finance course? And they said, well, I’m really trying to understand how to speak to executives about the financial value of what my organization does. I want to develop the vocabulary so I can tell them the financial benefit. I’m like, Whoa, that’s a really good answer. And he goes, Oh, I have one more example.

Don MacLennan: (37:35)
I said, okay, what’s that? And he goes, I’m studying ergonomics and physiology. And I’m like, why are you studying ergonomics and physiology? He’s like, well, you know, if I designed a user interface, it’s an interface to a computer. But then there’s a mouse and that mouse is connected to an arm and the arm is connected to a body. So if I really want to know what usability looks like, I have to understand the body that’s using the mouse it’s using the computer. And I was like, Oh my God, I’m blown away by these answers. I love you. And we ended up hiring years by the way, no accident. Right? So that self directed learning really really a key marker for advancement. And the other is global mindset. In other words, somebody who is curious to understand the world around them and appreciates, if not embraces the idea that, you know, from all of this diversity comes different viewpoints.

Don MacLennan: (38:18)
And that’s something to celebrate. That’s something to take into account as you do your work as opposed to kind of only looking for people that are like you. So when I hire, I look for people who have, you know, purposely sought out adventure, maybe lived abroad, studied abroad, worked for multinational companies, traveled. All these are markers for people who are able to pull the best rate from that diversity. That is, you know, the human construct. And I think if you pursue kind of those two patterns, you’re going to find yourself investing in your career, whether you call it your career blueprint or not.

Career Nation: (38:54)
Don, what a great way to wrap up this episode. Self-learning, diversity and being open to diverse thoughts. It’s so important for all of us to do that. And thank you for sharing your wisdom. This has been an incredible episode. And, I thank you again for your time. I know you’re a super busy guy and I appreciate all the wonderful wisdom and not only that, but also candor that goes along with that. Thank you Don so much, and you have great rest of the day.

Don MacLennan: (39:25)
Thanks, Abhijeet. Glad for the opportunity.

Career Nation: (39:28)
Take care.

Don MacLennan: (39:29)

Blog Career Nation Show Career strategy

Episode 12: Career Nation Show with Johanna Lyman

“Once you find your center, everything becomes quiet. Then you can start observing life unfolding as a rotating pattern around you”, says Maria Kellis, in Episode 11 of Career Nation show.

“The number one indicator of success is the degree of self-awareness and emotional intelligence a person has. Now 85% of people think they’re emotionally intelligent and only 10-15% actually are. So, it’s never too early to become more self-aware. It’s also never too late”, says Johanna Lyman, in Episode 12 of Career Nation show.

Johanna Lyman is a professional speaker, business consultant, entrepreneur, and author. She is a business coach at NexGen Orgs and the president of the Bay Area Chapter of Conscious Capitalism.

In this video, she explains how to become successful by handling failures effectively and shares insights about life, success, failure, wisdom, and career.

Here are some highlights from this episode:

  • How to develop your business?
  • Why emotional intelligence is critical?
  • How to innovate and scale your business faster?
  • Why business should be conscious of their capitalistic tendencies?
  • How to handle failure – at a leam level as well as at an individual level?
  • What is ‘that’ combination of success?
  • What is Pattern Matching, and why is it important?

Career Nation:
Hey Career Nation, welcome back to the show. And today we have a phenomenal guest. She is an author, she’s a business coach at NexGen Orgs. And she’s the president of the Bay Area Chapter of Conscious Capitalism. Please welcome Johanna Lyman to the show. Johanna, welcome to the show.

Johanna Lyman:
Thank you, Abhijeet. Happy to be here.

Career Nation:
This is great. And, you know, you and I have been planning this for a while, so this is super exciting for me. Johanna, why don’t you give us a little bit about yourself and your role in this various organizations?

Johanna Lyman:
Sure. So NextGen Orgs is my company. I founded it in its early version founded it 16 years ago this month. It’s gone through a couple of iterations and it’s been about 40 years that it’s been NextGen Orgs. And we help companies have sustainable profitability and build highly cohesive and productive teams. And then as the board president of Conscious Capitalism, a role that I’ve been in for about six months now, I’ve been involved in the organization for a couple of years. Maybe almost three. And, so Conscious Capitalism is about unleashing the heroic spirit of business. So it’s about business as a force for good in the world, which aligns very much with the work that we do at NexGen Orgs.

Career Nation:
Oh, I love the synergies there. Because on one hand you’re helping businesses as part of NextGen Orgs. And on the other hand, you are working, with Conscious Capitalism to help business and be a force for good. So there’s a lot of intersections there. So why don’t we dive into this a little bit more? What does NextGen Orgs do? Do you guys help startups, established companies and sort of how do you help them?

Johanna Lyman:
Yup. So we work with companies – small, fast growing companies, privately held and we do, there’s four basic things that we do with them. First, we help them understand their values and their purpose and their vision. We help them, with Conscious Communication. So emotional intelligence, how to conflict management. We also help companies actively embrace failure so that they can be wildly innovative and scale faster. And then the fourth thing that we do is we help companies become radically inclusive. And you know, there’s, there’s a strong business case for all of those things, which is why we do them. We put it together and we call it building brave cultures.

Career Nation:
Oh, that’s outstanding. And I can see a lot of companies who would love to take advantage of that because that’s an area as companies are fast growing, culture and improving, sort of teams is an area which is a lot of times overlook. And this is a really interesting area that you’re working in. And as we shift towards sort of Conscious Capitalism and businesses becoming a force for good. It is a, it is such an intriguing topic because on one hand, a lot of companies here in Silicon Valley, they’re trying to grow fast. And in that process they may not be paying attention to being more inclusive or, some of the things that we have going on locally, such as, diversity or housing or gentrification and all those type of things. And, how are you encouraging businesses to be conscious about their capitalistic tendencies? How are you influencing them?

Johanna Lyman:
That’s a great question. It has to start really at the very beginning and it has to start with being the founder or founders being mindful about their values and the values that they want the company to bring into the world. And then once they’re clear on their values, then we can come up with a purpose that is beyond profit. Profit is essential. And studies have shown that actually purpose-driven companies outperform the S&P 500 (Index) by 14 times. So it’s not just a good thing, it’s not just a nice thing to do. It’s really good for business. But then you have to not only have these values and understand what your greater purpose is, but you have to operationalize that. So how would your customers or clients see that you were living your values? See that you’re living the company’s values? How does that show up in how you do business?

Career Nation:
You know, it’s interesting you say that. Because a lot of times people in companies are compensated and incentivized in different ways because, you know, they may be incentivized on sales or product or you know, those type of things. And that includes bonuses and stock options and all of those things. And, having a purpose is great. And many companies have a great purpose and they try to move towards that, but there is also a set of companies who may have a superficial purpose. Their real purpose is to disrupt and other things. So how does that, how does Conscious Capitalism get manifested in companies where, you know, the people are incentivized differently or their purpose may be just a little bit more flimsy, if you will?

Johanna Lyman:
Right. I think that biggest thing that I’ve seen with later stage companies is they might have a purpose. They understand their values when they’re just starting. But then they hit an inflection point, they start scaling and they bring on, you know, 50 more employees and, somehow the purpose and the values gets diluted at that point, if they’re not operationalized. If they’ve got a very clear set of ‘this is how we do things’ and they onboard their new employees to understand that, then it doesn’t get diluted. But that’s such a huge problem that I see all the time.

Career Nation:
Great. And as these companies are growing and they’re trying to innovate, one of the topics you mentioned earlier who was about failure and I know that this, topic is very close to your heart and you’ve written about it online as well. You know, I’ve always struggled to understand the question about failure, whether it’s individual or at a team level. And as we see, especially in tech companies, we are always trying to innovate, push the envelope just a little bit more. And through that, a lot of times there is failure. And failure sometimes is taken as, ‘Oh, here’s something new we learned’ versus sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh, you failed’. That’s why we’re going to move on to a different project. Or you should not be working on these innovative things anymore. So it has got this double-edged, it’s a double edged sword. How do you think we should handle failure? Especially in companies at a team level, at an individual level?

Johanna Lyman:
We have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Absolutely have to. And there’s stats behind it. Something like 84% of leaders know that innovation is critical to the success of the company. But only 4% of them – this is from a McKinsey study – only 4% of them are actually doing something about it in their strategic plans. And it’s not, so it’s not because they don’t know it’s important. They just don’t know how. And I always like to say, if I could change one thing about our society, I would change the way we educate our kids because we set them up to learn at a very young age that they can’t fail more than 30% of the time. You know, that’s a C-grade, right?

Johanna Lyman:
But in reality, 80 to 90% of startups fail. Like 92% of product innovations fail. Like there is no success at all with out failure first. So, and we like to do it by… (Laughing) We teach the innovation, by playing games. Because it’s fun and people learn 10 times faster when they’re having fun. So we get them. It’s the only way to get comfortable being uncomfortable is to practice.

Career Nation:
Yeah. I love that. And I think you’re so right about failure. And actually, thankfully in Silicon Valley at least we have a culture that celebrates failure a lot of times, which is great. And that actually is very helpful for companies that are trying to innovate, break glass and move forward quickly. And having that inclusiveness for failure is super helpful. Do you have any advice for, executives, managers who are, who would like to encourage their team to innovate? And at the same time there might be a little bit of them failing. And how do you, how can one develop an appetite for a certain level of failure while as we go through our innovation cycles?

Johanna Lyman:
I think there’s a couple things that happen. First of all, they could, you know, do some sort of a team building process that actually gets people together and does like, like a ropes course or something where they get to practice things like this. And it helps to build morale. It helps to build a sense of belonging. And at the end of the day, whether they, whether you say you’ve got a culture of innovation or not, you really don’t have a culture of innovation if you’re not failing a lot, and then learning from it. So what’s the key learning here and how can, like, where’s the point of failure and how can we, like if we start there just before that, how can we do it better next time? The other thing is that, you know, the reason besides the school thing, the reason we’re so afraid of failing is because we’re afraid of getting kicked out of the tribe, right?

Johanna Lyman:
The psychological safety and belonging is so crucial. And so, and we’re hardwired to kind of sort for sameness and to keep ourselves safe, right? So we have to kind of retrain the amygdala with part of the limbic system to notice that when we fail, we don’t die. Cause the limbic system is hardwired to keep us safe and safe means alive. And the only thing it knows for sure we can survive are things that we’ve already survived. So kind of fatal flaw and the operating system there. But so I always tell my clients to like, celebrate the crap out of your failure and like say, ‘Oh my God, I just did something for the first time and I didn’t die’.

Career Nation:
That is awesome. You know that is so interesting because, it reminds me that failure is not just at the team level, could also be personal and it’s okay to fail and there’s a lot of learning there and no, you’re not going to get kicked out of the tribe and no, you’re not gonna die. And it’s gonna make you stronger and more alerted and it will help you to, quite frankly, propel in the right direction if you’re not able to open some doors. That means you’re actually, destined to open a different door, which is more success. And so have you seen any, examples or ways, to deal with personal failure. Especially in careers and especially for Career Nation where we have people who are trying different things or trying different types of jobs or domains and what have you. And they’re kind of going through their careers and trying to navigate the best they can. Anything that you can share about sort of dealing with personal failure?

Johanna Lyman:
Yes – don’t take it personally. So you have to separate the action with the Dewar. Okay. So if I’ve just, you know, been fired from a job, for example, I have to separate out like these are the actions or inactions that caused me to get fired and they’re not who I am as a human. If they are who you are as a human, then maybe it’s time to get some coaching.

Career Nation:
Yeah, that’s a great point to separate yourself from the actions because your actions don’t always represent who you are. That’s a great hack. I love it. Johannah why don’t we shift gears a little bit and learn a little bit more about you. And we’ll get into our Favorites Game, which is we ask you some favorite questions, rapid fire, and you are expected to answer them and tell us why that thing is your favorite. Johanna are you ready?

Johanna Lyman:
Ready as I’ll ever be.

Career Nation:
Awesome. Uh, why don’t we start with what is your favorite app?

Johanna Lyman:
My favorite app, this is going to sound silly, but it’s a cribbage app because I love to play cribbage and my husband doesn’t have the patience to learn how. So it’s the only way I get to play enough.

Career Nation:
Oh, very cool. That’s great. You get to keep your hobby. That’s a good thing. What is your favorite book? And this could be a fiction or nonfiction book.

Johanna Lyman:
That is such a hard question for someone like me who reads an average of at least two or three books a week. But I will say that probably the book that most impacted me was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

Career Nation:
Oh, very cool. Oh, I can definitely draw some connection points there to Conscious Capitalism and, yeah, that’s awesome. How about a favorite quote? Do you have a favorite quote that you would like to put on your computer, on your wall or just like as a mental tattoo?

Johanna Lyman:
Yes. I actually had one that was on my wall for 10 years before I figured out what it really meant. “I’ve been absolutely terrified every day of my life, but I’ve never let it stop me from doing a single thing” by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Career Nation:
Powerful. I love that. And then also kind of relates to failure because yes, some of those things might result in failure, but that’s the way it is. Failure and obstacle is the way to move forward. On a different note, what is your favorite restaurant?

Johanna Lyman:
Oh, anything that can make me a good New England lobster roll.

Career Nation:
Ooh, nice.

Johanna Lyman:
There is actually a place in Burlingame, I think. I believe it’s called The New England Lobster Company. And I will take a drive up from San Jose on a pretty regular basis just to get my fix.

Career Nation:
Oh, that is so cool. I will check it out and put that in the show notes. Johanna, now that we know you a little bit more, we would love to figure out what’s sort of the secret sauce behind Johanna Lyman’s, career success. So here’s the part where we’re trying to understand what are your strategies and approaches towards your career? Do you have a morning routine? Do you prep yourself? What are some of the strategies that have really helped you become successful in your career?

Johanna Lyman:
Yeah, there’s a combination. Yes, I have a morning routine. Before I turn on my computer or open my phone, I have, like a devotional reading that I do and then a short meditation, a journal on a regular basis so that I can capture my own insights and my own learnings. And then I am a connector. So when I meet a new person, and I think you’re like this too, cause we were kind of going back and forth when we first met. When I first meet somebody, my first thought is, how can I help you? How can I help you get what you’re looking for? And I think that is not as rare now as it was when I first started in corporate. But it’s still somewhat unusual and all the go givers that I’ve ever met have all been successful. Have you read that book, The Go-Giver?

Career Nation:
I have not, but I read Adam Grant’s Give and Take. Similar topic, but I haven’t read The Go-Givers. That is a very interesting title because it’s different that’s not go getters, but go givers. I love that title.

Johanna Lyman:
It is just a parable. It’s just a really short read. I forget who the author is, but…

Career Nation:
Awesome. Johanna, as you help companies through NextGen Orgs and through Conscious Capitalism, there might be many important projects, meetings. Tell us, how do you prepare for a big meeting or prepare for a big project? What sort of preparedness and sort of how do you help your stakeholders, your clients become successful? What sort of preparedness and what mechanisms do you use that you would like to share with Career Nation?

Johanna Lyman:
So to prepare for like a big meeting or a big team delivery, something like that, I take my morning practice and I double it. And the other thing that I do, to be honest with you is I know that when I can tap into the wisdom in the room, I have the ability to – it’s kind of a strange and unique gift, I love it – to tune into any organism, whether it’s an individual or team or an entire organization. And I can sort of, in a way, it’s hard to describe, but I can see what wants to emerge and I can see the highest potential that’s in the room in front of me. And so when I can tune into that and just let myself be guided to speak to what I can see. Pretty magical stuff happens.

Career Nation:
That is super magical. And that is almost like you are, you’re sensing the room, you’re sensing the people, you’re sensing the individuals. Are there any cues that you look for? Is this like body language or do you see like people are bringing up certain topics, so tell us a little bit more. Give us a clue into your super powers.

