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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 ccbayarea.org for conscious capitalism. We have online and in person events and, NextGenOrgs.com 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 mariakellis.com/extraordinary, 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. mariakellis.com/extraordinary 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.

Career tiger, Gregory Fox
Blog, Career Nation Show, Career strategy

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.

Diane Adams
Blog, Career Nation Show, Career strategy, Culture

Episode 6: Career Nation Show with Diane Adams, Chief Culture and Talent Officer at Sprinklr

Does culture matter?

Diane Adams, Chief Culture and Talent Officer at Sprinklr joins us to answer this question and shares amazing career advice on the Career Nation Show.

Here are some highlights from the episode

  1. Diane shares her career journey
  2. Why is culture important?
  3. How is culture important during the hiring process?
  4. How the interviewing process at Sprinklr ensures alignment between new hires’ values and the company’s values and culture
  5. Diane’s favorites: apps, books, quotes and restaurant!
  6. Her advice to Career Nation: ” Do  You” be yourself and be authentic
Jonathan Copulsky
Blog, Career Nation Show, Career strategy

Episode 5: Career Nation Show with Jonathan Copulsky, CMO, Board Member, Northwestern University Faculty

Jonathan Copulsky joins us in the next episode of Career Nation Show. He is the former Chief Marketing Officer at Deloitte, co-author of The Technology Fallacy and faculty member at NorthWestern University.

This video only has the first 10 minutes; catch the entire episode on YouTube: or podcast https://bit.ly/2Sf3XBF

Here are some highlights from the discussion

1. Jonathan’s career journey

2. What’s the role of marketing in a new subscription-centric world where customers will “try and buy” new products

3. How customer make certain ‘habits’ over a period of time and how marketers can make customers change their habits

4. His favorite marketing and branding stories

5. Favorites game: Jonathan’s favorite app, favorite book, 

6. How to view career as sets of skills and experience rather than jobs helps us to navigate better

7. How he prepares for critical meetings and big presentations; and how watching others present helps him

8. How to learn: how to learn from others, how to use post action reports and how to learn fast

You grab a copy of his book at: https://amzn.to/2JvQVgt 

Books referenced in this episode:

  1. Power of Habit
  2. Crossing the Chasm
  3. Competing against luck (Jobs to be done)
  4. Bad Blood
  5.  Customer Loyalty is Overrated


Jonathan:         Our job as marketers is not to make things easy to sell it, to make things easy to buy.

Voiceover:        Welcome to the Career Nation Show where you learn the strategies and tools to own and derive your career. Find out more at careertiger.com

Abhijeet:          hello and welcome back to the Career Nation Show. Today’s going to be another special episode because we have a very special guest today. He is former CFO of Deloitte. He’s an author and he’s now a faculty at Northwestern where he teaches marketing. Please welcome Jonathan Copulsky. Jonathan, welcome to the show.

Jonathan:         Well, thank you. Delighted to be here. Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you and your viewers.

Abhijeet:          Awesome. Hey Jonathan, thank you so much for making the time for [00:01:00] the viewers and sharing your career advice and your industry perspective.  why don’t we just dive into this and why don’t we start with sort of your career journey, sort of the,  older sort of the younger days, a slightly younger days of Jonathan Copulsky, to sort of the journey to the chief marketing officer of Deloitte. your various faculty stands. you wrote a few books, walk us through that please.

Jonathan:         Sure. And I’m, I’m in my mid 60, so I’ll try to give you the short version. graduate from college history major from a small liberal arts college. And my first job was teaching high school. So in some ways I find myself now as a teacher at Northwestern, going back to my roots. But in between that teaching in high school and teaching at Northwestern, I had several careers both in industry and management consulting. After I went to business school, I spent several [00:02:00] years at the publisher Time Inc publishing a number of magazines, also own HBO Cable TV stations and book publishing and vars products. And I was there working in finance magazine development magazine, production distribution. Went from there to my first in management consulting at what was then Booz Allen Hamilton now is strategy ad, which is part of PWC, became partner there and left to go to one of my clients, CCH, which is a professional publishing [00:02:30] company and spent five years at CCH where ultimately it was the chief marketing and sales officer. We did a turn around of this company, sold it to Walter’s Kluwer Dutch company, took a year off. And during my year off I spent working with the CEO at the Field Museum of natural history here in Chicago and came to Deloitte in 1997 as a partner focusing on providing marketing and branding strategy services to clients. 

At the time that I would be there for about a year or so. And  20 years later I wound up retiring from Deloitte, so exactly two years ago today and join the faculty at Northwestern where I teach both at the School of Journalism Media and integrated marketing communications and the Kellogg School of management courses and marketing, branding innovation and marketing technology.

Abhijeet:          Wow. What a journey. And from media [00:03:30] and I would say highly visible, media brands to management consulting,  to now faculty. And you wrote a few books in between. That’s a fascinating career journey. And Jonathan in that journey, you know, have you seen sort of,  a lot of transformation in this space around branding and marketing? Is is is, you know, there’s an old saying, ah, the more things change, [00:04:00] the more they remain the same. Is that true in marketing or are there things that are evolving and changing?

Jonathan:         Oh, well it’s, I think we can, I would phrase it a little bit differently. I think we can sometimes find roots of what exists today, back in the past, but they come, they manifest themselves differently. So we live in a world today of marketing. We’re very much focused on the metrics. Things like quick to open engagement rates, read rates, et Cetera, et cetera. [00:04:30] But the notion of being able to focus on individuals and being able to direct marketing to individuals had to choose indirect marketing, which was invented 50 years ago or so. So back in the day when I was at Time Inc, the process by which we ran ab tests, the process by which we solicited subscriptions for our magazines and so forth actually has a lot of similarities to what people now do through digital marketing. What has changed is one, the speed at [00:05:00] which this stuff is done. So what used to take us three months to analyze, we can now do literally in seconds. And the second is the medium. So what used to be mail is now digital.

Abhijeet:          Absolutely. And, you know, that word comes up so much often these days, which is digital. And, you know, the, the, the process of including digital in every sphere of a company and every function [00:05:30] of a company and marketing is no exception. In fact, marketing it, you know, is one of the biggest spenders of digital technologies and one of the biggest consumers of digital technology. Whether that’s marketing automation, you know, email marketing,  you know, what have you. And so with all of these tools,  is our, our companies as companies start to look at, technology as a big lever in their digital space and digital [00:06:00] marketing space specifically.  is there, is there a,  is this and big opportunity for companies to really, you know, change the game, how their marketing does, or is this more of a tool that they can use to accelerate,  whatever their branding efforts might be or, or marketing campaigns or PR become more specific about the customers that they want to go after. Maybe they want to get into more micro segmentation [00:06:30] of customers, et Cetera, using more technology. And I think you’ve touched upon this a little bit in your book, that technology fallacy. So how, how do companies, how are companies using these technologies? Can they do better use,  of these technologies?

Jonathan:         Well, I think the answer to all of your questions is yes, but I’ll be a little bit more specific. Look, I think what digital has done is for many companies in many industries, in many sectors is [00:07:00] transformed the business model from what it was to what it is today. So we can see, you know, extreme examples of this say in the music publishing industry. You know, I’m old enough to remember when I used to go out and buy long playing records, which were 33 Rpm, which was revolutions per minute. And now people will still buy vinyl records, but we’ll be sort of this antiquarian thing as opposed to the uptodate thing. You know, and I just saw this week that apple has announced I was going to phase out iTunes. So we’ve taken, [00:07:30] you know, what was once a physical business of taking music and recording it on vinyl to one, which is completely digital.

Jonathan:         So we’ve gone from atoms to bits and we could see the same thing in lots of other industries. We could look at the software industry and salesforce, which is 20 or so years old, you know, transform or led the transformation going from odd premise software to, you know, software in the cloud. And now it’s hard even with consumer’s software to find anything you buy because everything’s [00:08:00] in subscriptions that I used to remember when people talk about shrink wrap software, we’re actually meant a box of software that you could buy and you’d take off the shrink wrapping. So I think it started with business models and then it’s permeated to other sectors. So from a marketing standpoint, increasingly all the research that we’ve done the research at other people then say when somebody goes through the process of looking for, trying to understand what products, what services, what offerings the best for them is a digital journey.

Jonathan:         [00:08:30] Most of the time they may wind up buying it in a store, they may wind up with a physical product or digital product. But that whole process of the customer journey is increasingly enabled by digital, which then also means that as marketers, we need to be there. Now does that mean that all, analog marketing goes away? We still have plenty of direct mail. You know, we still have analog TV, we have billboards and other types of outdoors. But increasingly, I think this was [00:09:00] your last point. We see things which may have been physical at one point, but now have become digital and become much better at targeting individual customers and individual personas with messages and content and offers, which are much more personalized and relevant.

Abhijeet:           Absolutely. And, you touched upon a lot of things there. And so let me unpack a few of them. I think one was the piece around companies [00:09:30] moving to different business models using digital subscription being the most prevalent. There could be others like utility, etc. The other,  the other piece that are really, really like was sort of this using technology to drive more personal messaging towards customers and having offers that you know, really relate to the customer and really enable the customer to feel that they are getting a very personal service,  from the [00:10:00] marketer. And this sort of hyper personalization continues in this age of digital.  let me, let me ask you a question just on sort of this intersection of subscription and personalization. It’s around sort of this notion of try and buy and you know, back in the day there used to be a brand promise and someone would make a brand promise that would be a marketing campaign around it, whether it’s print or billboards or what have you, our direct mail and that the, the person [00:10:30] or the company would buy it.

Abhijeet:          And this probably holds true for both, for B2B as well as B to c. And so the person or the company would buy that product,  over a period of time, which is now we see subscription and in the subscription model we have this notion of a try and buy where the customer gets to try the product first. And if that company or that person likes that product, they will actually buy a whole bunch. Right. And so is marketing [00:11:00] changing in the try and buy world? Is the offer or the product becoming more important than marketing or marketing still is relevant because you have to address the whole customer life cycle? What are your thoughts on this?

Jonathan:         Yeah, no, it’s a great question. How, you know, I, and I think you have to separate out from, you know, the products that we are used to buying and that we’re accustomed to in the categories that we know versus the ones which are new to us. So you know, if I’m going to go buy ketchup, [00:11:30] okay, I’m going to buy Heinz Ketchup and I’m not gonna spend a lot of time thinking about do I buy Heinz or hunt or something else because I know that I’ve tried and I liked no hind sketch and you could make all the offers in the world to me. Oh and I’m not going to do it because I’ve selected my ketchup. So they’re worrying about what my customer journey is or anything else like that. It’s kind of irrelevant. And there’s wonderful article that appeared several years ago [00:12:00] and the Harvard Business Review, which talked about the power of habit and one of the coauthors was h g Lafley, the former CEO of proctor and gamble.

Jonathan:         So habit is pretty important in determining how people buy. So if I’ve got a new product or even more importantly a new product in new category, I have to figure out how do I break that habit and how do I [inaudible] the process of trial. Now, some of it’s trivial, right? I could be in a physical [00:12:30] store and for a long time and CPG people done samples and they can, you know, give me a physical sample. I could try it in the store and something else like that. But another way to do it, particularly with digital products is if I can try and buy or there’s a freemium model like there is like linkedin and a number of other products. But I think this notion of how do we de-risked the process of selecting testing and experimenting with the new product, particularly in new category,  [00:13:00] that’s it.

Jonathan:         That’s going to be, increasingly important. So I think subscription offers, freemium offers, things that let us do a little taste. You know, that’s the wonderful thing about cloud based software. Now all of a sudden I don’t have to buy a bunch of servers installed this software, it’s been thousands or hundreds of thousand dollars are now talking to often to install. I can try it in small ways and then I can scale up. So, along with, particularly on the B2B side, along with this stability to try before we buy, then I also need to make [00:13:30] sure that the product or the offering is engineered in such a way that if I like it, then I can do rapid scaling up. And I think, you know, I’ll go back to salesforce because I think they set the model of going from, you know, companies that were trying to figure out do I spend a lot of money on all these expensive on premise CRM solutions to hey, I can try it, I can buy it and then I can scale rapidly. And so along with this try and [00:14:00] buy, I think scalability particularly in the B2B side is really important.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, absolutely.  you made a lot of great points there, Jonathan. I think one of them is around sort of how do we remove friction and enable the customer to choose your product over their existing sort of favorite brands. And by removing that friction, allowing the customer to try some of your product. [00:14:30] And then once they understand the product, they understand,  how to use it. They are able to get the most out of it and they’ll absolutely buy your product.  I think that’s a great sort of a way to get into the a customer life cycle and sort of make it,  make it for customers to,  I want to say, decide because of one of the ways marketers help customers do, let me help you to decide because [00:15:00] this is my message to you and I’ll help you make a better decision. So it’s sort of this aspect of sort of educating the customer as well. that comes into play.

