269 Susan Cain: The Upside of Seeking Sadness

Nobody wants to be sad. We actively avoid it, and use all the technology in our power to distract ourselves from it. But Susan Cain says, maybe we should seek sadness out.

She knows a thing or two about it. Her books about introversion and quiet reflection are New York Times bestsellers, and her TED talk has been viewed 40 million times.

Her latest book, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole,” is about what we miss when we stop confronting sad feelings. Susan explains that reflecting on pain — including the pain of others — is something we need more of in our lives, especially in a digital world, where we increasingly only see vacation photos, smiling kids, and job promotions.

This practice can be about deep personal connection, or simply seeking a sad song or choosing a heartbreaking movie once in a while. After all, there's a reason history's most enduring art is about longing and loss.

This episode references Whitney's recent newsletter, which you can read (and subscribe to!) here:

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Every Day an Occasion

Our son graduated from college this week.

We were grateful to be there with him in person to celebrate his accomplishment.

He’s worked hard. He went to the university for five years rather than four, because he decided he didn’t want to do business but instead wanted to be a doctor.

I was impressed that he continued to put in the work even during his final semester, which was the hardest.

But I digress from what I wanted to share with you.

We have enjoyed several meals together in celebrating this milestone, beginning with brunch at Herm’s in Logan, Utah, but more recently, in Rome, Italy, at the Boma Country house, where we had dinner.

We noticed that families weren’t there just to eat. They were there for the evening: grandparents, parents, and even young children (four, five, six) at the restaurant for hours, enjoying one another’s company.

Our friends, the Sowells, who have spent a lot of time in Italy, talk about a sense of occasion, creating a moment. A few years ago, I interviewed Priya Parker on the podcast about her book, The Art of Gathering.

We observed this while in Rome, and we felt it.

As we ate dinner together (some of the most delicious pasta and risotto I’ve ever had), we had an in-depth conversation. We slowed down, discussed and observed our lives, and compared our college experiences. We had a dinner conversation. It wasn’t in-and-out.

Since the pandemic began, our family has exchanged thoughts on the sweet, sour, spiritual, and surprises in our week every Sunday. It’s a way to keep our connection even though we are geographically far apart. And daily, we work through a verse-of-the-day (Come Follow Me app, if interested) for spiritual sustenance.

There is something to celebrate about simply being together. We all have milestones in our lives; it might be a college graduation or one of many other events to commemorate. What I observed and appreciated in Rome is that for many of the families we saw, the meal together was the milestone, the occasion.

Who will you have a meal with this week? How might you elevate this moment and make it an occasion? 

This week's podcast guest is Roger Martin. He has been ranked the #1 business thinker in the world and has a new book titled A New Way to Think. (Fun fact: His wife's story is featured in Smart Growth––I'll let you guess who she is.) He is so clear in his thinking and writing that I always walk away having learned something and feeling smarter at the same time. 

His view is that culture change is reinforced and changes, one interaction at a time. Applying that to this conversation, we can change our work culture and family culture, one meal at a time––every day an occasion.

My best,

P.S. It has been four months since Smart Growth was released. If you feel the book was useful to you, will you write a review or leave a rating? It will not only help other people who want to get smart about growth find the book, it would be generous of you and deeply appreciated by me!

268 Roger Martin: The Single Worst Thing You Can Say to an Employee

“The way we've always done it” is often not the best way. This is the very definition of disruption, but getting “stuck” on old habits can sneak up on us — in our personal lives, and our companies.

That's what Roger Martin explores in his latest book, “A New Way to Think.” Roger has built his career as an author and professor studying disruption, mainly identifying business models that we've relied on for decades, and then asking, “Does this really work?”

Roger returns to the show for another rousing discussion about career satisfaction and employee retention, especially in the wake of “The Great Resignation.” He also contends that we've structured modern knowledge work too rigidly, and why that can stifle innovation.

He also shares the single most discouraging phrase you could ever say to a member of your team, and how to avoid it.

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No Time Like the Present

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift…that’s why we call it the present.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Last Saturday, my daughter, Miranda, and I drove down to Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend a Jacob Collier concert.

If you’re not familiar with Jacob, he’s an English musician who became a YouTube sensation with his covers of popular songs about a decade ago, when he was still a teenager. His debut album, In My Room, was released in 2016 when he was in his early 20’s. It was entirely arranged, recorded, and produced in a small room in his London home. He won a couple of Grammy Awards for his efforts.

Fast forward to the present. I'd thought about seeing him six months ago but hadn't acted.

But then I had two conversations.