Johanna Lyman:
Yeah, so I think, I am highly intuitive, so there’s that. But I think, cause I’ve been trying to unpack this for myself for about 10 years. Like how do I do that thing? I think I am really good at pattern matching and it happens so fast that it occurs as intuition, but really I’m just, I’m paying attention to tiny little cues. It might be how someone looks at another person in the room and body language for sure is part of it. And just like, just having a sense of the energy in the room and being able to speak to that.

Career Nation:
That is fascinating. I would love to develop something like that. Although you are like, several, several levels, higher in terms of pattern matching and sensing this. Is there a way someone like me who’s a novice and let’s say understanding patterns, et cetera, develop this like is this like a having a lot of different types of experiences and then trying to figure out patterns because I played a bit bit, for example, mental models and I’ve tried to figure out, okay, is this situation, can I apply this type of a mental model? Like for example, the parade or rule 80, 20, for example. Right? So things like that. So those mental models. But I’d love to understand a little bit more about pattern matching and it seems like to match patterns first I should know patterns and identify patterns. So tell us a little bit more. What’s sort of behind is, what’s sort of the method to the madness, if you will?

Johanna Lyman:
Oh, so… I think the secret is presence. So the more present you are, the more emotionally intelligent you are, the more you have positive mindsets, I think the better you’ll get at this kind of rapid, fast pattern matching.

Career Nation:
Yeah. And so the presence aspect is so important. And in a world where we are overloaded with our digital signals emanating from all these devices, how does one develop presence? Is there a, it sounds like a quality that is, you have some stillness at the same time you are actively engaged. And so how have you experienced that presence? Whether it’s your presence that you have developed over a period of time you’ve seen others exhibit and demonstrate presence?

Johanna Lyman:
Yeah. first of all, it’s learnable. Everything is figureoutable, right? It really has to do with developing emotional intelligence. So developing your self awareness first and foremost. So that’s why I start my mornings the way I do. To have those moments of silence and connecting with myself. And then once you’ve got a good handle on the self-awareness, then you can get into like self management and then social awareness and relationship management. So those are the four aspects of emotional intelligence. So, it’s really just like how you get to Carnegie hall practice, practice, practice.

Career Nation:
Yeah. That’s a great, and overnight success has been 20 years in the making as they say.

Johanna Lyman:
Oh yeah, for sure. 16 years and counting for me.

Career Nation:
That is awesome. Johanna this has been a phenomenal conversation and as we start to wrap up here what would you like to share with Career Nation? And we have an audience that is sort of early in career, in the middle of their career, or late in career across. So we have got a broad spectrum of audience. What would you like to share with them in terms of guidance and insights based on your experiences?

Johanna Lyman:
The number one indicator of success is the degree of self awareness and emotional intelligence a person has. Now 85% of people think they’re emotionally intelligent and only 10-15% actually are. So it’s never too early to become more self aware. It’s also never too late.

Career Nation:
I love it. And I think one of the distinctions there also, Johanna, is the sort of ‘the know it all’ versus ‘the learn it all’. And so it sounds like 85% of people think that they’re emotionally intelligent and actually only 15% are. That’s a stark difference between the know it all and the learn it all right there.

Johanna Lyman:
Right. And I think, you know, humility is such a misunderstood and important quality in leaders. And that’s the idea that I’m not better than anyone, but I’m also not worse than anyone. So it’s, you know, treating everyone with respect.

Career Nation:
You’re so right. And that’s the, that’s the least thing anybody can do for anyone else – be kind, be respectful. And it doesn’t matter, even if you’re, working intensely in a startup or in a large tech company or anywhere else, it doesn’t matter. But treating others the way, they should be treated is so important. Johanna, thank you so much. This has been a wonderful conversation. We got so much out of it. Thank you for your time. And also we wish you all the very best for NextGen Orgs and for Conscious Capitalism.

Johanna Lyman:
Thank you. Thank you. And folks can find me on LinkedIn. It is Johanna Lyman. I come up pretty fast. And also if you’re curious, check out for conscious capitalism. We have online and in person events and, is my website.

Career Nation:
Wonderful. Johanna, thank you so much.

Johanna Lyman:
My pleasure, Abhijeet. All right. Take good care.

Blog Career Nation Show Career strategy

Episode 11: Career Nation Show with Maria Kellis

“Once you find your center, everything becomes quiet. Then you can start observing life unfolding as a rotating pattern around you”, says Maria Kellis, in Episode 11 of Career Nation show.

Maria Kellis is a researcher, business consultant, entrepreneur, author, and teacher. A triple major from MIT, she runs a consulting firm that combines business and spirituality. In this video, she talks about going “From Burned Out to Fired Up!” and shares insights about life, meditation, wisdom, and career.

Here are some highlights from this episode:

> The influence of Taoism in her life

> Why books are considered to be the window to wisdom

> Why is the connection between spirituality and business is important

> How to address stress and burnout

> The importance of finding your center

> How to find the balance between work and connection

> What are the symptoms of stress and burnout

> What is your zone of genius

Read more about Greg Fox’s insights on Tech alliances

Career Nation: Career Nation, welcome to yet another episode of the Career Nation show. Today’s guest, she’s a double graduate from MIT. She’s a researcher, a business consultant and entrepreneur and author and a teacher. And she’s here to share with us some of her insight around careers.

Career Nation: Especially around how to go from being burned out to get fired up. Please welcome Maria Kellis. Maria, welcome to the show.

Maria Kellis: Well, thank you for having me.

Career Nation: Maria. We would love to know you a little bit better and to just start off, we’re going to dive into your favorite things. Are you ready for a quick fire round of your favorite things?

Maria Kellis: Okay, sure. Let’s do that.

Career Nation: Awesome. So Maria, what is your favorite app?

Maria Kellis: I have to say that, there’s two of them. One is GPS because it changed my life. And the second thing is audio books. I go everywhere listening to audio books and I never get bored and I travel a lot. So I love listening to audio books when I travel. And sometimes when I want to go through it quickly, I can just speeds up. So this is my favorite apps these days, but I have so many, Oh my God, the, I have a virtual company. So we use Slack, we use Trello, we use, a lot of the productivity tools of the G-suite. I find that we live in an incredible time when we can work around the world. Like I have people in 10 countries working for me and it seems that we’re all in the same room. We meet once a week together and you know, for a team meeting and that’s it. You know, the rest of the time we never see each other. I don’t think I’ve met, well I haven’t met most of the people that work for me.

Career Nation: Oh, isn’t that incredible? You’re right. We truly live in incredible times and all of these applications help us bring people, ideas, concepts, work so much closer. so thank you for that. let’s move to your favorite quote.

Maria Kellis: I love The Tao. So a lot of the quotes from The Tao. And, if you change the way you look at things, the way you think, the, the things you look at change. I like this idea that as we change how we look at the world, in fact, it is the world that is changing. So to me it shifts the perspective and that I’m fascinated by this idea.

Career Nation: Oh, I love that quote. And I think a lot of masters, from that, from that point have actually used that quote. Dr. Wayne Dyer being one of them, one of my favorites as well.

Maria Kellis: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. He’s one of my favorite, like I love his interpretation of The Tao. In fact, I get some teachings of meditation very often.

Career Nation: Totally. Maria, let’s go and know about your favorite book.

Maria Kellis: I read so many books. I find that there’s so much wisdom to be had. These days I’m reading a book called the Stealing Fire that, is really talking about the idea of ecstasy is this idea of being in the flow that is very much related to my work. And I, I’m totally fascinated, but you know, next week I’ll have a new favorite. I love reading. I love connecting the, this days, my book, the, the books that I love are books about ideas or spirituality or practices or you know, business that certainly, I think that there’s so much knowledge to be shared that I believe in reading enough. You know, the, the more we read, the more we connect.

Career Nation: Totally. And with someone from your background can also connect so many dots. As you absorb more knowledge, you can actually connect even more dots. So I totally understand your passion for books and your appetite for books.

Maria Kellis:  When I was little kid, I didn’t want to sleep. I literally didn’t want to sleep because I thought that this world is so amazing, but I didn’t want to miss one minute. And, I would read so much every night. I will not sleep until my dad’s alarm ring, you know, because that will get in trouble if you found that I didn’t, you know, didn’t sleep. So, and then he was always surprised I will never get up in the morning easily right. But of course that’s because I only slept one hour or one hour. I remember there was a time I ran like three or four books per day, per day, but there’s, and then I went through a period where I didn’t really want to read anymore. And in the last few years I started reading again. And I find that, the, the books that people write, it’s like concentrated version of wisdom. So I am very grateful to all the authors who spend all their time writing.

Career Nation: Oh, it’s certainly a labor of love and we get to sort of get the distilled knowledge in books. Maria, do you have a favorite restaurant?

Maria Kellis: Well, I live around the world, so it’s not necessarily easy me to say I have a favorite restaurant. I love very comfy food. When I was sick and we’ll talk about that, but I used to be very, very sick and, and so I’ve learned to, heal myself with what I ate. And so very, very healthy foods, salads, juicy. Those are my favorites. So sometimes my favorite restaurants are just simply like the grocery store or the actual local farm market or organic market.

Career Nation: I love it. Staying healthy and getting the nutrition that’d be, want to fuel up our bodies is so important. So I totally agree with that. Maria, your career journey is fascinating. You’re a double grad from MIT and entrepreneur.

Maria Kellis: Triple. I know.

Career Nation: Good god. Triple grad from MIT, entrepreneur, you have been working in the corporate world and now you are building bridges and connections between spirituality and business. Can you share a little bit about how you came to this place? What and how did you come to this unique vantage point where you’re helping so many people today?

Maria Kellis: I did not choose this path. It chose me. So in 2004, I, I had to, you know, you can call it the burnout, like all systems down. I ended up in a wheelchair in the hospital, very sick. Everything, everything was wrong and the doctors were not giving me much hope. They were telling me that it was going to be the rest of my life and I just simply did not agree with that idea. And I made a decision, a very powerful decision back there that, I needed to, I needed a miracle and that’s what I set out to find. And, and because I tried everything, I tried everything, you know, doctors, alternative doctors, medicine, alternative medicine. And finally, the one thing that worked at the time, I was under a severe amounts of pain, incredible pain

Maria Kellis:  and, the medicine wasn’t working like all the painkillers in the market. You know, I hadn’t, the only thing I didn’t want to have was, morphine because I knew this was for terminal patients, but I was in so much pain and nothing was working. And I remember they gave me meditation, about thinking of pain, pain as fire and thinking of water coming in and taking out the fire, but it worked. So I was like, Ooh, whatever that is, I’m doing more of that. And, that, that’s how I started that kind of really I started and it was funny because in the beginning I didn’t understand the cause of meditation at all. I have other things to do, like, you know, and, and as soon as they sitting and doing nothing, I’m like that. That’s not what I do.

Maria Kellis: But maybe on day five of meditating I had with a call, going through a warm hall. So suddenly the lights started coming from everywhere and I started going up and down really fast and, and I came over to this other place where I felt I was floating and I saw the world in a different way. And I was like, wow, okay. I always thought that it was really weird stuff, but after this happened, I couldn’t believe that, you know, I, I’m like, I must be missing something. There’s something else. And that, that kept me interested for years in trying to understand what happened and also how to replicate it. I have to say that I had some incredible, very very deep, mystical experiences. And this is what was the beginning of this journey for me. I, and, and now when I make people, I tend to work with very smart people because I’m very smart.

Maria Kellis: I tend to attract really smart people. And I love that doubt. I love their doubt that they’re facing. And they’re like, well, you know, I don’t know. I’m really skeptical and I’m like, you know what you should be. And so what I concentrate on with people is to help them have very fast and first experience. So, because once you have an experience, you know, and once, you know, you can’t really argue with what just happened. Otherwise it’s just very theoretical and not much use for theory, right? So I believe that for each and every one of us, it’s really our experience that matters. The energy world is real, I believe, because I experienced it. I live it. I see it every day. I, yeah, I feel it. I, I connect with it. And it is my hope, my dream to make that world part of everyday life visible for everyone. It’s not, it’s not for some saints. And, and gurus somewhere in the Himalayas that spend their life meditating. It’s available to everyone and it doesn’t require that much if we do that.

Career Nation: Maria, you, you went through this personal transformation and you were caught in a really difficult scenario and your health was failing and you found that yes, you had to take medic medical help, but really what helped you the most was meditation. And from that point you had several personal experiences, real experiences, and you said, okay, this is something that could help other people. And so…

Maria Kellis: It’s not just meditation, I shouldn’t say just meditation videos, part of it. Go ahead.

Career Nation: Oh yeah. So it’s plus meditation. And so the, when, when we talk about sort of the real world, we talk about sort of business and entrepreneurship and we have to deal with things like customers and business models and products and services. How does, how can spirituality intuition play a role as in, isn’t spirituality different than I’m looking at a sales pipeline or I’m looking at certain metrics or what have you. Isn’t that different? Like how do you, how do you connect these two worlds?

Maria Kellis: You know, for the longest time I had a real job while I was doing this on the side. And you’ll say, you’ll think that being in a wheelchair sounds really horrible. But I actually spent eight years between 2004 and 2008, 2012 where I had accident after accident, disease after disease. I fell through a roof. I, you know, twice. I had you know, like I had severe burns, like, you know, incredible. Everything that was a freak accident that could happen, happened to me. And to me, this was just the beginning because the first time I had the miracle of walking, I,

Maria Kellis: you know, in my mind I was like, okay, that’s really cool. But then the second time I was like, okay, that’s really interesting happen again. And it’s almost like my life led me to, you know, because I think like an engineer real well, how do you make it repeatable? How do we make it real? How do you make these things happen again and again? And I started teaching people like back in, you know, well, almost from the beginning. Because, you know, people were coming and finding it and saying, how do you do it? Like even at the hospital that were like, we don’t understand, you’re the happiest person here. Please tell us how. They invited me to teach people back in the hospital. And I was still a patient at the time. But,

Maria Kellis: I saw it working and in the real world I saw real applications. I saw the changes. I, in 2008 I went back to Greece. I was in California when I got sick, but eventually I went back to Greece because, you know, to be with my pants and

Maria Kellis: I worked for the government and I could not influence, but somehow the projects that I was assigned that were voted unanimously, right? And the first time I saw that, I was like, okay, by the way if you’re familiar with politics, that never happens. Yeah. And then so, okay, well, so you can actually use this not just for, health, not just for, you know, feeling better. Not having, not just for relaxing, but you can actually literally use for business. I started testing it. I started saying, you know, well, what if you did this? I, you know, everything I teach, it wasn’t developed overnight. It was like years and years of testing and seeing what works and what doesn’t and how to apply because we think, you know, or I used to think that this world is linear, that time starts and keeps moving. When I started seeing the world, this multidimensional and going through the dimensions, then I started realizing that nothing is as it seems.

Maria Kellis: And, and so things like sales is the easiest thing to influence because as you change your magnetism, literally you attract more. And by attracting more, you attract more customers. So suddenly you’ll become this number one salesperson. And they’re like, how did you do that? Like when I started this company, my little company, I went from zero to 20,000 per month. You know, just like that because I said, Hey, 20,000 sounds like a good number. It never occurred to me that it’s difficult. It’s just like, why not? Right? and I have seen this happen again and again, people who just aren’t companies or start a new practice or start a, and, and they want to attract opportunities. They are able to find those opportunities because of what the envision because of setting, being passion, using the systems that, you know, that I teach and you know, it happens again and again.

Maria Kellis: So sales in fact is the easiest thing to, to attract. It’s not the… Think of it as being magnetic. We are all magnets and the more magnetic you are, if you really know who you are, if you define yourself, your track, the opportunities, the circumstances, the events, the resources to you. So instead of thinking of you having to go there, think of everything happens here. So instead of saying, I need to find customers who are saying they need to find me because what I offer to them is what they want. So it works.

