143. Simon Sinek: There is No Finish Line

To kick off 2020 I am talking to Simon Sinek, who is best known for popularizing the concept of “why” in his 2009 TED talk. To date, it is the third most-watched talk at TED.com with over 40 million views. Simon is the author of several best-selling books, including “Start With Why,” “Leaders Eat Last,” and “The Infinite Game,” which was released in October of 2019.

For those who are long-time listeners to this podcast, my first question may surprise you. Instead of my usual beginning, I asked Simon one simple thing: What is your “why”?

“My ‘why' is to inspire people to do the things that inspire them, so together each of us change our world for the better.”

There really was no other way to begin the conversation. Simon has been speaking about the importance of “why” since 2005, when he “fell out of love” with his marketing career and began speaking publicly about the importance of “why” to friends, and eventually friends-of-friends. The organic growth of his ideas eventually caught the attention of the US Air Force, and by mid-2006 he was invited to speak at the Pentagon and military bases across the US.

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Simon has continued to be influential in the world of leadership, and I have personally been a fan for a long time.  He’s taken the concept of “why” even further, encouraging everyone to find a “just cause,” even if it’s from the vision of someone else.

“[O]nly two percent of the world's population are visionary. Not everyone is, you know, Elon Musk or Richard Branson. But you get to find a vision. You have to find a vision. So maybe it's a vision that somebody else articulated that inspires you, that you want to commit your energy and your work and your company to help advance. Whatever it is and wherever it comes from, you have to be able to state it with words.”

“Remember ‘why' comes from the past, it's the foundation. But a just cause is the future. It's where you're going.”

So, where is Simon Sinek going? As he strives to inspire others and change the world, his latest focus has been on helping others play the “infinite game as opposed to a “finite game.” When we look at the world through the lens of winning or losing, we’re thinking in terms of a finite game, where there are rules and a clear ending. But the work we do—from building companies to developing ourselves—don’t have a clear “winner” or “loser,” or final end date.

“[T]he problem is, is when we play with a finite mindset in the infinite game, we hurt trust, we hurt cooperation, and we hurt innovation. So we have to play for the game we're actually in and in business, business is an infinite game. There is no finish line.”

Join us as we discuss how to shift your mindset from finite to infinite, the role of worthy rivals, and how becoming the leader you wish you had can change the future of a company.

Listen to the episode in the player below, or download and enjoy it on iTunes. If you’re so inclined, please leave us a review!

Takeaways from this episode:

  • What is Simon Sinek’s “Why?” To inspire people to do the things that inspire them, so together each of us change our world for the better.
  • Simon’s family moved all over the world, from England to South Africa, Hong Kong, and eventually New Jersey. Simon credits his adaptability to constantly finding himself in new cultures where he and his sister were misfits.
  • After falling “out of love” with his job in marketing, Simon began speaking with friends about the concept of The Golden Circle and the importance of “why” leaders and companies do what they do. Eventually, he began sharing this information in living rooms of friends of his friends, and the concept grew organically from there, resulting in Simon being invited to the Pentagon and military bases across the US.
  • When asked about his biggest challenges, Simon stated that he doesn’t “think in those terms. I don’t think about the obstacles. I think about the opportunities. So I’m not looking for the things that are challenges. I’m looking for the things that are possible.”
  • For true leadership, you need to get to know people. Simon advocates for roaming the halls and interacting with your team. If you’re virtual, use video or phone calls instead of email so you will get to know your team members better.
  • Simon’s newest book, The Infinite Game, focuses on the fact that while there are finite games—situations with known players, fixed rules, and agreed upon objectives—most of our lives are measured with infinites games, where there are no defined players, the rules are changeable, and the objective is to perpetuate the game.
    • It is not possible to “win” an infinite game. The metrics and timeframes are left up to each individual, making the numbers be whatever you want them to be.
    • When we have a finite mindset in an infinite game, we “hurt trust, hurt cooperation, and we hurt innovation.”
    • “[Y]ou can't control that which you cannot control. The only thing we can control is ourselves. And so the opportunity there is to become the leader you wish you had, to show up every single day to create an environment in which the people that you work with, whether they're subordinate or superior, or, or peers… come to work every day, inspired to be there, feel safe there, psychologically safe and return home fulfilled. That they feel like we have their backs and that we would support them and we're there to help them grow.”
  • Humans are social animals. Trust is essential to us, so we foster deep, meaningful relationships.
  • Operate with empathy and show up with curiosity.
  • “Worthy rivals” in business reveal to us our own weaknesses. They make us uncomfortable, and instead of looking at ourselves we direct the energy into competitive energy.
  • “If we choose to live our lives with a finite mindset, it means we make our primary purpose to get richer or promoted faster than others. To live our lives with an infinite mindset means that we are driven to advance a cause bigger than ourselves. We see those who share our vision as partners in the cause and we work to build trusting relationships with them, so that we may advance the common good together.”