The first was with a friend, Richie Norton, author of the upcoming Anti-Time Management: Reclaim Your Time and Revolutionize Your Results with the Power of Time Tipping. When I said something to the effect of, ‘Someday I will…[go see Jacob Collier],” Richie called me out. With a smile. He’ll be a guest on the podcast in a few months. You'll understand why he called me out when you listen to our conversation, though the title of his new book hints at this.

The second conversation was with Susan Cain, author a decade ago of the movement generating Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. My conversation with her will also be on the podcast soon, and we will talk about her new book, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. One of her themes is creating opportunities for bittersweet moments, like attending a concert.

That's why we surround ourselves with people who inspire us. They can help move us to actions that we find too easy to postpone to a future, but unreliable, day.

I wanted to go to the concert, and I could allocate money to go. My daughter was a willing pal.  

So, we went.

The trip would have been a success if nothing had happened but the concert.

But more than that happened.

We had a total of seven hours of drive time (three and a half hours each way).
We listened to Emma McAdam, a brilliant therapist, talk about how to be happier.
We listened to Richie's Anti-Time Management.
We talked about K dramas and did the always fun listicle: “Which characters are the most charismatic?” followed by, “Can you guess which drama this song is from?”
We ate dinner at the King's Table: pork chops, apple butter, and biscuits.

We jammed ourselves into the Fillmore Theater along with 2,000 other people. (Note to self: In the future, buy tickets where you can actually see the person onstage.)

We learned what demographic are fans of Jacob’s music. There was a wide array of people from Gen Zen to Boomers, but mostly Gen Zen and Millennials, lots and lots of musicians and geeks generally. Men and women.

We heard two especially fun songs, Time Alone with You and All I Need, live. Oh, and here's the link where I first heard him singing Stevie Wonder's Don't You Worry ‘Bout a Thing (He was 16 or 17).

I got to watch an incredibly gracious person introduce everyone in the band. He talked about them, where they were from, including the technical staff.

He turned the audience into a choir, a hallmark of his charismatic performance style—lots of people, together, happy, enjoying music.

My daughter and I would have missed all those experiences if I hadn't bought the tickets.

What have you been wanting to do? Thinking about? Procrastinating?

There’s no time like the present. Consider this your push.

Disrupt yourself, just a little.

This week’s podcast episode is with Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s pre-eminent leadership coaches and executive educators, inducted into the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame.

He’s just written a book titled The Earned Life, where he tackles questions like the meaning of achievement. Having been a truly generous mentor to me since inviting me to be a part of 100 Coaches five years ago, he has certainly earned my respect and deep appreciation, and his name––he marshals the gold in people.


As always, thanks for being here!

My best,

P.S. Thinkers50 is launching a Books for Busy Managers Series. The first list will be Classic Books, books that have had a lasting influence on how we think about management. Our team has nominated The Innovator’s Dilemma, Good to Great, In Search of Excellence, Creative Experience, and The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. What books would you nominate

267. Marshall Goldsmith: If You Want Happiness, Redefine Your Success

Achieving something that's important to you: That's probably a big reason you're listening to this podcast. But what is it about success that drives us? Do we achieve for its own sake, or is there something more?

That's what Marshall Goldsmith is exploring. He's one of the most recognized thinkers and writers on the topic of leadership, but in his latest book, “The Earned Life,” he asks: Why are we doing all this? Does success really make us happy? And what if those two things were not so deeply connected?

Whitney and Marshall sit down for a conversation that turns traditional Western views of success and happiness on their head. He notes that some of the most successful leaders are great at delaying gratification, only to look back on what they missed out on in life. In fact, after we accomplish something great, we should stop expecting more, but default to a new beginning.

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Precipitating the Thaw

A few months ago, someone reached out to me to blurb their upcoming book.

I was hoping to endorse the book. But ultimately, I declined because, though well-argued and persuasive, underrepresented groups were, well, underrepresented, from the book’s stories to its quotes to the citations of sources. I have felt obliged to decline to endorse books based on this lack on other occasions, too.

I understand why this happens; we are in the habit of attributing less credibility to underrepresented groups than we do to the traditionally well-represented ones. When we are trying to bolster our argument, we want to be credible. We go to the “authorities”, who are historically overwhelmingly white and male.

“Snow melts first from the edges.”

This is something I've read from Rita McGrath, one of the world's foremost thinkers on innovation, in her book Seeing Around Corners. She was building on something that famed Intel founder Andy Grove said, “When spring comes, snow melts first at the periphery because that is where it is most exposed.”

McGrath talks about this in the context of when change comes; the people in your organization who are most likely to recognize it first are the people on the edges of your organization, those who are on the front line, talking to customers.