Career Nation: That’s a, that’s a very revealing insight, Maria. And that’s an interesting way to look at it. Where

Career Nation: one can start to manifest the things that one would like to see happen. And that, you know, I’m sure there’s many techniques that allow us to do that. One of the areas that is becoming pretty interesting and critical in Silicon, not just in Silicon Valley but generally in the corporate world is around mental health and many professionals faced burnout. They’re stressed, they are burnt out. from your vantage point, how do you see this? Like what kind of effects does it have on professionals? How should they look at it from, from a standpoint of how do I get better?

Maria Kellis: I, I would say that I’m an expert in that because I did not only face burnout myself, back in college. But in fact, I believe that the reason I got sick is because I kept burning out and kept pushing and pushing and pushing to the point where my body just completely shut down. So the reason I say that is because it’s very easy to speak about things when we haven’t lived through them. But when we lived through them, that’s when we really understand.

Career Nation: Yeah. But that’s when you have real experience that he can talk about it and share it with others.

Maria Kellis: I believe that if we keep pushing we are taught that the harder we push, the more we do, the grant that we call, then we will succeed. So if things don’t go our way and we keep working harder, pushing harder and doing more because that’s what we’re taught. And I believe that there’s a balance. I am not saying sit and meditate and wait and like, you know, everything will come to you. Like unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. You need both. You need both the pushing energy and the flowing energy.

Career Nation: Oh come on Maria. I was really looking forward to just meditating all day and all of these things would happen to me.

Maria Kellis: Well you can, and I have in periods of my life where I have done that, it still requires work. Like no work. That becomes your meditation. You know, if you meditate 12 hours a day and then everything will work really well in your own life. But also you don’t care about many things. But I, you know, I, I did go through this phase in my life where I was just like a superhero meditator. Let’s do like an Olympic run of meditation. Like let’s do 12 hour a day for like month, two months. And those are incredible times, right? At the same time though, there, there is almost what, what is it that you want? If it wants spiritual development, then meditate. If you want a business and money, then meditating may not necessarily be the best thing to do. You might want to think about what is the actual business that I have.

Maria Kellis: And I’m not saying, I’m not saying that meditation will not help. In fact, once you know what you want, you remember, know what you want and you let go of the things that you don’t want, then you can really put a lot of gratitude and appreciation and love and have this feeling, this desire, and it will bring everything you want to you. So if, if you want to have a really successful business, the way to do it is not to save. Well, I’m just going to sit around and just, you know, meditate all day. You actually start a business and then become successful. Right? It’s all like, Oh, well somebody will come and offer a business to me and yes, it’s fun. Right? People won’t come and give you opportunities, but if you want to choose your opportunities, then you get to start by putting them together.

Career Nation: Yeah, absolutely. And so when we think about work and we think about sort of stress and burnout being burned out, is there a, is there, are there symptoms that we should watch out for that tell us or can tell someone that I’m burned out versus I’m just like little bit stressed. So is there like a set of symptoms that, are sort of a tell that yes, this person is burned out and needs help?

Maria Kellis: And, it’s a really interesting question. What’s the difference between burnout and stress? Because a lot of stress will lead to burnout. and there, there’s psychological effects. Like for example, you will be more irritable, and people who have like shorter attention span. The ideas will not come as easily. Memory problems. Those are all telltales, right? People who have burnout don’t know that they’re burned out until something very dramatic happens. Because they’re so used to running that they missed the fact that suddenly their performance went down, you know? So instead of like realizing, Oh my God, I needed to slow down and get out of there, they keep working even harder until they literally break something, their systems. And, the, the reason is that we’re not used to thinking that taking care of ourselves, sleeping, is, is important.

Maria Kellis: If, if for example, somebody has chronic sleep issues, a lot of stress, like waking up with, Oh, I can’t breathe right? Those are usually signs of a really high stress level that may or may not be visible, but your body definitely feels sick. And that can also be, you know, so, so mental, like emotional and, and literally physical symptoms. So you’ll, you’ll see it in, you know, like your adrenaline levels or your, liver or, toxicity in your body. So those are all like, they’re all related. We’re, we’re in a system where a complete system, so body, mind and spirit and a, and all of those are related.

Career Nation: And so that’s very interesting, Maria. So that are these signs that we can look out for, and are these, how do we deal with this? Like we see stress levels building up and we see ourselves maybe at the verge, at the very edge of burnout or starting to burn out.

Career Nation: Are there,

Career Nation: are there things that we could do to distress ourselves or address this burnout? Are there things that we could do daily or weekly or is there, is there a way out of that?

Maria Kellis: Oh, absolutely absolutely. I won’t be teaching this if I felt that was hopeless scenario. Oh my God. The first thing to do is to realize that you have value. You have found the, even if you do nothing. And that, I know it sounds very simple, but when you realize that your value is not in what you produce, but in who you are, so it’s not your results that determine your success, but it’s who you are. Then you realize that pushing harder when you are not able to push anymore. That is the opposite of what you should do. So putting yourself in priority, allowing yourself to take a break is truly important in this. The second thing is that when you, and I’ll be, you know, I’m giving a gift to the, to the people who are listening to us.

Maria Kellis: If they go to, there’s a series of four meditation that I found is the, is for the busy professionals, so got to relax them in two minutes, 30 seconds if that. So that’s all you have to prepare for meeting a lot of stress goes into and how to really relax into state. Those tools seem simple and sometimes more is just more. And I believe that very, very simple things, very, very simple changes. Breathing is a truly remarkable thing we can do. When you find yourself stressing out, stop and take three breaths. That’s it.

Maria Kellis: Three breaths, one.

Maria Kellis: And one more. I bet you feel a little bit better now. And all he did was breathe.

Career Nation: Absolutely. And thank you for sharing the link and we’ll drop the link in the show notes here as well, Maria. Because I think having these techniques are sort of these essential tools we can use on a daily basis and it probably doesn’t even require any special equipment or anything like that, right? It could just be whatever you are, you can be wearing whatever clothing, et cetera, be in any environment and you should be able to do these, right?

Maria Kellis: Yeah. I created those from my students. Like, I remember there was one of my students, she, she was going to a meeting and she was like, I need to prepare for a meeting. I have seven minutes. And I said, okay, let’s create seven minute meditation. Right? And I recorded this. And suddenly she started using it for every meeting. And then she’s like, Oh my God, my life changed. So I started giving it to people and they were like, how did that happen? You know, you know, like I don’t go to meetings without listening to this meditation anymore and it’s seven minutes to prepare. So you can like literally arrive seven minutes early and listen to it in the car, go to the meeting and you’re there. But

Maria Kellis: remember if you think you’re a doer, so if you, if you go there to prove to people that you’re smarter, that you are good. You know, you have no connection, so you’re replaceable. But if you go there centered as yourself, bring the best version of yourself, you connect with people and people just want to work with you. People just want to give the best selves. And, and that changes the game. So I, I truly believe that those,

Maria Kellis: well, whatever, and I tell people, whatever you need, tell me I’ll create a new tool. It’s really easy for me. It’s what I do, but I find that the problems that we think we have are so much less. If we just take a moment to step back and find your center. I often use this analogy when I talk about clearing, but if you think of the hurricane, right? There’s an eye in the hurricane so it goes crazy, crazy, crazy. But right in the center is complete calm. So I always say it, just find yourself in a center, find your center, state center and everything becomes quiet and life rotates around you. You see it, you observe it, you see the craziness happening. But you don’t have to be part of the craziness floating around and falling and crushing on things. You’re just at the center and whenever you want something, just reach out, grab and then the senior center and then something else. So I like that. All right. And then stay in your center. And that centering, that peaceful moment allows you to be in peace. When people meet me, they always say, Oh, I feel so much peace when I’m around you. I’m like, yeah, just be in your center. That’s what that piece is. It’s not very far away. Just come back back to you. Somebody said once, how far away from home do you need to go in order to find your way home? So we’ll come home and you just come back.

Career Nation: Oh I really like that exercise Maria. And I love that example because it kind of puts, puts one oneself in the center as a calm person who can basically deal with anything and allows us to, as you said, create the best version of ourselves. And it’s also, I think somewhere as you were talking about it, I also felt a sense of, you know, you know, creating a sense of, you know, creating more value for others, being more useful to others because we were creating best versions of ourselves. let me, let me ask you a, just a quick follow up on that because you mentioned about people going to meetings or high stress environments, et cetera. A lot of times people, they may be stressed, but they want to get into a zone of confidence and going from, you know, a high stress to a lower stress and getting rid of stress through meditation’s definitely helps. How can one move to a zone of higher confidence? Is there? How can one think about confidence as a way to think about, you know, I will really want to be effective. I really want to help others. I want to be, you know, I want to contribute in this meeting or this, you know, presentation or what have you. How can we think about sort of building that confidence?

Maria Kellis: It actually goes hand in hand. I, I talk about something being your zone. Who’s genius I have, you know, because of who I am, I’ve always been interested in what makes people become a tune is what makes it for a genius idea. When do you have those ideas that are, you’re like, wow, this was a genius when I was in, I remember when I was in grad school, like the, you know, typical MIT late night project and I remember there was this moment where everything was quiet cause it was probably four in the morning. And, I was at the lab creating something and then I just looked at the ceiling and then I saw a glass and I said, Oh, transplant case for it. It was at the time Palm pilots and and I was like, Oh the trust bank case. Then you see what is in there. Right. And that’s how me just like that. Then the next day my professor was like, Oh you should patent that. By the way. I didn’t get the patent cause like I, I was too busy doing other things in retrospect I wish I had bothered, but at the time I didn’t bother to get that in mind.

Maria Kellis: But how did that idea come? Right. I think that our zone of genius is much related to ourselves. We are unique in who we are. Very, very unique and our creativity, our genius comes in that place of calm. So the one of my zones of genius is to do like a thousand things, right? So the being in this high stress environment, being in this chaos actually, it’s really exciting to me and I, that’s my, that is my genius. Like making order out of chaos. So in that highest stress, it’s not about stepping away from the stress and saying, Oh no, I can handle this. I’m just going to go meditate. Buh-bye. Right? It’s being present, completely present in the moment and in that moment, finding that zone of genius, that, that moment where you’re in the flow, where you’re no longer thinking how bad what you’re doing, but you’re in that moment doing it because that is extraordinary.

Maria Kellis: Some people find the zone of genius when they’re running by does the running, they, they have that, they’re in that song or they find it as they’re creating or you can find it through music. Whatever works for each person is different. But it’s that moment when you stop being you, that you become aware of everything. You become connected. You look around and you see ideas and you find, you find yourself finding those ideas. That part is not different from who you are. Just be who you are. So if I have one advice for everybody, just be you. That’s enough, right? But then that’s harder to do than just to say, but yes. So in this high pressure environment and in this place where you need to find those ideas where they, you know, maybe your promotion or your, you know, depends on the amazing ideas that you have, where the pattern is that you have, finding that place of calm is the way to do it.

Career Nation: Maria, that’s it. That’s a brilliant way to put it because quite frankly more and more we are rewarded for our innovation and concepts rather than actual hard labor. And in this new world, finding your center and finding your zone of genius is a fantastic tool to help us sort of unlock opportunities that, you know, might be inside us we may already have the answers, but we haven’t quite found our zone of genius and found the center. and we are sort of being, pushed into this chaotic world. But, but centering ourselves would allow us to take advantage of that opportunity. And, I totally, I totally subscribe to that view and I agree with that. Maria, as we wrap up here, what advice do you have for Career Nation? Our audiences, people that are early in career, middle of their career, late career, like all kinds of folks all across the world. What message, what pieces of advice would you like to share with them?

Maria Kellis: Well, it’s lucky that it happens to be the same thing for everybody. Be yourself and expand a little bit on that. So you… There’s 7 billion people in the world and each one of us is unique. Our uniqueness is what is the best thing we can do. So if you’re just starting out, be unique seems very scary because you’re like, well, but I should fit in because otherwise nobody will hire me. Or, but you know, if you’re just starting out being yourself, we’ll allow you to find the best job and in fact we’ll give you opportunities that are actually aligned with you. So maybe, maybe it feels scary to be you, especially when you’re starting, but the opportunities you’ve come, well, you know, even if you started at a lower level, it doesn’t matter because very faster you would be at the high level. If you’re in the middle of your career, being yourself allows you to know that, you know, I have that experience that I have and in the future I know where I want to go.

Maria Kellis:  So I’m just literally at that stage where I’m about to take off. Remember the colicky stick about to take off. So, I’m in a very exciting time. And so being yourself allows you to really be that trajectory where you’re not faking it. You really be you and the opportunities you’re creating, the path you’re creating is truly aligned with who you want to be. So it doesn’t feel like you’re working. I mean, my team, remember I have people in, you know, many countries around the world. The reason I picked my team is because they’re in different time zones. So this way, like at 24 hours a day, there’s somebody awake. And working with them and I’m like, don’t you ever sleep? Of course. But I love my job so much. I don’t want to, you know, like I have an idea three in the morning I’m working and it doesn’t feel like, Oh no, I’m working.

Maria Kellis:  I’m like, Oh wow, this is such a great time for me to work on this because nobody is going to call me right now. and, and of course if you’re at the end of your career, being yourself is really what, what you should do because that is the point where, you know, you’ve gone through the basics. You have what you know you can do and being yourself brings them an extra home that makes you interesting. You’re, you’re no longer part of the crowd, but you stand out and when you stand out, that’s really when you succeed.

Career Nation: Maria, that is just a fascinating insight. Being yourself allows you to bring your unique value to the world and quite frankly, whether you’re early career, middle career or late career, it doesn’t matter. You can actually be successful just by being yourself and showing up in the best version of yourself. Maria, thank you so much for making the time. we’ll make sure to, share the links and the show notes. to get your meditation tools and be ready to beat stress, beat burnout. Maria, thank you so much for joining us. We wish you all the very best and have a wonderful rest of the day.

Maria Kellis: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure. And, lots of love to everyone.

Career Nation:  Thank you.

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Episode 10: Career Nation show with Rajesh Setty

Rajesh Setty is an entrepreneur who has founded several successful startups, an author of 18 books and a teacher and mentor.

In this video, he shares insights about life, career, and secrets to success.

  • How his book got rejected by publishers for 159 times and how 160th time become magical.
  • Hammer & nail strategy. 
  • Why entrepreneurship is a team sport.
  • How important are stories in life?
  • How to become more self-aware?
  • Why smart people get stuck?
  • How can people go about having a side hustle and at the same time sort of capitalizing on it over a period of time?
  • Learning art through hard ways.
  • Different career opportunities in the present digital age.

Career Nation: Hey Career Nation, today is a very exciting episode. Today, we have none other than Rajesh Setty. He is an entrepreneur, he’s an author and a teacher. And I’d known him for many years and he’s a mentor to many, many people here in Silicon Valley. Please welcome Rajesh Setty to the show. Rajesh, welcome to the show.

Rajesh Setty: Super exciting, uh, Abhijeet. I’m so glad to be here.

Career Nation: Yeah, Rajesh, I waited for years to interview you and finally my dream has come true. Thank you for being on the show.

Rajesh Setty: The moment you say things like that, it can all go downhill from here. So don’t set the expectations very high.

Career Nation: Yeah, that’s right. Uh, one of my mentors always tells me always exceed expectations. Any of the expectations are too high, you can reset them. So I appreciate you resetting expectations right here.

Rajesh Setty: Very good. I’m so excited.

Career Nation: Thank you. And so, um, Rajesh for those of you, for those five people who may not know you, uh, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career journey?

Rajesh Setty: Uh, I keep my life very simple, Abhijeet. I do three things. I’m an entrepreneur. I started more than half a dozen companies. They are all in various stages except one that is in the graveyard. But other than that, a couple of them that got sold and the remaining ones are happily running in USA and India. That is, uh, two geographies that are operating. And then I’m an author. I’ve written 18 books. My first book was published when I was 13 years old. So I’ll date myself by saying that I’ve been writing for 30 plus years. Right? And then when I, I’m working on a 36 book series called Think Books, books that’ll make people think. And then lastly, I’m a teacher. I love to teach and’ve taught over 1400 entrepreneurs on how to bring their ideas to life. And everything that I do is surrounding these three things. My hobbies, I create what are called Napkin Sites, insights that can put on a paper napkin, like create thank you cards, postcards with the cool messages to thank people. And I’ve created the playing cards, which has stories in 50 words each. Uh, I keep doing some cool creative things to keep my brain engaged.