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119. Adam Grant: Give and Take

When Adam Grant joined his high school diving team, his coach told him he had good news and bad news: Adam lack flexibility and grace, two of the three components needed to be a successful diver. The good news? His coach would be there to support him the entire way.

He [said he] doesn't care how good I am. That whatever level of effort I put in, he's willing to put in that level of effort as a coach too. He actually said, “I will never cut a diver who wants to be here.” And, I mean to me that is the epitome of what a coach is, right? To say, look, you know, I respond to your motivation, not what I think is your talent level.”

This event had a profound impact on Adam. His coach not only believed in him but was willing to match the effort that he would put into his own success. His influence was also felt as Adam reached out to help other divers—even those that would be in direct competition with him—because he knew that he could help.

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Although he considered becoming a professional coach himself, Adam’s career took a different trajectory. After receiving a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology, he became a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and is world-renowned for his expertise in motivation and meaning. He has authored four New York Times bestselling books (including one with Sheryl Sandberg), and his TED talks that have been viewed more than 18 million times.

Our conversation on the podcast delves into the pages of his book “Give and Take,” where he examines the interactions between coworkers and their classifications as “givers, matchers, and takers.” By being givers, he explains, we create an environment for success that takers never reach.

“I really believe that the most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.”

The willingness of his coach to be a “mini helper” continues to influence Adam’s life, and he is a wonderful example of a giver (although he is too modest to give himself the label). I feel I have much to think about after this conversation, and I think you will, too. Join us as we discuss how he chose a career where he could be “ambitious for himself and ambitious for others,” his best dive ever, and how Givers can truly help others (without becoming doormats).

Listen to the podcast in the player below, or download the episode on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Takeaways from this Episode:

  • Our early experiences are woven into the choices we make. Early in life, Adam was a diver with aspirations of becoming a diving coach. He is still using the lessons he learned on the diving board in his life today.
  • Adam’s coach told him “I will never cut a diver who wants to be here.” He was willing to look at a diver’s motivation and not their talent level. How can this apply in your life? Is there someone on your team who is at the low end of the curve skill-wise, but is motivated to learn and wants to be there? What support can you give? What are you doing not to “cut” that person?
  • Against the judgment of his coach (and pretty much everyone else), Adam took the time to coach his competitor and help him improve his entry into the water. This eventually allowed that diver to beat Adam in competition. Adam’s attitude about the event is inspiring: “I didn’t want to be in a world where my motivation to help others would be in conflict with my motivation to succeed.”
  • These were defining experiences that eventually led to Adam’s book, Give and Take. In it he discusses styles of reciprocity (the framework for personality or motivation): givers, takers, and matchers. Everyone has moments where they display each style, but they will also have a dominant style—how we treat the majority of people the majority of the time.
  • Givers look to see how they can add value. They enjoy helping others without strings attached.
  • Takers primarily focus on trying to figure out what they can get from other people.
  • Matchers will reciprocate whatever the other individual involved is doing. If they are giving a little, matchers will give a little. If they are willing to give a lot, matchers will give a lot.
  • Kat Cole once gave Adam advice on how to increase generosity: go into every interaction asking “How can I be a mini-helper? What’s the biggest challenge the other person is facing right now?”
  • In an organization, if you want to create a culture of help givingyou need to establish a culture of help seeking. Are there people in your organization that you haven’t approached about a problem who may be able to help you.
  • “The mistake that most of us make is when we need help, we only go to the people that we've traded favors with in the past or expect to in the future. And you know, the odds that that person who's helped you before or that you know well is the most qualified person to help you with a completely different request are pretty low.
  • Successful givers are thoughtful about who they help and how they help. Don’t help anybody who just asks—this can lead out burn out. Be flexible and adaptable in your style. If you are dealing with a taker, try to be a matcher.