But I think there's another way to think about this. Not limiting it to when change comes but expanding the metaphor to encompass how we can effect change proactively.

When we think about this relative to inclusion, respecting people equally, regardless of visible differences or invisible variations in background, we are thinking about melting the iceberg of exclusion. It can start with something as simple (but not easy) as thinking about the snow—is there something we can do at the edges?

It's a challenge we talked about in a recent podcast episode with Kim Scott and Trier Bryant, as well as the challenge of doing our best not to shame anyone. 

In the case of the book endorsement, my “at the edges” effort was to say, “I'm hoping the book can be made more inclusive, and then I would love to participate.”

What if you and I, whenever we call a meeting, write a memo, pull together a social gathering, or deliver a presentation, look for opportunities to ensure that those who are too often overlooked for representation are not overlooked by us.

I'm not talking about making sweeping changes today, just small ones. 

Jeff and Jami Downs, along with others, have produced a growing body of literature on starting small. Setting goals that are reasonably achievable and not paralyzing ourselves by biting off more than we can chew all at once. Or, as Carol Kauffman, Harvard faculty and one of the world’s preeminent coaches, often asks, “What would 5% better look like?” Because not being able to fix everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fix something or start the fix, even if it’s just precipitating a thaw at the periphery of the problem.

What's one small thing you can do now to quit freezing out those who are currently excluded from your interactions with others?

This week's podcast guest is Patrick McGinnis, who coined the acronyms FOMO and FOBO. 

You probably know that FOMO is the “Fear of Missing Out,” a term that’s used everywhere. But less well known is FOBO, the “Fear of Better Options.” It’s a kind of decision paralysis that we all face personally and professionally, and it can be hugely detrimental when we are contemplating a new S Curve. We evaluate options endlessly, but we never actually move. Patrick and I had a lot to talk about, including how we can use FOMO to our advantage. Don’t miss it!

As always, thank you for being here!

My best,

P.S. Last year, I interviewed Kelly and Robert Pascuzzi regarding their film The Ravine, which has now won multiple film festival awards, including the 2021 Best Picture Los Angeles Film Awards. I've already pre-ordered this amazing film! I encourage you to do the same today through Apple TV or Amazon Prime. It stars Eric Dane, Teri Polo, and Peter Facinelli. Inspired by a true-life story of tragedy, the film provides a wonderful message of hope! 

266. Patrick McGinnis: FOMO Isn’t Always Bad (Until It Is)

“Fear of Missing Out” or “FOMO” is wired into our brains for a reason. When our ancestors flocked to greener pastures, it was advantageous to follow. FOMO can inform modern, strategic decisions as well, but Patrick McGinnis says we should be vigilant against its more dangerous sibling, FOBO: “Fear of Better Options.”

This is a kind of decision paralysis that's catastrophic for personal well-being and companies. Patrick has studied it closely. After all, he invented the term “FOMO” back in 2004, written multiple books on the topic, and hosts the podcast FOMO Sapiens.

He and Whitney discuss how the breakneck speed of 21st century FOMO can trick us into “fear-based decision making,” and why outsourcing low-stakes choices to Siri or a coin flip can be incredibly liberating.

Continued below…

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Finishing Strong

This month I am wrapping up a two-year volunteer commitment.

My goal is to finish strong, but it's not easy.

Welcome to the top of an S Curve. It's true that this is a situation to be desired. You celebrate being here and what you've accomplished; you want to anchor your new behavior(s). It's also true that once you reach the top of the curve, you will need a new challenge.

But there's another piece to this puzzle of personal growth: once you know you are ready to move on, how do you stay where you are?

It's been said that we live a large percentage of our lives in the future or the past and a relatively small percentage “in the moment.” Time management expert Laura Vanderkam writes, “We can anticipate for a year and remember for decades. The challenge is that the present…has a disproportionate effect on our actions given its fleeting nature…. Bliss is possible in the past and in the future but seldom in the present.”

Our brains naturally look ahead, anticipate, and prepare for what is next. Or we prefer to dwell on past accomplishments rather than confront the challenge of acting constructively in the present moment. But we can only act NOW, have an impact, or influence now. This is a time to stay in the present. We can wipe out years of good work in a moment if we don't. It’s not a time to get lazy or brush off responsibilities with a sense of “that’s not mine to do; I'll just run out the clock.” 

The endings of things stick in the memory. The way things finish is usually more memorable to us than most beginnings and far more memorable than almost anything that happens in the muddled middle when events can be moving very fast. Researcher Pierre Chandon says our first bite of food is the most enjoyable, but our last bite is the one that determines how we feel about the overall experience of eating it, our final impression.