Career Nation: Wow. Is there something that you don’t do? Rajesh. Uh, that’s a lot of things. And so I’m curious about your career path. Um, I know you started as an engineer and uh, you were an engineer at sort of building technology, etc, and then you moved on from being an engineer to becoming an entrepreneur. You’re an author, you’re also a teacher and a mentor to so many people. How did you, or why did you choose this particular career path. I mean you could’ve been an engineer in Silicon Valley is like sort of the badge of honor, right? Which is the thing to do and you’ve kind of weired off that path to sort of a path that’s less beaten to those paths. So what was sort of your thinking, your approach? What, um, what led you to this path?

Rajesh Setty: Actually, the real question is why didn’t the path chose me is the real question. Because I never chose anything most of my life I never made any major choices. But whatever came along Abhijeet, I would embrace it with full passion. So that’s how I think about it. When I come into this day, I don’t know what will come into the coming my way, what God has in store for me, but whatever it is, I embrace it with full passion. So here’s what happened. When I was in, uh, about nine years old, I’ve read 700 books, most of them were useless books according to my mom, they were murder mystery, thrillers, treasure hunt-kind of books. But then at nine, I thought the, Hey, I’m playing this game that I know exactly what happens in this story. And most of the time we turned out to be wrong.

Rajesh Setty: It was something else would happen and it would frustrate the hell out of me. I said, you know what? If I write my own novel, I can decide what the characters will do. I can make, I can make the treasurer to be in some place. I can make somebody that killer. I can make some really the right guy, good guy. I choose. So that kind of a, uh, autonomy was what I liked. So, but at the time I was 10, I had written a 200 page book and then the madness started after that because then I taught, okay, how many people will write a 200 page book? I think I’ll get a red carpet welcome. I start pitching to publishers. So, and I started pitching and I was getting rejected faster than I was pitching. I don’t know which was, which was happening first. But, you know, when you are young, you can take rejections in abundance, right.

Rajesh Setty: So by the time I was 13 and a half, I got rejected 159 times the 160th time was magic. Yeah. Publisher said, I’m going to publish this. How much do you want? And then that was a question I was not prepared to answer because I never thought it’ll happen anytime soon. So I told him a hundred rupees. He got the shock of his life. But those who don’t know what is 100 rupees, it is $1 50 cents or something like that. It is. So that was a journey where I was awarded as the youngest writer of Karnataka state and magic started happening after that, people who didn’t believe me suddenly started believing me. And one of them was a editor in the local newspaper. They said that jokingly or seriously? I don’t know. He said, do you want to come and work for us, part time? So that was my very first job working as a newspaper journalist for a local newspaper.

Rajesh Setty: Over 4 years I wrote about 400 articles. Granted, not all of them are published because I used to write almost every day. And then the first six months I had mostly crap because I don’t think they were worthy of publishing. But I learned the art the hard way. And I learned some two life skills in the journalism days, Abhijeet. One is to notice and observe things that others don’t notice easily. Because as a journalist you have to find an angle and then for that your observing skills have to be really, really sharp. So that’s one thing. Second is the story itself. Everything that in life is about stories. So I learned the art of noticing and the art of storytelling and the art of, uh, communicating a message to people, that you may not ever see in person. All those things played a role in what I do even today.

Rajesh Setty: And then, uh, you know, by the time I was 17, I got six books published in my name. Then my mom got very dead that I’ll become a writer. So, and then she gave me three choices. Choice number one, engineer, number two, doctor, choice number three loser. She said, you have to pick. You come from India too. So you know, that when children don’t become engineers or doctor mom’ will think they are a failure. So I chose to be an engineer. Uh, and then, I love my mom, so I did extremely well. I didn’t want to ever feel that I am choosing engineering because she wanted me to choose. I finished my education in flying colors. So I was good in education. I was good in writing. So I thought, Hey, what else is there? I should start a company immediately. So, and then I convinced two more people, who are my classmates to start a company.

Rajesh Setty: It was a disaster will be an understatement because it was like two blind people leading the third blank person saying, you know, let’s do this. And we actually didn’t know what we didn’t know. So it was a total disaster, but it was not like a death by a gunshot, like a death by a thousand cuts. Because every time I wanted to give up, people would say, hey Raj, you wrote a book when you was 13 years old, you should not give up. You will figure it out. You know, just not give up. And I’m almost giving up because I don’t know what the hell I’ve been doing, but I kind of give up because everybody around are telling, you’re so smart, in you got state rank and engineering and 10th standard and all, you can’t give up. So, but obviously after some time you run out of money and an order of support, we had to give up.

Rajesh Setty: We shut down the company. And, uh, uh, I learned another major lesson Abhijeet, which is entrepreneurship is a team sport. What I was good at were solo sports – writing and education is pretty much a solo sport with some teammates, involved. But entrepreneurship is a hundred percent team sport. So just because you’re good at solo sports, suddenly you cannot automatically become good at a team sport. So that education came to me with a very heavy price and uh, uh, it was good that I knew it and that also motivated me to build a lot of relationships, but they played a team sport. Actually. I would rather become good at building relationships with that. I have teams all over the world. So long story short, we gave up on that and then I joined Citibank, which was called Citicorp Information Technologies Industries Ltd. called CITIL.

Rajesh Setty: So part of Citi bank, 18 months, I was there as a programmer. I worked on many markets foreign exchange and everything. Then I got a job as a, uh, as a program manager in a company in Malaysia. So I won’t go into all the details that became the CEO who was supposed to come over and take all the division was not there as I was drafted as the interim CEO because nobody else was there to take over. And six months later the interim was got dropped and I become the CEO of the division. Oh wow. So I lived in Singapore, Malaysia and a little bit in France. I came here in 1997 and then I worked for some, a couple of consulting companies. Since 2000 I’ve been starting my own companies one after the other. Uh, and that’s the life’s journey.

Career Nation: Wow. That’s incredible, Rajesh and you know, there’s so many nuggets there that I would love to unpack.

Career Nation: One of them is this story around persistence that you were rejected 159 times, but then the 160th time was magic. Um, and I wanted to continue down this path of persistence and talk about smart people who are stuck and, uh, what I want, what I mean by that is it smart people who, who, whose real potential is, it’s unbelievable. Right? If you really look at their skills, their experience, their competencies, they could be rock stars but they’re not. And you and I have met many such people in our lives and especially when I coach people, I see a lot of potential but I don’t see that potential translated into results. And um, I think, and feel free to correct me, but persistence could be one of those things that could help people sort of break through. Um, what, what do you think is preventing smart people from being successful? Because smartness doesn’t translate into success but it needs something. What is that something?

Rajesh Setty: There are so many ways we can go, right? Because remember I studied this phenomenon for six and a half years. Only one question I wanted to answer and got stuck royally there. It is why smart people get stuck? And the person who is researching you stuck trying to find out why smart people get stuck there. There is some meta-thinking that. But I found out several things. It’s part of my book called Smart But Stuck, but I’ll give you some, some things here. So there are several blind spots smart people have, which is when they get stuck, they want to get unstuck very quickly. Without even taking the time to know why they’re stuck. So what happens is because they are building their identity that they’re smart around people and they don’t, they never want to feel that they’re stuck and they want, they don’t want to be exposed saying, Hey, if I am so smart I should not be stuck.

Rajesh Setty:  I should get unstuck very quickly. But sometimes to move fast, you’ve to slowdown. So you would rather go slow and find out why you are really stuck. Then trying to figure out when quick fix. Let me get unstuck, whatever way quick do it for possible. That’s one of the reasons why they stay stuck long enough because they want to get out of it very quickly without thinking. Why they are actually stuck. Second blind spot they have is they’re trying to do too much, too many things on their own because they can. And actually they really can because they have the capability. But what is against them is time because they have 24 hours just like everybody else. And if they over subscribe to things because they’re so smart, then they lose time. Well third thing is not everybody is good at asking for help. They have a feeling that if they ask for help, then little bit weaker than the other person.

Rajesh Setty:  And in reality, what I have found Abhijeet is that, one of the predetermined factor for success is do you have an over supply of good help to take you through to your destination? And for that to happen, you should have been part of the help to many people in their journey to their goals. So people don’t realize that they will get an over supply of good help if they were part of the over supply of good help to other people in the past. It’s the law of karma takes over there. So all these things come together and one after the other, it comes like a Blitzkrieg of, uh, blind spots. Oh, coming from all over the place and a persistence matters. And, uh, the staying power matters because my favorite thing that I say is if you stay long enough on the course, you will find the problem for your solution. Because smart people have a lot of solutions. They don’t take the time to find what problem does it solve.

Rajesh Setty: That is so true. It’s like a hammer looking for a nail. I have a comment. So it has been used, the statement has been viewed, used as a negative thing, for a long time. I use it in a positive way as if I have a Hamlet, I will always look for a nail. I say if you learn the art of storytelling and you have a hammer to tell the story and show people the nail in their problem, then you can say, I have a hammer to put the nail. Yeah. That’s the other way to do it. Which is to find the problem to solve. Exactly. Um, and you have a certain person, they have a certain strength, certain competency that’s the hammer. And you’ve to figure out which nail should I hit. Exactly. A problem can I solve. Yeah. Because all we have is all we have, isn’t it?

Rajesh Setty: If you have a hammer, you cannot say, Oh I should need a wrench or a screwdriver. Although I do have a hammer. I’m sure that enough nail problems to be starred. You just have to tell a story big enough that uh, you know, you will find the nail. I’ll give an example. You might have heard of this person called Frederick Heron, he is a speaker, coach and everything. I met them a few years ago in Singapore and he gave me one thing. He was giving me some advice on many things and one of the things really, uh, resonated with me is why he spoke about creativity and one topic alone, he does not speak about anything else. Shall I share it with you? Yeah, absolutely. So he said he makes a few million dollars a year speaking only, only on one topic. It’s like Frederick’s hammer, isn’t it? And then it says, he goes to a company, and says, you know, what is the biggest challenge that you have?

Rajesh Setty: A lot of sales that aren’t growing fast enough. Okay. Do you think if the sales people are a little bit creative, they solve the problem? Yeah. That should be good. Okay. I have, I have a talk that I have. It’s creativity for sales people and then supposedly I’d say that of course the answer to the question was the leadership is not strong enough. Now you’ve already guessed. If leaders that create a little bit more creative, do you think it’ll help? I have a talk, a creativity for leaders. The only place it does not work is our accounting people have a problem.

Rajesh Setty: Yeah. You didn’t want to get accounting people to be more creative for sure. That’s the only thing. But except for that, he has a hammer and he will find the nail, hit the customers, uh, situation and say, I can hit the nail on the head right on the head. So many times. The reason I’m talking more about that is many times people start thinking, Oh my God, I have a hammer. I should not look for the nail everywhere I say, you have a hammer, look for the nail. Wherever there is money and hit it on the head. So rather than looking for things that they don’t have, I’m always a big proponent of what are you doing with the things that you already have. Forget about looking for things that you don’t have. There is so much that you already bring to the table. Let’s make the most out of it.

Career Nation: I totally agree. And you know, um, because of this proliferation of technologies and devices, it has become easier to find nails. In other words, problems to solve. It’s become easier to build your network, reach out to people and figure out if they have the problem that you are trying to solve. And that way you can figure out and identify opportunities where you can participate and create value.

Rajesh Setty: That is the level one. I’ll also tell you the level two, it’s a kind of term called Hunger Engineering. So if you want to sell something to eat, you’ve to engineer the hunger in someone and say, I want to eat that. So if you have a hammer and you want to create, find a nail, you can either find it with your snooping skills or spice skills or, you can start telling stories that will engineer the hunger to save people. I have a nail problem. I never knew that I had a nail problem. I do. Thank you so much for letting me know. Now can you please bring your hammers so that you can hit the nail on the head? Like that.

Career Nation: Wow. I like it. Hunger engineering. Um, is this being used a lot in sort of digital marketing these days? Especially when I’m like both B to B, B to C because you, I mean I see a lot of folks, especially from a marketing standpoint um, paint the picture about what are the challenges, opportunities in a particular space. Um, and then they can, we can talk about this solution et cetera. Is that part of hunger engineering as well?

Rajesh Setty: People who are masters at it, they’re doing it Abhijeet without even putting a name for it cause they are to amplify the problem at hand and make them aware that they have a problem before you can sell a solution to them, right? If you are a master at crafting the problem statement, half your job is done because now you know there is hunger for that solution for that problem and then then you come to the positioning exercise where you say my solution is the best fit for the problem that

Career Nation: you are, you’re the Hunger to solve. I love it. Um, I want to take that angle a little bit more in terms of that sort of the hammer angle and want to talk about self awareness for a bit. You know, how do I know that I have a hammer? Is there a way I can become more self aware? Yes. Um, how, how do I go about becoming more self aware?

Rajesh Setty: There are many ways and there are seven ways. I’ll send the link to a blog post I wrote so that we can put it in the show notes. Tell you the seventh way is the most important way. First of all, why is that there is a self awareness problem. Let’s talk about it first. Why is that I don’t know what my hammer is. It’s because when they have a strength, which is really, really super power, it becomes invisible to you because you do it slowly.

Career Nation: So say that again one more time Rajesh. When you have a super power, it is invisible to you, why is that?

Rajesh Setty: Because it’s so easy for you. It’s common sense. Like say let’s say thyou’re really good at negotiating. Just because you’ve done it so many times, it becomes easy for you. You’ll see things that others don’t. Call that phenomenon, out-see was one of my new books that will come up. Like if you want to outperform your have to out-think, if you want to out-think, you’ve to out-see. You’ve to see more things than what other person is doing in the world of negotiation let’s say, that’s your superpower. You can see things that the other persons don’t. But you’re not saying, Oh my God, I’m so school. I can see things. You are just seeing it. So you don’t think that it’s a big thing? In fact, we were surprised that other peoples don’t see it. And then maybe we’ll think it’s so common sense. You are so plain and simple.

Rajesh Setty: So when it becomes invisible to you, you stop growing it because you’re not nurturing it, because you’re not aware of it. How will you become aware of it? Like I said, there are seven ways, including having good mentors. Mentors is one of the ways. The real way is this. You start observing and noticing the requests that are coming to you for help. When the stakes for those requests are high, it’s very important to know that the stakes are high. Why? Because people are not very thoughtful and making the requests. Most of them make requests because they’re lazy. They make it, the request because it’s convenient for them. It says somebody wants you to drop your top, drop them at the airport and say, Oh, Abhijeet, you’re going there. Are you going towards there, so can you drop me? So when in fact they can take an Uber or, some lift or something.

Rajesh Setty: Right. Of course if they are your friend, you’ll drop them but the stakes are not very high for that because if you don’t drop them, it’s not like they’re in a stranded. They will. That’s right, they have an option. They have an option, but let’s say they are negotiating a big $2 million deal and they come to you for help. Then the stakes are very high because if you give them bad help, a not so good help, then they will shave off a hundred, $200,000 in the deal because the good help could’ve given them an edge, bad help would give them a negative edge. There is word like that, so when the stakes are high and you start noticing those requests, then you know

Rajesh Setty: what the world sees you as your strength because as human it may be invisible to you, but guess what? Those superpowers are very visible to your network. Otherwise they won’t come to you asking for that help. In fact, if you a bad negotiator, think what happens. They may negotiate a deal and they know that you’re a bad negotiator, you will become a competitive disadvantage for them. If they take you along, they won’t do it. So noticing requests that are coming your way, where the stakes are high for those requests, that is one way become to become self aware of what your true stance and two superpowers are. In other words, what you are hammer is.