Jonathan:         Yeah. Well one of the books that we read in one of my classes is a very famous spoken silicon valley and crossing the chasm and for those people read the book, the original book was, or not believed back in 1991. Still, it’s a, it’s a fairly old book by most standards. And in 2014, Jeff Moore, the author, [00:15:30] we published it and updated a number of the references that were in the book, but he’s just on thing, which I, I’m a just, I think there’s wonderful content. He, it’s a job out of job based marketers is not to make things easy to sell it, to make things easy to buy, not to make things easy. So, but to make things easier. But, and if you think about that, for those of us who are in marketing, you know, and then I have to really think [00:16:00] about what are all the obstacles to try, what are the obstacles that adoption was to all the obstacles to sustained involvement with a offering. And then what can I do to just tackle those obstacles in a systematic way and make it easy for them to buy it. And, and I, I share that with my students and  I can see in some cases light bulbs going off like, Oh, I thought I’d travel was to sell this stuff. And I said, no, no, your job is to make it easier to buy.

Abhijeet:          That is brilliant [00:16:30] right there. Make it easy to buy, not easy to sell.  that’s wonderful.  Jonathan, in your experience as you’ve looked at, you know, many different industries as a consultant,  and of course now as a faculty, are there stories out there that you really like from a marketing and branding standpoint? Like things that really you think are great [00:17:00] examples for anybody to sort of take lessons from?  and it could be a B to B company or B to c company or it could be a different brand.  what are some of those stories that you really like?

Jonathan:         Well, I’ll tell a story about myself, which doesn’t necessarily paint me in the best light, but it’s also indicative of the challenge that we have, you know, and understanding,  the potential of products. So many [00:17:30] years ago, back around 2000 2001, I was doing work with Samsung and I’m sure you probably know Samsung, well known, Korean based company, a diverse set of products and offerings. And we were working with their consumer products and particularly with their digital display devices. And back at that time, Sam tongue was really making a transformation of itself from a provider of analog TVs and other analog devices to more of a digital play and particularly in [00:18:00] North America. So we help them at that comments a consultant figuring out what the market entry strategy was, how they should position themselves, how they should work with partners and so forth. Project went extraordinarily well.

Jonathan:         One of the out comes from the project was helping Samsung to design its a partner relationship strategy with best buy and really helping them to explode the category of digital display devices. Very, very successful project. At the end of the project I [00:18:30] was in Korea and as part of our meetings we took a trip to the factory that Samsung has not that far from sold and they showed us a number of devices and these were devices that they were prototyping, testing out in certain markets. One of the devices was a refrigerator and at that time Samsung had appliances in many markets, not in the u s but this refrigerator. Remember this about 2001 had built into its front a browser [00:19:00] and the intent of the browser was that they could use that browser to look up recipes. I don’t know, do all kinds of different things and they’re showing us this like, Eh, I didn’t was underwhelmed and I really didn’t sink that that was going to be compelling in of itself.

Jonathan:         Samsung never introduced that product in the U S it’s competitor. LG introduced a product was not very successful. So score one for Jonathan, I predicted that product [00:19:30] was not going to be very successful. Same visit, we keep on walking around, we get to the mobile phones and they start showing me these various mobile phones and Samsung was and still is one of the leaders in the mobile phone business and they had phones, I don’t remember. Or The iPhone was introduced in 2007 so this is long before the iPhone and other smart phones really took precedent and they’re showing me these phones and one of the phones has a phone and a camera built into it. [00:20:00] So I say, why would anybody ever need a camera in a phone flash forward right here we are 2019 like who has, who doesn’t have a camera and phone? And what I didn’t understand at the time was that the purpose of that phone in the camera then, well if not to displace that single lens reflex camera that somebody had had, it was a way for [00:20:30] somebody who had that phone to say, Hey, I happened to be in a cool spot.

Jonathan:         I’m snapping a picture. I’m going to share that picture with people. And this is long before we had Instagram or anything like Facebook and other kinds of sharing things. And what I discovered was I wasn’t thinking about what I should have. Why would somebody use a camera and a phone if not to take a great quality picture, but it’s to communicate, you know, a sense of immediacy. And obviously over time the quality of the cameras have improved [00:21:00] tremendously. So now it is competitive was single lens reflex. So, you know, we, another thing we read, one of my classes is clay Christianson’s work about innovation. And I remind the students that innovation is all about understanding the job to be done and the job to be done that I didn’t understand back in 2001 was not about taking the grit based picture in the world. It was about creating that sense of sharing an immediacy of I happened to be here, look at me, I’ve got my camera, I’ve [00:21:30] got my phone, and you can share that with me.

Abhijeet:          Totally agree and great stories there. and by the way, Clay Christensen, thanks for mentioning him.  I think the book is competing against luck. I think there’s also a couple of videos often on youtube jobs to be done. I’ll put those in the show notes. fantastic stories. It’s really wonderful that you wove your personal story with a brand stories and a [00:22:00] yes, we all have cameras,  on our phones now. We are, you know, now that we are into a personal space, Jonathan, can we move into a little bit of your personal side with our favorite skin? Okay. All right. So this is our favorite game. So we will ask you questions about your favorite things and you’ll have to tell us, you know, what are your favorite things and why are those your favorites? So we’ll start now with your favorite app.

Jonathan:         My favorite [00:22:30] app, so probably the app that I think is incredibly cool is something called spot hero. I don’t know if it’s an all markets in the United States, but basically it’s a way to find a parking garage. So it started in Chicago and if you’re looking for a place to park, you go to spot here, you book the parking spot, it gives you a code that you can then have scanned by the machine at the garage. And typically it literally is a spot market [00:23:00] for parking spots. Typically that the charge that you will pay is anywhere between 60 to 30% of the posted rates go. A great way to find parking, but also great way to save money, you know? And so I just love it because it does job, which finds me a place to park and saves me money.

Abhijeet:          Oh that’s great. Love. Love it. I’m going to download that one. I don’t have spot hero currently, but I will make sure I get it.  let’s move to the next favorite. [00:23:30] Your favorite book.

Jonathan:         Favorite book. it’s probably the book that I haven’t read, but I’ll tell you, I read something recently which I a my new favorite business book and that is bad blood and bad blood is a book about Theranose and it was written by the Wall Street Journal who basically blew open a, the whole fraud, if you will, with fairness. And it’s just, if I could detective stories who spent novel, what’s going to happen [00:24:00] next. And he just does a wonderful job, both because the story is a riveting story, but he was also the one who exposed the fraud that went with her nose. And so he plays a critical role. So two thirds of the book is what happened. The last third of the book is a whole, his personal Wildman and exposing this with the series of articles that he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. And then at San, so as you probably know, there’s a podcast on Theranos. There’s an HBO [00:24:30] series on Theranos, but the book bad blood definitely worth it. 

Abhijeet:           Bad blood. Awesome. I’ll put that in the show notes as well.  let’s go to the next favorites topic. And this is about your favorite quote. So my favorite quote is from Condoleezza Rice. Condoleezza Rice was the former provost at Stanford University, Secretary of State, and I believe she’s back at Stanford. Brilliant woman, regardless of whether you agree with all of her politics, [00:25:00] but she has a quote and she has said a number of times in slightly different form, but the gist of the quote is what at once seem impossible in retrospect, seems inevitable. What at one time seemed impossible and retrospect seems inevitable and what she’s talking about. And she was referring to geopolitics, which we see a situation and it is what [00:25:30] it is. If we went back in time, whether it was five years, 10 years, 15 years, and somebody described that it would be very hard for us sometimes to imagine that taking place.

Jonathan:         But then, you know, after all takes place, of course it happened. So I, I’ll, I’ll tell a little personal story. I remember back in 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone. Once again, I say, what business does Apple have being in the phone business? Because that was so far field. Now of course I didn’t realize and many [00:26:00] of us didn’t realize the ways that we use our iPhone, other smart phone today is so different than how we were using phones before. So we probably spend less than 1% of our interaction time with our phone speaking on the phone and much more about using apps and communicating with people and so forth. But if you go back to 2007 when the iPhone one was introduced, it would be pretty hard to imagine this state that has existed in [00:26:30] today with now the iPhone 10 and all the advances that have taken place in terms of the cam or the apps, the network, the ecosystem, and so forth. So on these rise, Condoleezza Rice is a quote about what once seemed impossible. Now in retrospect seemed inevitable. I just love it. And talking about innovation.

Jonathan:         Absolutely. And you’re so right because that can be applied to, to marketing, to product, to services. I mean, who knew maybe even five years ago [00:27:00] that we would, let’s basically get into cars with strangers and they would drive us around town and all, all of this happens on our phone, which is a pretty phenomenal, and that’s Uber and now you see Uber everywhere as Uber for babysitting, Uber for lawnmowing and then the model has just exploded.

Jonathan:         Well, it’s become one of the things where people describe a new business as this is the Uber of, right? AIRBNB is the Uber of hotels. So it’s very easy for [00:27:30] us to kind of, it’s not just a company, but it’s also a metaphor for a business model that can be applied to so many other sectors.

Abhijeet:           Yeah. So true. Cool. Well the next one is what’s your favorite restaurant?

Jonathan:         Okay, so I thought about this one. I know that you were going to ask me this question. Probably my favorite restaurant is a restaurant called Pesh watery and it is in the IPC hotel in Mumbai. [00:28:00] And they have a dish which is,  a lamb leg of lamb dish and the lamb is cooked for over eight hours. It’s the most tender thing in the world. Anxious, absolutely, absolutely delicious. But if you can’t get all the way to Mumbai, there’s wonderful restaurant here in Chicago that I could walk to called North Pond. And North pond is a terrific restaurant as well, and it just has an atmosphere of sitting right. Literally I’d one of the ponds within Lincoln Park, which is gorgeous, [00:28:30] and the food and serve, it’s a wonderful as well.

Abhijeet:           Awesome. And maybe because of this interview, that restaurant starts to get a lot of traffic. Okay. Good deal. We’ll take you for sharing your favorites with us.  Jonathan, why don’t we dig into your sort of career angle a little bit more,  over the years, are there certain sort of strategy techniques,  that you’d like to share with us with respect to managing careers?  and [00:29:00] it could be something as simple as, hey, this is my daily routine and, or my, the moment I wake up, these are the things that I like to do. Or it could be certain techniques or strategies. Maybe it could be certain type of, pattern recognition that you see around you.  what are, what are some of those things that you’d like to share with us?

Jonathan:         So once again, I think if we go back in our Condoleezza Rice quote, a lot of times we see [00:29:30] as we two things in our careers, some of the antecedents from other things that we’ve done earlier in our career, but sometimes it’s hard to know where they might lead to. It’s only in retrospect that they seem that they all kind of fit together. So,  yeah, I, I came to a point in my career where I started to think about these are a set of skills and experiences that I have as opposed to jobs and what kind of skills and experiences do I [00:30:00] want to build and how can I take those things and bring them to the next job I have as opposed to what’s the next job that I’m going to have. And,  well, what I find is that there were some, when I was consulting, I worked on some projects I hated, absolutely hated the project, but I got a set of skills that turn to be, how to be invaluable.

Jonathan:         And some other projects. You know, I’ve had some jobs, which little did I know that I was going to wind up in marketing, 40 years ago. But [00:30:30] as I started to work on some things, I realized that some of the skills involved in projects that I had done led themselves to a career of marketing. So, I’d say the first thing is think about skills and experiences as opposed to jobs. The second thing is, you know, particularly at a time when, you know, life sometimes seems overwhelming and we talk about work life balance is a, I don’t think that the very good way for people that think about their careers. I think people need to think about [00:31:00] work life, tradeoffs. And we make these trade offs all the time. And I think some people think, well, somehow I will magically get to this point where I’m balancing all and,  you know, on this she saw the balance beam and so forth and I’ve got it nailed.

Jonathan:         And you sometimes listen to people who have been very successful and they told their story about how, you know, they’re at the kids’ soccer game and then they, you know, back at 10 o’clock at night, then they’re doing a conference call with Asia and [00:31:30] then, you know, they get up at four o’clock in the morning so they can do their 10 k run and so forth. And you’re, you feel overwhelmed because you know, you will never measure up to that. And you, God bless those people who have managed to get there, who live so finely tuned or that they could fit all those things. And that, that’s never been my case. So I do think it’s, sometimes it can be misleading. So I tell people what I’ve learned is that you got make [00:32:00] tradeoffs. There are times when you’re going to say, I will go to that baseball game.