It takes true commitment to the work you are doing and who you are doing it with to finish strong.

The ability to stay where you are is an S Curve of its own. It’s an opportunity to be resourceful and creative and to make something meaningful out of time that doesn’t feel valuable or even particularly valued by others.

As legendary Jedi, Master Yoda, says of a young, immature Luke Skywalker, as he attempts to stack rocks using only the Force: “All his life has he looked away. To the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.”

Yes, leap. But first, go for the strong finish.  

Our podcast guests this week are John and Ana Gabriel Mann, authors of The Go-Giver Marriage.

In a marriage, the goal is to figure out what works and stay in the sweet spot in perpetuity. The ideal is not to exhaust the potential of the relationship and start looking to leap to a new relationship. The sweet spot in marriage is a moving target; individuals change and so do the seasons of our lives. There are new mini curves to climb. As Ana Mann says, a marriage should be a “safe space” to make mistakes, learn, and bring new ideas, discoveries, and ambitions to the relationship. Even when your relationship is already good, these are the things that deepen it further.

I believe there is something for everyone to learn about their relationships and personal growth from this episode, whether currently married or not. So, we are giving away 10 copies of the Mann’s book, The Go-Giver Marriage. At the end of the podcast, we tell you how to qualify!

As always, thank you for being here.

My best,

265. John David Mann & Ana Gabriel Mann: 5 Secrets to Improve Any Relationship

John David Mann is a writer and the co-author of more than 30 books. Ana Gabriel Mann is a professional therapist, speaker and coach. Together, they’ve been married for more than 25 years, which also happens to be the subject of their latest work.

The Go-Giver Marriage is rooted in a framework of gratitude, kindness and self-disruption that John has been writing about for years. When Ana thought to apply this to relationships, it was a “light bulb” moment for both of them.

They join Whitney to discuss the 5 secrets that don't just apply to relationships in trouble, but can help an already good relationship (marriage or professional) become great.

Continued below…

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Manna From Heaven

Twelve days ago, I was home from Amsterdam. I felt good about the trip, the work, and preening a bit, fluffing my feathers about how I hadn't been ill for 2 1/2 years. 

I must have invoked one of Murphy’s many laws because two days later, my streak of good health was broken. I got a cold. I wasn't sick in bed or even sick enough to stop working altogether. But I was ill enough that I was impaired. I didn't have the intellectual, emotional, or physical capacity that I typically do. My stamina was nil.

I had to slow down. It’s a little against my nature to do so, but I didn’t have a choice.

I couldn’t exercise, and I couldn’t get as much done as I wanted/needed to. I didn’t feel very patient with the whole episode. I never do feel patient with getting sick. In fact, I think “patient” is a weird word choice to use when it comes to being sick. A patient in a hospital? I doubt it.

The icing on the cake came Wednesday. I took some cold meds on an empty stomach and paid the price during the middle of a webinar. I passed out.

Thankfully, I wasn’t on camera, although that would have been extra fun. But I couldn't finish either.

That's never happened to me before.

I was okay within a few hours. But I could not will the week to be like a typical week, no matter how much I wanted to or how hard I tried.

There’s a way that I want to show up in the world. I like to be in charge of that. But it’s probably a good thing to get sick occasionally and be reminded that I can never have total control over it. Experiencing the limitations of illness is important to feel empathy for those who are sick, especially those who have a serious, chronic, or terminal illness. To be more empathetic with people who can’t always, or even often, control how they show up.

Getting sick helps me be more grateful. I realized how much I rely on my body to be the vehicle for me to do everything. And I’m blessed that it is very reliable for the most part.

It’s like manna from heaven. We use that expression from the Biblical Old Testament to describe something that just exists in our life, and maybe we don’t value and appreciate that thing until we don't have it.

Only in its absence does the customary presence of good health and vitality become as important as it really should be every day.

Is there a gift in your life that is, perhaps, going unnoticed, unacknowledged? 

Our podcast guests this week are Jeff and Jami Downs, who talk about the value and importance of establishing a winning streak. 

They are the delightful authors of Streaking: The Simple Practice of Conscious, Consistent Actions that Create Life-Changing Results. I, for example, am on Day 150 on my Duolingo app and more committed than ever to stick with it because of our conversation. Please listen in.

My best,

P.S. My niece (the pole vaulter I wrote about in the newsletter a few weeks ago) started a business crafting and selling earrings. If you want something fun for a teenage or college-age daughter / niece / friend AND want to support my niece in her entrepreneurship, check out her Instagram page

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