Pulling it together - the Five Steps of Design Thinking Revisited
Alright, so how do we pull all this together? So back to design thinking where we got the five phases, gotta accept you have a problem, start to define it do we know what we're actually solving for? Do we have empathy? Let's start generating ideas, prototypes, so how do you know what your challenge is? How do you accept that you have one? Well you have to know and accept you have strengths and weaknesses, and define the specific nature of your strengths. The better you get, my favorite cocktail question by the way and you can borrow this by the way is that, "What are you best at?" And I'll tell you nine out of 10 times it's crickets, it's a glazed look, it's people don't know. They haven't spent the time to figure out what I think is one of the most fundamental questions that we should all actually know, because once you know you just do more of that, right? Now you can take these tests, I like these, I like Kolbe, I like Myers-Briggs, I like StrengthsFinder. There's a simpler way, you...
can just simply send an email to 10 people who know you well and say what are my top three or five strengths and what are my top three or five weaknesses. You'll like the first list, you won't like the second one. But you'll find that they're almost often, almost always the same thing. Your strengths and weaknesses will usually come in pairs, and once you learn to design around or accept those weaknesses only then can you finally double down and there's where empathy really matters. In terms of your own strengths and weaknesses you have to be in your own shoes. I mean for more than a decade I did not want to accept that I was a poor aerobic athlete. All the data was there, I could never go up hills, I couldn't do long races, you know all this data was there but I just refused to accept it. I was fast, I wanted to be fast, I wanted to be fast at everything, but you can't be great at everything. You can be good at a lot of stuff, but you can't be great at everything. So be in your shoes, you know if the challenge involves springs, be a spring. If it involves an aerobically weak and aerobically strong athlete, understand the true capacity which the coaches didn't. They didn't have empathy for me and neither did I for myself. It wasn't til the day I finally let go that I was not an aerobic athlete, that I wasn't like Eric Heiden, that was the day that success started. And the same happened to me in corporate life. I started actually I was a PMO for Goldman Sachs. There's no worse use of my talents. It's detail oriented, it's perfectionist, it's long lists, it's technology, it's like all this stuff that I have no real capacity for. And I doubled down, I put my head down and I did it for an entire year and I was miserable. And finally I had the gumshin to say to my boss at the consoling form, I'm not sure this is a good fit for my strengths. When I get moved onto a next project maybe there's something more creative and they moved me into a marketing project and suddenly like the lights came back on, like the tunnel receded and the sun rose and everything got a lot better. The day you let go it's like taking off a 200 pound sand bag. If you are a disorganized creative person, the day you can just say you know what, that's me and hire somebody to do that stuff, I delegate all that stuff. I don't do anything that requires any sort of like high follow through, high detail oriented, I don't do accounting, I don't do tax, I don't do invoicing, I don't do any of that stuff. I have my business partner, Monica, that takes care of that 'cause that's what she's good at. And so learning to delegate away those things is really, really powerful. And then finally, generate ideas. Alright, what's next for me? What's next in my career, what's next in my personal life? What do I need to be doing differently? Generate ideas. Here's the thing, it's really hard to see yourself out of your own situation. As the phrase in the south goes, "You can't read the label when you're sitting inside the jar." It's really hard for you to see the opportunities right in front of you in career, in personal life, in anything. It's like giving relationship advice. You can give it to everybody but yourself. I could totally help you right now if you have a relationship issue, now I can't relationship myself out of a paper bag, but I can definitely help you. And the same goes for any of these sort of strategic questions, life questions. Other people can help you, so who can you ask? I would suggest to you, you can ask anyone. With LinkedIn if you have a complex problem that you would like an expert to weigh in on, find the expert on LinkedIn, send them a message and if it's in line with their area of expertise my experience is I get a response in 24 hours more than half the time. And these are famous people, like I'm writing a book about time and time perception, and I'm not a neuroscientist, I'm not a famous person. And I reached out to probably nine or 10 of the most renowned neuroscientists in the world that are experts in time, and nine out of the have responded to me. And I've had long phone calls, multiple phone calls and visits with people like David Eagleman and other great thinkers out there, Moran Cerf, that know all about the brain and they talked to me because of the one reason the thing they love. I can ask them any other question in the world and they wouldn't respond. But I asked them about the neuroscience of time, the one thing they love and are detailed. If you ask me, if somebody sends me a LinkedIn about strengths you think I'm gonna respond? Hell yeah I'm gonna respond. You ask me about anything else, probably not 'cause I get too many LinkedIn messages. So you can ask anyone. And make sure