Career Nation: That is so true. And I’m, I’m, I really like this idea of, you know, becoming more aware of the requests that are coming in when the stakes are high and that’s how you do go through sort of more self discovery and started to figure out what is the hammer. Now, speaking of hammers, Rajesh, um, I think you have many hammers. Um, one of the hammers was these sort of these insights that you have, which are for you, it may be simple. Um, and I’m talking about Napkin Sites and ThinkBook, which was the product that you had just recently launched. Um, it may be simple for you but it is super insightful for others. And I really want to get your, get the backstory on this like sort of the Napkin Sites and then you as put that together in a book and um, I’ll, I’ll send a separate link out for the book because it’s not a book, it’s not a journal. It’s the way to think. And in this new economy we are rewarded not just based on actions but based on thoughts. I mean thoughts, innovation, concepts. Those are the things for which we get highly rewarded, highly compensated and ThinkBook. It’s, it’s a tool to basically sharpen that, sharpen how you think, how you conceptualize, et cetera.

Career Nation: What was the Genesis of this book, of this ThinkBook? Because when I say ThinkBook maybe first I think of, and then when actually saw the product it was like this is unbelievable and why didn’t someone else come up with this? But then I linked it back to Napkin Sights and it all started to make sense and I would love to sort of get the, get the skinny on this one, Rajesh because this is, this is special.

Rajesh Setty: Yeah, definitely. In fact that there is a lesson here that once I say it to you, you would say oh it makes a lot of sense, which is many times for something to happen, Abhijeet, we always think there should be a triggering point. In reality that are multiple triggering points with multiple things happening. They all have to come together. It’s like three or four rivers coming together and the meeting point of those rivers. That is what happened in this case. So what happened was remember when I was 13 to 17 I was a, I was a generalist and then I started noticing and observing things that other don’t, because for me there was, it was my job requirement that I find a story angle, isn’t it? So that one thing that all of that was always there is I can notice things that most people don’t because they’re so busy with the other one Facebook or whatever it is that they’re doing.

Rajesh Setty: That is item number one. Item number two is, years ago I had a medical situation which was, which almost knocked off my ability to write. And then I used to go to the doctor and said, you know, um, it’s writing is a problem. And they said, okay, Raj I think you can give up on your writing. Now you can just find a voice record or something because there are tools there. But you know, I insist that you next time when you come and see me, I want you to show me a few pages that you are handwritten and then you put the dates on the pages. You know, as I said, I know that you are not bringing some old stuff. So and then like it was really difficult for me and then to write an napkin site, which is only a few words, it took me 15 to 20 minutes.

Rajesh Setty: And then I said, if I’m spending all this time I want, I don’t want to right Jack and Jill went up the Hill. Because it’s a useless thing to do. I said, let me think, what should I do? And you know, I had this meditation and yoga practice that I do every single day. So every day, once I finished my meditation, I would just close my eyes and think what’s coming to me. And then I would write for 15, 20 minutes and it would create one napkin site after that. And then I would say, now that I have it, why don’t I post it on Facebook using a camera on the phone and posted it on Facebook. And then a friend of mine who was really amazing designer he said, uh, I only met him three times. His name is Ming. And Ming said, do you want me to visualize this, I won’t charge you a lot of money, but I want to help. So now Facebook becomes a transport mechanism, fire transport mechanism to Ming. So, uh, for now it was all going on because I had no business

Rajesh Setty: idea on this. It is just going on. And then after about 15, 20 of this, uh, one of my friend called Chris who was making a conference. He Said, hey, these are, these are insights that can fit on a napkin. You know, what are you calling them? I said, I’m not calling them anything because I had not thought of making a business out of it, so he said, why don’t we call it Napkin Sights, insights on a napkin and then the the URL is available. You should book it. I booked it because again, all these things are happening without any goal or destination in mind and my goal was to reach a hundred napkins. It’s all my goal was because it takes me a lot of time and then I started getting a small following, very tiny following. People would say if I don’t post it, for a while, people, some people would email me and saying, what happened to those Napkin Sites?

Rajesh Setty: And then when we get that kind of positive reinforcement, we’ll say it’s good that I’m reaching my goal. You know what happened? When it reached 100, something happened. I had two more things to say and it became 102 so now it’s an odd number. I said, no, I cannot stop. I think I should go to 200 right? Because I can’t leave it at 102. It’s not even a hundred or it’s not 150. Something is wrong. So i reset my goal to, let’s make it 200. And uh, it kept going and going and every time I reach the number 100, 200, 300, I would overstep it a little bit and then I cannot leave it in an odd number. Finally, now I have 2046 as of today. That’s credible Rajesh. Along the way. Uh, I was designing something in Notebook. One of my friends said, why don’t we put this napkin site interspersed in this notebook?

Rajesh Setty: And then that became a ThinkBook. And as I was designing it, uh, you know, my friend Michelle from Mind Valley, you said this would be a great book to give away in the Mind Valley conference. And uh, my, my, no interest in creating one anytime soon. I was just designing it because there was a a friend who wanted to give this away at a conference. I fast-tracked it and became the first ThinkBook. So the journey is, is to get them many, many eh, things that have happened in the past. And the whole Napkin Site is a play on words. Where did that come from? 2002 I joined a course called Business Professional course, which is actually a linguistic philosophy course. I was there in that course for seven and a half years. The whole course was about, your words will create your worlds. So I became a really good student of language and play on words. So if you think about it, my journalism base, my medical situation, the inspiration from friends as well as the, the love for the language and the words, all of them came together and now it looks like magic. It was the elements of that magic were happening over the over decades. Good there.

Career Nation: Yeah, I mean all of those incidents, all of those skills,

Career Nation: of those milestones, all of those things compound over a period of time. And it gives, they give you results that you know, you may not have expected. And it basically creates a lot more upside over a period of time. And again, going back to persistence, um, if you persist long enough and you, once you have a hundred, you go to 102, if you have 300, you go to 302 and then you get to the next milestone, you keep doing it. It just creates the kind of momentum that, um, you may not have believed in and when you just started out, and quite frankly, it sometimes things like these are not just a momentum or a brand but become a movement. And I think Napkin Sites is sort of in that category, which is a movement. People can share it, people can talk about it, people can put, put up in their offices.

Career Nation: And uh, you know, now it’s in the form of a book and I’ll drop the link in the notes here. And it’s a phenomenal book for anyone who is a creator who is a thinker who likes to bring in innovation, new concepts into her team or his team. It’s a, it’s like a Swiss army knife that you should have. And by the way, you can do anything with it and you can be totally creative and you can build a whole stack of concepts on top of the ThinkBook. So I would love to, um, I’d love to do that. Um, after, after we published the show. Rajesh, thanks so much for those insights. I really wanted to get it into a little bit more of you and your personality. So I wanted to play, we played this game on the show called favorites and we basically ask you a favorite thing and you have to tell us what is that thing and why is that thing your favorite? Are you ready, Rajesh?

Rajesh Setty:  I’m always ready. But I’ll phrase it with something. Yes. Suppose let’s say I asked you, Abhijeet what makes you happy. Don’t answer that question because the moment you answer that question, it’s a trap because nothing should make you happy because it’s happiness is a default state that you don’t want something to make you happy. In fact, the answer should be, you know, if you ask me the question what makes you unhappy, I’ll find some things. But I am already happy. There is nothing made to make me happy. So I am saying this is when we look for favorites. I have so many favorites. I pick one because it’s good for the show, but I am either, I have only two states. I am either excited or very excited. Like the conversation with you is my favorite thing because that’s happening now and we both have a relationship for years. So as much as you are looking forward to the conversation, I was looking forward to the conversation because I don’t know what will come out of it but I know some magic will happen.

Career Nation: That is a brilliant way to start the favorites conversation. Um, and it’s actually deep and insightful as always. Rajesh, thank you again for sharing that. Happiness is a default state. It’s not something that makes you happy. It’s not a trigger point. It’s a default state. You have to be always happy.

Rajesh Setty:  And then remember that what is against you, Abhijeet is the, in the world of advertisements, what is the standard method to advertise something? They’ve to show that if we don’t have that something the life is a mess, let’s say it’s a vacuum cleaner. How will they show that vacuum cleaner advertisement? They will show that the house is messy, it’s dark. It is stuff everywhere. And then voila, that vacuum cleaner appears. Suddenly everything is bright and then you lose the magic wand and then everything is spic and span clean. So what are they trying to say? That your life is incomplete without this whatever vacuum cleaner they’re selling and then if you have it, suddenly you are happy? That is one way. Second way is the social media. If you don’t, um, if you’re not fullly thoughtful about this, what will, what are people posting on social media?

Rajesh Setty: Their happy moments, not their 24 hours a day. They’re not livestreaming. They’re just picking and choosing things that are good and exciting for them. It is an exception, not a rule. It’s not like 24 hours in a day. They’re meeting some cool people, they’re are having a party, they are also making their bed. They’re also cleaning the vessels. Then also doing the dishes. Everything is happening but they don’t post that on social media. So if you’re not very thoughtful, you’ll think, Oh my God, look at me. This vacuum cleaner is not that I’m unhappy, but look at everybody in the world. They seem to be always have their vacation. They got a new home. There is a new baby, something is wrong with me. Oh my god, why are you targeting me? I should also be happy. So you can become, it can become a super messy thing. It can mess with your mind. So you have to take every information that is coming your way with some thoughtfulness. What is it actually saying?

Career Nation: I love it. Maybe Rajesh next time I should post a picture of me doing dishes. I think that would be most appropriate.

Rajesh Setty: You know, it’s one of those things that I read in a book, Abhijeet called Click, have you read it?

Career Nation: I’ve heard about it. I’ve not read it yet. Yes.

Rajesh Setty: So it’s a really small book Abhjeet and you’ll finish it in one hour. It’s two brothers, Ori and Rom Brafman. Uh, I believe they’re in San Francisco, if I’m not mistaken, I read it a while ago because one of my friends gifted it to me and the book was about why some people instantly connect and why most people don’t. And there are several characteristics and one of the characteristics, bright and bold, is vulnerability that somebody who can expose who the really are and be vulnerable. Suddenly they get closer to the other person if they also express vulnerability because they are now two human beings talking with each other. When you post it in ways of doing dishes, you’re just being vulnerable, you are just showing that you are also a human being. It’s not like somewhere you are doing something that nobody else in the house does isn’t it? Nobody else is posting it. So the more there are two things, you’ve to be comfortable with who you are. And you have to be extremely comfortable when people show who they are and you’ve to behave in a way that they know that you are comfortable with them being who they really are. If you do that, you become instantly connected to the person because it’s two human beings, two souls talking, not the masks pretending to talk. Does it makes sense?

Career Nation: It makes a ton of sense. You know, Career Nation, Rajesh, he’s dropping value bombs after value bombs and this is happening even before we get into the favorites part. Um, that’s part of the reason why I like, um, talking to Rajesh and always uh, treasured his mentor-ship. Um, let’s get into the favorites part. And um, the first question Rajesh, is your favorite app.

Rajesh Setty: My favorite app is a mind mapping tool that use called MindMeister and uh, only because it’s so simple to use but easy. And then my mind thinks in like a mind map kind of things. So I always think where does it go, their relationships, their interests, everything is like a mind map, like a transits or things. And I tried many, many tools like a CRM kind of tool. But the way my mind thinks it is all very going all over the place and mind map captures it brilliantly.

Career Nation: Oh that’s wonderful. So Rajesh, just double clicking on that one. How do you use a mind map? Do you use that to um, let’s say think about a new project like conceptualize or sort of ideation. Um, do you use that to plan a project or do you use that for um, you know, developing something new along? Like let’s say it’s a new partnership that you’re developing. Like how do, how do you use?

Rajesh Setty:  I use it for two things, Abhijeet. One is for projects so that I can start thinking in a project, let’s say a new startup that I’m doing for of my existing startup. Then I can say, you know, what are the partnerships that should be there. Then I put that branch there, then each partnership I can say, you know, why should they care about, so you can keep evolving it. What is the value proposition? So there is a so many elements for a project for the way I use it more frequently and more powerfully for people. Because people I have interests, I want to know what they care about. So when I meet you, for example, I have a mind map for you. I know that Career Nation is important so before I meet with you next, I look at your mind map, I get in one five 10 seconds I get a full picture of you so that I know what you care about and during the conversation my goal is to bring some value to things that you care about because that is good for both of us and that is good for me when selfishly because I get to apply for what is called a translation from an abstract to specific.

Rajesh Setty: So if I read, I read about one book a week, it’s all abstract knowledge but it’s useless to you if I say things without contextualizing to your specific needs. The one of the fundamental skills that people should develop is the fast translation from abstract to specific at a moment’s notice. So that is where the value gets created. There is abstract knowledge, that is specific situation. We translate abstract knowledge to specific situation. You create value. When you do that you become a positive possibility in the future they are creating for themselves. And for me to become a master at it, I have to do it more and more and more. So every meeting I use my skill to translate abstract a specific and create value. The more I do it, the more I become better at it and it becomes effortless after some time.

Career Nation: I love it. So going from like ideating on a project and then going from abstract to specific, I love those use cases because then we can use mind maps to get that context, figure out and also maybe collaborate with others. And uh, quite frankly I think you’ve said it right, which is in some ways it could be better or even sort of complimentary to our CRM system. If a sales guy is sitting there and they have a mind map created for a particular customer or customer account, they can figure out that, Hey, this is the context for the customer. These are the top care abouts. Um, there could be really interesting ways to apply mind maps to sort of a business environment as well.

Rajesh Setty: It’s pretty cool. 100% Abhijeet. In fact, the people try to remember somebody’s birthdays and anniversaries and all those things. It’s a, it’s almost, there is so much of fakeness in it. It’s almost like silly when it happens that way. But if you truly care about what they care about, you will do something that will move the needle in a measurable way, when that help is given. Something will happen that people would say that is progress made. It’s not, uh, like, uh, it’s not any, nothing fake in it. Plus it is not something, it’s a feel good thing, but it’s a real progresses happening. So for that to happen, you need to know what they cared about. And mind map is a great way to capture what people care about.

Career Nation: Outstanding. Rajesh, let’s move to the next favorites category. Do you have a favorite quote, something you live by or something that you’d like to see on the top of a billboard?

Rajesh Setty: Yeah, there are two of them. Uh, first I’ll tell you a person that I really admire. He is no more. Uh, unfortunately we lost him. His name was Jim Rohn and uh, he, when I met him, uh, in a conference you gave me one quote and I have lived by it since the day I heard it. It is called, ‘every disciplined effort has multiple reward’ and the, what is the, the focus immediately becomes, you know, whatever I’m doing, I should do it with discipline because there are multiple divides coming, right?

Career Nation: Wow, that’s deep and super insightful.

Rajesh Setty: Yeah.

Career Nation: And Jim Rohn is a legend. He is. Um, he’s trained so many people and I think you are super fortunate

Rajesh Setty: to have actually met him and attended. Um, some of his teachings. Oh, the meeting was like 15 seconds Abhijeet. So share that meeting like I was one of the many people who was getting his book signed but I got my 15 minutes of a brilliance with him and other quote is what I came up with and then it helps me tremendously. Uh, it’s called ‘I am here. Where next?’. And what is, what is it saying is it’s always there with me. I carry it. I am here, puts me in the mood of acceptance, whatever happens. However I got here, I’m here talking to you. I have to accept it. Not over-analyze anything first is mode of acceptance. Second question, second part where next. It is a mode of wonder because there are multiple possible, now that I’m here, the possibilities are endless and I have to situate myself in the mode of wonder to crack those journeys in the new possibilities. I am here mode of acceptance, where next mode of wonder. Two modes, extremely powerful in combination.