Jonathan:         I’ll go to the soccer game and deal with the consequences. And there will be times when,  I’ve got to stay and I got to work and so forth, but I can’t have it all. And I, I think that the illusion, but going, you know, just pushing that a little bit further, I do find the more that I share, the more that I’m open and transparent about some of the things I’m trying to trade off the better [00:32:30] it plays in my sort of marketplace of colleagues and friends and employers. And if I tried to kind of keep it all myself, and I’m not going to tell anybody, sometimes people don’t understand why you make the choices you do. So having that discussion with them, not necessarily assuming that therefore they’re going to say you have permission, but just so that they’re, that you build that awareness, I find that that awareness and creates more sympathy and empathy for the tradeoffs that you make.

Abhijeet:           Absolutely.  [00:33:00] great nuggets there, Jonathan. So this concept of looking at jobs as skills and experience that you’re gaining and not as a job so that you can figure out a, how can I package these skills and experience for the next experience that I’m going to have. It’s a, it’s a pretty phenomenal concept and I love your, sort of rewording of, it’s not a work life balance. It’s work-life tradeoffs, maybe even integration and being open about [00:33:30] it. And so that you can have the right conversations and make sure that people understand your perspective and where you’re coming from and that really helps and love that. And so, so let me, let me dig a little bit into sort of your, sort of method of preparation, if you will. So for example, let’s say you’re getting, I mean, you, you teach all the time, you make big presentations.  do you, do you, is there like a special preparation that you [00:34:00] generally have for like a big meeting or a big presentation that are about to give? like is there a method to the madness?

Jonathan:         I mean, I’m somebody who tends to be what we would call belt and suspenders type A, I tend to be overprepared. I tend to like, if I’m going to do a presentation, I want to know exactly where am I going to do the presentation. I’d want to show up early. I want to see the room, et Cetera, et cetera.  and [00:34:30] I get nervous before presentations and I think that being nervous is a good thing, not to the point where you’ve got so much anxiety that it becomes paralysis, but having a bit of nerves and then you just have to remind yourself, oh, I’ve done this before, I can do this again and so forth. But I think, yeah, I watch when I go to a presentation, I watch people present and I say, what are they doing [00:35:00] that really works well and how can I think about adopting that into my routine and what are they doing that doesn’t work too well?

Jonathan:         And how do I make sure that I don’t do that? Because sometimes I’ll see myself and then I’ll say, oh my God, it’s just like me. But you know, at the, at the end of the day, your PR, your presentations are, you know, it’s an individual performance and you have to figure out what works for you. I’m never going to be the loud chowder, the exuberant [00:35:30] yeller and everything. That’s just not me. But I, I have learned through watching other people and saying, oh, that works, that works and so forth. So the, the big advice I’d give is less about the way to prepare for presentations is to study presenters. And it’s not about including yourself. I mean, there’s nothing more horrendous than watching yourself on TV and seeing any, you go, oh my God, but it’s, but when you go to other presentations, you want to hear [00:36:00] the content, but what works?

Jonathan:         What are the techniques, the things that they do that resonate and whether it’s how they walk, how they hold themselves, what pitch they you were, they use, what visual techniques and so forth. So I’m a student of presenters and,  I think I’ll be a student for the rest of my life. That’s a wonderful idea of observing great speakers as well as not so great speakers [00:36:30] and constantly learning, about sort of all of the various attributes of speaking,  and of presentation.  so thank you for, thank you for sharing that as we, as we close here, Jonathan.  do you have any message for career nation, any advice, that you’d like to give?

Jonathan:         You know, I, I’m a runner and I run over 25 marathons. I’ve done long distance relays and so forth. [00:37:00] And a lot of people are fond of saying, well, you know, it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. Most of the people who say that have not run a marathon, I’ve run a bunch. Every marathon I’ve run has been different. Some have been hard and some have been incredibly hard and some have been fun and some less so fun. And I just do think, you know, the, the, the challenge for me and I think for others sometimes is, you know, we want to always be perfect. [00:37:30] We always want to run the perfect race. We always want to, you know, have everybody, you know, clap for us after we finish your presentation. We always want our recommendations to be perfect and so forth. And, and we tend often to, when things don’t go so well, either discount the thing or we want to somehow downplay those things.

Jonathan:         And I may obsess about this stuff, but I’ve learned something [00:38:00] several years ago when I was doing a, a different book called the brand resilience. And the, the whole book is about incidents that people may have with, something goes wrong with the brand and how to brands recover from those setbacks. And I do think it’s important, to do what in the military, in the u s at least they would call after action reports when something doesn’t go so well. Can I take a deep breath debrief? What happened? [00:38:30] What could I have done differently? How do I make it better next time? And painful as that might be. Because a lot of times we just want to close the book on something. So,  you know, doing that, I’ll call after action reports, but the, you know, the post action, what happened that group and how can I learn from these things.

Jonathan:         And so the biggest career advice is, you know, nobody likes failure. Yeah, I know. And so kind of ballet sometimes, you know, [00:39:00] [inaudible] to say, fail forward, fail fast and so forth. Nobody likes failures, but,  what’s worse than failures or failures that you fail to learn from? So,  I think a notion of, you know, how do we get better at learning? I mentioned before about learning from other presenters. You know, we, we’ve gone be, you know, learning from everything we do. So, you know, my mantra lately has been learned fast. How can I learn [00:39:30] faster?  and I find that, you know, as I’m in a completely different career than the one that I spent last 20 years in, which was consulting and now I’m teaching, even though there are a lot of skills and experience through that transfer over, I’m teaching something very different than what I’ve been doing for the last 35 plus years. And Joe, I’ve had to become a not only teacher but also a student.

Abhijeet:           Fantastic advice, Jonathan. [00:40:00] I think this whole topic about,  sort of learning from failures and then I love that post action report topic that you mentioned and sort of reflecting on those failures and learning from them allows us to become better professionals. Thank you so much for the fantastic advice. Thank you again for making time for the show. We wish you all the very best and we will see [00:40:30] you next time on Career Nation Show. Thank you, Jonathan.

Jonathan:         Thank you. And good night.

Susan Choi
Blog, Career strategy

Episode 4: Career Nation Show with Susan Choi, Wellness Expert

“Stress doesn’t happen to us, stress happens by us”.

Stress is so common in the workplace and yet we rarely talk about it.

Susan Choi is a leading Wellness Expert and former management consultant. She joins us to break down workplace stress and ways to address it.

Susan shares many nuggets:

  • Her career journey and a pivot to completely changing her career towards a stress management and wellness expert
  • How burnout is a real and serious issue to deal with
  • What are specific symptoms of stress to watch out for
  • What is the fact vs story that you are telling yourself?
  • Cracking the code: developing the mindset to deal with stress
  • Favorites: Susan’s favorite app, favorite quote and favorite book!

#career #careers #careeradvice #stress #stressmanagement #wellness #worklifebalance


Susan:              Because most people believe that stress happens to us, but the truth is, is that stress happens by us. Until we can understand and manage that root issue, that root cause of what’s actually causing your stress, you’re only perpetuating your current circumstance.

Voiceover:        Welcome to the Career Nation Show where you learn the strategies and tools to own and drive your career. Find out more at careertiger.com.

Abhijeet:          Hello and welcome to the Career Nation Show. Today is going to be a very special episode because today we have a very special guest. She used to be a management consultant running projects for some of the largest companies in tech. Now, she’s a wellness coach, and she’s really helping people manage stress in the workplace. Please welcome, Susan Choi.

Susan:              Thanks for having me, Abhijeet. I’m really excited to be here.

Abhijeet:          Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to have you and this is great. This is such an interesting space. Quite frankly, we know so little about that, so let’s just dive right in. Before we get into the whole topic, tell us a little bit more about your career journey. I mean, to go from management consultant in corporate America to being a wellness coach who’s helping with stress. Tell us how did that journey happen? How did it start?

Susan:              Yeah, well, I’m happy to do that and I’m sure people can guess that the reason why I became a wellness and transformational coach is because I needed to be my own teacher. So straight out of college, I started to intern at one of the big four consulting firms, and that was my career for the next 10 plus years. Right? I went into management consultant. That was my life.

Susan:              Throughout that journey, I realized that I had a very unstable relationship with stress. I thought that it was normal. The way that I used to manage stress in the past, looking back now with what I know actually works with stress management, I was doing everything in the most opposite way possible. I see it all the time with other people.

Susan:              As I was doing that, I noticed that certain parts of my life were really becoming more problematic. So there’s things like weight gain, not being able to sleep well at night anymore. Noticing that certain personality traits that I was well-known for such as being carefree, positive thinking on my feet, those were all becoming so much harder.

Susan:              Fast forward 10 years, I moved to a new city, started a new consulting gig, and was serving a client on a really strategic project. Everything just came to a head. There happened to also be mold in my apartment, which I found out three years later. So there was a lot of things that were happening.

Susan:              During that moment, I realized that I was in burnout. I went to a naturopathic doctor, and she essentially diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue. So there goes my life and I spent thousands of dollars trying to see the best doctors, buying all of the supplements and vitamins and medications. I was doing all of the workout routines, measuring myself in every way possible in terms of doing testing on my blood, amino acids, everything in the health and wellness space.

Susan:              While that helped a bit, I realized that there was one thing that I was not paying close attention to and it was my mind. It was my brain, and it was understanding that my brain had been in training mode on the wrong side of the train tracks. I was thinking in a way that was actually causing my stress, because most people believe that stress happens to us, but the truth is is that stress happens by us. Until we can understand and manage that root issue, that root cause of what’s actually causing your stress, you’re only perpetuating your current circumstance.

Susan:              So that’s how I transitioned into wellness, because I had realized, I felt as if I had cracked the code, because I had studied so many modalities, so many methodologies and concepts and practices. I realized that there actually is a certain order in which you can apply to your life to manage your brain and then to manage your sematic emotional system. So that’s how I went into it. It was as if I cracked a code. Knowing this, there was something deep inside of me that said to myself I cannot not share this. So it started small. I started coaching a few people here and there and essentially then you know, started a practice around this.

Abhijeet:          Wow, that’s such an incredible story and it’s also inspiring Susan because you crossed the Rubicon. You actually addressed stress that had built up over the years. I think you mentioned and dropped a lot of nuggets there, but one of the things that I really liked and really resonated with me was stress doesn’t happen to us. Stress happens by us. Tell us a little bit about how do we detect stress that’s building up, because a lot of times this is not a topic that comes up that often. Maybe we may share with our significant other or someone, a close friend and, “Hey, it’s really stressful, et cetera.”

Abhijeet:          For the most part, given that we are all high performance people and want to do great work, stress is something that is usually not taught about as much. Are there certain markers, certain signals, symptoms for stress that we should look out for?

Susan:              Yes, absolutely. I mentioned a few. So if you’re starting to gain weight, if you have a, or even perhaps the opposite, a decrease in your appetite and you’re losing weight, and if you are noticing that you’re short with other people, if you’re short with yourself, if things seem as if it’s a big effort to do, that’s a huge sign. Sleep is another one. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or this is a big one for a lot of people that I coach, if you’re waking up at 5:30 in the morning because you’re thinking about work and all of a sudden you have that adrenaline pumping and you can’t go back to bed, that’s a huge sign that there’s some sort of chronic stress in your life that’s actually disrupting your circadian rhythm and your sleep patterns.

Susan:              The other thing that I want to mention too is are you looking for outside substances to help you manage your day to day stress? So what that could look like is the extra cup of coffee that you normally don’t drink at 2:00 PM right? It could mean-

Abhijeet:          That never happens.

Susan:              Right, never happens. It doesn’t even have to be a substance, it could be food. Are you overing in any way? Over eating, over drinking, over Netflixing? There’s so many ways that we distract ourselves from the thing that actually bothers us the most during the day. So I would always ask yourself, notice the habits that you’re starting to create for yourself because those habits eventually turn into much bigger problems.

Abhijeet:          That’s interesting. As you were sharing some of those things, I could relate to some of that. I think at least I can speak for myself, I’ve been guilty of reaching out for that extra coffee in the afternoon. All of us “deal” with stress in different ways. We may not know it but we may actually be, instead of reducing stress, we may be actually increasing stress for ourselves.