you're solving the right problem. For me the central question wasn't how to go faster or go faster farther or prove my endurance. The central question ultimately was how do I get to the finish line in less time, and that was a way better question. And then finally your prototype. It's not just about working harder. How do you know if what you're doing is a natural strength? Well there's a couple harbingers that will always tell you. If you're getting into the flow state regularly in any particular activity, for sure it's a strength. So how would you know you're getting in the flow state? The flow state is your peak performance state, the zone, the greatest harbinger of being in the flow state or the zone is time shuts off. So we'll say things like I can't believe that three hours just went by or time stopped or both, like time flew by and stopped, it's because when you're in the flow state your parts of the pre-frontal cortex shut down and you no longer measure time. So you actually have no way to describe not measuring time so you make up things like time flew by or time stopped, or both. Because you're just not measuring it when you are in the flow state when time stops, when time speeds up, when you get that state in a conversation at work, at your hobby, with a relationship, make a note. We have a thread through those things, the more you can do of those activities the better your life will be. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, "All of mankind through all of history, has been in pursuit of this one state." And, he might be right, we'll talk about it more later. But, there's a whole neurochemical collision that happens when your flow state, that produces all kinds of very addictive feelings and substances. So, your best days at work, at home, what do they have in common? Yes, we were talking a little bit about flow, so; here's a little bit more about flow. By the way, you get in the "flow state", not when things are easy, and not when they're too hard. There's a flow channel. So, if you have a high skill level, but a low challenge, you're bored and you're not engaged. You're not going to get into the "flow state". If you have, high challenge and low skill, you're going to be overwhelmed, and you're not going to get into the "flow state". So, this narrow channel, where your skill and the challenge meet, that's where growth happens. You can learn up to four or five times faster. You process data faster in that state. Up to 1000 times faster in myelinated circuits to the brain. So the more time you can spend in the "flow state", the better off you are. And that is definitely a distinct place of strengths. And the other fact here that's really interesting to me is, people who spend at least a third of their day in their areas of strengths, have triple the will-power of people that don't. 'Cause if you're playing Whack a Mole all day with your weaknesses, the last thing you wanna do is take on a new challenge, right? You just wanna go home and have a cocktail, and go to bed. That's what I did for a whole year at Goldman-Sachs. So the last question to answer is "How do I know when to quit?" 'Cause sometimes we know. We talk about quitting is actually sometimes the right thing to do. So, I think there's roughly a two-year rule when it comes to quitting. If you've pursued something with honest effort, so not half-assed, but if you pursued something with all of your efforts for up to two years, and you're not seeing progress, it's probably time to quit, reframe your approach; try something different, or make it a hobby, that's what golf is for. But you don't want your primary relationship, or primary source of income to be a weakness. That's an effort and futility and it leads to no good things. And the thing is, people quit for the right reasons. They all say the same thing. You meet somebody that's quit something like a job, a career, a major, a music, a sport; if they've quit for the right reasons, which means they put an honest effort in and failed, they'll say, "It was the best decision I ever made." 'Cause they've moved onto something better, something closer in to their core strengths, and that's a much better life. I've actually, subsequently am learning sort of a strengths-focused approach in my life. I've fired eight people since then. And seven of those people are what I would call, good friends. Maybe not my closest friends, but they're good friends now. And the reason for that is, the process of moving them out of the job, was one of the asking and answering over and over again, "Do you really think this is the best job for you? If you could design the perfect job for you, what would it be?" I'd ask it again and again, and at first, they're always defensive. They're like, "No, this is great. This is what I wanna do. I just need to work harder." And over time, usually takes a couple of months, people say, "You know what? I actually think I'd be better off in X." And when they make that move, sometimes leaving the company, sometimes finding a different position, they're so grateful afterwards because they're not doing this thing that's just wore them down, and ground them down everyday. Instead, they found a place where their passions can flourish, and hence they become friends. One guy never quite got there, and we didn't stay friends, but they're the seven that I'm still close with. So, I didn't know the end of this quote until recently. But, it's attributed to Thoreau. "Most men live lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them." I just pray that that not be any of you. So, we're gonna break here for questions. If you want to get on my mailing list, you can text the word STRENGTHS to this number here. But, at this point, we will move to Q&A, before we cut for the next segment.