Career Nation: You know, that is such an important and also a useful tool just so that

Career Nation: we can center ourselves. I mean we are always running is back to back meetings. We’ve got devices, we’ve got so many distractions. By the way it Raj, the distractions don’t seem to reduce everyday. They only seem to go up and when in that in that mode that you just mentioned, I’m here and where next I’m here is a great way to center ourselves, put the focus back and really make sure that we understand our environment and we accepted and then we know sort of we are in the know and then where next is it just kind of opens up so many possibilities that you can take your relationship to to the next level, your business to the next level, your career to the next level and so many opportunities and possibilities that you may not have even thought about and where next. That question Mark that question Mark is so powerful because you’re really asking yourself that question. You’re also asking the environment that question where next, where do you want to take me? And it kind of combines your personal wonder with the serendipity of there could be so many opportunities out there that you can take advantage of and be a part of.

Rajesh Setty: That is so true Abhijeet. Being present is the hardest thing for many people to do. I have a trick to…

Career Nation: Oh, including myself, but keep going…

Rajesh Setty: I have a small hack for it. Shall I share it with you?

Career Nation: Please, please. I’m all ears.

Rajesh Setty: If you put yourself in a mode where you say, I’m having this meeting, it is my responsibility and my duty to give unlimited access to my limited brain to Abhijeet. Then I’ll be in a mode of, um, peace. Where I know that I’m present. Why? It is my duty and responsibility to give unlimited access to my limited brain now and here and earlier I wanted to say something like this. I wanted to give unlimited access to my limited edition brain, but then I thought, I wish I was still a long way to go. Slowly I may never get there, but now it’s unlimited access to my limited brain.

Career Nation: Okay, that’s great. And it comes from a place of generosity and um, you know, generosity. And I want to touch upon the generosity and we’ll get back to the favorites part, but I think you have a, you coined a term, it’s called the Practical Generosity Quotient.

Rajesh Setty: Yes.

Career Nation: Can you like what is this? What, what, what do you mean by that? Like how, how can, how can I or anybody else use the Practical Generosity Quotient?

Rajesh Setty: Uh, I’ll give you a little bit of background and I’ll tell you what it is. So suppose I ask her when I teach young people, always ask them if there was one skill that you need to develop that will give an ultimate competitive advantage for the rest of your life, what is it? And people give its about leadership, its about taking initiative to getting things done. Not enough good answers. And there are no wrong answers. People are smart. They, they don’t give any stupid answers. But in my opinion, the answer is this. Your ability to give meaningful gifts at scale the very low incremental costs. So let me repeat it. Your ability to give meaningful gifts at scale at a very low incremental cost to you. So for that to happen, there are so many good things that have to come around because to give a meaningful gift, you should know one that that person cares about.

Rajesh Setty: Otherwise, how will it be meaningful? You should listen to them. Otherwise, how will you know what they care about? So knowing what they cared about and listening are already good skills. Cascades into this. At scale, which means you should be able to do it at will. It’s to lots and lots of people. That means you should learn the art of communicating and learn the art of storytelling. You’ll see how other skills that are coming into the picture. And at a very low incremental cost to you for that to happen the meaningful give test to be given in an area which is your super power. Otherwise the cost will be very high. For that to happen you need to know what is your superpower, which means you should know what is your strength. That one sentence I pack a lot of things that people are to do but make it look like, you know, just start to do one thing and that is a another trap here you, because people are smart, they can give some gift, some random gift and say, you know, my job is done.

Rajesh Setty: I gave him meaningful gift, I send art. Not yet. If you give a truly meaningful gift, the recipient will miss you in their past, which means that you know. If I ask you Abhijeet, do you know all your teachers from kindergarten to master’s degree? You’ll say no. If I say do you know some of them? You’ll always say yes. In fact, there was a Toastmasters event where one girls trying to put, I know every single teacher., Every one of them said names that I know everything. So there are exceptions that are, people who remember things and most of them don’t. But they remember some of them, of the, some of them they fall into two categories. One. Those teachers were very bad, which means they set the standards for the lowest level of teaching and they were so bad that they became memorable or they were so good.

Rajesh Setty: In fact, they were so good that you attribute a lot of who you become, to their teachings and experiences that they created for you. Those are the people you will miss them in your past. You will say, that teacher made my life. I wish I met the teacher five years before I met. We extended to when they give a meaningful gift, if it is so profound that you say what a gift. I wish I met this person a few years ago so how would we do it practically that’s where the practicals and also the question comes in. The PGQ is the ratio of the capacity you added to the capacity it was needed by the person who is pursuing something meaningful and impactful in in their world. Like a, if somebody was wanting to start a company, there is a bunch of capacity that they need.

Rajesh Setty: How much of what they need did you add. That is your relationship. If you just said, Oh, you are starting a company, you should read this book, it’s called a Startup, blah, blah, blah, and then you can find it on Amazon, then that is almost a meaningless thing. That PGQ will be 0.1. One, because we just have to put some numbers in there. Otherwise it’s really zero. But if you say something like, you know, let me help you think through the business models, the pricing, the business plan, and a bunch of things that they don’t know and make some connections to some investors or cofounders of something, then the PGQ could get to 60-70. I have found that when the PGQ cross a 60 or 70 the power of reciprocation kicks in as people will say, is there anything can do for you? Because you have been so helpful. And if you have a to do this on and on and on and on, like you have what I call it, reservoir of reciprocation, you and over-supply of good help waiting to be tapped into at a moment’s notice whenever you push a button. And that is real competitive advantage.

Career Nation: I love it. And that basically becomes the key to unlock so many opportunities going forward. That’s brilliant. Rajesh again. How about we talk about another favorite topic this time. It’s your favorite book. Now this isn’t going to be difficult for you, partly because you’ve authored some really, really great books and not only great but useful books. And I’ve read so many over the years of Beaton and so many others over the years. So what is your favorite book?

Rajesh Setty: You know, earlier I used to, uh, answered saying that, Hey, well it looks that like my children, everything is their favorite book and it’s like this traditional way. Anybody else? You learn onset. But then I said, you know, if I have to rank order some things, then I should be able to do it because it cannot be all equal. Right. So my upcoming book called Smart but Stuck is my favorite book because first of all, I got royally stuck writing that book. Right. That’s ironical. Yeah. So, uh, and I, because of that book, I studied a lot of things. I became self-aware and then there are, about 15-20 ways people get stuck. And if somebody reads the book and they either will find something that they’re getting stuck or they’ll find something that somebody that they love is getting stuck and then there is always something that they can take away from the book because I’m always big on the return on investment for an interaction.

Rajesh Setty: That is why I’m very big on it. Which means people are talking with return on investment for money, I talk about ROII which is the return on investment for an interaction. When somebody buys this book, 25 30 bucks. They are giving me the most precious asset, which is their attention. They could have been a reading, another book, they could have been watching movie they would could have been in Disneyland. They are giving attention that is so precious to them that I have to take care of it. And for that attention I have to give that return that’s really, really big. And I have a feeling that I have captured that in this book. And I also feel good about it because a lot of really amazing people came in and helped me with the book. So like I am the main actor in the book. There are a lot of, is an ensemble that came in and said, let me help you take it to the next level. So that’s my answer. Smart but Stuck.

Career Nation: I love it. I can’t wait. Um, let me know when it comes out. And um, last but not least, what’s your favorite restaurant, Rajesh?

Rajesh Setty: You know, and when it comes to restaurants or any eating places, I am very interested in places where people are happy and when they’re serving they’re, they see happiness. So, and then that is very important for me. So close to my home. There is a restaurant called Sangeeta, you might have seen it and then I go there every time the people are happy. So that’s more important for me than the quality of food. And believe it or not, if you go to a happy place, food will always be good because they bring their heart into it.

Career Nation: That’s great. I can’t wait to go to Sangeeta next.

Rajesh Setty: So shall I share one insight that people can use, put it to use immediately. Yeah please. So I have a rule called this just like no child left behind. That is a no insight left behind. So let’s say that our audience, people who are listening to the show, let’s assume that they get one insight from me, just one. The goal has to be to apply it immediately whenever possible. And there is a lot of good things will happen because they might not be in a project where they can apply it immediately, what will they do? They will look at their friends’ projects, projects that we are people care about. And just because there is a no insect left bearing rule that they agreed to, they suddenly become like Santa Clause in the real world because they are lists, they have an insight on their plate, they’re the create value and they become masters of this translation from abstract to specific because we never took a business when we’re talking, you’d still, we’re still talking obstruct things but the value never gets created in the abstract value gets created in the specific. So just keep that, I want to practice the no insight left behind rules immediately you become a Santa Claus of value creation.

Career Nation: no insight left behind. That’s fantastic. Rajesh, I don’t know how you come up with these really useful um, sort of concepts and well that’s kind of part of your brand as well because whether it’s napkin sites or these insights or concepts that are sharing, it’s, it creates value and it’s so useful. And I really want to get into, you know, you know, you come up with these concepts, but I want to get into sort of a little bit deeper in terms of how do you come up with those? Like what are some of the techniques, what are some of the habits that you’ve applied to your career over the years? Um, for example, do you have a morning routine? Um, like is there a place you sit and you come up with ideas? Um, once you have an idea for a new project or a new start up, how do you validate that idea? Like, are there certain techniques and things you’ve honed over the, over so many years that you, you’d like to share?

Rajesh Setty: Very good. And then you had so many questions that we’ll answer one by one. Let’s talk over the morning ritual. So, for a long time, uh, since 2007 when, uh, I met Sadguru, uh, um, is a big teacher in India. I know

Career Nation: Isha foundation.

Rajesh Setty: Yup. Yeah. And I, uh, I attended a program, Isha yoga program and then my teached, she’s in Canada now, her name is Namath. And then I asked her a question, at the end of this thing, you know, Namath, if I want to incorporate this ritual in my life, how many days should I do it? And then the moment I asked did I know that it was a really, really idiotic question and she looked at me like as if I was the one. Because I said, if you want to do it, throw their like what a silly question it is to ask how many days should I do it? Then I said, no, Namath I really wanted to see if it has to become my habit. How many days does it take? And she gave me this phone that are so many ways.

Rajesh Setty: People, I’ve sent it 14 days, 21 days depending on the research. Right? That is enough. Not answered, spot it, but she told me something. It’s a gift that I’ll never forget. She said, if you’re really serious about it, I have a technique, for you. It’s a hack. I said, Hey, I’m really serious about it and she probably wanted to talk to me or some things is, I don’t think you will do it, but let me try it. I said, they going to bring it on, I will do it. And she said, you practice this ritual twice a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon. And you cannot skip for the next six months. You cannot give an excuse and uh, you cannot say bye bye I was traveling. No you cannot. And I took up the challenge and then I, I did that.

Rajesh Setty: Whether I was traveling, I would have a mat in the airport or a towel. And I would just do my yoga and meditation right there. And in 2007, as you know, it was not that hard. Yoga meditation and all of them look at me as if I’m like, what is this guy doing. Now if you’re doing it to people that are very curious, they want to know what kind of thing is that and everything? Long story short that has become my internal uh, uh, internal way how I do things. I meditate and do yoga every single day. Uh, since 2007, I skipped only two days. So I always practice it, that’s, I don’t one want to call it ritual because it has now become so much part of me, I don’t know me without pit. So that is what a, I call it reengineering your being. So rather than saying you have to incorporate a new habit, I say can you reengineer your being so that the habit is part of your being. So there is no habit because it’s you in a new way isn’t it?

Career Nation: I love it. Version two contains these new features.

Rajesh Setty: Exactly. You upgrade your software so that it’s now there is no previously, it’s not an add on. It is operating system level upgrade, but it’s there permanently and you cannot say, Oh I’m previous, version operating system with this ads and it’s already new. Previous version is gone. Right. So that’s my, if you want to do something good then you reengineer your being. So that there is something good is baked into the soul of you then there is no question of, because if you say habit ritual, it seems like work that you have to do it, but if it is part of your being, it’s not working when there’s no work to be you.

Career Nation: Great. There is no work to be you if you’re, if it’s already a part of you. Yes. Um, Rajesh you know one thing on career nation we are always interested in is as people think about their careers and the possibility of their careers and their trajectory. One question that comes up often, especially in my conversations is side hustle, which is, you know, people have their day jobs, they are working in corporate America, they’re working in a large company, medium sized company, small companies, startup, what have you. But at the same time they want to have this side hustle, which is their sort of passion project. They might be into photography, they might be a swimming instructor, they might be whatever. Right? And it’s a way for them to express themselves, but also it could be their future. It could be a future of career direction, could be their future business. Even what, what are, what are your thoughts on side hustle? Should everybody have a side hustle and what, what, how can people go about having a side hustle and at the same time sort of capitalizing on on it over a period of time.

Rajesh Setty: The, it’s a good question. What should we have a side hustle or should people not have a side hustle? So my to answer to that is only if it makes sense. Right? So for example, you’re already in a job where you are having a dreamlife and then every single moment you are wanting to bring value to it. And what you are passionate about is what you’re doing in the corporate world it says somebody is really amazing in sales. It thrives on building killer sales teams. Hmm. And that is what he wants to do. And there is no need for side hustle. Right? You could use that one time such as this, have some free time. They could use it to volunteer for something that they care about, isn’t it? Because we were good. The NGOs need amazing people. But let’s say that that is a family situation or personal situation where they cannot do exactly what they’re passionate about, but they have to pay the bills.

Rajesh Setty: They’re doing something as a stop gap alignment. They’re doing their good job, but they know that in the end, that is not their calling. And that is when they say, you know, what can the side hustle be? We thought breaking the promises I’m making to my employer. Right. It shouldn’t. It should not affect the real work because that’s a promise you may be getting paid for it. But do you know that that’s not the calling? And that’s when you start looking at the side as, as a means to an end, to the transition or during the transition to go there. Does it make sense?

Career Nation: Yeah, it makes a ton of sense. Um, and, and speaking of side hustles and speaking of hustles in general, that could be a project, right? And there could be a single project or multiple projects and Rajesh at any given point in time you have so many projects that you have running at the same time in parallel there are many trains that have believed the station on time and come to the station on time. How do you make time for your projects? I’m in, I mean if I think of you as like you’re writing books, you’re doing shows, you’re speaking and like you’re coming up with concepts and at the same time you’re running multiple startups and so how do you prioritize your time? How do you prioritize your projects and how do you, how do you think about that from a sort of concept and execution standpoint?

Rajesh Setty: I suppose there is a lot of moving parts. I agree. And then the design of this projects where I’m getting involved in some way has to blend itself into creating multiple rewards at the same time. Remember, my favorite quote is every disciplined effort has multiple rewards. Like for example, I’m writing this book Smart but Stuck. What will happen? I’ll have to meet other authors. I learned to interview them. Remember the interview. Cool, cool people and all those things. You know, my latest meeting startup is called Advisor, which is like Spotify for micro podcasts from really smart people. Yeah. Along the way, I’m writing this book, I’m meeting a bunch of smart people. What will happen? They all become experts on our ways. It now did it take double the work to get them as Ordway as their experts? I interview them for, no, it’s designed to be in such a way that it creates multiple rewards that to benefit multiple people.

Rajesh Setty: So I look at myself as a joker card. In that pack of cards, I can become a set or I can make them a sequence, but on my own I’ve learned that powerful. But as a sector, a sequence, I’m really powerful. So I’m always thinking about smart partnering. How do we get them? When I hire people, I look for three things. I call it ACE, which is autonomous, which is they don’t ask me a lot of questions. They get their job done, competent, they not only get their job done, they do it very well and E for empathetic. It means they know what the end customer of this project is, they have some empathy for that end customer. So if they are, they have the characteristics of ACE, ACE-characteristics and I have them have, I made mistakes many times, but they will get not good the next project with me because it costs me. So imagine if I have a set of people with ACE-characteristics, how easy it is to get things done.