Abhijeet:          Quite frankly, and you know this Susan, our workloads and our work lives have increasingly become more demanding. Work-life balance has become work-life integration, so work has become part of our lives. As people go through these stress cycles, or go through these areas where they find more stress, are there … If we detect stress early it can be addressed better, or do you think that regardless of where we find stress or which part of the cycle we are in, we can still get help? What is your view on this? Are we doomed, or is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Susan:              I always say that it’s never too late. Unfortunately, the people that ends up seeking my help or seeking some other person’s help, it’s almost too late because now you have too much to lose. You’re at the point where you’re starting to have panic attacks, or you have anxiety now, and that has all built up in your system. The thing about stress that most people don’t understand is that stress is an emotion. It is an emotion and emotions, you can’t just get rid of them, right?

Susan:              We have to think of emotions in terms of physics, in terms of energy, and you can’t just get rid of energy. You actually have to transform energy in order for it to change into a different state. So for example, you can’t take a body of water and just make it disappear. If you want that body of water to change to a different state, it needs to evaporate, turn into condensation, it turns into a cloud. It turns into rain, hail, sleet, snow, that kind of thing.

Susan:              That’s the same thing with our emotions. We just assume that by going for a run, or by talking to a friend, we feel a temporary ease and we think that on some level that our stress is gone, but really it’s not. What you’ve done is you’ve created a temporary pleasure, a temporary dopamine hits, and your body and your brain registers that as, “Oh, I’m safe now.” The next time that something triggers you to feel that stress again, that stress is going to come back and it’s going to resurface.

Susan:              So until you learn how to manage and then and really transform that emotion so that it turns from, it changes to stress, to ease, to joy, and then ultimate peace, right? That’s the transformation it needs to go through, it’s going to keep coming back. To answer your question even further is it’s never too late, but the earlier, the more disciplined you are in understanding the importance of your health of your well-being, then obviously the shorter your track to becoming, you know, going back to high performance is much faster.

Susan:              Because the thing with stress, what I mentioned before is that when you turn to outside substances or things that turn into habits, what that ultimately looks like is the one glass of wine in the evening to just relieve some of that edge may work for a week or two. Eventually what happens in your brain is that you reach a certain level of dopamine, and your brain gets used to that. It registers that as the new normal.

Susan:              Over time, what happens is now it needs a higher level of dopamine for you to feel that same sense of peace. So in another month, you’re actually drinking a half a bottle of wine. Now you are addicted to the wine, like you need the wine to be your new normal. So what I would say to that is what we end up doing when we resist the stress and we deal with it in an unhealthy way, while it seems innocent, because we all do that right? When we do deal with it in that manner, suddenly our capacity and energy that we normally would have to just address a stress is now split into two energy states.

Susan:              Now we’re dealing with a drinking problem and the stress. So we’re multiplying our problems when we don’t address the root issue of stress to begin with. So what I would say to that is, it’s never too late obviously, but the earlier you have the awareness around stress, then go seek your help. Do something about the stress so that it doesn’t turn into something much larger.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that is so interesting that stress could start to manifest itself in so many different forms and it exacerbates the situation. It sounds like it also has a compounded effect. The more stress we have, the more we start to lean on things. Maybe it’s the next bar of chocolate, the next cup of coffee, what have you, and it starts to build on itself. The monster starts to become even bigger.

Susan:              Absolutely.

Abhijeet:          Now that we know that this is something that we need to address as early as possible, how can I or someone like me start to recognize that and then start to work towards that? Is this something that I need to put into my daily life in terms of new habits? Is it like meditation? Do diet and exercise play a role in this? How does this all come together, especially as you look at your practice Susan, and as you’re helping your clients?

Susan:              Yeah, absolutely. Well, the way that I help my clients is the way that I helped myself, which was the INTJ in me needed a system, a step by step system so that I knew at any point I understood what wasn’t working for me right now and I can just plug and play. So for me it was 50% brain management. So it’s learning to think smarter in any situation.

Susan:              I have a model called the personalization model, and it helps you break down and understand when you are in a problem-oriented thinking mindset versus a solution-oriented thinking mindset. So most people, the reason why they’re stressed is because they’re actually thinking and focused on the problem. The problem is always based on the past, right? Thinking about what could have gone right or what you should have could have done versus also the future. So catastrophizing about the future, freaking out about the future.

Susan:              Solution thinking really helps you to focus on the present moment. What can you do right now? What energy resources? What states can you be in to actually help you overcome your current situation? So, there’s that half of it. Then there’s the emotional management system, which is actually learning how to sit with something that’s uncomfortable and transforming that, whether that’s stress, anxiety, overwhelm, confusion, all of the negative emotions that we feel. Most of us actually don’t know how to sit with it, how to deal with it.

Susan:              I would say for the person who’s, they know that they have some sort of stress in their life and they’re trying to deal with it, I think that understanding what works for you. So that may be meditation, that may be yoga, that may be going for a walk, and really understanding and questioning your hidden assumptions around why you are stressed. Because why you’re stressed is never really about the job. It’s never about your boss, it’s never about your coworker, the partner, the kids. It’s always something much deeper and actually has something to do with you.

Susan:              So anybody that I work with, I actually help them to dig into what is actually the root of your stress so that we’re not putting it out on the job, so that you’re not quitting, or so that you’re not hating your boss and you’re actually forming and strengthening these really strong relationships with the people in your life. If we have time, I would love to share a quick, simple model with you.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, please.

Susan:              All right. So this is very, very simple and it’s something that anybody can apply at any point in their day. It’s very simple, I call it F versus S. F stands for fact, and S stands for story. So let’s say that you receive a high priority email, and you get 20 of these from the same person. I’m just exaggerating, but maybe that happens for people. So they get this high priority email, and you’ve just gotten out of a three hour meeting and you have 50 emails plus 20 high priority from the same person and you’re starting to freak out.

Susan:              You’re starting to wonder, “Oh gosh, again? This is happening again. This person always does this.” I want you to understand that you have to first identify what is the fact of what just happens. The fact of what just happened is you have 20 high priority emails. Notice how there’s no emotion around that. There’s no judgment around that. It’s just the fact. It just happened maybe 15 minutes ago.

Susan:              Now, the story that you can tell yourself is where all the magic happens or not. So when you’re not in the magic, the story that you might be telling yourself are things like, “Why does this always happen to me? When is this ever going to end? Why does this person always have to send it high priority?” Notice how when you’re saying that to yourself, right? That’s problem-oriented thinking. You’re thinking about all the reasons of why it could be better, why it happens, why is this person in my life? It really gets you into that stressful state, that anxious state.

Susan:              You’re not actually solving anything. You’re actually just meddling in the problem. For most people they don’t understand that they can actually choose to tell themselves a different story.

Abhijeet:          Interesting.

Susan:              It could be anything from, “I’m the type of person that can handle this. This is no big deal. This is a reflection on them, it has nothing to do with me. I’m going to take a break and I’m going to come back to this.” There’s so many other ways that we can think about it. Most people when they are unconscious of what they’re thinking remain on the track of problem-oriented thinking. When we stay there we’re not actually solving anything, we’re just perpetuating our current circumstance of stress.

Susan:              So that’s just a quick, simple model that you can apply to any situation to help you understand and start training your brain to create that self-awareness of, “What should I actually be focusing on here? Where am I focusing on? Where is my attention?”

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that is such a powerful concept Susan, to go from a problem-oriented thinking to a solution-oriented thinking. I really liked that F versus S, the fact versus story. It really helps us to conceptualize it in our heads and really think about next time we see similar situations, this could be a really nice model to apply.

Abhijeet:          One more thing that came to my mind as we were talking about this is the acceptance and the realization of stress. A lot of times when we are in a workplace setting or a social setting and we just basically bump at each other and say, “Hey, how are things? How is it going?” People are generally, they would say, “Busy or a lot going on, et cetera,” but I’ve not heard a lot about people saying, “Oh, I’m stressed.”

Abhijeet:          Do you see as you work with a lot of executives, high performers, people who work in the corporate workplace, do you see there is beginning to be more acceptance around this? Is this a topic that has started to come up more often? What has been your observations on this?

Susan:              I would say unfortunately it’s not as common to divulge this information as it should be, because it’s a form of vulnerability. Still to this day for some people in certain work environments, they don’t want to lose their authority, or their leadership, or their perception of leadership because it’s still seen as somewhat of a weakness, even though it’s not. Getting help is actually more strength than it is a weakness. So a lot of the people that I see, while I have no idea if they share this to other people in terms of I’m stressed and I’m doing something about it, one of the phrases or words that they [inaudible] is, “I try and keep it all together.”

Susan:              What the often implies to me is that they don’t want to show that they’re frazzled or stressed at work. So they’re seeking help so that they can manage that, so that they can continue to be the high performer that they are. The thing with that is that it presupposes that us as high performers, or as a human being naturally should not go through hard things, that we should not be stressed, but that actually goes against the natural order of the world of life, meaning we go through seasons and cycles.

Susan:              So I’d say that while it’s not that common for people to just outright admit that they are stressed and that they’re seeking help, that people are seeking the help because they know on some deep level that in two to three years this is going to impact their health, in some way or their job. I’ve seen people come to me on the verge of quitting, because they were so stressed out and they saved their job by managing that stress. They understood, “Wow, I actually have it really well, like really good.” So, yeah.

Abhijeet:          I can totally see where people would see a lot of value in getting help to overcome their stress and quite frankly overcome some of the mental barriers they might also have in terms of how these things sort of manifest themselves. Are there also some types of stress that may not be as harmful? Let me just elaborate on that a little bit, which is like we all have some stress, right, and some stress is almost necessary to get work done. There is some healthy tension that’s required in organizations to move the business forward, or move the community forward, or our customers forward, et cetera.

Abhijeet:          That’s some healthy stress, but then over a period of time that could devolve into a lot of stress that starts to create challenges for different people within the workplace, within working in professional relationships, et cetera. What has been some of your findings around this? Yes, there is some stress that’s, I don’t know if good stress is a good word, but is there like a healthy tension that’s required versus there’s a ton of stress which builds up and has creates all these problems?

Susan:              Yeah, so I would say absolutely stress is necessary in our life. We need stress. That kind of stress when you think about in the paleolithic age, we needed stress to survive. We needed stress to evolve and grow. When you think about everything that is a luxury in our life right now, it started because there was a necessary need and desire to continue to evolve past where we are today, and we’re continuing to do that. So I would say stress is absolutely important and necessary in our life.

Susan:              Where it becomes unnecessary is all of our negative thinking and baggage around what’s happening in our life. So again, stress happens by us unnecessarily when we start thinking negatively about our current situation. So when we are stuck in that problem-oriented thinking, that’s where all of the unnecessary stress starts to build upon itself. Then when we are in that loop, when we’re in that negative thought pattern that we can’t seem to break out of because we’re in some kind of trends, when we’re in that states, we perpetuate our current circumstance.

Susan:              So if you have a low chronic level of stress on a daily basis, and it’s getting worse because you just can’t seem to get yourself out of that negative thought pattern, then you’re perpetuating that circumstance and you’re just continuously feeling stressed over a period of weeks and months until it turns into something much larger.

Abhijeet:          A lot of sense. I think [inaudible] would do some introspection every once in a while and figure out, “Hey, yes, the stress I’m feeling right now isn’t heavily stress. Yes, I can manage it.” Versus, “I’m really seeing some of the signs that you had mentioned earlier, lack of sleep, eating disorders, maybe even having very difficult conversations at the workplace, or at home, and all of these things would build up over a period of time.”

Susan:              Right.

Abhijeet:          I think that’s really interesting.

Susan:              Right, yeah and I’m just going to add there too, is you can quickly understand if this is good stress or bad stress by how you feel. Your emotions are a guidance system. So at any point during the day or week, if you want to understand where am I at right now? Am I happy about my life? Obviously if you are happy about your life, you have some good stress there, you have some good stress going, you have a good mindset around your stress.

Susan:              However, if you’re feeling down, if you’re feeling, moody, if you’re feeling anxious, or stressed about your stress, that’s not good stress. You’re causing more unnecessary stress, because there is a hidden thought or assumption somewhere in your subconscious or conscious mind that you’re continually telling yourself that is actually causing the stress to grow.

Abhijeet:          Yup, absolutely. Susan, as you work with clients, et cetera, I would love to shift gears a little bit and talk about some of your favorite things and some of the things that you really enjoy, because as you work with clients, I’m sure there are things that you use on a daily basis or there are things that are your favorites. So let me ask you a couple of things.

Susan:              Sure.

Abhijeet:          One is what is your favorite app and why?

Susan:              Okay, so this is a recent favorite app and it’s not a productivity app, you guys. My favorite app is the Peloton app.

Abhijeet:          Nice.