Anybody in the in-house audience have any questions?
You started into the story about your coach. You went there, she invited you in, did something happen? It seemed like we went into something else. It was like--
When she invited me in, oh yeah, I don't know if I finished that. So, she invited me in, and, while I was in the house, she said to me, "Hey, John, I wanna tell you something. Mike was really fond of you." And I was like, "What?" She's like, "Yeah, he really believed in you. He could see your strengths better than even you could. He knew some day you'd be an Olympic champion, and now you are."
And I had never thanked him. So, that just broke my heart right there. I was able to actually, make some amends, because a few years later I spoke for my club at one of their annual meetings, and Harriet was there, she was 98 at the time. But she came, and she's still whipped smart. I was able to tell this story. And I actually gave her my Olympic's medal jacket. Which, that was pretty cool, too. So, that was my one way to give thanks to Mike. And the book. So the book, whole book, is dedicated to Mike. Sorry, I missed that story. Thanks for--
Yeah, I could see it was leading up to something really cool.
I'm so sorry I missed that. Thank you for that. Other questions? Yes, Erica.
[Audience Member 2] I've been in my industry longer than the women who are new to my company and they come in with ideas that I've already done. And sometimes, to the point where I can be a little blunt, I'm like, "No, I've already tried that." You know. "That's a terrible idea." And I come in with that type of attitude, and I'm trying not to. And I'm trying to let them make those mistakes so they can have the stories. Do you have any advice on, kind of me, quieting or things that I could ask them?
So there's a psychological construct out of Stanford from the '70s, been morphed over time, it's now called the "knower vs. the learner". These are behavioral constructs in the ways you lead. Knower leaders doesn't mean they know, and learner leaders don't know. Actually, most learner leaders know more than knower leaders because what the harbingers of being a knower leader is, you use your expertise to make judgements in real time. 'Cause you think that's what gives you your status and power And learner leaders learn that acting like a knower actually shuts people down, and they stop bringing ideas.
[Audience Member 2] Right. I don't wanna do that.
Right, and so the learner behavioral status is simply to ask questions. You don't judge. 'Cause here's what happens. This is the super negative, dangerous, kryptonite that flows through every large corporation in the world. When you judge ideas of someone at your peer-level and lower, as they come out. It's okay if you give it a grace-period, like "Gimme ten, and let's judge them later." When you separate them two, that's fine. But, when you judge an idea as it comes out, it causes the fear impulse in people of lesser status than you. They emit cortisol and catecholamine; which causes their prefrontal cortex to shut off. And very specifically the creative function. So, you make them dumber, and less creative. And, here's what happens. They bring one idea, they get shut down. And it's all good intention, right? The worst phrase uttered in hallways around the world is, "We've tried that before." It's true. But, that's a terrible thing to say, because it doesn't give them the chance to, A, air an idea, and, B, find out if it's valid. And so, what you really need to do instead is, say "Hey, have you checked with somebody else, that actually knows more about this? Have you checked into this?" Or, "What makes you think that that might work?" Or, "Have you considered this?" You start to put the guardrails up around it. But, if you shut them down every time, here's what happens. They bring the first idea in public in a group, the second idea, they do it alone 'cause they don't want anyone around to hear them get shut down. Do they even bring the third idea? Maybe not. By four, they shut down permanently forever. And this is how Blockbuster went out of business, I'm sure of it. Because nobody was bringing ideas. It was this top-down culture that shut down all of this possibility. And yeah, new employees are gonna have lots of bad ideas, they are. But, I had a leader once, that I brought a lot of bad ideas to, and every time, he'd be like "I'm curious about this, John." Now, I know in hindsight, he was thinking, "That was the stupidest thing I ever heard." But he didn't do that to me. Instead, he said "I'm curious about, what do you think about this? Did you talk to so-and-so? Have you checked with legal?" And what I learned out of that over time is, my boss is open to my ideas, even the bad ones, Thank God. Then, I kept them coming. And some of them weren't bad. So, learning how to use curiosity to ask questions, versus judge, even though you're right, probably most of the time, doesn't help to be right. That make sense?