Career Nation: I love it. Autonomous, competent and empathetic. It’s a great set of qualities to have, um, and be successful with those qualities. And B, make basically not only be autonomous and competent and empathetic that helps you with the job, but it also helps you because now you can scale up and have more leverage and other things. Hello rodesh as we wrap up here, we would love to know as career nation, what are your, what is your advice to us? All of us people working in corporate America, working on ad jobs. We want to Excel, we want to get promoted, we want to have better jobs. We want to learn new skills. There’s so many things to do. As we, as we wrap up, what are your thoughts on sort of our careers? How, how do you think we should approach it? What are the things we should be thinking about? Um, your thoughts please.

Rajesh Setty: One of the things that I always think about Abhijeet is how much does it take off you to create significant value to others? So if you think about how much of you has to come, who create a lot of value, if you can, designing their careers so that the of you is required to create enormous value, then what does happen then you unlock a powerful force of leverage, isn’t it? So the higher the leverage, higher the outcome and output and higher the premium that people will pay you in your job. For that to happen. If only a little of your to come to create a lot of value. That little of you V extremely powerful isn’t it? And that whatever is your super power, it cannot stay a super power unless you nurture it. So first is to identify your superpower. Second is to master it like nobody’s business. There is no tomorrow. If I am super power is story telling. Then take the next course on storytelling. Go to a workshop, do whatever it takes because that is your super power. You have to double down on it rather than saying, I’m not good at accounting, let me learn accounting. No, there is find a person who is good at accounting and partner with them. You are super power is storytelling. Double down, triple down on it. That’s my 2 cents.

Career Nation: Awesome. And I would love to link that back to the self awareness topic that we discussed earlier in the show and then knowing more about yourself, what’s your hammer, what’s your strength? And then now figuring it out, double down, triple down on it. Um, gives maximum results not only to yourself but to the community that you serve, to the organizations that you serve, to the companies where you create value and to your customers. Correct. Fantastic. Rajesh, it’s been a absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time. You are a super busy person. Um, but you chose to spend time here with the audience and share your fantastic insights. Would love to do a follow up at some point. I’m just, I didn’t ask you this, but I’m just making a statement that I would love to do a follow up. Hopefully you will honor it and which with much love and respect, Raj, thank you again for being on the show.

Rajesh Setty: You’re most welcome. I totally enjoyed it. It was a pleasure talking to you and anytime we can do a follow up.

Career Nation: Awesome. Great. Thank you. Rajesh have a great day.

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Episode 9: Career Nation Show with Gregory Fox


Gregory Fox is a Technology Alliances leader, former CMO, Advisor, Keynote Speaker, and a LinkedIn Power Profile.

He is currently the General Manager of the WorkSpan Networking & Communications business.

In this video, he shares his insights around Tech alliances:

  • Why partnering is critical for any company to succeed in today’s world.
  • Evolution of alliances and ecosystems
  • What kind of career opportunities are available in the Alliances and Partner space.
  • How LinkedIn helps with networking and career opportunities.
  • Touchy topic: Trade war between the US and China, Huawei, etc
  • Last but not least: his favorite app, favorite quote, fav book, and fav restaurant

Read more about Greg Fox’s insights on Tech alliances

Career Nation: Hey Career Nation. Welcome back to the show. Today, we have a very special guest. He has been a leader in major tech companies. He is a LinkedIn power profile, and he’s also worked internationally and is recently transitioned from large tech to SAAS startups. Please welcome Greg Fox. Greg, welcome to the show.

Greg Fox: Abhijeet, great to be here. Great to be with you and Career Nation. It’s a real privilege and pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

Career Nation: Fantastic. Greg, why don’t we dive into your career journey, which is like you’ve done so many different things. Give us a thumbnail, give us a… kind of paint a picture for us. How has been your career journey thus far?

Greg Fox: Absolutely. So I started in computer science. I really was fascinated by computer science, started… that was my major in college, but… so I learned how to program on the 68,000 assembly for the Macintosh and developed WordPerfect for Mac, which was an amazing product. But then I felt like I didn’t want to be stuck in a pigeonhole into software development or software engineering. I was really intrigued by economics and political science. So actually my major shifted to economics with a minor in political science and Spanish actually. Eventually I got my masters, my MBA at the Marriott School at Brigham Young University. Then following that I joined Compaq Computer in Houston, Texas in product management working for the CEO. Now I didn’t work directly for the CEO, but this is when Eckard Pfeiffer was the CEO of Compaq Computer.

Greg Fox: Then about three or four years, they’ve made a transition to Novell. This was when Eric Schmidt was the CEO of Novell. I was really interested in partnering, how do partners go to market together for companies as they build products, how do they take them to market through partners. I was director partner marketing at Novell for a few years. Then my friend introduced me to this great company called Cisco systems. I knew a lot about the iconic John Chambers who was a CEO, their alliances and corporate business development group was growing and expanding. They needed someone to come in and look at their enterprise business and also in how to better partner with enterprise companies. And so I was… I became CMO with the Alliance Marketing Organization and then did a few roles in channels, and so forth for about 13 years with Cisco.

Greg Fox: Just an amazing time in a great company, an era in working with John Chambers and other great leaders there. And then, interestingly Citrix really was trying to look at how do they do their ISV partner program. And so I was introduced to Citrix just down the street in Santa Clara. Joined and led the ISV partner program for about three years. And then my journey took a path to China. I was introduced to Huawei through the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals, which I was an advisory board member, a member of the board of directors. Their executives we’re investigating alliances and ecosystems and trying to figure out how do they formalize a program. And so I was introduced to them. They asked me if I’d be willing to relocate to China, to Shenzhen. And sure enough I came, led the strategic alliances organization for a couple of years, then transitioned into corporate marketing and brand strategy.

Greg Fox: And then WorkSpan. I was always looking at WorkSpan as a potential platform for how you better operationalize partners and alliances. So I was introduced to WorkSpan while I was at Huawei, was really intrigued by the business model and was introduced to some of their executives. And sure enough the timing was right for me to make a move back to the US after about three and a half years in China and WorkSpan hired me to come initially to look after the Alliance ACEs community. But then my role has expanded to really look at kind of a general management role, looking at our communications, and networking business, but also VP of alliances because we have a partner program. But also still looking after the Alliance Aces community at WorkSpan. It’s always been a dream of mine to join a startup, and I didn’t do it early on in my career, but I’m doing it late in my career, and I’m really happy to be at WorkSpan today.

Career Nation: Oh, that’s fantastic. And it’s great to hear the transition from being at Compaq, product management into alliances, partnerships at Cisco, Novell, Citrix, Huawei and now at WorkSpan, which is sort of like super exciting and working in a familiar space, which is partnership and alliances. Let me ask you a question on partnership and alliances and then we’ll go to WorkSpan. Traditionally partners are thought of as resellers, “Hey, I’m going to sell through the channel.” And they’ve had that reseller role over a period of time. They’ve also become a sort of value-added partners and they basically create solutions on top of sort of vendor technologies, and now you’ve got alliances. So tell us a little bit about this world of partners and alliances. Is it like everybody gives each other a group hug or is like… what happens in partners and alliances?

Greg Fox: Well, it’s interesting that… No company goes to market alone, I would say, right? Either you’re kind of building products yourselves, you’re acquiring companies to fill the gaps, or you need to partner with other companies to compliment your offers in terms of how you serve customers. So no companies are going to market alone there, you have to work with partners of all different types, whether it’s a system integrator or a channel partner or a cloud provider that really sort of compliment your entire go to market or route to market to be able to serve those customers. Research has shown that companies that adopt this, ecosystem model actually grow faster than companies that don’t, and they’re more profitable and they do business better and they serve customers better.

Greg Fox: So it’s not just about the reseller channel relationship, it’s about the holistic partnering model. Working with partners across the value chain to be able to better serve customers and being able to orchestrate that motion with those partners is critical for a company to really be successful in the partnering world. It can be… most partners fail. Partnerships fail. There are those companies that do it well. Really see the tangible ROI and great results in terms of customer satisfaction, being able to develop and bring solutions faster to market. Being able to really show alliance contribution to sales, opportunities and sales pursuits, et cetera. So I think that even though some of the research says these are hard and difficult companies that do it well and are able to see the tangible benefits

Career Nation: Yup. And that’s great. And so Greg, so there’s a lot of value that gets created through channel partnerships, alliances, they help to scale from a sales standpoint as well as create more value for customers. And that’s great. I mean, it creates a really good go to market. And so that’s the partnership and alliances sort of world or domain. How is WorkSpan working in this space? What is it trying to do? How is it trying to create value in this space?

Greg Fox: Yup. So what we say at WorkSpan is that we’re kind of completely re-imagining how companies go to market together. So for the first time with we call this WorkSpan Ecosystem Cloud and this is a new category. Ecosystem Cloud has been recognized as a new category in the market, by Gartner by others. And so, for the first time companies can now with their partners, build with, market with, and sell with, and they can grow their business and create abundance together in a single secure cloud-based network. So, that’s kind of the value proposition that WorkSpan offers. And so there’s… traditionally companies have had their own sort of ways in which they partner their own processes. They look at… they may be using spreadsheets or emails to exchange information with one another.

Greg Fox: They can’t track performance with those partners. Usually that happens at the year-end when they’re trying to do a QBR or business review. Developing a joint solution often takes six to nine months. Deal registration is like a black box, joint planning is a long exercise. Joint execution in the field is very hard and difficult. Getting the sales teams aligned around incentives and motions is important. And so a lot of these companies are using traditional tools and they have to do this manually through spreadsheets. Partners have their process. We may have our own process, but now with WorkSpan, you’re able to, operationalize and have a single shared system of record that can be used by their partners in the ecosystems.

Greg Fox: Giving them joint visibility to the projects that they’re managing, to be able to ideate on joint solutions, collaborate on joint opportunities, even pre pipeline opportunities before they’re accepted in the field by sales. It integrates well with existing PRM tools and also CRM tools. And so this single kind of system of record allows companies to better manage those motions with their partners in terms of how they serve customers.

Career Nation: Great. It sounds like the evolution of sort of partner management and partner space in terms of how do you define solutions, market them, sell them together, and it sounds like it will certainly provide a lot of acceleration and efficiency in this space. From a career nation standpoint, Greg, what are sort of the career opportunities in this space as you look at the evolution of channels and partnerships and alliances, what type of careers are coming up in this area?

Greg Fox: There’s a lot of different careers I would say. There may be an alliance manager that’s managing a single relationship for a company or someone that manages, the solution portfolio with the business units and a partner, a set of partners could be someone that would manage the marketing campaigns, or the marketing development funds in terms of how they execute and use those funds to accelerate, sales opportunities in the field. It could be someone that manages an overall portfolio of partners within a program for a company. It could be someone that’s in operations, right? Someone needs to operationalize these motions with their partners, keep track and measure and report on success and report, et cetera. So the operational aspect, is really important.

Greg Fox: And then I would say, companies like with WorkSpan, we have a network success team that actually helps implement. So you need sort of implementers of solutions like Ecosystem Cloud to help companies get really see that time to value realized over 60 to 90 days to help them get up and running to help them overcome change management or implement new kinds of tools or capabilities in their organizations. So sometimes that’s a little bit complex and there’s a little bit of resistance to change, but those kinds of careers, I would say a really… I think in ecosystems and alliances, this is going to continue to be sort of a thriving business, and the career opportunities are endless. In fact on our Alliance Aces Community, which we host, we actually post a lot of the jobs that alliance managers, we may be interested in, and the different roles from different companies in the tech industry are featured there. And so-

Career Nation: Oh, absolutely. That’s great. And that’s fantastic to hear because as technology becomes more interoperable, you’ve got more API’s, more sort of companies and vendors sort of coming together. For example, Microsoft has made a 180 degree in terms of how to work with other companies in an architecture that will be heterogeneous across may be an enterprise or so. So it’s fantastic to hear there are so many career opportunities in the space. Let me shift gears a little bit about sort of partners and alliances and go into a sort of customer value. And so as you look at go to the market alliance has partnerships and all of these things sort of come to a head in terms of how do we create customer value. Tell us a little bit more about how do you see customer value being created, especially as you work with customers and you take a kind of the vendor or the company’s a technology and then you take partner’s capabilities, put those things together, create value. How do you see value getting created for customers?

Greg Fox: Yeah, I think… you asked a little bit about going to market.

Career Nation: Yup.

Greg Fox: You look at go to market. I think it’s around, how do you have like this game plan for reaching and serving the right customers, in the right markets, through the right channels, with the right value proposition. It’s kind of a long-winded answer for go to market, but also I think it’s around creating those powerful high-quality customer experiences, I would say. But then customer value, right? If you look at customer value, it’s more about that perception of what a product or service is worth to a customer versus the possible alternatives. And worth means, whether the customer feels that they receive the benefits or services over what they paid, right? Are they realizing incremental, benefits or services over what their perception of what they paid, I think is really important.

Greg Fox: So for example, at WorkSpan, we have a network success team. So we really focused on customer value because if the customer purchases ecosystem cloud and is the deploying it, for a joint solution or with a set of partners, they really need to see incremental value quickly. And so we have a network success team that is assigned to the customer that helps them implement that particular use case or use cases, trains them on the platform and then enables the team that will be using it so that they can quickly use it, incorporate into their kind of daily workflow.

Greg Fox: And so that change management, that barrier to use is really lowered. So they can see that, that value creation or through faster-delivering solutions that are faster, perfectly introduced, a pipeline is accelerated, joint wins or customers wins are achieved faster and that they’re there and that they’re working in more of in a one motion kind of aspect. So that network-

Career Nation: Absolutely.

Greg Fox: It is really, is really critical. I believe.

Career Nation: Yeah, that’s great. And it was really great to hear about customer value, and the benefited drives for the customer, creates an ROI based on their cost, and it creates incremental value on top of what the customer was experiencing earlier, creates more delightful customer experiences. That’s fantastic. So thank you for those insights.

Greg Fox: Sure.

Career Nation: And are there any war stories that you’d like to share? Anything that comes to mind in terms of customer value or go to market?

Greg Fox: So I’ll just give you an example. I used to do a lot of… I still do a lot of public speaking at different events, but this was a business week conference that I was attending representing Cisco. Pretty high profile, and I was speaking on sort of this, the art of compete and collaborate as it related to the Cisco HP alliance. Okay. It was a great alliance, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to us, more to them. I was asked, and this was about, how we better serve our customers and how do we create value together as an alliance. And I was asked if that, I was willing to admit that sometimes alliances fail because we had actually, we had sort of transitioned the alliance from a really cooperative, not a lot of overlap.

Greg Fox: But then as we made acquisitions is HP made acquisitions, we had this ongoing overlap between the two companies. And so I said… they interpreted that I said that yeah, sometimes alliances fail and so they associated that. They said, “For the first time we’ve now see that an executive is willing to admit that alliances fail.” But what I should have said was, is that sometimes it’s appropriate to exit in the alliance when the competitive overlap outweighs the collaboration benefits. So my comments were taken a little bit out of context. The headline was there, referencing our highly successful HP alliance. PR was up in arms. We had to issue a revision to my comments, to make sure that our customers would continue to realize the value of the Cisco HP alliance. And so-

Career Nation: Wow.

Greg Fox: Yeah. It was a, it was a pretty good headline. They wanted a really good headline to attach to someone that would be controversial. But even if the headline says that an executive is willing to admit that alliances fail, but in the body it said sometimes it may be necessary to exit in alliance. So they took it a little bit out of context, but that was… we had to do some damage control with HP and also with our PR firm and then reassure customers that we were still doing things as normal. So a little bit of a challenge, but we got through it just fine.

Career Nation: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes these challenges brings people closer together and creates better partnerships, and sometimes you have to go through the dip.

Greg Fox: Yes, absolutely.

Career Nation: That’s a great story right there, Greg. Thank you.

Greg Fox: You’re welcome.

Career Nation: Why don’t we shift gears one more time and get into a favorites game-

Greg Fox: Now. Sure.

Career Nation: and would love to know a little bit more about you, Greg here.

Greg Fox: Yes.

Career Nation: In this favorite game. So we’re going to ask you what’s your favorite thing and why? And we’ll start with your favorite app.