Susan:              Yes. I’ve just recently started drinking the Kool Aid. So that’s my way of cultivating some quality me time, and I make sure that I get in one session a day, no matter how small it is. It could be 10 minutes up to 30, but I always make sure that I do something.

Abhijeet:          That’s fantastic. Career Nation, I hope you’re listening. The top experts on wellness and managing stress use exercise and me time. She’s currently using Peloton, which is awesome and I’m a fan as well.

Susan:              Amazing.

Abhijeet:          It is amazing. Let’s shift to another favorite, your favorite book. Do you have a favorite book? It could be fiction, it could be nonfiction.

Susan:              I do. This is a book that changed my life, and this is the most recommended book that I give to everybody that either I suggest or I physically give to people. It’s called, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.

Abhijeet:          Oh, interesting. I have not read that one. I’ll add it to my list. Tell us more. What’s it about?

Susan:              This is an amazing book, because it follows someone’s journey towards mindfulness. He says this in a way, and he shares personal stories in terms of understanding how he got to become the observer of his experience, of his thoughts, while most people are stuck in some version of a story about their life.

Susan:              So when you think about a movie, let’s say you’re sitting at a movie theater and you see a movie on the screen, most people start to become the main character of that movie, and they’re stuck in the movie. It could be an action scene. Maybe you’re at work and you’re stressed, and you’re fighting clients or whatever. That’s an action movie. It could be a drama, it could be a rom-com, but most people are really stuck in the story of their lives.

Susan:              So this book, I love it because it helps you to understand this concept of becoming the observer of your experience in a way that I think is just beautifully written.

Abhijeet:          Oh, that’s pretty cool because I can see a direct application there in the workplace as well. Maybe we can start to look at our sales more objectively and emotionally.

Susan:              Yes.

Abhijeet:          So that we get a full 360 degree view of ourselves rather than our own tunnel vision.

Susan:              Yes, absolutely. What it boils down to is becoming curious about why you’re thinking some some way, or why you’re even feeling something. It’s inquiring within instead of judging and reacting to it.

Abhijeet:          Oh, fascinating. I’ll check that out for sure. I’ll drop that in the show notes as well. Okay, one more favorite. Do you have a favorite quote that you live by? Or if you were to put a quote on the billboard off 101 or my favorite 680, what would it be?

Susan:              Yes, I do. It’s by Einstein. I love Einstein, and I may butcher the exact quote, but it goes something like, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.”

Abhijeet:          Wow, it’s so true.

Susan:              It directly applies to everything in our life and especially stress. So if you’ve been doing something over and over again and it’s not working, it’s not to say that the method, or the vehicle in which you’re trying to relieve your stress is bad or it doesn’t work, but perhaps you need a different understanding of how to apply it.

Susan:              Maybe you need a different teacher to help you see how it should apply to your life. Maybe it’s not the right vehicle for you, but understand by looking at the results in your life, what is not working for you and what is working for you, and focus on the things that do work for you, and focus on finding the solutions to the things that don’t work for you so that you do get the results in your life. So that’s my favorite quote.

Abhijeet:          That is awesome. You are so right, that could be applied to so many places and scenarios in our lives. Susan, this has been great. Any message that you would like to leave with the listener today?

Susan:              I would just say to understand that your current situation, no matter how bleak or how stressful it is, is not permanent. There is absolutely a way towards peace when you find the right solution. So I would just say do not give up. Always understand that there is a way out, and that you are absolutely fine where you are right now, and not to rush the process.

Abhijeet:          Oh, on that great top, Susan, thank you so much. How can people get in touch with you? How can they, if they have a question they want to have a strategy session with you, how can they get in touch?

Susan:              Yeah, absolutely. The best way to get in touch with me is through my website, it’s www.stressproofpodcast.com. If anybody is curious about really understanding problem-oriented thinking or solution-oriented thinking or want to see a visual of how personalization actually works, which we talked about a little bit in terms of stories, and identifying with the right story versus the not so good story. You can go to stressproofpodcast.com/p.

Abhijeet:          Wonderful. Susan, thank you so much. This has been a great conversation on a topic that usually doesn’t get as much attention as it should. Thank you again for all that you’re doing and we look forward to connecting with you again soon.

Susan:              Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Joe Pinto
Blog, Career strategy

Episode 3: Career Nation Show with Joe Pinto, Chief Customer Officer @ Pure Storage

The legendary Joe Pinto, Chief Customer Officer @ Pure Storage joins in this episode of Career Nation Show. 

John Chambers once said (I’m paraphrasing): I have not seen any leader reinvent himself more times than Joe Pinto.

Joe shares some amazing nuggets; 
• How customer experience is all about the lifecycle and how services plays a role in helping customers across the lifecycle
• Creating recurring value for customers to get recurring revenue
• How to build an amazing culture in a global organization
• How to make great hiring decisions
• Moments that matter in your career: how identify them and how to capitalize on them
• Favorites game: Joe talks about his favorite app (its an uncommon one), his favorite book, his favorite restaurant (hint: it is in Sunnyvale).
• His sources of inspiration and energy
• Lastly, he unpacks his favorite career insights for Career Nation!

#careeradvice#customerexperience#Cisco#Purestorage#technicalservicesCiscoPure Storage#subscriptioneconomy#subscription


Abhijeet:          Hey, am I becoming a bureaucrat in a large, let’s say a corporate company and is it time for me to basically dial that back a little bit and maybe get into some career transition?

Joe:                  Forgive the interruption, it’s a great point. People got to ask themselves, have they gone to a place where they’re just reporting the news, or are they making the news? Once they ask themselves that question, they know whether they got to move on and reinvent themselves or whether they’re good.

Voiceover:        Welcome to the Career Nation Show, where you learn the strategies and tools to own and drive your career. Find out more at careertiger.com.

Abhijeet:          Today we have a very special guest. He is the father of technical services in our industry. Please welcome, the one and only Joe Pinto, Joe welcome to the show.

Joe:                  It’s great to be here, Abhijeet. Thank you, it’s an honor, I’m looking forward to the next 30 minutes to share some of the experience, some of the insights and some of the many learnings I’ve had out here over the years.

Abhijeet:          Wonderful, Joe, thank you so much for making time for us. Why don’t we just get right into it? Tell us about your career journey. We want to go back to the day of the young, well you’re still young Joe, but younger Joe Pinto and tell us from the early days to now, now you’re the SVP of customer experience at Pure Storage. Walk us through the journey. How was it when you were just starting out to now?

Joe:                  Sure, I started out in high tech when I was 19 years old when my brother sent me to Want Ads, the Want Ads, there’s an old term, of San Jose, California. The San Jose Mercury Want Ads were equal in size to The New York Times. Now you got to remember, The New York Times was serving eight million New Yorkers and San Jose Want Ads were serving 650,000 people in the greater San Jose area. It was not rocket science to figure out that all the jobs were in San Jose, California. I was in the middle of college, I was studying in engineering, I decided I would come to San Jose. I got hired on as a technician because back then, they were really looking for technicians in addition to engineers. I started going to school at night. Interesting fact, at one point, I was earning more in tuition reimbursement than what I was getting paid.

Joe:                  I started off working startups because I got some career advice early on that since I was a young man with no obligation, no responsibility, that even though I could lose my job working in a startup, so what’s the big thing? You got no responsibility, you got no obligation, sounds very fortunate after several startups and small companies that in the beginning of 1991, I landed my job at Cisco as a support engineer at Cisco when Cisco was a very small company.

Abhijeet:          You’re in this area of customer experience and what’s happened over a course of time, and you know this better than anyone else, is companies are moving to a subscription model and they’re trying to figure out a way of providing a better experience for customers. They’re going through maybe adding some customer success capabilities. Tell us a bit about your role at Pure Storage, what do you do and how does creating a customer experience play a part in the bigger work of the company?

Joe:                  Well, first I’ll talk about the industry. I grew up in the industry when technical support was viewed as, “Oh we’ve got to do that”, but over a time, because of the customer life cycle, that’s one of the most valuable things a company can do now. Because it used to be, customers made purchase decisions based upon, best in class technology and on ease of doing business. Both those elements have taken somewhat of a backseat to whose got the best lifecycle for the customer that can give them the best outcome, the best solution.

Joe:                  To me, the customer experience is really much more than what it used to be, which was a customer bought assets, it capitalized the assets, and it took on all the risks. The world has changed where the vendor has to take on much more of the risk around driving to an outcome, the customer consumes on a monthly basis payment subscription, based upon ongoing value that’s created. It puts a lot more pressure on the supplier to create value from the point of sale, that the customer will realize and keep in mind that side subscriptions, although they sound really good, are easy to stop. The old days at Cisco when customers used to talk about, “I might throw this router or switch out the window.” Throwing the physical piece out the window would be difficult to do, it might be harmful to the environment but in a SAS world, there’s a lot of pressure on the manufacturer, on the vendor to create ongoing value.

Joe:                  Too often I hear people talking about reoccurring revenue. Let’s talk about what the customer wants to hear. What they want to hear about is reoccurring value and so that’s one of the things that we’re trying to do here at Pure is to create a customer experience that is second to none. Which I must admit, I was very fortunate that when I got here, the net promoter system score, known as NPS scores are literally second to none from an industry perspective that are incredibly high. I’ll stop there because you can tell I get a little excited about this.

Abhijeet:          That’s awesome. You threw out a lot of nuggets Joe, one of the piece I particularly like was creation of reoccurring value for customers. A lot of times we get into this trap of talking about reoccurring revenue, especially in a subscription business model, and we pay a little bit less attention to the reoccurring value that has to be created for the customer. Is this part of this whole customer success war that’s going on in the industry because I see a lot of that coming into place where in addition to traditional services that are provided to the customer, there’s also adoption and making sure the customer gets the outcomes and is that part of the reoccurring value that you’re referring to here Joe?

Joe:                  Yeah, I think part of it, we started doing this probably about eight years ago at Cisco, we started changing the nature of the capabilities in our offer. For many years, technical service was really made up of capabilities around support for embedded software, hardware spares, access to knowledge on the website and access to [inaudible 00:06:45] class engineering should break, fix, support. Over time that model has changed around education, onboarding, driving adoption, the use of some analytics, this customer wants to know if they’re using A and B, should they be using option C? The nature of this supporting service has changed to be much more of a proactive motion than what I would call a reactive motion of years past.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that totally makes sense Joe. Cearly, customers and serving customers is a passionate area of yours and over the last so many years, I’m sure you have a lot of customer stories. I’m sure there was not a single story that was crazy, right?

Joe:                  Well I do have [crosstalk 00:07:33] …

Abhijeet:          Share with us some really good customer stories.

Joe:                  Yes. There’s a lot in my head but I will describe one because it’s a wonderful story about people. We had two engineers, and remember folks, this is before there were cellphones. Today, something happens, you can’t find someone, you ring them up. Back then in the stone age, there was no cellphones, we had two engineers working on a bank in a country in Asia and we get up one morning to find out that there’s a coup going down in the country, an uprising. The airport is still open, the engineers are not at the hotel, we call the bank, and they’re at the bank and the bank says, “Wow this is pretty amazing,” they fixed the problems but they’re kind of stuck here because they can’t go back to their hotel and they can’t get to the airport.

Joe:                  Well I had a wonderful critical account guy by the name of Mike who did amazing things for me and I said “Mike, we have two engineers stuck at the bank, they got to get to the airport.” Mike asked me, “Do you care how I do it or what it costs?” I said “No. Get them to the airport, get them home, that’s all that matters.”

Joe:                  Now, you got to remember, this story is probably 20 years old. He gets them to the airport, they get home safely. A couple days later he goes, I hope you don’t mind I’m submitting my expense report for $20,000. Okay, what is $20,000? He goes, “That was the cost of getting the engineers from the bank to the airport.” I said, “Okay, tell me a little bit more so I can defend this expense report.” He goes, “I called an ambulance from a hospital and ordered up an ambulance to take them from the bank to the airport, the bill was $20,000.” I said, “Okay.”

Joe:                  There’s a great story about just doing the right thing for our people. Granted, $20,000 was a very expensive taxi ride, or an Uber ride, right? But you got to do what you got to do to get the people out of harms way and mobs do clear for an ambulance. We got them to the airport, they got into the country safely. It all ended well but that’s one of my better stories. What I love about that story, it revolves around the commitment of people that I work with but also around the commitment of management staff to make sure people were safe. A great story and $20,000 later, they were home safe.