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

111. Brené Brown: Called to Courage

I love Brené Brown’s story.

A “late bloomer,” Brené graduated from her undergrad when she was 29 years old, then proceeded straight into her master’s and Ph.D. programs. She experienced first-hand the impact of amazing professors and knew what she wanted her life’s work to be—changing the lives of students while getting to talk about what she was passionate about.

And Brené is passionate about vulnerability. She shared her passion in a TedxHouston talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” and to her great surprise, it went viral. To date, it has been viewed over 35 million times online and is one of the top 5 TED talks of all time.

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This event opened up a whole new world to Brené, including some great opportunities and discussions, but it also came with a heavy price. For every 1,000 supportive comments and engaging exchanges, Brené would receive a bitter, horrible ad hominem attack that left her reeling. She had to make a choice: move forward, or stay out of the arena?

“I found it a really hard time in my life, when I needed to be reminded that I was in the arena, and that I was trying to be brave with my life and my work, and it’s not the critic who counts. And so, it’s not hyperbole to say my life changed when I read [a quote from Teddy Roosevelt], ‘cause I was flooded with this belief that, You know what? One, I’m going to be in the arena. Two, vulnerability is not a weakness, it’s showing up when you can’t control the outcome, including the trolls on Twitter. And I’m gonna stop taking feedback from people who are not also being brave.”

Brené has certainly taken “showing up” to heart. She has written five New York Times bestsellers, and recently became the first researcher to have a filmed talk on Netflix, “Called to Courage.” She is passionate and enthusiastic, but also careful and measured in how she spends her time. While some enjoy the “further faster” approach to their career, Brené has discovered that she would rather keep things, “slower, closer,” and really examine whether any endeavor will bring her joy.

“I think I’ve spent a lot of my career proving, and I’m at the place now where I’m trying to inhale, and ask myself, ‘Am I doing this to prove that I can? Or because I want to, and it brings me joy?'”

I’m excited to see what new learning curve Brené will jump to next. Join us as we discuss what brings Brené joy; who inspired her to pay attention to vulnerability; and how the stories we tell ourselves can make or break us. Download the episode on iTunes, or listen on the player below. If you have a comment or some constructive feedback, please let us know!

Listen to the episode in the player below, or download and enjoy it on iTunes. If you’re so inclined, please leave us a review!

Takeaways from this episode:

  • Brené was a “late bloomer” that took her time going through school (it took her 12 years to receive her undergrad). Despite this, she has had an amazing impact on the world and taught many people the truth about vulnerability. If you’re thinking it’s “too late” for you to make a difference, think again.
  • Never underestimate the power of an excellent teacher.
  • Growing up, Brené felt that vulnerability was a weakness. After watching her mother grieve for a sibling that had been senselessly killed in a random act of violence, Brené realized that her view of vulnerability couldn’t be accurate. Her mother was the strongest person she knew. In that moment she was vulnerable, and yet not weak. This lead Brené to really dig in to research on vulnerability, and it changed her life.
  • Brené’s favorite quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who's actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, and who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, when she fails, at least does so daring greatly.”
  • Research shows that you only need one or two people cheering you on, even if you feel there are more people in the “cheap seats.” Find people that will love you in your imperfections—“yes people” won’t give you honest feedback, and you need it.
  • Our brains are wired for storytelling. “In the absence of data, we make up stories.” This includes narratives about ourselves. What story are you telling about yourself? Brené’s research shows that those who are resilient reality-check their stories frequently.
  • When someone is leaving an organization, that is not only an event for the individual and their boss, but for the whole organization (communal experience). In the absence of data, people will make up stories. Be the kind of leader that offers a space for people to check out those stories.
  • Not everyone enjoys “scaling up.” After successfully creating new businesses, Brené realized that she is happier when she keeps things slower and closer. In order to write about things that are meaningful for others, she needs to be intensely and joyfully in her own life. When a new project comes around, she asks herself, “What are my days going to look like? What are my next 180 days going to look like?”
  • Also ask yourself, “Am I talking to myself like I talk to someone I love?”