Greg Fox: Okay. I was going to tell you… can I tell you something else that’s my favorite and advanced?

Career Nation: Yeah. Absolutely.

Greg Fox: That my favorite game or my favorite thing to do is play golf. I’m an avid golfer. I think, if you look at some of the great golfers over time, like Bobby Jones, who was an amateur his whole life really was kind of the, even the founder of the Grand Slam of Augusta National in the Masters Tournament. Pretty amazing. I’ve just been an avid golfer my entire life and just loved the game. And Bobby Jones said, “Competitive golf has played mainly on a five and a half inch course. The space between your ears. And so, no round is the same. Each course is unique and amazing, et cetera. But my favorite… I’ll get to my favorite app.

Greg Fox: My favorite app. It’s pretty simple. I love LinkedIn. I’m an avid LinkedIn user. I think the ability to connect and collaborate and network, and engage in meaningful conversations, with professionals across the spectrum is pretty amazing, and it’s allowed us, and me personally to sort of extend my network… Every new job that I have secured has been through my network on LinkedIn and through past relationships. So with LinkedIn you’re able to explore partnering opportunities, learn new skills, keep track of the latest trends. I think you can share your voice and your point of view and allow others to react to it. I think it’s an amazing platform, and I love participating in LinkedIn.

Career Nation: Oh absolutely. And I really do think that LinkedIn has created an unbelievable networking opportunity for all of us. And quite frankly, it’s an indispensable tool now. Like as part of your profession, you just need to have LinkedIn, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in sales or operations, it does not matter. Everybody needs to be on LinkedIn.

Greg Fox: Absolutely. It’s critical I think, a company and to an individual success in their career. No question.

Career Nation: Absolutely.

Greg Fox: Yup.

Career Nation: Good. Well, we’ll go to the next favorites. And this one is about your favorite book.

Greg Fox: Yes. I thought a little bit about this. I’m a big Stephen R. Covey fan. Actually I grew up in Provo, Utah where Steven R. Covey lived, and I grew up with some of his kids and his children.

Career Nation: Oh, very cool.

Greg Fox: And so I was really intrigued by, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I think, if you look about the book talks a lot about the effectiveness and of that balance of how do you obtain desirable results with caring for that, which produces those results. And he talks a little bit about, there’s like three categories of the seven habits around independence, moving from dependence to dependence, that self-mastery and then interdependence, working with others, and then that art of continual improvement, right? In both the personal, interpersonal spheres of influence. So I really like Covey’s seven habits. I’ve tried to incorporate some of those habits in my own life, and it’s been really helpful for me, in my personal relationships with family and friends, but also in my career in the broader realm.

Career Nation: Yeah, it’s a must have for anyone’s personal library.

Greg Fox: Yes.

Career Nation: And definitely recommend it as well.

Greg Fox: Yup.

Career Nation: Moving onto the next favorites category, Greg, do you have a quote that you like, personally you put it up on your wall or your closet or you would like to see it on a billboard on Highway One O One or pick your favorite freeway minus 680, but for other reasons?

Greg Fox: Absolutely. One O One is better. Yes. So there’s a couple of quotes. Let me give you two. One is from Steve Jobs, we all know who Steve Jobs is. He says, “Focus means saying no to the hundred other good things.” I really like that, right? There’s so many good things you can pursue and that are maybe deserving of your attention and energy and investment that really focus on doing some things really well. I think it’s really critical, and I really like… I’m a big actually Helen Keller fan. I really admire her life and just sort of the challenges that she faced and what she overcame to really contribute and to be a force for good in society.

Greg Fox: She said that, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.” So we all face trials, we all face challenges, even people that you think are highly successful, everyone goes through challenging circumstances and trials is how do you best overcome those challenges and trials, how they strengthen your character and your perseverance and how do you still be inspired and achieve success I think is really, really, really important. So I really like, what Helen Keller said and just her own personal example of that.

Career Nation: Yeah, absolutely. And that is a super deep, Greg-

Greg Fox: It’s a little bit deep-

Career Nation: And I love that. I love your commentary on that, which is, everyone goes through dips and valleys and how you emerge from that and how you pull yourself up and actually emerge as a confident person, as ambitious as someone who wants to create value for others and all of those good things. But going through the depth it doesn’t feel that good, but once he emerges from it, it actually feels much better.

Greg Fox: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Career Nation: Great. Do you have a favorite restaurant?

Greg Fox: I’ve got a couple. I love fast food In-N-Out Burger as an iconic just go-to place for me. But then there’s a great little sort of restaurant in my hometown in Provo, Utah called Dolce Vita. It’s an Italian family-owned business and just the food is made with such care and authenticity and it’s family-owned. My wife and I have developed personal relationships with the owners there and we go there often to just for a nice dinner and really a good standby for just enjoying great Italian fare.

Career Nation: Oh, that sounds really good.

Greg Fox: And if you asked me about my favorite drink, I would say diet Coke. Just like… John Chambers was… I think he’s still an avid diet Coke drinker. I call it the breakfast of champions. I do love a Diet Coke, a couple a day. It helps get me through the day, but I think it’s a good fuel to helping.

Career Nation: That’s awesome. Is there a certain caffeine level that you aspire to every day?

Greg Fox: I’ve tried to lower my caffeine sort of intake over time. I used to be a little bit higher on the caffeine scale, but now it’s lower. I’m a little bit more balanced on that, but I still like it a couple of times a day.

Career Nation: I like to indulge. I like it.

Greg Fox: Yes.

Career Nation: Greg. As you look at your career journey, are there some strategies and approaches that have helped you? And when you think of it, like for example, it could be your morning routine, or it could be the way you prepare for certain things. Like if when you look back, are there things that have really helped you that you would like to share with Career Nation?

Greg Fox: Sure. Couple of things. I always say, always prepare for the unexpected if you can, because things don’t always happen the way you expect them to. Give yourself the opportunity to act on something even as it appears real time. That’s kind of the way the Huawei opportunity came to me is an opportunity came and presented itself. I was prepared to make a decision quickly on it and acted on it. Just kind of going on the opportunity, but also the, what I felt like was a good next phase in my career. So just always be kind of present around, prepare for the unexpected, and then when those opportunities present itself, be able to act on that.

Greg Fox: Couple of other things I would say is I think personal I’m always… I really value personal relationships. They’re really matter. So, being deeply loyal to friends, I care about the wellbeing of others and how do they achieve success. So I’m always available. I try to be available to someone in need. Never be too busy that you can’t help someone who needs something in the moment. Some things you just can’t put off, you have to address immediately if the opportunity is there and you feel like you need to act. I think face to face meetings really matter. The ability to connect, collaborate and build mutual trust in a real time is really important, I would say. I also love the energy of the office, especially in the startup, everyone’s working together. Sometimes you we can walk all over ourselves and get in each other’s way.

Greg Fox: But I really like that we’re working collaboratively, getting projects done, doing things that you don’t expect to do when it may not be your role or job to do, but then also still needing that quiet solitude time to be able to think clearly and be creative I think is important. And then I would say be a mentor. Be willing to share advice to someone in their own career, helping them overcome a challenge or a personal situation. One of my big attributes is hire interns. Hire interns who are hungry for experience, give them tough projects and they will amaze you. I hired an intern from the local Mountain View High School here in the Bay Area, Kavya Shankar, she went on to Harvard, is just an amazing leader. I think she’s working in investment banking now and she created a social media marketing plan at Cisco for me at the time when social media marketing was really up and coming.

Greg Fox: We really needed a solid strategy. I gave her the assignment and she just blew this project out of the water, like in McKinsey, like kind of deliverable and really help us apply social media marketing into our digital strategy. And then I would say, yeah, just give back, right? Be able to volunteer on non-profits or other organizations where you can add value and help others who are aspiring to be business leaders. Help them realize the potential and help them fulfill their dreams. I would say that’s a few areas of advice that I would offer.

Career Nation: Oh, that’s great. That’s a lot of nuggets there. Greg we’ll have to-

Greg Fox: Yes it is.

Career Nation: unpack that a little bit. One follow up question to that I have when you have like a big meeting, a big presentation, how do you prepare? Like is there… you’re about to present to a big partner, new alliance that’s going to come up or is there a method to the madness? Do you go through some homework? Tell us a little bit about sort of the secret sauce of Greg Fox.

Greg Fox: Sure. I always tried to understand who the audience is, who want be presenting to, what are their core business challenges, what are their core top of mind issues, right? I always try map whatever I present and prepare in advance so that they… so it really resonates and articulates with their care abouts and what they need to hear. I do a lot of just research, kind of market research and then also just do a lot of discussions with people that have to weigh in or provide content into a big presentation where I’m dependent upon their contribution to make it meaningful. And I do a lot of rehearsals as well. Kind of talking through the talk track with colleagues, even with some mentors or peers to make sure that it resonates and that the talk flow is good.

Greg Fox: Then I try to think about what are some potential objections that the customer or the recipient may have and how to overcome those objections with and… but also trying to lead us to some tangible outcomes, and the next steps that are mutually beneficial for us and for them. And so that’s kind of the way I look at a big presentation, prepare well, have your data intact, your talking points intact, know who your audience is and then rehearse and practice. And then even though there may be unexpected outcomes or things that come out during the presentation, if you’re prepared in that manner, it can usually go pretty well. And then have a supporting staff that surround you to help you be successful in the moment that you deliver the presentation.

Career Nation: Awesome.

Greg Fox: Yeah.

Career Nation: I love how your team of prepare for the unexpected tied so nicely in with how to prepare for big presentations. I love those points, especially about when we get into sort of the talk track. I also loved your point about objections. Like how can we better anticipate objections of your customers or partners and have a response ready? One of my mentors used to tell me that, “You don’t need to answer every question, but you definitely need to respond to every question,” and so that has definitely helped. I love your topic of tangible outcomes. It’s very important. Otherwise, you can just have a presentation, but what comes out of it is questionable.

Greg Fox: Yes.

Career Nation: That’s a great point. Love it.

Greg Fox: Good, good. Glad it was useful.

Career Nation: Yup. A little while ago you mentioned about Huawei and I wanted to sort of get your perspective on what’s going on with China. So you worked in China and you worked with Huawei. Currently, we see we’ve got, between the Trump administration and Beijing, there is trade war tariffs, accusations of security issues using Huawei equipment, et cetera. So how is that playing out in your opinion? What’s sort of your perspective on this whole thing?

Greg Fox: Yup, great question. I’d have to say my three and a half years at Huawei were some of the very best moments of my career. It was magical in a lot of ways. Going to China, living there amongst the Chinese people, embracing the culture, understanding how they do business and then just seeing that sort of that commitment to excellence and that drive to succeed was amazing. I think on the US, China relationship front, there’s definitely, there’s this kind of race for technology, technological leadership. If you look at 5G Thomas driving, it’s a bit, a little bit controversial. First off, let me just say, I don’t think there should be any artificial barriers to trade or doing business.

Greg Fox: It’s best if trust and collaboration and fairness can exist that benefits all societies. But I think if you look at the role that technology plays, plays a huge role in the like GDP of nations. And so there’s this race to develop these emerging technologies to help raise the level of competitiveness, but also the standard of living in nations. Because I think there’s a direct link of investments in ICT to an increase in the GDP of countries. I’ll get to your question in a second. But if you look at these, the digital economy is growing faster than the regular economy and that’s all fueled through data center, cloud, video, big data, mobility, 5G, IOT and AI, and this 5G, it’s ushering in a new wave of mobile connectivity, which allows people to connect to data experiences and people in ways that they never thought possible.

Greg Fox: And so, that is the foundation of things like remote surgery, IOT accessories, improved drone capabilities, autonomous driving, et cetera. And these lightning fast speeds and the ability to power these new technologies, a new augmented and virtual reality experiences are pretty amazing. So there’s this competitiveness in the industry between China and the US as to who can more quickly deliver the capabilities and the promises that 5G offer. And so that’s why I see where we see a lot of the tension between US and China relations is that who is best equipped to be able to offer the promise of 5G because whoever leads in 5G will likely dominate some of the… realize a lot of the economic benefits associated with that. With that said, I think, it’s that balancing act, right?

Greg Fox: Trump has said, we don’t want the US to fall behind other nations like China in the effort to develop and roll out this technology. Then there’s this ongoing concern the government has about… they talk about cybersecurity or unsecured networks, some of the customer data compromised, are there back doors to the government. I would say, in my work, in all the work that I’ve done at Huawei and then in the industry, I have not seen any tangible evidence that there are these backdoors or cybersecurity risks related to Chinese technology manufacturers including Huawei, and that, I think this is just… it’s a race for developing the technology more quickly than the other to try to gain an advantage over one another to be able to reap the economic rewards associated with that.

Greg Fox: I’m hopeful that there will be a resolution that companies can choose the best technology options that they have available, that the networks are secure, that there aren’t these undermining kinds of policies or compromising of customer data that could be used by foreign governments, for their own advantage. And so I’m optimistic about where this is at today, but I think there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of building better ties, building better relationships, building better trust between nations. And I hope that results in ultimately better experiences and better outcomes and prosperity for customers that adopt and see and realize the applications related to these technologies.

Career Nation: Yeah, absolutely. And I hope so too that we get back to sort of normalcy because whether it’s you as business or Chinese businesses, we all want a more predictable and a more stable business environment. Do you business, innovate and create value. So I totally, totally get it. So thank you for that commentary. I know it’s a controversial topic, but I appreciate you providing those insights, especially from your vantage point.

Greg Fox: Yeah, my pleasure.

Career Nation: Awesome. Hey, Greg, as we wrap up our episode here, are there any key messages that you would like to share with Career Nation? Anything, any major takeaways as they sort of think about their career development, whether they’re early in career or later in career? What should they think about? What is your sort of parting message for them?

Greg Fox: Well, thank you. I would say continue to invest in your personal skills and competencies. I’m kind of at the stage where I’m a little bit later in my career, but I’ve actually continued to invest in my own kind of personal career development. I just recently completed a Kellogg School, Digital Marketing Strategies, Data Automation and AI and Analytics course. And I’m engaged in a MIT Sloan online executive education course on IOT and the business implications and opportunities. I would say continue to invest in your own personal skills, your personal development because I think you are personally responsible for your own development and your own career. Even though you may have leaders and mentors around you that would advise you, you may have career opportunities within an existing company or opportunity outside. Ultimately you are responsible for your own career path, your own opportunities that will come to you.

Greg Fox: I would say also, find ways to share your experience with others. When I was at Huawei, we had new employee orientation. And so, people that were coming from outside of China had a hard time adapting to the local culture, the local aspects that were unique to Huawei but also China. So I helped, based on my experience, I was able to present how to quickly adapt to the Huawei environment as part of the Huawei University, the helping others better acclimated and have better experiences to, and learn from my pain points in my failings that I experienced. So I think always find ways to share your experience with others. Be open to sharing your career advice, be a mentor for those around you. I think as you give back to others and you serve and help others succeed, you naturally received more rewards yourself.

Career Nation: For sure. It’s the law of karma.

Greg Fox: It’s the law of karma. I think helping others achieve success will lead to your own, personal benefit and personal advantage and never lose sight of that. I think if you’re on, you’re inwardly focused more just concerned about yourself. You may find some advancements in career, but ultimately I don’t think you get to where you need to or where the potential lies unless you give back and serve others in a meaningful way.

Career Nation: Oh, that’s so wonderful. What a great to end this episode Greg.

Greg Fox: Thank you.

Career Nation: Thank you so much for your insights and your perspectives. This was super valuable and hopefully, we’ll see you around in the Bay Area or on the show next time.

Greg Fox: Absolutely. Abhijeet, thank you so much, and to all at Career Nation for the great opportunity to speak with you today. Best of success, the each of you and to your listeners in their own personal career journeys. Thank you.

Career Nation: Thanks Greg. Have a great day.

Greg Fox: You too. Take care.