Abhijeet:          That is indeed a great story Joe. I’ve personally seen you build and run global organizations and one of the tenants of your leadership has been about culture and it’s about creating culture or creating an ethos that’s customer first and at the same time, caring for the employees that are the front line of doing the work for customers. How did you go about building this type of a culture where people are really waking up in the morning, they’re really charged up, they want to do the right thing for the customer and for the company. How did you build that kind of a culture within global teams over the years?

Joe:                  Well first of all I was very fortunate, I learned from people that I worked with, especially in my early days of Cisco, John [Mortgage 00:10:52] and John [Chambers 00:10:52] and it was always about employees first because the employees are the ones who were really taking care of the customers. Also it was about managers that were going to spread the culture. Remember, culture is a set of unwritten rules that govern the norms of how we treat each other and so it’s easy to have good culture when things are good but what do you do when things are not good? When people are under pressure, when customers have issues, when employees have legitimate issues about their family. Then are you going to represent the culture by doing what’s right?

Joe:                  Because remember, to do what’s right is easy when things are good, it’s not so easy, not so convenient when things are tough. The best example about culture was not to talk about good culture but was to talk about all the different living examples of what people did for each other. It’s one of the reasons I’m here at Pure. One thing I really was impressed with about Pure is that the Pure culture really is the culture that I really admired and respected around being centered around people, the customers, just doing the right thing in general. Hopefully that gives you a bit of insight about the way I roll about the culture which again, easy to talk about but again, one of those unwritten sets of rules that really govern operate with each other.

Abhijeet:          Indeed, and those are really good nuggets Joe and one of the ways of improving, scaling that culture could be hiring. Well I’ve known you to hire from competitors and hire from the industry so tell us more about hiring because, I’m sure there’s a lot of managers and leaders who are watching this show or listening to this show and they would love to know, how can they make better hiring decisions?

Joe:                  Sure.

Abhijeet:          Because that’s one of the things that really keeps a company going especially in the areas of growth we can scale up our organizations better, provide a better customer experience and that hiring becomes such a critical function.

Joe:                  No, it’s a great question. When I go to hire people, a couple of thoughts, first I was notorious about putting myself upfront in the process because if people feel like they’re talking to the decision maker, they’re more likely to be very engaged early on, and the acquaintance can happen much quicker. I suppose you create this big pyramid that by the time people get to you, they would have talked to 27, and a half people. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still important that the interviewer would probably have some number between six and eight people to make sure they’re a good fit in terms of culturally, team wise and other, but first it’s about putting yourself out there.

Joe:                  Second, I really worked hard to get to know people as people. Once you get to know people about how they think, how they operate, you’re much better in tune about how would they [inaudible 00:13:50]. It’s probably the number one reason why people make it in the job or why they don’t make it in the job. The last thing is I would also ask people about themselves, about what they’re looking for, how they may find an environment they want to be in, what are some things that make them crazy. Have the person talk about what they’re looking for, but also equally, what they’re not looking for.

Abhijeet:          Yep, for sure, and I think you touched upon this a little bit which is also to bring their own personality to work because at the end of the day we’re all human beings working together and making sure that people are able to bring their whole self and be natural is also important. I think you wanted to make one more point there Joe, go ahead.

Joe:                  No, I think it’s a great call. Look, we got to all be at ease with each other. Life is difficult enough, so I look for people and I look for an environment where we take the work seriously, we have passion but we don’t go crazy. We control our emotions to be respectful but yet are still passionate about success with that. I think sometimes people get a little confused about being driven and passion, everybody’s in the fact that we’re all humans, we’re dealing with family issues, health issues, illness issues, and other things that make us all human.

Abhijeet:          Yep, for sure. Well Joe, here’s what we’re going to do from taking ourselves seriously, we’re going to go to the other end of the spectrum and we’re going to play a game that we play on the show, it’s called Favorites. We’re going to ask you a couple of questions about your favorite things and you got to tell us what is your favorite thing and why is that thing your favorite. Okay?

Joe:                  Okay.

Abhijeet:          The first question is, what’s your favorite app?

Joe:                  My favorite app? Okay. This is going to be a bit of a strange one, but my favorite app is going to be the Wine Spectator app of how I can keep track of different wines. Being of Italian background, surely I grew up exposed to wine and that is surely part of my heritage, so I’m sure that’s not the typical answer you get, it’s probably some technology app. Wine Spectator app, it’s pretty good, pretty easy to read and lets me know the taste and characteristics of a wine and sometimes I cheat, and I look in advance before I drink a wine and sometimes I drink the wine first and see if I can match up the right taste to the app, but that’s my answer.

Abhijeet:          Oh that’s awesome. I will be sure to look up Wine Spectator app before I buy the next Christmas gift for you Joe.

Joe:                  Be careful, they have a premium market if you want to pay a little extra, a couple bucks a month then you get more information so just like high tech they have a SAS model too.

Abhijeet:          Oh of course. Let’s see, a couple more favorites. Do you have a favorite book, or a favorite quote that you go by?

Joe:                  I’ve got a favorite book. It was a book that I read early in my career at Cisco called Barbarians to Bureaucrats, written by Miller. It’s a book that talks about different stages of management, and that the first stage of a start up, everybody’s a barbarian, everyone’s just trying to get things done. If you’re going to burn down the building, you burn down the building. Then over time you go, we should work in synergy, if we work in synergy, maybe we don’t have to torch so many buildings and we could work as a unified force. The over time you go, maybe we should have a vision, so we’re a little more efficient as we act as barbarians.

Joe:                  The fourth stage is you become a good administrator, that sounds bad, but it’s really not, you’re getting people reviewed, you’re getting people their stock, their pay, their benefits and that’s okay. The fifth stage is the most dangerous stage, that’s where you’ve gone from a barbarian, all the way to a bureaucrat, which, once you’ve gone there, then you have one foot from the grave. Barbarians to Bureaucrats written by Miller, a great easy read.

Abhijeet:          Oh, that’s brilliant, and I like that part a lot where you mentioned the last stages of bureaucrat and then you’re one foot away from the grave. It’s also a very important stage where someone can think about that as, “Hey, am I becoming a bureaucrat in a large, let’s say a corporate company and is it time for me to basically dial that back a little bit and maybe get into some career transition?”

Joe:                  Forgive the interruption, it’s a great point. People get to ask themselves, have they gone to a place where they’re just reporting the news, or are they making the news? Once they ask themselves that question, they know whether they got to move on and reinvent themselves or whether they’re good.

Abhijeet:          Reporting the news verses making the news, definitely I want to be in the camp of making the news.

Joe:                  [inaudible 00:18:59].

Abhijeet:          Indeed, well one more Favorites question, and it’s going to be interesting, I know you love Italian food so this is going to be an interesting question. Your favorite restaurant?

Joe:                  My favorite restaurant for serving Italian food, because that’s where my family is from. Is Pezzella’s in Sunnyvale on El Camino. They’ve been open since 1957, the test of time. They’re shuts Sundays and Mondays so be careful, it’s an old school family restaurant and if you do go there I highly suggest either the eggplant parmigiana for people that are vegetarians, or the chicken parmigiana, which are two of the best dishes they offer. Very reasonable prices because they’ve been around for a long time.

Abhijeet:          Well thank you for the shout out, I’m sure Pezzella’s in Sunnyvale is going to be taken over by mobs of people going in pretty soon.

Joe:                  They will not be disappointed.

Abhijeet:          I’m sure. I’ll try some of the chicken parmigiana there myself next time.

Joe:                  One more quick tip, try the cannoli because they make the filling, and they even make the cannoli shells, which is a crazy amount of work to make a cannoli shell for the people out there who know how to cook.

Abhijeet:          Nice, that’s a really good tip. Any tips on espresso beans, coffee machines, your favorite coffee, Joe?

Joe:                  As long as it’s an espresso or a cappuccino, I am certainly good to go. I must admit, I think [inaudible 00:20:28] is one of my favorites but trust me, I drink espresso of many brands as well.

Abhijeet:          That’s awesome, why don’t we move into a little bit of sort of career discussion Joe, and given your phenomenal experience, would love to know, what have been some of the strategies that you’ve used in your career journey? Things that have helped you, are there some approaches, the way you’ve thought about things that have really helped you. Share with us some of those things.

Joe:                  Sure, a couple of thoughts in no particular order. First of all, you don’t realize the hiring decisions you make really define who you are. That you’re judged by the quality of your team, what the people say that they’re not is just plain reality. I think the other thing is to realize there’re moments that matter, I knew in my early days at Cisco there were several major customer situations where I knew that those were matter that would define Cisco, that would define my career. To know it in the moment, know all matters are equal. You got to know when it’s time to up your game.

Joe:                  I know people say “Well, I always up my game.” No you can’t up your game all the time because quite frankly, it is a marathon and not a sprint. But again it’s about quality of your team, knowing when you’ve got to up your game about moments that matter. The only thing I’ll say is that people are never neutral, I’ve been fortunate enough to get three graduation speeches at three schools and even though each speech was different, there was one common element to all three. The people you surround yourself with are never neutral, people either pick you up and believe you can do more or they knock you down. You got to keep in mind that picking people is a mutual decision, either it was a good one or a bad one, there’s no in between there. Lastly, I look for people that have agility when it comes to learning, they’re naturally inquisitive, they want to learn, they may not have the answer but that’s okay, they’re going to go seek out the information to get the answer.

Abhijeet:          When I look at some of the things you’ve just mentioned which is how it’s a marathon and sometimes it’s a sprint and sometimes you got to do the sprint and the recovery after the sprint and you got to have those times in between where you are recovering because even though we’re all professionals, but we’re also sort of athletes, business athletes and we need that recovery time built in so that we can go to our next adventure in a way that really, we’re all energized and excited about our next adventure. That becomes part of that exercise as well.

Joe:                  It’s a good point because we’ve really got to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves, our families because otherwise we can’t operate at peak performance from a concentration perspective and from an endurance perspective. Being able to reinvent ourselves takes time, we’ve got to give ourselves time to think, time for physical exercise whether it’s walking or whatever it may be, and also time for our families so we have a strong foundational backbone at home which permits us to exceed in the workplace.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, and so let me ask you a slightly different question on that, Joe, you are just a bundle of energy. I mean, whenever you are around there’s so much energy. Like if you are in the hallway, people would know Joe Pinto is in the hallway because there’s so much energy around you. It’s not just that but I think there’s energy in the work, you’re keeping your network alive, your network is always there for you and it’s active, it’s not a passive network that you have. Tell us, how do you go about doing that? Where do you find that energy, that enthusiasm for work and for family as well as for your network? How do you do that?

Joe:                  Well, I think it starts with a couple of things, I had some amazing parents that were simple people that believed that everything was a gift and they treated everybody, regardless of who you were, with respect and kindness. I saw that first hand. Second I’ve got an amazing wife, next month 36 years married, right?

Abhijeet:          Congratulations.

Joe:                  Thank you. Who’s been incredibly supportive. In my heart of hearts, I realize each day is a gift. Why do I say that? High tech, we’re fortunate to work in an industry that has the type of compensation and benefits that it has. A lot of people consider themselves to be smart, I would argue you’re luckier than you are smart because you can be smart, but if you’re born in a village with no hot water or electricity, that’s going to be tough to get out of there. The reason I say each day is a gift is because, like I said, my amazing parents, the support of my wife but also if I just think, personally what my parents had to endure, what many of our grandparents or parents had to put up with. Just as an example, my father was a prisoner of war in World War II. Any time I think I’m going to have a bad day, I just think about his life and the fact that he had survived 20 months in a POW camp, and I’m thinking, this is not bad day. That’s a bad day.

Joe:                  We sometimes live in our own bubble and we forget that sometimes for many others, the job they’re doing is much more dangerous, would be definitely a bad day. Sometimes we have difficult problems we need to solve but sometimes we confuse that with a bad day. That’s nothing but an opportunity to learn and to beat a challenge.

Abhijeet:          That is deep Joe and that is inspiring, uplifting …

Joe:                  Thank you.

Abhijeet:          Let me ask you this as we conclude our session. What messages would you like to give to people who are in various stages of their career? They may be early in career, in the middle of the career or towards late career and they’re really trying to figure out, “What do I do next? How do I get better? How do I deliver better business outcomes?” Whether that’s customer experience or build a better product or do more sales. Any messages for career nation?