[Audience Member 2] Mhm.
Awesome. Great question. Yes, Teresa?
[Audience Member 3] Same token, if you're leading your staff, and then they're asking questions, and you're responding, but all of a sudden, they feel threatened, because they feel like they're being interrogated. Like I always take that step back, and kind of use it as a story. To help people see that we're all experiencing and learning new perceptions, but is there another approach to that as well?
Well, that's one of my favorites. Especially when you know that people are somewhat on the defensive; you can tell a story where you screwed up something that's either tangential or adjacent to say, you know, "We're all imperfect. And part of this is exploring and learning and so forth." I think that's a great approach, it's one of my favorites. But, you know, exhibiting genuine curiosity, that's the hard part. If you ask, like, "So you really think that's a good idea?" (laughter) You know, some of the framing that we'll teach tomorrow, is using language from improv. Instead of saying no, but, or can't, you say, how could we, I wish, yes, and. But you know, saying, "I wish that was a good idea." That's not a good use of that particular framing. But, you know, I had people back in the day come to ask me, "Can we do a free phone promotion?" Which, I had been told, was completely impossible in my business 'cause of our Illinois law or something. Everybody else was doing it: Sprint, AT&T, and so I'd tell every new employee, they'd say the same thing, "We should do a free phone promotion". I'd say, "We can't do it. It won't let us. It's not allowable in Illinois's state laws." And then, I learned this construct and I had a new employee come in, he said, "We should do a free phone promotion." "I wish we could do a free phone promotion." (soft laughter) "How might we do a free phone promotion? Have you checked with legal?" So he goes, and he comes back two weeks later, he'd talked to a new guy in legal. And the two of them colluded to actually figure out how to do it, and we did our first free phone promotion simply because I asked a question I didn't even believe would work. The reframing the judging answer can lead to those possibilities you can't see in front of you. Yes?
[Audience Member 4] I'm actually in a little different of a boat than them. I actually just quit my job.
Because, I realized that I was in a role that wasn't taking advantage of my strengths and I was pretty terrible at it. So, this has been pretty helpful because I'm trying to figure out what I'm good at, and move forward, but, do you have any advice for people that are kind of looking for new roles, and how you would find new roles based off of the strengths that you're discovering?
Yes, so a couple quick things. Pick up the book, Design Your Life by Dave Evans and Bill Burnett. They also have a class here at Creative Live. They have a really incredible chapter about how to network your way to a job. But, I think one of the things that I learned. Well, so I'll tell you a quick story. When I was seeking a job after leaving Enterprise, I went and I talked to this super senior guy at a head hunting firm and I brought him my resume. And he looks at it, looks at me, and he's like, "To be honest, I find this uninspiring and boring. I was like, "Whoa, okay, tell me what you really think." And he's like, "You've got like a general marketing program here, those are a dime a dozen. You've led an innovation initiative. You've built businesses. Why aren't you talking about your niche skills? I don't care about your general skills. I wanna know what drives you. What your truly uniquely different at, and the rest of it is all just filler." And so he totally revamped my resume, and it became super niche. There's only one 10,000 companies that are even gonna want something like this. And, I had like seven offers in like two weeks. 'Cause people are really looking for something specific. They want to know that you love this thing that they need. They don't really care about the general stuff anymore. Most people are looking to hire somebody with a passion for something that they're really good at. Does that make sense?