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93. James Clear: Just One Percent Better

“Disruption,” as a word, has always had an explosive sound to me. Disruption causes your world to shift and change—an earthquake in the making. However, every once in a while, I’m reminded that disruption does not have to be earth-shattering. Sometimes the smallest changes can have a long-lasting impact on your life, especially when those changes become habits.

My guest today is James Clear, and he’s the go-to expert for those small changes, or Atomic Habits (as his New York Times best-selling book refers to them).  James advocates that the way to build habits is to try and get just one percent better each day—something that sounds almost too easy to do, and yet builds a firm foundation for continual improvement.

“I like to refer to habits as the compound interest of self-improvement, and the reason why I like that phrase is that, the same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them over time…[I]f you can get just one percent better each day, so .01365, you end up 37 times better by the time you get to the end of the year.”

Getting one percent better can be as simple as reading one page of a book per day, or driving all the way to the gym and exercising for only five minutes. James refers to this as “the art of showing up.” By practicing the basic decision to “show up” for these activities you can train yourself to overcome your objections and actually start.  You’re less likely to quit on yourself when the decision to change is small and simple. James recommends a “two-minute” rule for habits: whatever habit you’re trying to build, scale it down to just two minutes or less. Once you’ve mastered it you can optimize and improve as needed.

But even before you get to that stage, ask yourself what kind of person you want to be. If you want to get healthy, ask yourself each morning, “What would a healthy person do?” If you want to be a writer, ask yourself, “What would a writer do?”

“Every action you take is like a vote for the type of person that you want to become or the type of person that you believe that you are, and so the more that you perform these little habits, whether it's reading one page, or writing one sentence, or…meditating for 60 seconds, the more you reinforce, you provide evidence, you cast a vote for that identity of being a reader, or being a writer, or being a meditator.”

James is great at giving practical tips for improvement, and I hope you enjoy our discussion as much as I did! Thank you to James for being a great guest. I am especially grateful today for Ralph Campbell, a Disrupt Yourself podcast listener who introduced me to the work of James, leading to this interview today. I really value the feedback of my listeners, and suggestions for future guests are appreciated!

Download today’s episode on iTunes or listen using the player below. If you like what you hear please leave a review!

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Takeaways from this episode:

  • Habits are the “compound interest of self-improvement.” If you can get just one percent better at something each day, by the end of a year (365 days) you will be 37 times better. Conversely, if you get 1% worse each day, the skill will have diminished to almost nothing at the end of a year.
  • Keep habits to the “two-minute rule.” It can be tempting to go big on your goals, but this also makes them harder to maintain. If your desire is to read 50 books in a year, dial it back to a goal of reading one page per day. You have the flexibility to read and do more, but you can do something simple and feel success rather than failure while learning to “show up” for your goal.
  • Point and call—when it comes to changing our habits, the first thing we need to do is to be aware of what our habits currently are. Calling out loud what we are about to do (“I’m about to watch YouTube,” or “I’m writing a blog post”) makes us conscious of the actions we are taking and then allows us to make a conscious decision to continue that action. It may feel silly, but it works!
  • Implementation Intentions—Be specific about the behavior you want, the time you will do it, and location. When we plan for an action to occur it is more likely to happen. Example: “After I eat a lunch of bacon, and eggs, and cheese, at noon today, I will sit down and practice the piano for 10 minutes.”
  • Track your habits. Give yourself a visual way of seeing your progress so that when you are tempted to deviate from your goal you can see how far you’ve come, and motivate yourself to continue your streak.
  • Repetition is a form of change. Sometimes it is better to do a habit more often than to increase the intensity of the habit (for example, instead of jumping to run 20 miles a day you can run 2 miles per day 5 days a week instead of 2 days a week).
  • Never miss a habit twice—it’s ok to have an off day, but don’t let the slide continue. Every action is a vote for the type of person we want to be.

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