Joe:                  Yeah, I think for Career Nation, it’s about the following elements. You have to keep learning. In the old days we used to learn mostly through education, now it’s about experience and exposure in addition to education. You’ve got to keep learning because in the old days you can use the same skill for 40 years, now you better learn a new skill every year over 40 years. Second, make sure you’ve got a job where you’re dealing directly with customers or partners who are actually are in the middle of using the technology. There’s no substitute for partner and customer experience and knowledge. There’s absolutely no substitute for that. Doesn’t mean you have to do it for your whole career but make sure it’s part of your career you get a piece of that, right? I think also make sure you assign yourself with people that are doers, people that are going to uplift you, people that you can confidently talk to who will give you ideas about how to grow or how to develop.

Joe:                  We thought that, you know if you’re stuck. Sometimes it’s okay to be stuck because maybe you got to focus more on your family, maybe you’ve got to love one who is ill, maybe you got to take a pause in your career to take care of yourself, that’s okay. Just be aware of yourself in the moment about where you’re at, where you need to go, and it’s okay to take a pause to work on something personally. But always, in the longer term make sure you’re moving forward, make sure you’re learning new skills and most importantly, realize that the world of careers is very small. Be mindful, be respectful to each other assume good intent, most people really want to do a good job.

Joe:                  As we get older and the world gets bigger, it’s easier to talk about those people or that person wasn’t good, but most people want to do the right thing. Don’t underestimate the impact of reaching out directly. Email and texting is a one way communication, don’t underestimate the power of the phone, talking in person. That’s when you can have a true two-way conversation. I find that too often now, people just rely on a one way communication, maybe I’m an old fashioned guy, but I think people got to think about more of the two-way communication where you’re getting that direct feedback.

Abhijeet:          There were so many nuggets there and I’m going to unpad those and put them in the show notes when we publish this.

Joe:                  Thank you.

Abhijeet:          Thank you so much, the legendary, one and only Joe Pinto, thank you Joe.

Joe:                  Thank you, very kind, take care everybody, hope you got a few things out of this.

Karen Mangia
Blog, Career Nation Show, Career strategy

Episode 2: Career Nation Show with Karen Mangia, VP Customer Insights @Salesforce

Karen Mangia, VP Customer Insights @ SalesForce and author of “Success with Less” joins us in this episode of Career Nation Show to share some amazing career insights.

Here are some of my favorite parts of the show

1. Karen’s career journey: “I did not choose a high tech career, a high tech career chose me”

2. Customer insights @ scale: how she leverages sales leadership experience to develop customer insights and trends that drive key actions across the company

3. Fueling growth: leveraging customer insights to “test” new concepts in a high growth SaaS company

4. Overcoming personal odds: how she overcame tough personal challenges and wrote a book about success

5. How she developed an authentic leadership style  

(Watch rest of the episode: https://youtu.be/JlhyYwqCsKc)

6. Favorites game: her favorite app, favorite book, favorite quote and favorite restaurant. 

7. Prep techniques for key meetings and workshops

8. Health & diet routine

9. Insights: how to change mindset if you are stuck

Check out Karen’s book: https://amzn.to/2IdemKC

#career #careeradvice #womenintech #salesforce

Transcript of the interview

Karen:              It doesn’t matter who you parents were or where you went to school or who your boss is right now. Success is available to everyone. It’s not reserved for an elite set of people who went to the right school or found the right path or got the right promotion or lived in the right neighborhood. Success is a goal that you can define, and it’s all about finding what matters most to you and spending your time on that.

Voiceover:        Welcome to the Career Nation Show, where you learn the strategies and tools to own and drive your career. Find out more at careertiger.com

Abhijeet:          Today, we have customer insights leader from one of the largest SaaS companies on the planet, i.e., Salesforce. She is a keynote speaker and an author. Please welcome Karen Mangia.

Karen:              Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.

Abhijeet:          Tell us a little bit about your journey thus far from the early days to now being a VP of customer insights at Salesforce.

Karen:              I often say that I did not choose a high tech career. A high tech career chose me, and the reason that I say that is I studied some different things in my undergrad, actually, international business and broadcast telecommunications, and, ultimately, what put me on the path toward a career in high tech was calling off an engagement and deciding that I needed to take a different path and, of course, while unwinding a lot of life choices, I was very fortunate to get a call from someone in my network who said to me, “I have the most amazing opportunity for you. You can get your master’s in information and communications sciences in one year. Think of it this way. If you don’t love it, you’ll be young and have a master’s degree. If you do love it, you’ll be on the path,” and so it was an interesting set of twists and turns to get there, but what I found once I arrived was I loved the environment of the pace and the innovation and the problem-solving, and so, from there, finishing my master’s, I had the opportunity to start my career at AT&T.

Karen:              My theory was it was a household brand, so, in the future, I would never have to explain what the company was or what we did, and also that I could probably take a variety of different roles there without having to change companies, which proved to be true. From there, I had an opportunity to move on to Cisco because, during my time at AT&T, I worked on some customers alongside the Cisco team, so I had a chance to get to know people in the context of winning together, which is always a great start.

Abhijeet:          Yep.

Karen:              During my 11 years at Cisco, I did sales leadership, learned about working with channel partners and building strategic alliances and then, ultimately, worked on customer experience and Voice of the Customer there, and then, at my present time, I’m at Salesforce, and I think back all of those building blocks of learning about customers, learning about different business models and then learning about how to listen to customer and turn that feedback into action created an opportunity to really now see the tech industry from a different point of view working at a SaaS company that’s growing very, very rapidly.

Abhijeet:          This might be a good time to just double click a little bit on that customer piece, and, quite frankly, in your journey, AT&T, Cisco and, now, Salesforce, you’ve been always working with customers, and customer insights sounds like it’s a next level up, which is basically understanding what your customers do, but then also helping educate the rest of the company about what customers are looking for, et cetera. Tell us a little bit about this function and how your role works and how do you create value for customers as well as maybe internally in your organization.

Karen:              One of the aspects of being in sales and sales leadership that I always enjoyed was understanding the customers’ stories, the problems they’re trying to solve, what they’re looking for in a partner, and then really diving into what role we could play as a company in making that happen, and so, when I matched that up with that telecommunications background that I was sharing earlier, what I learned was I enjoy hearing people’s stories, looking for trends and then being able to amplify the story within a company in such a compelling way that people are moved to take action, because I feel that it’s always a different experience when you get a bunch of survey responses, and those are incredibly important because they help you learn about trends and how you’re doing, but, oftentimes, what motivates people to take action to either fix problems or capture opportunities is the story, getting down to the heart of who are you helping, how are you helping them and what does success look like together.

Karen:              I had a lot to learn. If I could go back in time to university, I would pay a lot more attention in my statistics class and my research methods class, but since I didn’t, I had to learn on the job, and so what I discovered over time was how valuable it is to engage customers in a way that helps you discover blind spots, and we all have them. Even the best programs where you ask customers on a regular basis how you’re doing and use that information well, the information that you get is only as good as the questions you ask, and sometimes customers talk to each other or, ultimately, move to your competitors because they’re having conversations in those spaces they don’t have with you.

Karen:              Ultimately, I find really that the value of being able to listen to customers and how you create value is knowing the big trends, how are you doing on those things that matter most in terms of continuing and growing your relationship, but also really being able to dial into the nuances in a way that scales, developing a message so every person in the company has a drumbeat of why customers care about it and what they can do to affect it, so, at the end of the day, the idea is grow customer loyalty and retention and referrals as an outcome of that, but it’s just a really strategic partnership when you can amplify a customer’s biggest challenges or biggest opportunities and then really bring people together at the company to do something about it.

Abhijeet:          That makes sense. I can totally relate to the value it creates because, collecting quantitative data as well as qualitative data from customers, I mean, it could really move the needle, whether it’s product roadmaps, whether it’s a sales approach or whether we’re going to service our customers differently. Do you feel any difference or do you feel that, hey, now the skill set needs to be really put in a more agile way? Tell us a little commentary about being in a high-growth SaaS company.

Karen:              Being in a high-growth SaaS company is really building a plan and maybe some [ground 00:07:12] artillery while you’re operating all of it, and so one of the great aspects of Salesforce is that customer success is one of our core values as a company, and so as we’re listening to customers, we are testing everything from the names of products, how we price and package them to onstage keynotes for big events, our go-to-market strategies, every single aspect of what we do.

Karen:              One of the dynamics about how that plays out a little bit differently in such a high-growth company is the range of topics that you cover when you’re inquiring entirely new companies and product lines that might not have existed when you did your new fiscal year planning or brand new products that the company decides to bring to market and wants to test quickly, and so it’s really about striking a balance between doing the check-in about those ongoing relationship aspects that matter, but also being agile and nimble enough to adjust at the moment and say, “We have a new opportunity. We have potentially an entirely new customer base. How do we quickly engage, get proactive and take action on that feedback and then scale that to meet this increased and expanding product line, increased and expanding amount of customers and then the countries in which we’re doing business as well?”

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that’s incredible, and it must be really exciting to work in a high-growth environment like that where the company is pushing in terms of innovation, new ways to work with customers and, on the other hand, customers are demanding more things, different things from the company. It sounds like you’re in a super exciting space.

Abhijeet:          You’re an author, and I got a chance to read Success for Less. It’s just fascinating. I mean, it’s a great account of some of your own personal trials and tribulations. You went through those. You addressed those, you succeeded, and then you realized, hey, there’s a formula to this. Success for Less is just incredible. It doesn’t just help you with your career or your relationships. It’s just about life, and you could apply this to so many different areas in our lives. It’s incredible.

Karen:              Thank you for the feedback and for making time to read the book, and I think what I discovered is really, in retrospect, I did not grow up with a lot of professional female role models around me, and so the people I saw were on a particular set of paths in life where they were happy and successful, but what I found was I ended up entering the workforce and taking the formula that I had learned along the way, getting the gold stars on the chore chart, being easy, pleasing and agreeable, and then added that to just looking around the workplace at other people who I thought were successful.

Karen:              What seemed to happen to me in that formula of successful people was that they said yes to everything. They delivered results and they made it look pretty effortless, and that the reward for that was being trusted with more, more responsibilities, more visibility, more access, and so I thought, okay, it’s like the chore chart mentality stepped up into the work environment, and so I started doing that also, just say yes [crosstalk 00:10:34].

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that is so true because one of the things I hear about in Silicon Valley all the time is great work is rewarded with more work.

Karen:              Yeah. That is great, and I will quote you when I use that. It’s true, and so I thought this must be the path to be successful, and what was interesting was it worked. I got a few promotions, more responsibility, joined some community organizations, and the challenge for me, where it all came crashing down, was what no one tells you about living someone else’s formula for success is that you might end up with somebody else’s life, and that might not suit you entirely, and so, in my case, all those yeses ultimately compounded into major medical.

Karen:              I was so over-committed and under so much stress that it activated a series of very negative, unintended consequences with regard to my health, but it took me ultimately really an eight-year journey of misdiagnosis and then trying to get well, and so the turning point for me really in that story was the time in life when I could no longer do more. I mean, I literally couldn’t do my own formula any longer, and so I really had to confront what mattered most to me, and at that point, I realized my top goal was to get healthy, and if I was going to get healthy, then every yes had to be filtered through whether it was going to move me closer to that goal.

Karen:              That was the first time in my life I think that I had really been crystal clear that I had a very finite amount of time and energy and that unless I could get clear on my top priorities and align my time with that, then I was always going to be spread too thin because there was no filter about why to say yes or no to anything.

Abhijeet:          That’s so true.

Karen:              Yeah, so the reason I wrote the book is, as I talked with other people, I just discovered that it is a challenge to know your top priorities and then have the courage to say yes and no to the things that move you toward or away from those goals, and that we’re all trying to be healthy and well and still have jobs and families and other pursuits, and it helped to share that story because it let other people feel normal also and know that where they were at that moment wasn’t ultimately where they had to be. There was another way.

Abhijeet:          I would encourage everybody to read Success for Less. It’s not easy to be able to share stories that are so personal and being so vulnerable. I mean, we read about this all the time. Hey, you got to be a great leader, but you also have to be a bit vulnerable. We know that, but it’s hard to do and it takes courage. How were you able to do it given that you went through that for eight-plus years? How did you muster up the courage and built yourself and really were okay to share your stories with others?

Karen:              One of the best resources that I had, an encouragement that I had to show up in a more authentic way was an executive coach that was chosen for me by a very wise boss who knew that, if wanted to continue in my career, that it wasn’t always going to be about working harder and proving that I could do more and deliver it. It was really going to be about being an authentic leader who could bring people along in the journey and how realistic is it to work for someone who appears to always have all this plate spinning and everything is moving along really well.

Karen:              I was shocked when I got connected with this executive coach through work because I was expecting this classic, “Talk to your team and your bosses. Let’s pick a behavior. After you do it for a certain period of time, this will be the gateway to getting promoted and so on and so forth,” and I was shocked when she did do those interviews and then packaged the conversation of why do you have these behaviors, not let’s take some feedback and then react to it. It was what is the underlying root cause of some of these behaviors, and that really became a journey to being more authentic, being more open and finding new ways to relate to other people who are having those same challenges, because I think I thought, in the workplace, if I shared some of those things, it would hold back my career or people would think I was incapable of taking on more of leading a bigger team, and it actually wasn’t true. It was the opposite, but it took a lot of work to do that.

Karen:              Now, with that said, as I got to the point of writing the book, I did have a small panic attack right before the book was going to be published because I suddenly realized, oh, my goodness, all these people are going to read the story, and not just people I know, people I don’t know, and I literally called my publisher and said, “I’m not doing this. I don’t want the book to be published,” and he was like, “Excuse me?” The book is written. It’s ready to go to the printer. I’m like, “No. It’s too much. I don’t want the story out there. It’s too much. It’s overwhelming,” and he was like, “Okay, let’s step away from the ledge,” and this is the beauty of having other people in your life who know your circumstances…

Abhijeet:          That’s so true.

Karen:              … and encourage you and just be the voice back to you to say, “What’s your goal here?” I knew my goal was to be of service to other people, and you can’t do that without sharing your authentic story.

Abhijeet:          Wow. That is so incredible. There are so many takeaways in that, having people around you that can help you, being of service to others, taking lessons from your own life and helping others, because those lessons could be learned by others without them going through the same amount of pain, et cetera. Why don’t we shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit about our favorite things, and this is one of my favorite parts of the show, and this is a part where we ask you questions and you have to tell us your favorite things and why do you like them.

Karen:              That’s exciting. I feel like I’m on a game show.

Abhijeet:          Yes, it is like a game show.

Karen:             Exciting, right?

Abhijeet:         Karen, what is your favorite app?

Karen:              My favorite app right now is an app called Calm, which does all ranges of guided meditation or peaceful music, but it’s designed to help you relax and maybe transition out of a busy day or be prompted to be present in the moment. I’m loving it, and it’s got a whole range of services, but I’m finding that helpful right now with my pause idea.

Abhijeet:          I love it. Yeah, that’s a great meditation practice. Awesome. Okay, let’s go to the next favorite, your favorite book. It could be fiction. It could be nonfiction, business, what have you.

Karen:              My favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and it has been for quite some time, and what I love about the story is if you think about the character, Atticus Finch, who ends up advocating with regard to social injustice. What I love about the story, even though it definitely has some very sad aspects and outcomes to it, is that he represents the turning point of not only standing up for a different set values, but also teaching it to his children when it could potentially come at great cost, and, to me, it’s the story about ultimately how you lead social change, which is one person at a time, one choice at a time, teaching and sharing values with other people, so I absolutely love that book for all those reasons. In addition, too, it’s incredibly well-written, of course.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, for sure. That’s one of the best books I’ve read as well, and so one of the other things I like about that story is also the problem-solving that happens within the story, and, yeah, it’s just a great book. All right, next one is your favorite quote.

Karen:              I love Daring Greatly, so it’s all about it’s not the critic who counts. How many times for all of us when you’re trying something new or you’re thinking about taking a risk or something doesn’t work out do you let the voices of other people who aren’t really invested in you or your life matter in terms of your choices? I love that quote so much. I actually have the passage framed in my bedroom, so it’s the first thing I see when I wake up every day and it’s the last thing I see when I go to bed at night, because it’s just such a great reminder that progress comes from being daring and that it does not come without bumps and bruises and having to find ways to get up and rise up again and keep going, so I love it.

Abhijeet:          The last one in your favorites is favorite restaurant.

Karen:              Asking me to choose a favorite restaurant is like asking someone to choose their favorite child, so I’m going to have to break it down just a little bit.

Abhijeet:          Okay.

Karen:              In the Bay Area, in San Francisco, there’s a tiny sushi place called Akiko. Get a reservation. It is stunning. It is perfection. When I read the menu, I’ve never heard of the things, and they’re decadent and fabulous and amazing. If I’m in London, I love to eat curry. London, the best city in the world for curry in my opinion. If I’m in my home city of Indianapolis, and don’t tell my doctor this because I’m [inaudible 00:20:00] a kale salad, there’s this little [tortas place 00:20:03] by my house that does the best queso with chorizo that you can imagine, and I’m sure it’s part of my health and well-being just because I feel so happy when I’m there and eating it.

Abhijeet:          Absolutely. We all need our cheat days once a while, and that’s totally cool.

Karen:              Absolutely.

Abhijeet:          Awesome. Hey, that was great. As we talk about your career journey, and we talked about your favorites, do you have certain routines, techniques that you apply maybe on a daily or a weekly basis? For example, do you have a morning routine? Tell us a little bit more about that.

Karen:              Yes. I have a morning routine of having coffee. That’s probably the one that’s the most consistent, but a few things over time that I have found worked very well for me, so, in terms of my work calendar, I try to choose two to three hours per week of blocked-out work time.

Abhijeet:          Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karen:              For myself, I like it best at the end of the week so that I can have a mental parking lot of wrapping up everything that needs to be done and making my list for the next week. I find that helps me transition into the weekend a whole lot better and being more pleasant and fun to be around.

Karen:              The second piece of routine that works really well with me is with regard to fitness. I made the commitment to do one Pilates session a week with a trainer, one yoga session a week in a class, and I find that, even if I do nothing else, at least I know I have those two appointments, and they are life-changing just in terms of focus on being well, stretched out, present, mentally clear, those things I’m pretty religious about. Another one is just on the social front, two of my regular traditions, because I believe part of what makes life rich and well are the relationships that we have with people and making time really to enjoy those, so a couple of favorites. I’m fortunate that my 95-year-old World War II veteran grandfather is still living, so Sunday afternoons are my time…

Abhijeet:          Awesome.

Karen:              … with my grandfather. Yeah, and then I’ve been in a book club with essentially the same group of fantastic women for quite some time now really since 2001, and that is my one sacred night a month on my calendar that no matter where I’m traveling, what meetings I’ve been and how my day went, I am there, I’m engaging, I’m having fun and being really anchored and grounded there, and then I would say the last piece, just interestingly on the nutrition front, I learned a lot about fasting, so I do incorporate one fast day a week into my routine because I find it works well for my own personal health and well-being. I know lots of people are starting on the intermittent fasting and so forth.

Abhijeet:          Yeah.

Karen:              That is a great part of my routine. It just resets your cravings, your mindset and where you spend your time and energy, I’d say.

Abhijeet:          There’s so many nuggets that I would love to unpack if I had more time. Let me ask you a few more questions in terms of getting ready, for example, getting ready for a big meeting or getting ready for a big workshop that you may have with a customer. Are there things that you like to do before that that helps you put you in a better state or puts your team in a better state? Are there techniques or tools that you like to use to do that?

Karen:              Yes. I found a couple of things that help in terms of getting ready for a big meeting is, first of all, I do like to take a few sessions or even small snippets of time to go through that content or outline with some other people, because what I find is just even a couple of either practice runs or asking someone else, “Is my message coming through?” helps me feel more calm about the conversation and that, even if it shifts, I’m clear up front. If an hour meeting becomes a 30-minute meeting, becomes a 15-minute meeting, becomes five minutes, I know I can hit the two key points and ask my one key question and still walk away feeling like that preparation was time well-spent as opposed to feeling panicked of, “Oh, my goodness, we only have five minutes,” or, “We got interrupted four times. Now what?”

Karen:              The second piece is I try to think of about what does a successful outcome of that conversation look like, because sometimes it’s truly about relationship-building. Sometimes, it’s to resolve a problem. Sometimes, it’s to compel someone enough that they want to meet with you again, but really zeroing in with people especially when there’s multiple people in the meeting what does success look like, because, again, if we get into a time crunch where things go sideways, how do we return to that objective, and maybe even test it with the customer at the beginning of the meeting. What does success look like to you? Those are a couple of things that I think just help make great use of the time and also help you stay focused and not look flustered if things go a radically different direction or the priorities or timeline or meeting attendees changed a little bit.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that’s great. I think I really like the peer review. I loved asking the customer up front. I think those are great ways to making it more effective, and it makes it a better experience for everybody. Karen, this has been great. As we wrap up our session, are there any key messages that you would like to share with the listener?

Karen:              A couple of things come to mind. The first one is it doesn’t matter who you parents were or where you went to school or who your boss is right now. Success is available to everyone. It’s not reserved for an elite set of people who went to the right school or found the right path or got the right promotion or lived in the right neighborhood. Success is a goal that you can define, and it’s all about finding what matters most to you and spending your time on that, and I would say the second part of it is where you are now is not necessarily indicative of where you have the potential to go.

Karen:              If you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed or unhealthy or whatever your situation might be, just because that’s where you are at this moment doesn’t mean that’s where you’ll always have to be, and it’s easy to lose sight of that I think in really difficult times or setbacks or when you’re at a crossroads. There’s just always an opportunity to choose another path and to engage other people in helping you get there, which is the best way to do it. The support makes all the difference in the world, but your life still is full of potential. You’re still full of potential regardless of what other detours or alternate paths you might have taken.

Abhijeet:          Career Nation, the last two minutes were just pure gold right there. I would highly encourage you to rewind and listen again to the last two minutes.

Abhijeet:          Karen, this has been incredible. If folks want to get in touch with you, if they want to message you, what’s the best way to do that?

Karen:              You can find me a couple of ways. I’m on Twitter, @karenmangia. You can find me on LinkedIn, and also you can drop me a message to my personal email, which is kemangia@hotmail.com.

Abhijeet:          Awesome. Karen Mangia, thank you so much. Wish you all the wonderful success ahead, and we’ll hopefully connect with you sometime in the future.

Karen:              Sounds great. Thanks so much for the time and the opportunity. I appreciate it.

Blog, Career strategy, Job performance

How to deal with office politics and emerge as a true leader

Office politics is everywhere: a big company, medium-sized company, or a small company. And this is to across industries and geographies.

You can’t ignore office politics

Companies are made up of human beings. And where there are human beings, there will always be politics. Will the future world of AI and robots have zero politics? That would be a rich discussion for another time.

You can choose to participate in office politics or you can choose to stay away from it. But one thing you cannot do is ignore it.

Therefore, office politics is here to stay. Here is how can you deal with office politics and address politics in a very professional way and emerge as a leader.

Show leadership by keeping yourself above politics

By staying above the office politics area, you can demonstrate that you are really about leading rather than following.

  • You absolutely should demonstrate that you are an objective leader
  • If people around you are speaking negatively about a person or a project or a team, stay away from it
  • If the conversation is turning negative, figure out how to move it in a positive direction

Political issues = controversial, thorny issues

In spite of taking the high road, there will likely be controversial and thorny. And these areas can’t be sidestepped, they have to be addressed.

Here are some ways to bring objectivity and leadership when you are dealing with political topics in the office.

#1 Approach it from a customer’s lens

Here’s the approach that you can use to help you and your team to figure the right thing to do” what is the customer perspective on this topic? The customer’s always right. Customers are the reason your company is in business.

Having a customer’s perspective and getting an understanding of how this topic affects customers is a great way to get above office politics.

#2 Data is your friend

A great way to be objective and clear about a controversial topic is to make data and facts your friend. So, whenever you’re dealing with politics, whenever you’re dealing with gossip, whenever you’re dealing with posturing from other people, think about how can you make your communication clear and fact-based. Because making data and fact part of your DNA will really help you get above office politics and put yourself above hearsay, put yourself above gossip.

Always ask yourself, “What’s the right thing to do given these datapoints and facts?”

#3 Take the “whole company” perspective

Now that you’ve taken the customer perspective, now take the whole company perspective and see what’s the right thing to do for the entire company

Many times, leaders might be optimizing a decision to better suit a specific function within a company. That might come at the expense of another function in the company which destroys value.

Customer first, then it’s company, and then it’s your immediate function or your immediate team. But by having the most data and the most facts with you, you can rise above office politics and you can rise above all of the gossip and the innuendo that goes on by communicating facts.

Building your personal brand above office politics

Here’s the thing that will emerge as you move out of office politics and you emerge as the fact-based, objective leader: you will be creating a great personal brand. Your personal brand will get a lot of steroids the more you rely on data, the more you rely on facts.

That’s the way you can start positioning yourself to the next level as well. So, you’re doing a double whammy here. Number one is you are removing yourself from office politics, which, in itself, is a great thing, but then you’re starting to build your personal branding, which will help your trajectory and your organization.

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